Trial And Error
(Old West)

by Helen Adams

Author's Note: This story is a sequel to my earlier B/E work Empirical Research so readers may want to check out that story first. Written for Kayim, December 2005.

Back to: Empirical Research


When a man's been trackin' as long as I have, he gets so he takes notice of everything around him. Mostly it happens under the surface, just me keepin' a list in the back of my mind of the normal way of things. Keepin' track of the way everybody is, and the way they always have been as long as I knowed 'em. Stayin' alert for things that change without rhyme or reason.

S'pect that's what made me sit up and take notice when things between Ezra and Buck started to change. Them two have always been close, though I don't know as they've ever come right out and said so in words. Workin' together as lawmen, all seven us got so's we knew we could count on each other, in a fight or out of it, and for some of us there was a natural kindred feeling that went a little deeper than that.

Chris and me, fer instance, took one good look at each other and was suddenly as good of friends as if we'd known each other a lifetime. Buck and JD became like big and little brothers right from their first howdy-do and Nathan and Josiah both got souls as deep and changin' as a running river and so have always had sort of a natural comfortableness with each other. And Ezra? Well, he stayed on the fringes at first, givin' out the same level of friendly to ever'body, which seemed to make sure that he'd never have to be a particular friend to anybody. It took a while for me to pick up that he was waitin' for us to take our chance to use him and then toss him aside.

Trust don't come natural to a man like Ezra, and it didn't take much figurin' to know what made him the way he is once I'd met his mama. That woman is just like a cobra snake I saw one time in a sideshow act; beautiful and charming as all get-out but cold-hearted and ready to sink poison fangs into anyone fool enough to get too close to her. Growin' up with her gave Ezra a natural instinct to check for the slap that might come at him from any seemingly friendly hand.

Guess Buck saw a challenge in that wary side of Ezra, and he rose up to meet it before the rest of us even figured out it was there. I saw it in his face the first time Ezra brushed him off with one of them over-polite brain-twisting comments of his. Buck was on a mission. Something in him saw the cold untrusting places in Ezra's heart and decided that they needed thawing, and he did it, though to this day I couldn't say just how. Maybe it's as simple as that he took the time to try, or that he refused to give up or to believe that Ezra wasn't worth the effort. All I know is that it worked.

There's just somethin' about Buck that's damned hard to resist - fun and laughter one minute, tenderness and sympathy the next and always ready to take somebody new inside that big ol' heart of his.

Before too long under Buck's influence, Ezra started to relax around us and we all came to appreciate what we'd been missin'. He started volunteering ideas for dealin' with the troublemakers who came to town, some of 'em damned clever, where before he had seemed to assume that nobody'd want to hear what a cheatin' no-account gambler had to say. Buck also managed to uncover a right fine sense of humor and the three of us have had some real high times together since that day. Ezra even got so's he'd let Buck tease him, taking jibes from him with a smile that would've earned anybody else a slice from that razor sharp tongue of his.

So, y'see, I'd got used to the way things were between those two. Without quite knowin' it, I'd come to look forward to the way they were always laughin' and schemin', or just talkin' about the strangest damn things I ever heard of. I'd heard 'em discuss everything from the tastiest way to cook a steak, to the fastest way to get a gal out of her corset-strings, to the reason a horny peacock wouldn't impress a herd of lady turkeys!

When all of a sudden that changed, I got a mite worried.

Things had been a touch crazy in town for a couple of weeks, so when they started to cool down I took m'self off to the saloon and sat down at Ezra's poker table for a drink and a friendly game. I was right pleased when Buck, JD and Chris came to take a load off as well.

Ezra started chattering away as he dealt the cards, tellin' a story about some dandy riverboat gambler he'd once known, and it took me a minute to notice that his eyes would drift up now and then and look at each one of us, except for Buck. His words seemed odd too. He would spin the story and wait for a reaction at the funny parts. If a response came from me, JD or Chris he'd laugh and continue on but whenever Buck said something, Ezra would look startled and pause for a beat or two, like he was checking the words over for some hidden meaning. Then he'd begin talking again faster or louder than before. When Buck finally got up to leave a couple of hands later, Ezra looked relieved, but then I swear I saw a flash of guilt in his eyes when Buck turned to give him a nod, his own eyes carrying a kind of sadness in them.

"You and Buck have some kind of scuffle?" I asked, not wanting to intrude but curious to get to the bottom of the silent talk those two had clearly been carrying on right under the rest of our noses.

Chris and JD both looked surprised, tellin' me that they hadn't seen what I had, and I regretted my question when they each fixed on Ezra with a look that wasn't altogether friendly. And Ezra, well, he just stared at his hands, watching them shuffle the cards they held. After a moment, he said, "Nothing that needs to concern you. Mr. Wilmington and I simply participated in a rather personal...discussion recently that has not yet reached its ultimate resolution."

JD seemed confused by the explanation but Chris just nodded and said, "Buck does have a way of pushing a man sometimes. Don't see any marks on either of you, though, so at least it didn't get physical."

Now if I hadn't been watching so close, I'd have missed Ezra's reaction to that statement entirely, but I was lookin' for something out of sorts, and so I saw it. For just a second or two his color rose up high and he smiled in a real funny way, but then it was gone and he looked as bland and cool as if we were all talkin' about the weather.

I let the conversation drift back to cards and the usual town business, but my mind kept workin' on what I'd seen. The answer didn't come to me that day, or the next, or even the one after. Ezra and Buck each went about their own business and settled in to act mostly normal again. Ezra played poker and told tall tales to make us laugh, and Buck filled his hours up with bedding women and spinning a few whoppers of his own. Everything was like usual, except that to my eye, those two fellers seemed to be avoidin' spending any more time than necessary in each other's company.

Now there ain't much use in studyin' a man's natural behavior when he knows you're lookin' at him. If he knows somebody's checking on him, he gets self-conscious and then he just don't act natural at all. So to keep them from suspecting anything, I made sure that I didn't change my own patterns one bit. I worked when my turn came to be on duty, drank and played cards with the boys when I had time off, and generally just sat back and took note of all them things I always see but don't usually think much on.

For nigh onto a week, I watched Ezra and Buck skirt around each other without being able to put my finger on what was wrong. Then one day it occurred to me how much they looked like a courtin' couple scared of some shotgun carryin' daddy. At first, that idea seemed so dumb it made me laugh, but then I started thinkin' on it some more. For a while I tried to dismiss the notion of Buck and Ezra bein' together in that way, feelin' sure they wouldn't thank me for such a far-fetched imaginin' if they were to ever find out. But somehow once it got inside my brain, it just wouldn't go away.

