Four Corners appeared to be headed for a normal day the following morning. Wilmington sat on the jailhouse porch and watched Mrs. Travis as she wandered down the boardwalk and greeted Mrs. Thatcher as she exited the boarding house. They exchanged brief words before parting, and Buck was left to wonder…

His suspicious daydreaming was interrupted as Miss Recillos, came out of the boarding house too. He watched her as she gracefully sauntered to the support beam and leaned against it. Closing her eyes, she took in a deep breath of the fresh morning air. A smile grew on the young woman’s face as she slowly opened her eyes and looked about town. As he sat and watched the beautiful Mexican woman, Wilmington couldn’t help but smile as well.

Sitting down beside the mesmerized lady’s man, Josiah grinned as he realized what held Buck’s attention. "She sure is a pretty thing," the preacher said happily.

Buck straightened in his chair and pretended to be occupied doing almost anything else other than what Sanchez was accusing him of.

"Buck," Josiah called, trying to stop Wilmington’s fumbling. "Buck."


"Buck Wilmington," Sanchez shook his head, "Why don’t you just admit that you’re enchanted with the…"

"I ain’t never been… enchanted in my entire life, Josiah," the lady’s man protested defensively.

The preacher rubbed his chin. "Smitten… maybe?" he raised his eyebrows. "Is that a word you like better, Buck."

Wilmington narrowed his eyes. Glancing around to see Inez going into the restaurant, Buck looked back at the preacher questioningly. "I ain’t never been… smitten neither," he answered back defiantly.

Josiah laughed as he got to his feet. He set his hand on Buck’s shoulder and smiled. "Until now, Buck Wilmington… until now."

Watching the preacher walk away, the lady’s man frowned. His glance quickly alternated, several times, between Josiah and the restaurant. "Nah!" he huffed to himself. Gaining his feet he headed inside the sheriff’s office, but stopped at the door to glance at the preacher once again. He narrowed his focus, but shook his head no, once again, before going inside.

Larabee rolled over in his bed and smiled before he even opened his eyes. He could hear the bacon sizzling in the pan, and the wonderful aroma of the meat, mixed with the smell of coffee. For a brief second Chris forget that Tanner was troubled about something. "Morning, Vin," the gunslinger offered as he sat up and pulled on his socks and pants.

The sharpshooter just waved a fork in the air in response. Still not turning around, Vin grabbed for a second cup with his other hand and set it on the worktable.

Settling into his boots, Chris pulled his shirt on and excused himself. "Be right back."

Tanner only smiled as he heard the door open and close. He grabbed a cloth and took hold of the coffeepot. Topping up his own mug, before filling the other cup, the tracker set the pot back at the edge of the stove and took up his fork once again. Moving the bacon around in the pan for several more minutes, he didn’t look up when he heard the door open and close a second time.

Footsteps and the squeaking of the chair told Vin that his friend had settled at the table. Reaching for the breadboard and extra coffee, Vin turned to set them in front of Chris. Grabbing a plate from the cupboard, he piled the bacon onto it and removed the pan from its heat. With his cup of coffee in one hand, and the plate of bacon in the other, Tanner moved to the table and sat down.

"Been a while since you made me coffee, Vin," the blond smiled at the cup in his hand. "You’re improving."

For the first time that morning, blue eyes met green ones.

They held each other’s gaze for several long seconds before Tanner finally spoke. "Finally took a hint… I guess."

The perplexing nature of their conversation last night came flooding back into the gunslinger's’ memory. The corner of Larabee’s lip curled and he nodded his head every so slightly. "Are we done out here, Vin?" he narrowed his gaze. "Or you got more you wanna confuse me with?"

Tanner smiled a little before breaking the stare and reaching for two pieces of bread. He grabbed a small handful of bacon and laid it haphazardly on one slice before topping the sandwich with the other slice. Squishing the meal down he picked it up and took a good-sized bit.

Giving his friend time to think, Larabee repeated the sandwich making technique and began to eat as well. He smiled as he chewed. The tracker was a simple man and this simple breakfast was a Tanner meal, no doubt about it. Chris had to admit though, the food did taste good. And chased down with a half-decent cup of coffee, it hit the spot.

His sandwich more than three-quarters finished, the sharpshooter swallowed down some coffee and took a deep breath. "Reckon I’m done confusin’ ya, Chris," Vin finally offered before taking another bite.

