~ CHAPTER 1 ~
Chris sat on the front porch of the jail with Josiah. The two men enjoyed an early morning conversation. JD was just returning from Nettie Well' homestead. He ventured out to pick up Casey for a day of shopping in town. He had promised her two days ago, but had not been able to make it out until now. Nathan was checking on two men that were involved in a fight at the tavern the night before. They suffered minor injuries in comparison to the tavern according to Ezra, who was estimating the cost of damage. Vin and Buck were strolling up the boardwalk as the stage entered town. They stopped outside the stage's office to offer their assistance to any of the passengers. The two friends watched each passenger exit the stage and offered help with carrying baggage. Then, she appeared - a fiery red head in picturesque southern belle attire of the most emerald green. A color so vivid it put Ezra's green gem-like eyes to shame. Vin offered a hand to aid in her stepping down. She placed her small white-gloved hand in his. Buck had to be reminded by the woman who belonged to the baggage he held to follow her…and to close his mouth which stood open in awe of the beauty he was bearing witness to. In her southern drawl she thanked Vin and offered her name.
"Rebecca Jane Lowry, dear sir, and you would be?"
Vin was dumbfounded. Unable to recall his name, he just stuttered until Buck answered for him.
"He's Vin Tanner, and I'm Buck Wilmington, ma'am."
"Well, Mr. Tanner, if you do not mind escorting my baggage and me to my hotel room, I would be most grateful," her eyes as green as her dress sparkled as she spoke to him.
"M-my pleasure, ma'am," Vin continued to stutter. He had never seen a woman of such elegance.
Vin obeyed and took the bags, and she placed her arm around his as he escorted her to the hotel.
Josiah and Chris amused themselves at the situation. JD, Casey, Mary and Ezra had now joined the two men on the porch.
"What's so funny?" JD asked the two jovial men.
Josiah could only point.
Chris managed to utter, "Vin and that southern belle that just came in on the stage."
Their attention turned to Vin and Rebecca Jane. Ezra watched as the two entered the hotel; then, he spoke.
"Why, may I ask, would Vin be escorting that lady?"
"I would say he's a little smitten by her," Josiah observed.
"Smitten? She will eat him alive!" Ezra snapped.
"Jealous, Ezra?" Chris teased.
"No!" Ezra replied sharply, not at all amused at the ribbing the gunfighter gave.
"You're awful touchy this morning, Ezra. The tavern that messed up?" JD questioned.
"No, Mr. Dunne, the tavern will apparently survive. However, a lot more damage than I would have appreciated, but none the less, it will survive. On the other hand, Mr. Tanner's situation will require much more care," Ezra sassed back at the younger man.
"Look, Ezra, Vin wasn't born yesterday. I'm sure he can handle a woman," Chris replied still amused at the events that just played themselves out.
"Do you think so? I will emphasize your point when we have to sober him up after he has become inebriated from immersing himself in an endless whiskey bottle! When you must retrieve shattered pieces of his heart, I shall reminisce on this insignificant conversation," Ezra snapped in frustration and stormed off.
"He's real upset, ain't he?" JD observed.
"Yeah, I hope he's wrong," Chris answered; his tone changed and the laughter in his voice was replaced with concern.
Ezra made a point of meeting up with Vin later that day.
"Vin, I have become aware of the dame you were enchanted with this morning," Ezra began.
"So?" Vin answered.
"She is not of your character, Vin," Ezra continued.
"Your type," Ezra clarified.
"Really? How would you know what type I'm in'erested in?"
"Well, she is….what I am attempting to express is my concern for your well-being."
"Ezra, sometimes you really irritate me! What makes you think I can't have someone like Rebecca Jane? You think she's too much of a lady for me? You think all I can handle is a woman like Sammi…"
"A woman like Sammi? What is that suppose to mean?" Sammi scolded as she approached the men after overhearing Vin's comment.
"Sammi, I didn't mean anything by it. It's just you are so…" Vin tried to explain.
"So uncivilized?" Sammi finished the sentence for him.
"No, that's not what I meant. I can't explain it."
"Well, you don’t have to. I'll go be uncivil somewhere else. In the meantime, don't come running to me when your princess breaks your heart like an old piece of used china!" Sammi snapped as she walked off.
"Look, Vin, just be cautious," Ezra finally warned.
"Don't worry, Ezra, I will," Vin sassed.
