A Whole Lot Of Trouble
(Old West)

by Kit

Back to: Not To Be

The pleasant Spring day had now settled into dusk on the town of "Four Corners" and the majority of the six men seated at the dinner table in the local restaurant found it to be a welcoming comfort.

"Things are too quiet." Buck complained, while placing another fork full of food in his mouth.

"Nothing wrong with quiet." Chris observed while sitting back in his chair and taking a sip of coffee.

"Ya, folks seem to be real pleased with things lately." JD spoke up as well. He then reached for a biscuit from the middle of the table.

"Need some excitement is all. Get bored real easy son." His constant on the go nature was working over time.

The others gave each other amusing glances.

"Lord almighty." Bucked looked as though a lady had just turned him down.

The others turned their heads to be were Buck was staring numbly. They found Madeline Charbaneaux standing in the entryway to the restaurant.

"Well Buck," Chris looked over at him. "I believe your going to get that excitement."

Madeline Charbaneaux was certain she had never been more nervous in her life. She saw that the six men had discovered her. She sighed, smoothed her hair back with her hands and then her light grey dress. She then made her way to their table.

As she approached the table of men immediately stood to great her presence.

"Good evening gentlemen." She whispered nervously. Her body was shaking all over, she felt as if her heart was going to leap out of her chest.

"Why Madeline!" Buck placed his hand on her arm. "How have you been? What brings you back here?"

"Let me find you a chair." Josiah interrupted. He then made his way from the table in search of a chair for her.

The others smiled warmly at her. She was more then relieved to see their welcoming expressions. The acceptance of these men was paramount to her.

"Here we go." Josiah came from behind her with a chair.

"Thank you Josiah." She touched his arm and gave him a wide smile. He assisted her as she sat, he then returned to his own chair. As she situated herself at the table, Buck was to her left, JD and Josiah also occupied that side of the table. To her right were Vin, Chris and Nathan.

"Are you hungry Miss Madeline?" Nathan gesturing to the table full of food. "We have more then enough food or we can get ya whatever you might want."

"No thank you Nathan. Traveling always makes me nauseous." She then looked about the table and placed a hand over he chest. "Oh, I do apologize for my vulgarity."

"Ha!" Came Buck's amused response. "IM surprised you know what the word means.

The other five men at table gave a small laugh.

The waitress made her way to the table.

"Can I get you something for you miss?" She directed her gaze to Madeline.

She at first declined. She then decided to order some tea. The waitress then inquired to the rest of the table if they needed anything further and they informed her they were fine. The waitress then left to get Madeline's tea.

"So did you miss us or just one in particular?" Buck teased.

"Buck!" JD shot him a glare; he then turned to regard Madeline. "How was London Madeline?"

Madeline smiled at JD. "It's alright JD. London was lovely and a wonderful experience. However, I guess I never realized how much of an American I was until I was out of the country."

She then turned to Buck. "And yes…I was hoping to see Ezra." She then lowered her eyes to her lap and her hands that were placed there.

The waitress returned with Madeline's tea. Madeline thanked her; the waitress then left the table.

"Well you can't see him now. He's not here." JD informed her while eating another biscuit.

"Oh--well, he no longer resides in this town?" She nervously took her cup of tea in both hands.

"No, no." Buck shook his head and laughed. "He's out of town visitin." He gave her a wide grin and tilted his head to one side. "A matter of a personal nature."

Madeline's face drained. "Oh-- he's, he---. She fumbled for words.

Buck leaned closer towards her. "He's visitin his mother." He then sat back in his chair still grinning.

Madeline sighed in relief. She then smiled to herself.

"Buck!" Chris gave him a warning glare.

"What?" Buck threw his arms up.

"I think," Madeline looked over at Chris. "Chris is trying to tell you it's none of my business." She gave him a shy smile and took a sip of her tea.

Chris flashed her a quick smile.

"Yup." Buck was grinning. "Things are definitely gonna get excitin around here now."

"Buck I assure you IM anything but exciting." She continued to sip her tea.

"You may not think so, but when Ezra comes back, believe me things are gonna get that way."

"You staying in town Madeline?" Vin was trying to lessen Buck's joy in badgering her.

"No Vin." Josephine will be here to collect me. I informed her in my letter if I were early I would stop in here."

"Will you be staying here for good?" Chris ventured inquisitively.

"IM---IM not certain. We'll have to see about that." She answered shyly.

"Have you been in London all this time or have you been anywhere else?" Josiah piped up hoping to ease the mood again.

"Yes, I was in London. I missed Josephine and ----." She blushed slightly and quickly took a sip of her tea. She stole a glance around the table to see the men all give each other quick smiles.

"Josephine." Buck placed his head back, placed his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. "Now there's a fine woman."

"She is rather found of you as well Buck." She peered up at him mischievously.

"There she is now." Chris inclined his head to the entry way to the restaurant.

Madeline turned her head over her shoulder to see her friend making her way to the table. She and the men stood up.

"Madeline!" Josephine exclaimed. She then embraced her friend tightly. Madeline returned the embrace eagerly.

"You look wonderful." She whispered as she kissed her cheek. They finally released each other.

"Gentlemen." She looked about the table and gave each a smile.

She then rested her eyes on Buck.

"Hello Buck." She batted her eyelashes at him.

"Miss Josephine. You get lovelier and lovelier every time I see you."

"Oh, Buck." She waived a hand at him. "You're so bad."

He laughed heartily.

"Well." Josephine took Madeline's hand. "We best get going before it gets too dark."

Madeline looked the table of men over. "Thank you gentlemen for the company and the tea."

"Not a problem at all." Josiah spoke up.

"Our pleasure Madeline." Vin nodded his head.

They all made their comments as to the pleasure of her company and how good it was to see her again.

"I'll help you with your bags." Buck offered.

"I'll help ya Buck." Vin turned to Madeline. Where did you leave them Madeline?"

"The man at the hotel offered for me to leave them in the lobby until I returned for them."

"We'll get em." Vin nodded his head to her and then looked at Josephine. "Were is your wagon Josephine?"

"Right out front of the restaurant Vin."

"Thank you." Madeline gave both Buck and Vin smiles as they passed by her.

Madeline went to turn to leave the table. She then turned back and fixed her gaze on Chris. "You'll well---," A blush crept up her neck. "You'll let Ezra----."

"Don't worry," Chris helped her out by interrupting her. "I'll let him know you're here."

"Thank you Chris."

"Not at all, goodnight now Madeline."

"Goodnight Chris and to all of you as well."

Two days had past since Madeline's arrival back. She found herself trying to stay as busy as possible. She wondered if Ezra had returned. And if so, did he even care that she had. Madeline's uneasiness was such that she found it best to excuse herself after dinner. She made her way into barn and found patting the horses to be somewhat of a relaxation.

Madeline stopped patting the horse. There really was nothing that could take her mind off of Ezra. She found her way to a bail of hay and sat herself down. Hugging her waist she kept her gaze to the ground. Seeing a shadow, she slowly lifted her eyes to see Ezra leaning with his hip against the beam that held the lamp, his arms were folded one over the over on his chest.

She fumbled while trying to stand herself up. She'd wanted so badly to see him again but now that he was here, what was she going to say? She then wrung her hands, staring at him. "How, H--, long have you been their?"

Ezra moved away from the beam and took several steps toward her.

She stared numbly stared at him. Was it possible that he had gotten more handsome? She noticed how his clothing was strangely casual. He wore a simple white button up shirt, black pants; his dark green jacket was the garment that had activity to it.

"Do you know how beautiful you are?" When she had left him, he truly thought he would never see her again. But here she was. He trailed his hand down her auburn hair and touched strands with his fingertips as he gazed the length of her. He had so much he wanted to ask her but for now…he simply needed to be with her.

He placed his hands on each side of her neck. As his mouth claimed hers, he released his left arm to encircle her waist to draw her closer. He was murmuring words to her, he wasn't sure exactly what they were, however, and he seemed to say them on impulse.

