Not To Be
(Old West)

by Kit

The violent jerk that followed from the latest bump in the road shook the stagecoach to wake Madeline Charbaneaux from the brief nap she had just found solace in. Looking out the window she came back to her senses. She could scarcely believe the territory. It quickly broke into plains and after that stretching forever with rolling hills. Then nothing but cactus. Rubbing the road dust from her eyes she looked at the one other passenger. Mr. Peterson, a short portly gentleman who he explained, was to join his friend at the town of Four Corners and make their way further west, in hopes of the cattle market. Sleeping soundly, Madeline envied him. "Why couldn't she have such luck?" Madeline's destination was Four Corners as well. "I can't wait to see Josephine." She thought with excitement. "And a married woman still, who would have thought." She smiled to herself. Madeline was looking forward to here summer with her friend. She was also, looking forward to start her new position as a writer in London, England immediately following her visit. When she submitted her stories detailing the adventures concerning the west at the publishing company, there were no expectations of a reply let alone an acceptance. And they're paying her expenses for the trip upon her arrival, the promise of setting her up with housing. "Life, it is full of surprises." She said to no one.

The halt of the stagecoach brought Mr. Peterson to wake. "We here?" He asks rubbing his eyes. "Yes." She confirmed. "Shall we?" He gets himself up from his seat across from her, opens the door and steps down into the street. He then places his hand to her for assistance. Madeline accepts by placing her hand in his, she then makes her way out into the street as well. "Look out!" The driver yells. Madeline steps back to see her three pieces of luggage thud to the ground. "Ma'am". The driver tips his hat and gestures the reigns for the horses to get along. "Need some help, Miss?" Mr. Peterson offers. Madeline is looking for her friend. "No." She turns to Mr. Peterson. "My friend should be along any moment, thank you." He tips his hat to her. "Good luck then." She nods back. "You too Mr. Peterson." She smoothes her dress with her hands. "Well, I should get these onto the sidewalk." She decides. Dragging one of the pieces as quickly as she can she makes it as far as the side walk but is having trouble lifting it to meet the side walks height. "Hey, ho," She hears a yell from behind. "Let me help you with those?" Looking over her shoulder, she sees a very tall, handsome man with a mustache rushing over to assist her. "Oh, thank you sir." She says exhausted. He reply's with a wide smile. Madeline watches as he places her luggage on the sidewalk. "That all of em ma'am?" He pushes his hat back slightly from his forehead and places his hands on his hips. "Yes, yes that's all of them." "Madeline!" She hears her name being called. She turns to see Josephine standing across the street with her hands on her face. She then rushes over and hugs Madeline furiously. Breathless she says. "You are a sight." She takes Madeline's arms and pulls them wide for a better look at her friend. "And beautiful too." Madeline giggles. She then hugs her friend back just as tight. When releasing each other Josephine sets her eyes on Buck. "I see you've met Mr. Wilmington." Buck steps closer. "Not formerly, no." Josephine points to Buck. "This is Buck Wilmington?" "Pleased to meet you Mr. Wilmington". She says smiling. Josephine points to Madeline. "This is my dearest friend in the whole world, Madeline Charbaneaux." Buck tips his hat. "Madeline, nice to meet you." Josephine looks at Madeline. "Buck is just as sweet as can be." He waives his hand in response. "Josephine you stop that now." Buck makes his way to Madeline's luggage. "Were do you have your wagon Josephine?" Josephine points in front of the general store. "Right their Buck, thank you." He makes his way to the wagon with Madeline's luggage. "See what I mean, as sweet as can be." Josephine admiring Buck. "He and his friends protect the town." Josephine says matter of factly. Buck getting back from the wagon and were the ladies are. "Is that true Mr. Wilmington are you and your friends the law?" Buck nods. "I suppose we are the law, we keep any eye on things around here." He continues. "Why my very best buddy is the sheriff." Josephine places her hand on Buck's arm. "Buck should have been sheriff." He grins. "Now Josephine if I were sheriff, I wouldn't have as much time to socialize with you." She blushes. "Oh, Buck if only I weren't a married woman." Buck nods his head and tips his hat. "If only Josephine, if only." He then walks off. "Your positively indecent Josephine." Madeline whispers. "Please, I can still look." Josephine then looks at Madeline. "Well, we better get you to the house before it gets dark." They make their way to the wagon and onto the house.

