~ CHAPTER 1~
The stage brought an important letter to Inez; it was from her older sister, Rosarita. The letter was to announce the older siblings wedding. Rosarita left Mexico after Inez to be with her American lover, Robert "Bob" Lewis. Bob bought a parcel of land up in Colorado, about a week's travel time from Four Corners. He sent for Rosarita when he finished building the house. They were now to be married. Inez was ecstatic over the news. She ran to Mary and Sammi, with whom she had become good friends.
"Mary, Sammi!" she called excitedly.
"What is it, Inez?" Sammi asked smiling with Inez.
"Rosarita, she's getting married," she related the good news.
"Rosarita?" Mary questioned.
"Si, my sister," she filled them in, "her husband-to-be bought land in Colorado, built her a house and brought her there to marry him."
"Well, that's great! When's the wedding?" Mary inquired.
"In four weeks," Inez responded.
In the following two weeks, the entire town learned of Rosarita's wedding plans. Inez had planned these previous two weeks to prepare to leave. She would be leaving two weeks prior to the wedding giving her one week travel time and one week to help Rosarita prepare for the big day. Those two weeks now remained. The seven guardians of Four Corners were, however, not keen on Inez going alone. Chris decided someone had to go along to protect her and make sure she arrived safely. They all gathered at the tavern.
"It would be my honor," Buck volunteered.
"I'm sure it would, Buck, it's too bad you already volunteered to accompany Judge Travis to Willow Creek for that trial, huh?" JD teased.
"He's right, Buck," Chris added with a smile.
"Damn, one week alone with Inez; couldn't someone else…" Buck started.
"Nope, sorry, Buck," Judge Travis interrupted with almost a devious smile amused with the situation.
"Ezra, you wanna go?" Chris asked.
"Well, it would be most intriguing; however, my dear, if you depart this town, I will be forced to remain as the tavern will require an attendant," Ezra replied.
"I'll go," Vin finally spoke up cutting an evil eye and devilish grin over to Buck.
"That's not fair!" Buck blurted.
"What's the matter, Buck; you afraid Vin's gonna steal something you don't even have?" Josiah rationalizes; although, he did it with a wide grin enjoying Buck's dilemma.
"Chris!" Buck exclaimed.
"Don't worry, Buck, I won't let him near me," Inez purred as she cuddled up to Vin.
The group burst into laughter.
"Besides," added Nathan, "I thought you were courting Sammi."
"He is!" Sammi growled into his ear as she pinched the flesh of his ribs.
"OW!" he screeched.
"I'd be careful around her, Buck; she can be nasty if you cheat on her," Vin warned with a giggle in his voice.
Sammi kissed Buck and taking his hands pulled him out the door of the tavern, "Come on, Buck, let's spend some time together before you have to leave with the judge."
Buck, eager to please the blond, followed her out the door.
"So, Vin, you serious about going?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin confirmed nodding his head.
"Aw'ight, I guess it's settled then. Inez have a nice time. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I wish your sister and her new husband the best of luck. <Everyone present agrees> You both be careful and we'll see y'all in about three weeks," Chris stated.
Vin and Inez left the tavern to prepare for the weeklong trip. They each gathered things they would need to take along. Inez met Vin at his wagon.
"Inez," Vin greeted, "so, are we takin' a wagon or just horses?"
"I think we can just take horses. It will be faster that way, will it not?"
"Yeah, it would be."
"Si, than we will take horses. One for you, one for me and one for supplies."
"Aw'ight, sounds good to me."
Vin and Inez got the two extra horses. Vin loaded the supply horse with all the necessary supplies: blankets, water, food, etc. Finally, the two were ready to go. They met nearly the entire population at the edge of town. Everyone wanted to bid their farewell and send their wishes of prosperity along to Rosarita and Bob. Inez thanked them all for seeing them off and for the good wishes. Soon they were on their way.
~ CHAPTER 2 ~
They were headed north; so, they made sure to take warm clothes and blankets. Bob's ranch was in a mountainous region, and the nights would be bone chilling. Vin and Inez traveled for quite some time. Vin took a little time to show Inez some of the wonders of nature as they passed them. His lonely bounty hunter days taught him to appreciate nature. He was at ease with the many different animals about them. At the passing of a creek, he pointed out a mama bear with two young bears. They were catching a quick drink before continuing with their food forage to prepare for the upcoming winter months. In the valley beneath the mountains, deer were in abundance. When they stopped for a snack, rabbits, squirrels and the like watched them from a far. Inez liked the quiet and peacefulness of nature. It was a nice change from all the drunks that made passes at her in the tavern. Not that she minded her work in the tavern, but sometimes she heard one too many men make lewd remarks.