I ain't no babe in the woods when it comes to the facts of life, and I ain't been raised up with no bible-thumpin' holier-than-thou outlook to life either. It don't bother me none at all how a man gets his needs satisfied, long as he ain't hurtin' anyone else in the doin' and I've known for a long time now that some men, and I guess some women too, got a yen for their own kind. It's just a call inside of 'em that can't be answered by the opposite sex, no matter how much they might try. There's some folks too, I hear, that can be happy with either a man or a woman. That seems a mite strange to me, but I s'pose maybe they react with a favorable impression to any kind of human touch, so long as there's a tender feeling behind it. It's a hard world, and I guess you got to get what softness you can out of it, no matter what form it takes. I couldn't stop wondering whether my two friends had found that kind of feelin' in each other.

Now, Buck Wilmington loves women. Everyone knows that. They're like his own personal religion or something. He worships, pays tribute, gives all he's got just to please 'em, and he gets a kind of satisfaction from being with women that's a lot more than just physical. It's that big heart again, I reckon. Buck is a man who loves to give and receive love, in any form, and it somehow didn't seem near as far-fetched as it should to think that heart might be big enough to have room for another man in it the same way it did all those ladies.

Didn't know if it would've ever struck Ezra that he might be able to look for love in a man's eyes, but he ain't no swaddled infant himself. I figured he had to know that there's them that lust for their own out there. Ezra does like bein' with women, I'm sure of that; loves to flirt and charm, and I've seen him disappear into high-class sportin' houses in various towns we'd been through, coming out later with a look about him that says he's been taken care of right fine. So, it ain't like he can't find someone to satisfy him when he gets the need, but maybe Ezra's one of them folks who can be pleasured by either sex so long as he knows they've got a true tender feeling for him. Somethin' tells me he ain't had a lot of them folks in his life.

Is that what happened? Did some situation bring Buck and Ezra together to share blankets on a lonely night and now they don't know to deal with each other in the light of day? Wish there was some way I could ask, but I ain't lookin' to get myself shot, especially if it turns out I just got me a dirty mind and an overactive imagination!

Reckon I'll just keep my eyes open and see what happens.


If I'd have taken the time to think about it, I would've bet good money that it would be me who'd have a hard time dealing with the fact that Ezra and I'd had sex together; not him. Ezra was the one with experience and he had told me he'd have no regrets for what we'd done, as long as I didn't, and when we left his room after it was all over I'm pretty sure he didn't regret it at all. I know I didn't. The whole idea had seemed so strange when we'd first started talking about it, but I never have been what you'd call shy so once I gave in to curiosity and stole a kiss from Ezra, well, that was that.

Afterward, I felt the way I always do after a good roll in the hay: full of piss and vinegar, ready for more. Unable to keep all that energy to myself, I'd sought out some company that night with Missy. She's one of the sweetest little ladies it's ever been my pleasure to know, and I couldn't help comparing her gentle hands and the familiar beauty of feminine curves with the knowing touch and hard masculine lines of Ezra's body. In all honesty, I couldn't say which had been the more enjoyable.

After a good night's sleep and a morning pick-me-up with sweet Miss Blossom, I'd headed on over to the saloon for a good hearty breakfast and a little harmless flirtin' with the lovely Inez. Ezra was already there, looking kind of worn out, but offering me a pleasant smile and a seat at his table. Looking at the circles under his eyes, I couldn't help but wonder if he had done like I had and spent the night with some sweet thing of his own, testing out all the ways she was different from me.

"How are you feeling today?" he asked, and I could see by the serious look in his eyes that he wasn't asking if I felt a head cold coming on.

I grinned at him. "Never better. Who knew that a little afternoon siesta with somebody warm, willing and exotic would give a man so much energy?"

"Exotic?" asked Chris, as he walked into the saloon just in time to hear me. Nodding to both of us, he helped himself to a seat and a cup of coffee, then looked at me expectantly.

The flash of warning in Ezra's eyes told me that there would be hell to pay if I didn't keep my word from yesterday not to tell anyone what he'd shared with me about how he knew that men could enjoy sex with other men. Of course, he hadn't actually made me promise not to talk about the two of us, since neither one of us had expected that to happen. Turning to Chris, I said, "Yes sirree, I spent me an hour yesterday with a long-legged green-eyed beauty who offered me temptation like I'd never seen the likes of before." I whistled sharply. "Showed me such a fine time that I felt like I could conquer the world."

Chris shook his head. He was used to my stories and probably assumed that half of what I'd said was made up on the spot, even though I'd spoken nothing but the truth. "Sounds like quite a gal," he said. "So how many times after you'd been with her did you pass on all this fire she lit in you?"

Yep, he knew me all right, even if he was jumping to a naturally wrong conclusion. "Only twice. Day's still young, though, and ol' Buck is raring to go."

Chris laughed and after a moment, so did Ezra, but there was something strange in the sound. I figured he was relieved that I hadn't done more than just tease a little.

Later that same day, after I'd done an afternoon's guard duty over a couple of boys waiting trial for stage-coach robbery, I went back to the saloon for a game of poker with Ezra, Chris, JD and Vin. Everybody seemed to be in fine spirits except for Ezra. Strange as it sounds, I knew he wanted to say something to me by the way he didn't say anything. He was avoiding looking at me, wouldn't talk directly to me, and just about jumped out of his skin every time I opened my mouth. Did he think I was planning to blab our secret to the whole town? Or maybe just to our friends? When I got up to leave, I could tell that he was happy to see me go and it just about broke my heart.

Guess he'd had a few regrets, after all.

For the next three days, Ezra mostly avoided me and I let him, figuring he didn't want any reminders of something he'd rather pretend hadn't happened. It was pretty clear that he wanted to just forget the whole thing.

When another couple of days passed without any sign of our disagreement being mended on its own, I made up my mind to corner him. The very next time I found Ezra alone at his table I sat right down and just played things nice and easy. Told him all about the ladies I'd been to visit that week, a fine horse I'd seen on a trip up to Eagle Bend, how the air smelled like it was fixing to rain and anything else I could think of. When I finished up by sharing a good joke I'd picked up, I felt about ten feet tall that I'd succeeded in getting a laugh out of him.

Finally, seeing my chance, I glanced around to make sure nobody was near enough to hear and said, "Thought you said you and me was gonna be okay."

Ezra did not pretend to misunderstand. He just looked down and murmured, "I did. I..." He paused and then, taking a deep breath, plunged on, "I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought of nothing else but what we had shared all that night. It got to the point that I couldn't even manage to sleep for remembering it."

