The Wednesday morning stage rolled into town in a cloud of dust. It came to a stop at the station and the driver jumped down to opened the door before heading to the rear of the coach. Judge Travis made his way down the step then turned to assist Evie to the ground. After making sure his wife was down safely, Orin walked to the back and grabbed two bags from the pile the driver was making.

"Mornin’ Judge," Buck smiled. "We weren’t expectin’ you."

"Good morning, Mr. Wilmington," Travis replied.

"We’re here to surprise our grandson," Evie added with a smile.

The ladies man returned the smile before noticing Orin collecting the luggage. "Here, Judge," he offered, "Let me help you with those." The big man took hold of the cases.

"Aren’t you gonna offer to help me with my bags, Buck Wilmington," a sultry voice called from the coach step.

The ladies man instinctively glanced back at the sound of his name, but his smile wavered as he watched Louisa Perkins step down from the stage.

Evie Travis set the third cup on the table and moved back towards the stove. Handling the pot with a cloth, she poured the coffee into the mugs. "It’s ready," she called to her daughter-in-law as she replaced the urn and sat down.

The Judge settled into the chair and watched Mary as she looked out the window. "Thank you, my dear," he acknowledge his wife’s efforts. "Mary!" he called the widow again.

The younger Mrs. Travis refocused on her in-laws, made her way to her kitchen table and took a seat. Taking the cream and sugar as Evie offered them, she added the ingredients to suit her taste before stirring the coffee slowly. Setting the spoon down she looked at the Judge. "Why didn’t you tell me she was coming?" Mary asked of her father-in-law.

Finishing the sip of coffee he was halfway through, Orin set his cup down and looked at the young woman. "I didn’t find out until Monday, Mary. I knew the governor wasn’t able to fit the presentation into his schedule, but I didn’t realize she was his new assistant. Mighty fine position she’s worked her way into I must say…"

"Orin Travis, you behave yourself."

At first giving his wife a stern look, he smiled and patted her hand. "I meant that in a complementary way, Evie. That young lady has ambition. She’s going places…"

"Without Buck Wilmington at her side."

Looking back at Mary, the Judge continued. "I didn’t think much of it. She found out what it was all about and jumped at the chance to get back here. I was curious though. We met up with the stage this morning. On the way she did mentioned that it’s been more than seven months since she’d seen her fiancée."

Evie put her cup down and addressed her daughter-in-law. "She also said that she’d sent several letters, but heard no reply. Of course, she thought it might be because she was moving around so much. You know, she actually said she thought something might have happened to Mr. Wilmington. That was, until she read a story in the Albuquerque Tribune. One of your editorials, Mary, reprinted in one of the Territory’s largest papers."

Mary forgot her dismay for a moment and listened intently to what Evie had to say. She was always interested when her journalism efforts made it beyond Dona Ana County. But one of her articles making it that far north was very interesting indeed. "Due credit was extended, I hope?"

Evie shrugged her shoulders. "I’m not sure, Mary, but I’m sure Miss Perkins would be able to tell you. She did say that the article mentioned Mr. Wilmington by name… she sounded quite proud…"

Lost in thought for just a second, Mary suddenly realized what story her mother-in-laws was referring to. The article was less than a month old. It had taken some time for her to write it, given the circumstances. It was a practiced custom, not to mention any of the seven by name in her stories, but this one was different. She’d still be upset when she managed to put it together. "The story I wrote about the wild dogs?" she asked apprehensively.

Briefly holding the young woman’s hand, Evie nodded. "Are you alright, Mary?"

The widow gave her own affirmative nod and swallowed down some more coffee in an effort to clear her mind.

"Mr. Wilmington no longer has intentions towards Miss Perkins?"

Glancing at the Judge, the widow only raised her eyebrows and took a deep breath. "To be honest, Orin, I’m not sure. It’s none of my business, I know. But I am aware that his ties here seem to have grown stronger in the last little while and that… he has been entertaining someone else in the past two weeks."