There was another long silence as both men finished their sandwiches. Noticing that there were still three pieces of bacon left, Chris swiped one and pushed the plate towards the tracker. "But you’re still flustered about somethin’, Vin… Ain’t ya?"

Tanner consumed the remaining two pieces of bacon slowly before answering the question. "Reckon that ain’t gonna change no time soon…" He got to his feet and headed to the door. Turning to look at Chris, Vin offered his friend a small smile. "You gonna clean up this mess?" he said, pointing to the table and the remnants of their breakfast.

Larabee nodded and returned the smirk as Tanner opened the door. "Vin…"

The tracker stopped and glanced over his shoulder. There was a short pause as the two men stared at each other. "I’m okay, Chris… thanks."

Watching the door close behind the sharpshooter, the blond’s couldn’t help but wonder. "Are ya, Vin?" he whispered to himself.

Larabee and Tanner returned to Four Corners and said nothing more of the previous evening’s topics. Chris was still bothered by his friend’s questions, but the tracker was intent on his continued silence. The six remaining peacekeepers fell back into their usually routines. The daily rounds were made, both around and outside of town. The stage passengers were observed, as they arrived and departed. And a sheriff could always be found at the jailhouse all hours of the day.

The townsfolk went about their daily routines as well. Business was conducted, school was held, and the weekly edition of the Clarion was distributed. A very normal day turned into a very normal evening and concluded uneventfully. These types of days were the best of times in Four Corners. Heaven only knows they had seen their fair share of the worst times. Each in their own way, the inhabitants of this dusty little town were more than grateful for every quiet day that happened along.

Two days later it was Sunday and everything continued to remain peaceful. The preacher called tranquility, ‘God’s gift for the deserved masses.’ His service went off without a hitch. That fact alone made Josiah more than happy, of course. And even Mrs. Benson, the town’s newest permanent resident, took a few moments to offer her kind words to Sanchez.

Arriving in the summer, the new schoolmistress had made easy friends with most of the townsfolk. In fact, she had been made to feel, more than welcome, by this community. They were grateful that she had agreed to come and educate their children. But Mrs. Benson had had serious questions about the presence of The Seven.

Her opinions of the peacekeepers had seemed justified at first. Several different occurrences had shown the elderly woman a different view of these men, and she had begun to see the peacekeepers in a different light. A lady in every sense of the word, Victoria Benson had had serious doubts when informed that the ‘law’ in her new home, were seven amazingly different individuals.

A man, dressed in black, paraded himself around town and was called their leader. He was a gunslinger with too many notches in his belt. He had occasion to drink heavily, rarely looked people in the eye and never smiled.

And then there was the tall scoundrel who smiled too much. He enjoyed the company of the town’s female population considerably more than was proper and never seemed to take anything seriously.

There was another amongst them who appeared not to have a proper prospective on life. He was a seemingly, too young, kid sheriff with boundless energy, and a habit of acting before it was called for.

Victoria had wondered how any of these men could be responsible for her continued safety. But there were four more.

The scruffy, quiet loner who rarely spoke bothered Mrs. Benson to no end. In his eyes she witnessed a calm danger reserved only for the most menacing of men.

Then there was the smartly dressed confidence man, and who gambled far too much. She seriously doubted that a man like the southerner could ever be trusted.

The same could be said for the colored healer who, without a moments hesitation, could inflicted some of the wounds he was called upon to tend.

And lastly, there was this giant of a man who wore a gun and knew how to use it, and yet stood in front of them every Sunday and preached the word of God.

The very idea of men such as these protecting her was at first, beyond any reason. But now the widow knew differently.

Victoria Benson had never seen Chris Larabee use his earned reputation against an honest man. But she had witnessed the gunslinger use his notoriety to protect good men and deter those with unprincipled intentions. She understood, very clearly, that this leader of seven men, did not bestow his friendship and trust, unless he felt it was deserved. Yet there was one specific moment in time that Mrs. Benson had gained the knowledge she needed to trust Chris Larabee. Quite by chance, she had witnessed the man offer a simple, genuine smile to a friend. It was a warm, kind-hearted smile that betrayed the gunslinger image so completely. Mrs. Benson never questioned Larabee again.

