Past Sins
(Old West)

by Jennifer

JD, Buck, and Chris were standing outside the sheriffís office discussing the woman Buck had the pleasure of spending last night with when a cloud of dust kicked up from the arrival of the stage coach. Six eyes turned to scrutinize the passengers leaving the stage.

There were a couple of well dressed business men who were regular visitors to the town so they were no threat. Finally, a young man of about eighteen stuck his head out of the coach. A silly grin was pasted on his face as he jumped out of the stage and grabbed his suitcase. He was here he thought, now where was she. He scanned the small town but was unable to see her anywhere. After supper he decided he would look for her. After all, he knew where she was going.

In his preoccupation he did not notice the other menís hard stares on him.

Chris turned to Buck and said, "Not another one!"

Buck managed a boisterous chuckle but JD was totally confused. "Another one?" he questioned.

Buck looked at the kid and then turned to Chris, "Do you think he can ride and shoot."

Chris smiled one of his rare hard smiles and said, "I bet he can even fly and swim too."

JD finally understood that they were talking about his own arrival in four corner and the lengths he went to be brought into the fold. He was slightly embarrassed but he tried to cover. "Do you think that is why he is here?"

"There is only one way to find out," Chris said as he gestured to the boy.

With that the three men headed across the street where the young man was standing.

"So what brings you to our little town?" asked Buck.

The boy smiled and an amused look formed on his face, "Iím looking for my wife."

Buckís and JDís faces registered a little shock JD was the first to question him, "Your wife? You look a little young to be married mister."

"Mark Cooper," he said as he offered all three of the men his hand, "Iím not officially married yet but I fully intend to be. Iíve got the girl picked out. I followed her all the way here and I donít intend to leave till she says yes. Now do you have a place where I can get a room?"

Chris pointed over to the boarding house, Mark tipped his hat as a thank you and then headed in the direction that Chris had pointed him in.

Buck smiled, "Now that is persistence!"

"That or an obsession," Chris added.

Mark had just made it to the doorway of the boarding house when he heard Buckís voice calling him back. Mark turned and walked towards them, "What can I do for you Mister..."

"Wilmington, Buck Wilmington and this here is JD and Chris. I thought maybe we could help you. So what does this little filly look like?"

Mark was hesitant, he had to be sure these men had no intentions of harming his future wife. He didnít know why but for some reason he figured he could trust these men with his life.

"Trust me, youíll know the girl when you see her." He turned on his heels an this time made his way to the boarding house.

Buck turned to Chris Larabee, "So what do you think?"

"He looks harmless but he still could be trouble, we better keep an eye on him."

With that he turned and headed to the saloon followed by JD and Buck. Inside the usually noisy saloon they found it abandoned except for the other four of the townís protectors sitting around their regular table.

"Where is everyone?" JD asked.

"The saloon is officially closed because Inez needed a break, but she gave us permission to convene our meeting of the minds here," Ezra Standish replied as he shuffled a deck of cards.

As JD went to pull out a chair for himself to sit in he saw somebody watching them out of the corner of his eyes. Not wanting to alert the peeping tom that he had been detected, JD politely excused himself invoking some excuse about forgetting to send a telegram. He exited out the back and walked around the building and came up behind their stalker. He was surprised that it was a woman and he grabbed her by the arm and ushered into the saloon kicking and screaming.

"Look if he knows Iím here heíll kill me."

"Ainít anyone here going to kill you."

By now the men had turned to see JD pushing the girl forward.

"Now that ainít any way to treat a lady, JD" Buck quibbled.

JD ignored him and positioned her in front of the table before letting her out of his grasp.

"She was watching us," he said indignantly.

"Is that true?" Chrisí deep voice questioned.

Though Chrisí hard tone had sent many men fearing for their lives Abby was not concerned with him. Her attention was focused on anther man at the table and his look of disapproval was the only thing that scared her.

Chris was about to question her again when she finally spoke, "Hi daddy."

All the men looked around the table seeing who would claim this woman as their daughter. When nobody spoke immediately everyone figured the girl must have been mistaken until they heard Ezraís southern voice respond, "Shouldnít you be in school, my dear." Though Ezra was not looking directly at his friends he knew that shock had resonated through them.

"Well, you see," she started only to be interrupted by the voice of Mark Cooper. "There you are. You know you are hard person to track down."

She turned to face him and the surprise was evident in her emerald eyes, "What are you doing here?"

He smiled, "My life is where yours is."