At first Madeline jerked. The heat of his hands scorched her. She missed his touch so badly; she then put her hands through his hair and leaned in closer. She felt as if she melting.

"Ezra…. Ezra please…." She was grasping for air.

He quickly went for the buttons in front of her dress, then gently with a hand, he twisted her hair in a fist and guided her head to lean back for better access of her neck. He then lightly pinched her skin with his teeth. His other hand stayed on the pulse of her neck.

"Madeline…" His voice shook, "Madeline I missed you so."

He turned his face towards her, his gaze intense. "I want you." He slipped an arm around her hips and pulled her even closer. His warm kisses, not carefully this time but hungrily, were bringing her senseless. Releasing his grasp he lowered himself on once knee and then the other. Once again he drew her close and placed a kiss on her stomach and slowly lifted his gaze to her. Madeline put a hand through his hair, he grasped it and kissed the inside of her palm. She then lowered herself to the floor to oblige his unspoken request.

Stretched out on the floor in a bed of straw, Ezra held Madeline in this crook of his body, his hand played over her midriff. The wind whistling from the outside of the barn was the only sound, with the exception of their breathing.

"I have to leave soon." He whispered softly in her ear.

He sat up slowly. He turned to study her deep green eyes, looking up at him.

Rising up beside him, in nothing but her undergarments, she would have been embarrassed if there was more light in the room. She looked so innocent and mesmerized. He ran a hand up her arm and rested it on her neck. She nestled her cheek against his hand.

Her gaze fell to his mouth, she pressed her lips against his lightly she then pressed her body against his and kept her lips to his for a lengthy stay.

Ezra felt her body trembling; he pulled his head away. "You alright?" He asked huskily.

"IM---." Tears burned her eyes. "IM fine, I'm wonderful."

She drew her head back. "Don't go Ezra." Her look was desperate.

He bent his head to feather light kisses across her mouth.

"IM-I'm not very good at this am I?" She whispered, then placed her hands on his.

With his thumbs he wiped away her tears. "If you were, I'd be disappointed. Don't you know that a man likes to know that his woman has only been with him?" He lightly kissed her forehead.

He slid a hand back to her again, his hand slid down the front of her body. She gasped at the shock waives that shot through her. She placed her arms around his neck and guided his body down to her.

"Alright." He chuckled in her ear. "I'll stay a little while longer."

It was early afternoon in Four Corners. Madeline and Ezra were at the restaurant and had just finished eating. JD came by their table. "Hey," he grabbed a vacant chair from one of the nearby tables, took his hat off and sat himself down.

"Hi JD." Madeline smiled at him brightly as he and joined them.

"How is it that we became so fortunate as to attract your attentions JD?" Ezra asked in a less friendly tone.

"Oh, I don't know. I just…. Well" He looked at Madeline with pleading eyes. "Madeline could I talk with you?" He was playing with his hat with his hands

Ezra lifted an eyebrow. "You attempting to move in on my current personal situation?"

"No, no" JD sat up. "I want to talk to her about…. Well--"

"Casey." Ezra interrupted.

"Ya." JD looked embarrassed.

"I'd like that JD." Madeline offered. "However," she looked over at Ezra. "Today we have plans. But I promise we'll get together."

JD's head quickly came up and gave her a wide smile. "Thanks Madeline." He then got up from his chair, put his hat back on his head and left them.

Madeline amusingly watched JD as he left. She then turned back to Ezra. He was holding a sultry stare on her.

"Ezra," Madeline blushed. "Really you shouldn't look at me so in public."

He pulled his chair closer and kept the same gaze. "I can't help myself." He then whispered in her ear. "I adore you."

Madeline placed a hand on his cheek. "We both feel the same but--" She looked about the room, know one was looking but she felt it inappropriate anyway. "We must keep a certain…. Well, civility in public." She then lowered her hand. "We should go."

Ezra nodded and got himself up from the chair and as she got up he pulled her chair out for her.

As Madeline and Ezra entered onto the boardwalk the stagecoach was pulling up. They watched as the new arrivals made their way off the stagecoach.

"My lord." Ezra breathed.

Madeline looked over at him. "What is it? Do you know someone?"

"I should say I do." He stepped into the street and extended his hand to her. She accepted and they made there way over to the other side.

When they had crossed the street and made their way over to the couple Ezra was so eager to greet. Madeline found an older and very handsome, distinguished gentleman and young obviously well bread and probably the most beautiful woman Madeline had ever seen, She was standing by the gentleman and twirling her parasol. Her hair was raven black, she had it twisted lightly, a white silk ribbon was tied in a bow, holding it so that it would not fall in her face, her skin was that of a porcelain doll and her eyes were the color blue velvet. The white silk dress she wore enhanced her features even more so. The two were the only people left on the boardwalk. They appeared to be waiting for assistance with their luggage.

The woman took one look at Ezra and beamed. "Why Ezra Standish, as I live and breath." She made her way to him and they embraced him tightly. Madeline felt a strange uneasiness.

"Papa," She extended her arm to the older man. He walked over. He gave Madeline a smile and tipped his hat. "Little lady." The woman however, took no notice of her at all.

Madeline nodded and smiled slightly at the man.

He extended his hand to Ezra. Accepting the hand and clasped it firmly with both his. He then turned to Madeline and placed his arm around her. "Madeline Charbaneaux, Ezra extended his free arm to his friends. "This is Jack Cormier and his lovely daughter Claudia.

Claudia blushed. Madeline didn't like the feeling that was overcoming her. She didn't like this woman and she was afraid she would soon enough find out why.

"And this." Ezra placed his other free hand on Madeline's arm. "Is Madeline Charbaneaux, she and I well…. He looked at her blankly.

"Were a couple." She finished for him and patted his arm. She couldn't help but wonder about her appearance. Her hair was pulled back as well, however, a strand of simple cloth held hers. She was wearing a casual pale blue cotton dress. But in comparison to Claudia's attire she felt uncomfortable.

"How do you do." She looked from one and then the other with as pleasant a smile as she could force herself.

Claudia's expression on the other hand, turned blank.

"Well that's glorious son." Mr. Cormier slapped Ezra on the back.

"Yes," Claudia forced a smile. "Just glorious." She then looked at Madeline. Their eyes locked, and agreeable flicker of challenge was exchanged between the two women.

"How is it you came upon Four Corners Jack." Ezra asked with enthusiasm.

'Well, actually it's luck I guess. We are just staying until the next stagecoach. We've been traveling about and visiting with family. We thought the rest would do us some good before moving on. We are finally going home." He explained and looked pleased he was heading home.

"The next stagecoach will not arrive until Saturday noon. They used to arrive and depart more frequently, however, of late; they haven't been so obliging. So you are stuck here until that time." Ezra gave a small laugh.

"I can't think of a more enjoyable distraction." Claudia smiled brightly at Ezra.

Claudia took a handkerchief to her nose. "How can we find someone in this god forsaken town to get these bags in the hotel?"

"Allow me." Ezra released his arm from Madeline and began carrying the luggage into the hotel. Madeline, Mr. Cormier and Claudia kept giving occasional friendly smiles to lessen the uncomfortable silence until Ezra's return. When Ezra returned he immediately took Madeline's hand in both his.

"I insist Ezra, that you and that lovely creature join us for dinner this evening." Mr. Cormier offered with hope in his voice.

"Well," Ezra looked over at Madeline. "We already have plans.

Madeline looked over the situation and saw Ezra's disappointment. She was sure he would like to be in the company of old friends and catching up on information on other friends as well.

"No you go and have dinner with Mr. Cormier and Claudia." She patted his hand. "We were going to have dinner alone anyway and I already have had the pleasure of your company for lunch, she patted his hand...You go on."

Ezra gave her an uncertain look. "Are you sure?"

"Why don't you join us darlin?" Mr. Cormier offered.

"Oh, no. I couldn't." She looked about them. "You will no doubt be talking about the past. I wouldn't feel comfortable. Besides my being in town all day will no doubt leave Josephine needing assistance this evening. But thank you so much for the kind offer."