The schoolmistress was a woman in her later years, and as such, had seen her fair share of men who did not know how to properly treat a woman. Yet for all the ogling and drooling and funning that Buck Wilmington could be accused of, Victoria never once, witnessed the ladies man disrespect a woman in any way. He even seemed to treat the working girls with the same sort of admiration that he appeared to have for the general female population. Observing the scoundrel’s behavior on several occasions, the woman could only come to one inescapable conclusion. This ladies man actually, loved and honored the women he associated with… each and every one of them.

Mrs. Benson’s first reaction to John Dunne wasn’t that of mistrust or disapproval, as with most of the other peacekeepers. It had been JD’s eagerness and enthusiasm that had caused the widow to step back. Victoria had seen too many cases where these attributes had inevitably led people into distress. By simple definition, the nature of peacekeeping duties should be one where cool heads prevail. Yet JD Dunne had proved himself on several occasions. When needed, the kid became a man worthy of trust and loyalty. His judgement was steadfast in a crisis, and his horsemanship and marksmanship were as good as any of the others. When required, the kid became a man…

Vin Tanner was still a mystery to Victoria Benson, as might be said for most of the town’s population. If nothing else, it is instinct that tells you not to trust someone you can’t get a feel for. And of course, it was that same mysteriousness that made the man hard to believe in. Yet the quiet, guarded calm that surrounded the sharpshooter in secrecy also encircled him in peacefulness the widow rarely experienced in a man’s presence. Once she was able to see past the rough exterior and cautiousness, the widow was pleased to find the gentle, caring man the tracker truly was.

And then there was Ezra Standish. He was the best example of a confidence man and gambler that the widow had had the displeasure to know. Every ounce of Victoria’s intuition told her that this man could not be trusted. From his distinctive clothes and extravagant language, to the deceptive ways he observed people, Mrs. Benson could find nothing about the man to approve of. But then, not long after her arrival, a devil by the name of Dayton, had walked amongst them. The southerner had displayed his emotions, unchecked. The sheer depth of Ezra’s disgust and loathing had touched the widow immensely. Another occasion had shown her the true compassion and dedication with which he applied his duties. For her initial conclusions about Ezra Standish, the widow was truly sorry.

Mrs. Benson understood that some folks had a dislike for the colored race. She had never held any great bigotry, yet she had always been cautious. Perhaps this was the first hurdle the healer had to overcome. Nathan Jackson treated all those in need, yet he stood proudly beside these men who inflicted death and mayhem when called upon to do so. He used his weaponry with deadly precision and did not hesitate to carry out his peacekeeper role. And yet, with the same tenacity that he protected innocents, the healer would tend those he had harmed. His compassion towards those who needed treatment was immense. His drive to save lives was unyielding. And closest to Mrs. Benson’s consciousness, the healer had displayed tenderness and unwavering optimism when called upon to save the life of a child. Against all odds, he had succeeded. Nathan Jackson had earned more than Victoria Benson’s trust…

In the widow’s eyes, Josiah Sanchez was arguably the most surprising member of this band of seven. First impression showed her a rough around the edges, contentious, giant of a man, who had apparently killed more than a few men in his time and did nothing to hide that fact. And worst of all, he had the nerve to stand at a pulpit every Sunday and preach. Never one to deny herself church visits, Mrs. Benson had sat nervously and listened that first time, clearly apprehensive of what she might hear. Yet the words that graced her ears where well spoken and thoughtful. She found it hard to accept that Sanchez was an educated man, yet his sermons were inspirational. There was something else she liked about the preacher, but she hadn’t quiet managed to admit to herself what that truly was.

"Mrs. Benson," Sanchez turned to look at the woman, seemingly lost in thought. "Is everything alright?" he asked as reality intruded into her wandering mind.

"OH… Yes, Mr. Sanchez," the woman got to her feet and straightened her dress. "I was just… just reflecting… on your doctrine today." Victoria moved out of the row and towards the door. The small church was empty except for herself and Mr. Sanchez and she was slightly embarrassed that she had been caught daydreaming.

Josiah raised his eyebrows. "Now, I’m hopin’ that’s a good thing," he said questioningly as he followed the schoolmistress to the door and they went outside.

Stopping at the top of the steps, Victoria couldn’t help but smile as she turned to face the preacher. "Yes, of course, Mr. Sanchez. Naturally, I can only speak for myself, but I found your points of conclusion persuasive."

Josiah frowned. "Ma’am?"

Victoria chuckled. "Divine truth is in one’s own acceptance," she repeated the preacher’s closing comments.

