Founder's Day Findings
Previously published in Magnificent Holidays 2 (2004)
"Nathan, could I speak to you for a moment, please?" Mary Travis lifted her voice so it carried across the dusty main street, to the man who'd just come out of the mercantile and turned toward the saloon.
Nathan Jackson stopped, looking at her first with surprise, then a smile. He was the one Mary had known longest of the Seven, but she'd appreciated from the start his kindness, his intelligence, and his willingness to help others. One day she still hoped Four Corners would have its own doctor maybe even Dr. Jackson but in the meantime, they were lucky they had Nathan.
Mary avoided a particularly muddy rut in the road, then swished her skirts higher to clear the stairs of the boardwalk before finally reaching where Nathan stood, waiting. She gave him a warm smile in return, brushing back a loose strand of her hair as she did, then took her pencil in hand again; back to business.
"Nathan, I'm doing a special edition of The Clarion for Founder's Day tomorrow, and I'd like to include an article on what the town means to the seven of you. Would you have a few minutes to talk to me?"
Nathan's eyebrows rose, but all he said was, "Sure, Miz Travis." He held out an arm, inviting her to move farther down the boardwalk with him.
For a moment she worried he was directing her into the saloon, but she should have known Nathan better. Instead, he motioned her to one of the chairs that sat on the saloon porch, then took a seat next to her.
"So, you wanna know what this town means to me?" he asked, uncertain.
"Yes. I'm sure the town has wondered, too, how you all see this place, your jobs. . ."
Nathan gave a brief laugh. "Yeah, I bet they have at that. Okay, well, I stayed on here in the first place 'cause it seemed I was needed here. Nearest doctor's over a day's ride away, an' we both know that's too far when you got a breech baby or a bullet in your gut."
Mary nodded as she wrote. "So, for you, this is a place where you're needed." At Nathan's silence, she looked up, to find his distant gaze fixed somewhere past her. "Nathan?"
"Hmm?" He snapped back to her, looking mildly abashed. "Miz Travis . . . I been through a lot of towns before I got here. Some of 'em didn't care what color you were 'cause nobody's life was worth a nickel. A lot more of 'em cared enough not to want a free slave around. Here, most people just see me as a healer. I'm not sayin' there aren't those who don't want me drinkin' with them, but mostly they don't care. For me, this town's meant freedom, and that ain't something I take lightly."
She had to write fast, but she got down every word. Mary herself couldn't have written it more powerfully than that, and she gave the healer a small smile as she finished. "I'm glad to hear that, Nathan. You've made a big difference for a lot of the people around here, too. Maybe someday that's the only thing anybody will see."
His brown eyes were warm as he nodded. "But 'til then, it's good to know you got good people at your back, watchin' out for you."
He no longer meant just the town, Mary knew, and smiled again. "Thank you for your time, Nathan. Oh, have you seen Chris today?"
The healer shook his head. "Not today. But I'm pretty sure I saw Vin headin' for the livery 'fore I went to Miz Potter's. He might know where Chris is."
"That's fine. I need to talk to Vin, too, anyway." She stood, and said earnestly. "Thank you again, Nathan."
"Anytime, Miz Travis." He tipped his hat as he also stood and headed the opposite direction, past the saloon to his clinic. Even when he didn't have a patient, Mary knew he spent long hours preparing remedies, studying medical books, and preparing as best he could for the next emergency. It was more than some doctors shed known ever did.
She picked up her skirts and hurried back across the street and down to the livery stable.
The building was dim after the sunshine outdoors, and she squinted for a moment as her eyes adjusted. Horses shuffled in their stalls left and right, and the smell of stale hay and manure was heavy in the heat. Still, there was a stillness in the stable she appreciated, and that she knew often drew the most introverted member of the Seven.
"Vin?" she called softly, not seeing any sign of the buckskin-clad figure.
"Miz Travis?" The voice on her left would have startled her if not for its quiet calm.
