The Biggest Gamble Part 4
(Old West)

by Draig

Back to: The Biggest Gamble Part 3

Ezra cast a gentle glance towards the man resting beside him. It had been three weeks since Vin had been shot during a bungled hold-up at the general store and three weeks since Ezra Standish had finally admitted that he loved the man he now sat beside.

Eight days ago Nathan had finally allowed the tracker to rise from his sick bed and return to Ezra's but the gambler had steadfastly refused to follow up on his declaration of love and would not instigate any love making until he was sure that it would not have a diverse effect on his lover.

Vin, on the other hand, had been using every ability he possessed to get the gambler to make love to him and while Ezra was more then willing to see to the tracker's needs, he was unwilling to take his own pleasure from the other man. Much to Tanner's utter frustration. Standish could see that Tanner still tired easily and while the tracker would never admit it he was still far from a hundred per cent. That was why they were both enjoying a period of rest, sitting outside the jail watching the town as it moved about another day.

It was Ezra's turn to keep watch on the jail, which was empty at the present time, as the one robber who had survived the General Store hold-up had been tried and shipped off to jail by Judge Travis who had descended on the town shortly after being informed of the situation.

"Did Chris say when he would be back?" Vin asked, looking up the street towards the livery stable.

Ezra shot him a look before turning his attention back to the shop across the way. "He said before sunset."

"I could have gone with him," Tanner groused, a frown of frustration marring his handsome face. Standish just smiled, he knew that his lover was starting to chafe under the enforced rest.

"I'm mortally wounded to hear that you don't want to spend your time with me," Standish teased, placing just the right amount of hurt in his tone to have Vin swinging towards him an apology on his lips.

"Arrr Ezra... I didn't mean..." Tanner began, his face twisting up with guilt but Standish could not torment his lover and, reaching out, he rested a hand on his arm and smiled warmly.

"I know love... I was just teasing... and I know how much of a hardship it is for you to just sit here..."

"It ain't no hardship Ez... not when it's you I'm sitting with." As Vin spoke he reached over and gripped the gambler's upper leg, giving it a knowing squeeze.

Ezra felt a blush start to rise and fought to keep it at bay but it was no good and Tanner just chuckled lightly when he noticed the change in his lover's colouring. Then, after another affectionate squeeze of the leg, he leg go and turned his attention back to the street.

A contented silence descended on the two men as they sat carefully watching the comings and goings of the townsfolk. Mrs Potter from the general store appeared and smiled brightly, a tray held firmly in her hands as she offered, "I was baking this morning and well... I wondered if you gentlemen would like to try some of my pie." Ever since Tanner had been injured defending her store the widow had been appearing with food to fatten up the injured man. Ezra thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen, while Vin gratefully accepted the food and then insisted the Ezra help him eat the heavy offerings that the woman always brought.

"Why that is very generous of you, Mrs Potter," Ezra said, jumping up and reliving her of her burden. "And it smells absolutely heavenly if you don't mind me saying." She smiled brightly before making her back way to her store.

"Ezra," Vin complained good naturally, "if I have to eat one more piece of pie I am going to burst." Mrs Potter was not the only woman to force her cooking on the helpless tracker since his injury and he was convinced that he would soon not be able to fit into his trousers. He smiled at that thought. When he passed a very similar comment to Ezra the night before in bed, the gambler had just smiled and informed the other man that he had no problem with Tanner leaving his trousers off.

Ezra meanwhile had lifted the cloth that covered the two plates and taken a deep breath of the heavenly pie. Then with care he shook out the napkin that he had been given and gently placed it across Tanner's lap. The other man pulled a face but accepted the gambler's actions, knowing that it was easier to just allow his lover to have his way.

Before Ezra could complete his ritual of preparing Vin to receive his plate of pie, a loud noise shattered the quiet air of Four Corners and the twice weekly stagecoach pounded into town. Tanner sat quietly waiting for his pie, which he had to admit he was starting to look forward to as it certainly did smell delicious but Ezra had other ideas as he straightened slightly, his hand still firmly attached to the plate which he now held just out of Vin's reach.

The gambler's complete attention was fixed on the stagecoach as he checked to see who was alighting from it. Larabee always made a point of having someone keep an eye on the passengers just so that he knew who was new in town. When Chris wasn't there it fell to another member of the team to do so. Ezra took his duties as a member of the seven very seriously.

"Oh good lord," he gasped, paling as he saw the handsome blond woman step down from the coach, a bear of a man carefully helping her as if she were made of fine china.

"Mind out for my luggage..." came her shill southern tone as she finished, "it was imported from Paris..."

"Mother!!!" Without a backward glance he dropped the plate into Tanner's lap, the tracker barely managing to catch the pie before it slipped off the plate, his own expression a frown as he watched his lover dodge a rider to rush over to his mother's side.

"Maude," the tracker spat out, his eyes growing cold as he watched the way Ezra greeted his mother.

Ezra meanwhile was paying total attention to his mother, not aware of the cold looks she was receiving from his lover. "Why mother," he spluttered as he helped gather her many suitcases, "to what do I owe the pleasure of your company again?"

"Why Ezra darling." Maude began, "a mother could get the impression that you don't want to see her."

Whatever reply he'd been about to make was lost as she made her way over to the hotel, waving her hand to indicate that she wanted him to follow. He signed deeply, gathered up the parts of her luggage that he could manage and meekly followed after her.


Ezra watched his mother with something akin to fear. She was busily unpacking the few items of luggage that actually contained clothing, bustling about, opening drawers and carefully folding items to place in them. As she moved she spoke, her eyes aglow her smile bright. The mere fact that his mother was so happy filled Ezra with a sick feeling of dread.

"I know..." she continued brightly, her accent as warm as ever, "that you think I don't listen to half the things you say but really Ezra, I do... and I have always had your best interests at heart." She paused to smile at him again. The gambler swallowed hard and feebly returned the smile.

"But last time..." she turned back to her unpacking, "last time when you told me that you were unhappy with what we did... that you actually enjoyed working as a...." she paused while she tired to find the right words to describe what her son did, "Peacekeeper.." her voice indicated exactly where her opinion of that lay but she brushed it aside as she always did the unpleasantness that crept into her life. "Anyway, I decided that you were right... wasting your life gambling... that's no way for a son of mine to spend his life." She paused again and this time she walked up to him and reaching out she gently laid her palm across his cheek.

Ezra Standish suddenly knew what a desert hare felt like when spotted by the eagle. "I've found a way for you to live the life you've always wanted."

"You have?" Ezra asked, his elegant turn of phase totally lost in the face of his mother.

She nodded, a smile breaking across her handsome features again. "Annabella Easton," she said, as if the name explained everything.

"Annabella Easton?" Ezra repeated, licking at suddenly dry lips. "Er... who is she mother?" He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and wondered that his mother was not distracted by the loud noise but she was totally oblivious to the sound and continued.

"Easton... Ezra... Easton as in Portland Easton. His family made their money in the South, way back when, in Cotton but Portland... such a wise man... saw what was going to happen and he sold up and put his money into ships. Moved his family, lock stock and barrel over to England for the last twenty years. Invested in railroads... he is a very rich man..." she paused as she considered the wealth of the man she had recently met. Then she gave herself a hard shake and continued. "Anyway, he's growing older and has decided that he wants to come home... to America... He's always been fascinated by the west and is, even as we speak, heading down from Kansas City... wants to see a real Indian... can you believe that man..." She laughed at the thought then turned serious again as she finished. "He's coming to Four Corners... should arrive either tomorrow or the day after... and I've told him all about you." Her motherly breast swelled with pride, "a Genuine Southern Gentleman... he only wants a Genuine Southern Gentleman."