"And that bothered you?" I said, letting my regret show. "Made you realize you didn't want to see me again?"

Shock flashed through his eyes. "No! In fact, I considered asking you the very next morning if you would be interested in joining me again, but..."

"But?" I repeated.

His color rose up a little and he went back to staring at the cards he was holding. "But then I realized that I had read more into the encounter than was actually there, and that you had a burning desire to just forget the entire matter. It had been unfair of me to assume otherwise, just because you had forgotten yourself for a moment. Knowing how you felt, I thought it best to avoid your company lest our colleagues catch on that something unnatural had occurred between us."

My mind was reeling. He thought I wanted to forget, while all this time I'd thought he did! Reaching across the table, I clamped a hand on his wrist to stop the motion of that goddamned endless shuffling that he always does when he's feeling uneasy. "Unnatural? Ezra, what are you talking about? You didn't read...I didn't think it was...why would you think I wanted to forget what we did?"

"You didn't?" he said, clearly confused.

"Hell, no! It was fun and sure a hell of a lot different than I'd have thought, if I'd known enough to think about it at all."

He digested the words silently; brow wrinkled as he tried to make sense of what I'd told him. "But your women," he said lamely, one hand stretching into the air as though trying to grab hold of a thought that wouldn't quite come to him. "You told Chris that you'd been with two of them between that afternoon and the following morning. Why would that be unless you were attempting to banish the earlier experience with the sweet and familiar touch of a woman?"

It finally hit me. Ezra had been feeling insecure about both of our roles in what had happened, not just mine. He had been lonely and craving a kind of touch he hadn't felt in years and I had been out of my depth; not knowing enough to be able to do some of the things I probably should have done for him. I had been like some kind of fumbling virgin and in thinking that over later, Ezra must have come to the conclusion that he had led me to do something I didn't really want to do.

The very idea that Ezra had been worried about my virtue would have had me on the floor laughing, if only it hadn't been so sad. When I'd announced to him that I had followed up our afternoon tryst with visits to two different women, he had taken it as confirmation that I'd needed to erase the memory.

Poor bastard. I'd hurt him bad and I hadn't even known it.

"Damn, I never meant for you to think that way," I apologized. "I was grateful to you for the experience, and I'd have been tickled pink if you'd asked me back again. It's just; I knew you never meant me to give up the ladies, and I don't mean for you to either. Being with Missy and Blossom that day was just like having a slice of cake and a cup of good coffee after finishing a fine meal. That's all."

For a moment, I thought my explanation had fallen on deaf ears, he looked so peculiar. Then he started to chuckle. He sat back in his chair and just laughed for a good long while, finally shaking his head with a smile that carried all the warmth that had been missing from him all week long. "My friend, forgive me. I'm afraid I underestimated your well-known voracious appetite, and it never occurred to me that I had been the main course in your personal banquet. Please pardon my crass behavior these past few days. I'm afraid past insecurities had gotten the best of my present thinking."

Relieved to realize that our misunderstanding had blown over, I decided it would be a good idea to seal the deal. Leaning forward, I lowered my voice and half-closed my eyes, a combination that impresses at least 95 out of every 100 women I meet, and said, "I'll make you a deal. I'll forgive you if you'll show me what it is a person can do with 'sufficient lubrication'."

Ezra's eyes went so wide I thought they were in some danger of popping right out of his skull. He swallowed hard and I'd have bet a pretty penny that his pants were suddenly feeling about two sizes too tight. "Well," he said softly, his voice sounding a little husky. "I'm not sure this could truly be considered a fight, but they do say that make-up sex is the very best kind."

The grin on my face was so wide it made my jaws ache. "If it makes any difference, I'll let you punch me in the mouth for being such a horses' ass."

He gave me a smile that was like sex all by itself and purred, "I can think of so many better things to do with that mouth of yours than punch it, Mr. Wilmington."

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. There just isn't enough stretch in denim.


I cleared my throat, and grinned to see both Ezra and Buck jump about a mile when they realized that I was standing not two feet from their table and had heard every word of that last exchange. They'd been so wrapped up in each other that for a moment they had forgotten to keep watch. Course, I'm real good at sneakin' up on folks when I want to.

Buck got straight to the point, "How long you been standing there?"

The question was a little bit worried but I could see that he was already thinkin' on ways to bluster his way out of whatever I might be gonna accuse him of. Ezra didn't say a word; just stared at me with an expression that kept shifting between shocked, mad, embarrassed, and just plain scared. Funny how many folks assume that just because Ezra plays a mean game of poker, he must be good at hiding his feelings. He ain't, really, 'specially not when somethin' really gets to him.

I took a seat at their table and answered Buck's question fair and square. "Long enough to hear you apologize and get Ezra to promise you some good sex to make up for whatever you two been not fightin' about all week." I wouldn't have thought it possible, but Buck actually looked embarrassed and Ezra's face, which had gone kind of pasty when I showed up, suddenly dropped about two more shades of color. Worried, I put my hand out to grab his arm, thinkin' he was in some danger of passing out. "Hey, you all right?"

"All right?" Ezra's voice sounded more like it should be coming out of a sore-throated raven than him. He shook his head, and I'm not sure if he was answering the question or just trying to wake up from a bad dream.

Buck rested his arms on the table and looked me dead straight in the eye. "What are you planning to do about this, Tanner? You figurin' to run us out of town now that you know we been together?"

I'd seen a gleam of humor in Buck's eye when I first repeated what I'd heard, and I'd been sure he'd try to pass their conversation off as a joke. But he didn't do it; didn't even try to pretend it was a misunderstanding, and I heard Ezra make a strange little sound at hearing Buck come right out with the truth. I had to turn away from that terrified look in his eyes, my amusement over practically catching the two of 'em with their pants down vanishing. I'd only been havin' some fun, but now I knew that havin' someone find out about this part of him must've been Ezra's just about worst fear.

That shocked and scared look had killed Buck's sense of humor the same way it had mine. The natural protective streak that's a part of Buck's character had flared up strong when he saw that look and I could see that he was almost darin' me to make something of what I'd heard. And I knew that if I did, it'd be all the excuse he needed to drag me outside and beat the shit out of me for hurtin' someone he felt protective over.

I smiled, wondering if he even realized what he was doing and Buck rose up a little in his chair. "You think that's funny?"

I wasn't gonna rise to that challenge, 'specially since it had come to me just how dumb it had been to barge my way into a conversation that was about as personal as any talk ever got. It wasn't like me to do such a thing, but I'd been frettin' about the two of 'em for so many days that my common sense had flown south when I'd overheard them talkin' and realized I'd guessed right.