"Well," the Judge raised his eyebrows. "Entertaining is not exactly the word I would use, but that’s nothing new where Buck’s concerned."

Evie gave he husband another disapproving look.

Mary produced a small smiled. "Maybe so… but he’s… just been different."

Evie and Orin looked at each other questioningly.

A sudden thought crossed the widow’s mind. "What about this reporter you brought with you," she asked. "I noticed he’s got a camera too. "

"It’s what the Governor wanted," the Judge replied with a sigh. "I’ve given him instructions… I told him not to print their names," he looked Mary in the eye. "I told him that these men can’t do their job properly if too many outlaws recognize their names. He seemed to accept that explanation. Just make sure the town knows he’s here, Mary. And make sure they don’t give him too much information."

Mary nodded.

"I’ve also told him that he only get one picture… and I’m going to be careful about where it’s taken."

"What about…"

Evie set her cup down and looked at her daughter-in-law. "Orin gave Mr. Crawford specific instructions, Mary. And you know what he’s like when he starts giving orders."

The newspaperwoman could only smile. "I hope you’re right about all of this," she pondered. "We want tomorrow to be perfect."

Judge Travis smiled. "It will be."

"I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I will not be a part of this endeavor," Standish backed towards the exit and straight into his leader.

"Where is he," Larabee asked as he guided the gambler back into the room and closed the door behind them. Noticing that all eyes in the room had focused on Tanner, Chris moved closer to the tracker. "Vin… you know where Buck’s at?"

The sharpshooter slid the hat back on his head and looked at the blond. For a moment it appeared he was going to answer, and then he looked across at Sanchez. "Why don’t ya ask Josiah," he said bluntly.

Chris shot Sanchez a quick glance. He knew the preacher had been keeping a closer eye on the tracker than Vin liked. Larabee didn’t like it much either, but he still hadn’t found out what Josiah’s motivation was. Larabee also knew that if Tanner wanted to loose the big man tailing him, he would have no problems. Looking back at the sharpshooter sitting in the chair, he asked again. "Where’s he at, Vin."

Tanner looked at Chris blankly. "Weren’t hard ta find. He’s out by his thinkin’ tree."

"His thinkin’ tree?" Larabee repeated questioningly.

"Yeah, Chris," Dunne reminded the gunslinger, "You know the big oak ‘bout two miles out ‘a town."

The blond frowned as he turned to look at the kid.

"He’s been goin’ out there since the summer. Said he does his best thinkin’ where the wind can talk ta him."

Larabee’s face reflected the confusion in his mind. He was becoming more and more convinced that he was either losing control of his band of seven or just losing his touch. If these words had been referring to Tanner, he might understand them better. But they were talking about Buck Wilmington here… none of this made much sense. The gunslinger looked around the room at the five men and tried to stay focused. "And the… Miss…"

Sanchez pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning against. "She’s at the hotel," he answered. He didn’t like to see Chris searching for words any more than the others did. Larabee was a man of action, and Josiah knew he was having a hard time with the news he’d been given.

It didn’t seem to matter that the blond worked most of the night patrols these days, he was still wandering around town by ten in the morning. Awakening this day, he had been informed that Louisa Perkins was back in town, and his oldest friend was having a real hard time with that fact.

"Did they talk?" Larabee asked of no one in particular.

"Yeah," JD volunteered. "But Buck didn’t really…. I mean he was… well, you know…"

Standish smiled. "At a loss for words."

Clearly a little upset himself, Dunne took a deep breath. "Yeah."

Larabee glanced at Vin, but couldn’t get the younger man’s attention. He took another deep breath himself. "Josiah?"

The preacher exchanged looks with their leader and rubbed his chin expectantly. "I don’t know what ta tell ya, Chris. I think we all know he’s got a few letters from her over the past few months."

Most nodded in agreement.

"I do know he ain’t read ‘em…" Sanchez continued. "At least most of ‘em, anyways."