"Your hopeless," she muttered.

"So youíve said, so youíve said," Mark smiled.

Remembering that her father was there she introduced Mark to him. After which Ezra preceded to introduce his companions to his daughter.

"Now young lady would you explain what you are doing here?"

"Well," she started, "I kind of got expelled."

Ezra just looked at his daughter shaking his head, "I should have known. What did you do?"

She looked slowly at him, "I gave the head masterís son a black eye."

Buck smiled, "Whyíd you do something like that?"

Ezra looked at his daughter, "I too am curious about what brought on that display of ardor."

She looked down at the ground and muttered, "he tried to kiss me."

At that moment all of the seven men broke out laughing. The look Abby was giving them almost made them sorry they had done so. Almost. They tried to suppress their laughter but they were unsuccessful. A few minutes later they had regained their composure and Ezra had taken his daughter to his room to rest after her long journey. He, however, knew she had no intention of resting but he hoped she would give him a few moments to explain to his comrades why he had neglected to tell them about her.

After a private reunion between father and daughter, he made his way to the saloon and saw his friends still sitting there. He was not naive enough to believe he was not the topic of discussion after silence befell the table upon his arrival. He needed a drink. He took a bottle of liquor sitting on the bar and poured himself a stiff drink. He downed it in three seconds straight. "I assume you boys are curious as to why I have neglected to tell you of my position as a parent."

"A manís past is his own, Ezra," Chris chided.

"That is until it shows up in a dress," Buck added.

"Ah Buck, I saw the way you were eyeing that girl!" JD contributed.

Buck replied, "Kid, you donít know what you are saying."

Josiah smiled, "You have a daughter?"

Nathan and Vin remained silent waiting for what Ezra would say.

"Boys, boys, I assure you that vision of beauty that was here a moment ago is indeed my daughter Abigail but despite her looks she is barely sixteen," he looked directly at Buck when he said the last part, "I can be very over protective at times, and I warn you if you try anything with her I will not think twice about inflicting upon you the most vile retribution."

"Easy Pard, Iím not the one you should be watching," Buck observed.

Ezra was about to ask him what he meant by that when Nathanís voice stopped him.

"Does she have a mother?" he asked point blank.

Ezra paused for a second, "She died in child birth," he said as he cast his eyes on the amber ring on his finger, "this," he displayed his ring for them, "she gave me on our wedding day."

"Iím sorry, Ezra," Josiah said as he placed a hand on his shoulder.

The sound of gunshots ended the conversation. In less than two seconds all seven men were outside, guns at the ready. Standing in the middle of the street were two men. One of the men was Parker James who had a farm on the outside of town. The other was Dick Masters, a cattle rancher. From what the seven men gathered Masters planned to shoot James down in the street and then take his land because James refused to sell it. He also claimed that James had raped his wife. Which was utterly ludicrous because the supposed occasion when this was to occur James had been involved in a private poker match with Ezra. The remark was probably used to gain the seven menís sympathy and allow him free range to extract his own tainted justice Ezra thought.

The intention was clear in Mastersí eyes and Ezra knew there wasnít a moment to lose. He lunged at Masters and knocked him to the ground. The gun fell out of his hands. They both struggled to gain control of the gun but JD kicked it out of their reach. The sound of Vin pulling back his rifle sounded the end of their scrimmage. Ezra pulled himself off the ground, his clothes were covered in mud, and his white shirt cuffs were completely black. He stood there shaking his head and trying to brush off the dust as best he could. He looked up at the man, "Next time, donít use slander to justify your case. The legal means of obtaining his land rights are a lot less messy."

Masters did not take kindly to Ezraís commentary. "Youíll regret this."

Ezraís glance fell on his clothes and in a dry tone replied, "I already do."

Chris came up behind Masters and put his hand on his shoulder. In a low voice he hissed, "Anything happens to James over here and we will know whose responsible. We wonít rest until we track you down like a dog. There are seven of us and one of us is bound to hit our mark."

Masters had tensed up as soon as Chris had touched him. He was angry but he wasnít stupid. So as soon as Chris let go of him he pulled himself onto his horse and headed out of town. As he set off back to his homestead he cursed the Magnificent Seven, especially that gambler in the fancy clothes, Ezra. That boy was going to pay dearly for interrupting that squabble he promised himself. Underneath his breath he said, "They have not seen the last of Dick Masters, not by a long shot."