After traveling for a few days, Vin and Inez reached snow-covered mountains. The high winds froze part of their bodies. They rode with a blanket over their coat and covering their heads. The beauty of nature was about to take a seriously bad turn as the winds got stronger. Worse yet, it began to snow.
"Great," Vin mumbled.
Inez shivered as the wind blew the heavy wet snow about her. She was covered except for her eyes, but the wind still blasted through making her bones ache as she quivered. She never really experienced this kind of cold. The part of Mexico her family was from was not a cold region. Vin stayed close and held the reins of the supply horse close to them. The closeness would keep them a little warmer. Besides, visibility was extremely poor now that the snow began falling heavier.
They pushed on. Vin began looking for anything that could be used as shelter to spend the night. Nature, again, took an ugly turn. The winds became much, much stronger and the snow heavier, still. It was all they could do to catch their breath most of the time. Vin and Inez were now cold and getting damp, as the blankets began to soak with snow. The blizzard swirled about them. Without being able to continue much further, Vin desperately sought out refuge anywhere. He saw a dark shadow in the distance. He hoped they could reach it and it would be as he thought - a cave. Hopefully, empty. He wasn't in the mood to tangle with any wild animals for rights to the valuable shelter the cave offered.
Vin led Inez and the supply horse up to the shadow. He was right. The two dismounted, and checked out the cave. They unpacked all the horses, and they placed the supplies in the cave. Vin left Inez in the cave, after making sure it was safe, and ventured out in hopes of finding something they could make a fire with. Fortunately, he was able to remove some limbs from a nearby tree. He struggled to carry them back as the wind whipped at his face. Upon arriving back at the cave, he attempted to make a small fire. They ate some of the food they had brought, but not a lot. They figured they would have to save it to make sure it would last. The horses stayed at the entrance to the cave just out of the blizzard.
Vin and Inez struggled to keep the fire lit, but it was not to be. Instead, they wrapped themselves in the blankets and huddled close to keep their body heat from escaping. Soon their worn tired bodies gave up the fight to stay awake. They both passed out from exhaustion. The bad weather lasted both of the night; however, the early morning hours brought sunshine to the newly fallen snow. The horses left the cave and were basking in the warmth of the new day's sun. When Vin and Inez woke, they peered out the cave entrance. Inez smiled at the return of the sun. Her smile, however, was premature. As the two began to rise from their bed of blankets, they fearfully watched the three horses scatter frantically. The sun's warmth was too much for an overhang a few hundred feet above them. The snow was melting quickly, finally giving way to an avalanche. The deafening roar of the snow that broke loose made Vin pull Inez away from the entrance. He instinctively knew their chances were better inside the cave. The worse that could happen is the entrance would be sealed off. If they stepped outside, they would surely be buried in the frozen fury of nature. He held her tight as her terrified scream rivaled that of the rumbling snow sliding down the mountainside.
Vin held Inez's head down; he, too, held his head down as if not seeing it would make it all go away. It didn't. The cave opening was at the base of the mountain. It was where the crushing snow came to a halt. When Vin looked up, after all was silent, he saw a wall of white. A small ray of light peeked through the top, but escape was not yet in the near future. He held Inez tighter; her trembling form pressed against his. She finally looked up, fear in her face, as tears wet her cheeks. She glanced at the snowy wall.
"What are we going to do?" she questioned.
"Dig our way out," he answered quietly trying to reassure her and himself.
Her brown eyes gazed helplessly into the deep blue pools of his. A feeling he didn’t expect rushed through him as he returned the gaze. For a moment they didn't move. Eye to eye, they were frozen until Inez softly kissed him. Vin accepted her offering, but refused to go any further. He remembered teasing Buck about this, but he refused to take advantage of her in her terrified state. He knew their feelings couldn't be real, as they were isolated and their bodies in shock over the events that took place. He was certain though that the feelings, if they continued, would be very hard to fight, for Inez was a beautiful woman. Inez, too, remembered teasing Buck, but she didn't think she and Vin were the right type for each other. She wasn't sure what type was the right type for Vin. She knew he was attractive, when cleaned up, and a gentleman, but there was something about him. He was quiet, a loner and unpredictable. She knew he was probably a good man, but she feared his past, too.
