The Decent Thing

by SueN

Mary Travis entered the clinic and smiled at the sight of the sleeping healer. She knew how seriously he took his role, knew how deeply he cared about his patients, and admired him for it. She’d come to realize that compassion was a trait sorely lacking here in the West.

“Nathan,” she called, hating to wake him, but doubting he’d taken the time to eat. “Nathan. Brought you some breakfast.”

He stirred and woke with a start, closing the book he’d fallen asleep over and sitting up in his chair. “Oh, that’s mighty kind of you, ma’am,” he said, wiping the sleep from his eyes and suddenly remembering his patient, “but I think she can use it mo’ than me.”

“Oh.” Mary was taken aback by that. She’d brought the food as a gesture of kindness to Nathan, to show him how much she, and the town, appreciated all he did. “Well, um... sure,” she said hesitantly, not wanting to appear as if she were softening her stance on the girl’s way of life, “you can give it to her.”

“Uh... could you do it, Miz Travis?” Nathan asked, rising to his feet and stretching to loosen the kinks in his back. “I... I gotta git some sleep.”

Again, she was startled, and flustered. “No,” she answered abruptly, then realized that was the wrong answer. “No, I don’t mind.”

He smiled at her. “Thank you, ma’am.” He walked out, leaving her alone with Nora. He liked Miz Travis, thought highly of her. But he also knew that, every now and then, she needed a little push off her high-horse, and he cared enough about her to do the pushing.

Holding the tray tightly, Mary approached the bed slowly, as if walking toward her doom. “Uh, miss?” she called softly. What was the girl’s name? “Nora?”

Nora woke, and was startled by the sight of a tray laden with food and clearly intended for her. “Oh!” she gasped, her eyes widening in surprise and pleasure. “My, how nice of you. Thank you.” She tried to sit up, but the movement jarred her broken ribs and sent her into a fit of coughing.

Prostitute or not, the girl was clearly in pain, and the sight of it filled Mary with concern. “Here, let me,” she urged, setting the tray down and helping the girl sit up, then stacking pillows behind her back.

Nora stared at the food as if it were the grandest sight she’d ever seen, and a slow smile of wonder spread across her battered face. “Oh,” she breathed. “Never had breakfast in bed before. Heck,” she added with a grimace, “at my house I was lucky to have any breakfast at all, there bein’ so many of us kids.” She gazed shyly at the lovely woman who’d brought the meal, and knew she had to be someone important. “I’m sorry to cause you so much trouble,” she said softly.

The words caused a twinge in Mary’s conscience. Suddenly, the prostitute she’d been ranting against had a name, a face and a voice, had a story of her own and shy manners. She hadn’t been expecting this. “No, you’re no trouble,” she said absently, trying to reconcile her warnings against moral corruption with this bruised and battered... girl.

“This whole thing is my fault,” Nora said sadly, remembering what Lydia had told her last night of all that had been done because of her. If she’d just gone with Kolish, the other girls would be safe now...

“Hush, now,” Mary urged, softening despite herself. But the girl’s eyes were so full of regret, of sorrow and bad decisions... “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“If I had just done what he told me,” Nora murmured. “But I couldn’t be with that man again.” Her eyes searched Mary’s for understanding, for absolution. “He always asks for me and he hurts me. That’s what he likes to do. I just couldn’t take it one more time.”

Mary’s heart went out to the girl at that, but, before she could say a word, the clinic door opened, and Wickes stood before them, smiling.

+ + + + + + +

Vin leaned over the table and ran his finger over the map, outlining a possible route toward Ridge City. The words printed on the map meant nothing to him, but the terrain was as familiar as his own hand.

“Whitley Pass is less traveled,” he said, tracing the route for them. “It’ll be safer.”

Chris was content to let Vin take charge here, certain the tracker knew more about the countryside hereabouts than anyone alive. Tanner had chosen the long way to Ridge City, adding almost a day to the journey, but Larabee had every confidence in his judgment.

“We leave in the mornin’,” he said firmly.

Lydia looked at the two, feeling completely left out of the conversation they’d been having without words all morning. With nothing more than glances, nods and the occasional smile, they’d been planning her life as if she had no say in it. And she was damned tired of it.

“Why in the morning?” she demanded, not seeing why they couldn’t just pack up and go now. Didn’t they understand how tired of this she was, how much she wanted to see it over?

“Lydia!” Nora called, rushing into the saloon. “He took Mrs. Travis!”