Settling back more comfortable-like in my chair, I said, "Ain't funny. Actually, it's right nice. Sorry I butted my nose in like that. Didn't expect to find you fellers right here in the middle of a public building talkin' about your personal lives, and I reckon I kinda forgot my manners."

Buck's hackles settled some as he realized I wasn't yanking his chain. "You knew," he said, surprise in his voice.

"How long have you known?" Ezra asked at the same time, the fear giving over to amazement as he came to the same conclusion Buck had.

I shrugged, buffing my fingernails against my coat as if it hadn't been no never-mind to me at all. "Just come to me one day why you two been actin' so strange. Figured I was wrong at first, but then I got to thinkin' maybe I wasn't at that."

"And it doesn't...bother you?" Ezra pressed, after pausing a moment to find a proper word. I had a feeling that a lot more harsh words had popped into his head before he settled for that one. "The idea that two of your closest colleagues; your, your...f-friends have been..."

I couldn't fight back a smile as I listened to him stumble over the question. It wasn't often that I got to see Ezra Standish lost for words. "I been a lot of places and seen a lot of strange things in my life," I said easily. "And even though the thought of Buck Wilmington charmin' the pants off another fella-"

"Literally," Ezra mumbled.

I pretended I hadn't heard. "-has gotta be one of the strangest, I don't see that there's anything for me to get all excited about. You two ain't settin' up housekeeping together, and I seen both of you cozying up to the ladies enough times to know there ain't any danger that you'll come knockin' on my door, so if you two got an urge to scratch a little itch in each other now and again, who am I to say it's wrong?"

By this time, Buck was beaming at me, looking prouder than a papa with his first born child. "That's real decent of you, pard."

"Extremely," Ezra agreed, shooting me a narrow-eyed glare that made me feel as if he was looking at me from the inside out and reading every thought I'd ever had in my head. After a moment, his brow unwrinkled and a look of gratitude replaced the suspicious one. "You really mean that, don't you?"

"Wouldn't have said it if I didn't."

Playing with the ends of his mustache, Buck glanced around at the all but empty saloon and asked, "You think anybody else put it together the way you did?"

To my surprise, Ezra answered in my place. "I highly doubt it. Until today's little slip-up, we've been quite discreet." He laughed a little. "Hell, we haven't even discussed the matter with each other! I suspect it was only Mr. Tanner's unusually sharp observational talents that led him to the correct conclusion."

Looking at me curiously, he said, "Tell me something, Mr. Tanner. If we hadn't grown careless enough to be overheard, how would you have put your suspicions to rest?"

Seeing in their eyes that I'd been forgiven for snooping around in their private business, I grinned and joked, "Guess I'd have had to wait until the next time you two disappeared at the same time and climbed up to take a peek in your window."

For a split second, I think Ezra believed I was serious, but then he started laughing.

Reaching out a hand for first Ezra, then Buck, to shake I told them, "Ain't nobody ever gonna hear about it from me. My word as a Tanner."

They shook my hand and nodded, taking my word for truth. Seeing in their eyes that neither one of 'em quite knew where to go from there, I couldn't resist poking a little fun. "Don't let me get in the way of whatever plans you two was makin' when I interrupted." I winked at 'em. "Sounded like you had some serious business to discuss."

Ezra's pallor suddenly gave way to a rosy-red blush that had me hard-put not to start laughin' again. "Perhaps another time," he said primly, ignoring the disappointed look Buck shot him as he picked his cards back up and began to deal. "I believe the only thing my over-stimulated nervous system can handle right now is a good game of poker. Five card stud, jacks are wild."

I nodded and picked up my hand, knowing that none of us - not even Buck - would likely bring up the subject again. Now that I had my answer, and my friends had got past whatever it was that was bothering 'em, I didn't need anything more.


To say that I have been rattled by Vin Tanner's unexpected arrival, and even more unexpected revelation, would be a massive understatement. My muscles are aching with nervous tension and it is all I can do to sit there and play cards like nothing else matters in the world. The thought of how close I've come, twice now, to ruining my newfound relationship with Buck, unnerves me. First, I jumped to an incorrect conclusion based upon what I thought Buck should be feeling, instead of taking the time to discover how he really does feel about me; about us. Then I broke the cardinal rule of carnal relations between men; I allowed myself to be so caught up in a momentary fit of lust that I utterly ignored discretion and allowed my predilections to be discovered by an outsider.

No. I shouldn't call Vin an outsider. Not after what he just did. He is a friend; and a better one than I had any reason to suspect. I could tell from the easy, matter-of-fact way he discussed his discovery that he was not nearly as unfamiliar with the concept of same-sex coupling as Buck had been when the subject came up last week and for an instant, I found myself wondering whether Vin spoke from experience. I quickly dismissed the notion. Nothing about his manner suggested prurient interest, envy, or a knowing attitude. He is simply aware that men can be sexually attracted to other men, and isn't bothered by it. If that isn't a miracle in itself! I find myself wishing that I had known of his views months earlier. My occasional cravings for male companionship would have found no release in Vin, but it would have been nice to know that someone close to me understands those feelings and does not condemn me for having them.

My distracted mind is not quite up to its usual standards at poker this day and before I know it, I have lost a day's wages to each of my fellow players. Not that a paltry two dollars is anything to cry over, I will likely win twice that much in a single hand at the tables tonight, but it bothers me just the same.

I fold and get up to order a fresh drink from the bar. Inez would have brought me something if I had signaled her, but I need to move; need a moment away from Buck and Vin. Especially Buck.

The aching hard-on our earlier flirting had given me had withered at lightning speed the moment Vin appeared and made his revelation, but then it had unexpectedly flared to life again during our poker game. It's his hands, I think. Buck Wilmington has beautiful, graceful hands that often say more than his words do as he uses them to illustrate his stories and anecdotes. Long strong fingers that can't keep still, needing to touch, to hold, to caress everything around him. Undoubtedly some of his amazing success rate with women is due to the promise of those hands. Ladies must see the way he strokes his fingertips so lovingly and gently over the handle of his gun, the ends of his mustache, the edge of his neck cloth; and imagine how those hands would feel stroking over bare skin. I know I have. And having now experienced that touch, I long to feel it again.

Inez speaks to me, asking if everything is all right, and I realize that I have been standing at the bar staring at nothing for far longer than the time it took to select my next libation. I apologize to her for daydreaming and take the bottle of whiskey she has set on the bar back to my table. When I get there, I find that Vin has gone.

