A lazy breeze blew into Four Corners and brushed against Buck Wilmington. He was sitting outside the sheriff's office, watching the streets with little curiosity. Nothing was happening. The town had been quiet, and Buck was bored. A pretty young lady walked past him and smiled. Buck tipped his hat to her and smiled back.
The stagecoach pulled into town and stopped in front of the line office. Buck watched with interest as the passengers, or rather passenger, disembarked. This passenger made Buck stand up and start smiling. She had red hair, which she wore pulled back, but not up. There was a green ribbon in her hair that matched her light green dress and accented her hair wonderfully. She smiled warily at the coach driver as he handed down her luggage and looked around the town. Buck smiled and decided to help her with it.
Buck started walking toward the stage, and the young lady noticed him. She dropped the suitcase she had been holding and ran toward him enthusiastically. She practically knocked him over when she ran into him, embracing him fiercely. "Darling...I am so glad to see you!" she exclaimed.
Buck looked down at the young lady. "Ma'am," he said, "I think you have me confused with someone else. I don't believe we've ever met." But Buck was smiling broadly. Afterall, the woman was quite lovely, and she smelled like flowers. Holding her was a pleasant, if unexpected, experience.
She looked up at him, but the expression in her eyes was not one of adoration, but one of pleading.
He continued, "Pretty thing like you, I'm sure I'd've remembered." Buck tried to disentangle himself from her arms. But if anything, she held on more tightly. He did not fail to notice her manner. The woman was afraid of something. He figured she must be afraid of something pretty bad to run like she had into a total stranger's arms.
Her eyes darted around town, searching for someone. Then she looked up at Buck and whispered so softly he could barely hear her, "I know you don't know me, but...well yours is the first friendly face I've seen in a while." She looked down, "And I need assistance. Please."
She sounded so forlorn that Buck instinctively put his arms around her for a moment. Then he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back. "My dear, let me get a good look at you," he said to her. "You are a sight for sore eyes."
Buck whispered, "Well, missy, if I'm going to help you, it might be useful to know your name."
She nodded, "Samantha Richardson. What's yours?"
"Buck. Buck Wilmington."
Samantha nodded, "I do apologize if I have embarrassed you. I really am not usually this forward."
"Well, Miss Richardson..." Buck started.
Samantha smiled at him, "Considering how presumptuous I've already been, why don't you call me Sam?"
Buck smiled and nodded, "Sam...you said you needed help. What exactly do you need help with?"
Sam looked around the town, "Is there someplace a little less...conspicuous...we can speak?"
Ezra Standish sat at his usual table in the saloon. No one was interested in playing cards with him at the moment. So he shuffled his cards absently and watched the room. When Buck came in with an unfamiliar woman, carrying a suitcase, Ezra raised his eyebrows, but did not move. However, since it never hurt to brush up on his observation skills, he watched the two closely. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he was watching their body language carefully. Buck sat with his back to Ezra. He looked a bit uncomfortable with what the girl was saying. However, the girl was facing Ezra, and he watched her studiously.
She seemed to be speaking of a man her father had wanted her to marry. She looked down for a moment, and Ezra couldn't see what she was saying, but she appeared uncomfortable. When she looked up, she said clearly enough that Ezra could understand, "That's why I need you to pretend to be my fiancé...at least until he leaves town."
Buck reacted like Ezra expected to the word she chose. Ezra smiled, thinking that that man had a positive aversion to the marital condition. However, that young lady was planning a con with the wrong individual. He was bored. And he really detested being left out of schemes. Ezra stood up and walked over to Buck. He slapped him on the shoulder. Buck looked up at Ezra.
"Are you going to introduce me to your charming companion, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra asked slyly.
Buck, grateful for a change in subject, said, "Sure. Ezra...this here's Samantha Richardson. Sam...this is Ezra Standish."
Ezra smiled, "Miss Richardson." Then he looked at Buck, "Do you mind if I join you?"
Buck nodded gratefully, and Ezra pulled out a chair and sat down. Ezra winked at Sam, then looked at Buck. "Mr. Wilmington. It seems you are planning a wedding without my assistance."
Buck looked downright uncomfortable. Ezra suppressed a smile. "Really, Mr. Wilmington, a nuptial celebration must be planned with great attention to detail."
Buck whispered furiously, "I ain't gettin' married."
"Of course you are, and I will perform the ceremony."
"Ezra...you ain't no preacher."
Ezra smiled, "Precisely."
Sam looked at him. "I just need him to pretend to be my fiancé until Charles leaves."
Ezra glanced at her. "My dear, a woman such as yourself would not travel to this backwater of civilization to rendezvous with her fiancé unless the wedding were to occur soon after your arrival. Therefore, if you are to convince this Charles of the sincerity of your engagement, a wedding must be planned and carried out."
Ezra was really enjoying this. He hadn't had the opportunity to pull a con in a while, and it was a skill that required constant employment in order to remain sharp.
Ezra continued on. "Buck. You will require a domicile for your beloved. She would not have traveled here to take up residence in the men's boarding house. My dear...I assume you have a dress suitable for the occasion?"
Both Buck and Sam looked at him in shock.
Ezra looked back at Sam. "Do you wish to be rid of Charles or not?"
"Well, yes but...this seems so dishonest!"
He raised an eyebrow to her. "And I suppose you consider masquerading as Mr. Wilmington's intended honest?"
"No but...a wedding is a sacred ceremony...It shouldn't be undertaken lightly!"
Ezra leaned back and looked at the ceiling; really, he was surrounded by amateurs. He looked at Sam with a crooked little smile on his face. "Well, then, consider this to be a staging of a dramatic production. And consider us to be actors performing on stage. Will that suit your notions of propriety?"
Sam considered this, and then nodded.
Ezra smiled. "Now, there are a great deal of preparations to be made if this charade is to be accepted. For one, we have to convince the town not to tell anyone that Mr. Wilmington is a rogue." Ezra smiled serenely, "That, I think, will be the most difficult obstacle in the path."
Buck just stared at Ezra in horror.
Ezra was thrilled. Planning a wedding con--this would take a great deal of skill for it to be believable. A great number of players would have to be involved, and the more players involved, the more elaborate the scheme, and the more elaborate the scheme, the more difficult it was to pull off. And even better, none of the others could object to it. Not even Nathan, who usually found some heretofore unconsidered moral issue whenever Ezra attempted to employ his skills in the service of others.
He looked at Sam. "Perhaps you would be so good as to fill me in on the entire dilemma?"
Sam told him her story and Ezra listened to her. When she was finished, he nodded. A smile was on his face.
"What are you smilin' at, Ezra?" Buck asked.
Ezra turned to him and said, "Mr. Wilmington, I have always wanted to preside at a wedding."
