(Old West)

by Jennifer

Cara had been if Four Corners for over a week now. Her attraction to the small backwater had been her brother. The joy of seeing him again was overshadowed by his over protective nature. There was nothing for someone of her sophistication to partake in. She had hoped horseback riding in the untamed west would be her solace but it could not be. Her brotherís best intentions were smothering her. He still thought of her as a little girl who needed her big brother to protect her.

Cara was certainly not a little girl at twenty-four. Her Aunt Kim who was very wealthy had raised her. She was given every advantage, and the older woman thought of her as a daughter. Cara was a striking beauty. She had been blessed with long brown tresses, puppy dog brown eyes, ruby lips, a shapely figure and an ample breast. She was a mere five foot six, which put her on equally footing with both the taller and shorter men. As the sun beat down on her she wiped a bead of sweat from her brow.

Cara and her companion had been riding for a few hours now. Her companion was an escort her brother had provided her with. This boy with the bowler cap had escorted her several times over the past week. Each time his incessant talking never let up. She liked her peace and quiet and JD never seemed to understand that. Today, she was at the point where she could strangle him with her bare hands. She resisted the temptation to do so because she was a lady and her brother seemed to have affection for the young man. Buck was going to owe her for her restraint she thought to herself.

She turned her head to look over at her companion who was still talking endlessly. She smiled, "Race you." Then quickly turned her horse around and galloped full speed back to town leaving JD eating her dust. This should keep him quiet for a while she thought as she saw the faint image of the town looming before her.

When she arrived back in town she tied up her horse and feed her an apple, before heading to the bath house to wash the dust off her skin that had accumulated during the duration of their ride. She needed to change out of her riding gear, which consisted of a pair of boots, some tan riding pants, a crisp white shirt and a cowboy hat.

When she emerged a short time later from the stall she was a vision to behold. She looked so completely different. Her hair now hung in tiny ringlets around her face, and she was adorned with a place green satin dress that seemed to bring out the green flexes in her auburn eyes.

Purpose hung in her eyes. She planned on riding tomorrow and Cara knew Buck would never let her go off alone. If she did he would later retaliate by having his friends watch her every minute of the day, not that they werenít already, Cara just was not aware of them doing so. Cara decided the only way to appease her brother and not go insane by listening to JD rattle on was to find another escort.

She spied Josiah over at the church. He had become a confidant of sorts but she knew he was busy with repairs on the church tomorrow so she neglected to ask him. She saw Nathan ride by on his way to the Seminole village and knew he would not be back by tomorrow. She soon discovered that all the men had plans that consisted of lending Josiah a hand. That was all except Ezra. Buck told her if she could get Ezra away from the tables tomorrow she could go but he doubted he would give up a lucrative day at the tables for her.

Cara headed to the saloon in search of the gambler, Ezra. She exuded confidence as she pushed open the batwing doors. She walked right up to the back table where Ezra, Vin and JD were all perched around. She smiled, and focused all her attention on Ezra, ignoring his companions.

"Mr. Standish, just the man I was looking for," she proclaimed.

Ezra looked up momentarily surprised but soon recovered. JD and Vin, however, took a moment to compose themselves. This was not exactly the kind of place they would expect someone of her breeding to convene. Cara knew this, and could not help revel in the fact she had caused the gunslingers to feel uncomfortable.

"What can I do for you Ms. Wilmington?" he asked.

A lot, she thought to herself. She had felt instantly attracted to him when they first met. When he had kissed her hand, she felt a tingle throughout her body. By now Cara was on first name basis with the other six gunslingers but Ezra was still Mr. Standish and she was still Ms. Wilmington. Sometimes it seemed like a game to her, who would be the first to break down and call the to her by their primary appellation?

She responded," It seems I am in need of an escort tomorrow and since I am told you had no prior engagements I was hoping that it would not be too much of an inconvenience for you to escort me," as she battled her eyes.

"It would be my pleasure. Now what time were you planning this little excursion?"

"I thought weíd leave about six in the morning. Get an early start," she told him.

"Good lord," he croaked.

"Is there a problem?" she asked.