The leader turned to look at Jackson. "You got anything ta say, Nathan?"

The healer folded his bottom lip and shook his head.

"I have a point," the gambler spoke up. "May I suggest that we dispense with the drawing of straws and send Mr. Larabee on the assignment."

The gunslinger glared at Standish from the corner of his eye. "Assignment?"

Ezra cleared his throat before offering an explanation. "Before you arrived, Mr. Larabee, my associates and I where attempting to discover which one of us would be the unfortunate soul to confront Mr. Wilmington."

Jackson huffed loudly. "Seems ta me you was tryin’ ta leave, Ezra."

Chris raised his eyebrows. "Think that’s about where I came in," he reminded the southerner with a small grin.

"Yes… well. My intentions are honest, Mr. Larabee. I do believe you are most suited for the task. You share an extensive history with Mr. Wilmington," the gambler smiled quickly. "You know him best."

"Ezra may be right, Chris, " Sanchez moved a little closer. "Maybe what he needs right now is a friend… the man he’s called friend for a long time now?" he raised his eyebrows questioningly.

All eyes were on Larabee, and he could feel them waiting for an answer. It didn’t take long for him to reach a decision. It wasn’t much of a choice really. Chris owed Buck Wilmington a lot. "Alright," he agreed. "I’ll ride on out and…"

Josiah broke the silence. "We’ll take care of things till you get back."

Larabee offered the preacher another small smile before nodding. He glanced around the room before heading for the door and departing.

"Well, gentlemen," Sanchez looked around. "Let’s get back to business."

Clapping his hands together, he ushered them all out.

Nettie Wells walked into the Clarion and smiled at the gathered ladies as she closed the door.

"Is everything alright?" Mrs. Travis asked nervously.

The older woman nodded. "I think so," she moved towards Mary’s desk. "Casey and Virginia moved the banners inside the exchange during the lunch break. The children didn’t pay ‘em no mind. Most of ‘em were out playing."

"And the sheriffs?" Mrs. Potter asked.

Nettie cocked her head. "Well, six of ‘em was inside the jail when we moved the boxes from my wagon. I’m sure they didn’t see."

Mary smiled but it wavered quickly. "And Mr. Wilmington?"

Mrs. Wells sighed. "I just saw Mr. Larabee riding out of town. My best guess would be Mr. Tanner found him and…"

"Mr. Larabee is going out to talk to him," Miriam Thatcher finished Nettie’s sentence.

Mary glanced at the older lady.

"That young man of yours never ceases to amaze me, Mrs. Travis," Miriam offered a smile.

"They’re a fine group of men, Mrs. Thatcher," Margaret Watson smiled. "That’s what this is all about… remember?"

"Well said, Mrs. Watson," Nettie smiled and moved a little closer. "Now," she looked around, "What else needs to be done?"

"Hey, Casey," John Dunne called to the young woman as she made her way across the street.

Turning at the call, Miss Wells shielded her eyes from the sun and spotted the kid on the jailhouse porch. Changing her direction, she moved to meet up with him. "Hey, JD," she said coyly.

Dunne looked around. "How come you’s all decorating the town like this," he indicated to all the straw stalks, leaf piles and pumpkins scattered about Main Street.

Trying not to make a big deal of what was going on, Miss Wells smiled. "We just figured we’d get everyone in the mood for a real nice Thanksgiving, JD. After all… we’s all got somethin’ to be thankful for," she smiled suggestively.

The young man smiled back then cleared his throat. "So," he tried to dismiss the growing feelings he was having. "Where ya headed now?"

"Oh, I was just looking fer Aunt Nettie. We’re goin’ home soon ta bake some pie."

JD frowned. "Didn’t think you knew how ta do that?"

"Now don’t you go on about all the things I ain’t learned how ta do yet, JD," Miss, Wells admonished. "I’m learnin’ best I can."

"Now Casey… I didn’t mean nothin’ by that," Dunne protested quickly. Sometimes it didn’t matter what he said to the young woman.