Sanchez offered his wide, toothy grin to the Widow. "Yes, ma’am," he nodded. "If you can’t be honest with yourself…"

There was a moment of silence as the two, simply stood and smiled at one another.

"Well, I must be off," Mrs. Benson held out her hand. "I have lessons to prepare for tomorrow."

Josiah had intended to give her hand a gentle shake, but instead, found himself raising it to his lips and kissing it lightly. He released the hand and it slowly folded to Victoria’s side.

Neither party quiet knew what to do next.

Another moment of silence passed before Josiah tipped his hat. "Good day, Ma’am," he said politely. Returning the slight smile she offered before departing, Sanchez watched the widow move quickly down the street. Pleased with himself, he straightened his waistcoat and moved back inside the church.

As a general rule the saloon was a little quieter than normal on a Sunday. All afternoon patrons had been coming and going, but Inez had found enough time to do a little extra cleaning in the kitchen. Now dusting behind the bar, a scarf tied around her head kept her hair away from her eyes.

Wilmington sidled up to his favorite corner of the counter and watched Miss Recillos work. A small smile graced the corner of his lip as Buck observed her wipe the small wisp of perspiration from his brow. "Seems ta me a lovely lady shouldn’t be working so hard on a beautiful day like today."

The pretty Mexican looked up and frowned. "If this senorita does not keep her business clean," she stood up. "Then I will have no business to run at all."

Wiping her hands on her apron, the woman walked to where the ladies man stood. "I am sure that even you, Senor Buck, would not like to have your drinks in a dirty glass… no?"

Buck’s customary laugh sounded, "Guess you’re right there, Miss Inez," he leaned on the bar.

"And what is it that you wish to have today, Senor Buck? And then I must continue my cleaning," the woman smiled. "No doubt, this will keep you entertained."

The smile on Wilmington’s face wavered. He straightened his stance and cleared his throat. "Actually, Miss Inez… I didn’t come for no drink…"

Miss Recillos frowned again, "You are wanting something else, Senor?"

Buck cleared his throat once again. "Well, yeah… you…"

Slapping the dusting rag over Wilmington’s head, the woman huffed loudly, "I have no time to waste on your games, Senor Buck." She moved away from the ladies man heading back to the place she had vacated moments before.

"Well… I… actually."

"It is time you take your smart mouth somewhere else…"

"Ain’t no games, Inez," Wilmington interrupted.

Miss Recillos turned to look at the ladies man.

"And this smart mouth was aiming on invitin’ ya ta Sunday supper at the restaurant, if ‘n you’d let me talk." The peacekeeper calmed himself and smiled at the woman before him. Even dressed in her work clothes and covered in dust she possessed a beauty that he couldn’t deny.

Inez stood and stared at the handsome rogue on the other side of the bar. She was accustomed to having a rebuttal ready for every pretentious comment that the ladies man usually threw her way, but right now she was perplexed. Her suspicious nature wanted to discount the invitation and look for the man’s true intentions, but the seriousness of his tone made her question her own judgement.

Several long seconds passed before Wilmington tried to gain control of the situation. "Inez…"

Her focus having wavered, the pretty Mexican looked back at the ladies man.

"So, am I gonna get an answer?"

Walking slowly back towards the peacekeeper the woman did her best to look presentable. Wiping her brow, a small smile crossed her face. "You wish to take me to dinner, Senor Buck?"

Wilmington only nodded. Averting his eyes for just a moment, he looked back at the lady and smiled. "Figured it was about time I got over my… shyness."

Remembering her comments to the ladies man two days earlier, Miss Recillos blushed and spun around. "If this is your attempt…"

"It’s a genuine offer, Miss Inez," he interrupted as the woman slowly turned to face him once again.

Two people stood in the midst of a saloon oblivious to their surroundings. Their eyes held each other’s and perceived nothing else.

A smile formed on Buck’s face as he watched the head in front of him slowly nod.

Monday was another uneventful day.

The only bright spot seemed to be Mary Travis as she floated about town with her notebook. The morning stage had brought a traveler journeying from Albuquerque to Eagle Bend. The gentleman had stopped at the newspaper office to purchase a local publication. Mrs. Travis had exchanged her Clarion News for the man’s used copy of the Albuquerque Tribune.