Approaching Josephine's farm, Madeline noticed the little house with it's inviting porch. Beside the house on the left were the corral and a windmill that moved from a slight breeze. "Greg must be in the fields." Josephine spoke up. "He'll come along about dinner time." Josephine got down from the wagon and Madeline did the same. "We have a room made up for you." Madeline made her way into the house following Josephine. They walked into the kitchen, which had the usual necessities. "That's me and Greg's room," She is pointing to a room to the left of the kitchen. "This", she point to the right is the pantry and storage. "And this," she open's a door to the left. "Is yours." She looked at Madeline pleased. Madeline walked and inspected the room. It had a single bed in the middle of the room a window to the left of the bed and a table with a lamp, water and basin and a pitcher with flowers." This will be fine, thank you." She looked at Josephine with approval. "Get your things unpacked, Greg should be coming in soon." She then walked out and closed the door behind her for Madeline's privacy.

Dinner was pleasant; Greg was a big handsome, burly man and obviously very much in love with his wife. Madeline felt Josephine held the same feelings for her husband. "Did Josephine tell you that you came at a fine time?" Greg asks Madeline. "How do you mean?" Josephine looks at him. "The dance, it's tomorrow night isn't it?" She looks at Madeline with excitement in her eyes. "Oh, what wonderful timing, you can meet all kinds of people." Madeline wasn't so sure. "I really don't' have anything to wear to a dance Josephine." "I scarcely have much at all with me." Josephine frowns at her. "Lordy, Madeline you're not in England yet, you're in the desert." Greg looks over the situation. "We don't get much excitement around here Madeline, you should take advantage of it." He then gets up from the table. He leans over and kisses Josephine gently on her head. "Night Jo." Looking at Madeline. "Night Madeline it's good to have you here." She smiles up at him. "Thank you Greg, it's good to be here." Seeing Josephine looking at her with pleading eyes. "Oh, alright Josephine I'll go, it might be fun." Josephine bouncing in her chair like a little girl. "You won't regret this I promise you."

The weather seemed in agreement with the mood set for the event. Gentle breezes teased the night's warmth. The seven men sat watching the town's people making their way into the brightly-lit hall, inviting people to enter. "Anyone goin over?" JD spoke up. "I might head over for a look. "Vin looks at JD. "IM goin, I say we all do, it's kinda our duty…us watching the town and all." JD adds. "Why not." Josiah stands up." I think, I shall see if perhaps there isn't an acceptable preparation of delicacies." Ezra says standing up as well. "I could eat something." Vin says. "Me too." Nathan agrees. "Why not." Chris gets up. And with that they all make their way to the hall.

The sounds of the fiddlers range the hall with music. And the vibrations from the dance floor agreed in tempo. Madeline escaping off the dance floor from she can't remember what number that was of single men, she finds Josephine and Greg sitting and eating. "Have mercy." She says fanning her face from the heat of the dancing. She then sits beside her friend. "I can't remember when I've been so exhausted." She inspects her pale yellow dress for creases, made from dancing and smoothes them. Josephine laughs. "Don't get to comfortable." She points with her fork to another approaching man. "Here comes another one." She and Greg chuckle. Madeline flashes a glare at them. "Ma'am," a very short and unattractive man bows and places his hand to Madeline. "Would you?" Madeline smiles up at him. "Oh, I couldn't, perhaps later." She offers. Nodding his displeasure he walks away. "I'm going to get some punch." She states. Making her way for the punch bowl there is a huddle of men helping themselves to the tables offers. Madeline notices the man who helped her the previous day and walks towards him. Buck's back is to her and loading food on his plate. "Excuse me, Mr. Wilmington." She touches his shoulder. Buck turns to her and has a napkin tucked in his bandana and both hands supporting his plate.

"Why Miss Madeline." He smiles broadly. "Are you enjoying our town?" Madeline is eyeing his massive plate.

"I haven't really had the chance Mr. Wilmington other than arriving and this dance, I haven't had a look."

Buck offers, "Well, if you like I could show you around."

Madeline eyes him suspiciously. "Perhaps." She then looked at the other men hovering around the table.

"Oh, where are my manners, let me introduce ya to my friends." He puts his plate down on a vacant chair and takes her by the hand to his line of friends, so she can meet them one at a time. "Chris." Buck taps a tall man in full black dress with the exception of a light blue cotton shirt. He turns to Buck. "Chris Larabee, this is Madeline, she's visiting with Josephine Rollins."

Chris nods, holding a plate with a much smaller amount of food then Buck's. "Ma'am."

"This is Josiah Sanchez." Buck then waives his hand to probably the biggest man Madeline's ever seen in her life. He nods with a warm smile. "This is Madeline, Josiah."

"Pleasure." Josiah nods to her.

Buck then pokes a young man roughly on the shoulder. "What Buck." He turns to Buck annoyed.