Miss Wells did her best to act perturbed, and she marched off down the street. It was a good thing, JD couldn’t see her face, however, because she was grinning from ear to ear.

Wilmington sat on the log underneath the great oak. His eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply. Several long seconds passed, before he looked down at the papers in his hand and flipped the pages. He held the six letters tightly in his grasp. Their envelopes lay on the ground beside his feet. Taking another deep breath, he looked out at the surrounding countryside. "You gonna stay out there all day… or are you comin’ over to talk to me," he questioned loudly.

Several hundred feet, the man in black smiled to himself. Straightening from his leaning stance he left the small stand of tree and walk over to his oldest friend. Ground tying Spirit beside Buck’s mount, Larabee made his way to Wilmington and waited.

Sliding down the log, the ladies man waved the seat clear beside him. "Might as well sit down, Chris," he looked up at his leader. "I ain’t ready ta go back quite yet."

Larabee took up the offered space and looked at the letters in his friend’s hands. "You just open them?"

Wilmington nodded.

"All of ‘em?"

Another nod. And then, silence.

"Didn’t know you had a ‘thinkin’ tree."

"What?" the ladies man questioned loudly.

Chris laughed a little. "Tanner and the kid… that’s what they called it," he pointed up. "I knew they meant the oak when they said ‘a couple ‘a miles out ‘a town’."

The corner of Buck’s lips curled and he chanced a glance at his oldest friend. "Guess they’s right. Might ‘a called it that, once or twice."

"Sounded like you told JD… it’s where… the wind talks to ya."

The ladies man licked his lips and looked away. Rubbing his hand across his face he glanced back at Larabee before watching the horizon again. "Helps ta calm me… comin’ out here. It’s where…"

The gunslinger broke the silence. "The South Wind first spoke to you."

Buck slowly nodded his head. "You must ‘a talk to ‘er, Chris. You ever think about the things she said to ya? … The reasons why you came back."

It was Larabee’s turn to avert his eyes. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He words were pensive. "I did… at first."

"What she say to ya, Chris?" Wilmington asked just as seriously. "Why’d ya come back?"

The gunslinger stood up and took a few steps away from his oldest friend. "What’s all this got ta do with Louisa Perkins, Buck?" he turned to face the other man. "Why’d you wait to open all those letters?" he indicated the papers.

"Because history’s supposed ta know us, pard… remember. History Will Know The Seven."

Larabee shook his head and came closer. "We don’t know what she meant by that, Buck. She could ‘a just been tellin’ us what we wanted ta hear… Maybe she just made it all up."

Wilmington looked up into his leader’s eyes and smiled. "You don’t really believe that, Chris," he whispered. "Do ya?"

There was another pause as the two men studied each other’s expressions.

Larabee knew he couldn’t answer the question. He glanced away before looking back. "What’s all this got ta do with your fiancé, Buck?"

Wilmington waved the letters in the air. "I knew what they said before I even opened, Chris," he folded the papers and stuffed them in his coat pocket. Picking up the envelopes, he continued. "They all say she’s ready to be my wife."

"Maybe that’s got somethin’ ta do with you asking her."

Buck looked at his friend. "Reckon that’s what I wanted," he smiled.

"But you don’t now?"

The ladies man cocked his head, "See… that’s the funny thing," he said with a small laugh. "It ain’t the marrying part that’s got me wonderin’."

"Do you love her, Buck."

Wilmington smiled. "Reckon that why I asked ‘er… nothing ever felt that right before."


"Right’s just got ‘a way of out-growing things… ya know?"

Chris paced a little. He couldn’t believe he was having another conversation like this. Twice in less than two weeks was too much for the gunslinger. He shook his head. "No, Buck. I don’t know."

There was another moment of silence before Wilmington spoke. "She wants me ta move to Santa Fe, Chris. She wants us ta live there so she can keep on workin’." The big man got to his feet, waving his arms in the air, "Hell, Chris," he looked at the man, "she even says I don’t gotta work if I don’t want to. She can earn enough for both of us."

