The Rancher's Wife


Disclaimer: Don’t own ‘em, Not makin’ money off ‘em.

February Challenge Story

Rating: PG13 for adult situations


Buck was whistling as he made his way towards the boarding house where he, Chris, and JD all had rooms. The street fires had all burned themselves out but the pre-dawn light was enough for him to see by. He was only going to get two or three hours of sleep but Mary Jane had been worth it. Whew, what a night. His grin widened as he thought of the pretty little blonde he had spent the last six hours with. She had some pretty inventive moves and she had shown them all to Buck. He was going to have a lot of fun with that one.

As he approached the alley and the outer staircase that led to the second floor rooms of the boarding house, he saw two men walking towards him. His hand went automatically to his gun and rested there in a defensive mode. He lengthened his stride and was just about to turn into the alley when he heard the distinctive sound of a pistol being cocked. He pulled up as two more men walked toward him from out of the alley. Two guns, that he could see, were leveled at his heart and he imagined that the other two men who were now behind him also had guns drawn. He slowly raised his hands in defeat. Who were these guys? He didn’t remember any strangers in the saloon tonight. No one was giving he or his friends the once over. He felt his gun being pulled out of his holster. One of the men in the alley stepped closer to him and Buck could finally see his face.

“What do you want Walcott? I ain’t been anywhere near your wife. I hear you have though. Did ya feel like a man when you beat her up?” Buck held a steady gaze, his eyes never leaving the man’s face.

“That ain’t what I heard. I sent her to town yesterday and she ran right to ya, didn’t she, you mother f**ker. No use denying it, Jim here saw the two of you. He said you had your hands all over her right in the middle of town. I warned you to stay away from her and I warned her. I guess I need to teach both of you a lesson. You get to go first.” David’s voice was low and menacing. He raised a hand and the butt of a gun crashed down on Buck’s skull. The scoundrel fell to his hands and knees but didn’t loose consciousness. He felt hands pulling his arms behind him and then a rope being tied tightly around his wrists. He would have screamed for help but a dirty handkerchief was shoved into his mouth. He was pulled up to his feet and shoved further down the alley. Two men hoisted him up and laid him over the saddle of a horse. They slipped a noose over his neck and tied it off to the stirrup. He felt a jerk as they took off out of town. This was not looking good at all. Damn, Chris had been right all along. An angry husband was going to be the death of him.

They rode for about half an hour and Buck’s ribs were screaming by the time they stopped. He was having trouble breathing but he was determined not to show fear to Walcott and his men. He had no idea what Walcott had planned but he was sure that he wasn’t going to like it. Just as he was sure it was going to include pain. They completely untied him but he wasn’t going to run with three guns aimed at him.

“Tie his hands.” Walcott remained on his horse and Buck had to look up at him. He tossed a long rope to one of his men and he slipped it through the rope that now bound Buck’s wrists in the front. “Strip off his shirt and boots. You’ve screwed your last married woman, Wilmington. When Amy sees your body and realizes it’s her fault, she will stop her sinful ways. I’ll take her back because that’s the kind of man I am. You, however, will never see the sun set again. Think about that as you rot in the desert, dying a slow death.”

The three men with Walcott stripped Buck down to his bare skin. Fear was beginning to mix with his anger now. He kicked out at Jim Grisham, landing a solid kick to his mid-section as the man tried to remove his boots. The other two both grabbed Buck’s arms and forced him to be still while their friend recuperated. When Grisham regained his feet, he punched Buck with all his might just below the ribcage in the solar plexus. The wind escaped Buck’s body in a painful gush. Grisham moved behind Buck and removed his boots and socks. Finally, all that Buck wore was his pants.

The scoundrel’s eyes narrowed as he stared at the rancher still on horseback. He really didn’t want to die! And to die for nothing was even worse. However, Buck Wilmington was not about to beg. He wouldn’t lower himself like that before any man.

David Walcott smiled cruelly just before he dug his spurs into his horse’s side. The rope jerked tight, pulling Buck forward. The tall gunman stumbled for a few steps, his bare feet cut instantly by the sharp, jagged rocks. He ran as fast as he could but the horse quickly outdistanced him and he fell. His body flew through the air for a few seconds and then he was being dragged across the rocky desert landscape.

He felt the tearing pain in his shoulders as the tension remained taught even as his body got caught up on rocks, cactus, and sagebrush. Ribs broke as they hit hard upon boulders. He tried to keep his head up but soon it became impossible. He felt his face scrape against the hard packed earth, dust filling his eyes, just before he lost consciousness.