Having joined the lady for lunch, Chris had listened intently as Mary retold what she had read earlier. An article reprinted from Santa Fe was the one that the newspaperwoman was most interested in. For months now, they had heard rumors about the range wars happening in Lincoln Country, but actual press releases and statements were few and far between.

So here she was, in the late afternoon, wandering around town with the used paper in her hands. Mrs. Travis was asking people to read the article and then writing down their reactions to it. Her activities were all in the name of journalism, of course. She was intending to reprint the Santa Fe editorial in the Clarion on Friday, as well, as some local reactions to it. Even during the welcomed lulls in activity, Mary could be counted on to distribute interesting reading material for the town.

John Dunne was bored. Too many days of peace and quiet did that to the kid. He fumbled with the dime novel he was attempting to read, but found little solace in its pages. Closing the book curtly, he stuffed it back in his jacket pocket and looked around. The tracker sat quietly beside him whittling on a piece of wood.

Looking about town again, JD got to his feet and moved to the edge of the walk to see if there was anything interesting going on. Seeing nothing engaging, he glanced back at Tanner. "You got an opinion on that stuff goin’ on in Lincoln Country, Vin?"

Mrs. Travis had asked the sharpshooter if he wanted to try and read the paper. Mary was constantly discreet and never put any pressure on him, and for that, Vin was always grateful. He had however, declined the offer. He’s heard talk about the land barons and corrupt officials when they were in Ridge City a few months back. Interference into the affairs of others, by anyone, was just not Vin’s business and he liked to keep his opinions to himself about such things. He also didn’t like taking sides in disputes unless it directly involved his peacekeeping duties in Four Corners, of course. Without looking up, Tanner answered the kid’s query. "Nope."

"Sounds like there’s some real bad folks runnin’ around further north. Hope they stay on their side of the mountains." JD paused, "… not that we couldn’t use a little excitement around here."

Tanner glanced up at look Dunne. "Stanton Reservation’s between us and them too, JD, but this is a big county. Folks gotta right ta be here, same as any other." Vin shook his head, "Excitement," he huffed, "You’d best be careful what ya wish for, Kid."

JD turned back towards the street, "I didn’t mean nothin’ by that, Vin," he said regretfully. Looking south he spotted a familiar face and smiled. "Hey, look!"

Tanner followed the kid’s gaze and spotted Nathan riding back into town. The small smile wavered on the tracker’s face as another rider came into his line of sight.

"What ‘a ya suppose Rain’s doing here?" Receiving no answer from the tracker, JD glanced over his shoulder and noticed the blank stare focused on the end of the street. "You okay, Vin?"

The sharpshooter set his chair down on the boardwalk and looked at the kid. "If Nathan’s lucky," Tanner huffed, getting to his feet. "Rain’s come ta ‘er senses," he reached for the handle and went inside the jail. The door closed loudly behind him.

"It is Tuesday, I believe?" Standish queried as he noted the door that had just been slammed.

JD nodded his head.

"So Mr. Tanner’s good mood lasted, what… three days?"

The kid shrugged his shoulders. "Can’t figure it out, Ezra. He’s been fine since him and Chris got back." He turned to look back towards the livery. "Then he sees Nathan and Rain ridin’ in."

Moving to the edge of the boardwalk Standish followed JD’s line of sight. "Mr. Jackson has returned?"

"Yeah." A sudden wave of remembrance hit the kid and he gasped. "Oh, hey… I got a message for ya. Mr. Allen said to tell ya that there’s another package come in for ya. He’s got it at the post office."

"Ah, good," the gambler smiled.

"And there’s a fella, got off the afternoon stage. He’s lookin’ for you. Says he’s from Denver… and you should be expectin’ him." The kid’s last comments were more of a question than a statement.

Forgetting the tracker’s reactions, the gambler straightened his clothes. "Does this gentleman have a name?"

"Oh, yeah… Percival Eddington… think that’s what he said."

The southerner raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "Eddington?" he tried to clarify.

JD nodded. "Think that’s what he said," he repeated. "You know the fella, Ezra?"

Standish raised an eyebrow before continuing his inquires. "I do not recognize the name, Mr. Dunne. But I was told to expect a man from Denver," he smiled. "And where, pray tell, might I find this individual?"

"Oh, I sent him down to the hotel," he motioned south.

"If you will excuse me, Mr. Dunne. I must attend to the business at hand." Tipping his hat, the gambler walked off down the street.