"This here is Madeline." JD stares at her numbly. "How, how ya doin ma'am." Buck grins at her. "This is JD Dunne, he's the sheriff." He then pokes her side, with his elbow, still grinning. "Good with words ain't he?" Madeline gives JD a slight smile. "This is Nathan Jackson." He motions to a handsome black man, drinking punch. "This is Madeline." Buck tilts his head slightly towards her.

Nathan nods and puts his free hand out to her. Madeline accepts his hand and shakes it firmly. "Nice to meet you ma'am." He then releases his hand, and so does she.

"This is Vin Tanner." He points to a very tall and very handsome man in buckskins, drinking punch as well. "Vin, this is Madeline."

He smiles wide and nods to her. "Evening ma'am."

They then come to the last man in the line, who is criminally handsome. "And this," Buck placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Is Ezra Standish". He has a small plate of food in his right hand.

"How do you do?" He is speaking with a rich southern accent. He then puts his left hand out. Madeline takes her hand from Bucks to accept Ezra's. She slowly puts her hand out; he takes her hand, bends his head down and lightly kisses it. He then slowly comes up to meet her gaze.

"Oh, my." She whispers. Still holding onto Ezra's hand she isn't aware Buck's talking to her.

He leans in closer, and in an amused voice. "Madeline."

"I'm sorry what Mr. Wilmington." Still having Ezra's hand in hers.

"I said he's gonna need his hand back." She looks at Buck and then to Ezra, who is smirking at her.

"Oh, well…yes, I'm sure he will need his hand." Staring at Ezra, she slowly takes her hand back. "I do apologize." She blushes.

"Not at all." He continues his stare.

"Madeline." The sound of Josephine's voice catches her attention. Madeline finds her across the table motioning furiously with her hand for her to go over.

"Nice to meet you." She re Ezra doesn't reply. She then looks up at Buck. "Thank you Mr. Wilmington you've been most kind."

He grins. "You're welcome, and it's Buck."

Madeline walks away and over to Josephine. "I can't leave you alone for a minute." She looks at the seven men. "I've lived in this town since before they got here, I haven't even met all of them." Giving Madeline a push. "I hate you." Turning her attention to Buck. "Good evening Buck." She waives for his attention.

"Josephine." He places his hand on his heart. "I don't believe you've ever looked lovelier, why that blue dress suits you fine."

Smoothing her hair back with her hands, then her dress. "Oh, Buck." Turns her head slightly and bats her eyelashes. "Gentlemen," Looking them all over. "It's good to see you out and about."

"I told you we needed to be seen around more." JD speaks up.

"I could get used to this." Josiah adds.

"Don't mind folks having a good time either." Nathan observes.

Buck, after collecting his food, looks over to see Ezra still eyeing Madeline. He walks over to stand hear him. "Careful," he says leaning over to him. "You're acting like you're smitten."

He chuckles. "Mr. Wilmington." Ezra watching Madeline with Josephine. "Just because I lack in the indulgences that you abuse, doesn't deter my desires for companionship on occasion." He smiles up at Buck.

"Well, do we stay longer or head on home?" Greg now joins his wife and her friend. Josephine seeing that Madeline is giving an occasional shy glance to Ezra. "Let's leave that up to cupid's latest victim." Madeline looks dumbly at the two of them. "Who's' a victim?" Josephine points at Ezra. "You, darlin." Madeline bows her head down in embarrassment. And answers wearily. "Yes, I think I've danced all I can tonight." Madeline then follows behind Greg and Josephine as they say their good-byes to there acquaintances. Just before her departure of the hall, Madeline takes one final look at Ezra. He is still watching. She flashes him a final smile and meets up with her escorts for the ride home.

The following week was spent at Josephine and Greg's farm. Working under the hot desert sun wasn't much of a change from the summer heat in the Massachusetts. Josephine's family (that being Josephine her mother and father) took her in when she was a young girl. Madeline didn't remember much before her time with Josephine and her family. And for that she was grateful. The family had always treated her with kindness. The two women were always so different. Josephine always was looking for a husband and Madeline a career. Madeline worked with Josephine's father at his press as much as she could. Working in the editing department and having the opportunity to read the stories that came through the office, was how she fell for the dreams of the west. In time Madeline went to a finishing school and while there she received a letter from Josephine's parents that she had run off with a man. When Josephine was settled with Greg, she did write her family telling them it was simply something she had to do. At first there was anger but in time her parents even made trips to visit with their daughter and new son-in-law. And Madeline visiting with Josephine's parents when she could on school breaks.