The speaker came into sight, a bucket in his hands and a smile on his face. He was clad only in shirt and jeans, no sign of his hunting jacket, but it didn't diminish the sense of a man who was more comfortable outdoors than in. Of all the Seven, Mary had been the most surprised at Vin's decision to stay. He didn't seem a man who would ever be happy tied down to a place.
But maybe it was the people he was tied to. And there were some ties that anchored you so you could fly even higher, instead of strapping you down.
"Vin, I'm sorry to bother you, but"
"Ain't no bother." He set the bucket down, carelessly dusting his hands on his jeans. "Anything wrong?"
"No, not at all," she said quickly. "I'm just doing an article for Founder's Day on what the town means to its seven peacekeepers, and I was wondering how you felt about Four Corners?"
Vin gave the question thought, like he did everything. "It's a nice 'nough little town, I guess. Better 'n lot of places I've been. That what you mean?" he asked, giving her a searching glance.
In another place, alone with a man who looked at her that intently, she would have felt very awkward, but there was something about Vin Tanner that put a person to ease unless they were on his bad side. In that case she could well imagine he was a man to be feared.
"Actually, I was hoping for something a little more . . . personal. What this town means to you." She stood with pencil poised.
His response surprised her. "This for the paper?" Vin asked cautiously.
"Well, yes, unless you'd rather I wouldn't put it in."
Another of his thoughtful looks, as if he were deciding how much to say, and then he looked down. "I reckon you know how they feel 'bout me in Tascosa?"
Oh. She knew now why he'd asked, and her gaze softened in sympathy. "I yes, I did hear about that, but. . ." Her cheeks colored. She knew his secret and had kept it despite her allegiance to both her paper and her father-in-law. Although, she had a feeling Orrin knew by now about Vin Tanner being a wanted man, too, and had carefully ignored it just as she had.
Vin shifted. "Don't mean t' make ya uncomfortable. Don't even expect you t'believe me. But I ain't called any place 'home' almost as long as I can remember, an' feels better than I recall. A man can take care of himself, but he don't turn down an offer of someone he trusts at his back if he's smart."
"Safety," she whispered.
Mary shook herself. "I understand. This is one place where you don't have to look over your shoulder a place of rest."
His mouth quirked. "Guess that's one way of sayin' it."
Mary met his gaze unflinchingly. "Vin, I do believe you. And I won't put this in the paper."
The smile stretched across his mouth, shy as he sometimes got when someone was kind to him. But he didn't say a word, just bobbed his head.
She didn't either, reaching out a hand to touch his arm, saying all she needed to in the language the tracker knew best.
Then she turned back towards the stable door and had nearly reached it when she stopped, suddenly remembering. "Oh, would you happen to know where Chris is?"
"Think he was headed fer the jail, last I saw him."
"Thank you." Nodding once more, she stepped out into the bright heat of the day.
The jail, of course, was at the other end of the street, but Four Corners was not yet so big that the distance was any kind of hardship. One day Mary hoped to see it rival some of the other major towns of the West, but for now it was slowly but surely growing, and she was grateful for that.
The sheriff's office was quiet on the outside, and as far as she knew there were no prisoners awaiting trial just then; Orrin's last swing through town had been scarcely a week before and had cleaned out the two small cells. But JD Dunne took his job of sheriff seriously and could often be found in the office, often with one or two of the other town peacekeepers. Maybe Chris had come to spend some time with the young man that morning.
But it was Buck Wilmington's engaging smile she saw as she stepped into the sheriff's office. The ex-sheriff sat next to the current officeholder, a pile of wanted posters on the desk between them.
"Gentlemen," she nodded.
Buck was already on his feet, and while she couldn't see under the table, JD lurched as if kicked and quickly rose to join his friend. As accustomed as she was to Buck's interest in anything in a dress, his genuine respect and admiration rarely failed to color her cheeks, and she felt the heat rise in her face as he snatched his hat off his head and nodded his respect.
"Please, I didn't mean to interrupt you, I was just looking for Mr. Larabee."