"Only wants..." Ezra stammered, opening and closing his mouth several times before he dared ask, "why does he only want a Genuine Southern Gentleman, mother?"

She looked at him, drew her lips into a thin line of annoyance - her son had not seen where this conversation was going and announced in frustration, "for Annabella Easton..." then she dropped the hammer blow that Ezra had been expecting but it was so totally not what he expected that it took him several moments before her words actually registered, "her husband... Ezra... you are going to marry Annabella Easton daughter and sole heir to the Easton fortune."

"Mother." Ezra gasped his eyes growing wide as the implications of his mother's plan finally descended on him. "I can't... possibly marry this Annabella Easton," he stammered, going pale as he thought of the repercussions of this conversation if it should ever reach the ears of a certain tracker.

"Not marry?" Maude repeated before she waved his words aside saying with a little laugh, "don't be silly, Ezra, of course you can... she's been raised in some of the best English schools.. is reputed to be a... a really beauty... but a shy flower of a thing...." His mother looked about before leaning in and confided, "I personally found her all eyes... and giggles... but she would look just lovely on your arm..."

"No... NO... mother... this is not going to happen..." Ezra stated firmly and, standing, pushing his mother gently away, headed for the door.


He stopped at his mother's sharp tone and turning slowly he winced at her angry, hurt expression. "You will not disappoint me... I have put far too much time into this marriage." Suddenly her attitude altered and she drifted across the room towards him and said consolingly, "I know.. I know... it's a shock... I should have explained it better... but I was just so excited... I mean... you could end up being one of the richest men in America. Just imagine Ezra."

The gambler drew himself up and snapped, "I'm surprised that you haven't agreed to marry Mr Easton."

Maude looked shocked, then slightly miffed. "Me... marry Portland... no dear... he has an old hen of a wife... really a nasty looking piece of work... all elbows, hooked nose and shrill voice, an opinion on everything and heaven forbid that you don't agree with her...." She shivered as she remembered meeting the woman. "And the mentality of a Jack Russell... just won't let it go... I didn't think I could stand another minute in her company before I left Kansas City. Thank goodness Annabella takes after her father..."

"Mother... I am only going to say this once... so you had better listen real carefully." He drew himself up to his full height and exclaimed firmly, "I AM NOT GOING TO MARRY ANNABELLA EASTON." With that he span about and fled out the door, slamming it securely behind him.

His mother stood stock still for several moments before a gleam entered her eye and she returned to her unpacking, totally unfazed by her son's exit. If Ezra had heard her words he would probably have fainted in fear. "Oh yes you will Ezra Standish... if it is the last thing I do on this planet I will see you married to Annabella Easton."


Ezra stopped once he reached the main street and glanced over towards the jail. He could see Vin sitting with Nathan. He closed his eyes as he tried to regain his composure, then turning his back on his lover he headed over to the saloon.

On entering the darkened room he headed straight for the bar and slamming his hand down hard on the wood he demanded, "whiskey." When he lifted his hand a silver dollar rested on the wood.

The drink was hastily placed in front of him and without a word he snatched out a hand and stayed the bottle as it was removed. "Leave it," he said firmly. The bottle was quickly released. He threw back the first glass and then swiftly followed it with another two. He was just filling his fourth glass when a hand reached over and removed it from his grip.

Ezra turned to come face to face with Vin. He watched as the tracker raised the small glass and threw back the burning liquid. Standish watched mesmerised as Tanner's neck muscles moved to allow the swallow. He licked at suddenly dry lips. He would lose this man before him if Maude Standish had her way. And she invariably did.

Tanner carefully placed the glass back on the bar and tilted his head to look at his lover. Ezra was pale but watching him with smouldering eyes that always got his own body hot and bothered. He drew in a sudden breath and asked, "what?"

Ezra opened his mouth, then slowly wetted his lips, his eyes roving over the beloved face in front of him. Then as if coming to his senses and realising that they were in a very public bar, he shook himself and retorted. "Mother." It was just one word but Vin knew exactly what had upset his lover.

Tanner pulled his own face. "What she up to this time?" he asked, feeling his gut tighten even as he asked. If Ezra was this distressed it could not be good.

Standish suddenly looked slightly panicky before he firmly pulled his poker face into place. "Nothing." He dragged up a wan smile for Vin. "You know mother..." he said, his tone falsely light as he poured himself a drink into the glass that Tanner had replaced on the bar. "Another day, another scheme... and damn anyone who gets in the way." He threw back the glass.

"Ezra..." Tanner said, his voice as uncertain as the look he gave his lover. Standish, seeing the look, was quick to reassure the tracker.

"Oh don't you worry, Mr Tanner.... My mother's plans are going to have to come to fruition without me.." He nodded once as if that was the end of the matter.

"Ezra," Vin started again, this time reaching out and touching the other man's arm. "I'm here... to listen if you wanna talk?"

Standish swallowed again and turned clear, bright eyes full of his love for this man on Vin, who gasped at the emotion he saw. Ezra answered, the lie falling easily from his lips. "No... it's not that I... I mean... this has nothing to do with us... so why drag it into the light of day to cause concern."

The tracker met and held Ezra's eyes for several long moments before he nodded. "I trust you, Ezra." he stated firmly, his own love as immovable as the gambler's.

"I know..." Standish whispered huskily before he added, "So how about you take me up to our room and you show me just how much you trust me?" The raised eyebrows and suggestive smirk were enough to wipe away the tracker's concerns aside as he nodded and followed the other man up the stairs to their room.


Ezra lay contentedly exhausted on the bed. Vin was deeply asleep, head resting on the gambler's shoulder, snoring gently. Their lovemaking had been intense and very satisfying. Standish had not been able to hold back and had finally given the tracker what he wanted and as he had slipped into the man under him he had been unable to reject the feeling of returning to his rightful place.

Ezra had tired to be as gently as he possibly could, still very mindful of Tanner's still healing injury but Vin had been determined that he would feel his lover once more enter his body. With that thought in mind he had began to lay kisses down the lightly furred body under his, licking and nipping past the taut nipples, slivering down to the smooth belly where he had dipped his tongue into the hollow of Ezra's belly bottom.

The man under his ministrations had arched up with a groan but Tanner had been without mercy as he continued slowly, maddeningly, down his lover. Finally seeing Ezra shaking his head from side to side, biting his bottom lip and screwing his eyes tight shut, the tracker had taken the swollen member into his mouth and softly caressed it with his tongue.

"Vin... Vin..." the gambler had gasped as he fixed his two hands on the head that was wielding such magic, quicksilver passion flooding his body. "Baby... Oh good lord... Tanner..." he gasped.

"Ezra..." Tanner said, removing his mouth and smiled at the member that arched up, as if seeking the pleasure that he was now denying it. "Ezra... I want you… inside me..."

Standish slowly opened passion flared eyes and frowned slightly, gasping in near pain as he countered, "I don't... think... that's such.... a good idea... your wound..." he panted the words.