“Who?” Chris asked sharply, knowing the answer even before Nora gave it.

“Wickes,” the girl said, her eyes huge with fear. “Says we got to go back by day’s end or he’ll kill her.”

Immediately, the two men were on their feet and striding out of the saloon, Lydia at their heels. “I’m comin’ with you,” she told them, refusing to sit by helplessly any longer.

“No, you’re not,” Chris said just as firmly, struggling to keep his temper under control. Mary might be as infuriating a woman as he’d ever met, but she didn’t deserve to be in that bastard’s hands.

“It was my fault he took her,” Lydia insisted, remembering Vin’s warning from last night and realizing he’d been right.

“It’s too dangerous,” Chris told her, wishing that once, just once, he could have a conversation with a woman without arguing.

“It’d be better if you stayed with the girls,” Vin put in calmly, knowing just how near exploding Chris was. The man might not have the kind of feelings for Mrs. Travis that she’d like, but still he felt something, and Tanner could see how this was eating at him. “Keep ’em together.”

“But I can help!” she said desperately, clutching at Chris’s arm. “I know his type--”

“Lydia, you’re staying!” he snapped, rounding on her. The fire in his eyes quelled any further argument on her part and, to his relief, she turned away and left. He glanced aside at Vin, saw the man was staring up toward the clinic steps as if hypnotized, and frowned. Tanner wasn’t usually one to get distracted. Following the tracker’s gaze, he saw only Ezra, obviously still “educating” the women, though in what he hadn’t the vaguest idea.

Seemed books’d do ’em a lot more good in their hands than on their heads...

Disregarding the gambler’s odd behavior, he turned back to Tanner, knowing he needed the man’s cool head. “You know,” he said, drawing the tracker’s attention back to him, “we go in there all spit and vinegar, there’s a good chance she gets hurt.”

Vin nodded slightly, hooking his thumbs into his gunbelt and shifting his weight to his left hip, then narrowed his eyes and cocked his head as was his habit when thinking. “Yeah, well,” he murmured in his soft, raspy drawl, “what we need is some sorta...” His gaze drifted back up the stairs, and a slow smile spread across his face. “Distraction.”

Chris followed that gaze again, and wondered just what the hell Tanner was thinking. Ezra was walking -- no, floating -- down the stairs, still with that damn book on his head, while several of the girls stood behind him and watched, giggling. Larabee wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but something about the scene had appealed to Tanner’s bizarre sense of humor while setting the devious mind into motion.

Ezra didn’t stand a chance.

“To be perceived as a lady,” Standish was saying in that honeyed drawl of his, “one must have the bearing of a lady. Now, this will--” He broke off and let the book slide from his head into his hands and stared uneasily down at the two men staring up at him, feeling a sudden twinge of fear.

Tanner’s grin broadened and his blue eyes danced with pure wickedness. “Walks awful graceful, don’t he?” he asked.

Standish heard the words, saw the grin, and shuddered.

+ + + + + + +

“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra protested in a deeply, deeply aggrieved tone, “you are a truly deranged and... and unspeakably depraved individual with an appallingly perverted imagination. No truly sane mind could possibly conceive of so... so vile and twisted a scheme, and I shall never forgive you for the humiliation and degradation you have heaped upon my person!”

“Aw, hell, Ezra,” Vin drawled lazily, leaning against the wall and snickering at the giggles and groans of horror coming from behind the dressing screen, “I don’t even know what you said!”

Chris glanced at the tracker, and shook his head at the unholy glee shining in those blue eyes. “He said that you ain’t right.”

“Oh,” Vin answered, nodding. “I ain’t the one puttin’ on no dress.”

“Sadist!” Standish spat, determined to kill the tracker at the first chance he got. Then he saw the hideous garment being carried toward him by two of the women, and decided he’d rather someone kill him. “This outrage will not go unavenged, I assure you!” he hissed as the women hoisted the dress over him. “We will meet on the field of honor... or would, if you had any... Good Lord, this isn’t even my color!” he wailed. “This monstrosity isn’t anyone’s color! Mr. Larabee!” he seethed. “This is not what I signed on for!”

“Desperate times require desperate measures, Ezra,” Chris said laconically, reminding himself never to get on Tanner’s bad side. “And I’d surely hate ta have ta tell the Judge his daughter-in-law and the mother of his only grandchild died because you didn’t do your job.”