Ignoring this comment, Buck said, "Ezra? What the blazes is a domicile?"
Ezra looked over at Buck with an expression of forced tolerance. "A house. We require a house, and I know just where we can procure one." He looked pointedly at Sam. "You never provided an answer to my previous query: Do you have the proper attire for this occasion?"
She looked away. "No. I had not planned on actually needing it."
"Then I hope that Mrs. Travis is in a generous mood today."
"Mrs. Travis! Ezra, you don't mean on bringing her into this?"
Ezra glanced over at Buck, "This is going to be the social occasion of the year, Mr. Wilmington. And your young bride-to-be will require a bridesmaid. And Mr. Larabee...he should give her away."
Ezra stood up and looked pointedly at Buck and Sam. "Come now, let us go secure your new abode."
Buck stood up sheepishly and started to head out. Ezra cleared his throat. Buck stopped and looked at him, questioningly.
"Appearances, Mr. Wilmington, are everything."
"You must escort the young lady. Offer her your arm."
Buck glared at Ezra, but nonetheless went over to Sam and offered her his hand. When she stood up, he tucked her arm firmly in his own and looked at Ezra, who nodded approvingly.
Mary Travis looked up from her desk when the trio entered. Ezra was attired in a sedate outfit for him--a black jacket with a subtle gray vest and a dark neck bow. Buck was with a young lady she didn't know. From the look of discomfort on Buck's face, she wasn't sure what to expect. She looked at Ezra. She couldn't be sure, but he looked to be in his element. He put on a large smile and approached the desk.
"Mrs. Travis, it is quite a lovely day, do you not agree?" he said simply.
"Why, yes I do Mr. Standish. What can I do for you?"
He smiled again and she began to get a little nervous. "Funny you should ask. This young lady here is in a predicament. And you seem to be the perfect individual to provide assistance."
Mary looked at the young lady.
Ezra looked at Buck and said, "Mr. Wilmington, be a gentleman. Introduce your companion."
Buck glared at Ezra. "Mrs. Travis, this here's Samantha Richardson. Sam, this is Mary Travis."
Sam smiled nervously. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Travis."
"Mrs. Travis," Ezra started, "we have a favor of a rather large dimension to request of you."
Mary narrowed her eyes slightly. Ezra was asking her for a favor? "Go on, Mr. Standish."
Ezra stood back and put his weight mostly on one foot. Buck looked at him like he were about to deliver a blow. For some reason, Mary thought that Buck appeared positively sick. She looked at Buck. "Mr. Wilmington, are you all right?"
He just looked at her and said, "It ain't nothin', Mrs. Travis, 'cept ol' Ezra here is making me get married."
Mary looked at him in shock. Of all the seven men who had been hired to protect the town, Buck was the last one she ever expected to settle down. She could see JD settling down. He seemed like he was more that type. But she always thought that Buck was rather untamable. Mary turned and looked at the young lady standing beside him, wondering if she knew what she had gotten her self in to...and if she was ready for it. And Ezra was making him get married? Her first thought was that perhaps Ezra was related to the young lady and Buck had placed her in the predicament. She allowed her distaste for the situation to briefly show on her face.
"Now, Buck," Ezra drawled, "the nuptials are not a bona fide ceremony, so you will not actually be committing yourself to a life of connubial bliss."
At this statement, Mary looked back at Ezra. "Would you mind explaining that comment?"
Ezra sighed resignedly and gave Buck a warning glance. "Mrs. Travis, the young lady in question," he looked at Sam and smiled, "is in a rather disturbing situation which can be relieved by staging a rather convincing ceremony. For this, we require your assistance."
Mary looked at him, indicating that he should continue. So he did. "Mr. Wilmington is posing as this charming young creature's affianced. As a young lady of her quality would not have undertaken a journey of this type unless her fiancé had sent for her, and her fiancé would not have sent for her unless he had secured a place for her, we require the temporary use of your homestead."
Mary looked at him in shock. "You want me to loan you my old house?"
"That is correct. Ms. Richardson would hardly be expected to take up residence at the men's boarding house."
"True, but can't she just stay at the hotel?"
Mary watched Ezra look up at the ceiling for a second; it was if he were trying not to let his exasperation show. "If this is to be believed by the intended party, a certain level of appearances must be maintained."
Intended party? Understanding began to set in. Ezra was scheming to convince someone else that the young lady was no longer available and should be left alone.
Mary nodded. "All right. I'll let you use it." She turned to Sam. "Unfortunately, I am afraid it is in a bit of disrepair."
Sam smiled, "Well, the least I can do then is try to fix it up some. You don't know how much this means to me."
Mary smiled at her and looked back at Ezra. "One other thing, Mrs. Travis," he started. Then she noticed he actually looked embarrassed.
"Yes, Mr. Standish?"
"Well," he started, "For this wedding to elicit credulity, the blushing bride must be suitably attired." She continued to watch him. She had a good idea where this particular line was going, but she was not about to interrupt. "And young Miss Richardson was only just recently made aware that she would be required to participate in an elaborately staged ruse in order to extricate herself as the object of her unintended's affections."
"Go on, Mr. Standish."
He smiled and tilted his head to the side. "Would you be willing to perchance allow Miss Richardson to borrow your wedding ensemble?"
Sam looked embarrassed. "Mrs. Travis. Please don't feel obligated to do this; you've already given me a great deal of assistance."
Mary looked over at Sam, who looked to be her size, and sighed. "Well, it isn't as if I have a daughter that I am saving the dress for." She paused a moment, then added, "All right, on one condition, I get to be your matron of honor."
Sam smiled. "Deal!"
Mary turned to Ezra and said, "Mr. Standish, what exactly is your role in this. Are you going to be Mr. Wilmington's best man?"
Ezra flashed her his crooked grin, but before he could answer, Buck stated, "No. Ezra here is going to marry me. Well... me and Sam."
"Who's going to be your best man, Mr. Wilmington?"
"Aw, he...." he broke off in the middle of a profanity. "I don't know, just yet, Mz. Travis. Just found out myself. Maybe Chris?"
Ezra looked at him and said, "I believe I already suggested that Mr. Larabee would be more appropriate for the role of 'Father of the Bride'."
Ezra shook his head. "Mr. Tanner's services will be required to perform the musical interludes."
Mary bit back a smile watching this exchange. She'd love to be there when Ezra told his scheme to Chris and Vin.
"Mr. Wilmington, I don't think you want him to have any part in this ceremony...It might give it the appearance of legality. It would be best if Josiah presided over the reception."
"What about Nathan?"