"Another time then. Before we depart." His smile was one of kindness.

"That would be lovely. Thank you Mr. Cormier." She returned the smile.

"You sure?" Ezra pressed. He wanted to be with his friends but he didn't want to leave Madeline out either.

"Now Ezra." Claudia made her way over. She then tucked her arms so that she held a grip on his. "She said she wouldn't be comfortable. So let's not argue."

Madeline clenched her teeth but stayed quiet. She hoped that Ezra and Mr. Cormier didn't notice her anger.

"Well," Ezra sighed, then gave Madeline a smile. "We do have the rest of the day to spend together." He then fixed his eyes on Claudia's arms wrapped around his. "If you would." Giving her a slight smile.

"Oh, sorry, I just missed you Ezra." She took a few steps back but kept a flirtatious smile on him.

"We shall see you this evening then." Mr. Cormier inclined to Ezra. "And you pretty lady," He tipped his hat to Madeline. "Will be missed." He then put his arm out for his daughter, she accepted and the entered the hotel.

After dinner Ezra and Mr. Cormier went to the saloon for a drink. Claudia had excused herself early due to exhaustion from the trip. The saloon was as lively as usual. Before Ezra and Mr. Cormier found a table of their own, Ezra made a point of introducing him to his friends.

Once they had found themselves seated at their own table. Mr. Cormier looked about and observed. "You look like you've done well for yourself."

Ezra also looked about. "Perhaps in the way of friends yes. But the locality is less to be desired." Ezra was rubbing the shot glass between his palms.

"Locality and appearance of a locality can be changed." Mr. Cormier lifted his shot to Ezra; he then tipped it back and drank.

"My Claudia still has her eye on you." He said amusingly and pouring another shot.

"Yes, well, as flattering as that is. I have never felt anything but friendship for her. Claudia is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. But there's never been any romantic feelings for her on my part."

"She always gets what she wants Ezra, you know that." His smirk challenging.

Ezra smiled so that his gold tooth showed. "You can't always get what you want out of life Jack." He lifted the shot to his friend, tilted his head back and drank.

"Would that fine lady you were with have a bit to do with it."

"Absolutely." Ezra's expression now relaxed. "I don't deserve her…. And I will no doubt, somehow fowl things up."

"Take heart son." Mr. Cormier patted him gently on the back.

Ezra had taken it upon himself to have Madeline take Claudia around town. He thought that Claudia would be more comfortable with another woman while doing her shopping. Madeline was furious inside when he had informed her of this when she arrived. But kept her anger inside. She told herself she was doing it for him and also to get Claudia out of Mr. Cormier's hair for a bit, not to mention away from Ezra. However, It was clearly apparent that Claudia was less then happy with the fact Ezra was not the one accompanying her.

"Well, Madeline how is it that you and Ezra can stand it in this town?" Claudia casually asked while looking over the menu.

They had just arrived in the restaurant for something to eat. After an exhausting day of following and helping Claudia around town with her purchases, Madeline thought to herself, for a women who couldn't find anything…she certainly found allot of it.

"I like it here." Madeline answered flatly. She hated this woman and was trying with everything inside her to be more sociable but just could not.

'Well," Claudia placed the menu down, then took her gloves off. "You're apparently from new money."

Madeline felt her smug expression through the menu but made no response nor did she lower the menu.

"Not that I'm insulting you. It's just---well---people who have been born with it can tell the difference."

Madeline finally lowered the menu, blinked her eyes and answered numbly. "No doubt I'm sure. However, I'm not from money at all. I was fortunate enough to be taken in by a very kind family. They gave me everything I needed and that included schooling in both education and the refinements all ladies should know."

"How sweet." Came a mocking response. "Is Ezra aware of your background?"

Madeline could feel her cheeks growing hot. "Ezra is well aware of my background….as it were."

Claudia snorted lightly. "You don't need to be so defensive Madeline, I was just curious."

Madeline pulled her chair forward, placed her hands on the table and folded them, one over the other. She then set an intense stare on Claudia. "Claudia….we both no what's going on here. I am not going to oblige you in your insults and inquiries about Ezra or myself. You will get nothing out of me about myself and as for your questions about Ezra, I suggest you ask him." She then pushed her chair back and began to get up. Standing now, but never losing her stare, she placed her hands on the table, palms down and leaned closer to Claudia. "And one more thing. I will warn you once and once only…if you have any illusions about you and Ezra you can forget them. I love that man more then anything on this earth…. You will NOT come between us."

"Why Madeline." Claudia placed a hand to her chest. "There's no need to be so rude."

"Call it what you will Claudia. But I'm telling you. You stay away from him or you'll answer to me." With that she pushed herself away from the table and left the restaurant.

It was mid morning when Madeline road into Four Corners. She thought she would help JD out concerning her assistance on "womanly advice". Madeline thought a ride would be nice so that they may be alone for any questions he may have. After her talk with Claudia she hoped the woman would stay far from Ezra, Madeline didn't see a problem with her day being spent with JD.

Madeline found JD sitting in front of the sheriff's office playing with his revolver. He immediately got up when he saw her crossing the street.

"Hey, Madeline," He was adjusting his vest. "How come you're not with Ezra?"

Madeline stopped before the steps to the boardwalk. "I thought we might go for a ride JD. Just you and I so we can talk about anything you may want to ask me?"

"Oh, ya." JD grabbed his hat and placed his gun in its holster. "Ya, let me go get my horse over at the corral." JD stepped off the boardwalk and they made their way to the stables.

JD and Madeline were just about to the door of the stables when out walked Claudia and Ezra with their horses.

All four stopped in their tracks. Ezra looked from Madeline and then to Claudia and back again and didn't like the feeling he was getting.

Madeline gave Ezra a quick glance but said nothing. She then placed a steely glance on Claudia and made her way over. JD followed behind her and like Ezra, he felt the thick tension between the women.

"Claudia." She said through gritted teeth. "I believe we had an agreement."

Claudia stood her ground. "Agreement may be a bit presumptuous." She sneered. "You made clear what you wanted but as I recall I made no response."

"JD," Madeline kept her gaze on Claudia. "Why don't you and Ezra go to the restaurant for some coffee."

"Madeline we were just going for a friendly ride." Ezra offered.

Madeline said nothing to Ezra and kept her eyes locked on Claudia.

"Claudia if you would just give me a moment of your time." Madeline extended her arm as an inclination so that they may speak alone.

At first Claudia didn't move, finally she let out a loud sigh and dropped the reins to the horse and followed Madeline to stand near the water trough.

By this time Chris, Buck, Vin, Nathan and Josiah had been watching from outside the saloon and decided to come closer for a better look in hopes of some fun.

The two ladies stood standing one facing the other. Madeline's chest was heaving from rage and her hands clenched the sides of her riding skirt.

Claudia began to fan herself. "Could you please make this quick, it appears it's going to be a hot day."

Madeline gritted her teeth. "Afraid of the heat are you? She stepped even closer to Claudia. "Well then perhaps, you should cool yourself off."

Madeline placed both her hands on Claudia's shoulders and pushed her so that Claudia's backside fell into the trough full of water, she landed with a loud and wet splash.

Madeline threw her head back and roared with laughter.

"You, you---oh." Claudia was fumbling to get her soaked riding hat off.

As Claudia was struggling to get herself out of the trough, Madeline attempted to push her down again, but this time Claudia took Madeline with her and both women and the water trough all tumbled over. The women were wrestling with intensity and pulling at anything they could grasp from one another, hair, clothing...

Vin was sitting on a bale of hay. He slapped his knee and laughed out loud. "This is fun isn't it?"

Nathan and Josiah were standing by the corral fence and slapping one other and laughing hysterically.

Buck and Chris were not far from Nathan and Josiah. Buck looked over at Chris in astonishment. "I don't get it, of all the men in this town, those two gorgeous creatures are fighting over Ezra."