Larabee bowed his head. Oh, now there was an interesting idea. Buck Wilmington… a kept man? Chris briefly considered that his oldest friend might enjoy that kind a life for a short while. But deep down, the gunslinger knew it wouldn’t last long. At his core, the scoundrel was the farthest thing from a kept man that ever walked the earth. There was a good reason for it too. The blond knew all too well that Wilmington’s deepest desire was to create something that he’d never had before. Buck wanted to have a place to call home. And wanted to accomplish this task on his own. Looking at his oldest friend again, the blond’s face was blank, "You still love her, Buck?"

Wilmington nodded slowly.

"But you don’t to live like that… or you don’t want to leave here… leave us?"

Another small laugh. "Yeah… that about sums it up," he agreed. The ladies man mirrored Larabee’s deadpan expression. Realizing where Chris was going with his question, Wilmington sat back down on the log.

"Be careful, Buck. You better make sure, what you’re willing to give up is worth whatever it is that you might gain."

Wilmington rested his head in his hands. There was another long pause. "I can’t help it, Chris. I’m sittin’ out here and I hear ‘er. I can’t get Athena’s words out ‘a my head," he whispered. "She meant something… I know it… Look what she went though, to keep us together. I can’t just go runnin’ off…"

Larabee sat back down and took a few minutes to think. "What about everyone else. None of us can guarantee we’re willing to stay if something better comes up. We can’t expect this deal with the Judge ta last forever." He watched his friend closely. "Maybe you ain’t the type ta find yourself a cushy life somewhere… but make sure your reasons for stayin’ are real too. One day one of us might face a similar decision… and not be willin’ to make the same choice."

A gentle smile slowly made its way across Buck’s face and he looked at Larabee and lowered his head. "I’m thinkin’ I’m willin’ ta take that chance, Chris. She was real," he looked back. "And for the first time in my life… a woman made me realize what real really is… I almost forgot that last month, but Josiah… I don’t know how, but he made me remember. He used her words to make me remember."

Larabee raised an eyebrow. He thought long and hard as he recalled the words the preacher had spoken to him back in September. "Seems ta me, Sanchez knows more than he’s lettin’ on," he said slowly.

The ladies man frowned.

Chris shook his head. "Don’t matter, Buck." The gunslinger refocused. "Just be sure… make sure you’re makin’ your choice for the right reasons," he grinned.

Wilmington nodded and returned his friend’s small smile.

"Afternoon, Chris," Sanchez called out from behind the pulpit. He was down on his knees dusting under the shelves it contained.

"Got a minute, Josiah?"

The preacher stopped what he was doing and looked at his leader. Seeing the seriousness in the man’s face he got to his feet and dusted his hands on the rag. "Sure, Chris," he smiled. Dropping the cloth on the stand, he made his way over to the gunslinger and waved him to the bench.

Larabee made himself comfortable as Sanchez sat down beside him. Chris twirled his hat in his fingers for a few seconds before turning to look into the other man’s eyes. "I got ‘a ask a couple ‘a questions, Josiah, and I need honest answers."

The preacher narrowed his eyes before nodding slowly.

Chris glanced down and cleared his throat. "Just how much contact did you have with… her, when she was here?"

Josiah smiled before lowering his head quickly. Somehow he knew Chris would be piecing the puzzle together too. Larabee wasn’t a man you could put one over on. "Athena?" he asked. Just to be sure.

The gunslinger only nodded as Sanchez looked back at him.

The preacher broadened his shoulder and took a deep breath. "Well…" he thought out loud. "I saw what you all saw, Chris," he looked the gunslinger in the eye. "Maybe more of what was happening… from an outsider’s perspective."

Larabee nodded. "Did ya talk to her, Josiah?"

"Just once," he bowed his head. "In the aftermath." Looking back at Larabee he shook his head.