David kept going. His intention was to hurt Buck so severely that he would die alone in the desert. The rancher was furious at the man who could give his wife the baby she so wanted, the son that should have been his. He cursed the gods that had sterilized him when, at sixteen, he had contracted mumps from his younger brother. Walcott hated this man more than anything in the world and he wanted him dead, so he didn’t stop until the horse slowed, winded and blowing hard to catch its breath. The rancher got down and walked back to where the ladies man lay unconscious on the ground. He untied the lead rope but left the rope that had cut deep into the wrists. As a parting gesture, David lifted his boot and ran his spur down the left side of Buck’s face and then he savagely kicked the jaw that lay adjacent to his foot. He got back on his horse and waited for his men to catch up. Together, the four of them rode away from the body, not one of them looking back.

Ezra sat on his horse, sipping from his silver flask. He was on a ridge and he could see for a mile in three directions. Normally he didn’t like to get up this early but he had the first circuit to ride and he found he was actually enjoying it this morning. It was cool out this morning but not cold, the sun was beginning to warm the familiar countryside. The gambler had won quite a nice pot last night and had retired early for a change. Yes, he was feeling good as he surveyed the prairie land before him.

He patted his horse’s neck and slipped the flask back in his pocket. He was just about to continue when he spotted four men easing their way toward the road. They were coming from the desert badlands and Ezra thought that was a little peculiar. Why on earth would anyone intentionally go into the badlands, especially at night? He thought he recognized David Walcott but there was no reason for Walcott to be out this way at this time of the morning. The men weren’t doing anything illegal and Ezra simply filed the information away in his mind. He continued on his patrol of the out lying area. He would be back in Four Corners by ten. Maybe he could get in a nap before lunch.


JD walked from the jail to the saloon. He was on a mission and he didn’t notice anyone as he walked quickly through the batwing doors into the saloon and headed straight to the back table where Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner sat, drinking their first beer of the day.

“Either of you seen Buck this morning? I can’t find him anywhere.” JD asked breathlessly.


“Ain’t been lookin’ for him. Why are you, JD?” Chris looked up at the young man they all seemed to protect but none of them more than Buck. He saw real concern on the boy’s face.

“Well, we were supposed to go fishing today but I can’t find him anywhere.” JD knew it sounded selfish and juvenile but he had been looking forward to spending the day with Buck.

“I hate to break this to ya, Kid, but Buck’s motivated by what’s below his belt, not a fishin’ pole. He’s probably still with that new bar maid. Saw him leave with her last night.” Chris tipped the last of his beer into his mouth and watched how his words affected the youngest of the seven.

“Wouldn’t worry bout him if I was you, JD. The fish ’ll be there tomorrow.” Vin pulled his hat back down over his eyes and the hunt for Buck was forgotten. JD turned and marched back out of the saloon. He ran down to the church at the end of town to seek out Josiah and perhaps Nathan. Josiah was busy sanding one of his pews.

“Hey, Josiah, you seen Buck this mornin’? I got a real bad feelin’. I just know somethin’ has happened to him.”

“Nope, ain’t seen the man. Did you ask Chris?” Josiah stopped his work and sat down on the steps of his restored church. He patted the step next to him and JD plopped down beside him.

“Yeah, I asked Chris. He doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes I can’t believe he and Buck was ever close friends. He just says Buck is probably with some woman. I don’t think so though, Josiah.”

“And why is that, John Dunne? Do you know something the rest of us don’t?” Josiah took a long drink of water.

“He promised me we would go fishin’ today. I know he likes his women and all but he doesn’t usually go back on a promise.” JD hung his head, not wanting to break Buck’s confidence.

Josiah noticed right away. “And?”

JD looked the preacher in the eye and blurted out, “Some guy threatened him a few weeks back. You don’t think that guy could have done something to him, do you Josiah?”

“Who are you talking about and why did this man threaten Buck?” Josiah had an idea of why a man would threaten the Seven’s Lothario but it was an assumption. “David Walcott. He told Buck if he ever went near his wife again, he would kill Buck. Mr. Walcott’s got a mean temper, Josiah. I think he really meant it. Buck just kinda blew it off but he did say that he never had and never would do anything with Mrs. Walcott.”

“How long ago was this JD?”

“About three weeks ago.”

“It’s not likely after all this time that Mr. Walcott would harm Buck. Besides, David has a bad temper but he’s not a fool. He doesn’t want to take on all of us and that’s what he would get if he tried to hurt Buck. Why don’t you go find Casey and go fishing with her. Chris is probably right this time. Buck has been hot to trot after Mary Jane and I saw him leave the saloon with her last night. They are probably still sleeping the night off. He’ll show up by the time you get back, son.” Josiah patted the young man on the shoulder.

“I think I’ll check a few more places first. Have you seen Ezra?” JD got up to leave.

“I saw him ride in from his circuit about two hours ago. Knowing that boy, he’s taking a nap. He had several foolish men willing to part with their money at his table last night. He was probably up late.” Josiah got up and stretched his aging back.

“Yeah, well, I think I’ll ask around a little more. Maybe he’s at the bathhouse.” JD said mainly to himself and then he moved off on his solitary quest.