"I'm sorry, Mary, you just missed him. Think he was headin' for the restaurant. I can go roust him for you if you want." The offer was as sincere as his grin, and Mary hid a smile of her own.
"No, that's all right, it wasn't urgent. And since I have the two of you here, maybe I could take a moment of your time?"
"Well, sure." Buck was already drawing up a chair, and JD gave her a self-conscious grin. The young man was still not quite comfortable with the opposite sex, despite his mentor's teachings. Although Mary rather doubted anyone could be as comfortable with the opposite sex as Buck was.
She perched on the chair and took pencil in hand again. "Gentlemen, I'm doing an article for The Clarion about what the town means to different residents, and I wanted your reactions as two of its peacekeepers. What does Four Corners represent for you, personally?" She cradled the pad in her other arm, prepared to write.
Buck and JD exchanged a glance, Wilmington's thoughtful, Dunne's confused. "You mean, uh, what we think of it?" Buck asked her slowly.
"Yes. How you feel about it, what makes it different from other towns you've called home, anything you'd like to share." Mary once again prepared to write.
"Well . . . there are some nice people here," JD finally spoke up.
Mary turned to him, leaning forward to encourage him to say a little more.
The young sheriff flushed under her gaze. "I mean, well, Miss Nettie and, uh, Casey. . ."
Ah. She stifled another smile.
Buck had no such reservations. Grinning, he added, "Molly, Blossom, Sally some lovely people."
Mary glared at him; the train of JD's thoughts was sweet, but Buck she knew better. "That's not exactly what I had in mind, Mr. Wilmington," she said coolly.
"Well, I think the town's great," JD continued, ignoring the unspoken exchange. "All my friends are here some of 'em are practically family and I got a job and a girl." Another faint blush. "I like it a lot more than Philadelphia."
His childhood home, and where his mother was now buried. Mary knew just how much that meant. Their sheriff was no longer the naïf he'd been when he'd rolled into town two years before, but he was in many ways still innocent, often the honesty and conscience of the Seven. Mary smiled at the young man, wrote a brief line on her notepad, then glanced more pointedly at Buck.
And interrupted an unexpectedly soft look of fondness on the older man's face as he watched JD. So much for the jaded, lusty drifter; he'd found his family in their small town, too.
Mary looked away before he did, not wanting to embarrass them, and when she met his eyes again, he was smiling at her instead, the previous comfortable flirtatiousness back in place. It took some effort not to shake her head at him, but it would have been with the same amused exasperation she felt at Billy's mischief sometimes. The man did love women, there was no question about that, but shed learned quickly how much more there was to him than that.
"Mr. Wilmington?" she prodded gently instead.
"Well, I'm just thinkin' what there is not to like beautiful women, one fella who's practically a doctor and another who used to be a preacher, a sheriff full of fire an' spit. . ." JD hit him with his hat, which didn't slow Buck a bit. "We got a tracker who could find a flea in a snowstorm, a legendary gunman, even our very own gambler. And let's not forget the women! Seems to me like we got everything we need."
"Really," Mary said dryly. But his answer had been obvious as soon as JD started speaking. The shine in his eyes, the wide smile: whether he realized it or not, Buck's time in the town had given him something he'd played at but probably hadn't truly had in some time. Joy.
She tucked her pencil away again and stood.
"Thank you, I think that's all I need. I trust you'll be in town for the festivities tomorrow?"
Buck's grin overflowed again. "JD's takin' Casey to the dance," he teased Dunne warmly.
JD colored again, all too easy to tease. "Cut it out, Buck," he muttered.
Mary couldn't help herself; she leaned over and whispered something in JD's ear. The young sheriff immediately brightened and gave Buck a self-satisfied look.
Buck narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What?"
"Good day, gentlemen." Mary nodded to them both, almost hiding her smile. Even as she turned away and walked out the door, she could hear Buck's rising voice.