Back in Four Corners everything was back to normal and Dick Masters was a distant memory. Later that evening Abby ventured down to the saloon. The walls in her fatherís room had seemed to be closing in on her. She needed to escape suffocation. Most people would assume the smoke filled gambling hall would have been a poor choice but not Abby. There was something so intriguing about it, something almost illicit about her being there. Everything seemed to sparkle, even the old drunkard in the corner who spent most of his time being verbally abusive.

She slowly crept up behind a group of men, watching them, taking in every move they made. The anticipation of playing had become to much for her and she obliged the inner pleasure impulse and asked if she could sit in for a hand. The men chuckled, laughed, and shook their heads. They had no intention of letting a woman, be it a beautiful woman, play with them. At least that had been their intention but when she displayed numerous bills for them they could not see the harm of her sitting in on one hand. They figured her for an easy mark, they would soon see they had underestimated the girl.

Ezra and Nathan had just gotten back to town. They had rode out to the Seminole village after the scuffle earlier in the day. Nathan had wanted to check on the people, his patients, but Ezra suspected there was another reason - his paramour Rain. Ezra had come with Nathan because the village children had formed an attachment to him and if the truth be known he had become just as attached to them. Not that he would admit it, at least not to his comrades who at times still felt him not trust worthy.

After Ezra and Nathan had stored their horses in the livery they made their way to the saloon. When they entered, they saw a crowd surrounding a table in the back - Ezraís table. What on earth was going on Ezra wondered. His unspoken question was soon answered by a gruff man who claimed a woman was taking on all these men, winning every hand. As Ezra drew near the table all he could think was this was not what he needed. He only knew one woman with such skill and that was his mother. As he pushed through the crowd he was surprised to see his daughter sitting there raking in the pot and enjoying herself immensely.

He came up behind her and place a hand on her should. She tensed up immediately. Not for the reason her father suspected, though. She turned to look at him and put on her most innocent smile. Ezra bid goodbye to her adversaries then proceeded to yell at her about engaging in such sinful activities. Abby could only nod, her father had always been adamant about her staying away from places like these. She suspected he did not want her turning out like her grandmother Maude. Her father did not understand how alluring the cards were. He couldnít, she thought, because he was so morally rigid. If anyone had heard what she was thinking it would have been obvious how little she really knew her father. She just shook her head to his waging finger and ran upstairs.

Ezra took a deep breath, and slid down into his chair. He could feel six sets of eyes staring up at him in disbelief. Ezra turned and looked at them. "What?" he demanded.

But he knew with out them having to answer. He knew how hypocritical he sounded. A gambler, a con man, these words were used to describe him. Though he had come to admire these skills in himself he could not bare that his daughter could posses them. These skills had been handed down to him, forced on him to survive. His daughter, however, he thought had been exempt from these necessities.

While Ezra was deep in thought Mark Cooper had come into the saloon and pulled up a chair next to him. Mark sat there a moment looking up at Abbyís father. He was waiting for his courage to be in place before he spoke. "Mr. Standish, may I have a word with you?"

Ezra smiled, "Why of course, my dear boy."

"I thought it only right that I tell you my intentions," he took a deep breath than continued, "I traveled across the country, left my family behind, found myself doing things I thought Iíd never do because your daughter has bewitched me," he saw the confusion on Ezraís face than said barely above a whisper, "I love her." He saw understanding cross Ezraís eyes then continued, "What Iím asking you for is permission to ask for her hand when the time is right."

Ezra sat dumbfounded, had he just heard what he thought he had heard. He glanced over at his comrades and saw Buck smiling back at him. So this was the some one else he had to worry about. He looked over at the boy and decided he was indeed in earnest. He seemed all right, most importantly harmless. Abby could handle his attentions. She must already be aware of his feelings. After all, he followed her across the country.

"Son, you can ask her but she decides her own fate," he replied.

"That I know, sir, that I know," Mark chuckled.

Mark got up and shook Ezraís hand. This seemed to shock Ezra. He was not used to people having manners in this back water. His opinion of this young man was rapidly improving. As Mark got up to leave Ezraís southern drawl reached him, "I think we can dispense with the respectful address, it makes me feel like a wizened crone. The nameís Ezra."

Mark turned around, looked at him a moment, tipped his had and repeated, "Ezra." It came out slowly, marked with apprehension. This was a trial run. Mark hoped in would soon run smoothly. He was delighted that Abbyís father had been so accommodating. Having her father in his corner could only help.