Ezra looked over at Mary with a somewhat sheepish look on his face. "Mr. Wilmington, I don't know how appropriate that would be. Not knowing Miss Richardson's pursuer, we have no way of predicting how he would react to a man of color," Mary noticed Ezra had the good grace to wince at the statement, "participating in an occasion such as this. We are going for an air of believability."
"Ezra! That just leaves JD! Dang it all...does the WHOLE town have to know?" Buck practically shouted in exasperation. From the look on Ezra's face, she thought that it might have been his intention all along to have JD act as 'Best Man'.
Mary nearly started laughing at that. "Excuse me gentlemen," she said as she quickly left the room so that Buck would not see her break out into gales of laughter.
Chris Larabee was not at his usual post in the saloon. The gunman sat at his second favorite place, the small table and chairs located just outside the saloon. He had watched Ezra and Buck enter the Clarion office just as he took his post. It was a lazy day, and he briefly wondered what business the two had with Mary Travis.
He poured a drink from the bottle sitting in front of him. Josiah might take stock in a good solid breakfast, but Chris'd take whiskey over eggs any day.
He looked off towards the edge of town, staring at the distant mountains, purple on the horizon. The mountains always made him think of Sarah. She'd always enjoyed watching the sun set over them. He took another swig from his drink.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shadow being cast beside him. He looked toward the shadow and saw a gleeful Ezra, a morose Buck, and an unknown woman.
"Can I help you?" he asked tersely.
Ezra smiled, showing his gold tooth. Chris actually hated it when he smiled that broadly-it usually meant he wanted something, usually something that Chris would just as soon not give him.
"Why, yes Mr. Larabee, I believe you can. We are in need of a service for which you are particularly and uniquely qualified."
"Ezra, it's a little early for your fancy talk. You want something? Out with it."
Ezra looked taken aback. Chris merely stared at him. He knew from experience that the gambler could be overly longwinded if not properly, and immediately, discouraged.
Ezra fixed him with a pointed glare. "I see that you are not going to allow me to deliver the fine speech that I have prepared for this occasion."
Chris looked at him, "You got a point?"
Ezra let out a long-suffering sigh. "Mr. Wilmington and this charming lady are to be wed and they were hoping you'd do them the honor of presenting the bride during the ceremony."
Buck was going to get married? Chris looked at Ezra in shock. Then he turned his gaze to Buck. "This true?"
Buck looked uncomfortable. "Not exactly."
"I think that remark warrants qualification," Chris said and then winced. He was hanging around Ezra too much; he was starting to sound like him.
Ezra took a breath and looked as if he was preparing to launch into a lengthy, detailed explanation. Buck glanced at him and spoke first. "Aw hell, Ezra, pardon me ma'am, if you tell him, we'll be here all day."
"Somebody better tell me something," Chris interjected.
Buck looked down. "Well, Chris...ya see. Cripes. Sam here. Oh yeah, Chris...this is Sam...Samantha Richardson."
"An eloquent an introduction I am sure, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra drawled. "Perhaps you should allow me to enlighten Mr. Larabee." He paused, and when Buck objected no further, he stated, "I will be performing the marriage ceremony for these two," Ezra grinned, "lovebirds. Miss Richardson has a troublesome individual who has been plaguing her. She has speculated that, since he is trying to force her into surrendering her hand to him, if she were married, he would grant her peace. Therefore..."
Chris broke in, "Therefore, you're gonna con him into believing that she's married to Buck." Chris started laughing. "Buck...getting married. Oh, This I have to see. Count me in."
Buck glared at Chris then Ezra: HE didn't like the idea one little bit, even if it wasn't for real. It might give the rest of the ladies in town the idea that he was no longer available. Or worse, that he might be interested in a commitment, which he most certainly was not. Although the lady at his side was rather pretty, he got the feeling that she would not be inclined to indulge him.
He had watched helplessly as Ezra confidently took over this idea and turned it into a nightmare. And with the pretty little lady sitting there, needing help, he had been unable to back down.
Ezra looked at him and commented casually, "Mr. Wilmington, you have a positively unhealthy glow."
"Yeah, Buck...you do look kinda sick," JD commented as he came up to the quartet.
"Shut up, kid," Buck growled, but his heart wasn't really in it. "You don't know nothing."
"What Mr. Wilmington is so eloquently telling you, Mr. Dunne, is that he'd be honored if you'd be his best man at his upcoming nuptials."
JD looked at Ezra for a moment then turned and stared at Buck. "You're getting married!?"
Buck looked at Ezra, "Dang it Ezra, I wish you'd stop implying that this was for real!"
"Mr. Wilmington, the more people whose credulity is not disqualified, the more likely that this charade will be successfully implemented. And you do want Miss Richardson to be left to her own devices, do you not?"
"Of course I do," Buck started.
"Then cease in your attempts to undermine my efforts."
"Look Mr. Wilmington, if this makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to do this," Sam started to say.
"No, Sam. I said I'd help. I just didn't expect to marry you to do it."
"Don't take it too personally, ma'am," JD offered, "He don't expect to marry no one."
Sam blushed. "I'm really sorry I got you in to this mess, Mr. Wilmington. I know it was awfully presumptuous of me."
Buck put an arm around Sam and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Then he winked at her, "Don't you worry about a thing. 'Sides, if I'm gonna get married, I'm glad it's to a pretty little filly like yourself. Now, if we're to be married, I think you best start calling me Buck."
Sam looked up at him gratefully. "Thank you...Buck."
Ezra nodded his head approvingly. "Excellent, now we need to head out to the Travis homestead. From the sound of it, there is menial labor to be performed." Ezra looked disgusted at the thought. "And we might require the assistance of daylight to accomplish at least a modicum amount of that labor which will allow Miss Richardson to remain there for this evening's repose."
Sam looked at Buck and whispered quietly, "He always talk like that?"
Buck shook his head negatively, "No ma'am...usually it's a lot worse. He's tryin' to make himself understandable."
Ezra narrowed his eyes. "This is the gratitude I get for offering to employ my services on your behalf?" he asked with a grin. "I was even going to engage in menial labor to assist, but now I don't see how that will be possible."
Chris looked at Ezra and tilted his head to the left slightly, a crooked grin on his face. "I was wondering how you were going to get out of that, Ezra..."
"Oh he ain't, Chris. He ain't. If I am gonna get married, ol' Ezra here is gonna 'engage in menial labor'."
"And yet another thing I gotta see. Need any help?" Chris asked with a nod of his head.
Buck smiled at Chris. "I ain't gonna turn down an offer like that."
A few hours later, they had the place fit for Sam to stay the night. It was not finished yet. There was still a great deal of cleaning to be done, and there were fences to be fixed. Then there was the matter of the barn. But it was enough that Sam would be able to take up residence.
