Author's Note: This story explores aspects of the guys personalities that I suspect are there, but that you do not get to see in the series. For instance, I let Ezra cut loose and have some fun for a change. Also, I took the liberty of creating more background information for Buck, since very little is know about his past. There are some brief references to events in Lady Killers and Working Girls.

Disclaimer: I do not own them. They are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment; however, if they ever come up for sale, I will be in the front row at the auction.

Size: Approx 112K

Feedback is welcome and greatly appreciated, but no flames please.

"JD, are you sure no one knows we're up here?" the young blonde asked breathlessly.

"It's all right, no one saw us." The town's youthful sheriff silenced her questions with a kiss.

Amy Jamison responded by wrapping her arms around her suitor's neck and pulling him closer to her. She allowed herself to get lost in the sensations the kiss was arousing within her. A soft moan of pleasure escaped her when his tongue lightly flicked across her closed lips. Involuntarily, her lips parted slightly to allow him access to her mouth.

As their desire grew, so did JD's courage. Slowly, he eased her down into the straw of the loft. He leaned over her, bracing himself on one elbow, while he began to unfasten the buttons down the front of her dress with his free hand. She did not resist as his hand slid inside the bodice of her dress to gently cup her small, firm breast. A soft gasp escaped her lips when he brushed his thumb across her hardened nipple, through the thin fabric of her chemise. Their lips meet again, this time with a hunger born of newly ignited passion. With a shaking hand, JD untied the lacing of the shift and eased his callused hand inside. He moaned softly at the feel of her warm flesh against his palm.

"Ohhh...JD" Amy sighed in pleasure as he continued to caress her.

Mrs. Potter paused when she heard the unexpected sounds coming from the loft in the livery. Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open when she realized just what she was overhearing. Torn between the curiosity to know who young sheriff Dunne had with him in the loft, and her own embarrassment at listening to something so private, the older woman quickly left the stables before someone chanced to catch her listening to the young couple above her.

Cautiously, JD removed his hand from her breast and reached for the full skirt of her dress. He trailed soft kisses over her neck as he worked his way lower toward her exposed bosom. All the while, his hand was gradually pulling the fabric of her skirt up the length of her shapely legs. When the hem of the skirt was raised high enough, his hand pressed lightly against her bare thigh as it inched its way upward under the edge of her dress.

Abruptly, Amy pulled away from her lover. "Wait....I can't do this." She was suddenly apprehensive as she placed her hands against his chest to hold him away from her.

JD closed his eyes and drew in a slow, deep breath to gain some measure of control before he tried to speak. "Amy, I thought you wanted this too." He could not hide the disappointment in his eyes or the tension in his voice.

"I did...I do, but I can't." She looked away from him in an effort to hide her unease.

JD gasped for breath as he struggled to regain his composure. He searched the young woman's face for any indication that she would change her mind again. The desire had faded from her soft brown eyes, to be replaced by uncertainty and fear. Tenderly, the young sheriff reached out and pulled the front of Amy's dress closed over her exposed breasts. The young man's body trembled, and his heart continued to pound wildly in his chest from the unreleased passion. He lowered his head to rest his forehead against her shoulder, and he drew in another slow, shuddering breath.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The blonde half sobbed as she clutched her bodice closed with her one free hand.

Slowly, JD raised himself up so he could see her, but she refused to meet his gaze. Gently, he placed his hand to the side of her face and turned her head so she would have to look at him. "It's all right. I won't try to push you into doing something you're not ready for." His voice was soft and full of understanding, but he could not keep the lingering desire from showing in his eyes.

"I really thought I could, but...." her voice trailed off as she spoke. She blushed as she realized that her dress was still pulled up over her thighs. When she let go of her unbuttoned dress to try to push the skirt down over her legs, the bodice gapped open again.

The young man caught her hand as it started to fly back up to pull the garment closed. "Let me." He eased himself around so that he could use both hands. With nimble fingers he retied the lacing of her chemise and buttoned the front of her dress. Then he straightened her skirt to cover her legs. Leaning back over the nervous young woman, he spoke quietly; much more in control now. "Amy, look at me." She hesitated, but then turned to look him in the eyes. "You don't have to be sorry. The first time can be scary. If you're not ready, then you're just not ready, that's all there is to it. There's nothing to be sorry about." He smiled warmly at her and placed a light kiss on her brow.