"Said it was shaping up to be a fine day and he felt like takin' a ride," Buck explains, seeing the question in my expression. His eyes twinkle at me. "Suggested we might want to think about doing the same, seeing's how things are so quiet around here."

I feel a smile tugging at my lips. "For a man who doesn't say much, our Mister Tanner has quite a way with words. So..." I hesitate. "What do you think of his proposal?"

"Strikes me as a real fine idea. Hoping you could help me out with something."

"And what might that be?"

He grins wickedly. "Well, you see there's this itch I got. Had it nigh on a week now and I just can't seem to get rid of it on my own."

I grin back in what I feel sure is an entirely foolish way. "I believe I have something upstairs in my room that should be able to help." I force a serious expression onto my face. "Unless of course you'd rather go to the clinic and see if Nathan has a remedy."

A great guffaw pours out of him. "No, thanks! If it comes down to a choice between one of them boiled-skunk poultices and some of that sweet-smellin' liniment you use, that's no choice at all. I'll take you."

I can't resist. Leaning closer, I whisper, "Not if I take you first."

Without another word, Buck is up out of his chair and heading for the door. I feel no alarm at this. The flash of desire in his eyes has put to rest any last tremors of doubt I'd felt over his willingness to reexperience our prior level of intimacy. He will be heading around the back of the building, intent on taking the back staircase up to the rooms above. Buck knows the value of discretion, though not many would believe it, and he has learned his lesson for today. As have I.

Tucking my cards into a neat stack and polishing off one last drink, I tip my hat to Inez and announce my intention to indulge in a nice long siesta before the evening crowds begin to gather. Inez nods cordially, knowing that this is not unusual behavior for me. Making my living at the poker tables by night and doing my share as a peacekeeper by day, I have long since learned the value of a good nap in the afternoon. The fact that I have no intention of sleeping this time is nobody's business but my own.


I'm waiting in his room when he comes up the stairs and opens the door. Ezra doesn't so much as twitch an eyelash at finding me there, probably expected me to have snuck inside since he'd left the door unlocked. Wonder if he knew somehow that this would be happening. Maybe he just hoped deep down inside.

"In a hurry, I see," he says in that slow molasses drawl of his, sweeping his eyes over my already bared chest. I hadn't even bothered undoing the buttons on my shirt, just yanked the thing free of my waistband and pulled it off overhead, following as quick as I could with my bandanna, boots and socks.

Before I can even think of an answer, he's kissing me. He practically pounced across the floor to fling both arms around me and there's no mistaking that he means business as both hands rub and rove over the skin of my back while his lips and tongue devour me.

Ezra is one hell of a great kisser. I found that out quick when he let me kiss him as an experiment last week. Gathering data, he called it. I smile against those hot sensual lips of his, remembering how hard he'd tried to hold back that first time, determined to remain a gentleman even when his body was probably screaming at him to do things that the cave-men never even thought of. Today, there's none of that hesitation. He wants me and he's not trying to hide it.

I love the way he tastes. Clean, like tooth powder and mint leaves, with a hint of whiskey and flavored smoke from that fancy tobacco he likes. His mouth is grinding down on mine, occasionally pausing just long enough to take a breath and find a new position as his tongue continues to dance and tease against mine. His hands are busy as well, fingers deftly unfastening my gunbelt, which I somehow forgot to take off in my hurry, and tossing it aside before going to work on the buttons of my pants. I'm likewise busy stripping him of his jacket, vest and all those guns, wanting and needing to get rid of them so I can take off his shirt and trousers and get my hands on all that warm skin hidden beneath the layers.

I'm straining so hard against the fabric of my pants that I can't suppress a groan of almost-pain when the material parts and sets me free. A similar sound of relief comes from Ezra when I finally make my way through all those damned buttons and reach inside his pants to pull the rock hard length of him out into the open air.

After that, there's just no time to think about niceties like getting Ezra all the way out of his boots and trousers. I just lay him down on that fluffy feather mattress and press him into it with the whole length of my body, my mouth nibbling and suckling on his jaw, his neck, the sharp expanse of his collar-bone. His hands are busy, tracing my backbone, cupping my ass and finally just gripping my shoulders hard enough to hurt as I begin to rock my pelvis against his, rubbing the painfully hard length of my shaft against Ezra's. Up and down, over and across, our bodies duel, Ezra's hips jerking up to meet mine every time I thrust against him, a little gasp escaping from him every time we meet.

Ezra ain't a noisy lover, I found that out before. He's not one to call out somebody's name, or scream and yell when the feeling is just right. Instead he moans real soft, gasps and shudders when he's getting close, and now, just like the last time, holds his breath when the feelings all come together, closing his eyes and releasing his breath with a long shaky sigh as his fluids spill out between our bodies. That sated sound is too much for me and I follow him right away, hearing myself groan with sheer pleasure as I release.


For a moment, I balance Buck's full weight in my arms as the strength floods out of him. He is heavy, but I don't mind. In my more daring moments, I have imagined that we would be here again some day, together in my room, wrapped in each other's arms and safe from the prying, disapproving eyes of the outside world. But I hadn't quite believed it, telling myself that Buck's willingness to lay with me that day had been nothing more than a moment of weakness; the lure of the unknown and forbidden.

And yet here we are, stretched out almost naked upon my bed, our bodies soaked with the sweat and fluid of shared passion. For a moment, I tighten my grip around him, shifting beneath him to better feel the pressure of his hard angular body, his skin pressing against mine warm and rough and deliciously male. Many times, I have longed for the soft supple curve of rounded breasts and flared hips, the deliciously moist heat of a woman's sex enveloping my own, but that yearning is so much easier to fulfill than this one that I have learned to savor my rare intimate moments with male lovers.

All too soon, Buck pulls away, shifting his weight over onto one hip and smiling down at me in that way he has that makes me feel as though I've been let in on a delightful secret. "Think we got a little carried away there," he says with a chuckle, glancing down at my knees, trapped together by the twisted fabric of my trousers, which I never had managed to get free of. "Reckon we forgot all about trying that next step you were talking about, too."

I smile at him, pleased that there is no hint of worry in his tone. Reaching up to brush a long lock of black hair away from his eyes, I ask, "Are you in a hurry?"

Those dark blue eyes of his light up with a flash of interest, mixed with a little trepidation. "Not especially."

Stretching my arms up, I grab the posts of my headboard and pull myself higher on the mattress. Working my way free of trousers, boots and socks, I make myself comfortable against my pillow after taking a moment to clean away the evidence of what we've done with one of the handkerchiefs I always keep in my bureau drawer. I toss Buck a cloth as well, and can't help grinning at the appreciative look in his eyes as he cleans up, his gaze sweeping over my naked form with enough heat to make my own temperature rise in response.