"Well," Josephine arched her back and sat back on her legs. "I say we go and have a cool drink." She looks at Madeline for approval. Working on her garden in front of the porch half the afternoon was taking its toll. "No argument form me." Madeline pushing back pieces of her auburn hair that had fallen loose in her face. Having almost the same colored hair gave people who didn't know any different to be none the wiser that they weren't sisters. While Josephine's had more of an orange tint, Madeline's was more light auburn with almost blond streaks whisking through certain strands. She gets up with Josephine and they head in the house that engulfs them with shade. "Tomorrow we'll go into town." She gets a couple of cups and walks out to the well to let the cool water make its way in the cups. Walking back in the house she places one in front of Madeline who has already taken a seat. She then sits next to her. "I'll take some to Greg in a minute." She sighs and holds the cup with both hands." "I'm sure it hasn't been the most entertaining stay, but I just love it here." She gazes out her kitchen window. "I'm having a wonderful time, Josephine." Madeline places her hand n Josephine's knee as an approval.

The mornings ride to town was accompanied by clear blue sky with a simple breeze that helped to cool when the sun insisted on getting too hot. As Madeline pondered going into town, it wasn't as a welcoming feeling as she had once thought. During the ride she noticed a spot that looked as if it were a carpet of green grass dotted with colored flower petals. And a stream of water nestled in the midst of protecting trees. Madeline looked at Josephine. "Josephine, would it be a bother if I didn't accompany you into town?" Josephine looks at her, then stops the wagon. "But I thought you wanted to go shopping?" She says disappointed. "I thought I did…it's just I haven't' had any time to myself since I've come here." Her expression now one of amusement. "If I'm going to write about the west, I suppose I should get a feeling for the place don't you?" Josephine doesn't answer. "Oh, come on Josephine," She pleads, "You can collect me on your way back." She points to the spot she'd had her eye on. "I'll watch for you from there." Josephine nods. "Your right, you need time to yourself, there is allot I need to do so it will be a while." Looking around the area. "There shouldn't be any trouble." Madeline gets down from the wagon. "I'll be back to get you," Josephine assures her, she then rides off to town.

Sunlight warmed her face; she held her head back to the inviting solitude. Madeline could see why Josephine so loved it here. This place was glorious. She heard the sound of horse hooves. Getting up she placed her hand over her brow, shielding her eyes from the sun raise, for a better look at the approaching rider. As he came closer into view, she could see that it was Ezra. "Oh, my." She whispered. Ezra stopped at a distance from her. "Good morning." He greets her with a smile and a tip of his hat. "Hello." She reply's with a slight smile. "I inquired as to your whereabouts from Josephine." He offers an explanation. "If you prefer, I shall leave you to your seclusion." Madeline steps a bit closer to where he is. "I would love for you to stay." She smiles warmly. Ezra dismounts his horse. He then takes his hat off and places it on the saddle horn. Putting a hand threw his hair, he grins at her. As he is approaching her he occasionally kneels down and plucks an assortment of wild flowers. "You look lovely Madeline." He says giving a sweeping gaze over her body, then holding out the bouquet of wild flowers he has picked for her to accept. "Thank you." Accepting the flowers with trembling hands. "But you're too kind Mr. Standish." She touches her simple white cotton skirt and then her brown riding skirt. "It's Ezra." He gives her a broad grin. "And as for words being too kind, that is an impossibility to your attentions." Madeline puts her head down and smells the flowers. Ezra, admiring her auburn hair. "Your hair is the shade of a desert sunset." She then looks up to meet his intense stare. With a flush running up her cheek, she then waives her hand. "Shall we walk." "Indeed." He nods and places his hands behind his back. Then walks at a pace to meet hers. "How long will your stay be in our fair town?" Glancing to her profile. "Only for the summer I'm afraid, I must leave in mid August." She stops and turns to him. "I'm going to London, England to write stories for a prestigious publishing company." His expression is blank. "What is it you write?" Taking a look at her. "I write stories concerning the west, my characters are the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. She continues. "Weather the real people are deceased or living, the stories are believed. Ezra still stays silent. "That must seem silly to someone like you?" She looks at with sincerity. "Not at all, the stories are no doubt more intriguing then the realizations." As they stopped under the shade of a tree that was contented by the water, he set his gaze on her. Madeline new he meant to kiss her. She started to move away, but he placed his hand on her waist and drew her against his chest. "Ezra, please don't." "Just a kiss Madeline." He said softly. She tipped her head slightly, bracing herself; his lips touched hers, so lightly, with such gentleness…. So carefully that it took her breath away. She clutched his shirt, leaning closer. She moaned softly. He trailed his mouth down from her cheek to her neck. He placed his cheek to hers and slowly pulled his head away from hers. They stood staring at one another for a time. He then turned on his heels and walked away. She followed behind for a bit then stopped. She watched him as he got on his horse. He then placed his hat on his head. There was only a silence. Ezra for a while continued his gaze. He then turned his horse and rode away. Madeline touched her lips still tingling from his recent kisses.

