Title: Love and Infatuation

Author: Jenn

Rating: K+

Author's Note: This is a sequel to my story LARA and you will probably want to read it first for this one to really make sense. I know that I gave Vin his pardon in my story No Longer WANTED, but those events never took place for this story. Vin is still WANTED (by the law, not just us ladies).

Cassandra 30, you wanted more stores with Lara, so I hope you'll like this one. . . . Thanks for all the kind feedback on my other stories.

MONDAY

At mid-morning the Saloon was almost empty. A fact enjoyed by Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington since it gave them the chance to quietly discuss their "little brothers". The younger men's love lives were the main topic, since they were both off with the lady of their choice. JD helping at Miss Netties, so he could spend time with Casey. Vin out giving Lara shooting lessons, even though by now she was a good shot and no longer needed the lessons.

"At least JD admits he likes Casey. Vin is to stubborn to say he's interested in Lara, except as a friend."

"Give the boy time. It took JD a while. And you should know that friends make the best lovers. Think of you and Sara. You were friends for what, 3 or4 years, before you got around to romance." Buck was glad they could talk about the good times without it immediately causing Chris, and himself, to relive the bad.

Chris answer was almost wistful. "We were young." He quickly focused back to the present in an effort to "skip over" the terrible memories of his family's death.

"So are Vin and Lara. And JD and Casey. That's why we all agreed not to push them."

"I know."

Seeing Vin and Lara at the door Buck started in the middle of an old story of himself and Chris, who's quick intelligence and familiarity with the story allowed him to play his part without missing a beat; even though he couldn't see the reason for his friends changing the topic. The young couple were so focused on each other that the cover up wasn't even really necessary.

"I'll bring your coffee in a minute," commented Lara as she walked past them. Vin took his seat.

"You know better than to sit with your back to the door, Cowboy."

"Buck was facing it. If anyone came in he'd let me know, or take care of things." The two old friends shared a look that Vin didn't quite understand. Before he had a chance to figure it out Chris continued. "And you know better than to call me a Cowboy." The half hearted growl in his tone didn't worry the young man who's blue eyes danced with mischief.

"You quit sittin' with your back ta the door and I'll quit callin' you Cowboy."

Buck interrupted before the two could get into the customary friendly argument. "How did Lara do this morning?"

Vin beamed with pride. "She did great. Pretty soon she'll be able to out shoot you, Buck."

"Don't worry Buck. If that happens I promise I won't tell anyone," teased Lara as she returned. Setting her tray on the table, she sat down to join them. She poured four coffees' from the pot and handed them out.

"We saw the stage coming. It should be here soon."

Finishing the coffee the men said good bye to Lara as she went to the kitchen and they went to meet the stage. They were just in time to see an expensively dressed man step out and then turn to hand his extravagantly dressed wife out. It was the third passenger that truely captured the men's attention. She was easily identified the daughter of the first two passengers. She had the small bone structure and classically beautiful features of the woman, and the blonde hair and brown eyes of the man. On a girl in her late teens the effect was stunning.

Despite the laws of nature, time stopped. Or at least that's how it felt to Vin as he saw the girl step out of the stage. He couldn't take his eyes off her. He didn't even register Buck's low whistle as the ladies man headed toward the girl.

Alexandra responded automatically to Buck's flirting and attentions, but most of her attention was elsewhere. She felt eyes on her and wanted to know whose. It only took a moment for her to see Vin and their eyes locked, since his had never left her. She was used to men falling all over themselves to get her attention, so Vin's restraint was interesting and different. His gaze told her he was interested and liked what he saw, but he didn't come to her. While it wasn't Vin's intention his action, or lack thereof, seemed to pose a challenge to her and she smiled widely as she decided to take it. The fact that he was just the sort her father wouldn't approve of only made it better. Before she could act on her decision her mother demanded her attention and she looked away. Even as she looked back to her parents she couldn't get his shy smile and blue eyes out of her mind.

Lara felt cold. She knew it was a warm fall day, and that she was standing in the sun, but she felt cold as she watched Vin's all-to-obvious fascination with the new arrival. She hurried back into the Saloon before the tears in her eyes could fall, wishing she'd never turned and followed the men out.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

As Vin approached the Hotel he looked in the window to the dining room and froze, just outside the light spilling from the window. Alexandra was sitting at a table with Ezra and smiling at something he said.

Vin only recalled his surroundings when JD walked up. "What you looking at Vin?"

"Nothin'. Just making sure everything's quiet. Better get going and finish my patrol around town. I'll see ya later."

"OK. I'll be in the Saloon getting some food."

As Vin mechanically walked the rest of his patrol he saw almost nothing. His minds eye remained focused on the scene from the dining room. Alexandra and Ezra, having a romantic dinner for two. And Alexandra had looked so happy, so intent on what Ezra said. It had looked to him like she was hanging on Ezra's every word and Ezra had looked enchanted by her. But he couldn't find it in him to fault Ezra for that; he couldn't imagine that any man would not be enchanted by her. And no wonder she had hung on Ezra's words. He was studied and well spoken, sophisticated. No wonder she preferred his company for dinner. They looked good together, he forced himself to admit, both so well dressed and groomed. Her elegant green dress matched the green jacket Ezra wore, strengthening the impression of them being a couple.