As he left Buck and JD made their way to Ezraís table. "You and your future son-in-law seem to be getting on pretty well," Buck remarked.

Ezraís reply was silenced by the sound of horses pulling in. JD who was at the window exclaimed, "Would you look at that!"

Ezra and Buck made their way to the window. From the view they could see a large carriage, from which two men, a women and a young child were descending.

"Marshal," Ezra muttered under his breath and headed out to the stage followed by Buck and JD. When they got there Chris and Vin were already questioning them.

"Marshal Dodge, it has been awhile. You have not come all this way to impart to me in detail the trial and tribulations my daughter put you through. She has already entreated me with the news of her expulsion," Ezra reported.

Marshal looked mildly surprised that Ezra would come up to him. That could only mean one thing. His daughter had neglected to tell him what had transpired between them and if he had anything to say about it she would never tell him.

Mark had found Abby up in her room ranting and raving about how unfair her father was. She stopped when she took in Markís face. It looked like he had just seen the devil. Well, it hadnít been the devil but as far as Mark was concerned Marshal Dodge could have been one of his minions. Abby implored Mark to tell her what was going on but words failed him so he walked her to the window and pointed. "Good Lord," she whispered after spying Marshal.

When Ezra went to his room to check on his daughter he found the door to his room slightly open. He pushed the door open and found his daughter in Markís arms. Ezra was surprised and Markís and Abbyís cheeks darkened a few shades of red as they separated. Ezra would have a talk with his daughter later about this because right now they were late for their dinner engagement.

"Darling, I was distracted earlier and I failed to mention that Marshal is in town and I promised weíd dine with him and his family. The situation may be hard for you but he is an old friend so I expect you there."

Abby merely nodded and with a look stopped Mark from protesting. He would keep her secret she knew but he could slip unintentionally. She couldnít bare it if her father found out. She was so ashamed and he would be disappointed in her. Abby would do anything to prevent that. She would sit through dinner knowing what Marshal was thinking. She, however, wasnít foolish. She did not want to be caught alone with Marshal, his son she could handle, but Marshal was an entirely different matter. In order to avoid this circumstance she asked her father if Mark could join them. Though Ezra figured her motivation was love, he agreed. He would be surprised to find out the real reason - protection.

Dinner passed uneventfully but Ezra had picked up some tension. Not between his daughter and Marshalís son Kyle but rather between Marshal and Mark, his daughter had been rendered uncharacteristically passive. There was a story there, only he couldnít understand what it could be.

After dinner Ezra let Mark escort his daughter back to his room while he went to take his shift at the sheriffís office along side Buck Wilmington. Buck filled him it on what he had missed earlier. Which was another battle of wits he had gone with Inez. Inez had of course walked a way the obvious winner but Buck was not disheartened. No women could resist his charms, Buck told Ezra. Ezra had merely nodded in agreement, forcing himself to suppress a chuckle.

Nothing of note occurred at the watch, so after Nathan and Chris took over they decided to get a drink before Buck headed over to Lucyís and Ezra to his feather bed.

By now the saloon should have emptied out but as they approached the saloon they could here voices raised in a heated discussion. At first, they hid because they wanted to get a grasp for the situation. Then they realized it was Abby and Mark and it became a matter of not wanting to interrupt.

"You canít go on like this, Mark stated, "I canít stand being in the same room with the man. How on earth can you?"

"What can I do he is a friend of my fatherís," she shot back.

"He wouldnít be if your father knew," his voice trailed off.

'Donít even utter the words," she whispered.

"Why wonít you tell him what happened?" he asked.

She replied, "Now, how would I do that? I am already a handful if he finds out he wonít let me stay."

"You have to tell him," Mark echoed.

"When do you suggest I tell him? How? I donít even think I can say it," she cried.

"How about something like Marshal tried to rape me," he offered.

Ezra and Buck were stunned. Buck watched as anger settled over Ezraís face. He had never seen him so angry before. Ezra pushed his way through the saloon doors. His daughter looked up at him. Good lord, she thought, how long has he been standing there.

In a small voice Ezra asked,' Why didnít you tell me?" But he didnít need to wait for an answer, he knew. She was ashamed and thought she would be a disappointment. Where on earth had she gotten these ideas? Was it from him? No matter what she did he never would be disappointed by her. He couldnít be. She had always been the best thing in his life, his own special miracle. He had naively thought that nothing negative would ever happen to her because he would be there to protect her but he hadnít been there. She had been all alone, thousands of miles away. He decided right then and there that he was never going to send her away again. From now on he would be there to protect her. In that moment he had a taste of the hell that his partner Chris Larabeeís life had become. Though Ezra wasnít a religious man he thanked God that he still had a chance to make amends.

