Ashes and Smoke
Chris Larabee drowsed lazily on his blankets, enjoying the feel of the morning sun on his skin, but taking much more delight in the warmth of the naked body pressing so closely against his own. He'd forgotten how many small, simple pleasures there were in simply lying with another -- the brush of a curl against his fingers, the whisper of a breath against his skin, the weight of an arm draped across his stomach, the supple curve of a body fitting itself to his. He'd had all these once, but had lost them and thought them gone forever. Now, though, he had them again, and, knowing what it meant to lose them, considered them more precious than ever.
Just as he considered their source.
He looked down at the face -- or what he could see of it through the veiling tangle of long hair -- pillowed upon his chest and had to smile. Vin Tanner. Former buffalo hunter, former bounty hunter, former God-knew-what-all, now a wanted man, a dangerous man, a deadly man... and the man who'd become the heart and soul of Larabee's world. He still wasn't sure exactly when or how that had happened, wasn't sure when a shared glance of mutual purpose across a dusty street had grown into this all-encompassing, all-consuming passion, but decided that the when and the how didn't really matter. What mattered was that Vin was here, Vin was his, and he was Vin's. For the first time in three years, his life was as complete as he could ever hope to have it.
"Yer lookin' almighty pleased with yerself," Tanner drawled sleepily, turning his face to Larabee's. "You know somethin' I don't?"
Chris gave a slight smile and reached down to brush Tanner's hair back from his face. Eyes bluer than the sky itself gazed up at him, and he marveled yet again at the startling mix of youth and age in their depths. Not for the first time, he wondered exactly how old Vin really was, and then, not for the first time, decided a man like Tanner could never be measured in mere years.
"Hell, pard," he teased, "the things I know that you don't would fill a barn!"
Vin rolled off Chris and scowled at him, blue eyes narrowing. "Uppity sonuvabitch, ain'tcha?" he growled. "Think jist 'cause I letcha have yer way with me that you c'n--"
"Let me?" Chris interrupted, sitting up and staring at his lover. "Let me? As I recall, Tanner, you were beggin' me--"
"I ain't ever begged nobody, least of all some high 'n mighty, slit-eyed gunfighter--"
"Horseshit," Larabee barked, green eyes gleaming wickedly. "You were beggin' not two hours ago... Hell, you were damn near cryin'! If I hadn'ta taken pity on ya--"
"Pity?" Vin rasped, glaring furiously at the older man. "you took pity on me? Well, hell, I like that! Who was it moanin' 'n whimperin' 'n pleadin' fer more--"
"I never whimper," Chris corrected archly.
"My ass!" Vin snorted derisively. "Shit, you was so damn desperate-- Hey!" he yelped hoarsely as Larabee suddenly pounced upon him and flipped him onto his back. "What the hell--"
"Now," Larabee purred, straddling his lover and leaning down, his face only inches from Tanner's, "let's talk about yer ass."
"I ain't... Unnh," Vin groaned as the gunfighter's lips claimed his with a devastating mastery. Larabee's full, firm mouth moved hungrily against his own, tongue stroking, teeth nibbling, driving away whatever thought he had been about to voice. Another groan escaped him and he opened his mouth helplessly beneath Larabee's onslaught, unable to deny the man any part of himself. His whole being, body and soul, surged to burning life and aching awareness of Chris's every touch, and he wanted nothing more than to join his fire and pain to Larabee's, to be one in every way with the man who'd become the very center of his existence.
Chris felt the lean body beneath his shudder and tense, heard the quickening of Tanner's breathing, and chuckled softly as he nibbled at the corner of the tracker's mouth. "Like that, do ya?"
"Might could... git used to it," Vin rasped, doubting he'd ever really get used to this man's effect on him, even if he lived to be a thousand.
Larabee chuckled again and began licking and nibbling his way along that beautifully square jaw, delighting in Tanner's small moans and soft growls. He'd discovered that, for such a quiet man, the tracker was incredibly vocal during lovemaking, announcing his pleasure with a wide variety of sounds. And he was making it his business to learn every single one.
"Oh, Lord!" Vin gasped as Larabee's mouth found its way to his ear, as that nimble tongue danced lightly over its shell and then slipped into the canal, as warm lips closed about the tender lobe and sucked slowly. The gunfighter's hands, meanwhile, burned a path across his chest to his nipples, the callused fingers deftly stroking the dusky nubs to immediate hardness, and his lean hips thrust downward, grinding his cock into Tanner's. Lightning jolted along the tracker's every nerve and his flesh reacted at once, stiffening and twitching hungrily. "Chris!"
