Over the next year and a half Chris and Buck continued to fight side by side. They fought in such battles as Petersburg, South Mills, Totopotomoy Creek, and Fredericksburg. They won some, while tragically losing others. The war had been hard on everyone. Boys had joined up, only to change from naïve youths to war hardened men. No longer would they look at life through green eyes now, everything came with a price.
The Union Army looked in awe at the land before them. The Wilderness, as it had been called long before the war began, was just that a wilderness. Men had tried too tame to land, mostly miners and entrepreneurs, had cut paths into the land trying to tame it. But the Wilderness would not be tamed and the timber that had been cut grew back with a vengeance.
Despite the thick foliage, second growth trees, and rough terrain the men of the union army were ordered to march in two columns into the Wilderness. There were 175,000 men, all ready to face General Lee and his confederate army.
Chris and Buck rode side by side into the dense forest. They couldnt believe the environment in which they were entering. Generals Grant and Meade had informed them that they intended to push through the Wilderness and fight Lee on the other side. The idea was good, however, Lee had different plans. He intended to use the land to his benefit.
Early in the afternoon of the 5th of May 1864, the Battle of Wilderness started. The Cavalry had entered in the column to the east to, once again, fight the familiar confederate General A.P. Hill. Men fought not only the enemy but the land as well. The unfamiliar territory, rough terrain, and gunfire fog made the fighting almost unbearable. But General Grant pushed on, determined to force Lee and his army back.
The battle continued to rage on through the night only stopping briefly for moments of complete silence. As soon as the light entered the sky on May 6th the fighting continued on. Grants army had managed to cut Lees army almost in half at the southern most end of the fighting. That was until General Longstreet and his men showed up.
Chris watched as Longstreets men circled around and almost cut the Union Army in half. They slimmed their own numbers down covering more ground with fewer men. It was an amazing feat and both Chris and Buck understood how good the Confederate general truly was. He had done more for the South with fewer men, less money, and less support than all the Union Generals combined.
However, General Grant had different plans. In spite of Longstreets gallant effert to stop Burnside, Grant pressed on. The losses were great for the Union losing over 18,000 men in just two days but they managed to push Lee back. Therefore subsequently, it was the beginning of the end for the Confederate army.
When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 10, 1865 the Northern Army rejoiced. The war was over. Men whod left home when the war started were now heading back to their lands, their families, and their homes. Others found a new home within the army and they decided to stay servicing their country. Despite the conclusion of the war, no one who fought it would leave completely unscathed, and many would battle their inner memories the rest of their lives. Chris and Buck had enough and decided to leave.
Both men left the South without looking back. It was a time full of images that they wanted to forget. They rode hard through towns they didnt care to ever return to. They drank hard, caroused, and worked only when they had to. Their journey took them from Virginia to the Unorganized Territory.
They rode into Eagle Bend with one thing on their minds getting drunk. Buck, however, intended to find a shapely young woman to spend the evening with. Chris was basically on his own.
The saloon was dusty and filled with farmers and ranchers spending their evening gaming and drinking beer. Saloon girls strutted around with their hair bouncing off their shoulders and their hips purposely brushing up against potential customers. Beer was splashed off glasses and tables onto the floor. Spittoons had been carefully placed around the room but were rarely hit. Tobacco smoke filled the air as well as sweat and ladies toilet water, a combination that most men found irresistible.
Chris leaned against the bar as Buck quickly disappeared with a new conquest. Beer, he said to the bartender who was already filling his glass.
You plan on goin to the fair tomorrow? a young man asked, leaning against the bar next to Chris.
The tall blonde looked at the youth, wondering if he was talking to him, when he noticed a pair of dark gray eyes looking at him. Hell, Chris sighed, last time I was at a fair I nearly got my nose broke.
Must ave been some fair. The youth grinned and introduced himself as Lucas James. The two talked for a while before Lucas excused himself and went to join his friends at a back table.
Chris continued to watch the crowd wondering about the next town hed stop at. Would Buck continue to ride with him or would he join up with the Rangers like hed planned to? They wouldnt ride together forever but Chris was sure they would remain friends for a very long time. It wasnt an understatement to say that they had their share of disagreements, of course they did, but they never let those disagreements come between them.
The bartender told him where the best place was to get a room for the night and Chris disappeared through the batwing doors. The night air was thick, but clear and for an instant, it took him back to the hot summers in Indiana. Horses rested tied to the hitching posts outside the saloon, swatting flies with their tails and shaking their heads. The night fires had been lit and only a few stragglers walked through the town.
The brothel at the far end of town rang wild with excitement and Chris had to wonder what kind of a show Buck was giving the ladies. Slowly the Indiana farm boy made his way down the boardwalk and entered the hotel with the intention of getting a good nights sleep. He wasnt sure where tomorrow would take him, nor did he particularly care.
Buck slapped Chris on the shoulder as they stepped out onto the walkway. The smell of fresh baked pies filled the air and immediately Buck Wilmington, who was now growing a mustache because it made the ladies giggle, followed his nose leaving his friend who was finding it difficult to keep from laughing.
Buck had always told Chris that if he had one weakness it would be the soft touch of a beautiful woman, but Chris didnt think that was all. If someone was cooking or there was beer in the vicinity, then Buck would usually find it.
The other side of the street had tables, food, and ladies willing to share their fine cooking with all the men in town. Laughter could be heard all through town, as people from all walks of life came to the small fair. Next to the livery, men had gathered to exhibit their abilities at breaking young horses that a nearby rancher had provided.
Following in Bucks wake, Chris gaze swept over the entire spectacle before settling on a breathtaking sight. Hed never believed in angels until today. When he saw her his heart stopped. Her long brown hair had been pulled back away from her face and a few strands of curls swept across her shoulders. Her face, Chris decided, was the shape of a perfect heart, and when she smiled it lit up like an angels.
Pie? she asked, raising a plate for the handsome man now standing in front of her.
Chris jumped not realizing hed walked across the street and now stood at the womans table. He smiled shyly and took the plate from the outstretched hand. Uneasily, he looked around and found Buck with a plate of his own, two tables down, flirting with the cook. You make this? he asked, feeling like an idiot for asking such a stupid question.
My own recipe. She smiled proudly.
Perhaps it was the right question to ask.
I use honey instead of sugar, she continued.
Not giving your secret away, are you?
It was my mamas recipe before she died, so its not really my secret, she replied, as she patted the front of her apron. My names Sarah Connelly.
Im Chris, Chris Larabee.
You new around here? Sarah asked, trying to busy herself with her pies.
Yeah. Chris nodded.
Suddenly, Buck bumped into Chris wearing a smile and cherry pie filling on his jaw. Howdy maam. He removed his hat, noticing right away that hed interrupted something.
Hello, Sarah said, through giggles at the man who reminded her of a marionette. She watched as he sheepishly wiped the pie filling from his jaw and licked his fingers.
Buck, a woman with raven black hair and mischievous eyes whined, heading off down the street. You coming?
Thats my call to arms, Buck said with a gleam in his eyes. He backed off the walkway and fell off landing in a thud on his backside.
Sarah laughed quickly covering her mouth as Buck stood up. His grin never left his face as he patted his backside down with his hat and then took off after his latest conquest.
Youll have to pardon Bucks
Its okay, Sarah stopped him from continuing, it was good to laugh.