"You know, scientific study requires much hands-on research," I tease him, reaching for one of his hands and resting it on my stomach, wanting him to touch me again.

Buck complies happily, stroking those wonderful hands over every inch of skin they can reach. I don't have to ask for more as he begins to kiss and lick and nibble any particular inch of me that attracts his attention. As before, he seems to enjoy lavishing attention upon my chest but unlike the last time, he seems to have considered his technique carefully. Before, it was pleasant but not precisely stimulating and he gave up far too quickly. This time, Buck is taking his time, lightly licking both nipples and then blowing on them softly; causing me to jerk upward as my entire body seems to tighten in reaction.

Looking decidedly pleased with himself, Buck swirls one callused fingertip over my right nipple while gently kneading and sucking the other with his mouth. Waves of warmth travel down my torso from those two small points of sensitivity, going straight to my groin and bringing an instant stirring to my recently calmed erection.

"Knew I could do it better the second time," he says smugly. "I been thinking about all the things I'd fix if I ever got another shot at this."

I moan just a little when I feel his tongue lap down my body, pausing to take advantage of the erotic sensitivity he had previously discovered in my navel. It has rarely occurred to anyone in my past to test that particular area and it is all I can do not to squirm with the need he is creating in me. "I've found nothing lacking in your technique, thus far," I tell him honestly.

Buck looks up, his face very serious. "There has been, though. You had the guts to share a real personal secret with me, and you did everything you could to make sure I got the most out of it, but I couldn't make myself do the same for you."

Suddenly, I understand what he is referring to. "Buck, I told you before, it's all right. You shouldn't feel that I'll be disappointed, or expect you do something that makes you uncomfortable. If you can't..." My words vanish with a gasp as Buck dives down like a hungry bird of prey and pulls my half-erect manhood into his mouth, sucking it all the way from root to tip in a single motion before going after me again. Not sure if I'm more shocked by the action itself or impressed by the fact that he has managed to take me all the way into his throat without choking, I say the only words my brain can form. "Dear Lord."

And then I am incapable of speech as my world collapses to the sole sensation of moist scorching-hot softness surrounding and caressing me.


At first, I'm still not sure I can do it. I want to, for his sake, but I just ain't sure I can manage. Then I hear him say those words again, giving me that same selfless permission not to give him what he needs if it makes me uncomfortable, and suddenly I find that I can.

It feels real odd at first, and a little wrong, but hearing that helpless noise Ezra makes and feeling the way his whole body spasms at my touch, I continue until I begin to get used to it, liking his reaction. There's power in this. Right at this moment, Ezra's whole self is wrapped up in what I'm doing to him and I realize that if I give up now, what's happening between us is gonna be over and done. He'll apologize for not stopping me - as if he could - and I'll be embarrassed that I failed him. We'll get dressed and go our separate ways and this new thing we got between us will never happen again.

I pause to look at him for a second. His eyes have closed and both hands are clamped around the bed, one on the mattress and one gripping the headboard. He's breathing shallowly and all that pale skin is flushed and beginning to bead with sweat. God damn, it's a beautiful sight.

Encouraged by what I've seen, I curve my tongue around him and slide up and down a little slower, adding a hand to the action, gripping his balls just hard enough to let him feel my touch without hurting him. He starts to breathe harder, making a funny little hiccuping noise when I tilt my hand up and start rubbing my thumb up and down the base of his shaft. He's so hard I fear I'm in danger of breaking a tooth off when his hips start jerking without his conscious control, and I have to let go of his balls and use both hands to hold him still.

"Sorry," he gasps, realizing what he's been doing. His left hand releases its grip on the mattress and threads through my hair. I can feel it trembling as he pushes, signaling me to release him. "Can't hold it."

My mouth pulls off him with a pop and that big ol' cock of his bobs up to rest against his stomach, the skin still gleaming with my spit as he grips himself and gives an urgent tug, then another. His breath hitches and I watch, completely fascinated, as his entire body goes still except for the jerk of his hand drawing the pearly spurts of fluid out onto his chest. I watch his face, eyes clenched shut and mouth opening and closing with tiny gasps as he rides the feeling out, completely lost in the pleasure of it. I know exactly how he feels and I think I could just about burst with the pride of knowing I brought that feeling to him.

"Amazing," he whispers, his body almost melting into the mattress as his hand flops down to rest against his hip. His erection has begun to fade, adding to the totally relaxed look of him. I stretch myself out beside him on the bed and for awhile he just lies there quiet, resting, and I'm content to watch over him. Then his eyes open up about halfway and he gives me a slow smile. "If I had known your reputation as a lover was so well deserved, my friend, I would have introduced you to the idea of same-sex coupling a great deal sooner."

I give him a wink. "Now, would I lie about a thing like that?"

Ezra's fingers card through my hair again, pulling me down to kiss me, long and slow and sweet. When I come up for air, he says, "Of course you wouldn't, and neither would I. I believe I promised to introduce you to a new facet of our ongoing research project. Something involving lubricating one's way into tight spaces?"

A laugh bubbles out of me. "You've shot off two times in less than an hour and you're ready to get going again? Dang, hoss, I'm impressed!"

"I think you will be, once you've experienced it." The light green color of his eyes has darkened, and as he reaches down to stroke me, I can see the desire burning in them. It startles me. Somehow I hadn't really thought he would want me to try the thing he had whispered in my ear last week.

"You're really gonna let me take you up the ass?" I blurt out, too surprised to be embarrassed by my own question.

Ezra looks pained at my blunt wording and I wince. I usually have a little more finesse when it comes to love-talk. But all he says is, "If you want to."


I see the hesitation in his eyes; can almost hear the cog-wheels turning inside his head as he contemplates the possibility. "Have you ever taken a woman from behind?" I press, wanting to know for certain whether Buck understands what will be involved.

"No, well, sort of," he tells me, looking just a trifle confused. "I mean, sure I done it that way before but I could still reach all the right parts, y'know?"

I understand. His position had been correct, but he had only ever given vaginal penetration. "And that is where the lubricant comes in," I say, unable to keep from grinning at the look of dawning comprehension in his eyes. "Men have no natural fluids to ease the way, so we must provide it from an external source and work the channel a bit looser with our fingers prior to penetration. Otherwise, there is only pain where there ought to be pleasure."

For a moment, I fear that I have overestimated Buck's willingness to experiment. He has gone from looking intrigued and what can only be described with the vulgar adjective 'horny', to horrified in the space of an instant. "Fingers?" he says, face wrinkling with distaste at the notion. "Y'mean, you expect me to stick my hand up your...?"