All at once, the dressing screen was knocked aside, and Ezra Standish stood before them, quivering with fury and clad in feathered hat, dark wig and horrible purple dress. Vin collapsed into rude laughter at the sight, sliding down the wall to land on the floor in a gasping heap, while Chris stared at Standish, then dissolved into silent but violent laughter himself.

“Please, tell me,” Ezra hissed between clenched teeth, staring murderously at the two nearly hysterical men, “exactly when this became my job!”

+ + + + + + +

“Kinda purty, ain’t he?” Vin asked as he and the others watched Ezra entering the saloon tent.

Chris glanced at the tracker, and shook his head at that evil grin. “You do know he’s gonna get you for this, right?”

Vin took out his spyglass and pulled it open, then put it to his eye and scanned the tent city below. “What’s he gonna do, take my money at poker?”

“But why him?” JD asked yet again.

Vin smirked and collapsed the glass with a snap, stuffing it into his pocket. “’Cause he’s purtier’n Larabee here.”

Chris glared at him, then at Buck when the big man snickered. “’Cause Tanner knows I’da shot him just for askin’,” he growled.

“No sense’a humor,” Vin lamented, shaking his head slowly. “None at all.”

“Wouldn’t know it from the company I keep,” Chris countered. “All right, boys, let’s go. Remember, no shootin’. Don’t want nobody gettin’ hurt.”

“’Cept Wickes,” Buck said in a low, seething voice. “That sonuvabitch is mine.”

“Not unless we have to, Buck,” Chris warned. “Gettin’ Mary out’s the important thing. Nothin’ else matters.”

“We’ll see,” Buck muttered. “We’ll just see about that.”

+ + + + + + +

They slipped into the camp and spread out, attracting as little attention as they could to themselves, just six more men in a city established to cater to the needs of men. One by one, as quietly and as unobtrusively as they could, they took out Wickes’s henchmen, sometimes by mere threat, sometimes by force, but always with swift efficiency.

With most of the guards distracted by the full-fledged brawl raging in the saloon tent, Chris found his way to Wickes’s tent almost unobstructed. On silent feet he crept forward, throwing himself into the shadows at the last minute as Wickes came charging out and racing past. Sending silent thanks to Ezra, Chris slipped into the tent, flooded by fury at the sight of Mary Travis tied to the bed, her hair and clothes in disarray.

“Did he hurt you?” he asked harshly, green eyes glittering in the savage mask of his face as he hurried toward her.

“I’m all right,” she said in a soft, shaking voice, desperately grateful to see him. As his eyes continued to sweep over her, searching for some sign of injury, or worse, she forced a weak smile and nodded. “I’m fine.”

He accepted her word and quickly freed her, his blood still boiling through his veins. Wickes might not have harmed her yet, but Chris could well imagine what the man had planned. Hell, he’d seen it with Nora...

“Welcome back to Wickes Town,” Wickes greeted, suddenly stepping before them as they made their way from the tent. His cold eyes swept contemptuously over Larabee as the man tried to shield the woman with his body. “This is almost too easy,” he sneered, raising his gun.

Chris tried to get Mary behind him, determined to save her at all costs. All at once, he saw movement behind Wickes, saw Lydia step out of the shadows, and heard two shots as she raised a gun and fired into the man’s back.

People came running from everywhere at the shots -- regulators, whores, customers, the few guards who remained free -- and countless eyes watched as Wickes slumped to the ground. Chris stared at him a few moments longer, then raised his gaze to Lydia, and saw that she still held the gun, her finger still on the trigger, her whole body shaking violently. He released Mary and went slowly toward her, not wanting to frighten her, and, as he eased the gun from her hands, was startled to see Mary slipping her arms about her and leading her away, speaking softly to her all the while.

Would wonders never cease?

He felt another pair of eyes on him then, and looked around to see Vin staring at him, fear written all over his face. The mare’s leg was out, and Chris knew that if Lydia hadn’t fired, Tanner would have. He gave a slight smile and a reassuring nod, and saw Vin relax.

“Come on,” he said loudly, eager to get out of this place, “let’s go.”

They all turned away and started toward the horses, as eager as Larabee to leave. Buck, however, held back, some instinct in him whispering a warning. He glanced around at Wickes’s men, saw that none of them were inclined to take a hand, and frowned. Still something wasn’t right.