"Why do…"

"What did she say to you, Josiah?"

Sanchez shifted position. "It was after Nathan got that bullet out ‘a her shoulder. JD and Ezra were still out. Buck was sleeping… exhausted I think. We thought Athena was too. I told Nathan ta go get somethin’ ta eat," the preacher laughed. "You know how Nathan can be… he didn’t wanna go until they’d all woke up."

Larabee nodded in agreement. They all knew, all too well, how stubborn the healer could be when he had patients to care for.

Sanchez turned in his seat so that he was facing the stained glass window. He smiled at the sunlight as it glistened through the brightly colored flecks. "I know she ain’t nothin’ of the sort, Chris," he huffed again. "Not sure I believe in such things really," he glanced quickly at the blond before returning his attention to the dance of light. "If there was an angel on a mission that day… that girl was it."

Larabee took another deep breath. "What did she say to you, Josiah?"

Without looking at his leader, the preacher answered. "She was tryin’ ‘a get out ‘a that bed as soon as Nathan left. When I told her that she needed rest… she looked me straight in the eye and told me her spirits would care for her the best way they knew how. That I needed ta let her go, so that…"

There was a long pause.

"What, Josiah?" Larabee’s voice was nothing but a whisper.

Licking his lips, Sanchez continued. "So that she could make right, what was going so wrong… that History Must Know The Seven." The preacher looked at his leader wryly. "I told her it could wait a while longer… and she just looked at me… not the slightest hint of emotion on her face, Chris. She just looked at me and said that only after that happened, could destiny bring us true peace," he looked at Chris and smiled. "…but only if we saw it together."

There was silence before the gunslinger spoke again. "See …destiny… together? Does that mean anythin’ to you?"

The preacher raised his eyebrows before shrugging. "I’ve thought about it some… ain’t made much sense out of it yet. Way I see it though," Josiah looked at his leader, "Destiny brought us together two years ago… maybe it owes us a favor. Maybe she’s tryin’ a make sure we get paid back."

Larabee looked puzzled. "Why didn’t you ever tell us?"

Sanchez smiled. "Well, things good a little confusin’ after that… And no body ever asked…"

There was a long thoughtful pause before Chris spoke quietly. "It that all she told you?"

Sanchez got to his feet. He turned to look at Larabee and shook his head. "Suppose that’s another reason why I’ve never said anything… You listen, brother, but you don’t hear. I thought she might ‘a taught you to look past the obvious."

Instantly, the blond got to his feet and stood only inches away from the preacher’s face. It wasn’t like Chris to discuss his personal life with anyone, and he spoke defensively, without even realizing why. "She taught me how to accept, Josiah," he whispered menacingly. Suddenly aware of his stance, the gunslinger backed off and bowed his head. He calmed himself before speaking again. He words reflected him more relaxed composure. "She let me see myself again… Told me not to fight what I’ve become… not forget what I was…"

Sanchez closed his eyes. He wanted to say what he was thinking, but he knew Larabee wouldn’t take his comments lightly. The gunslinger’s reaction enlightened the preacher more than words ever could. He knew that Athena had affected Chris more than he would ever admit. "Sounds, ta me…" he looked back at the blond. "That she told you what you needed to hear."

Again, Larabee’s question broke the silence that had enveloped them. He shook off the momentary lapse in concentration and returned to his previous train of thought. "Was that the only time you spoke with her, Josiah?"

The preacher nodded. He could see the gears working in Larabee’s head and guessed the man was still working on the same puzzle he was. But his leader had a whole lot, fewer pieces than Sanchez did, and Josiah wasn’t ready to share any information quite yet. Especially when he thought about the forewarning Athena’s letter held for Chris. He wondered what sort of decisive challenge ‘ she was referencing at.

"Why you been followin’ Vin around, Josiah?" Chris interrupted the older man’s thoughts.

The preacher frowned. On the surface the question seemed unrelated, but it seemed that both men knew better. Sanchez tried to be as vague as he could. "Like I said to you before, brother, a little bird told me to keep an eye on him and not to let him wander too far."