With each thought his depression grew and his belief in himself dwindled. After his patrol he didn't join his friends in the Saloon, knowing Ezra would eventually appear. He didn't think he could face him right now, so he went to his room to try and sleep. He also didn't want to face Chris, who would know something was wrong. This was one of the times he hated how easily the older man could read him. He was surprised to find himself cheered by the thought of riding with Lara the next morning.

TUESDAY

Walking into the stables Lara hadn't expected to see her horse already saddled and standing near Peso, with Vin between them. He smiled shyly at her as she walked up.

"Mind if I ride with you this morning?" Vin asked, even though the two of them riding together was not uncommon.

"If you're sure you want to. I know you like to ride by yourself."

"I . . ."

"All I meant is ya don't always have to watch out for me, especially know you taught me how to shoot."

"I watch out for you because I want to. Are you saying you don't want me around any more?"

"NO!" She caught herself and lowered her voice. "Uh- - no. I just thought you might not want me around. With Alexandra here."

"She's still in the hotel. We'll be back before she comes out," Vin answered, uncharacteristically blind to the pain he was causing Lara.

Lara didn't answer, but took her horses reins, using it as an excuse to look away so he wouldn't see the pain in her eyes. Moments later they rode out together. Lara tried to pretend that it was just another day, that Alexandra wasn't waiting back in town. Vin was preoccupied thinking about Alexandra, and how he could find a way to spend some time with her. He knew he should let her be with Ezra, but something in him couldn't let her go that easily.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Seeing Alexandra walk out of the hotel Vin quickly stood and walked toward her like a month drawn to a flame.

She smiled as she watched him approach. "Good afternoon, Mr. Tanner."

Vin was surprised, and very flattered, that she knew his name. "Miss Terrington. Anything I can do for you?"

Seeing that she had him hooked she allowed her smile to become even brighter. "Well, I'm sure you're busy but I would very much like a tour of this lovely little town. I don't suppose you have time to show me around? I'm sure you know all the places and people."

"I'd love ta show you around, Miss Terrington." Answered Vin, having fallen for her flattery, and under her spell.

"Please, you simply must call me Alexandra. Would it be to forward of me to ask if I could call you Vin?" She "demurely" lowered her eyes to prevent the man standing near her from seeing the gleam of triumph in them.

"No, I'd like that, Miss. . .Alexandra. We don't stand on formalities out here like they do back east."

Vin spent the afternoon showing Alexandra around the town and talking with her. He was so focused on Alexandra that he never saw the pain on Lara's face as she watched them.

For her part Alexandra found Vin an interesting diversion. She had seen the look on Lara's face and the idea that she was taking Vin from the other girl made her smile all the brighter; as did the look of disapproval on her father's face. She knew he wanted her to spend time with Ezra Standish, and knew she'd do as he asked, when she was ready. She enjoyed the chance to tweak him and assert her independence. The final icing on the cake was that she'd learned Ezra and Vin were friends; playing them against each other was an entertaining thought.

As it neared dinnertime Vin walked Alexandra back to the hotel.

"Thank you so much for showing me around. It was a lovely afternoon."

"Yeah. It was. Would you, maybe, like to spend some time together tomorrow?" Vin asked in a shy and uncertain tone.

Knowing her father wanted her to spend the next day with him and Ezra Standinsh she decided this would be the perfect opportunity to play them against each other. "I would like that very much. Why don't you come by the hotel tomorrow morning?"

Vin smiled happily and agreed before telling her goodbye and leaving to get ready for his patrol that night.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

As Buck watched Lara move around the Saloon he knew something was wrong. He'd noticed it when she got his drink and food. She'd made the usual lighthearted comments, but underneath there'd been no honest joy. She'd responded with her carefree manner out of habit, not out of any real feeling. Most men would not have seen this, but Buck Wilmington was not most men; he was good at reading women, and better at reading his friends. Lara was both and therefore an open book. He stood and walked over to Inez.

"It's pretty quiet. Mind if I take Lara out of here for the evening."

The lovely Saloon owner was not prepared for the jolt of pain this question caused. She knew Buck went after the ladies, but Lara. . . she was hurting right now, vulnerable, and Buck wanted to take advantage of that. Not to mention that his friend Vin was so clearly in love with the girl. How could he do this? She turned on him.

"You mean can you take her to your room, your bed, and "comfort" her?" She asked, saying the word comfort as if it were almost a curse. "Can you take advantage of her while she's hurting and vulnerable? Can you try and help her forget Vin? I know he's making a fool of himself with that Alexandra creature, but this is to much, even for you."

Buck was caught so off guard by her accusations that he couldn't mask the intense pain they caused. That she would think he'd ever take advantage of a woman in that way was bad enough. But for him to do that to Lara, to Vin, would be a hundred times worse. He considered both of them his friends. The thought that Chris would kill him for a stunt like that flashed through his mind, quickly dispelled by the knowledge that Chris would know he wasn't capable of something like that. His pain was caused by the fact that Inez didn't know that. By her believing him guilty of planning that level of betrayal, of not one, but two, friends. His temper flared, in a way it rarely ever did around a woman. The anger burned in his eyes, but still couldn't hide the pain he felt.

