Another Day Out West

by Carol Pahl


The sun hung on the western horizon and five men sat solemnly around a small campfire. They wouldn’t think of creating extra work for the two women in the small house and prepared their own meal. Small talk filled in the gaps as each shared their past few months.

Matthews sat on the sidelines absorbing as many of the tales as possible. No wonder JD admired each of the men. They were heroes!

Dr. Quinn sat near the barn, close to his patient, yet he marveled how these men, who hadn’t seen each other in over six months, visited like they’d only been separated a day or two. He’d watched the healer, Nathan, skillfully clean the dark haired man’s shoulder after he removed the lead slug. The wound was packed with clean cloth and a poultice to draw out the poisons on top of the surgical site. The man had learned all of this as a stretcher-bearer during the war? He must possess a God-given talent if his success rate was as high as the others lead him to believe. The many plants, herbs and roots Nathan used, fascinated the university schooled physician. With further training, Nathan Jackson could be an excellent doctor.

His thoughts drifted towards the patient. Upon first glance, he assumed the boy to be a son of one of the men, maybe even the one who forced him to step off the porch and accompany him to this ranch. To learn that the boy fathered a baby hadn’t surprised him; many teenaged boys’ indiscretions resulted in procreation. More surprising was the boy’s occupation, a Texas Ranger, because he possessed an innocent face. Maybe when the fever broke and he could look into the boy’s eyes he’d see the truth. Witnessing the strong loyalty from the others, especially that taller, mustached man who seldom left the invalid’s bedside, he knew the young man wouldn’t die without a fight. He doubted the devil, himself, would want to tangle with any of them, to claim the young soul.

The scene gave him the opportunity to reflect on his own medical practice. Upon arriving in town, he’d refused to make house calls, deeming it in the patient’s interest to come to him, to his sterile rooms, free of any contaminates. He’d seen his own physician father, exhausted to the bone, come home cold and wet after attending a birth as some far out-of-the way farmstead. He should lodge a complaint with the sheriff about being kidnapped and forced to come here and operate in such primitive conditions. What would his professors in Iowa City think if they knew he operated in a barn, on top of a door? They’d be appalled! Yet, the height of the table was comfortable, the lighting good. The area might not be ready to adapt to pristine operating theaters, but the success of any surgeon depended on his skills. So impressed with Jackson’s use of flora, he promised himself, he might return to the university and study herbs and their compliment to medicine and pharmacology.

“Riders coming!” Vin rose from his seat.

“Doc, you might want to step inside the barn, till we see who is coming. No sense you having to operate on yourself if we can help it,” Chris strongly suggested.

Josiah headed towards Nettie’s porch to warn the women. Ezra dissolved into the fading light near the tree line. Vin took up a position in the hayloft. Buck remained next to his little brother. Nathan joined his counterpart in the barn’s shadows, waiting and watching for the approaching company. Dillion Matthews stayed beside Larabee, unsure where to be.

Sheriff Coffee’s insides churned. Ever since he’s laid eyes on Chris Larabee the day before, he knew the two men would need to confront each other. There could only be one man in charge in the town and he wasn’t backing down without a fight. The former peacekeeper had done nothing to provoke him other than to automatically receive the admiration from many of the town’s residents, something he’d been unable to obtain. Adding bits and pieces of witness’ details led him to believe all of the seven former peacekeepers were in or passed through the town in the past two days. They had their chance to rule the town. He doubted they’d be receptive to his demand to leave the area, with no fight. His gut ache told him a different conclusion would be the result.

Eye witnesses claimed Larabee’s friend kidnapped the revered doctor and the law couldn’t turn a blind eye to the felony so the Wells’ place would be the first stop in hunting the perpetrator. Accompanied by Deputy Gordon and six men from town, the posse of eight men rode toward the homestead. Widow Wells lived in the area longer than most of the populace and feared few. What did she know about these men that caused her to trust them?

Stopping short of the campfire, he was surprised to only see Larabee, Sanchez and a young man he didn’t recognize standing in the yard. “Planning on shooting me, Larabee?” he challenged, resting his rifle across the saddle horn. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. He felt eyes watching him from the shadows; not only eyes but also he could feel the barrels of several guns pointing at them. He was too old for this.

“Not at all; wasn’t expecting company. Give your horse a rest and have a cup of coffee. There might be a little stew left.” Larabee’s pleasant invitation put him on guard. The man either possessed a death wish or felt himself immune to gunfire.