"Curiosity, Vin, what might her name be, again?" Ezra asked.
"Rebecca Jane Lowry. Why; you know her?" Vin replied.
"No, just curious," Ezra casually answered heading to the bar.
~ CHAPTER 2 ~
Vin had been courting Rebecca Jane for two days when the couple along with the other six men, Mary, Sammi and Inez were conversing outside the jail. The conversation took a nasty turn when the topic of Rebecca Jane's visit to Four Corners arose.
"What do you want?" Sammi snapped at the woman.
"Want?" Rebecca Jane asked innocently.
"Well, my dear, you do appear to be out of your element, shall we say?" Ezra expressed his concern.
"I merely wished to see the rest of this great land," Rebecca Jane offered, "besides, it seems I have found an excellent guide to show me the Wild West; don't you think?" she deviously smiled as she stroked Vin's hair.
Ezra cringed at the sound of the conniving woman's voice. He recognized the put-on charm and decided he would have to be the one to reveal her scheme. Although, Inez, still smitten with Vin herself since their trip to her sister's wedding, felt obligated to find out what the woman wanted…NOW.
"What does a woman like you want with him?" she interrogated.
"Companionship, my dear; same as you."
Inez became infuriated, as did Sammi. Buck struggled to hold Sammi by his side; she was quite a handful - a spitfire of a woman that intrigued him…and kept him in line. She still held deep feeling s for Vin, and Buck knew it. Regardless of his relationship with her, she would still stop at nothing to protect Vin. Inez lunged at Rebecca Jane; her fists waving. She landed a strong right hand across the nose of the refined southern belle. Rebecca Jane tumbled backwards as Vin attempted to catch her. Her nose was red with the flow of blood. As she touched her nose and examined her bloody hands, she glared at Inez.
"You broke my nose, you Mexican whore!" she exclaimed.
Inez was ready for more as she again lunged at the woman. Ezra caught her and held her tight. Inez fought Ezra, kicking and pounding on his chest all the while screaming and swearing at the woman in her native tongue. Vin picked up Rebecca Jane and helped her back to the hotel. The six men attempted to calm Sammi and Inez. Mary took the two women with her explaining the men would do all they could to help Vin see the woman for what she was.
Vin, meanwhile, tended to Rebecca Jane's bleeding nose. He finally stopped the bleeding, which was just as well since she removed his hand from her face and seductively pressed her lips to his. She slowly caressed him removing his clothing. She continued to stroke his chest as she straddled his legs. Rebecca Jane smiled as she could feel his reaction to her throb beneath her. Vin struggled to regain control of the situation. She slowly worked her hands to his pants. He attempted to stop her, but she managed to get the pants open. She slid her hand inside. The throbbing of his body filled her hand. His heavy breathing warmed her as she pressed her body firmly against his. He continued to struggle for control. He could feel himself losing control of the situation more and more.
"Rebecca Jane," he gasped as he tried to catch his breath.
"What, dear?" she answered.
"You don't have to do this."
"You don't want me to satisfy your every desire?"
"ummm……it's not that. It's just you're a lady, and I don't want to force you to relinquish that," he replied attempting to pull away.
"Nonsense, I want to please you," she insisted as she kissed his cheek, then neck and slowly began to work her way down his chest, meanwhile seducing him with her hands.
"No, no, I can't. We have to stop. Maybe another time," he answered fumbling to escape her grasp and fasten his pants.
"You are quite the gentlemen, Vin Tanner!" she exclaimed as she seductively sprawled herself across the bed in front of him.
"Yeah…well…I…ummm…I don’t want this to happen just yet," he stuttered trying to control his pounding urge to be with her.
"Imagine that. A gentleman out here, no less," she laughed.
Vin appeared embarrassed, but redressed himself and quickly left.
After the altercation in front of the jail, Ezra wired Raleigh, North Carolina, where the woman said she was from. He asked if anyone there knew of her and whether or not she could be trusted. Ezra received his answer and immediately sought out his friends, including Vin. He gathered them all at the jail. When they all arrived, they went inside.
"Something wrong, Ezra?" Chris read into Ezra's face, which was odd because the gambler was used to hiding his emotions - a trick of the trade.
"You might say that," Ezra replied.
"What is it, Ezra?" Josiah questioned.
"I took it upon myself to wire Raleigh," Ezra began.
"Is this about Rebecca Jane?" Vin asked, annoyed.