Vin smirked, "Thought you knew by now Ezra donít get up before eleven."

Ezra ignored him, "No problem, tomorrow at six," he said as he got up and kissed her hand.

She turned and left, and he returned to his seat. He know felt his colleges eyes on him. They seemed to be burning a whole into him. Finally he could no longer ignore them and he demanded, "What?" This brought a smile to both Vinís and JDís faces as they tipped their hats before exiting the saloon leaving Ezra sitting at a table alone and confused.

When Cara arrived at the livery the next morning she found Ezra already upon his horse and ready to go. He had procured her horse, Bright Star, for her. As she mounted Bright Star she could not help smile at him as a yawn escaped from his mouth. He really was not a morning person she mused. With a click of her heals she spurred the horse on and Ezra followed.

The first twenty minutes of the ride had been met with deafening silence. A vase contrast to her earlier rides with JD. Cara found this quiet haunting so she engaged Ezra in some light conversation. After they were a few minutes into the conversation they were behaving like they had know each other for years and perhaps they did in another life.

Ezra was chuckling at a comment Cara made about him saving her for a life in prison because if JD had escorted her one more time she would have had to kill him. Ezra could not remember a time when he felt more alive. She was stirring feelings in him he never knew existed. The barriers he felt with other people seemed to be non existent with her. He knew he was attracted to her but also knew he must resist the overwhelming need to kiss her. It was hard for him not to focus on her supple mouth because it was one of her most prevalent features. He knew he had stop thinking like that because Buck was a friend of his. Friends were not supposed to go after their friendís relatives even if they were gorgeous.

Cara found his stories of life in the south fascinating and she found herself telling him things she had never told another living soul. Even though they disagreed at times they were never ungrateful for each otherís companionship.

Cara had always wanted someone she could argue with and when everything was said and done nothing could keep him and her apart. Ezra seemed to be that man. On their way back to town they had been discussing the most romantic love stories they had ever read. Ezra claimed it was Romeo and Juliet while Cara protested it was Jane Eyre. Their argument became so passionate that it drew on lookers as they entered the main road of Four Corners

The other six regulators, including Nathan who had decided not to go the whole way out to the Seminole village, were drawn out of the saloon by the noise. They were surprised to see Cara and Ezra standing in the street with their arms flailing about. Buck had never seen his sister so angry or Ezra for that matter. What on earth was going on, he wondered. As Buck walked up to them, his comrades followed a short distance behind.

Buck maneuvered himself between the two. "What the hellís going on?" he demanded.

Cara was slightly startled by his arrival. Her sapphire eyes looked up at him, then a huge smile appeared on her face. "Nothing to concern yourself with Buck, merely a difference of opinion."

Ezraís emerald eyes locked on hers; "Mr. Wilmington, your sister and I seem to part company on the greatest love story ever written."

"All this over a book." Buck croaked.

"Mr. Standish, I have a proposition for you," she smiled as her brother watched her uncertainly, "Why donít you read mine and Iíll read yours then we can better evaluate the otherís position."

Ezra moved forward, nudging Buck out of the way as he picked up Caraís hand and placed a kiss on it. Cara hoped no one could see that simple kiss had affected him. Ezra lost himself in the blue pools of her eyes, and replied, "That my dear, is a wonderful suggestion."

He turned and left her and walked past his comrades and headed for the saloon. He needed a drink, something to dull the senses. Each moment he shared with Cara, his feelings for her grew. He did not know for how much long he could hide these feelings, or if his poker face already betrayed him.

When Nathan and Vin arrived at the saloon the next day they found a table at the back surrounded by a crowd of people. Who was Ezra fleecing today Nathan wondered. When they approached the table they were shocked by the absence of cards.

At one end of the table Ezra sat engrossed in Jane Eyre, and Cara sat at the opposite end with Romeo and Juliet in hand. This situation had all the tension of a high stakes poker game with each of the opponent acutely aware of the other. They turned pages furiously, racing each other to see who would be done first. In the end Cara had finished first only by a few seconds but the contest was far from over.