You should do it more often. Chris bit his lip wondering if hed said something he shouldnt have. A slight tinge of red appeared on the young womans cheeks.
Sarah continued to hand out slices of her pies as the crowd started to grow. Chris, without thinking about it, moved back behind the table and started helping her.
The first uncomfortable moments soon passed and Chris found himself telling jokes, stories, and making fun of himself like hed never done before. Sarah laughed so hard she had to stop him from saying anything more just so she could catch her breath.
It wasnt lost on anyone who knew Sarah that she was smitten. Some of the older women in town stood back behind their tables; serving their best cooking, all the while watching out for the young girl. They had been friends with her mother and they intended to do their part in looking out for her. The young man that had captured Sarahs attention had captured theirs as well. He was handsome and they understood his appeal. With his short blonde hair, dark green eyes, and a tall, lean muscular frame; it was strange that he wasnt married already.
It was good to see Sarah laugh again. After her mother died, she taken on the responsibility of caring for her father alone. Hank Connelly wasnt an invalid, but when it came to cooking, cleaning, and managing the books he could get more confused than a day old calf. So Sarah, being the dutiful daughter, stood by her father, helping him with lifes normal routine.
Sarah, the young womans father called out to her from further down the boardwalk. He was a tall, determined man and he saw the threat imposed in the young man standing with his beloved child.
Papa, Sarah smiled, disarmingly, this is Chris, hes new in town I was telling him to look up Mr. Furgus for a job. She tried to ignore the disapproving look her father was giving her.
Get your things and go to the wagon, he demanded, leaving no room for an argument. He then watched as his daughter picked up her pie pans and without looking up she rushed past him in embarrassment.
Chris stood his ground as he watched the young woman clear her table and rush away.
I dont want no drifter gettin any ideas about my daughter. Hank stood in front of the young blonde who was an inch or so taller than himself. I wont have it, he snarled.
Your daughter is old enough to make her own decisions, Mr. Connelly. There wasnt a threat behind Chris words it was just a statement.
Well see, Sarahs father turned abruptly and followed in his daughters footsteps.
Chris followed him with his eyes, until his gaze rested on the sight of Sarah sitting on the seat of the wagon trying desperately not to cry. When her father slipped up onto the seat next to her she gave him a forced smiled and then glanced back at Chris. With a show of understanding the lean blonde tipped his hat to the young woman who had, in a matter of minutes, captured his heart and soul. She smiled warmly at him and he watched as the wagon slowly exited the town.
Chris was home.
Buck entered the saloon and grabbed the bottle of whiskey that was sitting in front of his long time friend. So who was that pretty little filly that had you all tied up in knots? he asked, flipping a chair around so he could rest his arms on the back.
Chris couldnt hide his smile. Her names Sarah Connelly. She really did have a way about her that made him want to learn more about the things she enjoyed, what she did in her spare time, and what she was thinking, both good and bad.
Well, Buck knowingly smiled, by the look on your face shes got you hooked. He took another sip of the whiskey and looked around the small saloon. Looks like a right nice place to stay for awhile. He made it sound more like an idea than an obvious suggestion.
Theres a rancher not far from town looking for a few hired hands by the name of Wade Furgus.
Sounds promisin. How much he payin? Buck looked around the saloon and smiled when one of the working girls made her way to the table.
Im riding out there in the morning. Chris looked at Buck knowing he was only half listening. But that didnt matter to him. Buck would one day go his own way and for now Chris knew where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. For the first time in years he was feeling hopeful wanting more than anything to settle down and raise his own family.
Ill go with ya, Buck responded, pulling the saloon girl down onto his lap. She squealed with excitement and it was only a few moments before the two of them disappeared.
Chris watched them go all the while shaking his head at his friends antics. That was Buck, never focused on one thing longer than he had to and never, ever without a woman.
Wade Furgus hired both Chris and Buck on the spot. He needed men to help him start getting his horses and cattle ready for winter. The ranch was large with corrals and pastures that seemed to go on forever. Bunkhouses and sheds sat next to the elegant home that had been painted white, three gables were on the top floor and curtains periodically peeked out the windows.
Furgus and his two sons, David the oldest and Peter the youngest, ran the ranch while his wife Marie ran the household. They were a lovely family both on the inside and the outside. They attended church every Sunday and no matter what they were expected to be inside the main house at exactly six oclock for dinner, no exceptions.
While working on the ranch Chris had managed to find a small piece of property that was not far from Eagle Bend. It needed work, but it would make a nice place to raise a few horses and start family. So he purchased the small farm with the money hed made after selling his fathers place in Indiana. With the money he earned working for Furgus, he started building a small house and corral. He intended to ask Sarah for her hand and he didnt want her to say yes and then not have a home to bring her to. Sarah was something special and he wanted to make sure that she had everything she wanted or needed.
Without the permission of Sarahs father the two young people continued to see each other. Sarah would take an afternoon and go riding and meet up with Chris. Other times he would sneak in at night while Hank was in town with the boys.
It was a Friday afternoon when Chris came to ask Sarah for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, Hank Connelly found them together in the barn.
Papa, Sarah gasped, seeing the riffle her father was carrying. She stepped in front of Chris, wanting to protect him.
Step away from him, Sarah, Hank ordered, pointing the rifle in Chris direction.
Mr. Connelly. Chris stepped forward and pushed Sarah gently out of the way. This doesnt have to be this way.
I dont want no rough cowboy carousin with my daughter. Hank cocked the hammer back on the rifle.
Papa, Sarah said again, trying to break the increasing tension as she stepped forward and grabbed her fathers arm. Chris and I want to get married. She smiled happily.
Get to the house, her father ordered again. Now! he snapped, when she was going to say something else.
Sarah jumped at his outrage and ran for the house. She intended to pack a bag and leave for good. She was in love with Chris and she couldnt deny it, not to her father not to anyone. She knew Hank wouldnt kill Chris, but she wouldnt put it past her father to fill her love with gravel or something of that nature.
You, Hank spoke in a low threatening tone, get off my land and leave my daughter alone I wont have her marryin a man who dont know the meanin of the word.
I wont leave her, Chris stated.
You best get, boy, Hank warned again, bringing the rifle up to his shoulder.
Chris stood his ground until Buckshot pushed him from behind causing him to move sideways. The gun went off and the pellets hit him on his backside and left hip. Hank cocked the hammer once again and threatened to fire unless Chris rode out.
Sarah ran out of the house when she heard the shot and rushed for the barn. Her father stood near the exit doors on the far side of the barn watching the cowboy who wanted to take his daughter from him ride away slumping slightly in his saddle.
Chris! Sarah yelled, rushing past her father.
Hank reached out and grabbed her arm stopping her from going any farther. Its for the best, he said, watching her.
For who? she snapped, pulling forcefully away from him. Tears streamed down her face and with an exhausted sigh, she ran back toward the house.
Buck stepped out of the cabin in time to see Chris riding up slightly hunched over the saddle horn. The ladies man threw out the last bit of coffee and walked up to the corral as Chris slowly dismounted.
Howd it go?
Chris took a deep breath while leaning against his horse. Bastard shot me. He pulled his hand away from his hip and noticed the small amount of blood on the palm.
Buck choked back a chuckle and took a closer look at Chris rump. Yep, he shot ya. Should have known he would Chris youre movin in on his territory.
Sarahs his daughter, not his damned property. He grabbed his hip feeling it burn.