When Josephine picked up Madeline she didn't tell her of the kiss. She didn't know why. Perhaps, it was due to the fact it was for her, her memory. Also, she didn't know if Ezra wished to pursue her further. Josephine asked her if Ezra had found her, she lied and said that he hadn't. She thought maybe in time if she felt like telling Josephine, she would.

The town of Four Corners was not a hard task for Madeline to figure out. On the right advertised shops lining the boardwalk, others to the left included a saloon, hotel and a restaurant. Her intent however, this afternoon was for the church. Greg had been kind enough to let her take one of the horses. It had been several days since her encounter with Ezra. She was confused of her feelings. For some reason she didn't feel comfortable talking to Josephine about them. And she certainly couldn't go to Greg. Following the directions from a helpful town occupant, she found the church. She smiled in relief to see Josiah and Nathan sitting on the front step having what looked to be a cheerful conversation. "Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Jackson." She said getting down from her horse. Both men stand up to greet her. "Hello, Miss Madeline." Nathan speaks up. She flashes him a smile. "Mr. Jackson, could you please just call me Madeline, not Miss Madeline? "Miss Madeline sounds so formal". Nathan's face then becomes serious. "It's best I call you Miss Madeline, after things that happened in my life, it's best a man stays with some things he raised with.". Josiah coughs slightly to break the uneasiness. "What brings you this way sister, are you seeking redemption?" Josiah laughs. "No," walking towards them. "I'd like…well, to talk with you Mr. Sanchez if it's not a bother?" She then looks at Nathan. "I'm sorry Mr. Jackson, if I intruded on your day?" Nathan shakes his head. "You call me Nathan and don't mention it Miss Madeline, you have a talk with Josiah." He then slaps Josiah in the chest with the back of his hand. "He'll point ya on the right path." He nods to her and departs. Madeline stands looking up at the huge gentle man. "What do you say we go in where it's cooler." Motioning to the church with his hand, she follows him in. Once inside he motions to a pew for her to sit down in. Smiling at him she sits. He then sits in a pew in front of hers and places his chin on his hand. "Mr. Sanchez," she begins. "Josiah." He interrupts. "Josiah." She says with smiling eyes. "I know your not a priest, however, I also know you're a spiritual man." He chuckles. "Are you looking to save your soul?" "I--, I--, I'm confused. "He takes his hand from his face; his expression now becomes serious. "Tell me what's on your mind." "Josiah, I've met a man from town." Glancing up, she sees as he arches a brow. "We-well, I have impure thoughts." She blurted out. Looking down, not wanting to meet his gaze she struggles to continue. "I'm not a woman who fancies the thought of marriage, but these feelings." Josiah watching her struggle for his words of guidance is touched. "Madeline, I can't tell you what to do, or not to do, but the only advice I can give you is, when you feel for someone the way you obviously feel for this man…I suggest you look into your heart and soul for the answer." Madeline sees the sensitivity in his eyes. "But do I give into my desires?" "That," Josiah says softly. "Is for you and you only to decide."