"You're just mad it aint you Buck." Chris answered while watching the two women in amusement.

JD was pacing back and forth. He looked at Ezra. "Ain't ya gonna do anything Ezra!"

"And just what is it you expect me to do JD?"

"I don't know break it up!" He threw up his hands.

Ezra did nothing. He just stood there and watched in amazement that these two women were fighting over him. Part of him loved it, but the other part he found it to be an unbelievable embarrassment.

"I'll break it up!" JD went to go over to the women.

Ezra grabbed his arm. "You'll do nothing of the kind."

JD turned and gave him a look of anger. "You just love it that there fightin over ya Ezra. I don't want Madeline to get picked on!"

JD shook Ezra's grasp and walked over to the women. He got a hold on Madeline. But she struggled with him to let her go.

Chris saw JD's plight and walked over and grabbed hold of Claudia

Claudia was trying to loosen Chris's hold. "Leave it to Yankee trash to start a fight like a common thug!" She seethed at Madeline. Chris took a tighter hold on her waste.

Madeline struggled in JD's grasp. "And leave it to a Southern imbecile to try and take another woman's man!" Madeline spat back.

The men took the not so willing women in separate directions so that they could cool down.

"You alright now Madeline?" JD was asking while trying to help her get some of the straw that was stuck to her hair from the mud.

"Yes JD I'm fine. Thank you." She was also doing her best to get the straw out.

Ezra made his way over to Madeline and JD. He pushed his hat slightly back with his index finger, then placed his hands on his hips. "JD, I'd like to talk to Madeline."

JD looked down at Madeline for her approval of his departure.

She looked up at him. "I'm fine JD you go on now. And thank you again."

JD shot Ezra a glance and nodded at Madeline he then left them alone.

"Madeline what has gotten into you?" He was trying to be serious but looking at her in mud from head to toe and the occasional strand of straw sticking out from her hair was making it hard for him to do so.

"Me!" Fury filled her eyes. Me! It's her!" She pointed in Claudia's direction; Chris was trying in vain to help her get cleaned up and settled down.

"Madeline." Ezra stepped closer and put a hand on his forehead. "You're the one who threw her in the water."

Madeline jumped to her feet. "You're going to defend her!"

"IM not defending anyone. I'm just saying you're the one who threw her in the water." He was trying to rationalize the situation.

"She asked for it! She's been asking for it!" Madeline again was pulling at her hair in hopes of getting some of the mud and straw out.

"Let me." Ezra stepped closer and put his hands out to help her.

She pushed his hands away. "Don't bother! I'm going home!" She went to turn away; she then turned back to face him. "Ezra Standish all I have to say is, if you have to stand there and ask me why this happened," She stood closer. "Then you're not as smart as I thought you were." She then turned on her heels and made her way down the street.

Ezra and Madeline escaped from town to have a picnic along a quiet river. Ezra thought it a good idea that he and Madeline spend some time away from others and make some for themselves. With the tension between the two women, especially now, it was good to keep them as far away from one another as possible.

Over the course of the day they found themselves revealing stories of their pasts and informing each other of their wants and expectations out of life.

Ezra disappeared for a short while and returned with a bouquet of wild flowers. After giving them to Madeline, he stretched out beside her, propped his head on one hand, his eyes never leaving her. Madeline turned to meet his gaze. She didn't know why but he still made her so nervous.

Smiling he took a flower from the bouquet and played it along her arm.

"We should go back." She said softly. "It will be getting dark soon."

Madeline stood Ezra grasped her ankle. "Later." He said huskily.

She looked down at him, her eyes wide with worry. "Why aren't we going now?"

"You know why," He tightened his hold on her ankle, rolling over on his back he put his free hand out for her. "Come down here."

She new look he had in his eyes. Madeline looked about the area nervously. "It's broad daylight."

"Come." He insisted.

She dropped to her knees.

Tucking her dress under her knees. "You have no shame Ezra."

He grinned widely and drew her toward him. She lay across his chest. Lord if her auburn hair wasn't bewitching to him. He played his hand through the length of it, taken in the scent of her, his eyes danced with amusement.

Without warning he rolled over with her, landing on top, he kissed her lightly on the lips and moved his hand down.

She grabbed his hand. "Ezra!" She tried moving his firm hold. "Someone might come!"

"No one will come." He bent down and kissed away any protest she might have had.

At dusk they were finishing getting dressed to return to back. Ezra was entertained watching Madeline.

Crimson rode to her cheeks. She smoothed her dress, keeping her eyes averted.

He made his way over to her. He took her hand bent and kissed it. Madeline touched his hair. She shook her head, she knew she would never understand this man or the feelings she held for him.

Finding herself unsettled of late, and with Claudia and her father still in town. Madeline found herself going for allot of rides. She was enjoying the beauty of the prairie and the time she spent alone with her thoughts. Heading back to Josephine's she heard gunfire. Scared at first she thought she might go in for a look-see. As the gunfire got louder she followed the sound of the direction from which it came. Bringing herself up on a hill she looked down and sees Vin, he looked to be having target practice. She made her way down the hill.

Madeline was just about half way to were he was, Vin turned around with shotgun in hand, once he saw it was her he gently placed the weapon down so the barrel was to the ground.

"Hello Vin." She smiled down at him from her horse.

Vin went over and placed a hand on the bridal and looked up smiling at her. "What are you doin out here all on your own Madeline, you could get lost?"

"Oh, Vin IM not going to get lost. I only go back and forth. I'm not what you'd call a thrill seeker." She gave slight laugh.

Vin shook his head and laughed as well.

"May I join you?"

"You mean visitin or shootin?" He teased.

"Both". She began to get down and Vin took her gently by the waste to assist her down from her mount.

"I don't know about shootin." He gave her a side ways glance. "Don't want Ezra after me about that."

"Vin I just want to try it." She looked at him with pleading eyes.

Vin shook his head again. "Alright, but only a couple shots." He gave her a cautious look "And you tell Ezra."

Madeline clapped her hands and followed behind him.

"Alright now," He got behind her and leaned into her while showing her how to hold and shoot the weapon. "You think you got that?"

Madeline peeked up at him. "Yes, I think so."

"Alright, then I'll stand behind ya so you don't fall from after you fire. It can be pretty powerful if you don't know how to handle the weapon…. And you're just a little thing."

Madeline nodded her head. She took off one shot and indeed she did fall back against Vin after the shot.

Vin stumbled back and grabbed her. "Oh, IM so sorry Vin." She regained her footing and turned to him.

"It's alright." He assured her with a chuckle.

"How did I do?" She looked at him hopeful.

"Don't think you hit anything Madeline." He gently took the gun from her grasp.

"Oh, well, maybe shooting isn't in my nature." She waived her hands back in forth against her skirt.

"That could be." He chuckled.

Madeline looked about the area. "I really don't feel like heading back right now, would you mind if I stayed and visited with you Vin?"

"Not if you don't mind the shootin?" He positioned himself to fire the weapon again.

"I don't mind." She looked around for a place to sit.

Vin went back to his target practice and Madeline went and sat down by his gear. Looking at one of his saddlebags she saw something sticking out.

"Vin." She yelled to him, taking advantage of the quiet before the next shot.

He turned to her. "What is it?"

"What is that?" She pointed to the object.

He glanced over to were it was she was pointing. "That's my looking glass. You can use it if you like, just be careful not to break it." He then turned around and started shooting again.

Madeline went over and took the looking glass from the bag. She walked about and began to scan the terain, this territory never stopped amazing her, it seemed every time she looked their seemed to be a different setting in the land.

Madeline then got herself down on the ground and lay down on her belly. She was looking towards the forest, before it their were open plains, she came across a group of men they looked to be riding hard. She tried to get a good look but could only make out three; one was a heavy man with whiskers and looked to be a scar down his left cheek, another appeared to be a possible mixed breed the other had long stringy gray hair and wore cavalry pants, the rest she couldn't really make out, they were riding too fast.

Madeline got herself up. She thought nothing more of the men she had seen. She began walking over to Vin.