Some faint sound reached him then, and his instincts began to scream. With never a second thought, he stabbed a hand to his gun, pivoted, drew, and fired into Wickes. Buck watched him fall, remembered all the women he’d known who’d been hurt by bastards like him, and, for one of the few times in his life, took pleasure in knowing he’d killed.

“Let’s go,” Chris called again, watching his old friend and easily imagining what dark thoughts held him. “Come on, Buck.”

“Let’s ride,” Vin echoed, levering a round into the chamber of his mare’s leg and sweeping it slowly around the crowd watching them, walking backward to provide a rear guard.

Buck finally went with his friends, satisfied that at least one pig would never hurt another girl again.


Vin stood at the window and stared down into the street below as the women prepared to pull out of town in their new wagon. He smiled slightly at the sight of Buck and JD -- and almost every other man in town -- gathered to see them off.

Almost every other man.

He turned away from the window, his blue eyes filling with heat as he gazed lovingly at the lean man on the bed. Wearing nothing but his black pants, Larabee was leaning against stacked pillows and puffing lazily on a cheroot, his golden head wreathed in smoke. Vin’s heart quickened at the sight, and he slowly licked his lips.

Chris exhaled a cloud of smoke and smiled, wondering if Tanner had any idea how beautiful he was just now. His brown hair framed his face and fell over his shoulders in disordered curls, and his dark blue eyes shimmered and shone like summer skies shot through with lightning. He, too, was naked to the waist, his pants hanging low on his narrow hips, and Larabee began plotting every point on that slender chest he intended to kiss.

“They’re leavin’,” Vin rasped, shivering in anticipation at the predatory light in the brilliant green eyes.

“Thought they never would,” Chris breathed, watching in fascination as the sunlight streaming in through the window behind Tanner picked out the gold highlights in his hair and gave his head a burnished gleam.

Heat rolled through Vin and pooled in his belly as those glittering eyes swept slowly over him, and he ran his tongue slowly over suddenly-dry lips. “Ain’... ain’tcha... gonna say g’bye... ta Lydia?” he stammered, praying Larabee said no. He’d sure as hell hate ta have ta shoot the woman now after spendin’ so much time helpin’ her before...

“Already did,” Chris said in a low, rough voice. “Ain’t ever been one for long goodbyes. ’Specially when I got somethin’ more important ta do. Like spendin’ time with you.” He held out a hand. “C’mere.”

Vin went to him without hesitation, sinking onto the bed and taking Chris’s hand, letting it pull him into a close embrace. Immediately, he sought Chris’s mouth with his own, his hunger for this man more than he could bear.

Larabee moaned and shuddered as Vin’s mouth claimed his, as their tongues met and twirled in an intricate, intimate dance. Tanner’s taste and scent washed over him in waves, more intoxicating than any amount of whiskey, more delicious than the grandest feast. He devoured the mouth devouring him and closed his arms tightly about the body that brought his own to surging life.

Vin broke the kiss only long enough to reach behind him and take the cheroot from Larabee’s fingers. “Best gimme this,” he breathed, dropping it into an empty shot glass on the bedside table. “Ain’t lookin’ ta git no new scars.” Then he returned his mouth to Chris’s, seizing hungrily upon the lower lip that had teased and tormented him for days, sucking and biting ravenously at it.

Chris groaned again as that mouth attacked his, as long, strong fingers swept slowly over his chest and brushed lightly against his nipples, bringing them to throbbing hardness. Tanner’s tight ass was grinding into his crotch, the man’s hair was tickling his flesh, and Chris could no longer tell just where he ached or burned the most.

Jesus God, the man was a marvel!

Vin growled low in his throat and scraped his teeth down Larabee’s chin, nipping sharply at the cleft, then laved his tongue against the whisker-roughened flesh, drawing another moan from the man. From Chris’s chin, he licked, bit and kissed his way with agonizing slowness along the firm jaw and up to one ear, seizing upon the tender lobe and sucking on it.

“Jesus, Vin!” Chris whispered harshly, digging his fingers into the younger man’s shoulders and raking them down his back. As he drove his head back into the pillows, Tanner attacked his throat, nipping at the warm flesh with his teeth and sucking at the throbbing pulse. His hands, meanwhile, wandered slowly down Larabee’s chest and over his pectorals, his callused thumbs scraping lightly over the hard nubs of his nipples, his long fingers dancing through the golden hair that adorned the pale flesh.

At long last, Vin slowly raised his head, and stared at Chris through heavy-lidded eyes gone hazy and almost black with desire. “God, yer beautiful!” he said roughly, sliding worshipful hands slowly over the long, powerful chest, loving the man with his touch. “Could look at you all day.”