As the weeks passed after her conversation with Josiah, Madeline lost herself in taking more time to getting to know the land and quality time with Josephine. She hadn't seen Ezra since their encounter. She thought perhaps, it was for the best, if she wasn't around him, the thoughts she had were more distant. On this day however, she agreed to accompany Josephine to town for "girl day". Josephine insisted and as usual Greg let them do, as they pleased, especially with it being Saturday the town would have more activity. Josephine reined the horse to a halt in the town. Madeline sat a moment taking in the sight. "Well, lets shop, then we eat." Josephine says while getting down from the wagon. Madeline nods with excited agreement. They walked around admiring for some time, the elements the store had to offer. After they make their purchases, they are too busy giggling and talking to pay attention to the surroundings. Approaching the boardwalk they turn their gaze to Ezra and Buck, who are faced with their backs to the women. Ezra has his left shoulder leaned against the general store pole, his arms folded over his chest and his right leg stretched out, with his ankle up right. Buck is standing with his legs apart and his arms folded over his chest. And laughing heartily at what ever it is Ezra is saying. Madeline's nervousness causes her to drop her packages. Both men turned immediately at the sound from behind them and to see Madeline now fumbling to pickup the packages she's dropped. Josephine laughs. "Tarnation, Madeline, what caused you to do that?" She goes to attempt to assist her friend. "Now, we'll do that." Buck stops her with a friendly yell. He and Ezra walk over. "I'll assist her." Ezra offers by bending down on both knees and begins to help Madeline. Seeing that she won't meet his gaze, he smiles. "Well, I believe that to be all of them." He says to her in a deep voice. She turned giving him a warm smile. "Thank you, Ezra." For a moment they held their gaze, then slowly came up to there feet. Ezra still is holding the packages. "Were is it that you ladies left your transportation?" Now shifting his gaze to Josephine. "Why right their Mr. Standish." She points in front of the store. They all make their way to the wagon. Ezra places the packages in the back of the wagon. "Gentlemen," Josephine chimes in. "Madeline and I were just going to the restaurant for some tea and a snack, would you care to join us?" Madeline drops her jaw and looks dumbfounded at her friend. Ezra seeing her response and Buck's face light up can't resist. "Why, it would be a pleasure to accompany you two enchanting ladies." He takes his hat and bows. He then places his hat back on his head, looking at Buck. "Wouldn't we Mr. Wilmington?" Buck pulls his hat back with his hand so that it rests on his back. "Oh, ya, I love tea." He inclines his arm for Josephine to accept. "Josephine would you?" She accepts his arm eagerly. "Why, Buck I can think of nothing more enjoyable." She peeks up at him with a wide smile. Ezra inclines his arm to Madeline, who has finally closed her mouth. With a nervous glance and a trembling arm she accepts his.

The walk to the restaurant seemed endless. Madeline didn't know if she wanted it to end or not. She loved being in Ezra's company but he also confused her so. At the restaurant they were immediately seated. Ezra and Buck pulled the chairs out for the ladies and sat next to them, Ezra and Madeline on one side of the table and Buck and Josephine on the other. The order was made and the waitress to engage in their pleasantries left them. Madeline watched her friend with Buck. Shaking her head slightly, she makes a small laugh. "Perhaps, you can share with me in your amusement?" She turned her to head to Ezra. He was smiling as well and knew full well what she was amused about. Madeline found herself staring at Ezra. "Did she ever really notice how handsome he was? The sunshine had rested on his short brown hair. Or was it blond? The lighter streaks seamed to catch the most attention from the sun raise that found their way in their direction of seating. And those eyes, mercy." Funny how they both had the same color eyes, with the acceptation that his were a light shade of green and hers were dark. Realizing she was still staring, and he was aware. She blinked her eyes and shifter her gaze back to Buck and Josephine. "It's just," she looked then to Ezra. "They act like a couple." Ezra chuckled. "Yes, our Mr. Wilmington does have a way with the ladies." She stared at his profile. "You must even more so?" Ezra turned to fix his gaze on her. "If I do, there is no interest." He then slightly smiles. "That is unless of course I'm…inclined to oblige." She met his gaze. "Do you--. Her mouth went dry. "Perhaps, we could…" She sighed, then looked away. Ezra is studying her profile. He was moved by her look of confusion, not to mention embarrassment. "Madeline." He murmured. She turned to look at him. "The weather here is almost always agreeable," "Perhaps, you would accompany me one day for a ride?" Not knowing Buck and Josephine had stopped their talking and were paying attention the them. "I know." Josephine speaks up with enthusiasm. They both turn to her direction. "Why don't you come to the house for dinner one night Mr. Standish?" I could give you the directions before we leave and you could let us know when a time is good for you." Madeline places her right hand on the side of her temple, then her elbow to the table and shakes her head in bewilderment of her friend. Ezra at first was obviously thrown. Seeing Buck and Josephine were staring at him for response and Madeline's current shock of her friend's boldness thought it best to answer the question. "It would be my pleasure to accept your invitation, and to visit your gracious home." Josephine claps her hands in triumph. "Excellent, isn't it Madeline?" Madeline now sitting up straight and looking at Ezra with questioning eyes. "Yes, it's wonderful." A slight smile makes its way across her mouth. The refreshments came and the table continued its liveliness. After, Ezra and Buck walked them to their wagon and assisted them up. Josephine explained the directions to Ezra and he accepted the dinner offer for Monday evening. He and Buck tipped their hats and thanked the ladies for the company. Ezra flashed a quick smile at Madeline, she returned with a slight waive and smile.

Dusk settled on the farm. And the greetings from the occupants of the house made Ezra's visit more comfortable then he had thought it would be. With Madeline's assistance, Josephine had prepared a lovely dinner to celebrate Ezra's arrival. He had brought flowers for both ladies of the house and was eagerly received into the homestead. The flowers rested in the middle of the table. Greg bombarded the conversation, with Ezra's experiences before and since his arrival in Four Corners. Ezra did his best to answer their questions with his usual charm.