Sam bade them farewell, and then closed the door behind them. She actually wished that at least one of the men had stayed. She was a little uncomfortable in this house, out in the middle of no where in a town she was not from. While Chris, Buck, JD, and Ezra had been there, she felt safe. Now that they were gone, she was afraid. But she didn't say that, because she already felt she had imposed upon them enough.
Ezra was arranging for a wedding. Actually, from the sound of it, he was planning a wedding like Sam had only dreamed about. Which was rather odd, it was just a sham wedding. From what he'd said, and from what was obvious in his carpentry skills, he despised doing this type of work; yet he had assisted with getting the homestead ready.
Buck had agreed to marry her, despite his own reservations on the subject. He'd made her feel comfortable almost from the minute she'd set foot in town. His smile and laughter were infectious, and she found herself wishing that she'd met him under different circumstances. He was awfully handsome. Sam stopped that line of thought before it went any further. She did not need to even consider that possibility. He had made it quite clear that his interest in her was only for this mock-wedding. And she knew that. But still, he was a kind and generous man.
JD-that young man had been tripping on his feet all day trying to make her smile and, at the same time, had helped her to get the inside of the house cleaned out enough that there were a few places to sit which didn't have a year's worth of dust.
Chris, his silent presence had been enough to calm all of her fears. Sam could sense immediately that he was a man who was used to being obeyed. If he told someone to leave, they left. Or they wished they had left. She'd seen that type of authority before, in Charles, but with Chris Larabee, it was not a malicious attitude. He was a good man. They all were.
Sam wondered what had made Mrs. Travis abandon such a nice home. For through all the dust and neglect, she could tell that this home had been lovingly built and decorated. But she knew that she was already presuming much by staying here, even with Mrs. Travis's permission, and she was not about to start asking questions that would hurt her. She instinctively sensed that it was something awful. It would have to be, Sam thought. Because she knew she would not abandon a home like this one lightly.
Vin was chuckling and Buck was getting irritated. Why was it that every time anyone mentioned this marriage someone started laughing?
"Sorry Buck. Don't mean to laugh at you. Just cain't quite 'magine how Ezra talked you into this." Vin leaned against the post in front of the sheriff's office.
"Ya know, Vin, for the life of me I can't figger that one out either," Buck said with a chagrined expression. He'd been trying to figure that out ever since he'd been blind-sided into it. Ezra had blind-sided him that was it. He fully intended to return the favor...someday.
"You gonna do it or just laugh at me, Vin?"
"I don't know, Buck. I don't play much in public."
"I could always get Ezra over here to ask you. By the time he's done, he'll have confused you into doin' it."
Vin looked at Buck skeptically for a moment. Buck continued, "He convinced me to get married. All you're doin' is playing that little mouth organ of yours. Come on Vin. 'Sides, there ain't no other musicians in town. Piano player done left last week."
Vin nodded once, "You owe me."
Buck smiled. "I don't owe you. Ezra does."
Vin nodded. "You both do."
Buck rolled his eyes and went to find Ezra.
Ezra was at the church, looking at angles and the paint. He wanted the wedding to look spectacular. He knew how women could get over these ceremonies. Everything had to be perfect, and, for this con to look realistic, Ezra was planning on a perfect wedding. He decided that though the church could use an additional layer of paint, it really was not an absolute necessity.
He stood looking at the church. Then he nodded his head. It would do quite nicely; no major repairs would be required, and the only touch up was a bit of cleaning, which would be done anyway. The color of the inside of the church lent itself perfectly to wildflower decorations. Once the actual date had been set up, and he realized he needed to do that, and run an announcement in the Clarion, he could arrange for the final details.
Ezra shook his head. There was a lot to be done. He turned to leave the church, when in burst Nathan.
"What's this I hear 'bout you doin' a weddin' Ezra?" Nathan sounded a little upset. "Don't you know that a weddin' is a sacred ritual? It ain't somethin' for you to go connin' folks with."
"Mr. Jackson, would you prefer the young lady were forced to marry a lout who does not love her and is only interested in her for her financial situation?"
"Sounds to me like you got your eye on that too."
Ezra stepped back as if slapped. "I assure you, Mr. Jackson, I am not doing this for financial gain."
"Then why are you doin' it? Seems to me you're goin' to a lot of trouble just out of the goodness of your heart," Nathan responded.
"Practice," Ezra said quickly, too quickly. "I need to keep in practice."
"What you mean by that?"
"In case you are unaware of this Mr. Jackson, I hardly expect our present employment situation to last interminably. As that is the case, I must keep my marketable skills fresh and refined. To do that, I must keep in practice. What I am getting out of this, then, is nothing more than an opportunity to hone my skills. Does that satisfy your sense of who I am?" Ezra replied bitterly. He was not just doing this for practice. He genuinely wanted to help the young lady. And he did not believe that every situation required a show of force. Sometime, subtlety was the best weapon that could be employed. But he could not bring himself to admit this. It would ruin his image.
Nathan looked at him for a moment. Of all the men, Ezra understood him the least. Sure, he knew of Nathan's past, but Nathan seemed to live by a code that was different from anyone else's. And he seemed to think it was his job to keep Ezra in line.
"Mr. Jackson, does it really matter what my personal motives are so long as the primary goal, providing assistance to Miss Richardson, is accomplished?" Ezra asked resignedly.
"Yes. It does matter. I ain't gonna let you take advantage of someone."
Ezra glared at him. For once, he really was not trying to take advantage of anyone. He was genuinely trying to help. "That is not my intention in this instance. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other arrangements which need to be taken care of." Ezra pushed past Nathan angrily and left the church.
In the general store, the widowed Mrs. Potter looked dubiously at the man standing before her. He was impeccably dressed. He actually reminded her of Ezra Standish in many ways. But she could never consider Mr. Standish to be menacing. This man before her was all charm on the outside, but he made her nervous.
"So have you seen Miss Richardson?" he asked.
"You aren't talking about Mr. Wilmington's fiancé, are you?"
He glared at her. "I better not be. She is MY fiancé. Do you know where I can find her?"
Mrs. Potter knew exactly where Miss Richardson was, but after the way he'd reacted, and her feelings about him, she would not tell him anything. "I'm afraid I don't know. Have you checked the hotel?" she asked him.
He glared at her and then turned and left the store. Mrs. Potter let out a sigh and considered, briefly, telling one of the men that someone had asked after Miss Richardson. But first, she needed to straighten up the shelves. And she could not leave the store untended. After a few moments, she forgot about the incident.
Sam worked on cleaning out the house. Once she had dusted and cleaned all the surfaces, she was going to give the floor a good scrubbing. She actually hated this type of work, but it felt good to be doing something. And if she wasn't cleaning, she'd just be brooding.