Festus Gordon hated being a second class lawman in the small town. He was tired of being compared to the seven peacekeepers who’d carved a place in the town’s history. He wanted that reputation and he didn’t want to share it with anyone. He’s little sideline business venture with Weston James brought in considerable cash. Taking down the gunfighter who’d humiliated him last night and his gang would be the perfect lining to his status. People would fear him rather than look down their noses at his authority. He’d be sure Sheriff Coffee’s didn’t survive, either. If he played his own cards correctly, by morning the town folks would be burying the old man and he’d rule over the town; his town and his rules.

He quickly raised his own rifle and aimed it at the man on the ground. “It’s over Larabee. Bet you and that old preacher thought you were the heroes today, saving that lady from the fire. Throw down your guns. We’ve got witnesses, said they saw you break Watson’s window and start the fire.”

“Gordon, shut up.” The sheriff turned in his saddle towards the deputy.

The rest of the posse milled around behind the two lawmen. Full of bravo in town, coming face to face with Chris Larabee sent shafts of dread through their hearts. More than one anticipated the upcoming battle and wished he’d admitted to being a coward and stayed in town where he belonged.

“Hold your ground, you yellow-bellied storekeeps. There’s six of us and only two of them. We hold the high ground. They’re the ones impeding justice.” Gordon bellowed. He wished Harold was here to back this play but the man was missing. No one had seen him since noon. “Where’s the Doc?”

Ignoring their bravado, Larabee returned to his upturned log seat and Josiah rested his foot on another and rested his arm on the raised knee. “Invitation still stands. Goes for all of you. Don’t be bullied into doing something you don’t want to do.” Chris took a long swallow of coffee. “Doc, seems these fellows misplaced you. Care to show them you’re fine? Tell them what you have been doing?”

Six pairs of eyes shifted to the opening barn door and Dr. Quinn stepped out from the dimly light interior. “Sheriff, the gossip of my abduction is greatly exaggerated. I’m fine, gentlemen. No need for posturing. Unfortunately your other deputy has departed this life.” An audible collective gasp echoed in the still twilight air and the squeak of leather shifting followed.

“Careful, Doctor Quinn. You associating with this band of arsonists?” Gordon asked, feeling his control of the situation draining through his fingers. “Harold’s here? What happened?”

Sheriff Coffee had enough of the bigger man’s questions. He had some of his own and he wanted the answers now. “Doctor Quinn, you’d better start explaining yourself. And I don’t have time for a long winded tale.”

“Mr. Jackson has been instrumental in explaining the healing capacity of a variety of plant species, native to this locale; ones used for centuries by the native populace yet totally ignored by modern medicine. I was involved in the delicate surgery and removal of lead from Ranger Dunne of Texas. Corly was shot as he attempted to demand affection from the young woman who lives here. She gave birth yesterday and today was raped. I have not met her or the old woman, I’m just repeating what I heard the others sharing.”

“I admit I didn’t see the value in leaving my practice but I understand the error of my ways and I’ll always be indebted to Mr. Wilmington for encouraging me to expand my horizons. I was missing much this territory has to offer. Sheriff, I am not being held against my will nor was I kidnapped. There is no need to arrest any of these men.”

The lawman bristled at the doctor’s declaration. “Who made you the judge, Dr. Quinn? Who killed Corly? Doc, you’re not the same man I traveled with to this country!”

The doctor shook his head, “And neither are you. You allow extortion to be perpetrated right under you nose by the very men you have placed in a position of authority, yet you turn a blind eye to these crimes. Don’t start making excuses for them. Gordon tried to strong-arm me as I’m sure he demanded payment from each of the others following you blindly. Are the rights of the criminals more valuable than those of the victims?”

“I’ve had enough of this tea party, ladies!” Gordon yelled, raising his rifle again and swinging it towards the largest target, Sanchez. He didn’t care who he shot, as long as he’d be remembered as the one who’d brought down the Larabee gang. He died with that thought as his last. A shot from up high and another from the tree line dropped the braggart from his saddle.

The sheriff swirled around in his saddle, knowing the unseen gunmen suddenly outnumbered him. Too late he realized his mistake, where you could see one or two of the seven, the rest wouldn’t be too far away.

The posse attempted to stay stoic; none wanted to die. “Sheriff, you mentioned the judge. Let’s head back and let him sort this out. Doc seems fine,” one said, his voicing carrying easily in the clear night air.