Now the debate started each arguing their respective cases. At one point Vin thought the argument was going to turn deadly, as each person insulted the otherís taste and moral code. Vin had seen Ezra pull a gun on someone for less, but he seemed to be restraining himself pretty well.

Vin did not realize how hard Ezra was having to restrain himself. Not from pulling a gun on her but rather sweeping her up in his arms and laying the most sensual kiss upon her ruby red lips. He smiled at her, and got up from the table. "Will have to table this discussion for now, my dear. Those gentlemen over there seem to bee in a hurry to lose some money to me," he concluded and moved over to join the men at their table.

It was much later that night; the saloon had cleared out, all except Ezra and Cara. He smiled at her, offering her his arm. She took it and he escorted her to the church, where Josiah had set up a bed for her because her room was being repainted and would not be ready until tomorrow.

They were fifty feet from the church when the sky exploded and the rain came pouring down. They made a run for the doorway of the church but Ezra soon discovered he was all alone. He turned to find her with her arms spread out to the sky, her tongue sticking out to taste the raindrops as she spun around. She stopped and faced him, an amused smile spread on his face as he licked his lips suggestively. She extended her arms towards him, beckoning him. He smiled and paused only to remove his red jacket as he joined her. He looked up into the heavens, then at her and spun around.

In a matter of minutes he was soaked all the way to the bone and so was Cara. Her clothes hung tightly to her skin. Her shapely figure was revealed more than usual and her blue dress turned slightly transparent. With one fluid movement he pulled her close to him claiming her lips with his own. With his strong upper body he lifted her off the ground as she ran her fingers through his short brown hair, his arms drifted down her back, stopping at her waste. They stayed in each otherís arms for ten minutes before they parted and silently bid each other goodnight.

The next few days Ezra spent avoiding Cara Wilmington. He made excuses not to see her, when he saw her coming he went the other way. The men were noticing his bizarre behavior but no one said anything. They all chalked it up to the disagreement earlier that week over the books.

Nathan had kept quiet for long enough and he was not going to do it anymore. When he had Ezra alone he asked, "Ezra, why you ignoring that girl?"

Ezra smiled displaying is gold tooth, "That Mr. Jackson is none of your business."

Ezra caught a breathy giggle from across the saloon and his gaze located Cara at a table with her brother and JD. She caught his eye a second and quickly averted her gaze.

Ezra watched a short time later as her brother and JD deserted her. She sat all alone starring off into space. He felt compelled to go over there and rescue her from this state but he could not allow himself to do so.

Nathan watched Ezraís eyes dart back and forth from Cara, and when he was not looking he watched Caraís eyes studying Ezra. Finally, Nathan had enough of this and began encouraging Ezra to go over and see her but he stubbornly refused. So he decided to change his tactics with the gambler. "If you donít, everyone will think you were avoiding her because you have feelings for the girl."

He was surprised at the reaction he got from Ezra. He looked like a little kid who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. So that was what was going on Nathan thought. Ezra had feelings for the girl. He smiled at the gambler. "You afraid of Buck?" asked Nathan.

Ezra turned to look at him his green eyes flashing, "Mr. Jackson I take umbrage at that appalling accusation."

Nathan just chuckled. He may not always get along with Ezra but deep down he trusted Ezra with his life. Even though he would never admit it Nathan considered Ezra his closest friend out of the other gunslingers he worked with.

True, Ezra was a con man and a gambler. At times his greed and ambition were overbearing but Nathan knew there was more to him. He had a soft heart that he built a wall around. When Ezra let himself care for someone he would never give up on him or her. He had seen Ezra with Li Pong. He had seen how she affected him. The one thing Nathan knew about Ezra was that even though he talked himself up he was shy when it came to women he had feelings for. He knew Ezra was trying to avoid upsetting Buck at the price of his own happiness. He could tell that Ezraís feelings were real. If there had been money involved he may have doubted the gamblerís sincerity but since this was not the case he continued to harp at him until he finally agreed to go over there and talk to her.

Ezra slowly walked over to her table and smiled. He could tell she was a little apprehensive. "What do I owe the presence of your visit, Mr. Standish," she said coolly.