"That little bird have a name?"

Josiah pursed his lips. "I’ve never lied to you, Chris. I said I only spoke with her once… And that was before you and Vin… left. If Athena had said somethin’ like that to me then, I’m pretty sure I wouldn‘t have let him leave that time either… would ‘a made her job a whole lot easier, I’m sure."

The preacher wanted to look up to see if there was a lightening bolt headed his way. He knew he wasn’t exactly telling the truth, but then again, he wasn’t lying either. Receiving a letter from the young woman was not the same as speaking with her, even if he was beginning to understand her messages. Besides, if he could communicate with her, he most certainly would have asked for an explanation by now. Understanding that he should step lightly though, Sanchez tried to concentrate. The confusion was written all over Larabee’s face, and the preacher simply smiled. "I think I also told you that when I get the pieces to this puzzle all figured out… you’d be the first to know."

The spot on the floor Chris had been staring at seemed to lose its attraction all of a sudden. He looked back at Sanchez and raised an eyebrow. "I’m gonna hold you to that, Josiah," he walked toward the exit. Opening the door, he looked back and grinned every so slightly. "Less ‘a course… Vin guts ya first."

Sanchez could only smile as he watched his leader leave. His eyes widen as the door closed. He hadn’t thought of that possibility. Shaking off the idea, he returned to his cleaning.

"I am truly sorry, Louisa," Wilmington spoke tenderly as he turned away from the woman.

Behind the ladies man, his fiancé stood and stared. A gentle smile crossed her lips as she tried to present a brave facade. "Always knew my ambition was gonna catch up to me some day. Just never thought it would take away as much as it gave me," she said seriously before her face lost all emotion. "But at least I can say that you loved me, Buck Wilmington?"

The peacekeeper smiled without turning, but the offered declaration was spoken for her. And like most words Buck spoke from his heart, the sentiment was coated in honey. "More than you’ll ever know," he whispered. Closing his eyes, Wilmington bowed his head.

Miss Perkins approached. Setting her arms around his strong shoulders, she turned the ladies man and smiled widely for him. "And as much as we profess our love for one another, there’s no way for you to accept… what did you call it," she questioned. "Being a figure head?" Her expression wavered. "I guess a man like you just isn’t cut out for a life like that…" The woman lowered her eyes. "Guess that’s why I fell in love with you in the first place. You ain’t like no man I ever met before."

Wilmington lifted her chin then gently rubbed her cheek before letting her go. "You gotta quit hanging around all them politicians, Louisa. You can’t like all that stuffiness all the time."

The woman laughed a little at his simple statement. "No, Buck… but that is my life. The life I chose for myself."

"Yeah," he acknowledged solemnly. "Just ain’t a life I can lead."

Miss Perkins smiled again. Turning away from the big man she walked to the window. Gazing out, she watched the wagons go up and down Main Street. Spotting JD standing across at the jailhouse, Miss Perkins smiled. He was clearly looking at the hotel, and probably concerned for his friend. "No," she turned to look at Wilmington. "I don’t suppose it is a life you can lead. You have friends here," she walked back over to Buck and looked at him closely. "A way of life that you love. I suppose you can call it… a job," she raised her eyebrows.

"People that count on me," he added.

"Yes," she whispered. Reaching up to touch his cheek, she ran her fingers through his hair. "People, who would miss you," she offered slowly.

Wilmington started to lean in to kiss the lovely lady then stopped himself. Straightening his stance he cleared his throat. "We can’t keep doing this Louisa. We can’t be together. We… ain’t gonna get married…"

Placing her hands over his lips, the woman stopped the ladies man mid-sentence and smiled seductively. "I know, and I understand… and I do accept that." she glanced down. Looking back at Buck once more, she whispered, "Don’t mean we can’t…just once more…"

Wilmington’s expression softened. What she was asking was against his better judgement, but he was never one to deny a woman’s interest in him. The sparkle in Buck’s eye slowly replaced the doubt, and he leaned in to kiss the woman he had once called his fiancée. They had consummated their engagement… why not their final farewell.