Leaning against the support beam, JD smiled and watched the southerner disappear into the crowds.

"What do ya think, Nathan," Buck asked happily. The ladies man looked across the table and frowned. "Nathan," he called a little bit louder.

"Huh!" there was a moment’s recognition before the healer took his eyes away from the bar. "… What?"

Sanchez and Dunne laughed.

Looking around at his fellow peacekeepers, Jackson pursed his lips.

"Geez, Nathan. You ain’t gonna be no good ta nobody if you spend yer days starin’ at Miss Rain like that."

Setting his beer back on the table, Wilmington laughed a little and leaned forward. "It’s alright, Nathan," he slapped his friend on the shoulder. "You’ll get used to it."

Sipping at his whiskey, the preacher smiled. "And just how long will the fair Rain be staying with you, Nathan?"

"I told you fellas, Rain ain’t gonna stay with ME!" the healer answered too quickly.

His three companions quickly laughed at the defensive stand Jackson assumed.

Seeing the goading he was being subjected too, Nathan relaxed a little smiled. "All right, so you had ya fun," he forced a smile for the three men before glancing over towards the bar again.

Rain stood at the counter engaged in a conversation with Inez, and the two women seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.

"I don’t think she knows, Josiah," the healer’s voice softened. "She just wanted a change of pace." Looking back at the preacher, Jackson tried to smile. "Said she needed ta find out if she could… live in a town like this."

There was a moment’s silence before Sanchez spoke. "You two been gettin’ serious like… haven’t ya, Nathan."

The healer bowed his head before looking back and smiling. "Reckon so… Ever since that other fella changed his mind about that arranged marriage thing." Jackson huffed as a glanced at his lady again. "Okay, so maybe it was a mutual decision, but I reckon this’ll be a test… ta see if she can be in my world." Looking at Rain once again, Jackson stared at the drink in front of him. "Ta see if she can be with me."

Having been focusing on the two women at the bar, Wilmington smiled. "Well, looks ta me like she’s off to a good start, Nathan. Rain and Inez are talkin’ up a storm over there."

Nathan smiled, but quickly chanced the subject. "And what’s this I hear about you and Miss Inez takin’ supper at the restaurant last night."

The ladies man slapped JD across the shoulders.

"What?" the kid protested. "I didn’t say nothin’…" he smirked. "Even if it was the funniest thing ta see you actually say goodnight to a lady rather than tryin’ ta get ‘er inta bed."

Wilmington slapped Dunne again, "Oh, and I suppose you told ‘im all about your Thursday Night supper with Casey," Buck leaned forward, "And your midnight ride… afterwards."

Nathan raised an eyebrow, "No… he neglected ta mention that," he smiled.

"Weren’t no ‘midnight ride’," JD protested. "And nothin’ happened," he lied. A small smile crept across his face.

Always having an eye for detail, the ladies man narrowed his eyes slightly. "You sure about that, kid?"

"Sure, I’m sure," Dunne did his best to convince the gathered men of his innocence.

"Do any of you gentlemen know the where abouts of Mr. Larabee?" the southerner questioned as he arrived at the table.

Josiah pulled out the chair beside him. "Have a seat, Ezra. He ain’t back from patrol yet."

"No… thank you, Mr. Sanchez," the gambler motioned to the poker table in the corner. "My guest has suggested that we partake in a game of cards to pass the time."

"And of course, you didn’t tell him you’re a professional?" Buck questioned.

"My dear, Mr. Wilmington," Standish began, "If Mr. Eddington wishes to pass the time with a game of chance..." he smiled, "Who am I to deny the man his request."

"That would be a NO," the preacher added, quickly taking a drink.

The other men at the table snickered.

"Well," the gambler cleared his throat, "Yes… but… my intentions are purely as a good host, I can assure you of that."

"How long’s that fella gonna be here, Ezra?" Dunne asked.

"That, Mr. Dunne, was to be the basis for my discussion with Mr. Larabee. Mr. Eddington believes it will take us approximately six days to cover the portion of the territory he will be required to survey for Miss Langdon."

"You goin’ with him?"

"That was my intention, Mr. Jackson… with Mr. Larabee’s concurrence, of course."

"Well, you go on and have yaself a nice game, there Ezra. We’ll tell Chris if we see ‘im first."