Larabee felt the same fire shoot through him as his insatiable need for Tanner again consumed him. The tracker was writhing and thrusting against him, that hard, compact body bringing his to full and fevered arousal, the man's wildness awakening an answering one in him. Tanner's hands clutched and clawed at him, those long, strong fingers raking down his naked back and digging into his muscles, tearing a wrenching groan from him. All at once, though, the groan sharpened into a howl of pain and pleasure as Vin turned his head and sank his teeth into his shoulder.
"Jesus, Vin!" he cried. Immediately, though, Tanner began blowing gently over the bite, then lapped cat-like at it with his tongue. Chris groaned and shuddered and instinctively flexed his shoulder, then howled again as the tracker shifted once more and bit into his pectoral. Warm breath and a wet tongue soothed the bite, and Larabee damn near came on the spot.
Vin was in no better shape. He slid a hand between their thrusting, sweat-slick bodies and found Chris's hardness, wrapping his fingers about the steel-in-velvet length and stroking urgently, torturing the gunman and himself. The feel of Larabee's heat and hardness brought his own cock dangerously near bursting, and, as he stroked and pulled at Larabee's thick flesh, he grew ever more painfully aware of the hideously aching emptiness in him that only this man could fill.
"God, cowboy!" he whispered hoarsely. "Need ya... somethin' fierce!"
Chris growled low in his throat, almost blinded by lust, and reached frantically for the tin of oil he knew had to be somewhere near. At last he found it and snatched it up with a snarl of triumph, his whole body shaking from the effect of Vin's hand on his throbbing, burning flesh. He buried his mouth in Tanner's for one more hard, punishing kiss, then pulled away and sat up, staring down at his lover through glazed green eyes.
God, he was beautiful! A wild mass of tangled curls spilled over and about his face, glinting red and honey-gold in the sun, and wide eyes of shifting shades of blue -- now light, now dark -- stared up at him and glowed like heated kilns. A dark red flush suffused the sun-browned skin, the slender, supple body quivered with anticipation, and long, sinewy limbs were tensed, waiting to twine about him.
"Jesus, Tanner, you're a goddamn marvel!" he breathed in rapt adoration.
"Ain't s' bad yerself," Vin rasped as Larabee positioned himself beneath him. "Now, take me, goddamn it, 'fore I shoot ya!"
"You sweet-talker, you," Chris sniped, wrenching the lid off the tin and dipping his fingers into the oil to scoop out a generous amount. "You been takin' lessons from Buck?"
"Asshole," Vin hissed through gritted teeth, watching Chris coat his hands and twisting his own into the blankets.
Larabee smirked. "Guess you'd know. And, speakin' of..."
Vin howled and nearly shot off the blankets as Larabee slid an oiled finger into his opening. Groans and growls and curses in a variety of languages tore from him as that finger played tormentingly inside him, stroking, stretching, bringing him ever nearer the edge. He closed his eyes and thrust down upon that finger, then hissed sharply and shuddered as a second entered him.
"No more sweet talk?" Chris teased in a strained voice, his own nerves agonizingly on edge. He found the pleasure spot in Tanner's body and brushed a finger against it, grinning wickedly as the tracker yelped and bucked violently. "What was that, pard?"
"Fuck you!" Vin gasped, panting heavily and trembling uncontrollably as a third finger entered him. "No... fuck... fuck me... Goddamn it, Larabee!" he snarled as the gunman again hit his gland. "Do somethin' 'fore I kill us both!"
"Some folks... just got no patience," Chris rasped, coating his leaking, burning cock with oil and removing his fingers from Tanner's body. "No... control..." Gritting his teeth, forcing that control upon himself, he positioned his swollen head at that dark, inviting opening and pressed inside.
"Oh... Jesus!" Vin groaned harshly, arching off the blankets as Larabee entered him. "Chrissss..."
"Easy, pard," Larabee murmured hoarsely, grabbing the tracker's narrow hips to still him. "Don't... wanta rush... Oh, God!" he moaned as Tanner's wet heat engulfed him.