"Is healed," Vin said firmly, carefully taking hold of Ezra's manhood and running his hand up and down, just skimming over the tip as he continued, "it won't be a good idea to deny me here... Ezra." He glanced up at his lover and saw the other man swallow audibly as he watched with fascinated eyes as Tanner continued to torment him.

"Alright... but... careful... we must be... careful." Ezra finally agreed, then slumped back in defeat as Vin sniggered and reached over for the small bottle of oil that they kept by the bedside for just such occasions.

As Tanner began to tip the bottle, pouring the cool liquid onto his fingertips, Ezra reared up and caught his hand firmly. "No... let me... I want to make sure you're ready..." then seeing that Vin was about to protest he said sharply, "we either do this my way... or not at all."

Tanner reluctantly gave up the bottle and allowed Ezra to gently move him with kisses of encouragement until he was laying face down on the bed, his stomach area carefully placed over a couple of pillows, his wound resting easy with no strain on it and his butt raised just enough that Ezra could reach it without applying pressure on Vin's middle.

Vin gasped and pressed back as a slick finger entered him, carefully working him open. No words were spoken, the only sound was that of the two men as they panted through their passion. Two fingers became three, then four, until finally Tanner groaned in pleasure that was taken up by Standish, as the gambler gently edged his manhood into the small opening that allowed him passage into his lover's body.

Ezra came back from his musing as Vin mumbled his name and tightened his grasp about his lover, almost as if he feared that Standish would attempt to leave the bed. The gambler smiled and started running a caressing hand up and down Vin's back again. The tracker sighed and slipped back into a deep sleep.

After a few minutes, Standish turned his thoughts to his mother and the events of earlier. He frowned and began to chew on his bottom lip. While he had been firm in his refusal of her suggestion, he still did not trust her as far as he could throw her and he was worried how she would retaliate when she finally realised that he was indeed serious in his refusal. It was that thought that followed him down into his slumber, the frown never leaving his face even as he slept.


The next morning Ezra lazed in bed until he felt the spot next to him grow cold and that alone drove him from his warm sheets. Before Vin had become his lover Ezra had been content to spend the morning in bed, not rising until at least two in the afternoon but since the tracker had taken up residence in his bed, Ezra had discovered that he no longer enjoyed just laying in his bed without Tanner.

The morning was well underway by the time the gambler had completed his morning rituals and, immaculately dressed, he walked down the large staircase that led down to the main room of the saloon. He smiled at the few people in the room and frowned slightly when a couple of the men raised their glasses to him and smiled knowingly. He glanced down to check that he was properly dressed. Seeing that he was as perfect as ever he sighed and made his way to his usual table.

The bartender seeing him take his normal chair, wiped his hands dry and went to fetch the gambler's breakfast and morning coffee. Ezra was just finishing the meal of ham, eggs and biscuits when the door to the saloon slammed open and Chris Larabee stormed in, a copy of the Clarion News clutched in his hand.

Larabee glanced about the room, spied Standish sitting at his normal table and descended on him. "What the hell is this?" he demanded furiously waving the paper in front of the astonished gambler.

Before he could answer Buck and JD rushed in, their expression also informing Ezra that something was gravely amiss. They stopped just behind the enraged gunslinger. "What, may I ask is happening?" the gambler asked, surprise colouring his tone.

Before Chris could answer, Vin came into the room and paused a little distance from the table. Ezra was caught and held by the look of pain and disappointment that was etched on Tanner's features.

"What?" Ezra asked, attempting to rise from his chair but was forced back down in shock as Larabee started reading from the paper.

"Maude Standish has the pleasure to announce the engagement and impending marriage of her only, son Ezra to Annabella Easton, only daughter of Mr and Mrs Portland Easton." Chris' voice dripped danger. "Would you care to explain this to me.." he motioned to the men standing gathered about him. "To us?"

Ezra paled as the announcement was read, his eyes growing incredibly large and his mouth drying with fear. His gaze fixed on his lover, his expression pleading for understanding.

Vin took a step forward and firmly rested his hand on Larabee's shoulder, gently pulling the other man back. At first Chris resisted, then realising who it was he stepped back knowing that it was Tanner's right to confront Standish.

Once Larabee was far enough away from the table to satisfy Vin, Tanner nodded and stated firmly for the small gathering of friends to hear. "I trust Ezra, Chris... and this is between us... not you... or Buck or JD or anyone..."

"You trust him... after this..." Chris waved the paper under the bounty hunter's nose but Vin snatched the paper away and tossed it to the floor, his own anger starting to build. He opened his mouth to confront Chris but glanced down when he felt Ezra slide up beside him.

"No... Vin..." Ezra said gently, loving the man before him even more for the trust he had just shown in the gambler. "I really have no problem explaining exactly what is going on here... but..." he glanced about the saloon again, noting the interest they were getting from the other patrons, "somewhere a bit more private would be more appropriate."

"Ezra.." Vin began, "you don't have to explain this to anyone but me."

Standish smiled warmly at his lover before he said, "I know... but they are your - our - friends and Chris is only angry because he cares for you and does not want to see you hurt, so how can I possibly be annoyed with him for that... and they have a right to know."

Tanner lowered his head for a few seconds before he nodded in agreement. "Jail," he said as he reached out a hand and carefully took Ezra's arm, guiding him away from the saloon and the curious stares that followed them.

As they marched along the street, Nathan trotted up, a copy of the paper held in his hands. "Ezra...."

Before he could continue Chris interrupted. "JD, go fetch Josiah and ask him to meet us at the jail." Then seeing the look this earned him he added, "It will save Ezra having to explain it twice."

The gambler took comfort from the hand that still rested at his elbow and shooting a quick glance up at Vin's face he was rewarded by a hesitant smile. He smiled back and the concern in Tanner's eyes receded slightly.

Once in the jail they waited the few minutes until JD returned with Josiah closely behind. Once they were settled Chris turned and looked at Ezra, his expression clearly stating that they were now ready to hear what he had to say. The gambler cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "My mother arrived in town yesterday..."

"Damn it," Tanner suddenly exploded. "I knew it... I just knew it had something to do with her...."

"Vin." Chris warned, his eyes flashing with annoyance. He wanted to get to the bottom of this and he wanted to do it now.

"Vin..." Ezra said, standing and approaching his lover. He looked suddenly sick as he said, "I'm sorry... I knew... I knew I should have told you about her diabolical plan last night... but..." He stopped and rubbed at his forehead as if to push away the growing pain of the headache which was now threatening to overtake him. "I told her no... I guess I was just hoping that for once... just once she would listen to what I was saying and not just totally ignore what I said and do what she wants..."

"Ezra," Chris growled. " From the beginning.... Just tell us what the hell is going on here."

The gambler slumped in defeat as he finally explained his mother's plot for him to marry the daughter of the very wealthy Portland Easton. He concluded by saying, "I told her NO quite firmly yesterday... that I would not under any circumstances... that it was impossible for me to even consider her... request," he said the words bitterly and the men listening got the feeling that Ezra's mother had ridden roughshod over his feelings on other matters in the past. "But I guess this..." he gestured towards the paper that Nathan still held, "is her way of applying pressure... or maybe this is just her way of informing me that she is not giving up so easily."