With one liquid motion he pulled his daughter close to him and wrapped his arms around her. He held her tightly, not wanting to let her go. He wanted her to feel safe and loved. He told her he would always be there for her no matter what.

It was late and everyone had dispensed to there beds, except for Ezra, who now sat on top of the bar with a half empty bottle of whiskey next to him. He felt dead inside and betrayed. Marshal Dodge would pay he thought bitterly. He couldnít believe he had spent the entire evening with that man having an enjoyable time while his daughter has suffered in silence. The first thing he would do when he sobered up would be to inflict upon Marshal excruciating pain. He would make him sorry he was ever born.

The gambler was so deep in thought that he had failed to hear Inez enter the saloon through the back doors. Her hand on his shoulder had startled him and he spun around with his derringer in hand. He saw her eyes go wide in surprise. He slowly lover his weapon and apologized for his ill-advised action. She merely nodded and walked out from behind the bar to look at him.

"I hear youíve had a long day," she commented. "That , my dear, is an understatement," he said dryly as he polished off the rest of his drink.

Ezra jumped off the counter and pulled her close to him. He slowly pushed a strand of dark hair out of her eyes so he could get a better view of her face. Her brown eyes held an unquenchable fire, and her lips seemed to be begging to be touched as her tongue nervously licked her lower lip. He slowly brought his hands up to her face, tilting her head up to face him. He lowered his lips towards hers, pausing only centimeters before they were to touch, teasing her with his own lips. Finally, she had enough and propelled herself on her toes so she could meet his lips. Each kiss grew more passionate, more intense. With one swift motion he gathered her up in his arms and carried her up the stairs to her room like he had been doing almost every night since they met.

A new day had begun and six of the townís seven peace keepers were in the saloon, with Abby and Mark enjoying breakfast. Abby was learning a lot from the six men about her father including his profession as a gambler. She had nearly choked when Nathan let that slip. Abby was definitely going to have a talk with him about that, that was as soon as he made an appearance. Among the many things she learned about her father over breakfast was that he rarely awoke before eleven oíclock.

Abby was slowly making new friends. She had met Mrs. Travis and her son Billy, whom the gunslinger Chris had an attachment to. This morning, she had met Inez, and was surprised to learn that her farther told at least on person her of her existence. After Inez had come down stairs she had hardly seen Buck who went to the bar to try and seduce Inez. Abby could tell that she was a challenge to him, but Abby was pretty sure that Buck would not be able to seduce her.

Suddenly she felt a clammy hand on her shoulder. It belonged to Marshal Dodge. "Whereís your father? We were supposed to have breakfast together."

She tensed up immediately at his touch and her voice seemed to fail her. Mark was angry. Violence had always seemed unnecessary to him but today he was making an exception. Mark grabbed Marshalís wrist and pulled if off Abbyís shoulder, shoving him backwards. Marshal fixed his soulless eyes on the boy, he hadnít wanted to draw attention to the tension between him and the young man but now he didnít think he could avoid it. All the peace keepers looked up at Mark in surprise at his outburst. Granted they hadnít know the boy long, but they had all judged him as a pretty level headed and laid back person. What ever had got his dander up had to be pretty major.

Marshal caught hold of the boyís arm and twisted it behind his back and held it there. Suddenly Marshal felt the hard metal of a Remington being pushed into his back. "Hey, Marshal Iíd let the boy go if I were you," Buck threatened. He was still the only one of his comrades, besides Ezra that knew who this man really was. If Buck hated one thing, it was men who went around hurting women, especially women he cared about.

Out of the corner of his eyes Buck saw his friends pull out their own weapons, and point them at Marshal. They may not have known what was going on but they trusted Buckís judgment. Everyone seemed frozen in time to Abby until she heard her fatherís voice.

"Boys, boys is this anyway to treat an old acquaintance of mine?" Ezra asked sarcastically.

Marshal let go of Mark and the six gunslingers lowered their weapons. Marshal turned to Ezra to offer him a thank you for his assistance but was met with rage, and his derringer. The gambler threw him down to the ground, knocking chairs over and a near by table. Abby watched her father in terror, she did not know how far he would go to seek revenge.