Shit, he only shot ya with rock salt. Buck chuckled again. He grabbed Chris under his shoulder and helped him into the house.
Still hurts like hell.
Buck threw a pot of water on the stove and grinned when Chris pulled his britches down. Red welts covered his hip and left buttock. Only a few shards had punctured the skin but it still looked painful.
So what are you gonna do? Buck handed Chris a rag that had been boiled.
Im gonna ride back out there and get her, what in the hell else am I gonna do!
Never thought Id see you this stuck on someone, Buck said, watching as Chris carefully placed the cloth over his hip. What do you need me to do?
Keep boilin the water, Chris responded with a chuckle. Thought for sure Sarahs ol man was goin to take my head off. He hissed in pain when newly moistened salt connected with a fresh wound.
A knock at the door caused Buck to jump up and look out the window while Chris tried frantically to pull his pants up. Dishes hit the floor and the scraping of chairs against wood could be heard outside the cabin. Buck motioned for Chris to hurry. When he finally finished Buck opened up the door with a smile on his face.
Buck, Sarah said, through a sad smile.
Sarah? Chris questioned, pressing past Buck who decided to make his way toward the corral allowing the two lovebirds time alone. What are you doin here?
Did you mean it when you asked me? she asked, referring to his proposal.
Yes, he responded, still not completely understanding what was happening.
How soon? She looked into his blue eyes and saw nothing but honesty and concern.
What about your father?
This isnt about him. She loved her father but she saw what he was becoming. After the death of her mother, he changed and became wildly controlling and possessive. At eighteen, she knew nobody would be good enough to marry her. She was already considered passed the marrying age but despite that she was madly in love with the man standing before her. Never in her life did she feel the way she did at this moment in time and she wasnt about to let anything come between that. This is about us.
Theres a judge in Black Creek. Its a days ride from here but I know hell marry us, Chris said with more excitement than he anticipated he would. He new he wanted to marry her he just didnt think it would be this easy. He wasnt scared like he thought he would be.
Sarah smiled and her face lit up brighter than Chris had ever seen it before. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Lets go.
Okay then. Chris grabbed her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Well leave now.
The wedding was small and quite simple. Buck stood up for Chris while one of Sarahs mothers friends stood up for her. She was dressed in a simple light blue dress that was accentuated with embroidery, and, as a touch, she added wild flowers stuck in her hair. Chris had never seen her look more beautiful. For the first time in fourteen years, since the death of his father, he felt whole again. Sarah had managed to fill that void in his life and oh how he loved her for it.
Buck, with his usual finesse, whooped and hollered after the wedding was over. He could hardly control himself due to all the excitement in the air. Hed even kissed the widow Harris, who stood up for Sarah. His best friend had just married the prettiest girl in the world and he couldnt have been happier for him.
Chris gave his new wife a hug and kissed her gently on the lips. Sarah seemed to glow. She was sad that her father wasnt there to share the day with her, but she didnt dwell on that. Instead, she focused on her new husband, the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She wanted to bear his children and grow old with him.
Chris took her hand and they stepped out of the courthouse together as Mr. and Mrs. Larabee. Mrs. Harris gave Sarah a hug and watched as her new husband helped her up onto the wagon. Buck tipped his hat to the widow, then mounted up on his horse and followed the newlyweds out of town.
Buck continued to work for Wade Furgus, while Chris worked the small herd of horses hed managed to procure. Hed bought six well-bred mares from his former boss and mated them with Buckshot who was now retired and enjoying his time as a stud. With Bucks help hed been able to capture a few mustangs, a few he kept and bred, while the others he broke and sold.
Sarah had managed to turn the cabin into a home after only a few days. Dust particles were replaced with vases and wild flowers. Gunnysacks that had hung over the windows were replaced with lace curtains. Things that made a home a home were quickly found over the fireplace mantle and on the counters. Herbs and flowers hung from the window near the kitchen drying in the sun.
When she hung the laundry out to dry, shed sing songs that a woman of standing would never utter. But they were the only songs she knew because her father had sung them. At dinnertime, shed spend her time in the kitchen preparing her delicious meals. It always amazed Chris that every time she made her apple pie Buck would show up.
Sunday nights were always Chris favorite. The aroma of chicken and dumplings seemed to seep through the wood cabin and fill the night air. Chris never had to be told to come to dinner on Sunday, as that particular dish was his favorite.
Months went by rather quickly and it was a Friday evening when Sarah informed Chris that they would be expecting a child the following spring. Chris was ecstatic. He broke additional horses and, with Bucks help, took more to Mexico. It made for fewer trips and Chris didnt like to be away for any longer than necessary.
Buck was just as thrilled when he found out Sarah was with child. Hed seen the way she brought Chris out of his roguish ways. No longer was he moving from town to town yearning for a fistfight. It was amazing that hed never broken his nose or lost a tooth for that matter. Buck did miss the womanizing they used to do together, but just because Chris had stopped didnt mean he had to, so he didnt. There had been times during their travels when the two men had to keep a safe distance from each other. Sometimes Chris would become so melancholy that he couldnt be around anyone. Memories of his dead parents and siblings would suppress his very being and hed drink until he was in such a stupor that it was Buck who had to get him out of bad situations. Usually those bad situations ended with some kind of a fight.
There was no denying that the tall blonde could shoot, but he wasnt as fast as the men who killed for a living. And Buck, well, he was always good to have in a fight. Things changed for Chris when he had met Sarah. That void in his life was gone, filled by a brown haired, brown-eyed girl who loved him in return. He cleaned up his life, rarely going to town for a drink, always working, and trying to improve himself, despite the odds that were against him. Frank Connelly had made it clear that he didnt want his daughter being courted by a wild mangy cowboy. Sarah, however, didnt care. She had fallen in love with him the moment she laid eyes on him. She loved the way hed look at her, the way hed make her laugh, and the way hed open up to her. They shared their dreams, hopes, and fears with each other.
Buck had even caught Chris wearing an apron while doing the dishes, something he would have sworn hed never see. The more he saw the two of them together, the more he realized that he would have to move on. At twenty-seven, Buck still had a long road to haul so he decided that after the baby was born hed leave.
The winter months seemed to get colder as the New Year got closer. Sarahs belly was swelling and she complained about her fat ankles, her strange cravings for hot peppers, and her constant running to the outhouse. Chris would sit back and laugh as she continually spiced up her meals trying desperately to quench her hunger.
Chris suffered through the bad breath, mood swings, and Sarahs determination to learn new songs despite not being able to read music. Sometimes all he could do was laugh, while other times he looked at her in awe. He was learning slowly the rules of being married: the true meaning of certain words, an argument was never truly over until he lost, and never-ever respond to a situation with an I told you so.
Sarah wasnt the only one who demanded that certain things be done a certain way. One of the first things Chris had taught her to do was shoot a rifle. He didnt want her alone at the ranch without any protection. Hed also taught her how to check the horses tails for changes in weather. If there was a storm coming, the horses tails would spread out from the static electricity in the air. More than anything, he just wanted to be near her and he particularly loved it when shed come out to the corral and watch him work.
Sarah rolled over onto her back and smiled when she noticed her husband looking at her. The sky was clear and the stars seemed close enough to touch. The moonlight reflected off Chris face as he watched his wife. Despite the cold night the cabin was warm and Sarah moved over on the bed and pulled the covers aside.
How long have you been awake? she asked softly.