"So she wants you to marry that.." Buck paused his eyes glazing over as he contemplated the situation, "that really rich woman..."

Ezra pulled a face and reaching over he firmly took up Vin's hand, which was freely given and stated firmly, his voice rising in anger at having been put in such a position by his mother. "I have told her that I will not marry that damn woman... I have made a commitment elsewhere."

"Did you tell her..." Vin suddenly asked, then seeing the confused look on the gambler's face he elaborated, "Did you tell her about your commitment... about us?"

Ezra opened his mouth, then snapped it closed again, guilt rushing though him as he answered weakly, "I do not believe that it actually arose during our conversation... but...."

"Why not?" Vin interrupted, a frown starting to mar his handsome features.

Ezra closed his eyes suffering a sharp pang of guilt before he opened them and offered weakly, "I will... I promise... It's just that... well... mother can be er... quite determined in her desires and I didn't really want you to get involved... it could turn unpleasant." He shivered slightly as he remembered several incidents from his childhood. " Most unpleasant..."

Vin's eyes narrowed. "If it affects you then it involves me already and as for getting unpleasant.... I haveta tell you Ezra... this was a pretty nasty shock." He pointed towards the paper in disgust.

"I know... I know." Ezra said, then sighed deeply and looked at his five other friends, "but I never expected her to... to do this... I mean, I was quite forceful in my denial.." He let his words drift to a stop.

"Well that's over and done with now..." Chris suddenly announced seeing that the gambler was really upset by his mother's most recent scheme. "Now we have to decide what to do about it."

"I will go and have words with my mother... again and get her to retract her statement... print an apology and tell Mr Easton, when he arrives, that there is no way that I am about to marry his daughter."

"This Easton fella is already on his way?" Vin asked, standing up straighter as if the threat had suddenly doubled in danger.

Standish just hung his head and nodded, his face as pale as the shirt he wore. Then he turned and made his way towards the door.

"Hold on there, Ez," Vin suddenly said, grabbing hold of the gambler's arm. "I'm coming with you and this time I'll tell her exactly where she stands in this partnership."

"And where pray tell might that be, Mr Tanner?" Ezra questioned in some surprise. The tracker smiled widely, an expression that would have made even a shark think twice about approaching.

"Not between us... that's for damn sure."

Standish opened his mouth, then slowly closed it. Tanner was right, Maude had overstepped herself this time and he had made a commitment to Vin and what affected him did have a knock on effect with the tracker. As they headed across the street, Ezra leant in close to Vin and asked, his expression nervous, "Please... let me do the talking... this is just a misunderstanding that I am sure can soon be cleared up."

"Damn well better be Ezra, otherwise I will be talking to your mother and she'd better listen real careful if she knows what's good for her." The gambler winced at the tone his lover used but he also could not stop the shiver of anticipation that crept up his spine at Vin's possessive tone of voice.


Maude Standish was feeling quite pleased with herself. She had managed to catch Mary Travis the day before just before the woman had gone to press and had been able to place the engagement announcement. She knew that Portland Easton was due in sometime today and that he would be impressed to read the words in the local paper and she also knew that it was another ploy to persuade Ezra to see her point of view as far as the marriage was concerned.

She was in no doubt that she would sway her son to her frame of mind. She had many weapons at her fingertips and was not above using raw guilt if it became necessary. After all, she had given the best years of her life to her baby boy... it was about time that he gave back some comfort to his dear old mother, who only wanted to live out her few remaining years in the comfort that was due to her.

She was almost humming as she descended the stairs from her room in the hotel and headed towards the small dinning room where breakfast was still being served. After she had broken her fast she intended to find Ezra and have a few more words with him about his impending engagement.

Maude was just finishing breakfast when she saw her son enter the lobby of the hotel. "Ezra..." she called out waving the young man over. She smiled brightly at the taller man who walked by his side but the smile slipped uncertainly from her lips when she saw the cold look that the tracker gave her. Vin Tanner had always been most polite whenever they had met in the past.

"Mother..." Ezra said, slipping into the chair opposite her. Tanner pulled another chair from the nearest table and drew it up beside the gambler's. "About that er... announcement in the paper this morning."

"Oh Ezra..." Maude interrupted, casually wiping at her lips with the rough cloth napkin, "that's just to keep in sweet with Mr Easton... he'll be just tickled pink to read his name in the paper..." She leant forward and smiled warmly at the pair of them.

Ezra glanced down, sighed and then looked over at Vin, searching for patience and strength. He found both in the expression in Tanner's eyes. "Mother... I'm sure that Mr Easton will not be tickled pink when he discovers that the announcement has been most erroneous in its words."

"Oh, Ezra." Maude snapped, her eyes flashing in temper as she folded the napkin and placed it firmly down on the table. "Are you still harping on about not wanting to marry one of the richest woman in the country?"

Ezra took another breath, letting his anger roll away. If he lost his temper he knew that he would lose this battle and maybe eventually the war. "I am not harping on about anything... I have already informed you that I am not ever going to contemplate marrying that woman but you chose to ignore me and have that... that announcement published. Well now you're going to have to speak to Mrs Travis and get her to print a retraction as I will not be marrying that woman." Standish spoke firmly and clearly and the last few remaining diners glanced over towards their table, their curiosity raised by the obvious confrontation.

Maude glanced quickly about the room and smiled at the people looking her way, then leaning forward she hissed, "Ezra you are making a scene and a most unpleasant one if you don't mind me saying so... Now stop acting like a child and just let me handle things... this... this disobedience is most ungrateful as I am only thinking of you."

"Me... ME!!!" Ezra was almost screeching but calmed as Vin gently laid a restraining hand on his arm. He glanced over, grateful that his lover was there and continued in a calmer tone. "You have only ever thought of me when it suited one of your petty schemes to glean money of some poor unsuspecting soul... well... no... not this time... I will not be your sacrificial lamb in this case. If you want to see a Standish married to an Easton you'd better consider walking down the aisle yourself."

Maude cast a shocked look over at her son, then quickly, calculatingly, let her gaze slip across to Vin's face. The man's expression was a mask but she sniffed for effect and fumbled for the handkerchief that she always carried. Dabbing at her eyes she offered weakly, the very model of a mother wronged. "You are a wicked and ungrateful child, Ezra Standish... I 've spent my whole life ensuring that you had what you wanted... and a trade that you could use and I ask you do to this one small thing for me... I mean..." she added her own temper flashing in her eye as she leant forward and hissed, "It's not like I'm asking you to bed the girl."

It was at this point that Tanner decided that he'd had enough. He could feel Ezra shaking under the hand that he had left resting on his lover's arm and was concerned by the expression that was rippling across his features. So he leant forward and said in the quiet manner that he had, his drawl letting the honey words slip out. "I think I'd have to objet to having three of us in Ezra's bed, Mrs Standish."

Ezra made a strangled sound that reminded Tanner of a bear that got it paw caught in a nest of wasps. Mrs Standish just looked at him, as if he had suddenly spurted the words of another language at her. "Three of you... in Ezra's bed?" she repeated, her lips still moving after the sound of her voice had faded away.

Tanner nodded, then moving his long fingers from Ezra's arm he clasped his lover's hand, squeezing slightly to let the other man know that he was not alone. The gambler returned the pressure. It was enough for Vin, who sat back confidently and watched the woman in front of him struggle to come to terms with what she had just been told and what she was seeing.