She vigorously dusted the items on the shelf in front of her. She stopped quickly when the removal of the dust revealed several small delicate items-china figurines. Those she picked up carefully and carried into the kitchen, thinking that the china figurines could be washed with soap and water. Even though Mrs. Travis did not use this house any more, Sam was determined that it was going to be clean before she left it.
She went around and collected the various small delicate items, taking them all into the kitchen, then she resumed dusting. After that was done, she filled up the sink, grateful that the house had indoor plumbing. She lovingly cleaned each shelf, imaging how much she'd like to have a home like this. It really was a beautiful house. She loved it already, and she knew it was not hers. But she also knew she was temporarily getting the opportunity to live her childhood dream. For a few days, she would have a wonderful marriage to a good man and a lovely home. She was determined that she was going to have these memories be perfect, because they would soon be nothing but that...memories.
The shelves and surfaces sparkled, the linens were hanging to clean, the beds had been turned, and the carpets had been beaten. All that remained was for her to scrub the floor. Sam was exhausted and laid down on the sofa for a few moments to rest.
She was awakened by a pounding on the door. Sam sat up and tried to shake the weariness out of her head. "Coming," she called. She quickly straightened her dress and patted down her hair. She realized she probably looked a wreck, but she also had done a lot of work today, and it really could not be helped.
Sam opened the door with a smile, only to be greeted by Charles.
"Just what the hell you think you're doin' out here, woman?" he demanded.
She stared at him and could not respond. She'd known he'd find her sooner or later, but she was really hoping on later.
"And what's this I hear about you getting' married?"
Charles was angrier than she'd ever seen him. Sam backed up into the house and tried to shut the door behind her, but he was too quick. Before she could stop him, he was inside with her. "Nice place you got here," he said menacingly. Sam looked over at the door, wondering if she could get past him.
"Charles. I don't want to marry you. When are you going to understand that?" she pleaded.
"You little slut. You got you another man. Well, your father gave me the blessing before he died, and I intend to see that we get married."
"You only want my father's money!" she shouted.
"True," he purred. "But your father still gave me your hand, my dear."
"But I haven't...and he didn't know you. He'd never have done so if he did."
Charles merely smiled. "Samantha, I don't really care. You are going to marry me, and there is nothing your 'other' fiancé is going to do about it."
"We'll just see about that," she commented, hoping it sounded casual.
Charles looked at her and picked up one of the china figurines from a shelf. It was a delft windmill. "This a gift from him?" he asked quietly.
Sam did not respond. Charles glared at her and threw the figurine to the ground. Sam cried out. She didn't know how Mrs. Travis would feel about the breaking of the windmill, but she felt awful about it. "Stop it! Please," she cried.
He cocked his head. "That upset you? Well, how about this?" He picked up another figurine and threw it to the ground. Before Sam could react, he swept his arm across the shelf, knocking all the china off of it.
Sam was in tears. "Good," he said. "That's what I like to see. It lets me know you know who is in control here."
"Buck isn't going to let you get away with this," she said defiantly.
"You think I'm scared of a man named 'Buck'? Come now, Samantha. You know me better than that. Now get your things. We are leaving."
"I'm not going with you."
Charles turned and looked at her. "You will regret that," he said as he slapped her hard across the face. "I'll be back at dawn tomorrow, and you had better be ready to go. Are we clear?"
Sam stood there and nodded her head, realizing that she had been foolish to think she could get away from him.
Charles glared at her. "Don't even think of trying to leave before then." Then he turned and stormed out of the house. Sam stood there for a moment before getting the broom and slowly sweeping up the broken china figurines.
Buck rode Beauty to Mrs. Travis's old homestead. He'd planned on being out there earlier. He'd also planned on having some of the others with him too. He wanted to help Sam with the repairs about the house. But that really wasn't the only reason he wanted to go there. He wanted to spend time with the young lady. She seemed like a nice girl who was rather lonely, and he enjoyed her company. He especially enjoyed her company when Ezra was not around trying to make wedding arrangements.
Buck shuddered. Sure. Sam was a nice girl, and one day she would make some nice man a wonderful wife, but he was not inclined to settle down. But when he started thinking about it, he realized that if he were, she was very much like the woman he'd like to settle down with. She had spunk, but she was not afraid to ask for help. She had a quick smile and a hearty laugh. And she really was really quite beautiful.
For a moment, Buck considered what it would be like to settle down in reality, have a family...a home. But he brushed those thoughts aside. He knew himself too well. He knew that although he could give his heart to just one woman, he could never be faithful. And he knew that would break any woman's heart. It was best for all concerned that he did not settle down. But he had enjoyed those moments of thinking about really settling down.
He rode Beauty up to the barn and jumped off. He led the horse inside and stabled her out of the hot afternoon sun. Then he walked to the door and knocked lightly on it.
"Go away," he heard a voice from inside say.
"Sam? It's Buck. Buck Wilmington."
After a moment, the door opened. Buck saw Sam standing there, tears on her face and a bruise on her cheek. "What happened?" he asked her, reaching out and touching the bruise. Sam flinched.
"I'm sorry, Buck. I have to go. Please tell Mrs. Travis I am sorry about her figurines." Sam tried to walk past him, but he reached out and took her arm.
"What is going on, Sam?"
"Please. Let me go. I have to be gone by dawn."
"Sam, who did this?"
Sam looked down at the ground, "Charles."
"And where are you going?"
"I don't know. Anywhere. Away from here. He's coming back at dawn. I have to be gone."
Buck enfolded her in his arms. "Now Sam, this here's why we are putting on the wedding, isn't it?"
"We'll just make sure that you aren't left alone out here, how's that sound? Would you mind if a few of us stayed with you? I assure you, you won't be harmed."
Sam looked at him. She'd wanted them with her last night. "Are you sure you won't mind? I feel like I've already imposed on you too much." She started crying, and Buck wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I don't mind. But first, we are both going to go to town and get some back up. I probably could handle this Charles by myself, but I'd feel more comfortable for your sake if we had a strong show of force."
Sam looked at him in horror. "I cannot go in to town looking like this!"
"And I am not leaving you alone out here. By the time we get there, it will be close to nightfall anyway. No one will notice. I'll make sure of that."
Sam nodded. Buck went to the barn and got Beauty. He walked the gray horse over to Sam and lifted her into the saddle. Then he mounted behind her.
Buck was furious. He wanted to beat Charles senseless. How dare that man hit any woman. True, Sam had told him about Charles. But from the look on her face, he gathered she did not expect he was quite as bad as he was. She'd never expected he'd actually hurt her.
While they were riding to town, Buck asked her in a soft voice. "It's pretty obvious he don't love ya; why is he so intent on marryin' ya?"
He felt Sam sigh and saw her head bend down. "It's my father's money."