The restaurant. Once, she would have expected him to be in the saloon. The leader of the Seven had always spent a good portion of his time there, drinking away his demons, warily watching the town's comings and goings, and sometimes, Mary thought, just stewing. There were paths to healing, and more than one person who would have walked the journey with him, but Chris Larabee seemed to enjoy being a martyr.
And then Ella Gaines had broken his spirit, sent him back to Four Corners chastened and wounded. It had taken him a long time to recover, but since then, he'd been in the saloon a lot less. He was still going it alone, but maybe he'd found one of those paths on his own.
Mary shook her head not that it was any of her business. And raising her chin, she strode down the boardwalk and across the street to the restaurant.
But there was no sign of Chris Larabee anywhere in the large room as she entered. In fact, mid-morning as it was, there were few people inside at all. Ezra Standish, looking as if he'd woken far too early for his taste as he blearily made his way through a plate of eggs and ham, was the only one she really knew.
She'd managed to catch his eye, however, as she stood inside the door, and she saw him quickly rise to his feet, gesturing her to join him. Any sleepiness had vanished by the time she reached him, and he gave her a friendly smile. His gold tooth caught the lamplight blindingly.
"Would you care to join me, Mrs. Travis?"
She smiled back at him, if a little less comfortably. Any reservations she'd had about a gambler as a reliable peacekeeper had been laid to rest in Ezra's two years of selfless service to the town. He'd tried hard to hide any sign of his altruism, but you couldn't hide a streak that wide. This was the man, after all, who'd saved her life once nearly at the cost of his own. But she'd learned far before then that Ezra Standish was not the shallow, unprincipled man he seemed.
She still had no idea what to make him, however, between the fancy vocabulary and his lucrative gambling on the side. Of the Seven, Ezra Standish was the one she knew the least, and considering some of the other ciphers who made up the group, that was saying a lot.
"I didn't mean to intrude on your meal," she answered Ezra's question. "I was actually looking for Chris, but if you'd have a minute, I'd like to ask you a question, too, for The Clarion ?"
His mouth stretched in that lazy grin again. "It would be my pleasure." And he beckoned her to the seat across from him. "Can I order you anything to eat?"
"No, thank you, I already ate." Mary sat, arranged her skirts comfortably, then took pencil in hand again. Ezra watched her every move, but then he seemed to do that with everyone, even when it wasn't obvious. She wondered sometimes what he saw that she didn't, but that wasn't the issue at hand now. "I'm doing an article for Founder's Day on how our seven peacekeepers see Four Corners. I was wondering about your perspective, Ezra."
He took another bite off his almost-cleared plate, then seemed to realize it was rude to be eating alone. The plate was pushed aside immediately, but seemingly restless without something to occupy his hands, it wasn't long before Ezra had his cards out and had begun a slow, mindless shuffle. "You mean, besides it being a dusty smudge on a map?"
She gave him a chilly look. "Mr. Standish, this 'dusty smudge', as you call it, is all that some people have."
"Of course, ma'am." And he tipped a finger to his hat in apology. "I'd meant no disrespect. It's just that. . ." Ezra glanced up and down the street. "I've seen bigger metropolis's than this fair town dry up and blow away from one month to the next."
Mary resisted the urge to stand and walk away, staring stonily at the gambler. "Then may I ask why you stay if this is town is doomed, Mr. Standish?"
He opened his mouth to answer, shut it, and glanced down at his cards. She had a feeling it had less to do with her glower than with his truly not knowing the answer. Mary found herself softening.
And nearly smiled. "Although, I imagine in your line of work, it's . . . useful to have someone watching your back."
Ezra grabbed the escape she offered with near urgency. "Of course. It does tend to be somewhat . . . distracting, always having to watch out for the inevitable inebriated sore losers and thieves."
She nodded solemnly. "And a steady income is no small thing, either."
"Naturally." He bobbed his head enthusiastically. "Even a dollar a day is . . . something."
Mary laughed inside at the failed attempt at sincerity. At least he was trying. "A feather bed at night. . ." She further invited.
"Indeed. Nearly all the comforts of home."