I was thinking, she paused, gently caressing her swelling belly, if the baby is a girl Id like to name her Ruth after my mother. She looked at Chris and smiled.
And if its a boy?
Adam after your father.
Chris stood up and crawled into bed beside his wife. He touched her stomach and smiled. I think that sounds fine. He brought her hand to his mouth and he kissed it gently. What if its twins?
I feel like its triplets, she said with a laugh.
Ill have to build a bigger house. He lay back and wrapped his arms around her as she crawled up against his shoulder.
You will anyway. She smiled rubbing his chest.
I figure I will. He kissed her forehead and waited until her breathing leveled out before he looked out the window over his small bit of land. His home would be growing and hed do the best he could for his wife and children, no matter the cost.
Buck slid off his old horse and looped the reins over the corral fence. Chris was pulling off his saddle from a young mustang colt hed been working. The animal breathed heavily but continued to stand perfectly still as his handler quickly rubbed him down. April was only a few days away, but the weather was warm even though spring had just arrived.
You come for some apple pie? Chris asked through a smile.
Damn right. Buck grinned, slapping his long time friend on the shoulder as he exited the corral.
When the sound of breaking glass came from the cabin, Chris took off at a run with Buck right on his heels. They burst in through the front door and found Sarah grasping her belly while leaning against the table.
Ill fetch Dr. Myers, Buck said, already out the door, rushing toward his horse.
Babys coming, Sarah gasped, grabbing onto Chris for support.
Everythings going to be fine, Chris encouraged, helping his wife over to the bed.
Her water had broken and the contractions were coming hard. It was happening so fast. Chris did his best trying to comfort his wife who was in agony. When the pains came, she screamed and squeezed his hand with every ounce of strength she had. He continually gave her water and wiped her face it was all he could do to keep from breaking down. He hated seeing her like this. When the pains seized, he did what he could to make sure everything was ready for when the doctor arrived.
Sarah screamed again and Chris rushed back to her side. The door to the cabin opened and Doctor Myers stepped through like the archangel himself. Buck stood in the doorway, too afraid to enter the house. He watched as the doctor moved past Chris and with complete professionalism, took control of the situation. Immediately, Chris and Buck were asked to leave and ordered to wait outside until they were needed.
Chris paced from one end of the porch to the other. Buck, on many times, had to stop him from entering the home. It was Sarahs cries that caused the tall blonde to almost crash through the door. Buck had never seen his friend in such a state. Not once during the war did Chris break down, show his emotions, or talk about the pain or fear he felt. Now, however, it was written all over his face.
When a loud slap and a babys cry echoed throughout the cabin Buck couldnt keep Chris from entering. Hesitantly, Buck followed.
Chris, Dr. Myers smiled handing the new father his son. Congratulations.
Chris took the child tentatively and looked at him, an amazed expression adorning his face. He didnt hear the instructions the doctor gave him or Sarah, instead he sat next to his exhausted wife and comforted his family. Buck, ever the best friend, listened to the instructions and helped the doctor collect his things. It was hard to believe that Chris was a daddy.
Adam cried until his mother gently took him and held him to her breast. Chris continued to watch.
Buck helped the doctor leave and then he stood in the doorway, watching the Larabee family. Feeling like he was intruding, he closed the front door and then grabbed the old rocker that was on the porch. He didnt want to leave in case he was needed.
Adam soon earned the nickname Pudge, courtesy of Buck, because of his chubby cheeks and rolls of baby fat. Sarah, in turn, had started referring to Chris best friend as Uncle Buck. Despite not being blood related the ladies man was family. He was thrilled; not since his mother had passed had he known the affection of a family.
Chris took to carving small animals for his new son after dinner. After seeing what he was doing, Sarah request that he start working on Noahs ark. Hed even gone to town and ordered a book, so he would have an idea of what all the animals on the ark looked like. After all, Adam only needed so many horses.
Hank, after hearing about Adams birth, cleaned and repaired the crib hed made for Ruth, just before Sarah had been born. He dropped it off while his daughters family wasnt home. It was his unspoken way of saying congratulations. Sarah treasured it all the while hoping that it was a gesture of reconciliation.
After a couple of weeks, it was becoming obvious that Adam was going to take after his father. His eyes were just as green and Sarah could tell that his bald head would soon be filled with blonde hair. He even took after his father in temperament: slightly moody when he didnt get his way, the hungrier he got the louder he got, and always up before dawn.
Sarah dried the last dish and wiped a few stray hairs away from her face. She glanced at her son who slept peacefully in his crib. She smiled lovingly at him then looked up and met the blue eyes of her husband. What are you looking at? she asked softly, feeling suddenly self-conscious. She smoothed the front of her dress and removed her apron.
Everything, Chris replied with honest eyes. He watched as his wife bowed her head after a tinge of red hitting her cheeks. There wasnt one thing about her that he didnt love.
Chris stood up when he heard a soft knock at the front door. Sarah went about the kitchen getting things ready for the night while Chris excused himself from the house to have a talk with Buck.
The night air was crisp, as the two friends approached the fence. The horses stood silently in one large cluster in the center of the corral as the two friends approached the fence. It wasnt unusual for Buck to stop by after hed finished his work at the ranch, but for some reason Chris knew tonight was different. The usually verbose cowboy, was unusually quiet as a blanket of seriousness covered him.
Buck took his hat off and looked at the horses in the corral. Im headin off to Texas come mornin.
Texas? Chris asked, slightly shocked.
Figured I might try wearin a badge for a while.
Rangers? Chris watched, as Buck nodded his head. Never figured you for a lawman.
Buck laughed. Well, you know a lady cant refuse a man with a badge.
I didnt think you needed any help where women were concerned?
Well, now Ill have that extra bit of charm that the ladies wont be able to resist. Buck laughed again but there was sadness in his voice. I figured I needed to move on, at least for a short while.
You plan on comin back? Chris was sorry to see him leave.
For as long as Sarahs makin apple pie.
Shes going to be sorry to see you leave. Chris rested his arms on the top rail of the fence.
You married yourself a damn fine woman Chris. I can only hope Ill be as lucky and that boy of yours he couldnt finish the statement.
Hell, Chris swore under his breath. You and me have been through some times thats for sure and I reckon weve got a bunch more ahead of us.
I should get, I promised Chloe that Id spend my last night in town with her. Buck put his hat back on his head and then started walking toward his horse.
Sarah stepped out of the house with Adam in one arm and a knapsack in the other. Buck walked up to her and gave her a kiss on her cheek then stroked the child in her arms with a loving touch.
There are four sandwiches, a few apples, and a fresh apple pie in here. She handed him the knapsack with a smile spread across her face. She didnt have to be told that Buck was leaving she just knew. Id give you some paper to write us with but Im afraid it wouldnt be used properly. She touched his arm and stifled a laugh.
Cant get anythin past you. Buck laughed and tied the knapsack to the saddle horn.
Well expect you for Christmas, Sarah made her suggestion sound more like a demand as she wrapped Adams blanket tighter under his chin.
Be careful, Buck. Chris clasped his best friends hand in a firm shake then without warning gave him a hug.
Buck tipped his hat, unable to say another word. He slipped into his saddle and smiled down at the three people that meant more to him than anything. Take care while Im gone. He tipped his hat once more then rode off.
Chris wrapped an arm around Sarahs shoulders.
Hell be back, Sarah stated confidently.