They immediately broke their embrace and kept their distance; so, they would not arouse each other. Inez watched Vin as he studied the small hole that allowed sunlight in. She wondered if he was scared. She feared his opinion of her was lowered because she was afraid. Back in town, she was strong and could handle any man that propositioned her, but now. Now was different. She was afraid.
"Are you afraid?" Inez tried to look brave as she asked the question.
Vin thought for a moment and looked over at Inez, "A little bit."
Vin couldn't resist; he walked over to Inez.
"You OK?" he asked touching her chin.
"Yeah. I was just wondering if you were afraid we might not get out."
Vin smiled at her, "Believe it or not, I am."
Vin left it at that because he didn't want to worry her more. He had no idea how he was going to get them out. He knew his only option was to dig, but he had no tools to dig with.
"It's OK to be afraid, Inez," he tried to comfort.
"I know," she answered quietly.
The light emitting from the hole began to fade. The cave became completely dark. Inez and Vin remained close to retain their body heat. The cold night air seemed to penetrate the wall of ice. They cuddled close to keep warm.
"Vin, I was a little ashamed to admit to being afraid."
"In the tavern, I can handle the drunks, but here…"
"Inez, you don't have to act like you're so strong. You are just as human as I am. Besides, we're walled up in a cave by ice and snow. No one knows where we are. You have a right to be afraid. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."
"You are a good man, Vin Tanner."
"I guess we ought to get some sleep," Vin finally stated.
They got a little closer, as they both tried to sleep. After lying there for about an hour, Vin realized he wasn't tired. Something else was on his mind, but he wouldn't react on it. Inez's warm body was all he could think of. He caught himself several times trying to caress her. To which, she responded by snuggling closer. Eventually, Inez, too, could no longer resist the closeness of their bodies. Her lips found his and they began to embrace each other more. Instinct quickly took over. Inez's cold hands gently moved against his warm chest after she removed his shirt. The icy air chilled, sending shivers down his spine. In the heat of their passion, they both became naked. The flesh of their warm bodies clung together in the cold damp air. They worked at keeping each other warm. Their bodies move as one until they were as one. Their bodies united as ecstasy flowed from one body to the other. As they came to rest, their bodies still clinging to one another, they breathed heavily. The blankets wrapped around them for warmth had to be temporarily removed. They exchanged kisses a few more times before exhaustion put them to sleep.
Hours turned to days. The only break in the seemingly endless hours of digging was when Inez attempted to warm Vin's frozen hands and when the light faded from the hole. The darkness was filled with the closeness they attained in attempting to keep warm. The couple tried to keep track of the days, but after a while one day blended into the next. They fed themselves on pieces of jerky that was brought just in case, for some reason, food was hard to find. They drank of the snow and ice, as it was untouched except for their digging. The lack of air and the cold temperatures were wrecking havoc with their bodies. Vin wondered how much time that they had left before they could no longer breathe, let alone keep warm. No more could they use each other to create body heat; there wasn't enough air for any heavy breathing. Their shivering never stopped, now. Vin's raw, bleeding hands soaked the pieces of Inez's dress that she tore off to wrap them with. His hands were so numb he could barely feel them. Inez tried to let Vin rest, and she began to dig at the wall. She, too, became weak not being able to continue the task. The sharp cold icy snow cut through her hands like a knife, as well. She again tore pieces of her dress, and Vin bandaged her hands. They were surely doomed. Neither had the strength to continue, and both were shivering beyond control. Their bodies were growing numb, and their lungs ached from lack of air.
~ CHAPTER 3 ~
At Bob Lewis' ranch, Rosarita paced the ranch house floor. Inez was late by one day. Bob tried to ease her mind by telling her one day was nothing. They may just be slightly delayed with the weather or something. By the third day, however, Bob admitted he was becoming very concerned. Bob rode to the nearest telegraph office and wired Four Corners.
"TO WHOMEVER: LOOKING FOR INEZ ROSARIO. THREE DAYS LATE. NO SIGN OF HER OR COMPANION. PLEASE HELP."
The message was delivered to Chris at the jail. Chris had just welcomed Buck and Judge Travis back from Willow Creek.
"Mr. Larabee," the messenger called out as he entered the jail out of breath from running.
"What is it, Johnny?" Chris answered.
"I have a message here from Bob Lewis. Says Inez hasn't shown up yet. See," he showed Chris.
Chris read through the message aloud.