Buck had forgotten about the money. She must be worth a lot for someone to chase her halfway across the country. "Your father want you to marry him?"
"Buck, you must understand. Charles can be very...charming...when he wants to be. He fooled my father into believing he was a gentleman. He had me fooled too, for a while. But when I realized what he was, I tried to tell my father. He was so ill by that point, he couldn't understand me. I had to run away."
Buck placed one of his hands on the top of her head and slowly ran his fingers down her hair. "It's gonna be fine, Sam. I ain't gonna let no one hurt you no more."
Ezra sat outside the church and watched the saloon. He wanted to be playing poker right now; it would help take his mind off of his conversation with Nathan earlier. But preachers simply did not play poker, much less frequent saloons. He felt completely cut off from the surroundings he was most comfortable in. If JD weren't at the jail, he'd try to engage him in a game of chance, but the young lad was busy. Larabee would hardly indulge him in this. He had already wiped Josiah clean. Ezra momentarily considered finding a way for the mystic to find some money, his of course, just so he could win it back. But he quickly discarded that notion.
He looked up at the sound of a horse approaching; it was no one he knew, but out of habit, he watched the man intently. He was impeccably dressed. The man stopped in front of the church and regarded Ezra.
"You the preacher?" he asked sourly.
Ezra tilted his head and was quiet for a moment. By the attitude this man carried, Ezra had a good idea of his identity. Then Ezra stood up and walked with slow, even, measured paces to the man. "Why yes I am. How may I assist you?" Ezra considered adding 'my son' to his last sentence, but decided against it. It would be over-doing it.
"You can call off a wedding."
Ezra looked at him, feigning confusion. "Do you have cause to question this wedding?"
"Yeah. The bride-to-be is my fiancé."
Ezra displayed a look of shock. "Then you must be Charles Henderson. Miss Richardson mentioned a previous engagement. But she assured me it had been broken," Ezra said calmly. "I must admit, I did not expect to get the chance to meet her former affianced."
Charles regarded him with malice. "Preacher. You are going to call off this wedding."
Ezra shook his head serenely. "I am afraid I will not do that Mr. Henderson. The couple in question is very much in love. And I will not deny them this holy union."
"Is that your last word on the issue?" Charles asked quietly.
Ezra nodded. He could tell something was up, but before he could react, Charles pulled a gun and shot him. Ezra staggered back, but did not fall. Charles aimed the gun at him again, but Ezra moved quickly into the alleyway next to the church, silently cursing himself for not trusting his instinct with Charles. He had known that man was up to something.
For what seemed like forever, Ezra leaned against the church. His vision was beginning to blur and the pain in his side was growing. Charles still was in front of the church, watching the alleyway. Ezra knew he needed to get out of the alleyway and over to Nathan's or the church. He knew he needed to get somewhere more public. Ezra shook his head, trying to clear up his vision. He released the derringer he kept up his sleeve and staggered out of the alley.
Charles saw him, and shot him again. This time, a fire burned a hole through his shoulder. Ezra fired back at him, but he could not be sure if he hit him. Charles rode off. Ezra kept his gun aimed after him for a moment, before slowly making his way up the steps. He was vaguely aware of a figure running up the street toward him. But then his concentration became divided as he fell backwards, rolling down the steps, landing on his already injured side.
Chris was sitting in the saloon with Vin. They were sharing a bottle of whiskey and not saying anything. It was a comfortable silence between them. That was really what Chris liked best about Vin, the comfortable silence. Vin wasn't always talking or relaying some tale of past love, or trying to ask questions about his past. But his mere presence was enough to give Chris a feeling of companionship, without imposing upon Chris's need for silence.
He heard two gunshots ring out and looked at Vin. Vin raised his eyebrows and nodded. They both stood up slowly and casually walked to the door of the saloon. Chris walked out first and looked down the street. The streets were silent. He looked back at Vin, who shrugged. Chris looked toward the livery, and Vin nodded. Without another word, Vin took off toward the livery. Chris headed in the opposite direction.
He saw a man sitting atop a horse watching something down by the church. A feeling that he did not question told him that this was the source of the trouble. As he approached the church, he thought he saw someone leaning weakly against the building. Then he saw that same individual step out from the protection of the building. The man on the horse fired again, and Chris could see plainly that the injured man was Ezra. He watched as Ezra was hit again. Chris started running towards the church.
The man on the horse must have seen him coming because he took off. Chris saw Ezra fall down the stairs and remain motionless. Nathan came running out of nowhere. And Chris was relieved. The healer was better suited to take care of gunshot wounds, but Chris did not like people coming into town and shooting his compatriots.
"You gonna just stand there or are you gonna give me a hand movin' him inside," Nathan said suddenly.
Chris offered one more glare in the direction of the unknown gunman and moved to help Nathan carry Ezra into the church.
Vin found nothing unusual down by the livery. Just as he was about to head back to find Chris and provide him some backup, he noticed a horse with two riders approaching. Vin watched the horse for a moment and determined that it was Beauty, which meant one of the riders was Buck.
Vin leaned against the livery door and waited for Buck to get closer. "Ev'nin' Buck. Ma'am." He had not been introduced to the woman with Buck, but he was assuming she was the 'fiancée' Samantha Richardson. He also noticed a slight bruise on the young woman's left cheek, but he said nothing about it.
"Hey Vin. This here's Samantha Richardson. Sam...this is Vin Tanner." Buck grinned broadly at him.
She didn't look at him. Buck got off of Beauty and then helped his companion down.
"What's up Vin?"
"Heard some gunshots. Came down here to investigate. Guess I best be headin' to the other end of town. Ma'am, you best stay here."
Buck put his arm on Sam's shoulders and looked at Vin, saying seriously, "If there's trouble, Vin, it's bound to be with her fiancé. I'm not leavin' her alone."
Vin regarded him for a moment, then nodded his head, and the three of them headed down the street.
JD ran up to them and stopped for a moment to catch his breath. "Ezra's been shot," he said quickly.
"How bad?" Buck asked.
"Nathan's with him at the church. Sure was a lot of blood."
"We know who did this?" Vin asked.
Sam paled and gasped. She had a good idea who was behind it. Buck held her a moment, "This ain't your fault, darlin'."
"Buck, you best take Miss Richardson to the church."
JD said, "Chris saw the man leave town."
Vin stopped a moment. "Chris is gonna want to go after him. Buck, JD, why don't you take Miss Richardson to the church and let Chris know I'm on my way."
Buck agreed and Vin headed back to the livery to get Sire ready.
**No good deed goes unpunished** was the first conscious thought Ezra had upon waking. He was in pain. There was fire burning inside him, and something kept making it worse. He slowly opened his eyes. Nathan was hovering over him.