Vin came running over to her. "Madeline give me that." He took the looking glass from her.

There were riders coming, and she saw Vin was trying to get a better look.

Madeline didn't like his expression. He looked nervous.

"What, what is it Vin?" She tugged at his shirtsleeve.

Turning to her, his face blank. "Don't say a word and don't move." Vin moved closer to her so that her right arm and his left were in direct contact. "Remember," He whispered don't move."

As the riders approached Madeline saw that they were Indians. She felt her knees go week and thought she might faint. There were about twenty-twenty five men. She crossed herself and prayed to the Holy Father. They stopped quickly and right in front of Vin and Madeline. At first there was complete silence. And as the cloud of dust began to settle Vin lifted his and hand, in which Madeline took to mean a sign of friendship. Vin and the lead Indian began to converse and they seemed to be in a debate of some kind.

As Vin and the Indians were talking, Madeline couldn't help but look at them and think how beautiful they were. Most of them wore only buckskin pants, some both a top and pants, the others wore vests made of feathers. The leader wore only buckskin pants. They all, however, wore paint on their faces. They were all armed with rifles as well.

Madeline leaned into Vin and whispered softly. "What is it, what do they want?"

Vin stole a glance down at her. "They wanted to know if we'd seen anyone…and I told them we hadn't."

"That's not true!" Madeline looked at Vin and the lead to the Indian.

She then pointed to the spot she'd seen the riders. "When I was using your looking glass, I saw a group of men riding. They appeared to be entering the forest or perhaps going towards town"

Vin explained to the leader what Madeline had told him. Vin then asked Madeline if she saw anything further? She told him how she could only make out about three and gave Vin the descriptions.

The Indian's expression was unreadable. He suddenly got down from his horse. He still had his rifle but held it loosely in his right hand. He then made his way towards Madeline.

"Vin." She said nervously and grabbed his arm.

"It's alright, don't move." He whispered.

The stories she had read and written about the west could in no way have prepared her for reality. She also knew a majority of the stories, especially concerning Indians were exaggerated.

The passed by her on her left side, he then situated himself behind her. Pulling her hair with such a yank she almost fell back, she held her grasp on Vin even tighter, and he even stumbled a bit. Vin then put a steely grasp on her and held her closer. The Indian made his way around and began intensely studying her profile; he then slowly swept a gaze of her body. Madeline blushed at his boldness.

The Indian then came to regard both of them. He began talking to Vin and pointing to Madeline, he then pointed to either the men or the horses Madeline wasn't sure. What ever it was Vin was telling him he was none to pleased, but excepted the answer. He then stood in front of Madeline as if to stare her down. At first she kept her eyes to the ground. She wasn't certain if it were curiosity or pride but she stood herself straight, shook her hair back and stared him straight in the eye. Again he swept a gaze over her; he then gave a slight snort and what Madeline believed to be a slight smile. He then made his way to his horse, mounted, yelled something to his men and they went off in the direction Vin had given.

Vin immediately tended to Madeline. "You alright?" He lightly rubbed her face with his thumb.

"Yes IM fine." She felt a little woozy; she sat down on the ground. Vin joined her and gently put his arm about her.

"What was he saying to you?" Her teeth were all but chattering from the nerves erupting in her body. "And why did he pull my hair like that?"

"I think the men you saw…. Were the ones they were lookin for? He then let out a low chuckle. 'He wanted to know if you were taken. I told him you had a man. He then glanced at her hair. "He'd never seen hair color like yours before, so he wanted to touch it." Vin then smoothed his hand down her hair.

"You sure you're alright?" He whispered while studying her.

His look of concern touched her. "Yes," She placed her hand on his that was about her. "IM fine. Just a little shook up, that's all."

Vin held her closer. 'We'll sit a while then I'll make sure you get home safe."

Madeline placed her head on Vin's shoulder and nodded in approval.

Madeline was in a very good mood. Claudia would be leaving on the Saturday noon stagecoach. One more day, she was thrilled. The only catch was Ezra informed her that she would attend the farewell dinner, no excuses. Madeline made it clear to Ezra she was none to happy but for him and Mr. Cormier she agreed to accompany him.

Greg dropped her off and informed her that he would be back to collect her before dusk.

She found Ezra and Vin sitting aside each other outside the saloon.

She made her way over. As she walked up the steps both men stood.

"Why Madeline," Ezra admired her, she had her hair pinned up so only her bangs fell loose, her white cotton dress was dotted with small daisy's. "How ravishing you look." He took her hand and kissed it.

She gave a small laugh. "Ezra you've seen this dress before."

A look of devilment crept into his eyes. "Have I? Every time I have the pleasure of your company, it's as if I've met you for the first time."

Her heart slammed.

"Oh, my Ezra." She tried breathing. "That's beautiful Ezra." Mercy if this man didn't leave her weak of any senses whenever in his presence.

Bringing herself back from Ezra's spell, she glanced over at Vin. "How are you Vin?"

He tipped his hat. "Can't complain. You doin alright?" The intent to his comment clear.

Her smile faded. "Oh, well yes. I---well it was a bit intense wasn't it?" She obviously understood the meaning of his question.

"Yes Madeline it was." Came Vin's even response.

Ezra blinked and his jaw muscles grew tight. "I must be a miss in this intriguing dilemma." He looked from Madeline, then to Vin and back to Madeline.

Madeline ventured hesitantly. "Yesterday, well---I." She looked at Vin with pleading eyes for assistance.

Vin turned to regard Ezra. "We ran into a band of Indian's yesterday." His tone matter of fact.

Ezra narrowed his eyes on Vin. "And just how was it you found yourselves in each others company?" The private exchange of conversation between Madeline and Vin left him disturbed.

Vin didn't care for Ezra's insinuation. "Chris Sake Ezra!" Vin snapped. "Madeline happened to come across my shootin practice and later we got some company."

His eyes darkened on Madeline. "Why was it you kept your adventure a secret?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing, how much worse was this going to get?

Madeline panicked. "I---well, it wasn't an adventure. I just---my hair was pulled that's all."

Ezra clearly enraged. "One of those savages touched you!"

"He didn't hurt me Ezra." She said in a broken voice.

"And what was it you were doing Mr. Tanner…while she was being she was being molested!" He said through clenched teeth.

"She handled herself fine Ezra." Vin challenged and stepped closer. "She's not as fragile as you think she is."

"Vin." Ezra cautioned him with his cool green eyes. "It would be best if you would refrain from informing me of Madeline's capabilities."

"Please." Madeline pleaded. "Vin, Ezra please stop this."

The men kept their gazes fixed on one another.

"Vin." Madeline pressed. "Please could you leave us?"

At first he didn't move. After a moment, he averted his gaze to her. He then turned away from Ezra and made his way towards her, he tipped his hat "Madeline." He then walked past her.

Madeline turned to look at Ezra. She wasn't certain what she saw in his eyes. Until this moment she'd only seen tenderness and playfulness, but not this time. He looked as though he was the predator and she was the prey. And she was scared.

"Ezra I---." She shakily tried to find her voice. How could she have told him about what happened until today? Maybe she should have gone to him after the incident?

His stride towards her was long and slow, his stare never lost its blackness. She stumbled back a few steps as he approached her.

His eyes took a dangerous glint. "We'll be late for dinner."

Madeline couldn't meet his eyes. As he put his arm out for her, she hesitated before excepting. As she did accept his arm, her trembling kept constant.

Dinner for Madeline was a nightmare. Ezra's attentions were mostly in the direction of Claudia and her father. If Madeline didn't know better she would think Ezra was flirting with Claudia. He rarely acknowledged her during dinner and if so, it was nothing more than for her to answer in agreement with a comment or to assist him in keeping Claudia and Mr. Cormier entertained. When dinner ended Madeline had never felt such relief. However, the walk outside to await Greg's arrival was just as uneasy if not more so.