She was obviously angry with him for avoiding her. He could not blame her but he could not stand her being mad at him. So he tried to apologize. "Cara," he whispered sending a shiver down her spine. "Would you care to join me for dinner tonight and allow me to explain my most recent behavior?" he asked.

Cara found it hard to stay angry with the gambler especially when she looked into his eyes. When he had let his smooth southern drawl utter her name, she was completely at his mercy. She agreed to dinner with a nod of her head then excused herself to get ready for dinner.

At dinner Ezra explained his behavior and she accepted his somewhat limited apology. They spent the remainder of the evening chatting and laughing at each otherís jokes. They barely avoided another round of their previous argument. After which Ezra walked her up to her room, which was across the hall form his. She had expected him to kiss her goodnight but he had abstained from all physical contact. He simply bid her goodnight and disappeared behind the door to the room leaving her standing in the hall.

She was not going to let him get away with this. She marched over to his door and wrapped on it three times before Ezra opened it to see who is was. When he did so Cara wasted no time. She wrapped her arms around his neck and devoured his lips. Ezra quickly responded, as she pushed him backward inside his room. He slammed the door, locking out the outside world.

Meanwhile Chris and Vin rode into town. They had been riding for an hour because they needed help. A few of the ranchers were getting unruly, and forcing the homesteaders off their land. Chris and Vin could have taken them if they had been alone, but they had hired several guns, and if they went in it would have been a suicide mission.

Chris found JD and Buck outside the sheriffís office and deployed them to wake up Ezra, while Vin went to get Josiah and Nathan. Chris would get the horses together.

Buck and JD headed hastily to Ezra Standishís room. Buck laughed, "I better go in and get him. Heís liable to shoot us for waking him up at this ungodly hour."

Buck knocked on the door but barged into his room followed by JD and Buck was shocked to say the least. He found his sister in Ezraís bed. Ezra was striped naked to his waste, and Caraís dress lay on the floor leaving her in her underwear wrapped up in Ezraís arms. Buck began to see red, "What the hell do you think youíre doing?"

Out in the street the other four men were eagerly awaiting their three friends when a shot rang out in the night. "What the hell was that?" Chris demanded.

The four men were about to check it out when the three other men came out of the boarding house. Buck was walking a good pace in front, followed by JD and a trailing Ezra.

Chris stopped Buck and demanded he tell him what had transpired but he simply said, "long story." Which told Chris it was not the time or place to get into it. Ezra mounted his horse, and Nathan saw the already forming black eye. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Long story," Ezra echoed. With that they were off in search of the ranchers.

Two days had passed, and the boys had taken care of the ranchers without a single injury to themselves. They had now set up camp and were planning to spend the night under the stars because they had been riding hard and needed a break. Ezra and Buck had avoided each other the whole trip. They had not even spoken two syllables to each other.

Basically, the camp sat divided with Buck, JD and Chris at one end and Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra at the other. Vin refused to take part in this childish game, at least while he did not know what was going on. He sat in the middle of the two groups scoping out the terrain.

Nathan had gotten Ezra to confide in him and could not help feeling in part responsible. After all, he was the one who had encouraged the relationship. Every once in a while he checked on Ezra to make sure he wall right. At first, he had been concerned that he may have had a concussion but that had proven not to be the case. Nathan still could not believe that Buck had reacted so venomously considering Ezra was supposed to be his friend. If it had been Chrisís sister he may have understood the reaction coming from Chris, but Buckís behavior was completely out of character.

At the other end of the camp Chris and Buck sat in conference. JD and Buck had filled him in on what they had witnesses. Buck was surprised that Chris did not seem be siding with him. If Chris had not known Buckís sister he might have thought that Ezra had seduced her but Chris did know Buckís sister and he knew she was capable of taking care of herself.

Chris knew Buck was being protective, and he understood that. He tried to convince Buck that Ezra was a suitable suitor but it was a hard sell considering Chris did not trust him. He did, however, manage to get Buck to believe that his sister was capable of making her own decisions.

Slowly Buck got up and moved to the opposite end of the cap where Ezra and Nathan were situated. Upon see his destined arrival Nathan got up. He gave Ezra a wiry smile; "Iíll be over there, if you need some doctoring."