Josephine rose from the table and started collecting the plates. Carrying them to the dish counter she said, "It's a lovely evening Mr. Standish, why don't you and Madeline go for a walk?" "Greg can finish helping me clean up." Ezra strode from the table, he approached the coat rack, took his jacket and his hat from the hook. Next, he reached for his gunbelt. "It is bound to be a pleasant evening, would you do me the honor of a stroll Madeline?" Madeline pushed back her chair and rose from the table. She then took her shawl from the door hook and draped it around her shoulders. Ezra inclined his head to Josephine and Greg. "It was a most delicious dinner Josephine, good night, Greg." Greg went over to shake his hand. "It was good of you to come Ezra." Ezra accepted his handshake. "No, thank you, it's been some time since I've been in the company of family pleasantries. " "Good night Ezra!" Josephine yelled from behind Greg. Ezra opened the door, Madeline walked out onto the porch and he followed her out and shutting the door behind them. They started down the walk, were a cool wind blew and a starlit sky awaited them. They started down the steps and across the yard in an even stride. The evening air brought a chill. She hugged her shall tighter. She turned to a stop at the fence that was placed not far from the front of the house and were Ezra's horse awaited him. Ezra placed the contents in his hands onto his horse and turned to stand in front of her. She made the mistake of meeting his eyes, an electrical feeling charged between then. He hesitated for a moment. He then drew her close. His hand stole under her shawl to settle on her side. He bent his head so that his lips met hers. She leaned into his body to deepen the kiss. Ezra's mouth pulled on her with teasing warmth. His feather light lips traced her collarbone lifting his head to gaze down at her. She stared up at him not knowing what else to say. "Goodnight Ezra." He backed away from her, never taking his gaze from hers until he turned to retrieve his items from his horse. He then put his gunbelt on, his jacket and finally his hat. Taking the reigns that were looped around the pole, he then sweeps himself up onto the saddle. Madeline clutched the shall around her again and gazed up at him. "I hope to spend as much time in your company before you leave." He said with a voice full of hope. "I um, yes that would be wonderful." She beamed. He tipped his hat and turned his horse and rode off into the night.

The next few weeks were of complete and total bliss for Madeline. All Ezra's and her free time were spent in the each other's company. She didn't want the people of the town buzzing about them either. So she also made a point of being seen in the company of his friends as well and of course Josephine and Greg.

Spending time in town had become a welcome ritual. Madeline and Josephine had just come out from the restaurant after enjoying an afternoon cup of tea. "Madeline!" She sees JD coming towards her, holding up something in his hand. He approaches her out of breath. "This telegram is for you." He tips his hat at her and then to Josephine. "I have to go to the telegraph office all the time, with my job I need to know if there's any trouble coming our way." Waiving his hand and as a gesture to change the subject. "Anyway, the clerk suggested I bring that out to you, he says it's urgent." He tips his hat again. "Ladies." He then walks off. Josephine looking concerned. "Urgent what could it be?" Madeline opens the telegram to read its message. Her expression goes blank. She then folds the telegram and places it in her handbag. "What, what?" Josephine is pressing. I must go to London immediately, it appears the style of stories I write are in massive demand." Looking at Josephine threw watery eyes. "If leave on tomorrow's stage, I will make my recommended date to start my new position." There then comes an uncomfortable silence between the two women. Madeline speaks up. "Well, I better go visit the hotel for my ticket." She goes to move. Josephine lightly takes her elbow. "Are you sure?" She says in a low whisper. Madeline meets her gaze. "We knew I was going to leave, it's just sooner then we expected." She then takes Josephine's hand. "Let's go…before I lose my nerve."

With dusk threatening to come into the valley, Josephine makes her way back to the house to see how her friend was holding up. Their ride back from the town was one of distress. Once they arrived, Madeline went straight into the house; Josephine felt it best to inform Greg, regarding the unexpected turn of events. Entering the home she goes to Madeline's room to find it empty and in the condition it was when she first arrived. Josephine goes to search for her.

Josephine found her in the barn, placing her belongings on a horse. As she steps closer, she says softly. "Madeline." Madeline looks over her shoulder to Josephine. "I'm leaving tomorrow…." Choking her words. She turns to face Josephine. "Don't think less of me please, but I have to spend it with him." Josephine goes to Madeline and takes her in a strong embrace. She chuckles in her ear. "Less of you, I'd be disappointed if you didn't." She then backs away from her and smiles widely. "Write to me, we'll collect the horse tomorrow." Madeline nods. "You know I'll write, thank Greg for me…. And thank you for everything." She gets up on the horse makes her way out the barn, through the farmland and onto Four Corners.