Ezra never said a word to her as they waited. And she was frightened to say something to him in fear he might get more angry. Greg's arrival was the only time she moved from the spot she had stood since leaving the restaurant. Ezra didn't even bid her good night. He helped her up on the wagon and tipped his hat to Greg and walked back in the restaurant.

Sitting back in the restaurant with Claudia and Jack, Ezra felt awful at the way he had treated Madeline. But he also felt betrayed that she had spent the afternoon with Vin and didn't tell him. And why hadn't she?

"Ezra, Ezra." He shook himself from his thoughts.

"Hmmm?" He murmured.

Claudia was smiling brightly at him. "I asked if you would walk me to the hotel?"

Ezra looked at her dumbly.

"It's just----well, papa and you will be going to the saloon no doubt. And after tonight I won't see you again. So I just wanted to have you to myself for a couple moments."

"It would be my pleasure. Claudia." He pushed himself up, as she stood he pulled her chair out, he then placed her shawl about her shoulder as she stood.

"Looking at Jack with a wide grin. "I'll meet you at the saloon so we may indulge in welcoming spirits."

"I'll see ya their Ezra." He lifted his coffee cup to him.

Ezra and Claudia stepped out onto the boardwalk. Ezra put his arm out for her, she eagerly accepted.

They kept in even strides as they made their way to the hotel. Ezra was pleased with the quiet. He could only think of Madeline and how badly he had treated her. He wasn't even certain why he behaved in that manner.

As they approached the steps of the hotel, Claudia peered up at him. "Ezra I want you to come to my room with me."

"But your----your father." He fumbled for words.

"Oh, please." She waived a hand. "Papa will find conversation with anyone." She leaned against his chest and encircled his waist with her arms.

Ezra's body stiffened. "Claudia I---I."

Claudia lifted herself on her toes, she then lightly kissed his mouth, pulling away, she looked into his eyes, no look of resistance was found, she settled her mouth on his more firmly and deepened the kiss. Ezra pulled her to him roughly. The kiss became feverish.

He trailed kisses down her throat. A small cry escaped from inside her. He again claimed her mouth.

"Oh, Madeline…. I love you." He breathed.

Claudia roughly jerked away from him.

"I beg your pardon!" She shot hotly.

"I---I." Ezra couldn't even believe what he had just said.

"Ezra Standish." She began adjusting her tussled hair. "You've changed. You choose that…that trollop over me!"

Ezra's expression became serious. "Yes I have changed Claudia…. In most parts for the better." He stepped nearer to her. And Madeline is no trollop. She is the most beautiful, intelligent, caring woman I have ever know." He stepped even nearer to her. "By the way, She isn't in the habit of inviting men to her room either." With that he walked away and left Claudia with her mouth agape.

Days had past since the awful dinner. Madeline in great reluctance agreed to go into town for necessities from the store. To make things worse Josephine hadn't been feeling well and declined joining her.

Madeline took one of the horses as opposed to the wagon. She had been in the store a short while when a ruckus was heard from out on the street. She placed down the items that were in her hands and made her way out onto the boardwalk.

She couldn't believe her eyes. The men she had seen with Vin were in the middle of town. They were in a much smaller group then when she had first seen them. In the middle of the bunch, was the Indian who had grabbed her hair?

Madeline stepped down onto the street to get a closer look. She saw from the corner of her eye, Vin, Chris and Josiah hurilly making their way over towards the commotion.

JD was already at the sheriff's office; Nathan and Buck were with him. They stood with their hands on their hips and seemed relaxed.

Madeline crossed the street and made her way over to get a better look. As she approached, Vin, Chris, Josiah, Nathan, Buck and JD were getting the group of men's side of the story.

She kept her gaze the Indian. To here surprise he lifted his gaze to her; a breeze lifted loose strands of his hair across his strangely handsome face. This man intrigued Madeline.

Without warning a couple of the men that had brought him into town, jerked him from his saddle, they roughly forced his way into the jail.

"Yup," The heavy man with the scar was bragging, while pulling at his tightly fitted pants. "He jumped us, coulda killed him but," With a cruel sneer. "Thought you folks would like a hangin."

"I saw that man not too long ago with his friends." Vin was challenging him. "And I find it real funny he was lookin for a bunch that looked strangely enough like you fellas."

The man straightened up, so did his friends that stood behind him, they moved closer to Vin.

"You takin the word of an injun over us?" He said through gritted teeth.

"Yup." Vin answered flatly.

"Why you!" Scar went for his gun.

"I wouldn't do that." Chris warned him, his gun staring down at scar.

Scar and his friends looked around to see the other five men had ready weapons pointed at them as well.

"That's a fine how do ya do. Scar relaxed his weapon and his body. "We bring that savage in town and we get guns pointed at us!"

The six men kept their guns on the group however and made no inclination of moving.

"Think it's best you fella's move on." Buck spoke up, lifted his rifle and rested it on his shoulder.

"Can't we get a drink first?" One of scar's men whined.

"You don't cause no trouble…. You can stay for a couple." Josiah warned.

Scar and his group looked at each other; they then made their way off the boardwalk and over to the saloon.

"You know Buck." Chris cocked his gun. "I wish you wouldn't ask for excitement."

He and the others chuckled.

"Me and Buck will stay with JD." Vin offered.

Chris nodded. "Think that's a good idea. He then turned to Josiah and Nathan why don't we make sure things stay quiet in the saloon."

Josiah and Nathan nodded and followed Chris to the saloon.

Madeline made her way over to Vin. She tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned, gave her a smile and tipped his hat. "Madeline, how are you today?"

"Fine thank you Vin." She gave a slight smile. "What's going to happen to that man?" She inclined her head towards the jail.

Vin's smile faded. "Don't know, we'll have to see."

"But---but those were the men he was looking for."

"I know but it's a cruel territory Madeline and it's their word against his."

"Why that's outrageous!" She exclaimed.

"It's the way it is. But," Vin again smiled. There's ways of getting people who are reluctant to talk."

Madeline frowned at first. She then realized his meaning and smiled as well.

Hearing a deep voice from behind her Madeline looked over her shoulder to see Ezra.

"The two of you seem most comfortable in the presence of on another."

"Ezra." She whispered and turned to him. He still appeared to be angry with her. She wished his mood would lessen so she would be more at ease to explain the afternoon with Vin.

"Yes." As he moved closer he shifted her green eyes from one to the other.

"Ezra." Vin nodded with a cool stare.

"Mr. Tanner." Ezra nodded back his stare was just as cool.

Looking at Madeline. "Might I have a moment of your time?"

"Yes, well---alright." She was nervous.

She stole a glance at Vin. "Goodbye Vin."

He tipped his hat; he then turned and walked over to the sheriff's office door, opened it and stepped inside.

"Why is it of late you seem to be in the company of Mr. Tanner?" His eyes now stormy with anger.

"Ezra, her voice small. They're going to hang that man."

Ezra made no response. His expression stony.

"Ezra didn't you here that conversation?"

"Yes Madeline I heard the conversation."

Her face now flushed with anger. "Well then don't you find it strange those men seem to just find him alone trying to attack them?"

"Savages are different from other men." He said casually.

"Ezra!" Madeline was astonished at his remark. "You sound like a racist!"

"Madeline," Ezra was not at all affected by her insult. "You don't know those people."

"And you do!" She shot hotly.

"Madeline," he grabbed her arm. I grow tired of this argument." He moved so close to her she could feel the warmth of his breath. "I believe Mr. Tanner is filling your head full of nonsense."

Madeline tried to shake his grasp but he held firm. She glared at him "In case you hadn't noticed…I have my own mind." She challenged his stare. He finally loosened his grip and let her arm go.

Madeline backed away from him slightly. "I don't understand you sometimes Ezra." Her eyes relaxed. "You've been so cruel of late." She began to rub her arm that had obviously become sore from his grasp.

"Yes, well." He too backed away. "I myself am not so certain of several situations as well."

He was confusing her, Madeline's mind was racing, why did he always seem to get so short with Vin? She didn't know the background of the two men and felt it best not to press. She only wanted for Ezra to trust her.