A smirk steals over my face and before I can stop it, I laugh. In countless gunfights, I have seen Buck Wilmington drop down and roll through streets filled with mud, blood and horse-manure, firing his six-gun, and then getting up, dusting his hands off and going to have a drink without even stopping to wash up. That same man had just taken my engorged cock into his mouth and sucked me into a quivering pile of jelly, and now he felt squeamish over the idea of getting a little dirty?

I speak my thoughts out loud and as I had known he would, Buck begins to chuckle. "Guess that is kinda stupid."

"Just a little," I agree cheerfully, "but if you don't mind getting yourself ready, I believe I can manage to do the same."


I quirk one eyebrow at him and reach into my bureau, rummaging until I come up with the jar of cream Nathan Jackson gave me to use when this climate's harsh windy weather begins painfully drying out my skin. I smile then; picturing Nathan's reaction if he were to ever find out the alternate use his concoction was being put to.

Working lubrication into one's nether regions is not nearly as easy as it sounds, even if a man is reasonably flexible, but I have done it before and so know that it can be accomplished. Keeping my eyes on Buck, I rise to my knees on the bed and smooth a generous amount of cream onto my fingers. Settling back on my haunches, I say to him, "One finger at a time," and follow my own instruction, leaning forward to insert one well-lubricated fingertip inside myself. It has been a very long time and it takes a few moments before my channel loosens enough to allow for more than the barest penetration.

Buck's eyes have gone wide as he watches me and something about that expression makes me want to tease him. Gesturing the number two with my free hand, I add a second finger to the first and throw my head back, groaning theatrically as I begin to scissor them inside myself, as though what I am feeling is the most erotic sensation in the world. In actual fact, what I'm doing is rather uncomfortable, but my play-acting is worth every bit of the effort when Buck's hand latches onto his interested member and begins to pump it in earnest.

"Three," I whisper, fighting back a grimace as I fit a third finger in place and begin to move it with the others, painfully straining the muscles in my upper arm and shoulder in an attempt to achieve the needed depth. I would have bet that the sight of a man preparing himself for anal intercourse would be anything but arousing, but judging from the look on Buck's face, I would have lost some money on that wager. "Don't finish before we get started here, Mr. Wilmington," I tell him wryly, seeing in the build-up of strain in his muscles and the heightening color of his face that he has brought himself very near to the edge.

He laughs and stills his hand. "Ezra, you got to be the only person around who'd be callin' somebody 'Mister' at a time like this."

I grin back at him. "It worked, didn't it? I have your attention."

"You had my attention already," he says, his voice going low and whispery, sending a shiver of excitement down my spine. After two such close-proximity ejaculations, my manhood is not nearly recovered enough for another full erection, but it valiantly makes the effort, stiffening up just enough to bring me a small rush of pleasure. Buck glances down at it with such an impressed look that I almost blush with pride.

Deciding that I am as ready as my own efforts will be able to make me, I free my hands and scoop out another healthy dollop of cream, allowing it to warm in my palms before reaching out to spread it thickly over Buck's swollen erection. He groans with pleasure at the contact and I make sure to touch him only lightly.

Pausing to wipe my hands off on the handkerchief still sitting on the night-stand, I look Buck in the eye and then find myself surging forward to kiss him hard, pressing my body to his in order to experience again the full warmth and strength of him. I savor the way his arms curl around me, one hand spreading across my shoulders and clutching me tight to his chest, the other reaching lower to stroke my hip and thigh and glide up to trace the shape of my backside.

Pulling away at last, I give his lower lip a final teasing lick and then turn around and bend forward, spreading my knees and resting my hands on the bed. When he fails to move, I look back over my shoulder. "Are you waiting for an engraved invitation?"

Buck grins big at my teasing and settles himself between my legs, pausing a moment to gauge his position before taking himself in hand and resting his blunt tip against the entrance prepared for him.

"Nice and slow," I tell him, breathing deeply in an effort to relax and keep my muscles from clenching in anticipation. "Remember, I haven't done this in a very long time."

He frowns. "This ain't gonna hurt you, is it?"

"It probably will, at first, but if you're careful the pain will pass quickly."

"You're really sure you want it this way?"

Hearing the doubt in his voice, I twist my body around enough so that I can see his eyes. "I am. The first time I did this, I was ill prepared and the pain was excruciating, but I learned from the experience and discovered that under normal circumstances the pain passes and then the pleasure is exquisite. Like nothing else I have ever felt." I hesitate a moment, and then admit, "I've been waiting three long years to feel that sensation again, often believing that I never would."

A look of resolve sweeps over Buck's face as he answers my unspoken plea with action, slowly pushing the head of his penis inside me. "Just tell me what you need," he says softly.

"Stop," I order, after he has slid just a bit further in. My efforts at preparation have not entirely succeeded in freeing up the tense muscles inside me, causing a wave of hot pain to sweep through my body. I will myself to relax and feel Buck slide in a fraction more as the muscles loosen. Breathing a sigh of relief as the feeling begins to change for the better, I push back a bit. "More."

Carefully, he complies and this time I feel no need to request a respite. It's still slightly uncomfortable and I know that I will not be sitting easy for a couple of days after this, but I relish the uniqueness of being filled. Lowering myself down from hands to elbows, I begin to rock and Buck needs no further instruction. Still carefully, but with growing ardor he pulls partially away and then pushes home again. He is picking up speed and as I had hoped, my change in position causes him to stroke something deep inside me that shoots liquid fire through my veins and succeeds in bringing my tired body to full arousal for a third time.

I cry out helplessly at the sensation, a deep guttural noise of pure satisfaction, and for a moment Buck pauses in his efforts, as though not quite sure what he has heard. Unable to think about anything except my desire to repeat that incomparable feeling, I pull forward and then slam myself back against him, silently begging him to keep going. He obeys instantly, gripping my hips so hard he'll probably leave bruises, driving himself into me with hard powerful strokes that leave me gasping and moaning as the lightning strikes again and again and again.


I just can't believe it at first when Ezra says that he wants me to do this thing, even though it'll hurt him. I damn near quit right then and there, but the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes when he reminds me how long it's been for him changes my mind. I try to imagine how I would feel if I'd been forced to go without sex, even just one part of it that I really enjoy, for three whole years, and I know that I won't deny him, no matter how strange it seems.

At first, I'm sure I must be doing something wrong when I push in and find that I can't go any further. It's like tryin' to squeeze my dick inside of a thimble and I'm sure that Ezra and me are in some trouble. But then he makes me wait a minute while he does something to make himself relax and all of a sudden I can move again. All I can think about is taking it easy, not doing Ezra any harm, but then he pushes back against me and everything changes.