"You son of a bitch," Ezra yelled as he squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit right above Marshalís head. "I should kill you, no one would miss such a loathsome curmudgeon, but death my friend is too easy, far too easy considering the crime. Some humiliation is in order, that is why Iíve telegraphed you place of employment and explained to them the situation." Ezraís green eyes flashed with anger, silencing any challenge. "Now get the hell out of here before I change my mind."

Marshal Dodge pulled himself off the ground and made a hasty retreat while Buck and Ezra straighten up the mess that Ezra had made. After a few minutes Ezra had regained his composure and embraced his daughter. He would keep her safe from now on he thought.

Ezra sat down at the table and allowed Buck to explain the situation. All the men were shocked and angered by what Buck had told them. Their sympathy went with Abby and the trauma she had endured. Their compassion only made her uneasy. She hated to be the center of attention. She still felt like she had some how brought this on even though both Mark and her father assured her it was not her fault.

After a few minutes of awkward silence their lively conversation resumed. As Ezra reached over for the salt Abby smelled a faint smell of cinnamon on him. The scent was familiar to her but she couldnít place where she smelt it until Inez came over to the table to bring Josiah a cup of coffee. Abby recognized the scent right away. Her eyes went wide, and her thoughts were reeling with the implications. Abby watched Inez, who was again cornered by Buck, noticing how her eyes kept drifting back to her father. Over the course of breakfast she noticed her fatherís gaze drift over to the bar where Inez was working.

Abby could not believe she had missed these signs. Well then again their relationship was undetected by anyone else especially Buck. Sooner or later though Buck was going to realize that Inez wasnít immune to his charms, rather she was blind to them because of her feelings for another. Abby thought Buck could take comfort in that. She knew it would only take him a few minutes to get over her once he realized the situation. For now, Abby would keep this intelligence a secret because her father didnít seem to be in a hurry to communicate this information to the public.

Marshal Dodge was in the restraint wallowing in his misfortune. At this moment, he could not face his family. His life was all over now. When he got back to New Orleans everyone would know, and his family and he would be isolated from civilized society. He couldnít even image what his wife would say. Damn that girl and her father, he thought to himself. As he continued to drink his attitude darkened. It was all Abbyís fault, if she hadnít flaunted her feminine wiles in front of him none of this would have happened he thought bitterly.

Marshal watched with interest as a lean man with long dark greasy hair made his way to his table. He introduced himself as Dick Masters, and offered Marshal a drink which he accepted.

Dick Masters had been waiting for the right opportunity to get his revenge and this man was the perfect tool or partner to help him get it. From their mutual hatred for the man in the fancy clothes, Ezra, they spun a hateful little plan that would in their minds pay him back for the wrongs he had committed against them.

Abby had mentioned at breakfast she would like to see the countryside and Marks had also thought that would be an enjoyable experience. JD had enthusiastically volunteered to show them around. The six older men figured that JD was doing it because he liked being around people who were younger than him and he wouldnít be the naive one. Ezra didnít care about the reason JD was going he was just grateful that he was going in case any trouble turned up. He didnít expect any, but you could never be too careful.

Buck and Ezra sat in front of the sheriffís office watching the three horses slowly head out of town. Nathan had come to join them and they could all hear the trailings of Abbyís and Markís argument as they got further and further away form them.

"That boy hasnít even got a chance with her," Buck commented.

"Care to make a wager in that regard?" Ezra asked, "Iím giving even odds."

Nathan just shook his head at Ezra, 'Your taking bets on your daughterís love life."

Ezra merely looked at Nathan and smiled. This time his smile was contagious, as if found its way to Nathanís face. The healer just continued to shake his head, that man would try and make a profit off anything he thought to himself. Though, Nathan had to admit Ezra had his own moral code and set of ethics. He knew right from wrong but there were situations where the lines were not so clearly drawn. These gray areas were where Ezra got in to trouble. Ezra would never change Nathan thought. Then again, stranger things had happened.

The three riders were sitting by the oasis while their horse enjoyed a drink. JD pulled of his bowler cap and was running his hands through his dark hair. Boy was it hot out he thought. He sat opposite to Mark and Abby watching them tease each other. In truth, they reminded him of himself and Casey. In the past couple of days JD and Mark had gotten to know each other and a bond was forming between the two.