Josiah started back inside when he heard the soft southern drawl. He stopped and waited for Ezra to approach.

“Our diminutive sheriff seems a trifle annoyed today. Is there a problem?”

“He’s lookin’ for his big brother. Evidently, Buck promised to go fishing with the young man today and he is nowhere to be found. JD thinks David Walcott might have done something to our scoundrel. I guess he threatened Buck a few weeks back. Chris disappointed the boy with his usual low expectation of Buck’s reliability.”

“Did you say David Walcott, Mr. Sanchez?” Ezra was suddenly fully alert.

“Yeah, why?”

“Just a niggling thought. I will catch up with you later.” Ezra made his way straight to Nathan Jackson’s clinic. He found the healer reading a new medical journal on the porch outside his room.

“Mr. Jackson, would you care to accompany me on what could turn out to be a wild goose chase?”

“Why me, Ezra? What’s going on?” Nathan got up and went inside to start packing his medical bag. If Ezra Standish asked him to ride with him, it must be a medical emergency.

“Our young Mr. Dunne is searching for Mr. Wilmington. He relayed the information to our resident holy man that David Walcott threatened our Lothario a short time ago. Yesterday, I saw Buck and Mrs. Walcott talking in the alley by the General Store. Then this morning, shortly after dawn, I viewed Walcott and three of his men riding out of the desert toward his ranch. Mr. Wilmington may indeed be in trouble but I don’t believe that any of the others need be bothered with my speculation. You, Mr. Jackson, may be of great assistance if my fears reach fruition.”

“Lead the way, Ezra.”


The two men rode in silence across the hot dry land. After about forty minutes, Ezra pulled his horse to a stop. He looked around to make sure that it was the exact spot where he had seen the four riders earlier that morning.

“Is this the spot, Ezra?”

“Yes. We should be able to pick up their trail, four riders not trying to cover their tracks. There, heading further into the desert.” He pointed to the tracks coming from the west.

Jackson and Standish rode at a trot following the trail. Both men were silent, not wishing to voice the fear they felt for a friend.

‘It’s just JD’s rampant imagination.’ Ezra told himself. ‘I don’t know why we are even out here in the heat and dust. Buck is probably in the soft arms of a woman right now, oblivious to the search that is being conducted on his behalf. This is ridiculous. We should turn back and head for home.’ He noticed that Nathan had pulled his horse to a halt and he did the same. “Have you had enough of this perusal of the desert, Mr. Jackson?” He turned to the black man and saw the look of dread etched in the Nathan’s face.

Nathan never said a word but instead, pointed to the sky in front of Ezra. Ezra turned back around in the saddle and stared at the buzzards that circled in the cloudless blue sky. Harbingers of death, the huge black birds were dipping lower and lower in the western sky. As if one, both men spurred their horses and raced to the area where the buzzards flew.

They pulled up as they came to the area where three buzzards already sat. Two of the giant birds were fighting each other over their meal but the third was engaged in attacking the body. Ezra pulled his gun and shot the bird. He fired two more times and then slowly, he placed the gun back in his holster. Ezra sat astride his horse, unable to move, his hands shaking with distress at the sight before him.

Nathan moved forward and slowly got off his horse. He walked to the body laying on its side and stood over it for an eternity. Finally, he squatted beside Buck Wilmington and gently touched the bloody face. He was surprised to find it still warm but it was a hot day, the sun shining directly down. He pulled one of his knives from its scabbard and cut the rope that still bound the man’s wrists together. The torso, arms, feet and head were covered with blood, dirt, and insects. Ever so gently, he turned the man onto his back and as he did so, he heard the soft groan escape the bloodied lips.

As Nathan turned the body over, Ezra got his first full look at the damage that had been done to the body of his good friend. He quickly stumbled off his horse and, turning his back to Nathan, lost the contents of his stomach. He had never seen a man so destroyed before except during the war. He stood, head down by his knees and felt another wave of nausea hit. Again, he retched and then he felt the tears falling down his face. He sank to his knees with utter despair claiming him.

“Ezra,” Nathan’s voice was almost a whisper. “He’s alive.”

The gambler’s head swung around to where the healer was holding the battered body. He couldn’t see how it was possible. He could barely pick out the features on the ladies man’s face, there was so much blood. His chest and stomach were stripped raw, blood and dirt mingling to form a dark paste where skin should be. He could tell from the angle of the arms and the swelling that both of them were broken. How many other bones in that body were broken, Ezra wondered. ‘No,’ he thought, ’Nathan must be mistaken.’ He got up and raced to where Nathan held his friend. He fell beside Nathan and listened closely to the raspy breathing of the tall gunslinger.