"NO! THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!" He heard the Saloon go silent as all heads turned to look at them. He lowered his voice till it wasn't much louder than a whisper. "I was planning to take her to the Church, hoping that if I couldn't help her Josiah could. I was going to explain why Vin is acting like he is. She's needs to talk to someone; and since she doesn't seem to want to talk to you, I wanted to try." He saw his dig hit home, but was to hurt and angry to care much, so he continued. "I'm hoping I can convince her not to give up on Vin. Now, can I take her out of here for a while?" As much as he'd have liked to stay and work things out with Inez, take her outside and talk, he knew Lara needed him now. He was also smart enough to know that when they were both angry was not the time to have a real discussion.

Inez mutely nodded. Her thoughts were a jumble as she watched him approach Lara. She was not surprised at the change she saw. His body relaxed it's tension; and while she couldn't make out the words she could hear his usual, light hearted tones, very different from the harsh tone he'd been using with her. And she could picture his easy smile, even if she couldn't see it. She knew Lara would only see concern in his eyes, not the pain and anger she had. She'd long ago decided that in some ways he was as good as Ezra at controlling how his emotions showed.

As she continued to work she thought over what she'd learned. Despite his harsh tone and anger, he had been sincere, that she was sure of; and as much as she didn't like to admit it, his anger had been justified. He'd only wanted to help Lara. He'd had no designs on her. Then there was the pain she'd seen. It had been real. He'd been deeply hurt by her accusations, that she thought so little of him. But if her opinion of him mattered to him, that would mean. . . he cared about her, truely cared. This thought amazed her. She knew he was interested in her, but that he cared about her? Then she considered her pain. That stab she felt when he asked about Lara. It could only mean that she cared about him. The thought scared her and she decided not to think about it anymore, at least for the moment. . .

On hearing a familiar voice calling her name Lara looked up with a smile. "Hi, Buck. Did you need another drink?"

"No. I was wondering if we could talk outside for a little bit. Don't worry, I cleared it with Inez."

"Sure. I could use a break."

Trusting Buck completely she didn't worry when he kept walking once they got outside. She soon figured out their destination, and was curious. "Why are we going to the old Church, Buck?"

"It's a quiet place to talk, without getting interrupted. Don't worry. . ."

Before he could finish, Lara spoke up. "I'm not worried. Why would I be?"

"Well, Inez seemed to think I was taking you out for something besides talk."

Lara laughed softly. "She's just jealous. Even if she won't admit it to herself. You've always been a perfect gentleman and friend. I know that and, deep down, so does Inez."

After Inez doubts about his honor, Lara's trust had a healing effect. Her words helped erase the last of the anger, and gave him a new idea as to what had caused Inez' anger.

As they entered the Church Buck nodded to Josiah and Lara gave him a smile. He stayed seated at the front reading while Buck and Lara sat at the back of the building.

"So what'd you want to talk about? Need some advice on women?" Teased Lara.

"Lara, I know all about using humor to hide pain, but it doesn't make the pain go away."

She gave up the pretense of being fine and slumped slightly, the smile gone from her face as if it had never been. "You're right, Buck. But there's no way I'm letting that girl see she's hurting me. Vin's happy, I don't want to ruin that for him."

"Don't worry, Darlin'. You aren't gonna ruin anything." He reassured her in a gentle tone.

"She's just so beautiful."

"So are some snakes." Buck commented without thinking.

"I've never heard you speak bad of a woman before, Buck."

"Uh, sorry. Maybe I should say dolls. Yeah, she has a pretty face; so does a doll. They're perfect on the outside, but there's nothing inside, no warmth, no heart, no mind. A doll may be nice to look at for a while, but no man ever really fell in love with one, or married one. Vin's a smart boy, just blinded right now. Give him a little time and he'll see her for what she is, like the rest of us have, and then he'll forget her and come back ta you."

"You really think so?" Lara asked, desperately hoping he was right.

Buck saw her need for reassurance and was more than happy to give it. "I know so. I've seen it happen before. Done it myself a few times. It never lasts."

"What do I do 'til then?"

"Try to be patient. Remember that it will end and he will see through her. When he does it's going to hurt, and he's going to need you."

"Thanks, Buck. I needed to hear that."

"No problem. What are friends for?"

"I should get back."

"You should get some rest. It's a slow night at the Saloon. Go to bed and sleep."

"Maybe. Walk me back?"

"Of course, Darlin'. Let's go." Having said that he stood and held out his arm for her in a courtly gesture. She smiled at him and took it.

Josiah was pleased to see the change in Lara as the two walked out. He once again had hope for Vin and Lara working out their relationship, correctly guessing that had been the topic of conversation. He did sometimes marvel at the Ladies Man, at his big heart and the depths in his soul that he usually kept hidden.