Something in his gut told him that his wife was right she was always right. But hed never tell her that.
Chris couldnt believe the amount of time that had past. Adam was crawling and Sarah was having a hard time keeping him out from under her feet. He played and cooed all the time. The only time he would get grumpy was when dinner wasnt right on time. His green eyes mirrored his fathers and his hair was almost white like Chris. Thankfully Chris didnt stand up on end like his sons.
Sarah continued to teach herself simple childrens songs and many times Adam would bounce up and down in his crib or on the floor, as she sang around the house. The little rag dog that she had made him was beginning to wear out from all the slobbering and constant washings it endured. Adam was a handful but he was a joy to have around.
Chris would ride around in the corral on one of his horses with his boy sitting in front of him. There was never a happier child than Adam when he was riding with his father. His face lit up like a light on the darkest night when Chris took him out to visit the large animals. At first, Sarah had been worried, but that worry was soon quenched when she realized her son was just as safe in Chris care as he was in hers.
The young couple had decided they wanted to have more children. Adam was growing so fast that they both believed hed be breaking colts before Chris turned 30. But having more children wasnt going to be easy. After three miscarriages, a disappointed Sarah decided to wait and try at a later time. The powers that be seemed to have other ideas about the Larabee family growing. However, the thought of trying again was never far from their minds.
As winter turned into spring and spring into summer, Adam was walking and talking like most fourteen month olds. Sarah would lay out a blanket in the yard and together they watched, as Chris broke his young colts. The young mother would laugh and sing as her son clapped his hands and kicked his feet. He was growing into a beautiful boy.
Buck didnt make it for Christmas, the first one after Adam was born, or the next few for that matter. He sent letters telling Chris and his family about his many exploits and adventures as a Texas Ranger. It was obvious in his writing that he wanted to come visit, but being a lawman was keeping him busy. Chris understood. Life seemed to be flying by, for not just the ladies man, but for the rest of them as well.
Chris sat at the table going over the books for the ranch while his wife put a three-year-old Adam to bed. The ranch was growing and so was his reputation as a horseman. Buckshot was turning out to be a great stud, producing foals that were in high demand.
Sarah stood up and straightened her skirt, then walked over to the table and started rubbing Chris stiff shoulders. She knew the pressure he was under and wanted to help. He worked from sun up to sunset working with his horses and transferring them all across the territory.
Why dont you go into town and hire someone, Sarah suggested.
Im gonna have to, he sighed leaning back in his chair to fully enjoy his wifes ministrations.
A warm wind blew the lace curtain from the window. The hairs on the back of Chris neck stood up and he looked immediately for his rifle and the positions of his family. Sarah jumped when Chris pushed her toward the bed where Adam was sleeping, completely unaware of what was happening.
Stay here, Chris ordered. He pulled his old rifle from above the fireplace and loaded it. Turning, he handed it to his wife. Ill be right back, he said, trying to sound convincing. Quickly, he grabbed his pistol and dimmed the lamp that was on the table.
Be careful, Sarah whispered holding tightly onto the rifle.
Chris smiled reassuringly then looked out the window. He wasnt sure what was out there, it was just a feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was late and it was enough of a feeling to cause him worry. The moon wasnt full, but the night sky was clear.
Slowly, he made his way outside and noticed immediately that the horses had their ears perked up and were nickering softly. There was definitely a strange horse in the area; that much was for sure. Chris pointed his weapon at the unfamiliar gray horse that rested next to the corral. Chris called out for the rider to make his appearance, but no effort was made. As he got closer he got to the animal, he realized the rider was slumped over the saddle horn across the neck of the tall gray gelding.
Buck? Chris said, more out of disbelief than anything else. He stepped closer to the horse that simply reached out with his nose to smell the stranger. Shit, he gasped reaching up to pull his friend off the horse. Buck moaned, but didnt regain consciousness as Chris laid him on the ground. Sarah!
Sarah jumped when she heard Chris desperate call. She checked Adam to make sure he was still asleep and then rushed out the door toward her husband. She saw the worry on his face and when she reached his side she gasped when she noticed the amount of blood caked to the left side of Bucks shirt and chest.
Hes alive, Sarah confirmed, while opening up the blood-soaked shirt. The bullet wound caused the couple to look at each other in question. Sarah pulled the makeshift bandage away from the wound and immediately started giving orders. The wound was high on Bucks left side, just below the bottom rib. We need to get him inside, she said, grabbing Chris arm and looking him in the eye.
Chris nodded, then immediately moved to take Buck over his shoulder and headed for the house. Sarah put water on to boil and began cutting clean sheets into bandages, while Chris got Buck settled into bed. A fever was already raging through the lawmans body, causing the couple to worry.
The bullet had passed through Bucks side, but infection had set in. The smell of herbal teas and poultices filled the small house. Chris saddled up Buckshot and took off at a fast gallop, intending to find the doctor leaving Sarah to care for his best friend. If anyone could handle the situation, it would be her.
Sarah cleaned the wound as best as she knew how. She continually wiped Bucks fevered brow and checked her son who still slept peacefully nearby. She had to wonder how the ladies man came to be in a position such as this and at the same time she was feeling guilty for being thankful that it wasnt Chris in his place.
It wasnt long before Dr. Myers arrived with Chris close on his heels. Thankfully, the good doctor had been in his clinic in town. With Sarahs help, the doctor quickly took care of Bucks wounds. His main concern was infection but there wasnt a lot that he could do about it at this point in time. The injury was at least two days old and for some unknown reason, it hadnt killed Buck yet. Dr. Meyers was hopeful that it wouldnt, that coupled with Sarahs nursing abilities, he felt his patient would pull through.
Sara continued to wash the bandages shed taken off Bucks wound. Adam constantly moved about the room, curious about the stranger who was sleeping in the bed just off the kitchen. When the strangers hand moved Adam stood still, as though waiting for a surprise to pop out. Slowly, the small boy made his way to the bed with his stuffed horse clutched tightly in his grasp. Sarah continued with her cleaning, not noticing what her son was doing.
Adam crawled up onto the bed and stared at the stranger with questioning eyes. Slowly, the man who his mother had called his Uncle, moved.
Buck brought his hand up over his stomach and paused, not knowing if he had enough energy to do anything more at the moment. His head hurt and a burning pain in his side was becoming more annoying as time went by. He brought his hand up and wiped his face. Slowly, he opened his eyes and tried to focus on one thing.
Adam smiled when the stranger looked at him.
Adam, honey, leave Uncle Buck alone, Sarah, said with a smile when she saw her son sitting on the bed.
Buck squeezed his eyes shut and looked at the small figure on the bed. Adam, Buck tried to reason. He was sure that was the name he heard. When the boy came into full view, the ladies man smiled. Curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and chubby cheeks looked down on him and he smiled. Pudge? Buck said with a hoarse voice.
Momma, Adam spoke up, looking over his shoulder to his mother.
Sarah looked up and walked over to the bed. Buck, she said, smiling down at her friend. Let me get you some water.
Buck looked up and smiled. He didnt know how he made it here, but it was good to be back. He remembered being ambushed in the Texas territory, but that was about all. Things were still a bit foggy as he tried to clear his mind. Suddenly, Sarah was back at his side, helping to prop himself up so he could drink out of the cup shed gotten for him.
How long ave I been here? Buck asked, lowering the cup with shaky hands.