“Ezra, I need my bag, the bedroll, and both of our canteens. I think there is a bottle of whiskey in my saddle bag along with some rags. We don’t have enough water to clean him up all the way but I want to get some of these bugs off of him. Go!” Nathan laid Buck back on the ground and began to probe some of the deeper cuts. Every square inch of the chest and stomach seemed to be cut, scraped, or bruised. Nathan gently pushed on the ribs and Buck cried out in pain. “Shhhh, Buck, I know it hurts but I got to be able to tell exactly what’s wrong before I move ya. Ezra and I are gonna get ya home, okay Buck? We’re gonna take ya home.” Tears fell down Nathan’s cheeks as he worked on the man he had known for two years now. He couldn’t imagine anyone being this cruel to a man who only wanted to have fun in life. Unless angered, Buck Wilmington would never hurt anyone. What had he done to so infuriate David Walcott?

Ezra came back with all of the items that Nathan had requested. He laid them before Nathan and then awaited instructions. He handed the canteens to Nathan who tenderly wiped at the deeper cuts where insects had already laid their eggs.

Nathan wrapped a bandage around Buck’s head which was bleeding profusely. He tried to get some water down the scoundrel’s throat but his tongue and jaw were so swollen very little got to the throat and beyond.

Nathan silently prayed that Buck would pass out for he knew that every swipe of the cloth brought more pain and suffering. The big man clung to consciousness though as if letting go and drifting into the black void that awaited him would mean the end of his life. He felt every touch, every movement, and he knew he could not survive much longer. He didn’t want to go. He had finally found a home after so many years of searching. He wasn’t ready to let go of it. But, God, the pain was so overwhelming. He cried out as Nathan probed another part of his chest.

When Nathan poured the last of the water onto an already blood soaked cloth, he sighed. Buck would never last long enough for Ezra to ride to town for a wagon. They were going to have to carry him back to town and that meant even further suffering. He didn’t think Buck could survive the motions of a horse either but they were going to have to try.

“We have to lift him up onto a horse and carry him back to town. There isn’t a place on his body to grab onto that won’t hurt him but it’s gotta be done. Let’s get him standing and then I’ll mount and we’ll get him up so I can hold ‘im. I think I can hold him in my arms if you lead the horse. He’s in shock Ezra, we can’t wait any longer.” Nathan started to stand and as he did, he maneuvered Buck’s body so that he could grab him under the arm pits. Ezra quickly grabbed Nathan’s horse’s reins and pulled her as close as he could. He then got behind Buck and grabbed him just below Nathan. As he put pressure on Buck’s ribs the big man could stand the pain no longer. He screamed a blood curdling cry, the likes of which both Nathan and Ezra had not heard since the war. Nathan let go and climbed onto his horse and then reached as far down as he could.

“On three, Ezra. One… Two… Three.” With that both men boosted up the battered, torn, and bloody body of Buck Wilmington and managed to get it where Nathan could hold it. The black healer cradled the big man like a baby across his lap.

Buck was sweating through the blood, his breath coming in small painful gasps.

Ezra handed the blanket up to Nathan and helped him tuck it around the damaged body. “Let’s go but not too fast. I got most of the bleeding stopped but too fast will make it all start up again. And Ez, no matter how painful it sounds, don’t stop. He’s dying and there’s nothin’ I can do for him out here.” Ezra merely nodded, grabbed the loose reins and urged his horse forward.


An hour later, they entered the town of Four Corners. As they passed down the main street, people stopped. Some gasped out loud, some stared, one woman gave a small scream. The conman in front never looked at any of them. He was staring straight ahead of him, his goal the alley and stairway that led to Nathan Jackson’s room. Nothing else mattered.

Chris and Vin watched in horrified silence as their friends made their way down the street. They could see the bloody bandage that surrounded Buck’s head but the body was covered with a blanket and they couldn’t see the terrible damage that had been done to it. What they did see, however, was Nathan Jackson directing all his attention on the lovable rogue in his arms. Nathan never looked up, never sought out the faces of the group of men who over two years before had banded together to bring peace and justice to this area. He never tried to appease their fears with a look, a smile, a nod of the head. His head remained bowed over the body he held so tenderly in his arms.

JD and Josiah saw the little procession move down the street and they ran to get ahead of the two riders so that they could assist Nathan in getting Buck down from the horse and up to Nathan’s. Neither of them had any idea of the extent of the injuries but they could tell the wound could be fatal by the looks on their friends’ faces.

Ezra stopped in front of the stairway and only then did Nathan take his eyes away from Buck’s face. He moved his head slowly, his gaze finally focusing on Josiah. He shook his head one time and only Josiah saw the movement and the look of helplessness that passed over Nathan’s face. Josiah reached up to take the man from Nathan but felt himself being pushed aside by the gambler. Nathan handed the body down to Ezra. The blanket slid down and Josiah saw the damage that the body had suffered for the first time.

