By Robyn
(Vin & Ezra's confidant)


It had been one month to the day since Maude Standish had arrived back in Four Corners. She had arrived when Ezra and the others were out of town dealing with Sammi Jennings. Ezra was astonished to see her back in town. He constantly requested the purpose of her visit; however, Maude stuck to her guns. She was here to visit with her son, Ezra, and Josiah. She explained to Ezra that she had previously promised to come back and spend some time with Josiah, but Ezra knew there had to be something else. Yet, after one month, Ezra still could not put his finger on any one particular thing. Maude had been spending a lot of time with Josiah, though. They picnicked several countless times - near everyday. Josiah would read passages The Good Book or recite poetry for her. Maude couldn't remember the last time she was treated like this - like a real lady. She was enjoying herself. Something she hadn't done much of lately, well, that is without using some kind of con game. Gambling and conning folks was what she relied on to get herself by…and it's really the only thing that made her happy. Josiah Sanchez, now, was a whole other story. She liked him, was drawn to him. She couldn't explain it. Ezra asked her why she was even remotely interested in Josiah; he had nothing to offer her monetarily. He's a simple preacher man he would tell her. Maude never could answer her son. She couldn't answer the question for herself, let alone her son. All she knew was while in the presence - and arms of this strong, tell, usually quiet man - she felt safe, secure and comfortable. A feeling she wondered if she'd ever felt before. Well, she had, but it was a very long time ago. It was before the war - it seemed so long ago that sometimes it seemed all a dream.

On this day, Maude was sitting with Josiah at a table in an out-of-the-way spot in the Standish Tavern. Ezra had the attention of everyone else there as he cleaned out a few newcomers that were passing through town on their way to California. No one was aware of the stage that pulled into town, except for Vin and Chris. A tall slender man, with a cold emotionless face stepped down from the stage. His attire was that of someone with flare for the current styles of the day. Imported suits with silk and gold accessories. His hair was just so; yet, he covered it with a small stylish hat tilted slightly to the left. He carried with him one bag of fresh clothing and a carved walking cane of imported wood with a gold tip and an ivory handle.

Chris and Vin, who were not so taken in by Ezra's gambling abilities, watched the man from the newspaper office with Mary and Billy, Mary's son.

"Who do you think he is?" inquired Mary.

"Don't know," Chris answered.

"He dresses mighty fancy," Vin observed.

"Yea, more fancy than Mr. Standish," little Billy remarked, bringing a smile to the faces of the three adults.

"Reckon we oughtta find out who he is and what he's doin' here, Chris?" Vin asked.

"I reckon," Chris replied.

"Mary, I'll see y'all later for supper," Chris said turning to Mary.

"Sure, see ya then," Mary responded with a nod of her head.

"Bye, Billy," Chris and Vin said almost simultaneously.

"Bye, Y'all," Billy waved as the two walked across the street.

Vin and Chris made their way to the stage depot where the mystery man was asking where he could get a bath and a bed.

"Sir," Chris greeted, "Chris Larabee and this here's Vin Tanner. We like to make it a point to greet new folks to town. You here to stay, visitin' or just passin' through?"

"Gentlemen, that is yet to be determined. If I encounter the particular individual for which I seek, I shall conclude then whether to depart or remain." the obviously educated man responded in a somewhat slow southern drawl.

Vin and Chris looked at one another and back at the man before them. A little baffled by the response they were sure Ezra could translate anything the man said if they didn't understand.

"Yea, we know most of the folks in town," Vin added.

"Spledid! I would appreciate your cooperation in locating a woman, a Maude Standish," the man requested.

"Maude Standish?" asked Chris glancing at Vin again.

"Affirmative, gentlemen," the stranger answered.

Vin and Chris looked, again, at one another knowing, instinctively what the other was thinking - his attire's more stylish than Ezra's, his language equal to or more educated and he was looking for Maude. Who was this man?

"Excuse me, gentlemen, if it's agreeable, I fancy a bath and fresh attire. I can then rendezvous with you succeedingly," the stranger informed.

"OK, fine," Chris replied, assuming what the stranger meant.

The man took his bag and fancy walking stick and headed for the hotel. Chris and Vin amused themselves at the thought of how Ezra and Maude would be able to carry on a conversation with this stranger as they walked over to the tavern. They stopped at the bar to ask Inez if she knew where Maude was. She did; she pointed them to a table in the back corner against the wall where Maude and Josiah sat. Vin and Chris went up to the table and greeted the couple.

"Maude, Josiah," Chris greeted.

"May we sit for a moment?" Vin asked.

"Sure, have a seat," Josiah answered.

Vin and Chris grabbed a chair from a nearby table and sat with Maude and Josiah.

"Is there something the matter, boys," Maude questioned with concern in her voice.

"We're not sure," Chris began quietly so as to not alert the other patrons of the tavern.

"A man just came in on the stage. He talks and dresses real fancy," Vin informed.

"He asked us to help him find you, Mrs. Standish," Chris added.

"You know anyone lookin' for ya?" Vin queried.

"Gentlemen, men have chased me all about this land. I can not be expected to know which of them is chasing me when. What did this man look like?" Maude retorted.

"Fairly nice lookin' fella. Dressed real fancy - a little like Ezra but better. Had a fancy walkin' stick. Look like it was made of gold an' ivory," Vin described.

"An older gentleman - maybe a bit older than you," Chris continued, no disrespect intended.