"Mr. Jackson," Ezra started to say, or rather he tried to say it, but his voice was harsh and dry. He felt an arm slip under him, propping him up.
"Here, now. You take a drink of this. Slowly now."
Ezra nodded and slowly sipped the proffered beverage. Nathan lay him back down, and Ezra started to close his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Standish," a voice whispered near him. He opened his eyes again and tried to focus. He looked at her and saw the bruise on her cheek.
"Miss Richardson, what happened?" he asked with concern.
"Charles shot you."
Ezra shook his head and then groaned. His concentration was fading. "No." He reached an arm out to her face. Sam looked down. Ezra raised an eyebrow. "That bastard," he muttered. "Do not concern yourself over this minor setback," Ezra mumbled. "The ceremony will still take place. My word on it." His voice trailed off as he once again visited the realm of sweet slumber.
Nathan stood by for a moment and looked Ezra over. The gambler moaned a bit when Nathan touched his shoulder, but did not stir otherwise. Nathan looked over at the young lady sitting nearby, looking guilty as all get out. He tapped her on the shoulder.
"You wanna tell me what this is all about? Seems to me you know more'n you're sayin'."
She looked at him, startled. "He got shot on account of me."
Nathan gazed at her, hoping she'd continue.
"I'm sure Charles had something to do with this. Ezra's marryin' me and Buck." Nathan flinched at the mention of this scheme. He didn't approve of it.
"What's he," Nathan indicated Ezra, "gettin' out of this?" He let a bit of the bitterness back in his voice.
Sam looked at him in confusion. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she honestly did not know what he was asking her. And he immediately felt guilty. He knew Ezra ALWAYS had an angle. But he began to think that maybe this time Ezra really was not getting anything else out of it, besides helping someone out of trouble. He hoped that was the case. And judging by the bruise on Sam's face and the bullet holes in Ezra, Charles was definitely trouble.
Nathan looked up and noted that Chris was looking at him. "'Scuze me, ma'am."
Sam nodded and Nathan went over to Chris.
Chris inclined his head to Ezra, "How's he doin'?"
"He'll be fine just long as infection don't set in. Them wounds are pretty well cleaned out now."
Chris nodded and looked over to Vin, who was looking at him, obviously ready to get after Charles. "We'll be back soon."
Nathan smiled. "We ain't goin' nowhere."
Chris grinned and then turned and left.
Josiah strode into the church. He saw Nathan looking over Ezra and Buck and JD sitting near Miss Richardson, obviously trying to help cheer her up. She looked very distressed. Josiah went to Nathan.
"Seems Ezra got shot on account a' one a' his cons," Nathan said. Josiah knew that Nathan had been downright furious at Ezra earlier, but the healer did not give any appearance of that ire now. He thought that maybe Nathan had put his anger aside for the time being
Ezra opened his eyes a moment, "Good evening, Mr. Sanchez. Come to relieve me of my priestly vestments?"
Josiah grinned at Ezra. "Nah, just wanted to make sure no one shot any holes in my church. Just got it repaired. It would be a shame to have to patch up holes in the woodwork."
"Your concern is touching. However, I noticed earlier that an additional layering of paint would be most beneficial to this house of worship," Ezra quipped softly in response as he drifted back to sleep.
Josiah smiled at the repartee. Nathan just looked at them both, grinning widely and shaking his head.
"Yeah, he'll be fine," Nathan said in response to Josiah's unasked question. Josiah nodded and went over to the other group.
"Good ev'nin', Miss Richardson, Buck, JD," Josiah said.
Buck and JD nodded at him.
"Good evening, Mr. Sanchez." She looked very upset. "How's he doing?"
"He's gonna be fine, ma'am. Just engaged me in a discussion of the needs of this church. Don't worry."
Sam nodded her head.
Chris and Vin headed out of town after the man they assumed was Samantha Richardson's fiancé. Vin had found his tracks easily enough. The man had headed back around town, toward Mary Travis's old place.
They quickly rode out to the homestead. It was eerily quiet. Chris looked at Vin. Vin nodded. They tied their horses at the hitching post near the house. Chris went to the house, and Vin headed to the barn.
Chris opened the door to the house. Even in the darkness he could tell that the house was cleaner than it had been when he left the day before. He did not hear any noises to indicate the presence of anyone else, but for some reason, he knew that Miss Richardson's fiancé was here. Chris checked through out the house, but it was empty.
Just then he heard a loud crash...coming from the barn.
Vin walked cautiously into the barn. He heard a horse, but did not see it. That was all the warning he got before a pitchfork flew at him. He ducked and narrowly missed being hit by it. He drew his gun and aimed it at the hayloft, but all he could see were bales of hay.
Another object came flying down at him, he dodged it again, but now he knew his assailant's position and fired off a shot at him. He was rewarded with a curse. Just then, a man jumped out of the hayloft and landed on Vin, knocking him over.
The man was the first to stand up, and he grabbed the pitchfork laying nearby, swinging it at Vin and stabbing at him with it.
Vin rolled over and tried to reach his gun, which had flown free of his grip when the man knocked him over. The pitchfork came down again, this time grazing Vin's arm. Vin grimaced in pain, but continued going for the mare's leg.
Before he reached it, however, a dark shape charged into the barn and knocked his assailant off his feet. Vin stood up and got the gun, then walked over and covered Chris.
He saw Chris punch the man once, knocking him out.
Chris looked at Vin; Vin nodded and came over. Chris picked up the unconscious man and Vin went and got some rope from his horse. While Vin tied up the attacker, Chris found the horse behind the barn. Together they tied the man to the saddle and headed back to Four Corners.
Buck had thought Ezra was delirious earlier when he promised Sam the wedding would go on. After all, when Chris and Vin got back with Charles, the man was going to jail to stand trial for attempted murder. Sam was safe. But Ezra was insisting on doing this wedding anyway.
"Ezra, there ain't no need for this."
Ezra closed his eyes a moment and then looked again directly at Buck. "There most certainly is a need for this." Ezra looked over at Sam, who was looking at him curiously. "Mr..." Ezra paused, searching for the last name he knew he knew, but could not recall. "Mr...Charles needs to see this wedding before his sentencing. If he goes to Yuma Prison, I want him going knowing that you are wed. If he goes to the hangman's noose, which is my personal preference for that piece of garbage, I want him going to his eternal reward with the knowledge that you are happily wed." After that lengthy speech, Ezra closed his eyes for a moment then looked back at Buck. "Now, do you see the need?"
Buck shifted on his feet. He didn't like it. He looked at Sam, who was equally uncomfortable, but he was beginning to suspect that her discomfort was more a reaction to his than any genuine reluctance on her part. Ezra made sense. It was a form of vengeance in a way. Sam's ex-fiancé would go to his grave or go to his fate with the knowledge that he had been unable to keep Sam from happiness. "All right, Ezra. I see it."