"See, I told you we shouldn't have let Vin take her. Now they done run off together," Buck teased Chris remembering the ribbing he got from his friend.
"Naw, Vin wouldn't have done that. Something's wrong; I can feel it," Chris said concerned about the fate of Vin and Inez.
"You better round everyone up," Judge Travis suggested.
"Yeah," Chris agreed.
Buck and Chris gathered everyone at the jail. Chris read the message to the others.
"I presume we shall be searching for them directly," Ezra stated.
"Yeah, we will," Chris assured. "But, first we got to wire Mr. Lewis back and tell him we're going out looking for them."
"Is an hour enough time to get ready, wire Mr. Lewis and be back here?" Nathan wondered.
"Fine with me," Josiah affirmed.
The other men also agreed. Chris headed for the telegraph office to send the message:
"WE AREA SENDING A SEARCH PARTY. INEZ AND VIN SHOULD HAVE ARRIVED BY NOW. IF YOU NEED TO SEND FURTHER WIRES, PLEASE SEND THEM TO JUDGE TRAVIS."
Bob received the message and headed home. He showed the message to Rosarita. It didn't help. It merely confirmed what she already knew. Her sister was in grave danger, and she could do nothing to help.
The hour passed. All had gathered outside the jail.
"Do you have warm blankets?" Mary mothered them.
"Yes, Mary," Chris replied.
"Gentlemen, I attempted to wire a few towns along the route they took. I got a couple responses. You may want to bring shovels and picks…"Judge Travis informed.
"Shovels?" JD questioned
"And picks?" Ezra finished the question.
"Yes, it seems around Taylorville there was a blizzard nearly a week ago. The way I figure it, they could've been in the vicinity," the judge continued.
Each of the remaining six stared at one another.
"Great, just great," Buck muttered.
"Might I tell you, I neither fair well in the cold nor am I very good at manual labor." Ezra moaned.
"Ezra, quit your complaining; he's your friend, remember?" Chris scolded.
"Well, with any luck, maybe they found shelter," Josiah offered.
"Amen, brother," Nathan concluded as if a prayer.
The six men left Four Corners in search of their friends.
"Be careful," Mary hollered after them.
Chris waved his hand to her as if to say, "don't worry, we will".
They traveled for days finding nothing but snow and ice when they reached the mountains. No tracks. No remains of a campsite. Nothing. The blizzard covered everything. They searched for clues. They spread out in small groups of two: Ezra and Chris, Josiah and Nathan, Buck and JD. No one found so much as the scattered remains of a campfire. They gathered again at the end of another day - tired. They bundled up and tried to stay out of the direct wind, which still swirled through the mountains. None of the group wondered how the two could just vanish, for there was a lot of freshly fallen snow on the ground. They only dreaded the thought of them being buried beneath them. How would they ever find them? If they were buried, they won't know it until the spring thaw. Their bodies preserved by the frozen land. The group soon fell asleep.
~ CHAPTER 4 ~
Upon the rising of the next morning's sun, Ezra arose. The area was dark the night before when they decided to make camp; therefore, he ventured quietly out just to take a look around. He spurred his horse frantically back to the others. His arrival woke the rest of the search party.
"Ezra, what the hell are you doin'?" Chris awoke.
"Chris," Ezra panted, "I believe I have located a clue."
The other men scrambled to their feet, slipping a little in the snow. They didn't bother with any breakfast; since, Ezra was near excited with his find. They mounted their horses and rode after Ezra. Finally, he stopped. Lo and behold, directly in front of them, were two horses. Vin's horse and the one they took as a supply horse. Where was the Inez's horse? It wasn't around. They knew they had to be close. They searched the entire area. They tried to take the horses with them, but they reared up and pulled away. Chris watched as the horses wondered right back to where they had collected them. He couldn't figure why they would stay right where they were. There was nothing to eat; so, why would they stay. He looked in all directions thinking maybe there was something he missed. He saw nothing. Ezra remembered Vin saying his horse was smart; so, he figured he'd try something. He thought, if these horses were here, maybe Vin and Inez were, too. He approached Vin's horse.
"Hey, boy, where is Vin?" Ezra asked the horse.
Buck grabbed his belly as he laughed a the scene, "Chris, come here. You gotta see this. Ezra's talkin' to the horse!"
Chris turned to see what all the commotion was about. So did Josiah, Nathan and JD.
"He's what?" JD asked with a smirk on his face.
"He's asking the danged horse where Vin is?" Buck related again still laughing.