Three days, Sarah moved to sit on the bed next to her son. She pulled the sheet down, unintentionally startling her patient.
Buck pulled his hand across the sheet and his eyes widened.
Never known you to be shy. Sarah grinned.
No offence Sarah, but youre married to my best friend.
I just need to check your bandage, nothing else. She touched his arm and finally, he relented, allowing her to tend his wound. You gave us quite a scare when you first came in.
I was hoping you could tell us that, Sarah replied, pulling the sheets back to their original position.
When the door to the house opened, three sets of eyes landed on Chris, who was covered head to foot in dust. Buck, Chris said with a little more enthusiasm than hed intended. Bout time you woke up. He walked over to the bed and clasped Bucks outstretched hand.
Hell Chris, you know me why work when you can sleep.
I thought Chris stopped, realizing Adam was looking up at him with innocent eyes. Sarah stifled a laugh and then stood up, intent on making something for Buck to eat before he fell back to sleep. So what happened?
Buck wiped his face and leaned back against the pillows. Cant remember much, he looked at Adam, who seemed to be content chewing on his stuffed horse. I was headin up from Houston after I turned my badge in. He looked at Chris, who responded with a surprised glance. Being a lawman wasnt what it was cut out to be anyway, seems a gang of outlaws saw fit to rob me.
Sarah handed Buck a bowl of soup, then picked Adam up off the bed, leaving the two men to talk.
Howd you make it up here? Chris asked, grabbing a chair to sit in.
Just remember somebody coming up from behind me. Then this feelin of someone stickin a brandin iron through my side when I came to, I remember getting up on ol Brewster and thinkin I needed to get across the border.
Damn good thing you did. Chris leaned back and watched as Buck finished his soup. Didnt think you were going to make it there for a while. Chris shook his head. Whyd you give up the badge?
Saw some things I didnt particularly like, Buck didnt sugar coat the issue.
Chris nodded his head in understanding. Buck wasnt ready to tell him the details and he wasnt sure if he ever would be, but that was okay with him. He watched as his longest and best friend sank farther back into the pillows as the call of sleep beckoned to him. Chris grabbed the soup bowl before it fell from the bed. Get some sleep, Ive got enough work here for ten men and I need you healthy, he said with a smile, then he headed back outside to let Buck rest.
Buck smiled sinking deeper into the comfortable bed. Hed really missed Sarah, Pudge, and Chris. For now he was where he belonged.
Buck healed quickly mainly due to Sarahs insistence. Shed been adamant that the former lawman not to do anything that could re-injure himself. Which meant Chris had to do all the breaking while Buck did all the groundwork. They were defiantly a team and Chris needed him.
In the three years the ladies man was gone, Chris hadnt realized how much hed truly missed his longtime friend. Having another man around enabled not just Sarah and Adam, but others as well, the ability to watch Buck and Chris interact. They were a lot like brothers. It was obvious who was older. Chris liked things done his way and Buck did his best to comply but, like most siblings, they had a tendency to argue.
Buck managed to get a room in town. He claimed it was because he wanted to be near his lady friends, but Sarah knew it was because he didnt want to be overly bothersome. She always made sure he had at least one big meal during the day because she didnt want him going home hungry. Chris had offered him a place to stay out at the ranch, but hed refused. He liked the smell of women and beer and Chris understood.
Between the two of them, they managed to break and train many horses over the next few years. Many of the young horses were ones that hed bred; several were crossed between Buckshot and mustang mares. The combination seemed to be an excellent one. Ranchers, from not just the local area but clear down into Mexico, had contacted the young rancher telling him of their desire for good mares, potential studs, and cutting stock. Chris did his best to comply with their needs.
Adam soon grew out of his nickname but Buck always reminded him of it. The bigger the boy got, the more he began to look like his father. Sarah saw a little bit of her own father in her son, in the way he would smile and the way his ears turned red when he knew he was in trouble. Buck was his favorite uncle and not just because he was his only one, but because he was almost like an older brother who protected his younger with the utmost intensity. Fishing trips werent all that uncommon, food fights even more so, and scary stories that sometimes caused Adam to sleep with his parents. They were things that siblings usually did together and it helped that Buck was just a kid at heart.
Adam was growing up so fast. Three days after his sixth birthday, Chris and Buck headed back down into Mexico. They were taking six mares to a well-known horse breeder who lived just across the border. Chris anticipated being gone for about two weeks, a slightly longer trip than usual.
Chris finished saddling his black gelding, Mud, affectionately named after Adams first word. Buck rode around the corral, giving his nephew one last ride before they left. Sarah stood by the gelding, next to Chris making sure he had everything he needed, food, water, and clothing. She was never happy to see him leave but she always looked forward to his return.
Adam ran to his fathers side and Chris picked him up and gave him a hug then he reached down and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek. Sarah squeezed his arm. then took Adam and together they stood on the porch of the house and waved goodbye to Chris and Buck.
Sarah rubbed her belly and clasped her sons hand she missed her husband already.
The ride to Mexico was long and hot. Both Chris and Buck stopped in the border town known as San Carlos. A large church rested in the center of town with a cross just outside the door and a sign inviting everyone with a need inside. A few friars dressed in dark brown robes worked casually on a wagon that had lost a wheel while a group of children stood nearby watching and waiting. Chris and Buck nodded their heads in agreement before uttering a single word. Saloon. They were in need of a good drink and some good food. When they got to the livery they found Mr. Araguen dismounting his tall gray gelding. When he saw Chris, he stepped forward with a smile and a look of pleasure adorned his face. He was happy with the horses the two Americans had brought him.
The exchange was simple and direct. Mr. Araguen was very pleased with the horses. They were strong animals with excellent conformation and docile temperaments. An agreement was made between the two businessmen and Chris soon found himself looking at the possibility of a yearly contract for six mares every year, sight unseen.
Buck slapped his friend on the shoulder as they headed for the cantina to grab some beer and food before starting on their trip back to Sarah and Adam.
When a little Mexican woman stepped out of the shadows, Buck was in heaven. Her eyes met his and his heart jumped out of his chest. She brought the two American cowboys each a beer and took their order for food then disappeared behind the curtain that was hiding the kitchen.
That is a beautiful woman, Buck said in awe. The swing of her hips and bounce of her hair had grabbed his very being.
Buck, Chris shook his head, knowing what was coming. Keep your bean in your pants, I want to head out before sunset.
Hell Chris, Buck gasped, keeping his eyes on the curtain that would once again expose the raven-haired beauty it hid. One extra night aint goin to hurt nothin besides weve been ridin hard for six days I say we need an extra night of he paused, thinking of the right word, relaxation.
I got four mares that need servicing, three that are due to foal anytime, and small herd of mustangs that need to be caught. Chris took a long sip of his beer and ran a weary hand over his face. He was tired.
One night, Buck almost begged. He never took his eyes off the curtain as it opened and once again the pretty little woman with eyes so large they took up half her face came out with two plates of hot food.
Chris watched as Buck worked his magic on the young woman. Sure enough it was only a few minutes before she was seated happily on Wilmingtons lap wearing a smile that could light up the night. Bucks pleading eyes met Chris and without a real conformation of the fact they would stay an extra day, the ladies man threw his new conquest over his shoulders and headed off somewhere to be alone. Chris shook his head watching them leave. Buck was never going to change it was just a part of who he was.
Slowly Chris finished his meal and then found a room for the night. What could one extra night hurt?