"Vin, I am not convinced of this woman's intentions. I received notice from Raleigh that she is to inherit a great sum of money," Ezra began, again.
"So, what if she is?" Vin interrupted again.
"Are you going to allow me to proceed with this explanation of Rebecca Jane Lowry's interest in this obscure little town in a desolate land?" Ezra asked Vin perturbed at the interruptions.
Vin glared at Ezra, "Fine, go ahead then."
"As I was stating, She is to inherit a large estate from her deceased father. However, she is required to marry prior to her securing the estate. She was overheard relating her contrived scheme to her mother, who was omitted from the will after the demise of her marriage to Rebecca Jane's father. She was quoted as stating that upon transfer of the estate her unfortunate spouse would meet an untimely death by a deliberate accident. I was informed a constable and the executor of the will was dispatched immediately when the scheme was detected. They should arrive within a day or two," Ezra informed his listeners.
"Vin, I think we need you to stay clear of her until this constable and executor arrive," Josiah cautioned.
"That's ridiculous," Vin concluded and stormed out.
"The constable and executor are bringing the will as proof," Ezra stated.
"This is gonna be hard on him," Chris affirmed.
The six friends decided they would have to watch Vin to make sure his relationship did not go any further.
~ CHAPTER 3 ~
Later that afternoon, Vin related the story to Rebecca Jane hoping for a sign of denial. She, of course, denied all charges. Vin was unable to tell her, however, that the man was bringing a copy of the will, for he left before Ezra stated that part.
"Vin, my love, I would not be capable of such a treacherous scheme, nor would I desire to harm you. My father's estate is already mine; however, if you would like to marry me, I would be most honored. I would love to bring you back to Raleigh to introduce you to Mother. As for my trip here, I have heard many tales of this great western land. The stories were exciting; so, I used some of my inheritance to explore this culture. Do you believe me?" she asked.
Vin remained silent for a moment, "yeah," he finally admitted. "I suppose that makes sense, but Raleigh? Where's Raleigh?"
"North Carolina…it is east of the Mississippi River." She explained.
"Oh. I've never been east of Louisiana."
He allowed himself to accept her explanation; although, he knew deep down Ezra would not betray him.
Night soon fell, and each of the six men took turns watching for Vin to leave Rebecca Jane's hotel room. When he finally did, he was accompanied by her. The couple approached Josiah's church. JD was on duty at the time. He excitedly ran to inform Josiah and the others.
"They headed for the church!" JD exclaimed.
"He wouldn't; would he?" Buck wondered aloud.
"He's blind at the moment, Buck. He's liable to do anything no matter how foolish," Josiah told Buck.
Josiah made his way toward the church. The remaining five men waited, although not patiently, for Josiah to return.
"May I be of service?" Josiah greeted Vin and Rebecca Jane.
"We're looking for a preacher," Rebecca Jane blurted.
Josiah glanced over at Vin, who nodded his agreement.
"Don't you kids think you should get to know one another better?" Josiah asked.
"We know we love one another," Rebecca Jane answered.
Josiah again glanced over at Vin. He remained silent.
"Cat got your tongue, Vin?" Josiah attempted to coax an answer from him.
"No," he simply replied.
"Well, it's late. Do you think you can at least wait until morning? I mean, we will need witnesses, and the entire town is asleep," Josiah asked as he yawned.
Vin looked over at Rebecca Jane as she answered, "I suppose we won't perish overnight."
Josiah was hoping the constable and executor would arrive by the morning stage to thwart any wedding plans.
~ CHAPTER 4 ~
Dawn broke over the town bringing the morning stage. Josiah met the stage praying for the two travelers to be aboard. He greeted the only two men aboard.
"Mornin', sirs, Josiah Sanchez and who might y'all be?"
"Joshua McCain and this is Constable Warren Wilson," the executor greeted.
Josiah's enthusiasm was difficult to contain, but he managed. He brought the two men to the jail to meet with the others. After introductions, the two men showed them the will. They discussed their options and decided to meet Vin and Rebecca Jane at the church.
The men arrived at the church to the already waiting Vin and Rebecca Jane. Josiah was thankful there was only two entrances to the church; or in this case, two exits. He knew that if he blocked the back entrance and everyone was at the front entrance, the couple would have nowhere to go. This was the plan; so, as he entered the church, he immediately placed himself between Rebecca Jane and Vin and the back exit. He was joined by Chris.