Amy placed her delicate fingers against his face and raised her head to give him a feathery kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, fer not gettin' mad at me."

"I'm not mad," he said, and he meant it. How could he possibly be mad because she had decided to remain a virgin? He wanted her, there was no doubt about that, but it was her choice to make. "How soon will your Pa start lookin' for you?"

"I don't know, but I probably should go." She sat up and started brushing stray bits off straw off her clothes, while JD began picking pieces out of her hair. "Are ya goin' now too?"

The young man shook his head and said, "Not just yet. I kinda need to stay out of sight for a bit." His face flushed red as her eyes traveled down his body, and noticed the source of his discomfort.

Her eyes widened as she noticed the bulge in his pants. "Ohh....That might be a good idea at that." The young woman's cheeks grew hot, as her own embarrassment became evident. "Ya gonna be all right?" she asked shyly.

"I'll be fine. Just need a little time to myself. You go on, so your Pa doesn't get mad." He smiled at her reassuringly.

Amy got up and headed for the ladder to the loft. She peered over the edge to see if anyone was below that might see her as she came down the ladder. The place was deserted. She turned and looked back at JD where he was laying in the straw. "I really am sorry," she said one last time, before she quickly climbed down the ladder and made her way out of the stable.

Up in the loft the town's sheriff, groaned and rolled onto his side. He drew his knees up to take some of the pressure off his aching groin, while he waited for his need to subside.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington sat down at the table with three of his fellow peacekeepers. His smug grin and the glint in his eyes simply radiated his eagerness to tell the other men what he knew. Chris Larabee knew this look well and decided to let other man squirm a little, before he gave in and asked his old friend what it was that had him in such a rakish mood. The gambler and the preacher took their cues from their leader and pretended that they did not notice their colleague's air of excitement.

After several minutes Ezra spoke up, "I do declare, Mr. Larabee, but I do believe that Mr. Wilmington will burst if he is not given the opportunity to divulge his 'information.'"

"All right, Buck. Out with it." The man in black gave the ladies man a half smile.

"You'll never guess what I just heard," he said, in a loud whisper, as he leaned forward over the table.

"Probably not, so why not just tell us," Josiah suggested.

"I overheard Mrs. Potter talkin' to Mrs. Martin," he began conspiratorially, as the other three men rolled their eyes in exasperation. "Mrs. Potter said, when she was comin' out of the office at the livery, she heard noises comin' from the hay loft." He had their attention now. "She said that JD had a girl up there, an' there was no mistakin' what they were up to."

Josiah chuckled softly, "That hay loft seems to be turning into a popular spot with our Mr. Dunne."

"I fear, Mr. Wilmington, that you may begin to experience some competition for the affections of the fair ladies of our humble town." The gambler could not resist making a little verbal jab at the consummate ladies man.

Before Buck could respond to the con man's remark, Chris spoke up. "So, who was the girl?"

The question drew the dark haired man's attention away from the Southerner and back to the conversation at hand. "Don't know. Mrs. Potter said she was so shocked that she took off outta there. But I'll find out. That kid can't keep a secret from me." He leaned back in his chair and grinned broadly at the other men.

"I swear, sometimes I think you like to gossip as much as the women do." Chris shook his head in mock censure as he tried, not too successfully, to hide the hint of a smile.

The four lawmen were still gathered at the table in the back of the saloon, when the object of their earlier discussion chose to join them. The young man picked up a glass of beer from the bar and then slumped into an empty chair at the table. Buck stared at his surrogate little brother with a knowing smile on his lips.

JD began to squirm under the older man's gaze until he could not take the scrutiny any longer. He glared at the gunman and asked in irritation, "What?"

"Who was she, kid?" his friend grabbed the chance to ask.

"Who was who?" The younger man feigned innocence.

"The girl in the loft, who else? An' don't you go tryin' to say you weren't up there with a girl, because someone heard ya." Buck was enjoying watching his friend's discomfort.

Resignedly, JD confessed, "Yeah, I was in the loft, but it isn't none of your business who I was up there with."

"Ah, come on Kid. You can tell us," the black mustached peacekeeper urged.

"Buck, I'm not gonna tell you, so let it be."

"I, for one, applaud your determination to protect the reputation of your fair lady, Mr. Dunne. A true gentleman does not kiss and tell," the gambler said in approval.

"Are you implyin' that I ain't a gentleman?" Buck jumped in.