If he rode away, Sheriff Coffee would be branded a coward. If he stayed, he’d be just as dead as Gordon. He couldn’t see any escaping the lion’s den.

One by one the men turned their horses and rode away, abandoning Sheriff Coffee to his own dilemma. He continued to stare at Larabee and Sanchez, knowing he was in someone’s rifle sight.

“Sheriff, no one is going to shoot you in the back. The invitation still stands. You’re welcome to join us or you can ride back to town. Your choice.”

The doctor walked slowly toward the man lying in the dirt, in case he was still among the living. He didn’t want to get caught in any cross fire. Seeing death again, he shut his eyes and remembered the wise words of his university instructor. ‘Once their dead, they don’t feel any pain.’ It still didn’t make witnessing the killing any less emotional. He held no respect for either of the fallen deputies but it still pained him to pronounce a death. Michael Quinn honored the Hippocratic Oath, ‘In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients.’

“If one of you fellows would help me load Gordon on his horse, I’ll see he’s returned to town. Corly, too.”

Josiah motioned for Dillon to grab the deputy’s horse and he easily lifted the dead weight over the saddle. Nathan and Buck did the same with the other, blanket shrouded deputy killed earlier. Ezra found the attacker’s horse hidden near Nettie’s home while searching for the woman’s niece. After handing the reins of both animals to the sheriff, Josiah turned away without speaking. Coffee knew he was dismissed. He’d lost the respect of the townsfolk and of these men. Somewhere in his quest to bring about a safer world, he’d made a mistake and now he’d pay for the error in judgment for the rest of his life.

“Coming with me, Quinn?” he asked the physician.

“Not till morning, if the ranger is better by then.”

Roy Coffee rode away, alone, except for the bodies of the two men he’d trusted; the two men who’d ruined his career. The night’s darkness swallowed him with only the occasional click of a horse’s shoe on a stone to mark his retreat. The fear of a bullet in his back was replaced with the unspoken judgment.

Gradually the men emerged from the shadows and gathered around the dim campfire, their conversations tempered by the confrontation.

Vin acknowledged the others but continued toward the small cabin. He stood silently on the porch, waiting for Nettie to speak first. She’d witnessed the showdown from the dim interior of her home and watched her ‘boy’ approach.

“Come in, Vin.”

He stepped over the threshold. Had it only been a day since all of this senselessness began? “You all right? Casey and the baby ok?”

“You did good, Vin.” She knew he’d been the one to shoot Gordon. “We’re fine. Casey’s sleeping in my bed and Josiah helped me tuck the baby on the floor beside her.”

“Want me to wake her, to help you? If’n you don’t mind, me and the rest will camp out in your yard tonight.”

“Let her sleep. Vin, sit down. I need to talk.”

He found a chair in the darkness and pulled it closer to her. “I’m listening.”

“This afternoon, sitting here all trussed up like a turkey; not being able to help Casey made me realize it’s time for me to make some changes. I need your help. I want you to head to town in the morning and find us a place to live. Ask Mary and Gloria to help you.”

Vin knew there was more to the request than just a change of scenery for Nettie to leave this home she’d built and occupied for most of her adult life. “You don’t have to move. Now that I’m a free man, I can do more for you, not be so limited. We could get someone to help you and Casey with the house and baby.”

The wrinkled hand reached out and squeezed his, “Thanks but I don’t think Casey can stay here, knowing and remembering what happened in her room. Sides now that JD’s back, I expect the two of them will be making their own plans.”

“He ran out on her once. You’re not worrying he’ll do it again?” Tanner loved the two women like family and wouldn’t stand by to see either in pain.

“Casey’s as much to blame as him. He didn’t know about the baby, not till he saw her yesterday outside my door. She had her reasons but I’m sure once the two of them can talk about everything, they’ll do the right thing.”

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, bits and pieces of conversation from the campfire floated by in the clear night air. The older woman sighed, her memories flooding her mind.

“I remember the first time I met Casey. I took her tiny hand in mine and made a promise to my dead brother-in-law. His daughter would grow up strong and independent, someone he’d be proud of. The girl’s got some challenges to overcome but she’ll do it. I don’t want her refusing her own future because of me. We’ll be fine. Go on now, back to your friends.”

Buck bathed JD’s sweaty forehead. The night air held the summer’s heat at a comfortable temperature for a healthy person. He needed to share with his little brother. He wanted to give him a hug, a big, Buck’s bear hug. The idea that the boy was a daddy left him speechless. At the same time he was ready to knock some sense into the boy’s hard head. How dare he abandon the sweet little girl and their baby? How could he so easily forget his own formative years without even knowing his father?