Finally the struggle cleared, only to be overwhelmed with rage and she snapped up from her chair. Roughly pushing it back she snarled at the pair of them but mainly to her son, "If you think that this... this display... of... of..." she stopped for once unable to find the words she needed. In the end she just gave up and continued, her tone icy, "whatever... if you think it's going to get you out of this marriage Ezra Standish then you are sorely mistaken and as for you, Mr Tanner, I'm shocked that you have allowed my son to use you in such a manner... I mean... a sodomite is not a name any man's wants to be saddled with." With that she reared up and glared at them both before storming from the room.

Ezra leaned back in his chair, opened his mouth, closed it and the glanced over at Vin who was also looking taken aback by Maude's reaction to his words. Finally Ezra smiled weakly. "Well I thought that went well."

"Went well?" Tanner questioned in some surprise with a raised eyebrow.

"Hell yes..." Ezra stood and clapped Vin on the shoulder adding, "I'll give her about two hours before she cools down and actually starts to think about what you said... then another hour for her to track down some poor unsuspecting soul to confirm you words... then..." at this stage he paused, frown and decided, "Then we'll both leave town until she decides that killing us is not in her best interest."

Vin nodded, wisely accepting the truth of his gambler's words. "Who do you think she'll go to?" He had to ask as he followed his lover out of the hotel.

Ezra paused, took in a breath of fresh air and considered before answering, "Mary Travis if we are unlucky..." he saw Vin wince, then added with a slight smile. "Chris or one of the others if she's unlucky"

Vin had to smile in return and punched his lover on the arm as he confessed, "you surely do love to live dangerously don't yer Ezra."

Standish thought for a moment then stated, "we'd best let Mr Larabee and the others know what has occurred, just in case Mother does decide to question them. I do hope she does not corner JD... that poor boy might never recover from having to tell my mother exactly what the relationship is between us."

"Buck will be there to protect him I'm sure." Vin shot back dryly. The womaniser was worse than a mother hen when it came to the youngest member of the group and once they informed the others of recent events, Tanner would make a point of pulling Buck aside just to warn him that JD, being the youngest, might be a target for Ezra's mother.


The meeting with Chris and the other four members of the seven was interesting to say the least. Nathan, Buck and Josiah had been amused, Chris had just shrugged and look heavenwards and JD had been shocked that Vin had told Ezra's mother that he was sleeping with her son. Buck reached over and, slinging an arm about the boy's neck, dragged him off to explain just exactly why it had been necessary to use such shock tactics with Maude.

"Do you think it will work?" Chris asked, settling back in his favourite chair just outside the jail.

"Hardly," snorted Ezra, glancing up the street, unconsciously keeping a wary eye out for his mother.

"We told the truth Ezra..." Vin stated firmly, "your mother's not gonna change that... so she might just as well get use to it."

Standish pulled a weak smile as he offered, leaning up against a jail wall, staying just out of sight. "You don't know my mother Vin... she's doesn't know the meaning of the word fail... once she's set her mind to something..." he let his words hang.

"Yeah... well, she's never had to deal with us before." Vin commented, his tone suddenly turning threatening.

Chris just smiled, slipping a cheroot into his mouth. He squinted along the street and saw a large carriage pull into the main street. It was well made, obviously expensive and pulled by six white horses. He sat up and tilted his head as Ezra let out a loud groan behind him and said, "It appears that Mr Portland Easton has arrived."

"You know we could always ride out of town for a few days," Vin said, seeing the look on Ezra's face but the gambler just sadly shook his head retorting.

"You don't know my mother, Mr Tanner... she could out wait the devil himself. No.. it's better if we just confront this head on...."

The large carriage pulled to a stop outside the hotel and Maude suddenly appeared all smiles and waving her arms about as she organised the older man and young woman into the hotel and called for their luggage to be brought in. A large man slowly clambered down from the carriage and without any effort at all pulled the large trunk down from the luggage compartment on top of the vehicle. It was an impressive feat. He then proceeded to follow his employer into the hotel.

Ezra, seeing the woman his mother expected him to marry, let out a gasp which immediately drew Vin's attention and a frown which cleared as the gambler gasped in outrage. "Why she's barely a baby..."

Chris nodded in agreement as he confided, "I think Buck's going to be a mite sorry to see that..." then he smiled as he finished, "I think he'd considered the wealthy daughter of Portland Easton a challenge. What with all that money and all."

Vin snorted and offered, "she looks to be more like a challenge for JD."

"Heaven forbid Mr Tanner... our young friend has enough problems with Miss Casey..."


Maude was in a high state of annoyance with her son as she flustered about Portland Easton, his daughter and his bodyguard, who was really the gorilla of a man who did Easton's dirty work. Portland himself was of small build with hawk-like eyes and, as far as Maude was concerned, a weak chin who was desperately desirous of being considered a southern gentlemen, when in fact he was a bossy little man who used his money like a club to get what he wanted. If he could not talk the birds from the trees, she assumed that he was not opposed to blowing the tree up and picking from their carcasses, a fact that Maude had badly misjudged until this very day. Overkill was just Portland's method of getting his own way and now Maude had some serious concerns that he would be turning his disappointment and anger on her and Ezra. Portland had not been amused to discover that Maude's son was not there to meet them when they had first arrived in town but some quick thinking of the con-woman's side had led him to believe that Ezra was out of town chasing after some desperadoes who had broken some law or other in the town.

How could her son be so ungrateful? She had formed the perfect plan to leave them both with what they wanted. Her a life of ease with enough money to live as a queen and Ezra, well all her son had to do was the minimum to keep Annabella mildly happy and the world would have been his for the taking. But oh no... not Ezra, he always had to spoil her plans. She felt her lips tighten as she remembered Vin Tanner's words to her that morning, 'and to drag his friend into the lie, to pretend that he was Ezra's... Ezra's lover.' She shuddered, then seeing that Portland had noted her distraction she forced a smile back on her lips and offered. "Why my dear Portland... I do trust you had a safe journey?"

The man in question frowned and slowly shook his head, "we never saw one Indian and that damn... er... excuse me ladies," he apologised before he carried on. "that driver refused to deviate from his route to look for them."

"Why Portland." Maude said, moving up and linking her arm through his. "Don't you think that it might be dangerous to take Annabella with you when you go look for Indians?"

"Annabella." Easton said, looking over at his child. She had just turned sixteen and he had every intention of marrying her off as soon as possible, that was why Maude's tempting offer of her son, who was, she assured him a full blooded Southern gentlemen had appealed to him. "I guess you're right... Annabella is rather a fragile child and the excitement of seeing an Indian might have been too much for her constitution." As if on cue the young lady in question stood and waved her fan rapidly in front of her sweating face.

"Papa... I feel I must really go and lay down... before dinner... this last stretch of the journey has really quite tired me."

Portland approached his daughter, his expression one of fatherly concern. "Why you just go right ahead my little rose petal... and make sure to get some milk for your face... we don't want those nasty sun spots to grow now do we."

Annabella reached up a small hand to her face, her expression one of mortification as she gasped. "Oh no... papa can you still see it?"

The older man sighed and patting her hand he led her to the stairs saying in fatherly fortitude. "Only in the right light my dear, otherwise you are the flower that you have always been."