"I do not recall saying anything of the kind, however, if the description fits..." The con man allowed his sentence to go unfinished.

"You know what I think? I think yer just jealous because ya don't have anythin' to tell," Wilmington goaded.

"On the contrary, Sir. I have had my share of assignations with the fairer sex. I simply choose not to divulge the details in ribald tales over libations." Ezra flashed one of his golden smiles at his colleague.

Buck's attention was caught by the lovely Mexican woman who was standing a few feet from their table. "Oh, but ain't she some kinda woman?" He gazed at Inez longingly. "Hey darlin', how about us gettin' together later tonight?"

The dark beauty stepped nearer to her admirer and leaned seductively close. She looked deeply into his eyes. "Senor Buck, I have only one answer to your question," she said confidently. "Nunca! Never!" Buck was left watching her retreating back as she stalked away from their table.

The other men laughed heartily as their friend leaned back in his chair and grinned. "She's weakenin' boys. She's weakenin."

"I think, Mr. Wilmington, that that little display has just proven my point." The southerner observed. "On that high point of the evening, I fear I must excuse myself. I am due to relieve Mr. Tanner at the jail." Ezra rose from his seat and headed out the swinging doors.

The con man paused outside the saloon to breathe in the cooler air. Dusk was settling in, and the heat of the day was beginning to fade. Reluctantly, he began to saunter toward the jail.

A soft voice called to him from the space between the buildings, "Senor Ezra."

The gambler spun around to see Inez standing slightly back from the street in the open space next to the saloon. "My dear lady, you startled me out of a year's life."

"I beg your pardon, Senor," she apologized. "May I speak with you please?"

"Of course you may. What may I ask .....?"

"Senor, back here please, away from the street." Inez took his arm and tugged him away from the front of the saloon. He followed quietly until she had guided him around the back corner of the building.

"What, may I ask, does this concern?" The southerner became wary at the secretive nature of the encounter.

"I overheard the conversation at your table," she responded.

"I must offer my sincerest apologies. That conversation was not suitable for delicate ears."

"No apology is necessary, Senor. It is because of what I overhear that I have a proposition for you," she said purposefully.

"You have my undivided attention. Please continue," his green eyes flashed at the possibilities this might present.

She glanced around furtively and continued hastily. "I cannot talk now. I must get back inside. May I speak with you later, after the saloon closes?"

"If you prefer. Where should we meet?" The gambler's curiosity was beginning to get the better of him.

"I shall come to your room." With that she turned and hurried to the back door of the saloon and ducked quickly inside.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat on his bed and leaned back against the headboard. He was trying to relax while he waited for Inez to come to his room, so he sat shuffling a deck of cards and practicing the slight of hand that made him such a formidable opponent at the gaming table. The gambler contemplated the strange encounter with the saloon manager. Eventually, he stopped trying to figure out why she would want to speak to him and decided that he would find out in due time.

It was a little after two in the morning when the con man heard a faint tapping. He went hastily to the door and opened it to admit his guest. "Please, come in." He watched as she hurried into the room, and then she turned and quietly closed his door behind her. Before he had a chance to speak, she moved across to the chest to turn down the wick on the lamp, leaving only a dim light in the room. The gambler's pulse quickened. He was becoming somewhat uneasy at all the mystery surrounding the lovely woman's purpose.

"Senor Ezra, thank you for agreeing to see me." Inez stood a few feet from the southerner. Her posture and demeanor showed that she was more than a little nervous.

"It is my pleasure, I assure you. I admit to being intrigued by our encounter earlier this day." He looked appraisingly at the young Mexican woman. "Please, make yourself comfortable," the con man nodded toward the single chair in the room, and he sat on the edge of the bed, facing her. Once his guest was seated he continued, "You said something about a proposition."

"Si," she said softly. "As I said, I overheard your conversation today, and it gave me an idea. I would like to hire you to help me, shall we say, to teach Senor Buck a lesson." Inez looked steadily into Ezra's shrewd green eyes.

"Teach him a lesson? I trust that you do not entertain the prospect of having me cause any harm to Mr. Wilmington," the gambler inquired.

"Oh no, Senor. I would not ask such a thing!" she exclaimed. "The only harm to Senor Buck would be to his male pride." A hopeful look passed over her striking features.

Ezra smiled as he began to consider the possibilities. "And, what would this lesson entail?"