Softly he whispered to the gambler, “Let me take him the rest of the way, Son. You’ve done your share. I’ve got him now.” The big holy man gently picked up the rogue and, by himself, carried him up the stairs and into the room of the healer. He carefully laid him on the bed, five other men following in his shadow.

Nathan moved forward through the other men who stood staring at the battered body of their friend. He knelt by the bed and then turned to Ezra. “I need lots of water and more whiskey. Josiah, get me more blankets. He’s in shock. The rest of you, please go outside. There’s nothing you can do in here except be in the way.”

Vin took a step toward the bed and then stopped. He looked at Chris and JD, the two men closest to Buck. They were speechless, stunned by the gory scene in front of them. Vin voiced the question they all wanted the answer to but were afraid to ask. “Will he live, Nate?”

Nathan ceased his ministrations but didn’t look up. He knew it was a miracle that Buck was still breathing now. He had lost a lot of blood, had broken numerous bones, his chest and stomach had been stripped of skin and tissue, and he was in shock. Nathan didn’t know how serious his internal injuries were but he was sure there were some. Even if he managed to survive the initial injuries, the dirt and insects would lead to massive infections with debilitating fever. He could not give these men false hope. He turned to look at them and silently shook his head. He went back to the task at hand, cleaning and bandaging Buck’s wounds.

Vin left the room with Ezra to get the water and whiskey as requested. Chris pulled JD by the arm and led him out to the deck outside of Nathan’s clinic. There they sat in stunned silence, neither knowing what to say or do. Vin returned with two buckets of fresh water and then he joined Chris and JD to await Nathan. Ezra brought the whiskey and after a few minutes, he too sat with the others.

“Where did you find him, Ez?” JD wanted to know what had happened to his mentor.

“Out in the desert.” He mind rewound the picture of the body and the vultures. He shuddered and then stood, leaning over the railing around the deck. Just the memory made his stomach roll.

“How’d ja know where to look? None of us had a clue he was in trouble.” Vin moved to his side.

“On my morning circuit, I saw four men riding out of the desert. It seemed odd at the time. One of the men was David Walcott. Later, Josiah told me that JD was looking for Buck. He had also passed on the information that Buck had been threatened by Mr. Walcott not too long ago. I surmised that Walcott may be instrumental in the disappearance of our Mr. Wilmington. It was an assumption and I didn’t want to upset the rest of you if I was wrong but I did think it prudent to engage Mr. Jackson in my hunt.”

“But why would Walcott threaten Buck?” Vin was puzzled.

“I saw Buck with Mrs. Walcott yesterday near Mrs. Potter’s store. Perhaps Mr. Walcott also saw them.” Ezra turned his head to Vin with a look that told Vin exactly what he meant.

“Ya mean Buck was doin’ Mrs. Walcott?”

Before Ezra could answer, the roar of an injured animal broke over them and then the crash of wood breaking caused them to quickly step away. Chris Larabee had picked up the table that sat outside Nathan’s door and had thrown it down the stairs.

“YOU GODDAM SON OF A BITCH! I WARNED YOU! WHY, BUCK, WHY?” he roared to the world at large.

Chris threw open the door to the clinic and charged the bed where Buck lay. The others were stunned, unable to react. Chris stood over the prone body of his oldest friend. Anger poured from the blond. He lashed out at the man who could not defend himself. “How many times did I warn you, you son of a bitch! You couldn’t keep it in your pants, could you? Now look what you’ve done! You’ve gotten yourself killed ‘cause of some piece of fluff. GODDAM BASTARD! I told ya to keep your hands off married women but you refused to listen, didn’t ya! And now we all got to pay the price. You stupid son of a bitch, I warned ya they would kill ya. I told ya to stop thinkin’ with…..”

Josiah grabbed Chris from behind. He squeezed tightly and swung the man back around, away from the bed. Holding the squirming man in a bear hug, Josiah carried him outside.

“Let me down! You goddam bastard, why? Why couldn’t you just leave this one alone? I’ll kill you, Wilmington! You good for nothin’ bastard!” As soon as Josiah released him, Chris raced down the stairs, away from his friends and toward a bottle of whiskey.

Four men watched their leader run from the gruesome scene. They knew where he was going. They knew he would seek explanation in a bottle of rot gut. They also knew that none of them could save him this time.


“Are we just gonna sit here and let Walcott git away with this?” JD was angry. His best friend lay inside the clinic with Nathan and Josiah trying to make him comfortable. Nathan had come out to tell them that Buck’s injuries, individually, would not be fatal but all together, they were draining the life out of the big man. He was in shock and Nathan was doing every thing he could think of to get fluids back into Buck. Buck was semi-conscious but the pain was taking all of his attention. Nathan had tried to get some laudanum into him but the broken jaw and swollen tongue were blocking the way. Buck was slowly, excruciatingly, dying and there was nothing Nathan could do for him.