“Don’t want you ta look,” Chris said in a tight, shaking voice. “Lookin’ ain’t enough. Want you ta finish what you started.”

Vin gave a low chuckle and scooted back on Larabee’s lap, sliding his hands down lower over his chest to the taut, flat stomach. “Reckon I’d like ta see what I’m gittin’ into, then,” he breathed, his fingers drifting to Chris’s fly. “I believe in inspectin’ the goods.”

“And I believe I’ll kill ya if ya don’t hurry up!” Chris growled, his groin throbbing from the feel of the fingers playing there. “Goddamn sorry-assed Texan...”

“Shut up!” Vin snarled, swooping forward to reclaim Larabee’s mouth in a savage kiss. His lips moved punishingly against Chris’s, his tongue demanded entry into the luscious mouth and, once inside, swept fiercely against teeth, hard palate and tongue, exploring and claiming with a ferocious thoroughness. All the while, his fingers worked at Larabee’s pants, unfastening them with a roughness that revealed the intensity of his own need.

Chris gasped and groaned and thrashed beneath the assaults of that mouth and those hands, his every nerve on fire. Heat pounded through him in knife-sharp torrents and throbbed hideously in his aching, swollen cock, and, as Tanner finally wrenched his pants open and pulled his thick, hard flesh into freedom, a breathless cry of relief escaped him. But that relief was short-lived, and fresh shards of pain drove through him as Tanner stroked and fondled his burning length without mercy.

“God!” he cried hoarsely, thrusting helplessly into that tormenting hand.

Vin tore his mouth from Larabee’s and bowed his head, attacking one taut brown nipple with lips, tongue and teeth, sucking hungrily while his hand stroked, squeezed and pulled at the man’s thick, rigid staff. His own cock ached horribly, was straining against his pants, and an anguished groan wrenched from him as Chris’s hand found its way to that bulge and began kneading it with skilled fingers.

“Goddamn... gunfighter!” he rasped, trembling from the onslaught of want.

Chris fumbled hurriedly with the buttons, yanking them open with more haste than ease, desperate to get at the man wreaking havoc with his sanity. When he pushed the last one through, he yanked down Vin’s pants to his knees and grabbed his bare ass, cupping and caressing the tight cheeks with shaking hands, then stroking down the backs of the hard-muscled thighs. Reaching the bend of Vin’s knees, he slid his hands around and stroked just as slowly back up, then slid his fingers down the tender creases of his groin to take his thick, weeping cock in one hand and his full, heavy balls in the other.

“Sweet Jesus!” Tanner gasped as lightning shot through him at that touch. He threw his head back and dug his fingers into Chris’s shoulders, panting and groaning as Larabee stroked his cock and kneaded his balls and rapidly shattered his reason. “Jesus... Chris...”

Larabee shifted his hands to Tanner’s hips and flipped him onto his back, and, with a haste and roughness born of his hunger, stripped him of his trousers. His own pants followed immediately and, shuddering violently from the contact, he covered the younger man’s body with his own, bowing his head and clamping his mouth hard about one dark nipple. Vin gasped and arched beneath him, driving their cocks together. Chris thrust down hard, grinding himself furiously into Vin and sending hot waves of need exploding through them both. Tanner gave a wordless cry and raked his fingers down Larabee’s back, writhing against the man in the mindless agony of arousal.

Chris released Vin’s nipple and slid down on the bed, trailing his mouth down the Texan’s body as he went. He bit sharply into one pectoral, showered kisses along the outline of ribs, sucked at the shallow navel. Still more kisses he pressed into the thatch of tight brown curls, then laved his tongue against the base of the thick staff of flesh that rose from them.

“Oh, God... God!” Vin gasped, bucking again as that tongue, that wet and wonderful tongue, slid slowly up his length.

Chris pressed his hands to the young man’s hips to hold him still while licking and kissing up, down and all around that twitching, weeping cock. Awash in Vin’s scent, growing drunk upon it, he pushed the foreskin back with his tongue and began lapping at the salty liquid leaking from the slit.

Tears streamed from Vin’s eyes and his head thrashed wildly against the pillows as Larabee tortured him with his mouth. He tried to thrust, but was held fast in the gunman’s unrelenting grip, and knotted his hands in the sheets and growled in frustration.