"And with your interest in the saloon, I imagine a growing town like this is also a good investment opportunity." She did know his mother had owned the saloon, buying it out from right under her son, but also that somehow Maude had been persuaded to sell it back to Ezra some time later. About the same time Chris and Josiah had left town for a while, and Ezra had mysteriously gained a good amount of investment capital. But being a newspaper editor meant at least as much discretion as digging, and Mary watched the play of emotions over Standish's face with apparent insensibility: pain, hurt, surprise, joy, contentment.
And finally he cleared his throat, gave her a halting glance, then a more earnest one. "Mrs. Travis Mary, I don't believe it would be of great . . . astonishment to you if I said a man such as myself does not have many friends. Trust is one of the few things that cannot be won at the gambling table." He flashed that gold tooth again, but without mirth. "To find myself now in the position of claiming six others as not only my trustworthy colleagues, but also, unbelievably, my comrades, well, I believe living even in such an uncivilized town such as this one to be a small sacrifice in return."
Now this was the Ezra she knew was under those expensive clothes and sly manners. Even his slur on the town didn't bother her in face of such an admission, one he never would have made a year before.
Mary gave him a kind glance, wanting him to know she understood without embarrassing him.
"The ties of family and friendship are ultimately what hold a town together, Ezra," she said quietly.
"Yes, well." Too late; he'd already embarrassed himself. Mary swallowed another grin. There was still only so much Ezra would admit, change or no. "I believe few townspeople would be interested in my views of their fair town." His face was hidden now beneath the brim of his hat, the cards flying through his fingers.
She understood clearly the unspoken request. "I don't think I'll need to put all of this into the paper, Ezra. But thank you for your honesty."
His startled look told her he'd probably never been thanked for that quality before, and Mary finally did smile, pressing a hand to his arm for a moment in silent appreciation before rising. Maybe what he'd said wouldn't see print, but she knew those who should know how he felt already did.
"Good day, Ezra."
He stumbled to his feet, still looking a little shell-shocked, but gave her a small bow. "Mrs. Travis."
Well, this certainly was turning out to be an educational experience. She'd just been looking for a few quotes for her article, maybe a little more background on the seven men who'd kept the town together those last two years, and instead had gotten glimpses into their hearts. Four Corners meant friendship to Ezra Standish, maybe the first of his life. How about that?
But she was still no closer to finding Chris Larabee. Mary stopped helplessly in front of her newspaper office and looked both ways, trying to decide where the man in black might be. Well, the church had been one of the few places she hadn't tried yet, and while she sincerely doubted she'd find him there, at least she could also talk to Josiah. Maybe the preacher would have an idea where Chris was, too.
Mary strode down the boardwalk, moving aside as townspeople passed her. Once she could walk the whole length of town without coming face-to-face with another resident. Now, it was a busy, thriving community. The idea filled her heart with joy, but she also knew where credit was due. Four Corners would have died out several times before if not for the seven who protected her. Maybe another article would be a good idea, on what the town thought of its peacekeepers. It would make a great companion piece. She mulled the angles of it even as she stepped off the end of the boardwalk and crossed over to the church that stood at the end of town.
The building had become such a warm, lived-in place since the arrival of Josiah Sanchez. The cracks in the roof and walls had been filled, and the inside painted a peaceful white. Candles always glowed now in the front, and the polished pews shone in their light. She could believe now this was a place God would want to visit.
The man responsible for the transformation was sitting at the table next to the altar, hunched over something. Mary slowed her walk up the aisle, not wanting to disturb him, and craned as she got close enough to see what it was he was doing.
"Can't have another Christmas without a nativity," Josiah's deep, untroubled voice startled her.
He hadn't turned, but Mary considered that invitation enough to join him. She crept around the side of the table, still trying to be as little distraction as possible, and finally saw the small block of wood that was dwarfed in Josiah's large hands. Still, it was held with care, and each stroke of Josiah's knife shaved off only small curls of wood.