The trip home seemed just as long, if not longer for Chris who couldnt wait to see his family. The heavy rain wasnt helping and Buck had told him about the woman hed met several different times and each time the story got a little wilder.
When they rode up over the last crest the sky was filled with gray clouds. It was the black smoke up in the distance that made the hair on the back of Chris neck stand up. He kicked his horse into high speed racing for his home. Buck was close on his heels.
SARAH! Chris called desperately, jumping off his horse before the animal had the chance to come to a complete stop. His house was in flames. SARAH! he called again frantically, hoping for some answer.
Buck jumped off Brewster and called for Sarah and Adam but felt in his gut that they were too late.
SARAH! Chris called again, trying desperately to get close enough to the house so that he could see in. ADAM!
Buck looked around and noticed the horses were gone, someone had let them out, and the shed had been ransacked. Chris! he yelled rushing toward his friend who was franticly trying to get inside the burning cabin. Buck grabbed him across the middle and pulled him away from the raging flames.
SARAH! Chris continued to scream, fighting to get out of Bucks grasp.
Theyre gone, Chris! Buck screamed, pulling him to the ground trying to keep him from killing himself. Were too late, Chris .Were too late, he said softly, tightening the awkward grasp he had on the weak struggling man. The realization had finally struck the blonde and the fight in him left, replaced by a sense of shock.
SARAH, Chris called one last time, before sitting back on his haunches, not paying much attention to the arms that were wrapped around his shoulder or waist. He knew in his heart that Sarah and Adam were dead he could feel it. Tears streaked down his cheeks, as he leaned back into Bucks embrace and cried. For the first time since his fathers death he cried.
Buck held on tightly as sobs racked Chris frame. It was the only thing he could do to feel useful. His own tears blurred his vision of the house that had become his home. And the woman and child who made him feel like family.
The fire showed no mercy as the wood frame finally succumbed to the abuse. Buck and Chris just watched unable to move. Confusion, pain, and anger filled both men as they watched the house fall into itself. The sound of creaking wood, breaking glass, and the roar of the fire filled the night air. Everything Chris had worked so hard for was gone, taking his future with it.
Sometime during the night, Buck had thrown a blanket over his friends shoulders. It wasnt cold out, but Chris couldnt stop shaking. Buck continued to sit behind him with his arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders. It was as if Buck was afraid Chris would break if he let him go.
There was no rhyme or reason for their deaths. Someone had just killed them. Buck had left Chris long enough to find several tracks heading east just after the sun made its first appearance over the horizon. Tracks of the people who killed his adopted family, he was sure of it. Thankfully, the rain hadnt washed them away.
Chris heart beat wildly in his chest as he slowly got to his feet. Smoldering ashes and wood filled his line of vision. The frame of the left side of the house was still intact, as well as the fireplace that had been on the right side of the home. Slowly, he stepped into the wreckage that used to be his home, the blanket falling from his shoulders as he looked desperately for his wife and son, all the while hoping that they had managed to escape.
He found Sarah first at least he thought it was Sarah. She was laying face down on the floor next to the widow on the far side of the home. Adam was lying beneath her. It looked as though she was trying to get out of the house through the widow but the burned rifle lying next to her told Chris that someone had stopped them. He wanted to pull her up into his embrace, but he couldnt. The fire had taken that from him. The flames had burned her so badly that there was hardly anything left. His sleeping angel would never awaken.
Buck stepped foreword his face streaked with tears and ash. Let me take her Chris, he tried to sound strong but his chin quivered gently and more tears fell down his cheeks. He gently laid a blanket over the forms of Adam and Sarah so they could be moved without so they could be moved.
Chris held on tighter to the blanket covered form, as though his strength could bring her back. All the sadness in the world seemed to be reflected off of him and his heart broke. Hed never felt that kind of pain before and he swore he never would again. Gently he relinquished Sarah into Bucks awaiting arms and turned back for Adam.
Buck lifted her as though she weighed nothing at all and headed off toward a small clearing that was surrounded by wild flowers. Sarahs favorite.
Chris pulled the blanket back off of Adams face. Grasped tightly in the boys charred fingers was the pocketknife Chris had given him for his birthday. Sarah had tried to protect him from the scorching flames by covering him with her body. It was the last bit of protection she could offer her son but it wasnt enough. Adam was dead but God had been merciful. Adam had died before he could feel the agony of fire on his skin and for that Chris was thankful. He had to believe that he couldnt stand the thought of Adam screaming for him. Chris covered Adam with the blanket Buck had brought and carefully he picked his son up.
Slowly, the tall blonde stood up and walked out of the wreckage with his son held tightly in his arms and he headed to where Buck had taken Sarah. The ladies man had tied strips of cloth around the blanket keeping her from the elements. He watched as Chris sank to his knees with Adam. He couldnt believe they were dead. While Chris sat with his son, Buck did what he could to make the preparations for their burials.
It seemed so heartbreaking to see two of the worlds most precious people lying side by side in the cold earth. Chris hadnt uttered a word. Buck had gone to town and returned with the sheriff and several members of the community only to find the blonde in the same position as when hed left him.
Two small caskets were ready to be the permanent homes of Adam and Sarah Larabee.
Two graves were dug and when the moment came to lay Adam in his permanent resting place, Buck had to pry the small boy out of Chris embrace. When Buck met Chris eyes he knew a part of his friend had died with his family. Instead of vibrant green they were empty and pain filled. Never in his life did Buck believe hed seen so much pain in one set of eyes.
Chris remained where he was and absently watched as the funeral ended. A few people came by to pay their respects, but he didnt pay them any mind. It was dark before he finally succumbed to exhaustion, shock, and despair. Buck threw a blanket over his friend and then fell asleep himself, all the while wishing hed never asked to stay an extra night in Mexico.
The sound of heavy breathing caused Buck to jump awake. Buckshot stood over Chris still sleeping form. Dried sweat covered the exhausted animal, as he looked tiredly around. A halter and lead rope hung loosely from his head and Buck slowly managed to grasp a hold of the lead. The big horse stepped away, but stopped when he realized his handler wasnt about to hurt him.
Buck noticed immediately the slow stream of blood trickling down the animals leg. He followed the steady flow up onto Buckshots shoulder where he noticed two bullet wounds. Hell, Buck said under his breath. He jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. Quickly he relinquished the lead to Chris.
Chris took the lead and sighed when he saw the wound on Buckshots shoulder. It was only a matter of time before the animal succumbed to his injuries. Gently, he led his horse toward the tree line that was off in the distance. Buckshot limped behind him, moving as fast as he could. Hed made it home.
Buck turned and started picking up supplies and jumped when he heard the gunshot. He knew it had to be done. Buckshot deserved better than to suffer for the last few hours of his life. A quick and painless death was best.
Chris came back into view with a hardened look. His jaw was clenched and a new determination surrounded him like a cloud. Buck sat back and apprehensively watched as his best and longest friend grabbed all the ammunition he had out of his bag then walked toward the tree line. Chris fired shot after shot through the day and into the night with one thing on his mind. Revenge.
Buck watched, it was all he could do. Chris wasnt a man that could be forced into anything and Buck knew that the men who killed his best friends family created a monster that would stop at nothing until they were caught. No matter the cost.