"A little deception," she said cryptically. "I will pay you for you assistance."

"We can determine the rate of payment after I hear what you have to propose, and if I decide to accommodate your request." The southerner was intensely interested in finding out just what Inez wanted him to do. "Now, what sort of deception do you have in mind?"

"I would like for you to pretend to be my lover," she stated impersonally.

The gambler was momentarily speechless, and he stared at her open-mouthed. When he managed to find his voice he queried, "Your Lover?"

"Si." She looked calmly at the man across from her and explained, "I wish to discourage Senor Buck from seeking my company."

"But... aren't you concerned about the possible damage to your reputation?" The con man had grown to like Inez, and he would not like to be part of anything that would cause her difficulties later.

"Senor, I work in the saloon. I don't have much of a reputation to protect." She smiled warmly at him. "The deception would be for only a short time, and then we would let him know that he had been tricked. I wish only to embarrass him a little."

"I see. You are thinking that if you embarrass him sufficiently that he will cease obsessing over you." Ezra eyed her expectantly.

"Si, that is what I hope to do." She was clearly relieved that he had understood her intentions. "Senor Buck is a good man, but he does not understand that I do not want any man right now."

"Yes, Mr. Wilmington does seem to have a one track mind where women are concerned." The gambler graced her with a smile that showed off his dimples. "It will be an honor to assist you." His mood brightened considerably as he anticipated participating in the deceit. "Tell me how you would like to proceed." This would be one con that he would thoroughly enjoy.

+ + + + + + +

'Damn, shouldn't have drunk those last couple beers,' JD thought has he hauled himself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning. He stepped into his pants and pulled the suspenders over his shoulders, but he did not fasten the front of them. He would just have to undo them again when he got to the privy. Sometimes he wished that he could risk running out back in his long-handles, but sure that he did someone would see him. The young man made his way quickly to the outhouse. He heaved a sigh as the discomfort of his over-full bladder was relieved. Sleepily, the young sheriff began to retrace his steps back to the jail. The sound of a gun's hammer being cocked brought him to an abrupt halt.

"Stop right there, JD," a deep male voice sounded from behind him. The man came forward and checked to see if the young man was wearing his gun. Once satisfied that the sheriff was unarmed, the unknown man continued, "Walk slowly back inside, an' don't ya dare try nothin'." Dunne held his hands away from his body and walked slowly ahead of his mysterious assailant. "Light the lamp, but keep it low, an' close the shutters." JD moved cautiously to comply with the instructions. At last, JD turned to see who was holding him at gunpoint.

"Mr. Jamison?" The young man was completely taken by surprise. "Why are you doin' this?" he asked nervously.

"I ain't lettin' ya leave my little girl in disgrace," the older man growled. "People's talkin' all over town 'bout ya takin' a girl to the loft. I found bits of straw in her hair, an' she finally admitted she went there with ya."

"Mr. Jamison, we did go to the loft, but we didn't do anything," the young man hastily explained. JD watched as the man's anger began to build.

"I always liked you boy, but I never thought ya to be a liar," Ralph Jamison spat out the words.

Dunne's unease increased with each passing minute. He had no idea how to reach the older man. "I'm not lyin'. We didn't do anything!"

"Ya honestly expect me to believe that? Someone heard what was goin' on up there." The man's dark eyes flashed with rage.

JD swallowed hard before he tried to speak. "All right! I admit that I intended for something to happen, but we stopped before it did."

"Yeah, Amy said the same thin', but I ain't takin' no chances that the two of ya are lyin'. Yer comin' with me, boy." Ralph said with a little more self-control. "Ya get some of yer clothes, an' ya write a note so the others don't come lookin' fer ya. I can read enough to know if yer tryin' to tell 'em who has ya." He motioned to the young sheriff to get his things together, and then he supervised the writing of the note to Dunne's associates.

The two men walked to the stable. Ralph Jamison stayed slightly behind JD and kept his gun pointed at the younger man's back. There was no one stirring in town at this God forsaken hour, so there was no chance for help. Dunne kept wishing that Josiah would show up as he made his rounds of the town, but the preacher was nowhere to be seen. When he had Milagro saddled, Jamison had him mount and then tied his hands to the saddle horn. The older man vaulted into his own saddle; took up the reins of J.D's big chestnut bay and led the animal and its rider out of town.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah strode briskly toward the saloon while staring at the piece of paper that he carried in his big hands. It did not make sense to him, but maybe one of the other men knew something about it. He pushed his way through the swinging doors and paused to search the room for his friends. Chris and Buck were at their usual table near the back.