Vin grabbed at the hands holding him, clinging to Larabee's wrists and clenching his teeth until the familiar cramping subsided and his body accepted his lover's intrusion. Then, as ever, his need overwhelmed him, and a wrenching cry escaped him.
"God... Chris... move!" he begged desperately.
Chris's own urges overcame him at that plea, and he slid slowly into Vin, pressing ever more deeply into that moist, hot channel, sheathing himself in his lover's body. Once in, he pulled out just as slowly, leaving only his head imbedded, then pushed in again, torturing himself and Vin with the forced slowness of his movements. Each time he started in, Tanner rose to meet him, their bodies quickly finding a familiar rhythm and working in perfect unison. Deep, guttural sounds of sheer pleasure tore from the two as they came together, as their rhythm built in speed and force, as their lovemaking took on the unbridled ferocity both men knew and needed.
Driving furiously into Tanner's body, loosing the full force of his hunger upon him, Chris reached at last for his lover's swollen cock and worked it with that same intensity, stroking and pumping Vin as he impaled him, his hand as hard and ruthless as his demanding flesh. As ever, the feel of the younger man writhing and thrusting against him destroyed whatever restraint he'd thought to show, plunged him into a maelstrom of want and need that stripped him of all control and left him at the mercy of raging desire.
Vin cried out harshly as Larabee drove him into a mounting frenzy, as the man launched a shattering assault upon his senses and sent him into paroxysms of unspeakable pleasure. Worked inside and out, filled and claimed and damn near pulled apart at his soul, he thrust frantically down upon that punishing flesh, into that masterful hand, nerves sparking, his flesh all but seared from his bones.
Deeper and deeper into Vin Chris pounded, losing himself, finding himself, becoming as much one with the tracker in body as he was in soul. With each long, hard stroke, hot waves of pleasure crashed over him, tore through him, freeing all that had ever been bound within him. He gave himself wholly over to the pleasure, surrendering completely to his all-consuming need for Vin.
They loved without restraint, holding nothing of themselves back, giving all they had and all they were to their wild and wanton union. And in one shattering, convulsive rush they came, bursting together into explosive climax, Chris erupting into Vin, Vin jetting over Chris, each emptying himself and, in that moment of release, taking in the other. Their cries rose together and mingled in the morning air, joined as closely and as surely as their bodies.
Chris shuddered violently and collapsed onto the blankets and Vin's side, utterly spent and shaking. With rubbery arms he reached out and gathered Vin to him, cradling the slick and trembling body to his own, stunned, as always, by the heights to which the quiet tracker could lead him.
"Damn, Tanner," he whispered roughly when he found his voice, "you tryin' ta kill me?"
"Helluva way ta go," Vin rasped, his voice as ragged as his breathing.
"Can't think of a better one."
They lay in silence for long moments, reveling in this intimate closeness, each feeling the other in the beating of his own heart, each knowing he carried the other in his blood and his bone. They knew they'd never be able to publicly declare what they had found, yet they could not help but see it as something sacred, a wondrous gift from some benevolent fate that had led them from their separate paths of pain and joined them as one on this road to love and life.
At long last, though, Chris stirred, knowing this idyllic time could not last. The town waited, and obligations in that town, and, though he wanted nothing more than to spend forever in his lover's arms, he could not turn his back on those obligations. And knew Vin would only kick his ass if he tried.
"Judge'll be waitin'," he said quietly, gently unwrapping his arms from Tanner and sitting up.
"Reckon so," Vin murmured, a shadow darkening his eyes. He knew why Judge Travis was waiting, and could not help feeling a chill despite the warmth of the day. He'd ridden out as the gallows had started to take shape, unable to bear looking upon that stark reminder of his own possible fate. "Chris--"
"Ssh," Larabee breathed, reaching out to lay a forefinger over the tracker's mouth. Soft green eyes searched his lover's blue ones, and understanding shone in them. "Ain't no need you goin' back. Blackfox ain't dangerous, just stupid. The six of us'll be more than enough ta handle any trouble that might come up. You stay out here as long as you want."
Vin gave a slight, wan smile and nodded, grateful for Chris's understanding. He'd seen a fair number of hangings in his time, but he'd never enjoyed watching them, had always felt sickened by the sight. But the unease he'd felt all his life had turned into outright horror once the shadow of the noose had fallen over his own life, and not even the knowledge that John Blackfox was guilty as sin was enough to make him go back into town and face his own personal nightmare.