Chris chuckled at the sound, his hot breath fanning against Tanner’s cock, and he heard his lover’s pitiful whimper. Restraining himself with an effort, he lifted his head, looked down at Vin’s flushed face, and smiled tenderly.

“Vin,” he called softly. “You hear me?”

“Jesus, Chris, why’re ya talkin’?” he moaned. “Need ta be puttin’ that mouth t’ other uses!”

“Nope,” Larabee breathed, stretching out at Vin’s side. Reaching out, he cupped a hand to the tracker’s cheek and gently turned his face to him. “Don’t wantcha in my mouth, Tanner,” he murmured, gently stroking Vin’s cheek. “Wanta feel ya inside me, where ya belong.”

Vin blinked, then smiled as the words registered. “Y’ mean it?” he whispered.

“Told ya once, I don’t say things I don’t mean.” He leaned over and kissed Vin with a breath-taking tenderness. “Need ya, pard,” he murmured against those luscious lips. “Got an emptiness only you can fill.”

Vin turned onto his side and returned the kiss with a searing passion, loving this man with all that was in him. After long moments, made almost dizzy from want and Larabee’s warmth, he pulled away and turned to the bedstand, reaching for the oil Chris had set out earlier. Retrieving the tin, he sat up and looked down at Chris, again struck to his soul by this man’s beauty.

“Lord God, Larabee,” he breathed in wonder, “yer the finest sight I ever seen!” He reached out and swept a trembling hand slowly over the lean body, down the powerful chest and over one long, strong arm, loving the feel of this man as much as he loved the sight of him.

Chris wasn’t certain he’d ever get used to the reverence in that touch, but knew he’d never again be able to live without it. Vin had opened so much in him, revived things he’d long thought dead, shone light into places too long left dark. And he never wanted to go back to those dark places again.


“Ssh, hush,” Tanner whispered, extending a trembling hand to stroke Chris’s mouth. “No words, cowboy,” he breathed, his eyes filled with love and light. “Don’t need no words ’tween us.”

Chris nodded and tenderly kissed the fingers at his lips. It was just as well; he wasn’t sure there were words for what he felt for this man.

Vin slipped between and under Chris’s legs, shuddering convulsively as the man’s scent washed over him. As ever, his body reacted powerfully to it, and he damn near came on the spot. “God, yer killin’ me!” he groaned.

Chris knew the feeling. The pain of his hardness was almost unbearable, and he closed his eyes tightly against the sudden bite of tears. Then an oiled finger slipped inside him, and he jerked violently, giving a sharp hiss.

“Easy, pard,” Vin urged hoarsely, as much to himself as Larabee. He slid his finger in and out and around, pressing, stroking, stretching. “Some things... jist cain’t be rushed.”

Another finger entered him, and Larabee arched off the bed with an anguished groan, his breath tearing from him in ragged gasps. Unable to help himself, frantic for relief, he clutched with a shaking hand at his hideously aching cock and began to pump.

“Nuh uh,” Vin grunted, peeling the hand away and pinning it to the bed. “Ain’t fair... you gittin’ ahead...”

“Then, goddamn it, hurry!” Chris snarled in torment.

“Don’t wanta hurt ya,” Vin rasped, sliding in a third finger. As he did, he released Chris’s wrist and began coating his own throbbing, weeping cock with oil.

“Too late!” Larabee spat, clamping his thighs about Vin for leverage, needing desperately to thrust. “You... JESUS!” he howled as Tanner withdrew his fingers and replaced them with his cock.

Vin growled savagely as he pushed into Larabee, as he buried himself in his lover’s body. As the moist heat engulfed him, welcomed him, he clutched at Chris’s hips to hold himself in place until he was certain Chris was ready for him to continue.

But, damn, Larabee made it hard on a man ta wait!

“Move!” Chris pleaded, nearly sobbing from the sensations battering at him.

Vin did, slowly and carefully at first, but then harder, faster, until he was thrusting into Chris with an unbridled force, growling and groaning with each fierce stroke. Sweat poured from his body and dripped from his hair as he pounded through the man, and his heart was beating so wildly he thought it might burst through his chest. Then he reached for Larabee’s cock, wrapped long fingers about it and began to pump with that same ferocity.

The savagery of Tanner’s lovemaking unleashed something equally wild in Chris, something he’d only known with the tracker, something he was powerless to control. With low, hoarse cries, he thrust frantically against Tanner, impaling himself upon that hard, hot flesh, driving the tracker ever more deeply into him. He needed this, needed to feel Vin in every part of himself, needed the man to shatter him and then make him whole again.