“Any change, Buck?” asked Nathan, kneeling beside the pair, reaching out his hand to feel the fever himself.

“What’s wrong, Nathan? Did the doctor miss something else? Is he going to live?” Buck’s voice cracked with emotion; the rollercoaster ride of events this afternoon, the fire, finding the rest of the seven, holding the little baby girl, watching the medical doctor and the healer operate.

“I don’t know. I ain’t givin’ up on him. He’s got too much living to leave us now. When Chris told me he’d shot JD, I thought the man finally went crazy. Then when he explained how he’d learned JD was hunting Vin, I let the news cloud my judgment. I feel awful. JD wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone. But everything pointed to him being guilty of all of it.”

“Chris? Shot? JD?” Wilmington rose to his feet but Nathan grabbed his sleeve.

“JD’s gun was pointed at Vin’s head. Chris didn’t shoot to kill, only wing him. Just didn’t realize someone else’s gun was aimed at Vin’s back. JD saved both Casey and Vin, taking the bullet himself. I doubt Larabee’s slept a wink since. Guilt’s a powerful disease. We both failed JD when he needed us.”

The lantern cast a dim lit, barely chasing the inky blackness away from the crude bed. Nearby a horse swished its tail, chasing the ever-present and annoying flies. Crickets chirped from the shadows, filling the barn with a symphony. In the distance frogs croaked, wooing a mate.

Inside the house a new mother gently rocked her slumbering newborn. The quiet time gave her a chance to finally think through everything that’d happened since she’d seen JD ride toward her aunt’s home two days ago. Months before she’d tried to convince herself that the easterner meant nothing to her. She realized how wrong she was, returning home to find that he’d left for Texas. Now he was fighting for his life and she feared she’d missed the opportunity to ask his forgiveness. Her hand caressed Mary Kate’s downy hair and tears ran freely down her face. Yesterday, after the attack, she wanted to end everything but looking down on the swirling water beckoning her, she froze. She couldn’t do it. The baby needed her; Nettie needed her; most of all, JD needed to know the truth.


Fingers of light crept over the distant mountains, heralding the beginning of a new day. The nocturnal wildlife retreated into their homes and hollows while the rest of the terrain came to life. The humans joined them, stretching and working joints loose from resting on the hard, packed earth. The banked fire eagerly caught the small twigs and grass, producing heat to light the larger logs. Soon the smell of coffee would entice even the deepest sleeper from their bedroll.

JD opened his eyes, blinking away the grit of sleep. A lantern still burned, its fuel almost gone, though the sunlight hadn’t reached the interior of the barn. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he turned his head slowly, looking for something to drink. Nearby someone was sleeping, their soft snores revealing their presence. Turning his head the other way, he smiled, seeing Buck’s head lolled back against the rough barn wall. He’d dreamed his big brother had returned. Was this still part of the dream?

Moving his arm gave him the answer. Lancing pain shot through his shoulder and he gasped in a futile attempt to ease the fire. The throbbing was no dream.

“Morning, JD.” Buck smiled, seeing the younger man was awake and not thrashing in the throes of fever. He reached out to move the errant bangs away from JD’s eyes and also to feel for himself the fever had broke.


“Coming right up.” Buck got a tin cup and poured fresh water from his canteen into it. He held it with one hand while supporting JD’s head with the other. “Drink it slowly. That’s it. Little at a time. Swish it around.”

The effort left JD winded and Buck lowered his head back to the bed.

“Casey?” he gasped, trying to breathe.

“Now don’t you go worrying yourself about that little filly. She’s fine; the baby’s fine; Nettie’s fine. It’s you we’ve been worried about.”

“She ‘n Vin? Married?”

“No. No! Where did you get a fool idea like that? He’s been here, helping Nettie.”

“Not the father?”

“You and Casey, you two got something special together.” The older man returned to his seat on the old packing crate. “We’ll talk later; get some rest.”

Buck stared at his young friend, watching the eyelids slowly close, wishing he could remove some of JD’s suffering. He had faith the boy would recover in time and then they would discuss the events of the past few months. Buck Wilmington wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

Two wagons rolled slowly into the small yard, stopping near the men’s campfire. “We’ve brought breakfast,” Gloria Potter said, stepping down from the first wagon. “We want to show you our appreciation for what you’ve done since you’ve been back.”