"Reckon I'll be back this evenin', then," he said softly. "That oughtta give the Judge time ta git Blackfox hung 'n the town settled down again." He sat up and crossed his legs, and an expression of worry crossed his face. "He's gonna notice I ain't there. That gonna be a problem fer you?"
Chris shrugged lightly. "Don't see why it should." When Vin's worry did not abate, he added, "He knows how towns get for a hangin'. Folks come in from all over, everybody's in an uproar... I'll just tell him seein' all them people in one place got you skittish. He knows you; he'll believe it."
"Yeah, he knows me," Vin sighed. He winced and dropped his gaze to the ground. "Wonder jist what he knows, though?"
Larabee had wondered that himself. Orin Travis was a tough old man, sharp and shrewd and possessing a sense of justice that went clear through to his core. And sometimes, when he fixed those keen, penetrating dark eyes on Tanner, Chris could almost see him measuring the man against his poster, judging the tracker as he'd judged so many others and weighing the course of true justice against the demands of the law.
"You know JD's always quick ta take your poster out of any new ones we get, right?" Chris asked quietly, needing Vin to know just how many people he had on his side. "So it ain't like the Judge is gonna see one while he's in town."
"While he's in our town, ya mean," Vin corrected. "Ain't got nobody lookin' out fer me anywheres else, 'n you'd be surprised how far 'n how fast them posters c'n spread. Still," he forced a note of confidence into his voice, "I reckon if he was gonna send me back, he'da done it already. He ain't one fer pussy-footin' around."
Chris leaned forward and pressed a tender, loving kiss to Tanner's mouth. "Don't you worry, Vin," he said softly, "ain't nobody gonna hang you, not even Judge Travis. I just ain't gonna let that happen." He ran a thumb gently against the tracker's whiskered cheek. "I'm gonna take care of you, you hear? You ain't alone no more."
A shy smile spread slowly over Vin's face and lit his blue eyes. "Yeah, I know," he murmured, "'n it's a right nice feelin'." He reached for Chris's hand and held tightly to it, entwining his fingers with the gunman's and gazing intently into those deep green eyes. "You take care of me, 'n I take care of you. You watch my back 'n I watch yers. From here on out, we're ridin' this trail together."
Chris had to smile at that, recognizing in the tracker's rough, simple words a vow as solemn and as binding as those he'd exchanged with Sarah all those years ago. He squeezed Vin's fingers and nodded slowly, his heart full, his soul at peace.
"Together," he repeated, pledging his whole life, his whole self, to the man before him. His smile widened, and his eyes gleamed brilliantly. "And somethin' tells me it's gonna be one helluva ride!"
+ + + + + + +
The honorable Orin W. Travis, federal territorial circuit judge, paced slowly about the sheriff's office, seamed and weathered face more deeply lined than usual, dark eyes somber. He hadn't spoken in at least half an hour, not since John Blackfox had blurted his incredible news in the hope of saving his neck. But, in all that time, his mind had never ceased working.
Could it be true? Could the half-breed drifter and horse thief possibly hold the key to the tragedy, the crime, that had taken the lives of Chris Larabee's wife and son? And if it were true, what then? What were his obligations?
Horse thieves hanged; it was the law. And there was no doubt Blackfox was guilty; Tanner, Wilmington ad Dunne had tracked him down and caught him with two stolen horses. Nope, no doubt at all.
But... if Blackfox did know something about that fire, about those deaths, didn't justice demand that he be heard? Yet what incentive, what reason, would he have for speaking if he knew he would hang anyway? Men like Blackfox, regardless of what the crusaders and reformers back East preached, didn't give a damn about clearing their consciences before they met their Maker. It wasn't a matter of easing their burdens, but of escaping the noose. If he were going to hang no matter what he said, then why say anything at all?
Yet what guarantee was there that he knew anything helpful, or knew anything at all? He certainly wouldn't be the first man ever to concoct a pack of lies just to save his wretched life. The deaths of Larabee's wife and son weren't exactly a secret in these parts; anybody who'd been here long enough to know the gunfighter's name knew what happened to his family. How hard would it be for a talented, and desperate, liar to make up a story out of gossip, rumor and innuendo?