"Mornin' Josiah," his innate exuberance was evident in Buck's wide grin. "Where's JD?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out." The big man ran his hand through his hair as he pondered the note again.

Chris' expression turned serious when he saw the bewilderment in the preacher's expression. "What do you mean by that?"

"Finished my rounds this morning and went to the jail to see if JD wanted to come over here for something to eat, and I found this note. You know anything about it?" Sanchez handed the piece of paper to the man in black.

Larabee's brow furrowed in thought as he read through the message. "This is the first I've heard about him needing to leave for a spell. Buck, did he say anything to you?" The blonde man handed the paper to his friend.

"He didn't say anythin' to me about goin' anywhere." Wilmington's manner became secretive as he leaned over the table and said in a loud whisper, "Ya suppose he's runnin' from that girl's pa?"

"Mr. Wilmington, contrary to your own opinion, everything does not revolve around women," the gambler chimed in as he joined the group at the table.

"It does fer me," the ladies man quipped.

"Much to the dismay of many a fine young lady," Ezra retorted.

"It isn't like JD to take off and not tell someone where he was headed." Josiah brought the subject back to their missing companion.

"He says here that he doesn't know how long he will be gone, but he will be back as soon as he can," Chris said as he scanned the note again. "He can be a little headstrong, but I reckon he knows what he is doing."

"We ain't goin' to go lookin' for him?" Buck inquired.

"I don't see any reason to. If he wanted us with him, he would have said so." Chris was uneasy about the kid's sudden disappearance, but he could not come up with a valid reason for going out to look for the young sheriff. "Reckon we will just have to give him some time to take care of things, before we go looking for him."

All of Wilmington's instincts told him that this was all wrong, but he could not go chasing off after his young friend, not just yet. He had a problem of his own that he had to take care of first. Then, no matter what Chris said, he was going to go looking for JD

+ + + + + + +

Ralph Jamison guided JD to a small room at the back of his house. The only furnishings in the room were a narrow cot, a crate with a kerosene lamp and a water jug sitting on it, and a chamber pot. He motioned to the young man to sit down, and then he proceeded to go through the pack that his involuntary guest had filled. He found a small knife that had been secreted into a pocket and confiscated it. Finding nothing else that could be used as a weapon, the older man tossed the pack on the floor next to the cot. "Ya might as well try to get some sleep. Yer goin' to be here a while." His captor turned to leave.

"Mr. Jamison," JD said as calmly as he could manage. "What are you plannin' to do with me?"

"I been thinkin' 'bout that. I'd planned to take you an' Amy to a preacher so ya could marry her." Ralph hesitated and looked at the floor before continuing. "But, ya both say nothin' happened, so I reckon we'll just wait and see if yer tellin' the truth." He started to turn away again.

Dunne asked in confusion, "What do you mean, wait and see?"

Jamison eyed the young sheriff scornfully. "We'll wait and see if ya got her with child. If she gets her monthly courses then I'll take yer word fer it that nothin' happened. If she don't, you go home with a wife." With those words Amy's father left the room and locked the door behind him.

JD sat on the cot in stunned silence. At first, he found it was even difficult to think, but then the shock of Ralph's words began to fade. Nothing had happened, so there was no way Amy could be having a baby. How long would he be kept prisoner here while they waited to be sure? Jamison had said something about monthly courses. The young man had no idea what he meant by that, but hopefully, that meant that by next month he would be set free. A month was not as bad as being held here long enough for her belly to swell, if she was in a family way. He could manage that long, if he could not get away from here sooner. It was not likely that sleep would claim him, but he laid down on the narrow cot and forced himself to relax.

JD rolled onto his side and tried to still the jumble of thoughts that kept vying for dominance in his mind. One thought kept pushing itself forward no matter how hard he tried to keep it at bay. Casey! What had he been thinking when he let himself get carried away with Amy? She was sweet and pretty, but he was not in love with her. Casey had not been gone more than three months, and he was already being unfaithful to her. Her great-aunt had sent her to help care for her ailing sister. Nettie was a strong woman for her age, but it was too long a trip for her to take. The one person that he cared the most about was off on an errand of mercy, and he could not control himself enough to stay true to her for a few months. How could he expect her to forgive him again? Dunne felt sick inside at the thought of losing her, but it was his fault Amy was in trouble with her Pa and he had to see this through with her. His last thoughts before sleep finally took him were of Casey and of how much he wanted to find a way to make this up to her.