“Mr. Dunne is correct. We should be enroute to Walcott’s ranch. There is nothing that we can accomplish here but we can bring Buck’s antagonist back to town. We don’t want to give him time to escape or gather associates to make a stand. What are we waiting for, Mr. Tanner?” Ezra couldn’t remember ever being so incensed in his life. What Walcott had done to Buck was beyond reason and he needed to stand trial for the butchery he had wrought.

Vin shook his head. There really was no evidence that Walcott had done this to Buck but he could see that the men he rode with needed to take action. Sitting, waiting for Buck to die, was driving them into a wrathful frenzy. They had to act and soon. Vin had been hoping that Chris would return and lead them in their search for justice but it appeared that their leader was too far buried in his anger at Buck to see where the true villain resided.

“Okay, we ride. JD, you stay with Buck. He may need your presence. We’ll take Josiah with us. Ez, saddle my horse. I’ll meet ya at the livery.” He turned and made his way down the stairs and across the street to the saloon.

He stood by the batwing doors and studied the man in black sitting at the far table. Vin turned and looked at Inez. She sadly shook her head and raised two fingers. Chris was into his second bottle already and that meant that his judgment would be suspect. Vin still wanted him with them, his presence would mean a lot when they got to the ranch. They would certainly be outnumbered but most men thought twice about pulling a gun when the dark, brooding, gunslinger was around. He made his way to the table and stood silently before the man that he regarded as his brother.

“We’re ridin’. You comin’ with us?”

Larabee looked up at the man in leather, his drink in his hand. He glared at Tanner but he knew the man would not back down. He wanted revenge! He could taste it but he was so overwhelmed with the fact that his oldest friend was dying and that he had brought it on himself, he didn’t know if he could move.

“What good will it do? Ain’t a man got a right to protect his wife? Buck was wrong and he’s payin’ the price. I told him, one day, one of them women’s husbands was gonna shoot him for what he done. I told him to stay away from the married ones, Vin. I warned him but he wouldn’t listen. He never listened to me, he never changed. And now look where it’s got him. Bringin’ Walcott in ain’t gonna change the facts, just probably git more of us killed.” Chris tossed the whiskey down his throat and reached for the bottle to pour another.

Vin grabbed his arm and the bottle went flying, crashing against the wall. Vin glared at the defeated man in front of him. How could he lay the blame on Buck? As far as Vin knew, the scoundrel never forced a lady in his life. He didn’t have to. They were lined up around the block to get their chance with Buck Wilmington. No, the fault lay with the Walcotts, both of them and he and the others were going to make them pay for taking the life of their friend.

“No man deserves to be drug through the desert like that for just bedding a woman. ‘Sides, I figure she was just as guilty as Bucklin. If Walcott had a problem with Buck than you fight it out like a man. Ya don’t drag a man through rocks and cactus. Ya don’t do that to the mangiest of dogs! We’re bringin’ him in whether you’re with us or not, Larabee. No way in hell does a man treat one of my friends like that and git away with it!” He let go of Chris’s arm and turned on his heel. He stormed out of the saloon and made his way to the livery.

Ezra was just finishing saddling Vin’s horse when he walked in. Vin pulled his rifle from the scabbard and checked it. He cocked it and made sure a round was in the chamber. He slammed the rifle back into its holder and mounted up. He turned his gelding to the door and saw the gunslinger in black standing there, blocking his way.

Without a word, they waited until Larabee had his horse saddled and then, with grim faces, they made their way down the street of Four Corners. The townspeople knew their destination. Nobody was going to try to stop them.


The four gunslingers rode onto David Walcott’s ranch and straight up to the house. Nine ranch hands surrounded them but none of them pulled a gun. They were all local boys except for Blue Daniels and they had all either seen or heard about the Seven’s prowess with their guns. Only three knew why the four regulators were there and even they weren’t about to go against the gunmen bent on revenge.

David Walcott walked calmly out of the house and onto his porch. His right hand rested on the butt of his gun but he stood indifferently before the four horsemen. He stared Chris Larabee straight in the eye, never looking at the other men before him.

“We’re taking ya in for attempted murder, Walcott.” Vin Tanner broke the apprehensive silence. He pulled his mare’s leg and pointed it at Walcott. He was taken aback when Walcott never looked his way. The man was still staring at Larabee as if this matter was strictly between the two of them.

“Attempted? You mean that bastard’s still breathin’?” Walcott took a step towards Chris. “I had every intention of killin’ him for what he did to my wife.”

Ezra started at the confession, wanting to get his hands around the neck of the arrogant bastard in front of him. Josiah’s hand on his arm staid him from his goal. “Let Chris handle this,” he whispered.

Larabee dismounted his horse and took three steps until he was face to face with Walcott. They stood, two enraged bulls, figuring the odds and their next moves. Walcott looked away first.

