Mrs. Standish AU: Chapter 1, French Cooking and Fibs

Magnificent Seven

Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law. These aren't my characters, other than the heroine and her kinfolk. I've borrowed them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. I will return them to their original copyright holders relatively unharmed (or at least suitably bandaged). Be warned: this is the first story in a series that I've been working on (off and on) for the past few years. This story was originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #6, published by Neon RainBow Press. Be warned: This is an AU. This is a Mary Sue. If you don't care for AUs or Mary Sues, you won't hurt my feelings by reading something else.

by Susan M. M.

Chapter One of the Mrs. Standish AU:

French Cooking and Fibs

March 21, 1878

Ezra Standish sipped his bourbon. The saloon was dingy and dirty He'd never permit such squalor in his place, but the Kentucky bourbon was first-rate stuff. Even if he did have some doubts as to the hygiene of his glass. It was good to get away from his sanctimonious colleagues for a few days of serious card-playing, without being expected to play knight-errant.

"Not very many customers tonight," he observed. The gambler was dark-haired and handsome, though not tall. Neither slender nor stocky, he was medium of build as well of height. His black hair, green eyes, and fair complexion bespoke an Irish ancestor.

"Maybe you scared them off," joked a man drinking beer.

The bartender shook his head. "Dance tonight. Half the town is dosey-doing."

Ezra thought a moment. There were few men in the saloon, and none of them rich enough to play for the stakes he preferred. Since it would be a waste of his time to try to strike up a penny-ante poker game, he might as well invite himself to the dance for some gentle exercise and female companionship. He glanced down at his attire: black linen trousers and jacket, red silk brocade vest, and a white linen shirt. When playing cards with strangers, it was always best to look as though he could afford to lose. He was definitely gussied up sufficiently for a dance, indeed, probably overdressed for a cow town square dance.

After several reels, square dances, and one waltz with a local belle completely devoid of grace, Ezra took his trod-upon toes outside. He lit up a cheroot.

A few moments later, a carrot-haired girl in a blue plaid dress came out.

"Evening," Ezra greeted her politely. "I hope my cigar won't bother you."

"Oh, no, not at all. I just came out for a breath of air. It's so dreadfully warm in there," she said. Nonetheless, she made sure she was upwind of his cigar.

"It is," he agreed.

She strolled along the side of the building. Suddenly, she tripped and fell.

Ezra threw his cigar to the ground and hurried to help her up. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Get your hands off my cousin!"

Both turned to see three men behind them. An ox of man was bellowing at them. With a sense of dismay, Ezra recognized him as Carl Henshaw, a man he'd been warned by the barkeeper to avoid.

"Carl, I fell. This gentleman helped me up," she explained, keeping her voice calm and quiet.

"Don't you lie to me, Rina. I saw him with his paws all over you," Carl accused.

"Sir, I resent your insinuations," Ezra replied.

"That's my cousin you're insulting with your attentions." Carl pulled his gun out.

"Round here we know how to deal with folk who don't know how to treat decent women," added one of the other men. He drew out a gun hidden beneath his jacket.

"What you want us to do, Carl, shoot him or string him up?" asked the third.

"Gentlemen, there's no need to be hasty." Ezra thought of the derringer tucked up his sleeve. He hesitated to use it when he was outnumbered three to one, and two of them already had their sixguns out. His derringer held only two bullets.

"Carl, he didn't do anything. I just stumbled. He helped me up. That's all that happened." Rina explained in the slow, patient tone one would use to a not-too-bright child.

"That proves you two had an ass-ig-ee-na-shun," Carl declared. "If he didn't mean anything to you, you wouldn't care if we shot him or not."

Ezra just stared at Carl Henshaw and his sidekicks, dumbfounded by his 'logic.'

"I recognize him," the third man said.

"Oh? Who is he, Jake?"

"Cardsharp. Been in town a few days, cheating honest people out of their money," Jake Barnes said.

"I did not cheat!"

"Can't trust a cardsharp," Carl said. "Can't trust him with cards or women."

"He compromised you, Rina. He's gotta pay," the second man said.

"Daniel Henshaw, are you deaf or just stupid? I told you, nothing happened."

"Don't you try to protect him," Carl scolded. "Nobody messes with a Henshaw and gets away with it."

"Nobody," Daniel repeated.

"He compromised you, Miss Rina. If he won't do the honorable thing, then he's gotta pay the price," Jake explained, now treating her like a dull child.

"Do the honorable thing?" Daniel repeated.

"Make an honest woman out of her." When Daniel and Carl still didn't seem to get it, Jake said, "Marry her."

The two Henshaws looked at each other, mulling over this possibility. New ideas, Ezra thought uncharitably, seemed to be something the Henshaws had difficulty with.

"What do you think Gram would say about that?" Carl asked.

At the mention of Gram, Rina stopped protesting. She looked up at Ezra speculatively. The gambler was reminded of the time he'd seen a rancher examining a prize bull, trying to decide if one he-cow was worth a year's pay for one of his ranch hands.

"Gentlemen, this is all just a misunderstanding," Ezra said.

"Put your guns away. I'll marry him," Rina offered.

"Miss, we haven't even been introduced," Ezra protested.

"I couldn't stand to have your death on my conscience. They're not joking. They've killed before, for less reason."