They loved with an unrestrained fury, the two coming together as one, moving as one, melding into one, neither knowing where he ended and the other began. Higher and hotter the flames they’d ignited raged about them, through them, until, as one, they soared above them and burst into blessed release.

Chris arched off the bed and drove himself into Vin’s hand as he erupted, his hot juices streaming over them both. A heartbeat later, Vin came with that same force, thrusting frantically and shooting his seed into his lover’s body. The violence of their climaxes tore harsh, wordless cries from them both, left them shaking and utterly spent.

Even after it was over, they lay together, bodies pressed close, arms and legs entwined, sweat and seed mingling on slick skin, their ragged breathing the only sound in the room. Chris clutched Vin to him, one hand buried in the tracker’s tangled, sodden hair, the other at his back, while Vin wound shaking arms about Chris and clung to him as if for dear life. He pressed his face into Larabee’s throat, shaken to his soul by the depth and force of his love for this man.

Chris tightened his arms about Vin, as if frightened he might leave. He knew it was foolish, but couldn’t help the feeling. He’d lost so much already, and simply wasn’t prepared to add this man to that list. Not when he was only just discovering with him what it was like to live and love again.

Gradually their hearts slowed and their breathing evened, and their bodies dried and cooled. They loosened their holds on each other, content now just to lie together, knowing they would never again be truly separate. Even as they rolled apart at last and cleaned up and dressed, each still felt the other deep inside him, and knew that, at least, could never be lost.

“Wish it didn’t have ta be like this,” Vin breathed as he fastened the last of the buttons on his shirt, preparing yet again to leave much too soon. “Wish there didn’t have ta be no slippin’ in ’n slippin’ out, like we’s doin’ somethin’ wrong. Ain’t wrong. Cain’t be wrong, feelin’ about ya like I do.”

Chris sighed and rose to his feet from the bed, dressed except for his boots and socks. He went to Vin and stood just before him, slipping a hand beneath the younger man’s chin and lifting the bowed head until their eyes met, then gently brushed the unruly hair out of those shadowed eyes.

“No, it’s not wrong,” he sighed. “But folks here wouldn’t understand that. They think what we do, what we feel--”

“Ain’t decent,” Vin finished bitterly, blue eyes flashing with resentment. “Jist ’cause they don’t understand it, they gotta make it dirty. Say it ain’t right, ain’t proper, ain’t natural... Hell, I know how they think, seen ’em look down their noses at me often enough ta know. And one thing I learned is that when ya live amongst ‘decent folks,’ ya gotta live by their rules, even the ones that don’t make no sense. But with the People--”

“You ain’t with the People now, Vin,” Chris said softly, “and you gotta learn t’ accept that. I know it’s hard, but that’s the way it is.”

Vin swallowed hard and nodded, then bowed his head again, hating being kept from this man for even a moment by other people’s senseless rules. Hell, weren’t these so-called “decent Christian folks” the same ones who were gonna let Nathan get lynched? Who woulda let Lucas James get away with murder? Who didn’t mind whores outside their town, but damn sure didn’t want ’em dirtyin’ up their streets? What made any of that any more decent than his love for Chris?

A single forefinger lightly tapped his cheek and he raised his head again, and saw two deep green eyes staring straight into his soul.

“They can’t part us, Vin,” Chris said in a low, firm voice, hating the pain he saw in those dark blue pools. “Not with their rules, not with all their notions of what’s decent and what ain’t, not with anything they got. There’s nothin’ in this town, in this world, that can keep us apart, and I need you ta believe that.”

Vin searched the older man’s eyes, read the absolute certainty, the absolute conviction, the absolute love in them, and knew Chris was right. A slight smile touched his lips, and he nodded once. “Reckon I do, cowboy. Hell,” his smile grew wider, brighter, “I reckon I’d b’lieve near ’bout anything ya told me.”

“Then believe this,” Chris said, stepping closer and cradling his hands lightly to either side of Tanner’s head, drawing the man slowly to him. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” he whispered.

As Chris sealed the words with a slow, deep, tender kiss, Vin shivered and moaned and felt his fears and resentments melting away, washed from him by the pure, cleansing light of Larabee’s love. This was where he belonged, in this man’s arms, in this man’s life, and he’d fight all the powers of heaven and hell to stay here.

Decent folk be damned.


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