He turned his head and called out, “Amelia, get out here!” It was an order that his wife could not disobey. Tentatively, she stepped out of the house and onto the porch. Her eyes met those of Blue who stood at the far end of the porch, waiting anxiously to see what his beloved would say. She quickly dropped her eyes to the boards she stood upon as she reached her husband’s side.

David grabbed her by the arm and jerked her so that she was facing Chris. “Tell him what that whore lover did to you! TELL HIM!”

She could not maintain eye contact with the man in black before her. She turned her tear streaked face away and stammered, “He took me and left me pregnant. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I swear I didn’t mean for him to get hurt.” She pulled away from her husband and ran back into the house. Her lie tore at her. She felt the guilt of her actions and knew it was totally her fault that Buck was near death. She hadn’t meant for Buck to be involved at all. She would never have believed that David would do what he did. She fell to her knees and prayed for the handsome rogue who had done nothing wrong.

Walcott turned back to Chris. He moved even closer to the dark gunslinger and softly said, “What would you have done if you had found out your son wasn’t yours? What would you have done if you found out that your beloved boy was of Wilmington’s seed? That he had fucked your wife and then left her so that you could raise his bastard. Tell me, Larabee, what would you have done?”

Chris took a step back. He was so startled by Walcott’s words that he was speechless. He shook his head to clear the image of his Sarah with Buck. No, not Sarah! Buck wouldn’t have done that! He couldn’t shake the thought and then a picture of Buck holding Adam came to his mind and he couldn’t stop the images from infiltrating his mind. The way Buck had beamed down at the baby in his arms. The toys and gifts that Buck always brought for the boy when he came to visit. The tender care Buck bestowed on the boy as he laid him in his bed. No, it couldn’t be. Not his son! Chris took another step back and then quickly turned and mounted his horse. He twisted the reins around and dug his spurs into the horse’s side. He sped away from David Walcott and the images he had drawn. He sped away from three totally confused friends. They turned their horses and raced after their leader.


Nathan stood up and stretched overtired muscles. He walked to the stove and poured himself a cup of strong coffee. As he sipped the black brew, he watched JD, who now sat by his ‘big brother’s’ head, using an eyedropper to get a mixture of willow bark tea and laudanum into Buck’s system. JD was determined that Buck would not die and he was willing to do just about anything to keep his friend and mentor with them.

Nathan had meticulously cleaned and treated every cut and scratch on Buck’s face, chest, arms, abdomen, feet and legs. He had used needle and thread on the deepest of the cuts and had lost track of how many stitches he had placed in the torn and battered body. He had shifted both shoulders back into place. Using warm water, he had washed out the dirt as best he could from Buck’s eyes. With a gentleness uncommon in large hands, he worked the jaw back into position and wrapped it with bandaging. He had carefully placed hot compresses with herbal mixtures on Buck’s chest, abdomen, and groin. Finally, there was little else he could do. The battle that was to be waged was now a one man fight for survival.

Nathan turned to the platter of sandwiches that Mary Travis had brought up for JD and himself. She had seen Chris and the others ride out of town. The blonde had come up to Nathan’s to see if she could be of any help. Nathan had explained to her what had happened and that there was very little for anyone to do but wait. So she had brought food and coffee. It was the least she could do, the newspaper woman had proclaimed.

Nathan walked over to the bed and studied the face of the scoundrel they had all come to rely upon. The excruciating pain was etched on Buck’s face even thought he was no longer conscious. Thankfully, he had not regained consciousness while Nathan was doing his repair work.

“JD, he’s alright for now. Please, come and eat something. Take a break. Once he wakes up, he’ll need both of us.” He put his gentle hand on JD’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Does he have a chance, Nathan? I mean, he’s made it this far. That’s good, right?” JD looked up at him with pleading brown eyes. He wanted Nathan to say that Buck was indestructible and that he would be himself in a very short time. Nathan couldn’t give him that assurance.

“He’s fighting with everything he’s got, Kid. It’s the infection and fever that we got ta worry about now. Keeping him still and out of pain will be tough when the fever hits. That’s why we got to rest now while we can. Come on, let him sleep.” Nathan escorted JD to the table at the front of the room and made him eat.

When he was done, JD headed for the door. “I’ll take care of business and be right back up. Yell if he needs me.”

Nathan nodded and went to sit by Buck’s bedside.


JD was just about to climb the two flights of stairs to Nathan’s clinic when he heard the sound of horses racing toward the livery. He rounded the corner to see Chris in the lead followed by Vin, Ezra, and Josiah. David Walcott was not with them. JD was stunned. There was no way that this group of men would back away from a confrontation. They had gone to arrest Walcott for what he had done to Buck, pure and simple. Why wasn’t he with them. JD watched as Chris left his trembling gelding in the hands of Yosemite and headed straight for the saloon. Vin quickly followed him, leaving Ezra and Josiah to take care of the worn out horses.