"Ezra." She said wearily.

With relief she noticed his expression seemed to relax as well.

"Ezra." She stepped closer to him.

"I don't understand or know what you are thinking or feeling." Her eyes full of tenderness. "But I want to. I want to know everything about you." She placed a hand on his cheek. "I love you."

He took her hand and kissed the inside of her palm. His yes met hers with equal tenderness. "I just don't want you getting hurt."

"Oh, Ezra." She sighed. "You break my heart."

"Well." She gently took her hand back. "I must finish up. I have some things I have to get back to Josephine."

Ezra put his arm out. "Then I shall assist you." He then grinned widely. "And might I be so bold as to invite myself to dinner?"

Madeline took his arm willingly. "How rude of you Mr. Standish." She giggled.

Dinner was pleasant, a steady rain pelted on the window. Greg was pleased, as punch Ezra had accompanied Madeline to the house. She knew he wanted answers to the stories he constantly pressed Ezra about concerning him and the other six men of whom he undoubtedly held in high regard.

Josephine glanced amusingly at her friend, then back to Ezra. Their flirtatious smiles that were constant since their arrival tickled her.

"Well Ezra." Josephine spoke up while taking a sip of coffee. "It appears the rain isn't going to let up." She smiled widely. "Maybe we could set you up in the barn."

Ezra face went blank. "As kind of an offer as that is." He pursed his lips; he then looked about the table cautiously. "I see no problem in my journey back into town."

"Oh come now." She pressed. "Madeline can---well, she could set you up."

"Josephine!" Both Madeline and Greg exclaimed.

"What?" She smiled coyly. "I don't see the problem with offering Ezra a dry place to stay until the rain passes."

Madeline was crimson; there was no end to her friend's boldness.

"Ezra," Greg cleared his throat, he then shot a quick glance at Josephine. "You are more than welcome to stay if you want. But I---well, I'll make the barn comfortable for you, if you decide to stay."

"Well, I--." Ezra fought for words.

"It is quite a ride back Ezra." Greg reminded him.

Ezra glanced over at Madeline as if to seek approval.

She smiled shyly at him, then glanced away quickly.

Ezra kept his gaze on her and grinned. "Perhaps I will accept your kind offer after all."

He then turned his attentions to Greg and Josephine.

"Alright then." Greg pushed himself away from the table and made his way to the door. Ezra followed him out.

The town men were finishing up in the barn. Ezra caught an occasional flicker of something in Greg's eyes but wasn't sure what he was reading.

"Something on your mind Mr. Rollins?" Ezra arched an eyebrow.

Greg stood straight and placed his hands on his hips. For a man that was possibly as big as a bear, his apparent uneasiness with words relaxed Ezra.

"Well now Ezra." He looked him square in the eyes. "I know it isn't my business what's going on with Madeline and you. Any fool can see the feelings you hold for one another." He relaxed his hands in his pant pockets. "Just don't do wrong by her. She's like a sister to Josephine and IM right fond of her myself."

Ezra was pleased by Greg's show of concern. "I assure you Mr. Rollins." Ezra took steps closer to Greg. "On my honor, I hold nothing but respect and admiration for Madeline." He then lowered his eyes and whispered. "She means everything to me."

"Well then." Greg spoke up and looked about the settings. "You look all set here." He walked over and placed a hand on Ezra's shoulder. "Goodnight Ezra, you're a good man."

Ezra liked this man and strangely found Greg's approval of him something of a comfort "You as well Greg." He patted his back as he walked by.

The moment Madeline stepped into the barn and closed the door behind her she felt strangely bold. The usual shyness appeared to be remiss and taken over by something more daring.

Ezra was crouched down on both knees and taking a sip from his flask when she came in. Slowly he brought himself to his feet, placed the cap on the flask and threw it to the ground.

Neither said a word as they approached each other, at first in small steps, the steps then quickened until they collided in an almost violent embrace. Ezra backed Madeline against a beam with such intensity that if she weren't reeling so from her passions she may have registered the pain. He was kissing her with such hunger she thought she was going to faint.

Finally pulling her mouth free, her eyes searched his, her breath ragged. "I've never wanted you more then I do now." She could feel her heart slamming along with the wonderful feelings that were sweeping through her.

Ezra claimed her mouth again. He then drew her away from the beam, his arms wrapped about her so tightly she almost lost her breath, still kissing with intensity, Ezra tried to guide her with him to the bed, their footing somehow became entwined, losing their stepping, they fell to the ground.

Breathing fast he looked down at her. "Are you alright?" He'd felt a bit of pain but she had landed beneath him, he hoped his body didn't crush her.

She placed a hand to the back of her head and let out a small laugh. "Yes, yes I'm fine." The pain that accompanied the fall was quick and faint.

He moved his hand from her hair to her neck. "I'm sorry." He whispered and roamed her body with a hand as if he had broken her.

Madeline's body tingled.

"I'm fine Ezra." She answered gently; she then touched his face. She then ran a thumb over his mouth.

He bent down and explored her mouth, tantalizing her with quick warm kisses.

She whimpered, then moaned in response. "Oh…good." She pressed her face against his neck and kissed him lightly. She then brought her mouth to his chin and made small nibbles with her teeth.

He tightened his hold on her. "Madeline." He breathed her name. She conformably arched her back in response to his touches.

"Tell me." She pleaded. "Tell me you love me Ezra." She looked into his eyes, her face flushed.

He gazed down at her. "I-I," The words eluded him. He then dropped his forehead to hers and again held her tightly.

"It's alright." She smoothed his hair with her hands; she then lightly kissed his temple.

Hesitantly he lifted his face. When he did, she pressed her mouth to his.

She new Ezra cared about her and hoped he would tell her some day. Until that time she would have to accept whatever he chose to share with her. And would wait until he willingly offered his feelings.

The following evening, Madeline was waiting for Ezra to finish getting ready for dinner. Since it was his turn to be out on watch. He explained to her, he could never sit down to dinner in his dusty attire. It was a gentleman's duty to be respectably dressed at the dinner table. As she was waiting Vin had gone over and accompanied her on the bench to keep her company until Ezra showed.

Ezra finally came into view and as he did Vin got up and tipped his hat to Madeline and bid her good evening. As he passed by Ezra he did the same.

"You and Mr. Tanner certainly find your stolen moments" Ezra was watching Vin as he walked away. He then turned to Madeline.

"We were just talking." Madeline stood up with enthusiasm and made her way towards him.

"You're all alike." His whisper so low she could hardly hear him. He was staring at her…

Madeline sensed his anger and braced herself. "What are you talking about? He was just keeping me company until you came. I knew you were coming."

His green eyes cut into her. "You eventually leave or find someone else."

The anger is his voice sent sheer, fright coursing through her. "Ezra we were just talking." She tried to explain.

His pace was quick and a glint of danger stole in his eyes. . As he approached her Madeline stepped back.

When he did come to stand in front of her she looked for compassion in his face but found none. "Most of them are just users but you," He coldly took a sweep of her body from head to toe "You're just cheap."

Tension between them was instant. No sooner then he could react; her hand came up and connected a powerful blow to his cheek.

"How dare you?" She gulped back the sobs that were working their way up her throat. Her body was trembling all over from both anger and his hurtful words.

Slowly the tension flowed out of her body. With a trembling hand she reached out to touch him. "I would never betray you Ezra…I love you."

He pushed her hand away, he then touched his cheek that was flushed red by the assault. He looked at his hand that had cooled the recent sting from the slap he then glanced at her. "Were through." He turned on his heels and walked away in to the night.

Madeline bowed her head and began to sob uncontrollably.

Days had past since she and Ezra had fought. Madeline hated him for what he had said to her, not to mention what he thought of her. She didn't understand his cruelty, however, she really didn't know much about his past either. They talked about their pasts but only to a certain point. Neither pressed the other for more information then they were willing to give. Madeline needed to find out from him once and for all if they were going to stay together or part.