+ + + + + + +

Buck set his beer on the table and settled into a chair next to Chris. "Still no word from the Kid?" he asked.

"None yet, but its only been three days. He might not even be where he was headed yet," Larabee's intense expression never wavered.

"Still wish that fool kid had told someone where he was goin'." Wilmington was clearly concerned about his young friend.

"We don't hear from him in a few more days, we'll start hunting for him. We have to give him time." Chris did not like the young man's sudden disappearance either, but he could not go chasing after him every time he had business elsewhere.

A lyrical voice drew Buck's attention away from his old friend and focused it on the dark haired beauty standing next to the table where Ezra was playing poker. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw Inez standing at the gambler's side, with her arm draped casually across his shoulders. She leaned down to say something to the southerner and then trailed her fingers lightly across his back as she straightened and left the game table. Wilmington tried to remember if he had ever seen the saloon manager do anything like that before. He didn't think so, or he wouldn't have been so quick to notice the touch this time. The ladies man made a point of watching Inez as she made her rounds of the tables and talked to the customers. Although she did touch some of the other customers, there was nothing as familiar as the gesture she had bestowed on Standish.

A male voice shook him out of his brooding. "Buck.....Where are you, Pard?" Chris' tone held a hint of concern.

"Hummm?.....Oh, I was just thinkin'," the gunslinger hedged.

"Uh, huh.... Well, don't do too much of that, or you might hurt yourself." The man in black took a verbal poke at his friend.

"Yeah.... sure." Wilmington let his gaze travel back to the con man. He gave himself a mental shake and decided that he was just letting his imagination run away with him. He had not seen Inez flirting with Ezra; he just thought he had.

"You all right, Pard?" Chris followed the other man's line of sight to where it ended on the gambler. "Something up with you and Ezra?"

"Nah..." the dark haired man turned to the group's leader. "You ever seen Inez act 'friendly' with the customers?"

"Depends on what you mean by friendly," Larabee responded.

"Puttin' her arm around 'em, and stuff like that?" Wilmington inquired. He remembered the one time when JD and Inez had played that trick on him when he bought the love potion from the old man in the Chinese camp, but other that he could not remember her acting like she was with the con man.

"Can't say that I recall anything like that, but you know Inez, she makes people feel welcome." Chris chuckled softly, "Everyone but you that is."

Ezra happened to choose that moment to look up and see the intense gaze that his fellow lawman had trained upon him. He nodded in acknowledgement. The gambler returned to his game, content in the knowledge that the bait had just been taken.

+ + + + + + +

"Pa, ya can't just keep him locked up like that," Amy protested.

Jamison looked at his daughter appraisingly before he ventured a reply. "I ain't takin' no chances that he might try to run away. Not 'till we know fer sure."

The young woman's cheeks grew hot at the reminder of what her father insisted on, before he would let JD go. He had insisted on seeing proof that she was not with child. Her mother had taught her that you did not talk of such things with a man; they were too private. Now, her father was demanding to see evidence that her flow had come. The thought alone caused her considerable embarrassment, and she found it difficult to look her father in the eyes. If only her mother was there, instead of off in St. Louis helping her younger sister during her last month of pregnancy. It would not be so bad to have to show her mother what her father now insisted that she had to show to him.

She finally managed to speak again, "Could he at least come out and eat his meals with us? You would be right there to watch him." She continued before her father could respond. "That room don't have but one little window. It needs to be aired out."

She was right. The room had been growing steadily warmer, and the one very small window did not allow very much air to circulate. Jamison unlocked the door and motioned for JD to come out. "Ya can sit an' eat with us, but you don't try nothin' foolish. If ya do, you'll take the rest of yer meals in that room. Ya got that, boy?"

Dunne nodded and ducked past the older man who stood in the open door. "I got it. Thank you!" It felt good to be outside those four walls. He walked ahead of Ralph until they reached the small kitchen. Amy was busy dipping up three plates of stew and setting them on the table.