Ezra just gave him a fastidious smile before Nathan turned to leave.

Ezra sat looking up at Buck, "Mr. Wilmington, you havenít come to try and shoot me again, have you? Or maybe youíve decided to give me another black eye."

Buck chuckled uneasily, "Thought youíd like to match that purple jacket of yours."

"How very thoughtful of you," Ezra replied dryly.

For the moment the silence seemed over powering. Ezra knew the gunslinger was trying to apologize even though he was enjoying this display he thought he would let him off the hook. "Mr. Wilmington, would you be interested in partaking in a game of chance."

"Donít mind if I do," Buck said as he sat down, "Did I ever tell you about the time I met these twinsÖ"

Ezra laughed, and everyone turned around to see what was going on. It looked like things were finally back to normal.

Back in Four Corners Cara was worried about Ezra, her brother and the situation with the ranchers. She hoped they would be all right. If they were lucky enough to survive she hoped Buck would not kill Ezra. She had missed him since the moment he was gone and when he got back there was nothing Buck could do to keep them apart. She had realized something this morning, she was in love with Ezra. She did not know the extent of his feelings but she hoped he felt the same way.

Now she was standing in the bank, things were moving slowly but she did not mind, because she had nothing better to do at the moment. A shorter man stood in front of the line, and in between her and him stood this tall woman who had a nervous habit of running her fingers through her hair.

Suddenly two men burst into the bank, armed with guns. They yelled at everyone to stay calm, and not try anything funny, but the clerk did not listen. He reached for his own gun, and pulled it out. Car saw this all in slow motion. When she saw one of the robbers guns go up to aim at the clerk she dived in front of him taking two bullets, one meant for the robber, the other meant for the clerk. The robbers quickly ran out of the bank with their money in hand. They nearly bowled over Mary Travis who had heard the shots coming from the bank.

Mary quickly made her way to Caraís lifeless body, and pulled off her shawl and applied pressure to it against Caraís wounds to try and stop the bleeding. The tall woman yelled to the clerk to get a doctor. Mary informed her the closest thing the town had to a doctor was Nathan and he was away.

Luckily for Cara the girl had some experience treating the sick. Her father had been a doctor and she had helped him out several times before. Truthfully she had never operated alone but desperate times called for desperate measures. They had to operate. If she did not operate Cara would die. There was no choice. She helped Mary bring Cara to Nathanís room. Before she started she prayed that her first solo patient would make it, but it did not look good.

It was late three days later when the seven men, who were paid to protect Four Corners, rode into town.

"Boys," Mary Travis greeted them.

"We miss anything interesting?" Chris asked.

The look on Maryís face told them they had. "The bank was robbed a few days back."

"Anyone hurt?" Vin asked.

Mary looked up at Buck, "Cara took two bullets," she saw a wave of emotion pass over his face and amended her statement, "It looks like sheíll be fine."

Buck sighed in relief, and Ezra was able to let the breath go he had been holding.

Suddenly the tranquil state of the small backwater was disturbed be the shrill shriek of Caraís scream. Buck darted across the street, followed closely by Chris and Ezra.

Upon entering Nathanís room they saw Cara flailing about and a tall woman trying to restrain her. "Youíre going to rip out those stitches," she protested.

"What the hell is going on here?" Buck demanded.

"Buck," she called, calming down slightly after hearing his voice. Despite her recent situation she was still worried about Buck and Ezra.

"Buck is Ezra all right?" Cara asked. Buck frowned and looked at her, "Doesnít he look fine."

Ezra smiled, "It would appear you are the one we should be worried about."

"Who else is here?" Cara asked uncertainly.

"What do you mean who else is here?" Buck questioned.

Tears welled up in her eyes, "Buck I canít see anything. Iím blind."

"Good lord," Ezra croaked.

Buck went over to his sister and wrapped his arms around her, trying to reassure her everything was going to be fine. His eyes however told a different story.