Sam ran to the door of the church as the sounds of horse steps sounded past it. Buck went over and joined her. There, he saw Chris and Vin and a trussed up third man riding to the jail. He looked at Sam. "Stay here." She nodded.
Buck headed out the door and bounded across the street to Chris and Vin. Before Vin or Chris could get there, he went to Charles and started to untie him from the saddle.
"Buck." Chris nodded. "Vin, you get yourself over to the church and let Nathan take a look at that arm," Chris said.
"Buck?!?" Charles spat at him. "YOU're Buck?"
Buck fixed him with a steady glare that would have done Chris credit. "Yeah."
Charles started struggling against the ropes that bound him. Buck pushed him off the horse, and he landed hard on the ground. Buck strode around to the other side and hauled Charles to his feet, then he punched him twice-once in the gut, and one on his jaw. "THAT was for what you did to Sam, you bastard!"
Buck drew his arm back to punch Charles again, only to feel a hand restraining the blow.
"Enough, Buck. You've made your point," Chris said in an even tone.
Buck nodded and pushed Charles ahead of him into the jail. He opened a cell and shoved him inside, locking the door shut behind him. "You're gonna stand trial for attempted murder, you bastard. And I am going marry a beautiful woman."
Charles glared at him. Buck smiled broadly and left the jail.
A couple of days later, Ezra sat in the church, going over last minute details for the wedding. Judge Travis would be here later that evening, and the wedding would be held tomorrow, before the sentencing. Nathan, it had been decided, would keep an eye on the prisoner during the ceremony.
All in all, he liked the flowers that were being brought in and the decorations that were being set up. The church looked nearly perfect.
Nathan came in quietly and sat down next to Ezra. "Don't push yourself too much, you lost a lot of blood."
Ezra gave him a look forbearance. "Mr. Jackson, I assure you, with your watching over me like a mother hen watches her chicks, I spend more energy assuring you that I am fine than on anything else."
Nathan laughed. "Yeah, I just don't want to have to patch up your skin 'cause you pushed yourself."
"So. Come to tell me that I am making a mockery out of a holy ceremony?"
Nathan shook his head. "Actually, what I came here to do was apologize."
Ezra looked at him, quite shocked. He was not used to being apologized to. Granted that was because usually he was the one committing the offense. Then he nodded once at Nathan.
Nathan nodded and headed out of the church.
Sam had never felt more beautiful. The dress that Mrs. Travis had loaned her was a lovely dark green silk. It was precisely what she would have picked out, if she had a choice of every dress ever made. Ezra had found a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and presented it to her, and Mary had even loaned her some jewelry for the occasion.
She was as giddy as a school girl, and she felt downright foolish about it. Afterall, this was just a sham wedding, for all that it was exactly the wedding she'd always dreamed of. A handsome and wonderful man would be waiting for her at the end of the aisle. A man who had already stood up for her and treated her in such a way that she believed he felt she was special would be waiting for her at the end of the aisle. But she also knew that this same perfect man was not in love with her, and she could not honestly say she was in love with him. He was a man she could love; she didn't doubt that.
Mary Travis smiled at Sam. "You look beautiful."
Sam smiled back. "Well, this is likely the only wedding I'll ever get. And if I am so lucky as to have another, I doubt it will be this wonderful. I may as well enjoy all of it."
"Mr. Standish does have a flair for the details, doesn't he?"
Sam nodded. "The funny thing," she said as she laughed. "I am actually nervous."
Mary laughed with her until a knock came on the door. Then, she went and opened the door. Her breath nearly caught when she opened it. Chris Larabee was standing there in a rather dapper suit that looked wonderful on him. He smiled at her. Then he came in.
"You ready Miss Richardson?" he asked.
Sam nodded. He offered her his arm and she took it. Mary followed behind them and they headed to the church.
Buck was squirming. He was nervous; he didn't like the tie that Ezra had made him put on, and the blasted wool jacket itched. It didn't help matters any that JD was having a great time laughing at him.
Then Vin started playing the harmonica, and Buck turned to the door. Sam stood there looking like a vision from heaven. Her auburn tresses cascaded down, framing her delicate face. The emerald dress highlighted the green in her eyes so he could see their twinkle from where he stood.
JD beside him said, "Wow."
Buck did not look away from Sam as she walked down the aisle on Chris Larabee's arm. Chris stopped in front of him, and he vaguely heard Ezra speaking.
Chris handed Sam to him and he smiled at her. She blushed. The ceremony was a blur to him. He kept staring at the vision of beauty on his arm. He heard Ezra say "kiss the bride" and he did. He kissed Sam, not the chaste kiss that he'd given her before, but a deep passionate kiss that drank in her essence.
He broke off and looked at her. She smiled at him, but did not say a word. Buck smiled back at her and put his arm around her waist. He started escorting her down the aisle when he heard a soft sound. He turned toward it. Charles stood up. Nathan stood up with him, putting a restraining arm around him.
"You treat her good, you understand me?" he said quietly, which shocked Buck.
"You treat her good."
Buck looked at Sam, who looked utterly shocked. "I will." He escorted Sam out of the church.
Judge Travis sentenced Charles Henderson to hang for the attempted murder of Ezra Standish. Henderson took the news with little notice. He even mounted the gallows with no resistance. The last thing he said was to Buck Wilmington. "You take care of my Samantha. I want you to promise me you will." Buck had promised him he'd do so. What else could he say?
Much to the surprise of everyone in Four Corners, he had really loved Samantha, even though he did not know how to show it. Granted, no one was going to miss him, least of all Samantha "Wilmington".
Buck walked Samantha to the stage. It would take her to San Francisco, where he hoped she could enjoy a happy life and find someone to love. The past couple of days with her had given Buck something he never expected...a family. Though it was only for a short while, it had been a wonderful experience, one that he would cherish for a lifetime. He knew that this short "marriage" to Samantha had been the only marriage he'd ever have.
"Good luck, wife," he said with a smile.
Sam blushed and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, Buck. For everything."
Buck took her in his arms once more and kissed her. She really was a fascinating woman, one he'd love to get to know better. But in another way, he was glad she was leaving. He knew that, in time, he'd hurt her. And he never wanted to do that. Sam's eyes glistened a little when he broke off the kiss. "You take care of yourself."
She nodded. Buck helped her into the stagecoach and shut the door. He stood and waited for it to depart.
"Seems you've won the heart of another fair damsel," Ezra said walking up to him.
Buck looked at him and smiled broadly. "It's a gift."
Ezra just chuckled. Buck looked toward the saloon, and Ezra nodded. They walked across the street as the stage vanished into the distance.