Maude looked towards the ceiling but didn't pass comment as she heard Annabella calling for the hotel proprietor to being her some fresh cow's milk. Portland returned to the room, his expression one of no nonsense as he began. "I do hope that your son is going to put in an appearance over dinner... all that waffle about protecting this town might be nice to turn my daughters head but I want a husband... one who is going to be there when needed, not riding off in some horse dust whenever the fancy takes him."

Maude raised an eyebrow and assured him, "My son rarely, if ever rides off in a dust... his suits would never survive... no he took on this commitment and he feels that it's his duty to fulfil it... It's the only honourable thing to do." Those last words carried the most weight with Easton who nodded wisely saying.

"Yes honour is a heavy burden for a gentlemen to carry."

Maude Standish glided towards the door. Pulling her handkerchief out she fluttered it in front of her face saying, "my... my... Annabella was right about this heat... if you will excuse me I do believe that I too will rest before dinner."

"Yes... yes of course my dear." Portland said, bending over Maude's hand and laying a wet kiss on it's back. Maude resisted the urge to wipe her hand dry and smiling sweetly she left the room. She moved up the stairs, along the corridor and then quickly slipped down the back stairs that lead out to the kitchen area and the rear entrance.


Maude stormed into the jail and looked about for her son. "Where is he?" she demanded of JD who nearly fell over backwards from his chair in his hurry to stand before Ezra's mother.

"Who..." he stammered, his eyes growing wide as she swept him with her glacial look.

"That no good, ungrateful child I carried in my womb for nine months," she spat back.

"Who..." JD began looking confused and uncertain but Maude just threw a look to the heavens for strength and hissed.

"Ezra... where is Ezra... my son."

"Oh..." JD spluttered. "You could try the saloon... he's usually in there this time of day."

Then Hurricane Maude was gone, the door slamming shut so hard on her heels that the glass rattled. JD moved carefully to the window and watched her storm down the street. He scratched his head and suddenly felt very sorry for the gambler of the group.

Chris glanced up as the swing doors of the saloon swung open with more force than necessary, then seeing that it was Maude he sat up straighter, his stance warning the two men sitting with their backs to the door that trouble had just entered.

Maude marched over to them and stood at her son's shoulder. "How could you..." She breathed, her eyes flashing, "I ask you to do this one little thing for me and you... you just go out of your way to torment me."

"Torment you." Ezra snorted. "Torment... please mother... I thought that we had already had this discussion this morning... I can see no value in repeating it."

"Repeating it..." stammered his enraged mother, before she leant in closer and hissed in his ear. "If you think for one moment that I am going to believe your little tale of this morning then you are sorely mistaken... I asked at the general store and she knew nothing of your... your... affair with this man." She pointed to Vin, who just smiled widely at her and tipped his hat. She returned his gesture with a glare that would have frozen water.

Ezra looked totally shocked and asked, "I do hope you didn't just come right out and ask Mrs Potter about Vin and I... I mean that poor woman would not know what you were talking about, anyway."

Maude look, if possible even more annoyed. "Of course not." She spat, "I merely questioned how closely she thought you were with the others... and she never mentioned that you seemed overly close to Mr Tanner here.." she paused and frowned, "although she did mention that you seemed extraordinarily upset when he was shot the other week... but no more so then any good friend."

"Any good friend." Ezra repeated slowly as if that proved his point, then he went on. "Mother... I am not just anyone and I certainly do not get upset any more so that any good friend... the reason I was..." he swallowed, the near death of his lover still very painful for him. Vin reached over and rested a hand on his arm.

Maude reared up and smacked it away saying, "Will you stop doing that... I'm not going to fall for it." Vin just shot a look at Ezra then Chris who just shrugged, a small smile playing about his own lips.

Ezra recovered and continued, "er.. so upset was because Vin had been wounded and it was quite serious and whether you choose to believe me or not, is not my problem... Mr Tanner and I have formed a... a commitment and marrying Miss Annabella Easton is not part of that."

Maude seeing that she was not going to get anywhere with anger, suddenly switched and slumping down in the free chair next to her son she gasped, her voice trembling with just the right amount of fear. "But darling... Mr Easton is not the kind of man who will take this refusal to even meet his daughter well... and I promised him that you would dine with us tonight... please Ezra." She reached out and gently touched his face, her eyes wide and beseeching.

Ezra swallowed hard, he looked into his mother's eyes and knew that he could not refuse her. Not when she turned such an expression on him. "I don't know..." The gambler began, torn between his lover and his mother. He shot Vin a desperate look and the tracker could see that if he allowed the indecision to go on it would only hurt his lover.

"I don't see that just meeting them can hurt Ezra," he told the gambler quietly.

Ezra looked at him and smiled, it was so rich and full of love that Tanner realised that he would sell his soul for a smile like that and the promise it held. Then Ezra looked at his mother and offered, "Alright, I will dine with you tonight but I want you to understand fully that I will not be playing a popinjay about to be married... I will tell Mr Easton that I am committed elsewhere and he can make of that what he will."

"Ezra dear... please." Maude began to plead but the gambler's mind was made up.

"No mother... those are the terms, now you can extract yourself however you please and I will assist you with whatever plan you come up with but rest assured that I will not... under any circumstances deny my commitment to Mr Tanner."

"That's Vin, Ezra," Tanner put in, his chest swelling with pride and love as he heard his lover reaffirm his affection for him. It was the closest yet Ezra had come to a public announcement of their feelings towards each other and it was enough for Vin.

Ezra bowed his head. "My deepest apologies, Vin.. I promise to make it up to you later." He then lifted his face and graced his lover with a view of his smiling eyes.

"Sweet lord above... you are..." Maude finally stammered, the realisation that her son had not lied to her finally dawning on her. "How... I mean... you... two..." she stumbled to a stop as Chris leant over and confidentially offered.

"It sure is pretty to see them together isn't it?"

Maude turned frozen eyes on the gunslinger and snapped from tight lips, "With a wit like that, Mr Larabee, I'm not surprised that you had to become proficient with your gun." Standing she looked once more between Ezra and Vin, shook her head in disbelief, then said. "We are dining at the hotel at seven.. I will expect you to be punctual... and." She paused before she turned and tossed back over her shoulder. "just follow my lead." She finished with the tone of a mother who had suffered greatly at the hands of her unappreciative offspring, "I'm sure that I can think of something to get you out of this mess." With those words she was gone.

"Real pleasant of her to help get you out of the mess that she caused... ain't it Ezra." Vin said, shaking his head as he watched her cross the road.

Ezra sighed and went back to shuffling the cards and resumed laying them down in front of each man. "I'm sure mother will think of something... she has the most amazing ability to get herself out of her little fixes." Looking up he smiled faintly. "If anything, I feel sorry for Mr Easton.. that poor man has no idea what he's dealing with."


Ezra checked his appearance once again before he turned to throw a glance over towards Vin who was lying spread out on the bed resting his hands behind his head as he'd watched his lover prepare for his dinner engagement.

"I don't have to go," Ezra repeated, chewing his bottom lip as he fought the idea that this was totally wrong.

"No." Vin shook his head, "you promised your mother... and I don't mind," Tanner assured his lover. "As long as you come back to me."