But... God, it always came back to "but." Travis had been a judge long enough to know every argument in the world against granting a convicted prisoner leniency, knew if he did it now, it wouldn't be long at all before the story got out and every other prisoner he tried from now on would suddenly remember "important information" about some crime or another. But if he didn't show leniency, and John Blackfox went to his death in silence, withholding information he truly had about the Larabee deaths...
Where was Solomon when you really needed him?
JD Dunne watched the judge in silence in silence from behind his desk, feeling for the man in his dilemma and wondering what he would decide. Over the short time he'd known Travis, he'd come to respect him enormously, to consider him a man not only of knowledge, but of wisdom, a firm arbiter of the law, and an even fiercer advocate of justice.
And the boy wouldn't be in the man's shoes right now for anything in the world.
Travis reached the far end of the office, turned and started toward the other side, knowing by now exactly how many steps it would take to get him there. After only three, however, he glanced out the window and came to an abrupt halt, his sturdy frame tensing, his firm jaw setting, his sharp gaze snapping to a familiar figure striding out of the livery stable. He stared for several long moments, his hands clenched into fists at his sides, then, without a word to the young sheriff, strode purposefully to the door, grabbing his hat on the way out and slamming the door behind him.
Startled, JD rose from his chair and went to his window, searching the street until he found what had caught Travis's attention. At the sight, a cold wave of dread twisted through him and, once again, he was desperately grateful he wasn't the judge.
Chris Larabee had just ridden into town.
+ + + + + + +
Travis watched Larabee go inside the boardinghouse and hurried after the gunman. Along the way, he looked around for any sign of Tanner, and swore under his breath when the tracker didn't appear. Like so many others, he'd grown accustomed to seeing the two together, to thinking of one almost as an extension of the other, and he knew one was usually -- usually -- less likely to go off half-cocked and do something stupid with the other there to exercise a calming and rational influence.
He could really have used Tanner just now.
He entered the boardinghouse and went up the stairs to Larabee's room, knocking quietly on the door. When it opened, the gunman's surprise at seeing him was clear.
"Judge," Chris greeted, stepping aside and allowing the older man to enter.
Travis did so, and took a cursory look around. Larabee's hat hung on the bedpost, and his black duster and saddlebags lay on the bed. The room was small but tidy, the man's few possessions arranged neatly on the dresser or otherwise put away, out of sight. That described Larabee himself -- his surface carefully arranged to give nothing away, and anything that would have given a true sense of the man kept out of sight. Hidden.
Well. Travis was about to pull him out of that hiding.
Chris watched the older man carefully, studying his expression, noting the tension of his sturdy body and the way he nervously -- Travis, nervous? -- toyed with the hat he'd removed from his head, turning it around and around in his hands by its brim. Infected by the judge's unease, he felt a tendril of anxiety coiling through his gut.
For one of the few times in his life, Travis was at a loss, and so, rather than attacking the problem head-on, as was his wont, he side-stepped it. "I expected to see Tanner riding in with you."
Chris tensed at that, not liking at all the way the man avoided looking at him. God, Vin... "No, he decided ta stay out a while longer," he answered carefully. "All these folks in town... Makes him nervous."
"I see." He noted the stiffening of Larabee's body, the narrowing of the sharp green eyes, and almost smiled. The gunman was worried. Worried that he knew the truth about Tanner. Which, of course, he did. Hell, he'd known about it all along. He'd found the wanted poster that first day back in town, less than an hour after Tanner and the others had sided with him against Lucas James. But he hadn't said anything, because he'd been intrigued by the notion of a man wanted for murder stepping up in defense of a federal judge.
Orin Travis had spent most of his adult life judging men, and he'd learned to trust his instincts. Those instincts had urged him to do nothing, to say nothing, to bide his time and watch. And what he'd seen in the days following, and the weeks since, had convinced him that while Vin Tanner was no innocent, he was no murderer, either. Travis had torn up and burned that poster, and never lost a minute of sleep over having hired a wanted man as one of his peacekeepers.
But now Tanner wasn't here to keep the peace, and Travis missed him sorely. Still, he was no coward, and had never gotten into the habit of avoiding unpleasant duties. And while this one ranked right up there, he steeled himself and did what had to be done.
"It's all right," he said quietly, stilling the turning of his hat and lifting his head to meet Larabee's gaze steadily. "What I have to say concerns you, not him."
Chris frowned, liking this less and less as time wore on. Travis was clearly uncomfortable, and it took a lot to make him so. "Judge?" he prompted quietly.