"Ya can sit there." Jamison indicated the chair farthest from the door. Both men settled into their seats and waited for Amy to join them. Once they were all seated, the older man said grace. Ralph cut big hunks of fresh made bread for all of them, and they ate their meal in silence. JD was starving, but he made himself eat slowly. He wanted to have as much time as possible out of that hot, cramped room.

When the meal was over, the older man did not rush JD back to his makeshift cell. Instead, he allowed the younger man to continue to sit with him while he smoked his pipe. All the while, Jamison watched the young sheriff for any signs that he was going to bolt for the door. "I think it only fair to warn ya, son. If ya do try to run away, I'll know that ya lied to me." At Dunne's puzzled look, Ralph explained. "If ya really ain't got no reason to worry, ya ain't go no reason to take off. Ya run an' the waitin's over. When I catch ya; we go straight to the preacher. Think on that before you decide on tryin' to take off."

Later that night, JD did just that as he sat on the cot in his locked room. He would not try to leave. Not only would it look bad on him, but it would also look bad on Amy. It would not be fair to put her through any more trouble on account of him. If he had not tried to have his way with her, none of this would be happening. So, he would wait for however long it took to convince Mr. Jamison that they had told the truth.

+ + + + + + +

Buck eyed the gambler suspiciously. Over the last few days, he had noticed that the smooth talking con man seemed to be the object of one certain young woman's attention. Oh, it was nothing obvious, but if you paid attention, you could tell there was something going on between them. There would be a familiar touch, or their eyes would meet and they would both smile that particular smile that nearly screamed that they had a secret. The ladies man was starting to get a good idea of what that secret could be, and he did not like it at all. What could the Mexican beauty possibly see in that cheating, conniving, no-account grifter?

Wilmington watched as Ezra gathered his cards and got up from the table where he had been playing solitaire. The southerner headed for the stairs. That was not like the gambler to go off to his room in the middle of the afternoon. Buck's curiosity got the best of him, and he made his way cautiously up the stairs. He went just far enough that he could see his associate as he fumbled to get the key in the lock on his door.

The gambler had been deliberately taking longer than usual to enter his room. He knew that Wilmington would not be able to hold out much longer, and soon the gunslinger would start to find ways to spy on Inez and him. Covertly, he glanced out of the corner of his eye and caught a glimpse of movement near the top of the stairs. He made a show of dropping the key to give him a chance to sneak a better look. It proved difficult not to laugh as he saw the top of a gray hat dip quickly out of sight. At last, Ezra got the door unlocked and pushed the door open. Immediately, a delicate female hand reached out, grasped the front of the gambler's red jacket, and tugged him into the room. Standish caught a fleeting glimpse of Buck's face, eyes wide in astonishment, before he was yanked through the door.

Inside the room, Ezra had to clamp his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing aloud. He could not stifle the impulse entirely and ended up laughing through his nose. The sound came out as a very undignified sneeze, which served to make the entire incident even funnier. The completely uncharacteristic snort from the gambler took Inez totally off guard. Her lovely face contorted comically as she struggled for control. That was all the southerner could handle. He hurried across the room, flopped onto his bed, and buried his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter. His guest was left standing with both hands pressed to her mouth as she tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle the giggles.

Outside, Buck leaned his ear against the heavy wood of the door. His jaw dropped when he heard the creak of the wooden bed frame followed by the sound of feminine giggles. He was stunned. How did Inez manage to get up the stairs without him seeing her? How long had this been going on, before he had noticed it? Suddenly, the gunslinger realized that he was standing in a public hallway, and at any moment someone could come along and catch him with his ear pressed to his friend's door. He decided it would be a good idea to get back downstairs before he was missed. Wilmington was immensely relieved that none of the other men had been in the saloon when he had slipped up the stairs to spy on the gambler.

Vin Tanner stood by the bar, waiting for his beer, as he watched Buck ease himself back into his chair. The younger man made his way to the table to join the obviously unsettled ladies man. "Hey, Buck. What ya been doin' upstairs?" The tracker had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Ya look awful. Yer lady's husband catch ya or somethin'?"

Buck turned to glare at the longhaired sharpshooter. "If that was the case, I sure wouldn't be sittin' here with you. I'd be half way outta town by now," the lawman said half-heartedly.

"Somethin' eatin' at ya?" Vin asked in growing concern.

"Nah. Just wonderin' 'bout JD is all." Wilmington was not about to tell him the real reason for his melancholy.


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