JD ran to the livery. “What happened, Josiah? Why isn’t Walcott with you? You said you were gonna bring him in!”

“I don’t rightly know, Son.” Josiah turned away from the questioning eyes and concentrated on his big roan.

JD turned quickly to the gambler. “Ezra?”

Standish turned slowly away from his mount and faced the young man. “I’m afraid that only our esteemed leader knows why we made such a hasty retreat, Mr. Dunne. Mrs. Walcott proclaimed that our comrade had begot a child with her and then she turned and fled our sight. Mr. Walcott spoke briefly with Mr. Larabee and whatever was discussed caused the man we have all come to depend upon to lead us, to flee. We thought it wise to follow his lead. How is Buck?”

“He’s out of it right now. Nathan has done just about everything you could think of to save his life. He says it’s up to Buck and God now.” Tears flowed from the young sheriff’s eyes.

“Why don’t you go back and sit with your mentor, my young friend, and let the Preacher, Mr. Tanner, and myself take care of Walcott and Mr. Larabee. Tell Mr. Jackson that we are all confident that he is doing the very best for our fallen comrade. Go now, we’ll be up shortly.”

Vin followed Chris into the saloon. The leader of the Seven stopped long enough at the bar to get a bottle of red eye whiskey and then he headed for the back table. He wanted to be alone, to deal with his demons by himself. He knew that the others would not keep their distance, that they would want to know why David Walcott was still a free man after what he had done. Chris wasn’t sure he had it in him to tell the others just what Walcott’s words and the images they had produced had done to him. Everything had come flooding back but somehow, it had been tinged with doubt and anger and guilt. He didn’t understand it himself. He did know that if he had found out that another man had taken his wife and produced a child, he would have killed that man. He was certain of that!

“What the hell happened out there, Chris? We deserve some sort of explanation! You ran like a scalded dog. What did he say to you?” Vin stood over him, his hands on the table, leaning into his face.

“Back off,” the man in black growled softly. “Buck was wrong in what he did. You heard her, Vin! Buck got her pregnant! My God, Walcott had every right to…..”

“To what, Larabee, to kill Buck? To beat the baby out of his wife? You saw her, Chris! Walcott beat the shit out of her and she would have said anything he wanted her to say. She was scared out of her mind. You think that’s right?” Vin was livid. Did the man before him actually think that murder was justice for what happened? They had yet to hear Buck’s side of this whole sordid affair. What if the woman was lying? What if Walcott had simply jumped to conclusions in the matter of his wife and the child she carried? There was no way that Walcott’s actions were justified.

Chris looked up at the man who knew him better than anyone, the man that could see into his very soul. Bitterly, he answered, “Yeah, I think he had a right. If my son had been Buck’s, I would have killed him. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Now leave me alone.” He tipped the bottle up and drank deeply of the amber liquid that would quell the images Walcott’s words had burned in his mind.

Tanner was staggered by his friend’s words. Chris couldn’t believe that Buck deserved what Walcott had done to him. Vin stepped away from the table and turned, totally disgusted by Chris’s words and actions. He vowed to himself that he would bring David Walcott in and let Judge Travis handle the matter. He didn’t care what Chris thought. It was wrong!

He walked back to the bar and leaned heavily on it. He knew that Josiah and Ezra would join him soon. They would plan how to bring Walcott in. He was sure that the gambler and the Holy man would see the whole situation his way. He had no idea why Larabee was leaning towards Walcott’s point of view. He ordered a beer and waited for his fellow regulators.

Within minutes, both men joined him at the bar. They stood on either side of him, neither asking questions. They both knew that Vin would get around to telling them whatever he had found out. They ordered beers and waited.

Vin chugged down the last of his beer and turned slightly to glance at Larabee. He shook his head and he turned back. “All he would say is that Walcott had the right to do what he did. That he would have killed Buck himself if he was in the same position. That don’t explain much but it’s all we’re gonna get right now. We’re gonna have to bring him in on our own. I saw the Kid. S’pose he wants an answer. Did he say how Buck was doin’?”

Josiah dropped his head and mumbled, “He’s barely hangin’ on. We walked JD back up to the clinic and talked to Nathan. He don’t hold out much hope. Says the infection and fever will probably take him. We can’t let Walcott get away with killing our brother!” He raised his head, anger in the light blue eyes.

“We won’t, Reverend! I’m sorry, Mr. Tanner, but I have lost patience with our infamous leader. Leave him to wallow in his rot gut whiskey! No one does the unthinkable to one of my brothers and gets away with it! Mr. Walcott is going to pay for what he did!” Ezra was adamant. The other two stared at him. They had never heard him so vengeful before. Standish met Tanner’s eyes and held them.

“Don’t worry, Ezra. Tomorrow, we will bring Walcott in no matter what Chris says or does.” Vin was as set on revenge as Ezra was.