"What's this all about?" Vin asked.
"Witnesses. Remember, I told you a wedding needs witnesses," Josiah explained.
"These are not witnesses. Vin, they are trying to trick us," Rebecca Jane accused.
"Miss Lowry, you have deceived this gentleman," Constable Warren Wilson charged.
"You are a liar," Rebecca Jane answered gritting her teeth for more emphasis.
"Miss Lowry, we have your father's will right here," Joshua McCain waved the papers before her. "Mr. Tanner, here you are. You may read them yourself," Joshua said as he handed the will to Vin.
Vin hesitantly took the will. The commotion had brought the women - Mary, Sammi, Inez and Casey - to the church just as Joshua handed the will to Vin instructing him to read it. Mary, the only one who knew Vin's secret, watched him slowly take the papers in hand. Mary had told him she would teach him to read and write, but they never seemed to find the time to get together long enough for a lesson. Now, here they were with everyone's eyes on Vin. His dark secret about to be revealed. Vin stared at the papers blankly.
"Read 'em out loud, Vin," Buck requested unaware of the humiliation that was coming.
Chris realized there was a problem. He read it in Vin's face and Mary's face. He was near Vin; so, he figured he would try to help. Unfortunately, he did not move fast enough, and he wasn't the only one to notice there was a problem.
"You can't read; can you?" Rebecca Jane chuckled as she questioned Vin.
Vin refused to look up, fearing everyone was staring at him - they were. Chris stopped dead in his tracks. The others looked on in shock. Rebecca Jane finally showed her true self to Vin at the most inopportune time. She saw that this was not going to be as easy as she thought. In order to escape, she decided she could make Vin's friends pay for bringing the constable and executor to Four Corners by destroying Vin in front of them all - hurting him beyond comprehension.
"I knew this land was desolate and full of mostly uncivilized men, but I didn’t really figure on uneducated," Rebecca Jane taunted as she amused herself at Vin's expense. "So, tell me, Vin, dear, were you also raised by a pack of hungry savage wolves?"
Vin became furious at suddenly becoming the butt of her tasteless and painful jokes.
"I don't need this," he snapped throwing the will back to the executor. They were right. You ain't worth the dust that blows around my feet," Vin sharply criticized Rebecca Jane.
Vin pushed his way through the crowd and headed for his horse. He desperately tried to control his emotions. He had enough humiliation to last the rest of his born days; he didn't need them to see his tears. The wall he spent a lifetime building was beginning to crumble. He had built barriers to protect himself from hurtful people, but he began to trust the people of this town. He was making friends, and now, he let someone in too close. Another hurtful person managed to enter his life and cause him pain again. He swore to himself that he wouldn't let it happen again.
Vin gathered some things from his wagon, loaded his horse with the items and rode out of town. Chris and the others told Rebecca Jane to leave town or they would personally escort her out.
"I shall be on the next stage," Rebecca Jane informed.
"Good Riddance," Chris said as he began to leave the church.
"I hope you can live with yourself knowing I will not enjoy my father's fortune," Rebecca Jane followed after Chris.
Chris turned abruptly on his heels, "Do you really think I care? You destroyed a good friend of mine. I hope you can live with yourself knowing that man was completely humiliated here today! I don't know how they do things in Raleigh, but out here you treat folks with respect! You are a self-centered, gold-diggin', evil woman; I only hope that someday you realize that and feel sorry for what you have done here this past week!" Chris chastised her.
~ CHAPTER 5 ~
Chris and Ezra decided along with the others to give Vin a day to sort out his thoughts and deal with what had just happened. They were unsure if he'd come return, however. He didn’t take the wagon; so, they hoped that was a good sign. After one day passed, Vin did not return. Chris and Ezra became more concerned.
"I suppose you are going to tell me 'I told you so'," Chris asked Ezra referring to their conversation on the porch of the jail.
"No, I was merely attempting to enlighten everyone to this conniving woman's scheme before she was allowed to hurt Vin," Ezra replied.
"You were right, you know."
"It is not important. We have to retrieve Vin and aid in his recovery from this devastating incident," Ezra answered as he strolled off to gain supplies for their search for Vin's whereabouts.
As Ezra left, Mary approached Chris.
"He's not coming back; is he?" Mary asked.
Chris stared down the street, "No."
"Y'all going after him?" she asked.