The men gathered around the fire looked at each other, wondering what the storekeeper meant. Josiah stepped forward to assist the other two ladies down from their seat. “Whatever you brought smells heavenly, ladies.”

Chris and Vin helped Mary and Inez get down from the second wagon. “Orrin will be in town next week, to appoint a new sheriff.”

“What happened to Coffee? He left here in one piece.” Nathan asked.

The ladies pulled baskets and cast iron skillets from the back of the wagon and used the tailgate as a table. Plates and silverware appeared beside the food. “Dig in, gentlemen,” Rachel Hunter, owner of the boardinghouse commanded. “We brought enough for all of you. Didn’t want you to eat Nettie out of her supplies. The sheriff saw the writing on the wall. He didn’t even have the decency to attend the funeral for those two men he hired. First light this morning, he was seen riding out of town. His room was cleaned out.”

Gloria and Mary left the group and walked to Nettie’s door. They wanted to meet the community’s newest member and see for themselves that the two Wells women were safe.

The men willingly filled the plates with the fried potatoes, eggs, bacon and burritos. Thick slices of bread and a bowl of butter sat next to the hot food. Inez added the extra coffee pot to the campfire and kept the men’s cups filled. The doctor joined the gathering, surprised by the food offered but more surprised by the friendship the women, a newspaper editor, a Mexican barmaid, a widowed shopkeeper and the boarding house owner, shared with these men. Back east, these four women wouldn’t dare speak to each other, let alone organize food for this mix-matched group of gunslingers. He’d heard about the seven lawmen soon after moving to the town. Many of the comments were derogatory but many more made the men larger than life. After spending the few short hours together, he witnessed the truth. These seven were a unique blend of talents and spirits yet blended together were the epitome of champions. Another lesson learned. To know the true nature of someone, ask the servants of the world, the shopkeepers, the waitresses, and the lower class. What did politicians, noblemen, or doctors know?

His thoughts drifted to his own wife, a woman he’d met while attending the university. She was beautiful yet shallow. He’d married for prestige and money and now she’d run away with an itinerate preacher. Maybe it was time for him to move on, too, and go back to Iowa. The healer’s methods opened his eyes to a need for medicine that included the modern techniques of chemistry and biology but left room for the proven ways of the native and county folks.


“Buck,” Casey said quietly, as she entered the small barn. “How is he doing?”

“He’s doing better,” came the answer from the crude bed. “I’m awake.”

Buck smiled. Those two bickered more than any married couple he’d met. Why couldn’t they see they needed each other?

The young woman chewed on her lip. It was hard for her to admit she was wrong. Would JD ever forgive her?

“Come here, little darlin’. You come right here. Take a seat.” Buck sensed her nervousness. He stood and motioned for her to sit on the overturned wooden crate beside the bed. It was time for them to clear the air. “Glad you came along. Ole Buck needs a break.” He left the barn, like a man on a mission, but stopped just outside of the door to listen to the couple’s conversation.

“JD, I, I should have,” the girl stammered.

The young man reached out his good hand and found hers. “Casey, I still care about you. I never stopped thinking about you. We could go on all afternoon about ‘I should haves’ but that won’t change nothing. Tell me about the baby. Please?” The gorgeous hazel eyes locked onto hers and she saw both the forgiveness offered and exculpation needed. The mistakes of the past few months evaporated. They needed to plan for the future.

She bent over and kissed his lips. “Promise me you won’t leave me again,” she whispered. Casey sat back on the crate and sighed. “I wrote that awful letter and afterwards wished I’d never sent it. I got on the next stage back hoping the letter would get lost before I got here, but you were already gone. I told Nettie that I’d written to you and that you left. I never told her exactly what was in that letter until the day after Mary Kate was born. I’m so sorry.” Tears ran down her face.

“ Casey, don’t cry. I still got your letter. I wanted to come back so bad but I didn’t want you mad at me for doing so.” JD wanted to hold her, to comfort her; but he couldn’t even sit up unaided. His eyes filled with tears, too. “The baby in your room, the one I held; that’s Mary Kate, our daughter?”

The new mother nodded, “Mary Katherine. I named her after your momma and mine.” Her eyes grew large. “I hope that is alright?”

He nodded, unable to speak as he thought about his mother. She would be so happy right now. But if she hadn’t passed on, he wouldn’t have come west and wouldn’t have met Casey. “I like that a lot.” His voice choked as he spoke. “Is she a good baby? She seemed so small when I was holding her. Are you alright?”