Ezra wasn't in the mood to be sociable at the tables or anywhere else lately for the matter. He finished his hand of poker, drained his whiskey glass and said goodnight to the men he was with at the table. He made his way to the stairs and to his room. When he entered into the darkness he tended to the lamp. Light made it's way into the room. He then took off his hat and jacket and threw them both on the chair in the corner, took off his guns and placed them down on the bureau. Ezra turned at the sound of the door shutting. Madeline stood with her back against the door and her arms hugging her waist. He straightened and turned towards her. She couldn't read his expression. "I, um, I'm leaving tomorrow." She blurted out. He leaned his hip against the bureau. "I know, JD told me." She fastened her gaze on his face. "Ezra," walking slowly towards him. "We could spend the evening talking about things that are not to be," She then rested her hands on the bed pole closest to him. "I know it's improper…my being here, but my feelings for you are of such desperation." A sigh left her lips. At first he stood taking in the sight of her, he then moved towards her. He dipped his head and feathered kisses on her temples. He then moved closer, and moving her arms he began unfastening her buttons. Madeline kept her gaze on his, "Ezra?" She pleaded. "Please turn out the light." He tipped back his head. "You're not frightened are you?" "No, but I -," She melted against him. He bent his head and kissed her shoulder, "I'll respect you forever." Whispering huskily. He then ran his lips to meet her throat. He nudged her face to meet his. The kiss that followed made her feel as if she were going to faint. She let her hand trail down his back, then pressed her body against his, without truly knowing it's intent. Drawing back, Ezra gazed down at her. "Ezra, I guess I am afraid." She trembled. "There's nothing to be afraid of." He pressed his lips to the pulse at her temples. Taking her hands in his he led her to the bed.

The glow from the lamp brought evening shadows to the room. Lying with their limbs entwined. Ezra placed a light kiss on her bare shoulder. Medeline's cheeks flamed when she thought of the things they had done. Ezra seeing the blush dipped his head to her neck nibbling with persistence. "Ezra," She whispered. "Yes." Answering as he placed another kiss on her shoulder. Turning to meet his gaze. "I love you." The words shot out from her mouth. Ezra smiled down at her. He then bent down to kiss her forehead. "Oh, Madeline…. I do have feelings for you." He said while burying his face in her neck.

Madeline woke to find that she was the only occupant of the bed. She sat up and looked about the room. A knock on the door startled her. Clutching the bedspread to her throat she answered the door. She found a woman standing in the hall with water buckets in her hands. "Yes." She asked dumbly. "Mr. Standish ordered a bath for you." She brushed by Madeline.

The only two people Madeline found in the saloon were the bartender and Ezra. He was sitting alone at a table, his hands were folded one on top the other, in a blank stare. She walks to be were he is. Stopping at the table she places a hand on the chair next to him. "May I sit?" She asks. Ezra looks up as if woken from a dream. "Yes." He then stands up to great her presence. "Thank you." She accepts the offered chair. They sit facing one another. Forcing himself to look at her. "Madeline-I," he broke off and shook his head as if in shame. "I know, I-know." She pressed nearer to him. And without warning placed her lips roughly at first to his, she then embraced him as tightly as she could. He returned the embrace and the kiss took on a more passionate then rough feel. Madeline's arms convulsed, then forcing her arms to relax. She slowly pulled away, and placed her forehead to his. In a shaken voice she says. "Ezra Standish…you're the love of my life." Releasing herself from his shoulders and moving her hands down his arms to meet his hands, she stood up. When his eyes looked up to meet hers they were of such tenderness. He then lowered his head and kissed one hand and then the other, softly and lingeringly. Madeline lowered her head and brushed her lips over his hair. She then straightened herself and gently pulled away from his firm grasp. Ezra didn't look up. "I'll love you until the day I die." She began to sob uncontrollably. Placing her hand over her heart. "Right down to my soul." She then turned on her heels to leave the saloon. She stopped to contain her emotions before entering the boardwalk. When she did make her way out of the saloon, the others were waiting outside. She was wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hands. Chris approached her, took off the bandana from around his neck and offered it to her. "Thank you Chris." She accepted the bandana and wiped her nose and then her eyes. Looking over her shoulder and into the saloon. "Please take care of him for me?" Her gaze then came back to shift on each of them. "And take care of yourselves as well, I couldn't bare it if anything happened to any of you." She forced a smile. She then gave them each a farewell embrace. "You take care of yourself Madeline." Josiah added as she was stepping down into the street. "I will." She promised and gave a slight waive and made her way to the stagecoach that awaited her.

On to: A Whole Lot Of Trouble

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