The healer sat out front of the sheriff’s office reading his medical journal. The book was just so full of interesting things, and he loved to sit and read when he got the chance. His duty at the jail was the perfect opportunity. Stretching, Jackson glanced up at the kid and shook his head. "Come on now, JD, you should be off doing something important… not standing here thinkin’ on what Buck’s up to."

Dunne glanced over his shoulder, then turned and moved to sit beside the healer. "Wonder what’s takin’ so long. It ain’t like it should take much time ta break up with a girl."

"And just what makes you think that, JD?"

The kid shrugged, "I dunno. All he’s gotta do is say it ain’t gonna work out."

Jackson frowned. "And what about all their feelin’, JD? You don’t think the feelin’s is just gonna go away… just ‘cause they ain’t getting’ married no more."

The kid looked questioningly at Nathan.

"Look," Jackson shifted position. "When you and Casey have a fight… does that mean that you don’t like each other no more?"

"No," Dunne answered quickly. "But marryin’ someone ain’t somethin’ most folks change their mind on much. And havin’ a fight… " he shrugged, "Well, it just ain’t the same."

"Ain’t it? What if Casey asked you ta do somethin’ that you just couldn’t do, JD? You’d fight about that wouldn’t ya?"

The kid nodded slowly, "Suppose." He looked at Jackson questioningly. "Does that mean you’re still in love with Rain, Nathan? Even though you’s havin’ a fight… all ‘cause she’s got a job?"

The healer hesitated. Leave it to John Dunne to confuse one issue with another. Or was JD really outsmarting the healer on issues he knew little about? Nathan closed his book and set it down beside him. Pursing his lips together, he smiled at the kid. "My feelin’s ain’t changed, JD. Don’t mean I gotta like what she’s doin’… but I still love ‘er."

The kid took a minute to digest the information and make sense of it.

"So how you thinkin’ the feelin’ is gonna get fixed without ya talkin’ to ‘er?"

Realizing he’d just clearly been outfoxed, Nathan took a deep breath. "Sometimes it takes someone else ta point out the obvious," he admitted laughingly, "… before a man can realize how much of a fool he’s been."

JD looked back in the direction of the hotel. "But sometimes the things you fight over just can’t get fixed?"

Jackson nodded. "Well, from what Buck says, Miss Perkins done asked him for somethin’ he can’t give."

Looking back at the hotel, Dunne frowned. "Wonder what that is?"

Nathan shook his head again. "Now JD, that ain’t none of our business."

"Oh, I know," the kid looked back at the healer, "I just want Buck to be happy, ya know."

"We all do."

Standing up, Dunne walked to the edge of the boardwalk and looked up at the second story window again. "Sure would like ta know what he’s doing up there though."

Jackson laughed. "That’s Buck Wilmington in a fancy hotel room with a pretty young lady… I reckon I might take a guess…"

The kid spun around and looked astonished at Nathan’s statement. "You… you don’ think…"

The healer nodded. Amusement was written all over his face.

"But they’s supposed to be callin’ everythin’ off… ain’t they?"

Cocking his head, Jackson laughed again. "Like I said, JD. This is Buck we’re talkin’ about here… nothing would surprise me."

Dunne turned to look back at the hotel, his mouth hung open in sheer disbelief.

Standing at the edge of the building, Vin Tanner nodded his head before settling back into the alleyway. He hadn’t been planning to eavesdrop on Nathan and JD, but he’d heard their exchange and stopped before his presence became obvious.

Does that mean you’s still in love with her… even though you’s havin’ a fight…’ the words played over in his mind. ‘Sometimes it takes someone else ta point out the obvious… before a man can realize how much of a fool he’s been.’

Nodding again, the tracker headed down the alley with a slight smile on his face.