Travis grimaced deeply. "Hell, there's no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it. Blackfox claims he has information about... about the fire... that killed your wife and son."
Chris stared at the man in stunned surprise, eyes wide, mouth open, not at all certain he'd heard correctly. But when Travis nodded slightly, all the air left his lungs in a rush and his legs turned to rubber, dropping him clumsily onto his bed. He sat there for long moments, dazed, unseeing, unable to breathe, unable to think.
Blackfox... fire... Sarah... oh, God, Adam...
Travis sighed softly, tiredly, and sat down gingerly on the bed beside Chris, wanting to reach out to him, but not certain he should. He knew something of what the younger man was feeling, knew only too well how it felt to lose a son, how it felt to have that part of your life, your heart, your flesh, torn away, never to be replaced. But at least he still had Evie, at least he'd seen Steven grow to manhood, at least he had a grandson to warm the days of his old age.
What did Chris have, except the desperate ramblings of a doomed horse thief?
"I wish," he began softly, sadly, "I wish I could say he's telling the truth, or say he's lying. But I can't, because I don't know. I just... don't know."
"What... what did he... say?" Chris whispered, his voice strained, his eyes still fixed on something only he could see. Fixed on the burned out ruins of his home, his life, on the charred corpses of his wife and son.
Travis winced and bowed his head. "He said he was there. Said he didn't do anything, but he was there."
Chris turned raw, tortured eyes upon the judge, his soul torn anew by all the pain he thought he'd put behind him. "Do you believe him?" he asked in a rough, thick voice.
Travis sighed heavily. "I don't know, Chris," he admitted. "He seems sincere, but he's a man bargaining for his life. And I'm just not familiar enough with... with the details... to know for certain--"
"I'm familiar with 'em!" Chris snarled, shooting to his feet as fury erupted through him. "And if this bastard's lyin', usin' my wife and son ta save his neck, then he'll wish ta God he'd let you hang him!"
Travis rose slowly to his feet, willing upon himself a calm he prayed would reach Larabee. "Chris--"
"He's got no right!" Chris spat, enraged at the thought of Blackfox dredging up his pain, dragging Sarah and Adam out of their graves, just to save his own worthless life. "Goddamn it, they're dead! Why can't he just let 'em be, let 'em rest in peace?" An ugly scowl twisted his face, and murder kindled in his eyes. "He won't get away with this," he growled in a low and deadly voice, dropping a hand to his gun. "He's got no right speakin' of 'em, and I'm gonna put a stop to it right now!"
But Travis reached out and grabbed his arm, staring compellingly into those burning eyes. "You listen to me," he ordered in a low, hard voice. "I will not condone murder. If you want to talk to him, fine. But the only way you get into that jail is without your gun."
"I can, and I will," Travis said coldly, never releasing Larabee's arm. "You know me, Chris, and you know I never utter empty threats. If you do this, you do it my way. Because if you cross the line, you will face me in court, and you will hang. Justice may be blind, but she will not turn a blind eye. Not while there's breath in my body." He continued to stare up at the man he'd come to respect, to like, and his expression and stance softened. "Don't force my hand, Chris," he pleaded gently. "Don't make the same mistake Lucas James did. He lost, and so will you. And you're too good a man for that."
Chris clenched his teeth and returned that stare without softening. "Bastard deserves ta die--"
"If it turns out he's lying, he will. And if he played a part in their deaths, he will," Travis assured him. "I hang horse thieves. You think I won't hang a murderer? But you owe it yourself, and to them, to find out the truth. And I'm giving you that chance."
"But only without my gun," Chris sneered.
Travis arched graying brows. "I'm no fool," he chided Larabee. "I've seen what you can do. And I'm not going to give you the chance to do it. As I said before, we do this my way, or we don't do it at all."
Chris' stare bored into Travis, but, even as he tried, he knew he'd never bend the old man to his will. Too many others before him had tried and failed. Travis hadn't gotten where he was by being weak.
"You know I don't have ta shoot him ta kill him," he said in a low voice, reaching down to unbuckle his gunbelt.
"I know," Travis agreed easily. "But I also know it takes a while to beat a man to death, even for you, and I'm betting I could stop you before you succeeded. Besides," he accepted the belt Larabee held out to him, "you want to know the truth, and you'll never get it from a dead man. Even you aren't that good."
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