A few weeks past and everyone was trying to come to grips with what had happened to Cara. JD felt guilty for ever having an ill thought about her so he made himself her personal nurse maid which did not go over well with Casey Wells, his sort of girlfriend.

Josiah held up in his church, praying for a miracle and trying to find Godís wisdom in taking Caraís sight away. He still had not gotten any concrete response to lighten his own heart or provide him any wisdom to council the dear girl, who he had come to think of as a daughter.

Vin and Chris spent their time tracking down the bank robbers. When they finally apprehended them, they discovered the fire that had spurred them on in this endeavor was still raging because they could bring back what she lost.

Nathan blamed himself for not being there. The guys could have handled the situation without him. Of course, he had not known that then. The truth was that there was no telling if his presence would have made any difference but he still felt guilty. In order to do his penance he watched over Ezra.

Ezra was reserved, but you could tell the situation was eating at him. It was not her illness, but it had been at first. She was pulling away from him and everyone. She was turning more inward because she felt like an invalid. She could not see, like Ezra did, what a vivacious person she was even with out her eyesight.

Ezra loved her. Her pain hurt him. It hurt him even more that it was self-inflicted and it was her keeping them apart. He could not blame her. There was no telling how he would react if he lost his sight. He would not be so polite, he knew the loss would crush him, like it had her. He knew though heíd eventually have to come to terms with it, like she would.

Ezra had been keeping vigil over Buck. The boisterous scoundrel had turned rather aloof. He felt guilty about what happened to his sister and felt sorry for her. Cara knew this and she used it to get what she wanted from him, which was usually to be left alone. Ezra knew someone would have to make a stand against her and Buck was too vulnerable and himself too enamoured of her charms.

It was now two month since they had found out Cara had lost her sight and nothing had changed since those first few weeks. Nobody would question her, nobody would tell her what to do, they would bite their tongue, and wallow in their grief.

Ezra surveyed his six comrades. They looked like they had all aged fifteen year, especially Buck. Ezra had had enough. Ezra threw back his whiskey in a single swallow and pushed back his chair without bidding his friends goodnight. He turned and bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time. He took a deep breath before kicking the door to Caraís room open. He stood in the doorway, watching her brow furrow in confusion.

He did not say anything, he did not intend to until she at least acknowledged him first. He waited patiently, his eyes' locking on her image. Finally, she spoke," What do you want?" Still he said nothing. She called again, "Ezra, what the hell do you want?"

He knew she could recognize him without her eyesight. He could tell that, even if she played at not knowing. He came over to her bed where she was lying and devoured her lips with his own. She pushed him away at first, but he strengthened his hold on her, and pressed a hard kiss on her lips that slowly turned into a few gentler one, then reluctantly he pulled away and nestled her head in his arms. "I missed you," he finally said in a low southern drawl.

She brought her hands up to his face and rested her hands on his lip and slowly pulled him towards her and gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Iíve missed you too."

That night nothing else was said. They merely sat holding each other. They were along way from through this turmoil, but they had made a start. As Ezra looked down at her he could not help feel everything was going to be all right.

Another month later Ezra was standing in front of Josiah and Judge Travis, with Buck Wilmington at his side, and the rest of his comrades sitting in the pews behind them eager to take in the show.

Ezra turned at the sound of the piano playing and he watched Mary emerge from the doorway of the Church dressed in a pale green dress. Mary turned ever so slightly, and caught Chris Larabeeís eyes. He smiled in return.

Ezra gaze fell slightly behind Mary to Cara who was adorned with a lace white gown. Ezraís lips etched in a smile, and Buck patted him on the back. She made her way to his side, handing her bouquet to Mary to hold. She took Ezraís hand and he guided her a few steps forward towards the pulpit.

Ezra barely heard Josiahís story about the pair of mountain lion because he was busy dissecting his bride and envisioning his honeymoon. He could not even remember reciting his vows, but somehow he managed to nod in the right places. He heard the judge pronounced them husband and wife. He pulled her close and he guided her lips to his. Then he swept her up in his arms and carried her out of the church all the while she was protesting he should let her down. He merely chuckled, "Darliní, Iím never letting you go again," as he opened the door to the presidential suite at the hotel.


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