Carl stuck his gun inches away from Ezra's face. "Which'll it be? You gonna see the parson for your wedding or your funeral?"

Gulping, Ezra chose. "Wedding."

"I'll go fetch him," Jake volunteered. Carl and Daniel Henshaw kept their guns trained on Ezra. The gambler kept waiting for them to relax their guard, so he would have a chance to escape, or to fight back, but they gave him no opportunity.

Two minutes later, Jake came back with a scrawny middle-aged man with thinning hair. He was dressed in unrelieved black.

"Rina Henshaw, I'm surprised at you. I thought you had better sense than to get involved with such a rogue."

"There's been a dreadful misunderstanding, Reverend. I did not-" Ezra began.

"There certainly was a mistake, if you trifled with Miss Henshaw," the parson interrupted him.

"I did not trifle with the lady. I merely –"

"Hush afore we shoot you," Daniel ordered.

Ezra hushed. Seeing no other options, he let them escort him to the church. His mind was racing, trying to find a way out of this mess. This was the sort of situation he'd expect his friend Buck Wilmington to get himself into. Without Buck and Chris and the others to back him up, outnumbered, outgunned ... As a professional gambler, years of experience had taught him when to play and when to fold. Compliance seemed his best course of action, for the moment.

As soon as they reached the church, the parson started the ceremony immediately. He did not bother with a prayer-book, but recited the vows from memory. Neither the Henshaws nor Jake put their guns away. Although Ezra's experience with weddings was limited to attending two or three of his mother's, it seemed to him the parson was leaving things out. Wasn't there supposed to be a bit about 'if any know why this man and this woman should not be joined, speak now or forever hold your peace?'

"For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as ye both shall live?"

"I do," said Ezra grudgingly, not bothering to hide his reluctance and distaste.

"The ring, please."

Daniel and Carl looked at each other. Biting back a sigh, Ezra pulled a gold signet ring, inset with black onyx, from his pinky and placed it on her finger. "With this ring..." he recited mechanically after the parson.

"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Rina looked up at him expectantly, almost eagerly. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. He ignored the look of disappointment in her eyes at not getting a more serious wedding buss.

"Now that we're married, can you holster the guns?" he asked, not concealing the sarcasm in his voice. From what he'd seen of the Henshaws, they were too dim-witted to catch the sarcasm.

Daniel and Jake looked to Carl for guidance. He nodded and holstered his gun. The other two did likewise.

The parson held out his hand. "An honorarium is customary at this point."

"A what?" Carl asked.

"He wants to be paid." Ezra dug into his pocket and handed the man a silver dollar.

'May I go now?"

"Just a minute, just a minute. You need to sign the parish register first. Mr. Henshaw, you'll need to sign as witness."

Ezra scrawled his name quickly and sloppily, remembering his mother's advice that if they can't read your signature, they can't prove it's you. Rina, Carl, and Daniel Henshaw signed after him.

Rina grabbed Ezra's arm. "If you excuse us, my husband and I have some things to discuss."

"We certainly do, madam."

Ezra led her to his hotel. The night clerk stared at them, bug-eyed.

"Miss Henshaw!"

"Mrs. Standish," she corrected him primly. The clerk stared as she walked up the stairs, her hand resting on Ezra's arm.

"You realize now that you've been seen accompanying me to my hotel room, you're well and truly compromised," Ezra warned her.

"Doesn't matter now. We're married."

'I did not compromise you half an hour ago."

"No, but my cousins think you did."

"At their ages, they should know where babies come from. You do know, don't you?" Ezra asked, suddenly frightened that he was tied not only to a virgin, but an ignorant virgin.

"I have a vague notion, but I'm sure you can show me later."

"No, thank you, madam. That will make it impossible to have this annulled."

"Annulled?"

"As quickly as possible, madam, as quickly as possible."

"Forgive me for being vain enough to think that matrimony with me was preferable to being shot," she replied sharply.

Ezra took a deep breath. He looked his wife over: a plain girl, no, woman, she was older than he'd guessed at first, with carroty hair and hazel eyes. Her scrawny frame was too thin to inspire lustful dreams. "I appreciate your rescue; I don't mean to seem like an ingrate. But surely you can't wish to be tied to a total stranger?"

"Mr. Standish, it's late. The stagecoach leaves town at 7:00 AM, and I think it would be a very good idea for us to be on it. Contrary to what Carl and Daniel think, Gram will not approve of our marriage. I want to be as far away as possible when she finds out. Perhaps we should get some rest?"

By Ezra's standards, the night was still young, and he was not in the least tired. However, he was not a morning person. The notion of waking at 7:00 was distasteful enough. Being alert and active at that hour ... he shuddered. Rest might be a good idea. Perhaps he would wake in the morning and find out this was all a nightmare.

"You may have the bed, madam. I'll sleep in the chair."

"Even if you didn't want to claim your - your husbandly prerogatives," Rina blushed over the euphemism, "there's still enough room for two."

Ezra had no intentions of letting anything get in the way of an annulment. "No, thank you, ma'am." Ezra sat in the chair next to the chest of drawers and starting laying out a game of solitaire. He couldn't help noticing her reflection in the mirror as she removed her dress and slipped into the bed in her petticoat.

"If you change your mind, Mr. Standish ..."

Ezra shook his head. It wasn't often he turned down a willing woman, but under the circumstances, no. "Sleep well."