Ezra smiled warmly and advancing towards his lover he leant down and laid a scorching kiss on the lips that gave way under his as he plundered the willing mouth. As they parted, Ezra licked his lips tasting his lover and offering in a husky breath. "Just so you know what I'll be thinking about when they serve the desert." He quirked an eyebrow and slowly ran his tongue over his swollen lips.

"Ezra...." Vin warned, his breath now coming in hitching excited pants. "If you don't leave now... you'd better have a good excuse for being late..."

"Late..." Ezra spoke in mock horror as he reared back. "Late for Dinner with Mr Easton and his lovely daughter... mother would never forgive me."

Tanner suddenly frowned at the mention of the daughter. Ezra saw it and could have kicked himself for raising her spectre between them, so he slipped back onto the bed again and laid his hand over the bulge of his lover's swelling passion. "Three hours... three hours and you can do what you want with me..." he promised.

"Whatever I want?" Vin asked huskily, his eyes suddenly glowing with hope. While he had been taken by Ezra many times, the gambler had always seemed reluctant to return the passion in that area but now the gambler was looking at him with a certainly that he had not shown before.

"Yes," he mumbled stooping in for another kiss, after which he added, "tonight I want to feel you... in me. I want to belong to you Vin... body, mind and soul... and I want all of you..."

"Ezra... you've already got it..." gasped Tanner nearly disgracing himself in his pants. Just the hand of his lover resting on his manhood and the thought of taking his lover was nearly enough to send him over the edge.

"Tonight..." The gambler promised, then slowly rising from the bed, he once more licked his lips and was gone.

Vin lay there for several moments before he groaned out loud and slowly allowed his hands to drift downwards, to unfasten his pants and pull his throbbing member out. Using one hand he quickly brought himself to release, his eyes closed and thinking of Ezra's hot, willing body about him.


Ezra entered the hotel lobby and slowly made his way towards the dining area. As he entered the room he spied his mother and her guest sitting at a large table in the corner. Maude, seeing her son, rose and glided towards him, her hands held out ready to greet him.

As he took her hands, she pulled him in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek saying as she did so. "You were out catching a robber today... and agree with whatever I say." Then she stepped back and resting a hand in the arm he held crooked for her, she guided him to the table saying. "Portland... this is my son Ezra... Ezra this is Mr Portland Easton and his lovely daughter Annabella."

"Charmed I'm sure." Ezra mumbled as he bent over the young woman's offered hand. She fluttered her eyes as him and giggled. Straightening the gambler then reached across the table and firmly shook Portland's hand. "Sir."

"Well, my lad... we've heard quite a bit about you from your mother."

"All good I hope." Ezra commented, taking the seat offered and snatching up the napkin he made a show of shaking it out and spreading it across his lap. He could tell that the tableware was not the hotel's usual standard, even the glasses and plates had the look of money about them.

"Of course... of course." Portland hurried to reassure. "Why she told us that today you were out chasing a bandit or thief."

"Yes." Ezra nodded wisely but didn't attempt to elaborate any further. Maude jumped into the gap.

"Mr Easton is out west to see Indians, Ezra... isn't that exciting?"

The gambler kept his real opinion of that to himself and just smiled politely saying, "well he's certainly come to the right place for that."

Portland looked uncertain for a moment, then he burst out laughing, this action covered the sharp kick that Maude aimed at her son's shins under the table. Ezra pulled his poker face on at the sudden pain and turned a friendly glare at his mother, who just smiled sweetly back at him, all innocence.

Dinner progressed at a leisurely pace with the meal being consumed with a very agreeable wine, which Ezra felt the need to comment on.

"This is an extraordinary wine," he said, holding the glass up to catch the light, the wine reflecting like blood.

"Yes," Portland agreed. "I always carry my own wine with me wherever I travel... I also have a chef but there was not enough room on top of the carriage for him." He sniggered and Ezra suddenly saw where Annabella got the giggle from. The young flower had been blushing, giggling and hiding behind her fan for most of the meal.

As the meal was nearing its end, a fine brandy and a bottle of port was produced and Maude carefully patted her full lips with her napkin and turning expectant eyes on her son she stated innocently, "now if you gentlemen will excuse us, I do believe that Annabella and I will retire to allow you men to talk.... Ezra, I suggest that you discuss with Mr Easton that little matter that you mentioned earlier... about the announcement in the paper."

"Mother?" Ezra asked, suddenly at a loss as to why his mother was deserting him like this, then seeing the look his mother gave him, he swallowed hard and agreed with forced joy. "Oh that.. don't you think that it would be better if you stayed and discussed it with us...."

Maude smiled sweetly, her eyes fully informing Ezra that she was enjoying her revenge. "Why no Ezra... I do believe that this is a matter for you gentleman to discuss... without us flighty women to distract you."

The gambler swallowed hard as he watched his mother nod her regal head in their direction then gathering up the giggling young lady, she guided her out of the room and towards the stairs back to their room.

Before Ezra could even begin to think up the lies he was going to tell, Portland interrupted his thoughts by saying, "I know that your mother jumped the gun a bit with that announcement... but you know how women are... I really wanted you to meet my daughter before you made a decision..." Ezra realised that Easton was watching him with very cold calculating eyes. The gambler swallowed. This man was no fool.

Ezra sighed sadly and remembering what Vin told him about how telling the truth was better then lying he finally confessed, "well to tell you the truth Mr Easton..."

"Portland please... we are both men of the world here and I like to think that I can call you Ezra?"

"But of course... er Portland..." Ezra looked at his glass and paused while Easton poured some more brandy into it. He fingered the fine cut crystal before he began. "My er... mother has placed me in a very awkward position here Portland... you see... I er... I am already committed and well... I am not really at liberty to pursue an engagement with your daughter." He finished with a gasp of words and then glanced up at the other man, who was sitting back, his recently lit cigar firmly clamped in his mouth.

Slowly Portland removed the cigar and looking Ezra right in the eye he asked. "Do you love her, this other woman you are committed to?"

Ezra didn't bother to correct Portland's words in believing that it was a woman but he looked the other man directly in the eyes and answered, his tone strong as he thought of his love for Vin. "With all my heart and soul."

Portland looked away from the obvious emotion shining in the other man's face and nodding slowly he ventured, "then you are indeed a very lucky man."

"Yes... and I thank god every day for that."

Portland nodded. "I won't say that I'm not disappointed. I like you Ezra, I've asked about and leaned that you are highly respected here... for what you do... in protecting the town... and that smacks of integrity and I like that in a man... and well," Portland paused and smiling warmly he offered, "...your mother, well she's the last of her kind..."

Ezra was surprised to hear that the people of the town actually respected him, then hearing Portland finish with his description of his mother Ezra pulled a face which thankfully Easton didn't see. "Yes that she is..."

"Well," Easton continued, swallowing the last of his brandy and standing he held out his hand. "It has been a pleasure to meet with you Mr Standish... and I doubt that I will see you again."

"Oh?" Ezra questioned, only just hiding his relief at that statement, accepting the firm handshake. Standish was surprised to discover that he actually like Portland Easton.

"Well there's no reason to linger now and I want to get on to San Francisco... my wife is visiting a sick relative there... she went on by train... and I do miss her..." a twinkle entered his eyes as he confided, "she's my heart and soul as well... but don't ever tell her that otherwise she'll really run up the account at Charlintons."