"Yep; we're leavin' in about an hour. Ezra's getting supplies," Chris told her.
Chris and Ezra headed out of town. They rode all day in the direction Vin had headed. They did not know, however, where Vin would go. They did know, though, that a woman could lead a man to a bottle of whiskey. Vin wasn't a heavy drinker, but both men knew a broken heart could push any man over the edge.
"I believe we ought to investigate any community which serves alcoholic beverages," Ezra thought aloud as the two men rode.
"Yeah, I know," Chris replied.
The two friends searched for Vin in several nearby towns to no avail. Three days passed without a clue as to his whereabouts. Everyone they asked had not seen anyone of Vin's description. He had vanished as if he never existed. Finally, on the fourth day, Chris and Ezra stopped on a township that supported one run-down saloon. Chris and Ezra approached the barkeep. They described Vin to him. He pointed to a bearded man sitting in a dark corner as he wiped out some shot glasses. The two men thanked the barkeep and walked toward the man sitting at the table. Seven bottles of whiskey sat on the table. All empty except one, which was still half full. The odor emitting from the man made the two almost gag. They tried to refrain from breathing as much as possible. Chris began the conversation.
"Vin?" Chris started.
The man did not answer; so, Ezra removed the man's hat. A glazed look was upon the man's face. A face they all knew too well, regardless of the facial hair. Vin was numb from the amount of alcohol he had consumed. Chris and Ezra escorted Vin out of the saloon. They brought him to the bathhouse and attempted to get him cleaned up for their benefit more than his. When he was clean and shaved, they acquired a hotel room. They put Vin to bed hoping he'd sleep off some of the alcohol.
Several hours passed. Vin slept well. He finally opened his eyes. Ezra noticed and nudged Chris.
"Hey, sleepy head, how ya feelin'?" Chris greeted.
"How'd you find me?" Vin asked.
"We thought like a man humiliated by a female," Ezra confided their tracking abilities.
"I'm sorry for not list'nin' to y'all and causin' so much trouble," Vin apologized as he sat up in the bed holding his aching head.
"Nonsense, Vin, we've all been there. You're human, and we're all your friends. We know you're not perfect, but friends accept each other's weaknesses and mistakes. Friends help each other recover from situations like this. If we weren't your friends, we would not have stayed by your side," Chris explained.
"He is correct. We would have left you to be devoured by her. Vin, as inconceivable as it possibly sounds, I too, have been mislead by unscrupulous, manipulative individuals. I regret I actually have to disclose such a travesty," Ezra added.
Vin sat quietly as the two men spoke to him. Sadness made his blue eyes pools of sorrow.
"Vin," Chris touched Vin's chin to raise his head, "why didn’t you just tell us you couldn't read?"
His words were filled with concern as if the man to whom he spoke was his brother rather than his friend. Concern was also painted on Ezra's face.
"I didn't think it was important," Vin tried to cover his fear of ridicule.
"Rubbish!" Ezra exclaimed. "If it had been of no significance, you would not have departed so abruptly."
Vin lowered his head in shame once more.
"I was afraid y'all would have laughed at me like Rebecca Jane did," Vin confided.
"Vin, we're your friends, for God's sake. We would not have laughed. A lot of folks can't read an' write. Your childhood wasn't exactly spent anywhere near a school, from what I understand," Chris explained.
"Mary informed us she had agreed to undertake the challenge of being your educator. She apologized for not scheduling her days accordingly, allowing for your lessons. If you so desire, I shall be elated to aid in your education. Mary is often engaged in tedious tasks concerning the production of the newspaper. Her time is of the essence; mine, however, is not. I merely administer alcoholic beverages when I am not managing the tavern," Ezra informed.
"You'd do that for me?" Vin questioned Ezra.
Ezra smiled, the gold of his tooth glistened and his emerald eyes sparkled, "I would be enraptured."
"You'll be in what?" Vin asked confused and holding his head from the throbbing brought on by his hangover.
"First lesson: ENRAPTURE - delight beyond measure," Ezra taught.
"Enrapture," Vin repeated. "Well, Chris, I'll either end up talkin' like 'im or understandin' what the hell he's talkin' about. I don't know which is worse," Vin teased, a smile spreading across his once gloomy face.
Ezra and Chris smiled at Vin's quip. They knew at that point, with their support, Vin would overcome the devastating effects of the ill-fated relationship.
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