Ezra just cut an irritated glance to Buck as he mumbled to the horse. Much to everyone's surprise, the horse brushed its nose against Ezra hard enough to nearly knock him down. Ezra rose to his feet. The horse again pushed him. He backed up a little. The horse again pushed. He again backed up. This scene continued for several minutes until Ezra was backed against a snowy mound. Josiah and Nathan smiled at the sight. JD and Buck were holding their stomachs trying to contain their laughter. Chris was very interested; although, he, too, found it difficult to keep a straight face. As Chris watched the entire episode, he noticed a break in the snow just to the top left of Ezra. He walked up to Ezra, looking up at the break. It was a hole.
"Get the shovels and picks!" he hollered to the others.
They did just that. The six men began digging. They dug at the site where Vin's horse shoved Ezra until they broke through the icy wall of snow. Inside, they found the two bodies of Vin and Inez. Nathan ran to them. The others followed close behind.
"Are they alive?" Chris asked.
After checking for pulses and breathing, Nathan responded, "Yeah, but they can't travel. We need to get them warm."
"Get the blankets," Chris ordered.
JD and Buck went back to the horses and retrieved the blankets. Nathan had the other men help him wrap Vin and Inez in the blankets. They built a fire to try to warm them. Nathan knew they were going to have to try to move them in order to give them a fighting chance. Their body temperatures had already began to lower. They decided to spend the night trying to raise Vin and Inez's body temperatures a little.
The next morning, Vin awoke. His blue eyes glassy. He slowly moved his eyes around the inside of the cave. He noticed more light emitting from the hole. As he glanced over at the wall he had worked so hard at days earlier, he noticed a larger hole peering back at him. Vin then realized the multitude of people in the cave. His eyes couldn't focus on who they were. The light from the hole was burning his eyes shut. About that time, Nathan and some of the others woke up.
"Vin?" Nathan called.
"Yeah," Vin answered, his voice raspy.
"How you feelin'?"
"We're gonna try to get y'all to Mr. Lewis' ranch. We're not far from it."
"My eyes…I can hardly see anything."
"It’s the cave, Vin. You were in the dark so long it affected your eyes. They should be OK, but we'll cover 'em before you go outside in the glare of the sun on the snow. No sense in making them worse."
"Thanks for comin', Nathan. Are the others with you?"
"Yeah, we're all here, Vin," Chris chimed in.
Vin didn’t respond to Chris, but he closed his eyes and rested. While Nathan tended to Vin and Inez, the others prepared the horses to go. When Nathan was ready, they helped Inez and Vin to mount the two remaining horses. It was assumed the other horse either didn't make it through the avalanche or ran off. After everyone mounted, they returned to the trail to Bob Lewis' ranch.
They arrived at the ranch and were greeted by an elated Rosarita. She quickly prepared warm beds for all the riders. They were out amid nature's elements too long. She had soup prepared and offered it to each of the tired search party. All graciously accepted. She then turned her attention to her sister, Inez and her companion, Vin. After putting them in warm beds with thick quilts, she spoon-fed them a small bowl of soup. The warm liquid quickly warmed their starving insides.
Bob took Chris to the telegraph office the next morning. Chris sent Judge Travis and Mary the following wire:
"FOUND VIN AND INEZ. BURIED IN AVALANCHE. SURPRISED TO FIND ALIVE. BROUGHT TO LEWIS RANCH. THEY ARE RECOVERING FROM THE COLD. WILL RETURN WHEN POSSIBLE."
Rosarita kept the fireplaces in the ranch house constantly going to keep Vin and Inez warm. They soon recovered from the shivers that caused their bodies to ache more than the colds they acquired. She fed them warm meals and built their strength. When they were able, they related the story of what had happened. Buck was more interested if anything had happened between them.
"So, did y'all do anything you weren't suppose to?" he interrogated.
"None of your business," Vin answered cutting a quick glance over to Inez, who bowed her head.
Buck continued to interrogate them, and they continued to not answer the questions. Chris smiled knowing they obviously did something, as did the others listening to the questioning.
When Vin and Inez were well enough to travel, Bob and Rosarita married. It was a beautiful wedding. Inez was the maid of honor for her sister, and Bob's brother, Ben, was his best man. After a huge celebration and reception in the ranch house, Vin, Inez and their six rescuers headed back to Four Corners. Buck could not remove his gaze from Vin and Inez, who traveled side by side the entire way back.
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