Madeline searched the town for him, talked to anyone that may no of his whereabouts, but know one had any idea where he may have been. She thought she would take a chance and go to where they had their picnic. As she rode to the spot, to her amazement, she found that he was indeed there.

At first she hesitated getting down from her horse. She finally found the courage and dismounted. Ezra's back was to her he was sitting on a tree stump not far from the water, he had his hat in his hand and was staring at the water. As she approached him she had no doubt he was aware of her presence.

"Ezra." She knew he'd heard her, he sat motionless.

"You know," She came to stand beside where he was seated. "I can't fight for us alone." Madeline stared down at him, not sure how to explain her thoughts. "You're a force of nature Ezra. You're the strongest man I know. But you're breaking me." Sobs worked their way through her. "What is it you want me to do? You want me to stand in the middle of the street in town and profess my love for you I will, you want me to stand at the top of the church and shout it I will, I'll do whatever you want. Breathing heavy the sobs tore from her chest. That's what you do when you're in love." She felt no shame; she felt she'd already lost him.

For what seemed like an eternity he rooted his thoughts. He knew he couldn't rely on her loyalty and also knew she'd be better off without him. "Then I guess I don't love you." He said simply.

Madeline nodded her head numbly. "You're ruining it Ezra."

She wasn't surprised by his answer. She choked back a sob. "You're ruining us." Slumping her shoulders in defeat.

She turned to walk away, she then stopped. "Do you want me to leave Ezra, is that what you want?"

"Yes," His piercing light green eyes met hers. "I want you to leave."

"Alright," She declared a calm answer. But inside her heart was breaking. "You win."

Madeline made no attempt to look at him again. She straightened herself and walked away.

The days since her last encounter with Ezra left Madeline in a swarm of thoughts and sadness. He had stated that he wanted her to leave and she had accepted his request. She new she must make preparations but where would she go? What would she do? She didn't want to go back to Boston; she had to give her future serious thought.

JD had come to the farm for a visit and she found this to be a welcoming distraction. As they walked about the grounds, JD informed her that one of scar's men had confessed and that they had indeed raided the Indian village and had found the lone Indian away from his party and jumped him. Madeline was pleased with the further knowledge that the Indian had been released and scar and his men taken into custody. A manhunt was presently in process of finding the others in his gang as well.

They came to sit by an n invitingly massive shady tree and sat.

"You alright Madeline?" He peered over at her, as usual he was fiddling with his had in his hands.

Madeline forced a smile and patted his hand. "I'm fine JD."

"You and Ezra are fightin aren't ya?" His hazel eyes darkened.

"It's more then that JD." She said in low voice.

JD sprang up on his feet. "I hate him! He's so stupid!"

Madeline stood so that they were facing one another; she took his shoulders and shook him. "Don't you ever say that again JD! You and Ezra have been friends a long time! You'll continue to be when I leave!" She then loosened her hold and turned her back to him.

"You seven men have a bond no one can break. Even when they day comes you part, you will always be brothers."

"IM sorry Madeline I didn't mean to upset ya." He whispered.

She turned to him. "Just don't let women come between you JD. We'll be coming and going like patrons in the saloon."

She let out a low chuckle.

"Were not worth it."

JD forced a smile for her.

"Anyway," She waived a hand. "Speaking of ladies," She sat back down on the grass and took his hand for him to join her. "What is it about Casey you need assistance on?"

JD blinked sheepishly. "Well she yells at me allot." He stole a glance over at her. "But she also looks at me funny allot too."

"Hmmm, so it's how she changes on you is that it?"

"Yes!" JD exclaimed and lifted his arms as if in a show of triumph.

Madeline giggled. "Well JD contrary to what I'm sure you've been told, we women are not all alike."

He frowned. "Your not?"

"No." She giggled again. "Sounds to me like Casey cares for you a great deal." She tilted her head and tried to read his expression. He looked confused. "JD, her anger probably happens when she thinks your not listening to her or paying enough attention to her."

His face was one of bewilderment. "Attention…. What kind of attention?"

Madeline couldn't help but laugh at his annoyance in learning the knowledge of women. "JD you must pay attention to her."

"How!" His jaw fell.

"JD," Madeline shook her head. "A woman needs to hear things." She sighed. "Tell her you like her dress,"

"She doesn't wear dresses." He interrupted her.

"Oh, well…tell her how pretty her hair looks or how smart she is, if there is something she does well be sure to mention it."

JD nodded. "Ok, ya." He turned to her. "I guess I can do that."

JD Stood up and looked down at her. "I best be getting back to town. I have Buck watchin the jail. You comin?"

Madeline shook her head. "No, I'll stay here a while."

JD put his hat on and turned to leave, he then looked back at her. "If Ezra let's you leave…. I hope he never gets over it." With that he walked away.

Ezra didn't know what to do with himself. Two weeks had past since he asked Madeline to leave. He paced his room. Maybe it was for the best if she did leave. What did he have to offer her? His life certainly at this time wasn't open for thoughts of settling down. He didn't want her to go. If she left, he knew he would never see her again. He made his way over to the chair in the corner of the room; he took his hat, gunbelt and jacket and made his way to the door. It was time things were resolved. He headed out the door and to his uncertain future.

Ezra was giving his horse free lead as he searched the farm for Madeline. He found her on the hilltop, her dress blowing in the wind, she had her hands behind her, she was looking into nothingness.

He swung off his horse and strode his way up the hill to confront her.

"Madeline." He whispered.

She looked at him through shimmering tears and looked away again.

"Madeline look at me." His voice desperate.

"Why Ezra? So we can go over the same arguments over and over?" Her voice had broke from emotion. "How could you ever doubt my love for you?"

"You'll never come back." He took several steps towards her. "I don't want you to leave."

"I don't want to leave."

She fastened her gaze on his face. "Then tell me."

Ezra braced himself. He knew what she wanted to hear and the thought of that declaration was something he had seldom offered in his lifetime. "Tell you what?"

"Say it." She insisted.

"You know why damn it!"

"I need you to say the words Ezra."

"I have."

Her eyes tightly closed. "NO, you've said you adore me, you want me, you need me…but you've never told me you loved me." She slowly opened her eyes. "I say it all the time…. You never have."

Ezra averted his gaze. He did love this woman and if they were going to go forward, he new he must tell her. "I---I love you."

"Look at me when you say it."

His face drained of color, he could feel her steady gaze, he looked directly into her eyes. "I love you."

"I love you too Ezra." Tears shimmering in her eyes.

When he drew her in his arms, she clung so that she was frightened if she let go afraid he would take back the words.

"Madeline." He whispered in her ear.

"Yes." She buried her face farther into his neck.

"It's alright." He stole a kiss on her shoulder.

She loosened her hold on him and pulled back. Looking at his face she thought if he wasn't the most handsome man on earth, she would be in amazement.

"Well, what's next?" She led him by the hand; they then sat down on the grass.

"I don't know." He studies her profile.

She turned to him. "Why don't we---". She took his hand in both hers. "Why don't we just be."

Ezra nodded.

"I suppose----well--." He fumbled nervously for words.

"Get married." She interrupted him.

His head shot up. "Yes."

She placed a hand on his face. "Ezra Standish I don't believe you're the marrying kind."

He buried his face in her hand and chuckled. He then came to look into her eyes. "You may be correct in that assumption. But if you do change your mind…"

She shook her head. "No…it's not what I want. I just want you."

He searched her eyes. "I don't----I don't now what to say, I feel…"

She placed her hand on his mouth. "We'll do fine, let's just try. No promises." She removed her hand and looked out into the open fields straight ahead.

"You're an amazing woman." He whispered matter of factly.

She turned and looked into his light green eyes. And you Ezra Standish are a most amazing man." She took her knees and hugged them with her arms.

Ezra moved closer and put an arm about her. She rested her head on his shoulder. With their future uncertain, they both were content with the current feelings that were held for one another. Also, comfort kept them with the knowledge if not anything else, they'd atleast had this time together.


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