"Many thanks, Mr. Wilmington. Mr. Eddington wishes to return to town each evening, but I most assuredly will not be available for my usual regiment. I trust you gentlemen will be able to endure six days without my assistance."

"Yeah, Ezra," the preacher beat the ladies man to the punch, "I think we can manage."

Standish smiled cockily, "Yes… well… do enjoy the remainder of the evening gentlemen," he tipped his hat and headed for the poker table.

Buck leaned across the table at Sanchez, "I think we can manage!" he repeated questioningly.

The next week passed peacefully in Four Corners. Ezra completed his duties with Percival Eddington, and then the surveyor seemed to disappear into the confines of his hotel room. Miss Langdon had ordered her survey be delivered to Mr. Standish prior to his departure, and that’s exactly what Eddington intended to do. The gambler had offered his continued assistance, but receiving a kind ‘no thanks’, he had returned to his peacekeeping duties. No one seemed to notice him take delivery of another package during the week.

Everyone else continued their normal routines, and everything seemed to be going well until a drunken brawl had broken out in the saloon on Saturday night. The damage to the saloon itself was minimal, but some of the furniture required replacing. Inez promptly summoned Martin Haynes, and the carpenter was more than happy for the work.

JD was upset about missing all of the action, yet consoled himself in Buck’s off-the-collar comments about him ‘taking charge of the situation’. The remarks the ladies man had made were accurate though. The kid was the one who had initiated the dinner invitation that evening. And Miss Wells had been pleasantly surprised by the suggestion and even more pleased with JD’s public display of affections.

Sunday evening found Buck and Josiah otherwise occupied at the restaurant as well.

The ladies man truly seemed to be enjoying the company he was keeping with Miss Recillos even though he had spent the better part of the afternoon convincing Inez to take a break from her clean-up efforts. Ultimately pitching in to help the lady out, Inez had finally relented. Buck did get the idea that she was making him work for her attentions though. He also didn’t seem to mind all that much.

Sanchez, on the other hand, had taken a chance at a woman’s company. After his Sunday sermon, Mrs. Benson had stopped to talk, as she had done the previous week. After much debating, Josiah had finally voiced his question to Victoria. He wondered if she would be offended if he extended an invitation to supper in the evening. The schoolmistress had hesitated at first, but then nodded her reply. Their dinner was exceedingly reserved and proper, but the preacher had expected nothing more and didn’t mind one little bit.

Contrary to the others, Nathan and Rain appeared to be encountering a few obstacles in the newfound co-existence. Residing at the boarding house, the young woman was in need of a source of income to pay her way. The conversation Nathan had observed between Rain and Inez had actually been an application for employment. Miss Recillos had welcomed the help, and Jackson was more than a little upset. His words had been the catalyst, ‘No woman of mine is gonna work in a saloon’.

They hadn’t spoken in six days.

Chris continued to keep a close eye on the moody tracker, but as the weekend came and went, it was Mary Travis who held his attention more. He had this sneaking suspicion that she was up to something, yet he couldn’t figure out what it might be. Mrs. Thatcher had become increasingly attentive to the newspaperwoman, rather than the files she normally pored over. And Nettie Wells had spent an unusual amount of time in town Monday and Tuesday, along with Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Haynes. Larabee tried to tell himself it was nothing, but something wasn’t right, and he knew it.

For his part in the week’s activities, Vin Tanner was doing his best to present his normal, cool, collected self. He’d been coping well until Monday evening. This was the day set aside for him to keep company with Mrs. Travis, and they ‘worked’ on his ‘lessons’.

To Mary, her question must have seemed simple enough. She hadn’t expected the tracker to lose his temper like that. This type of behavior just wasn’t what Mrs. Travis called ‘normal’ for the naturally quiet, reserved man. Chris had violent outbursts, not Vin Tanner. This was just another, in a long line of clues, that let the widow know something was bothering the young man.

The sharpshooter kicked himself after the flare-up. He really hated losing his cool, especially in front of the newspaperwoman. She had only asked why he was so anxious to determine the proper meaning of a word, but the tracker had no desire to explain his need for understanding… So what if ‘yearn’ wasn’t a word he would use everyday.

Vin had returned later to apologize for his behavior. Mary had been sympathetic, but she acknowledged that she knew something was wrong. She offered to help ‘in any way she could’. Oh, now there was an offer the tracker might consider taking her up on… but his need was just that, a need. And Chris Larabee wasn’t a man to share.