It was strange how much one man could change over time and for the most part a slow change was natural and expected. However, Chris had changed overnight. The hard working cowboy turned into a cynical, short-tempered, unfeeling drunk. He and Buck had followed the tracks as far as they could and came up empty. Nobody had seen or heard anything unusual. It was as though the two men were chasing ghosts.
Chris, facing a life without closure, had turned to the bottle and to his gun. He became known for his fast temper and even faster draw. He took to wearing all black clothing, reaffirming his despair for the loss of his family.
Buck continued to ride with Chris, more times than not, pulling him out of fights that shouldnt have been started in the first place. It wasnt unusual for Chris to break up a poker game, throw someone through a glass window, or end up in jail for a night. He hated seeing the man he was becoming but he couldnt seem to stop. It only took a wrong look or a wrong word and it would tip the gunslingers scale. Chris was desperately searching for that fight that would end his pain. It was a suicide mission of sorts. Eventually, he would meet someone faster, stronger, and angrier than himself. That was what he was searching for.
Buck felt partially responsible for Sarah and Adams deaths. The tall blonde gunslinger never blamed Buck verbally but he had to wonder if some of those fights werent inadvertently directed at him.
Chris rode into Purgatory with Buck following close behind. His black duster billowed against his legs as he dismounted and quickly headed up the steps for the saloon. Hed been here before, looking for information that could lead to the killers of his wife and son. He ordered a whisky at the counter and looked around the room at the other patrons. He watched as Buck grabbed a table near the back and made himself comfortable. The dark clad gunslinger was appreciative of what his friend was doing but he looked at him as a reminder of what hed had and what hed lost.
He rested his palm on the bone grip of his Colt .45. Somewhere along his path his best friend became the weapon he carried. Chris sipped the whisky out of his shot glass, knowing Buck was going to be there to pull him out of whatever circumstance he got himself into. The tall gunslinger didnt think he wanted his old friend there to pull him out of anymore scrapes. Buck was a good man and he deserved better than hanging around the likes of Chris Larabee.
Chris picked up two shot glasses and grabbed the bottle of whisky then headed over to the table where Buck sat. He poured both the glasses full of the amber liquid and grabbed a seat.
I want you to leave, Chris said, then quickly downed the shot.
Buck looked at Chris in disbelief. Why? he asked.
Its for the best, he responded unemotionally.
Do you blame me?
No, Chris responded honestly.
Then why? Buck downed the shot in one gulp then fingered the glass absently in his hand.
This is somethin I need to do.
Buck leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table then aimed a look hard at Chris. Ive lost a lot of people in my life, Chris, and I sure as hell dont want to be in some strange town readin the local paper learnin, about how some young hot-headed kid killed my best friend.
It wont happen like that.
It wont have to, Buck responded.
I need this, Chris looked hard at his oldest friend. There was nothing but sincerity in his voice.
I know. Buck stood up and shook Chris hand, then quickly disappeared out the batwing doors.
Chris sighed, then leaned back in his chair. Things had changed so much that he found it difficult to look himself in the mirror. He hadnt born a violent man but that seemed to be the only thing driving him. He didnt care who stepped in his way, how young or old, or the very color of their skin. If someone got in his way, he dealt with it in one way or the other and it didnt matter which. Violence or simple communication worked and more times than not both ended with the same results.
At thirty-eight years of age, Chris seemed older now than hed ever felt before. Sarah and Adam had given him his youth they had given everything he never knew he wanted and more. And when they died it seemed as if everything good in him had died with them.
It was getting harder to tell if he drank to remember or if he drank to forget. Either way it didnt matter as long as he felt numb. He often longed for the soft touch of another woman, but none of them compared to Sarahs. He couldnt stand to watch as children played it hurt too much. It seemed that everywhere he turned there was a reminder of what hed lost and as time went by those happy memories became more callused and harder to reach.
He was a hard man and with that came the reputation that he was a cold-blooded killer. Nobody called him out thinking that they were going to lose. They never lived long enough to say otherwise. Chris learned quickly how to watch his back; he had to because now the reputation he had earned followed him everywhere he went. But now, he was a loner, moving from town to town, looking for pieces of a puzzle that he desperately wanted to finish. When his mother and sisters died, he understood why, and when his father died the understood the causes, but this this was something different. Sarah and Adams deaths hadnt been anticipated, they werent sick or dying, they were healthy and happy living full lives. That was until that fateful night two years ago. God, how he missed them!
Chris stared out the window of the small tavern, wondering how his life would change, hoping it would change for the better. He needed to find some closure. He couldnt think about his future until he found that. And he would find it someday.
It seemed for the thousandth time Chris entered another nameless town. In the six months since Purgatory hed continued to drift from town to town looking for any morsel of information he could find that would lead him to his familys killers. He found nothing. He was convinced that the people whod killed his family were really after him and they decided to murder his family because he wasnt there. He should have been, he should have been home to protect them, and he should have been killed with them.
For some reason he could never leave the territory, always staying within a weeks ride of Eagle Bend. At the same time he never went home. He couldnt face the devastation that had happened there.
Surrounding ranchers, miners, and businessmen learned quickly who Larabee was, simply by his attire. All black all the time. His trademark black gun belt with silver conchos and black duster was a warning even to those who didnt know of his reputation. It didnt take them long to learn who he was.
There was some truth to the stories. Chris Larabee was fast with a gun, just as accurate, and mean tempered. He didnt try and hide who he was. What was the point? Someone was always looking to call him out, challenge him in some way, or pretend he didnt matter. Chris had learned long before he met Sarah, that with a face came a reputation. And Chris and Buck had earned that on there way west after the war. He knew to be leery of certain people; he also learned that not all people were what they showed themselves to be.
After his father died he tried to be stronger than he was, sure he fooled some people but he was sure that some could see right through him. After the war hed played the part of a strong willed hardened cowboy, granted he hated the word, but sometimes it seemed to fit him perfectly. That was until he met Sarah. She had managed to see right through him while at the same time he didnt feel the need to pretend.
He wasnt pretending now. He was hard, cold, and many times unkind. He didnt care what people had to say and he didnt stay around long enough to listen. He kept his past to himself. A small story had appeared in the territorial paper explaining Sarah and Adams deaths but that was all. People, in need of something to gossip about, talked about their deaths and in turn coming to their own conclusions. He didnt care as long as it wasnt thrown in his face. It wasnt anyones business and he hated to think that it was.
Chris absently nudged the end of his cheroot with his tongue and rested his forearms over the saddle horn. Mud, his big black gelding stood patiently beneath him waiting for his next command. The horse to was familiar with the different towns, different people, and different lifestyles. Most of the towns they had been in were dusty and filled with ruffians. Mud, however, did what was asked of him with no complaints. Just like his sire had.
This town didnt look any different than any of the others hed been in. Hed heard that it had been established a few years prior by young businessmen heading west to establish themselves. It didnt take long before they were being overrun by outlaws, lawless ranchers, and people who were, in general, looking to make a name for themselves.
Chris gave Mud a kick in his sides and slowly they made there way down to the town ahead of them. Not knowing that it would change him for the rest of his life.
Notes: Deadwood Dick was a real man. His real name was Nat Love. For the purpose of this story I had to change the date of Loves pseudonym. Originally it was given to him sometime after 1870, he got the name after showing a phenomenal accuracy with his riffle and revolver in the town of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory. There he earned the title Deadwood Dick and later was the subject of 33 dime store novels.
Next: Every Mothers Son: - Buck
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