"I didn't know you could carve, Josiah," she said admiringly, picking up one of the pieces that stood on the table, already finished. The sheep she held wasn't the most skilled work she'd seen, but it had clearly been made with a lot of love and attention to detail.
Sanchez chuckled low and warmly. "I can't."
She set the sheep down carefully, and looked over the rest of the small collection. A shepherd with a wooden staff and the kneeling Virgin also sat waiting for the rest of the scene to come to life. As for what Josiah was working on, Mary wasn't sure, but either it was another sheep or a manager. "Well, I think they're lovely," she said stoutly.
"Chris is making the baby Jesus."
She blinked, not expecting that revelation. "Chris?" she repeated, surprised.
Josiah looked up at her for the first time, his eyes always so perceptive. "Yup. Figured the Son of God deserved better than this carpenter's clumsy hands, and Chris has a real gift for wood."
It was true; he'd carved several toys for Billy already that had left her breathless with his skill. But that he was taking part in making a nativity scene for the church left her touched in a whole other way. She didn't say anything, though, just nodded.
Josiah gave one last twist of the knife, eyed the piece of wood critically, then set it aside and turned to Mary. "But I don't guess you came to discuss my woodworking skills."
She straightened, also reminded of her mission. "Oh. No. Actually, I've been looking for Chris all morning, but I wanted to talk to you, too, Josiah. I'm doing an article for The Clarion "
"About what we think of the town," Josiah finished for her. At her startled look, he grinned. "Nathan's been by this morning."
"Oh. Well." She pulled out her pencil and readied her pad. "Then you've had time to think about an answer?"
She looked at him blankly. "I beg your pardon?"
He crossed his arms, looking as imposing as she'd ever seen him, but his eyes were soft. "The world is full of fellow searching souls, looking for the truth, the meaning of things. Not much peace out there to be found. But this flock, this town, has given me some of that. It's one of the reasons I strapped on a gun again for it I owe it that much."
Well, that was more forward than she'd expected. Mary took a few notes. "So you feel it's a . . . safe place to be?"
He shook his head somberly. "I don't believe there is a safe place this side of heaven, not for body or soul. But there's peace in knowing you're helping people, redeeming yourself a little. Don't know if I deserve it, but that's what the good Lord's seen fit to give me here."
Redemption. Not what people usually looked for in a town, but then, Mary had known from the start Josiah Sanchez wasn't the usual. "How about the other six peacekeepers?" she ventured to ask. "Do you think they're also finding their . . . peace here?"
He cocked his head, giving her the uncanny sense of looking through her. "Every man has to travel his own path alone. None of us go the same way. But I think we're all heading to the same place . . . and if we can ease each other's burdens along the way, all the better."
She wasn't sure, but that sounded like a yes. And, ultimately, not such a dissimilar viewpoint from the others. It was probably the closest Josiah got to admitting he appreciated the company he kept.
Mary tucked her pencil behind her ear and dropped her pad to her side. "Peace . . . that's a lovely idea, Josiah. I hope someday Four Corners will be known for that."
"Amen," he said quietly. And still watched her. Those clear eyes were almost unsettling.
She took a deep breath. "Well, I won't hold you up any longer. Thank you for your time."
"Anytime," he answered, and swung back to his work. "Oh. If you're still looking for Chris, he's been looking for you, too," Josiah added over his shoulder.
Looking for her? Good grief, where? "Well, thank you," she said anyway and, skirts rustling, headed back out into the street.
The town was growing, but still small enough to be taken in at a glance: the mercantile, the stable, the saloon, the jail, the restaurant and hotel. Some small businesses like the dressmaker and the blacksmith and the feed store. The Clarion office.
Where she could usually be found. . . .
Hitching up her skirts, Mary hurried back down the street.
But there was no one standing inside the small office as she jerked the door open, and Mary hid her disappointment. Chris didn't come there often it was her home as well as her business, after all but she'd thought somehow . . . Well, she wasn't sure what she'd thought. There were still a dozen places he could be in town, and the man did have a way of disappearing when she was looking for him.