The sound of a horse squealing, alerted JD to trouble. About ten men were riding towards them barring Winchesters and Remingtons alike. They were out in the open, and there was no place to take cover. In a matter of seconds they were under attack. JD had tried to ward them off by firing his gun at them, hitting two riders. However, that was not enough to stop them because of the remaining riders shot him in the shoulder knocking him down to the ground. Three of the riders surrounded Mark and Abby. Mark positioned Abby behind himself in order to protect her, but he was no match for their fire power. Two men grabbed him, while another took Abby and delivered her up to a tall man on a horse. She had been kicking and screaming, clawing at them until they threatened to her kill her boyfriend, that was how they referred to Mark.

The man mounted upon the Arabian stallion had his arms wrapped around Abby, "Iíve got a message for you," he said as he turned his head to look at Mark and JD, "Tell the gambler, his attendance is required at a dinner party hosted by Dick Masters and Marshal Dodge." With that said his horse trotted off and his men started to disperse, but not before one of the men hit Mark in he back of his head with the but of his gun.

When Mark awoke he was back in Four Corners in Nathanís room. JD was lying next to him passed out.

"How did I get here?" Mark groggily asked.

"You and JD came into town, both unconscious, riding his horse. Best we can figure JD got you up on his horse and started to ride back to get us before the loss of blood rendered him unconscious," Nathan replied.

"Is he going to be all right?" Mark asked concerned.

Nathan answered, "He should be fine, if he gets some rest."

Mark settled back down, then bolted upright as he remembered what happened, "Abby," he called.

Nathan moved over to his bedside and forced him to lay down. "They got her," Mark screamed.

"We know. JD came to for a few minutes, told us everything. Everyone has gone to bring her back."

Mark again protested, he needed to help but as he sat up right he suddenly became dizzy and was forced to lie down again. He came to the realization that he was not well enough to travel and even if he was he doubted Nathan would let him leave. He silently prayed that no harm would come to Abby before the need for sleep over came him.

After the ambush Dick Masters and Marshal Dodge had stored their hostage in the bedroom of Mastersí house. They tied her to the bed tightly so she could not escape.

Abby was truly frightened. She did not know what Masters wanted, but she was familiar with Marshalís demands. She thanked God for the moments when she was left alone, but these moments were short. The men always seemed to pay their visits to her at the same time. If Dick came with Marshal she knew Marshal would behave, that was her only comfort in all of this.

The door handle jingled, Abby looked up to see Marshal entering alone. Her pulse quickened, and her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her chest. He sat beside her and looked at her for a moment. Then plunged his lips on hers, then slowly traced a trail of kisses down her neck. Marshal intended to finish what they had started that night in her dormitory before they were so rudely interrupted by Mark Cooper. He could see the fear in her eyes as he stroked her cheek, this was going to be sweet he thought. He was distracted from his purpose when he heard a gun shot ring out and then Dick calling him. He made a hasty retreat from the room but not before promising Abby he would come back and finish what he started. She inwardly shuttered.

The first shot that rang out in the peaceful night was that of Vin Tannerís, which took out the man on watch. This shot alerted everyone that they were there. Everyone came out shooting. Josiah who loved the old testament approach to life took out four men surrounding the house. Chris had got a few men hiding in the bushes and would have met his maker if Vin had not seen the man pointing his gun at Chrisí back.

Dodging bullets Ezra made his way inside, followed closely by Buck who was covering him. When entering the living room Ezra had failed to see Dick Masters sitting in the shadows. This mistake landed Ezra with a one bullet in his left leg and arm. Masters was obviously a poor shot but Ezra certainly was not. He spun around, and shot him directly in the heart. 'You all right?" Buck asked.

Ezra was now beginning to feel the pain and that burning sensation that accompanied gun shot wounds but nothing was going to stop him from retrieving his daughter. "Iím fine Mr. Wilmington."

Over the sounds of bullets firing they heard Abby scream. They followed her shriek to a small room in the back of the house. Despite his pain Ezra kicked in the wooden door to expose Marshal holding a knife to his daughterís throat. Ezra noted that her face and arms were covered in bruises. Dodge was going to pay for harming her, Ezra promised himself. 'Put the gun down or she dies," Marshal said.

Ezra had no choice, he dropped his weapon and kicked it towards his daughterís captor. As Marshal reached down to pick up the gun Abby elbowed him in the stomach, loosening his grip on her. She ran to her father and he wrapped his arms around her.

"You shouldnít have done that you little temptress. Now I have no other recourse that to kill you," Marshal explained.