Unable to look at him, she stood and walked over to the window. “You saved me, JD. If you didn’t come when you did, that man would have.” She turned abruptly to look at him, her inner strength evident. “He didn’t and he’s gone and now I’m okay.” She returned to the box and took his hand. “Mary Kate is the best baby. She hardly fusses. I know she recognizes my voice. I’ll bring her out to meet you. Wait, you already met. I don’t know why I’m babbling like this.”

JD smiled at her; for once she was the one stumbling to say the right thing and not get her tongue tied in knots. “I have a baby.” He sighed at the memory of holding the tiny person who was a part of him. “Casey, this here, me so weak I can’t even sit up without help, ain’t how I imaged doing this, but before another day passes.” JD made sure her eyes were locked with his. “Will you marry me?”

Casey reached out to hug him, stopping just short of grabbing his bandaged shoulder, her body frozen inches away. “Yes. Yes! YES!”

Buck, unable to restrain his own excitement, joined the pair. He didn’t care if they knew he’d been eavesdropping on the conversation. “It’s about time you do tie the knot. I know your marriage will work out better than mine.”

“Were you listening? Man can’t even get privacy proposing to the prettiest gal in the territory.” JD’s words scolded but the tone of his voice revealed he wasn’t upset. “Think you could get Josiah to help us arrange something for later, once Nathan and the doctor let me get up?”

The older man’s smile stretched from ear to ear. “Leave it to Buck. I’ll talk to Josiah. Maybe one of the ladies from town will be willing to help organize some food.” He patted JD’s good shoulder. “Just to be on the safe side, I’ll go see if we can get Nettie out here, so you can ask her personally for Casey’s hand. You know, proper like.”

A look of shock spread over the injured man. JD didn’t look forward to the conversation with Casey’s aunt remembering the last time they’d spoken before the baby arrived.

“It’ll be alright, JD. I’ll make sure the rifle says in the house.” The soon-to-be bride laughed, happy the tables had turned.

One by one, each of the men stopped by; first to apologize and then to congratulate JD and Casey. After Nettie’s severe admonition and blessing, the two women left to begin planning the simple wedding and Nathan insisted the injured man rest while the rest would help with the festivities.

Dunne closed his eyes, exhausted, and yet sleep escaped him. He listened to bits and pieces of conversation from outside. When did Mary and Gloria arrive? Good, the women would be more help preparing for a wedding than a bunch of out of work gunslingers. Casey needed this special day. Why hadn’t she told him about the baby coming? He’d have dropped everything in Texas and raced back here to marry her and remove the stigma of being an out-of-wedlock mother.

He sighed. How could a man be so tired and be unable to sleep at the same time?

“Man’s got a right to be excited on his wedding day, just as much as the bride to be.”

JD’s eyes shot open as he looked for the source of the comment; Chris, the only one who hadn’t stopped by. “Mr. Larabee.”

Chris kicked the crate closer to the bed and sat down. “We back to formalities, JD?”

Nervous, Dunne swallowed. What do you say to the man who shot you? Did he still want to hurt him?

“Mighty brave thing you did, stepping between that bounty hunter and Vin.”

“No different than what any of you would have done.” Unconsciously, he rubbed his side, feeling the thick bandage covering the entrance and exit wounds.

“Kid, I’m sorry.” The older man cringed, watching the boy rub his wounded side, knowing he was the one responsible. “I misjudged something I heard. And when I saw you draw your gun, I forgot all the good you’d done. Can you forgive me?”

JD stared at his hero, unable to speak.

“You’re doing the right thing here, giving that baby a daddy. Treasure every moment you have together.” Chris’ voice choked, remembering holding his own infant son for the first time. “When you get to see her, all grown up, you’ll know it was the best thing you ever did for her and her momma.”

Looking at JD’s face, he saw the lines of pain evident around the younger man’s eyes and mouth. The guilt dug a little deeper, knowing he was responsible for some of that pain. “I best go, let you get some rest, ‘fore Nathan scolds me for bothering you.” He reached out and squeezed JD’s good hand. “Congratulations, son. Who taught you to draw like that?”

“I now pronounce you man and wife.” Josiah proclaimed before turning to Casey and said, “You may now kiss the groom.” JD sat on a kitchen chair, his left arm resting on a feather pillow, and smiled as Casey bent down to seal their marriage.


Part 6