I move slowly still, taking stock of the familiar and yet completely different feeling of being inside of him. His passage feels tighter than what I'm used to, but the same wonderful heat surrounds me and all that hand cream he tucked upside of him makes the journey just as smooth as it is with the ladies.

And then Ezra bends forward, lowering his chest down so that pretty lily-white ass presses up higher and drives me in deeper. I lean forward to compensate for the change and notice something strange. Every buried inch of me is super-sensitive right now and I feel myself rub up against some kind of knob. It feels good, kind of massaging me on each downward stroke, and whatever it is, Ezra feels it too. Feels it even more, judging by the sound he makes.

Like I said before, Ezra don't seem to make a lot of noise in bed, so I know that this is something special. All of his control just seems to fly out the window when I brush that knot and then he's shoving back against me, his whole body begging me for more and I couldn't refused him if I wanted to. I take hold of his hips and drive myself forward, finding a rhythm and forgetting everything else, lost in the beauty of the moment. I can hear him panting and gasping and it's like music playing just for me.

All of a sudden, Ezra goes still in my grasp while I continue to snap my hips against him, back and forth, in and out. Then I feel him tighten all around me and he gives out with a groan that makes that first unexpected noise sound like a whisper in comparison. In all my lifetime of experience, as a boy raised in a whorehouse and a man giving and receiving pleasure of my own, I've never heard anyone sound so goddamned son-of-a-bitchin' fucked in my entire life, and the sound alone is enough to push me over the brink with a shout of my own.

We collapse together on the bed, me just barely having presence of mind enough to turn as I fall so I won't crush him into the bed. Our bodies separate when we bounce down so hard and I hear Ezra mumble something about needing to clean up but neither one of us moves. At this point, I'm pretty sure neither of us can. We lie still for a long time, blowing like racehorses and just relishing what we've done.

Then a strange thought strikes me out of nowhere. "Did you happen to close the window?"

Ezra's eyes are closed and he has shifted just enough to lie on his side, out of the way of the damp stain he has left on his coverlet. I grin to see that mark. Three times in the same afternoon. Damn! He's either in mighty good shape or he's been holding himself back for way too long. Tracing a finger over the hard line of his stomach muscles, I think maybe it's both.

It takes almost a full minute before he answers my question, so long that I figure he's fallen asleep, then he mumbles, "Window?"

I run my hand up his chest and shoulder, resting it along the side of his neck, which makes him smile. "Yeah. I saw you lock the door but it just occurs to me that we were making a heck of a lot of noise in here just now."

For a moment there is no reaction, and then what I'm saying hits him, restoring his energy with a shot of pure panic. His eyes snap open and he shoots up off the bed and leaps over to the window, ducking to the side where he won't be seen as he pulls the curtain open just a little and peeks through. I can tell by the slump of his shoulders that the window is open.

Then, much to my surprise, Ezra grins and gestures me over to join him. When I get there, he opens the curtain a little more, revealing an unexpected sight. Vin Tanner is leaning against the hitch rail outside the building right below Ezra's window. Peso is hitched up next to him and Vin's back is to us as he scratches the horse's neck, looking for all the world like a man just out taking some sun on a fine day. Ezra knows differently, and so do I. There's a possibility that Vin might've heard what was going on up here between us, but he was watching our backs, makin' sure nobody else got near enough to do the same.

"What do you say we clean ourselves up and get dressed?" Ezra suggests, tugging the curtains back into place. "It seems to me that we owe somebody a drink."

I agree, but first take the opportunity of being right there in front of Ezra to steal a kiss and just hold onto him for a minute or two. Then as I move to the washstand to clean up I can't resist saying, "I asked you this before, but I want you to be sure this time. Are we gonna be okay?"

He smiles. "Give me a day or two to contemplate the enjoyment of this experience before you begin sharing the details of your next encounter with Miss Blossom, or Miss Ruby, or whomever you choose to be the latest Wilmington conquest, and we'll be just fine."

"I ain't gone and ruined you for the ladies yourself, have I?" I ask, a little worried by the thought that he might be taking this situation more to heart than I am.

Ezra gives out with a snort of laughter so unexpected that he almost chokes on it. "Buck, you are an extraordinary experience in bed. One that I am entirely grateful to have had, and sincerely hope to have again in the future, but you may rest assured that my interest in the fairer sex has not waned because of you."

I toss his pants over to him and can't resist giving his bare ass a slap when he bends over to pick up something that has fallen out of his pocket. The completely indignant look on his face makes me laugh. Yep, he's right. We're gonna be just fine.


I'd seen Bucklin hightailing it out of the saloon and followed him at a distance, not over surprised to see him sneakin' right up the back stairs. Knowing that my friends were more'n likely about to take the opportunity they'd been hinting about inside, I decided to help 'em out a little. I'd been about to take a ride and my horse was already saddled and ready, but I figured it could wait a little bit as I settled myself outside Ezra's window to keep watch.

For a while, I thought I might've been wasting my time but then a few sounds started floatin' down to me that made me wish I'd worn my long coat. Funny how listenin' to other folks carry on that a way can make you wish you was in their place, even when you know in your heart that you don't really want to be.

Them sounds got louder for a bit and then died down. They hadn't been enough to make anybody passin' by look up, so I figured the boys must've been tryin' not to give themselves away again. I grinned, picturing them clappin' a hand over each other's mouth tryin' to keep quiet while they did whatever it was they'd been doin'.

After awhile, I hear my name called out and look around to find Ezra and Buck comin' towards me, lookin' as normal and put-together as if they been doing nothing more than playin' cards all afternoon. I know they been up to more than that, but Ezra confirms it when he says simply, "Thank you, Vin."

Realizin' that they must've seen me down here and worked out what I was doin', I just tug my hat and give 'em a smile back.

"Buck and I feel that we owe you a debt," Ezra continues. "Would you care to come back inside and join us in sampling a bottle of fine Kentucky bourbon?"

"The good stuff?" I ask, not bothering to hide the eagerness I feel. Ezra orders that stuff in special and though Buck has managed to wheedle himself a shot from time to time, the rest of us don't usually get to do more'n look at it. "The whole bottle?"

Buck's eyes are twinklin' and he grins as big as all get out. "We figure you deserve it."

Ezra nods his agreement. He looks about as relaxed as I've ever seen him and the smug look on his face makes me laugh. Those two definitely had one hell of a good time upstairs.

"Yep," I say, clapping 'em both on the shoulders. "I reckon maybe I do at that."


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