Ezra watched in horror as he slowly squeezed the trigger. He moved his daughter out of the way, positioning himself so he would instead take the bullet but it never came. Buck had entered through the back door and with his bullet killed Marshal before he could pull the trigger all the way. Buck watched him fall and stepped over the body and whispered, "You never treat a woman like that."

Buck walked towards Ezra and his daughter and helped Ezra up. Abby went around to her fatherís other side and they supported him. They walked outside and helped him mount his house after they stopped the bleeding.

The wounds may not have been fatal but they caused Ezra a considerable amount of pain on the horse ride back to town. When they arrived back in Four Corners Ezra never thought he would be so happy to see Nathan. Nathan had taken him into the clinic and removed the bullets. He bandaged the wounds, and forced him to stay in bed. Ezra protested the whole time but finally decided he would not change Nathanís mind. He looked around the small room at Nathanís other patients. They seemed to be holding their own. JD would have to stay in bed for a few days but Mark would be able to leave first thing in the morning. Of course, Ezra was jealous but he also realized his imposed bed rest had its benefits. He need sometime to himself to reflect on the events of the past few days.

A couple of days after Ezra was shot Nathan had consented to let Ezra recuperate in his room. Ezra need peace and quiet and he was not getting it in Nathanís room. He like JD but the kid was prone to talking and it did not help that Buck kept coming by to check on them.

A knock on the door signaled Ezra to the arrival of a visitor. He expected to see Abby, Nathan or Mark who frequently checked up on him but to his surprise Chris Larabee emerged from behind the door.

Ezra quickly recovered his poker face and asked, "What can I do for you Mr. Larabee."

Chris just looked at him a moment trying to penetrate the gamblerís green eyes with his own steel cold blue ones. "It wasnít you fault, bad things happen to people we love, we canít always be there to protect them," he simply stated.

Ezraís eyes went wide, had he really become that easy to read. For the past few days Ezra had been battling his own guilt about his daughterís kidnapping. He had foolishly thought if she stayed with him she would be safe and he could protect her. This time she had been with him and misfortune had still befallen her. He kept thinking he should have known that Marshal was unstable. He never should have brought a man like that into their lives. She should have never had to endure such pain in his name. The only comfort was that Marshal had not been able to force himself of her. If they had been a few minutes later he shuttered to think what would have happened, but they had not been and she was safe. He had to keep repeating that to himself, maybe he would start believing it.

"Mr. Larabee, that is easy to communicate but it is much more difficult to believe."

"That it is," Chris replied as he turned on his heels and exited Ezraís room.

Ezra just sat there staring after him awhile, unsure of what had just transpired. For the first time Ezra felt that a bond existed between him and Chris. They were connected. The last link in a seven link chain. He smiled at that thought but he realized that chain was gathering extensions. Ezra was also linked to his daughter, as Chris was linked to his dead son and the young Travis boy. Ezra was slowly understanding what family was all about. It was not entirely what you were born into, rather the people you come to care about.

Buck was sitting outside the saloon playing poker with Ezraís daughter, while Nathan checked on Ezra. He watched a smile spread across her lips as she laid down a royal flush. This was the sixth hand in a row she had won. Buck just shook his and head and threw down his cards as Nathan walked up to them. "She beat you again?" Nathan asked.

Buck merely nodded. She was as proficient as Ezra. Buck silently wondered who would win if they ever played together. That would make a most interesting game he thought.

Abby looked up from the cards he was collecting, "How is daddy doing?"

"Fine, he should be up and around by next week. Inez is in with him right now." Nathan stated.

Abby smiled. She liked Inez. She made her father happy and that was all that mattered to her. She was strong and could handle herself in any situation. It was no wonder her father fell for her. Abby watched as Buck got up to leave, "You know what they say, unlucky in cards,í his voice trailed off, "Tonight, is the night Inez will be putty in my hands."

Abby suppressed as giggle, "Buck, I bet you she turns you down flat. Iíll even go as far as to say sheíll spend the night with my father before she does you."

Buck looked up at her and chuckled, "Not a chance. No offense, but your father isnít exactly a match for El Buck."

She smiled, "If you are so sure why donít you put you money where your mouth is."

Buck extended his had to hers as they settled on the terms of the bet.

Nathan couldnít help but remark, "She certainly is Ezraís daughter."

"That Nathan is the nicest compliment anyone has ever paid me," she exclaimed.

Abby sat back in her chair and counted her winnings. She was going to like living here she thought to herself. Now if she could only stop Mark from proposing to her every five minutes things would be perfect.


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