The sound of Billy's laugh brought a smile automatically to her lips, and Mary set the pad and pencil on her desk and moved silently past it to the rooms in the back she shared with her son. It was good to hear him laugh again. She'd missed him terribly when the town had been unsafe for him to stay with her, and then he'd been so quiet and withdrawn when he'd first come back, still traumatized by his father's death. She could thank the Seven for both those situations improving, too.
Billy was on the floor in his room, playing with a toy train Chris had given him for his birthday and, as she drew near, she realized Larabee himself was sitting on the bed next to Billy, watching him play.
And then he felt her presence as he always seemed to, and the smile faded from his lips but not his eyes, as he looked up to meet her gaze.
"Guess who I found peeking into the saloon this morning?" he asked easily.
She frowned at her son, who looked up at her with a guilty flush. "Billy, what did I tell you about going to the saloon?"
"I didn't go inside, I was just lookin'."
"Well, I don't want you looking, either. Next time I hear you were there without permission, you'll be spending some time visiting the corner, young man. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," came the reluctant answer.
"Good. Now, go wash up for lunch. I want to talk to Chris for a minute."
Billy gave Chris a resigned roll of the eyes which, to his credit, Chris firmly shook his head at even though she could see the amusement in his eyes. Outnumbered, Billy dragged to his feet and went.
She watched him go, feeling the tug in her heart as she always did when he was out of her sight. Then she looked back at Chris. That was a tug of a whole other sort. "Thank you for backing me up."
"You're his ma," was the immediate answer.
Mary didn't know what to say to that, and after a flustered pause, changed the subject. "Josiah said you were looking for me. Was it about Billy?"
"Nope." He rose in one fluid motion. "We need to talk about some of the events planned for tomorrow. We'll be having a lot of people coming in to town for it, and I want to make sure there won't be any trouble."
"Certainly." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, annoyed at herself with the awkwardness she always seemed to feel around Chris Larabee. "I was looking for you, too. I wanted to ask you for a quote for an article I'm writing on how people feel about the town, if there's anything that . . . sets it apart for them from other places they've been, that sort of thing." She boldly met his gaze. "What does Four Corners mean to you, Chris?"
Larabee frowned. He never had liked talking about himself, and she knew it. "A job," he simply said.
She tried not to flinch, but felt like shed been struck. "That's all?" she asked, softer.
Chris shrugged carelessly. "Out here, one town's pretty much like the rest. This one just offered some pay."
It shouldn't have, but it hurt. He'd never made a secret of his bitterness, of his lack of ties to anything or anyone, but some part of her had hoped. . .
He was watching her, and the look in his eyes changed to something she found nearly as unreadable. "'Course, you stay long enough and you get to know the people, develop some ties. Some might say that's a reason to stay," he continued as if there'd been no hesitation.
She didn't look up at him, hiding her heart like she should have done from the start. But she couldn't help but hear the half-spoken apology.
"Mary. . ."
She raised her eyes before she could stop herself, and was held by the magnetism in his, just as she had been from the first time they'd met.
"It's good to have ties again."
And he took her hand.
Mary had never been one to throw herself at a man; even Stephen had wooed her for some months before she'd let herself fall in love with him. But two years was a long time. She clasped Chris's hand back, tightly.
A long moment later, he gave her a ghost of a smile and walked out of the room, back toward the office and the town beyond.
She stared after him. The town that had given him purpose again. That was what Four Corners meant to him, and she'd known that before she'd even asked. The town, the people in it, the men who followed him, and maybe . . . someday. . .
It's good to have ties again.
Yes, she smiled quietly to herself. It certainly was.
Then Mary straightened and headed for the kitchen to make lunch for her son.
Town's Peacekeepers Call Four Corners Home
by Mary Travis
The seven men who keep the peace in Four Corners have backgrounds as diverse as the West itself, coming to our town from as far away as Philadelphia and the South. However, these disparate lawmen all have something else in common besides their desire to keep the town safe and peaceful. Like so many of us, in Four Corners they have all found a new home. . .