Ezra smiled at the mention of one of the most exclusive clothes shop in San Francisco. "You have my word, you secret is safe with me."

"I'll offer to take your mother along if you don't mind. She is very good with my daughter and well Milly... my wife... she's a bit easy going with her... but Maude... well Annabella has really started to bloom under her guidance."

Ezra nearly choked at the thought of Maude helping a shy flower like Annabella Easton bloom but he bravely held it back and smiled saying warmly, "Not at all... from the way my mother spoke she has become quite attached to your daughter... and her regard for your wife," he added with a genuine smile, "was quite evident from the way she spoke about her."

Portland looked pleasantly surprised and said, "well, I have to admit I was not certain if she really got along with Milly or not... but if that is the case I will ensure that she spends the season with us. My wife will be delighted."

"I am sure that would be her warmest desire." Ezra agreed, standing and following Portland from the dinning room. "the season in San Francisco... it's five months right?" he asked innocently and his smile widened when Portland nodded.

As Ezra left the hotel he could not keep the spring from his step nor the wide smile from his lips. He considered his mother's reaction to spending the 'season' with the Eastons in San Francisco. She would hate it, her impression of Mrs Easton had been very clear and to the point. Yes, Ezra thought, revenge is sweet.

As he entered the saloon he spied Vin sitting at a table with Chris and Buck, JD was just coming back from the bar with a tray on which four glasses stood. Ezra picked up speed and slipped into the only spare chair which had obviously been JD's. The young man stopped, frowned at the gambler, then moved to the extra chair that Buck snagged from a nearby table.

"So how did it go?" Vin asked. His voice was calm but Ezra could hear the anxiety behind the question.

"Fine... I just explained that I was committed elsewhere and Portland understood."

"Just like that?" JD questioned, his face now clear of a frown. He was never one to hold a grudge and he had been quite worried for the gambler since Maude had visited the jail that afternoon.

"Yes," Ezra confided, smiling slightly as he explained, "I think I've been influenced by a certain tracker around here because I decided to tell the truth and well..." he shrugged as if amazed that the truth actually worked. "He just accepted that I had made a commitment elsewhere."

"So what happens now?" Chris asked, always the practical one of the group.

"Now Mr Easton and his entourage leave Four Corners early tomorrow, heading for San Francisco, taking my mother with him."

"Your mother... why?" Vin asked, a frown marring his handsome features.

Ezra had the decency to blush as he confessed, "well someone led Mr Easton to believe that my mother was very fond of the family and would not object to spending time with them."

"And I take it that Maude isn't overly fond of the family?" Chris ventured a smile creasing his lips.

"Hell no." Ezra laughed, "but she's too dazzled by their wealth to refuse and will no doubt spend an entire season playing companion to Mrs Easton and her giggling, blushing daughter." He laughed, it felt good to be sitting here talking with his friends.

"So," Buck said, leaning forward and producing a pack of cards. "Who's for a game?" He looked expectantly at Ezra, who smiled warmly before he said.

"Not me... I've got another game in mind..."

Buck looked at Chris who nodded and then JD who smiled and said, "Sure why not... I stand a chance of winning if Ezra ain't playing."

"Vin?" Buck asked, shooting the tracker a smile as he asked, he knew exactly what game Ezra was talking about.

"No... Mr Wilmington, Mr Tanner will not be playing your game tonight.... He'll be playing mine." With that the gambler tipped his hat to the other men at the table and preceded his lover up the stairs. If anyone in the bar looked their way, they just saw two of the seven who protected the town on their way upstairs to play a private game of porker. Leastways, that was the tale that Ezra had let slip.


As the door closed behind Vin, Ezra pounced on him, knocking his hat off and pulling at his shirt which gave under the attack.

"Ezra... Ezra..." Tanner gasped but his lips were found and any further words and thoughts stifled by the intentness of the attack. The tracker gave up any semblance of sanity and moved with the rough and tumble flow that his lover had set.

When next Vin became aware he was laying naked on the bed with an equally naked Ezra sitting on his stomach, as always resting mainly on his own legs to ensure that Tanner's wound was not aggravated. "I've been looking forward to this..." Ezra was saying as he rubbed his hands up Vin's chest. Then seeing that Tanner was about to touch him, he gasped out, "No... let me do this for you."

Vin hesitated, then seeing the overwhelming look of lust in the gambler's eyes he let his hand fall limply back at his side. He knew what Ezra wanted to do and while he desperately wanted him to do it, Tanner could fully understand Standish desire to be the one in charge.

Ezra leant down and began to worship the body under him. With licks and kisses and nips he left a blazing trail down his lover's body. Vin lay gasping and groaning, his mind and body on fire from his lover's lips and hands.

Finally just when he thought he could take no more, he felt Ezra's body leave his. His eyes flew open, then felt his eyelids drop to half mast as he watched his lover preparing his body for him. He could see Ezra's hand as he slowly worked his fingers into his body, the oil dribbling down his hand. "Yeah, baby," Vin gasped, eyes flaming with passion as he wondered how he didn't just cum from the sight of Ezra preparing himself.

Standish glanced up his own eyes half closed with desire as he bit at his bottom lip, before he gasped, "for you baby... I'm getting myself ready for you... you're the first... only you." Ezra moved his fingers firmly in and out, slowly widening himself until he felt ready to take his lover.

Then carefully repositioning himself over his lover's body he grasped Tanner's manhood and carefully assisted it as it slipped into his body.

Tanner wanted to stop the gambler as he knew that this position was painful for a first time but he was unable to breathe a word as the hot walls of his lover enveloped him. "Ez..." he gasped, as he fought to restrain himself from pushing upwards. This was going to go at Ezra's speed, the gambler needed to be in control and Tanner was going to do everything in his power to ensure that he was.

Slowly, inch by inch Ezra slid down Vin's engorged member, all the while muttering words of love and encouragement and soaking up the spattering of prose that Tanner was stumbling over as he surrendered himself to Standish's care.

Finally Ezra rested fully on Vin's body. He swallowed and leaning forwards slightly, an action which pushed Vin's manhood even further into him and caused Tanner to gasp, he reached over and clasped both of Vin hands in his own. Vin gripped onto Standish's hands like they were a life line, the only part of sanity that rested near his body as Ezra slowly began to rock, up and down, using Vin's grasp as a push up point.

Vin desperately wanted the movement, the torment, to last but he was just so aroused and soon he was spurting up into his lover's willing body and Ezra was crying his name as he too came, spilling his seed over Tanner's upper body.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, both men began to move again. Ezra slowly extracted Vin from his body and gingerly lay down beside him. Tanner was all concern as he leant up and after using the cloth by the bed to gently clean them both up he leant over and planted a kiss on Ezra's lips asking, "Did I hurt ya?"

Standish reached up a hand and gently pushed away a long strand of hair that fell across his lover's face. "You hurt me... never..." he smiled and offered, "I will know for the next day or so that you love me every time I sit down.. but Mr Tanner... there are no words to describe what you just did to me..."

Vin kissed him deeply again, before he settled down beside the gambler, pulling the other's body up and across his chest so that Ezra was resting comfortably partially on top of him. Then pulling the covers over them both he admonished, "and how many times do I have to tell ya... it's Vin... VIN... not Mr Tanner..."

The Biggest Gamble Index On to: The Biggest Gamble Part 5: The Christmas Present

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