Maude's eyes widened. She grew silent. Fear began to flash in her eyes. She knew only one man with a walking stick as was described. The three men looked bewildered at one another and then at Maude.

"Maude, do you know this man?" Josiah's concern obvious in his mild, gentle tone.

"I do, if this man is whom I believe it to be," she responded. She turned to Chris and Vin, "Where is this man now?"

"He's at the hotel getting settled in," Chris said softly.

"You want us to run 'im outta town, Ma'am," Vin inquired.

"I suppose not; I ought to at least find out what he wants with me," Maude remarked.

"Then you want us to fetch 'im for ya?" Vin asked.

"When he is ready," Maude answered.

"We'll see ya then," Chris said as he stood and tipped his hat to Maude.

Vin and Chris walked out of the tavern and walked over to the hotel. There they waited for the stranger to exit the building.

After bathing and redressing, the Southern stranger ventured out for the evening. He walked over to the tavern and observed Ezra and the game of cards at hand. He remained silent and out of sight. He smiled as he watched Ezra work his magic on the poor souls at the table with him.

"He's good ain't he?" Vin, proud of his friend, queried the man.

"Extremely," the man agreed.

"I don't believe you told us your name, sir?" Chris asked drawing attention away from the card game.

"Terrence Sutton," the man answered.

"Well, Mr. Sutton, we can help you locate Mrs. Standish in the morning, if that's Ok with you," Chris stated.

"That would be excellent," Mr. Sutton accorded.

The men went their separate ways.


Morning came sooner than anyone would want; yet, no one knew it. When the sun did rise, Chris and Vin joined together to search for Terrence Sutton. They could not find him; however, there was a gathering beginning to form again in the Standish Tavern. Curiosity drew them to the tavern. Upon arriving at the tavern, the pair realized the crowd had gathered to watch the card game between two matched gamblers…Ezra Standish and Terrence Sutton.

"Mr. Sutton, can I have a word with you," Chris interrupted.

"Not now, Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered, "I've almost got him beat."

Terrence Sutton showed his cards; Ezra lost…again. So far he had lost every hand; it appeared he could not win.

"Damn!" Ezra exclaimed, as he tossed his cards to the table, rose and stormed off after stating, "There shall be a rematch, Mr. Sutton. I shall see to that!"

"Gentlemen, shall we impel our pursuit of Mrs. Standish?" Terrence questioned.

Vin looked at Chris; Chris responded, " Yea," then he muttered, "whatever."

"Did that man introduce himself?" Vin asked pointing to Ezra. He was curious if Sutton knew the man he just played cards with was Maude's son

"No, I don't believe he did," Terrence responded, "I propositioned him."

Vin didn't respond. Vin, Chris and Terrence left the tavern together. Ezra was down the street talking with Josiah and Maude. Terrence saw them first. He pointed to the three individuals. Maude saw Vin, Chris and the stranger they spoke to her about making their way towards her.

She gasped," Terrence!"

"Maude, my dear, you remain exquisite," Terrence complimented, as he took her hand and pressed his lips to it in a gentle kiss.

Maude snapped her hand away, "How dare you! How dare you appear before me like nothing happened!"

"My dear, do not be in such haste to judge me," Terrence attempted to ease her suspicions.

"Mr. Sutton, why don't you just tell us what you want and why you’re here?" Chris asked.

"I came to visit with my former wife; do I need a reason?" Terrence informed.

"That's ridiculous! You must have an ulterior motive for coming here," Maude countered.

"Tell me, kind sir," Terrence began, as he turned his attention to Ezra, "the name you wish me to use when I beckon you?"

"You don't beckon him for anything!" Maude warned.

"Mother, I hardly believe telling him my name would pose a threat," Ezra spoke up.

"Mother?" Terrence repeated.

"What do you want Terrence?" Maude again questioned.

"Boy, I do believe I am quite interested in your relationship to this lovely woman, especially considering your ability to handle a deck of cards."

Maude turned to Ezra, "Keep quiet. You have no idea who this man is nor what he is capable of."

"Fine! Maude, If you refuse to indulge me, I shall inform him of who I am. Boy, apparently this woman is your mother, as you have referred to her as such. I, however, have found her to be no more than a common whore."

The fury in Maude began to emerge as she slapped the man for his degrading comment. She did not want Ezra to know this man. Terrence instinctively retaliated with a smarting backhanded slap to Maude. The force of the slap nearly knowcked her to the ground. Luckily for her, Vin was behind her; he caught her as she went down. Vin helped her regain her footing and balance as she licked her lip to confirm her bleeding mouth.

Josiah stepped up to Terrence, "Mr. Sutton, a gentleman does not harm a lady!"

"Do you see a lady amongst us?" he jeered.

"Mr. Sutton, I suggest you vacate this town before I regret stopping you," Ezra snapped as he too tried to help Maude regain herself.

"Ezra! We have to go!" Maude exclaimed.

Maude grabbed Ezra's arm and dragged him from the place where Josiah, Vin, Chris and Terrence stood. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Maude wasn't about to allow her son to stand before a man she detested. She didn't want Ezra to know anything about him. She wanted him to have no contact whatsoever with him. Josiah ordered Terrence Sutton to leave by morning.

"Mother, how are you acquainted with this man? I played several hands of cards with the man. Of course, I lost every hand, but I do intend to have a rematch and win," Ezra stated.

"You will never win a game of cards against that man, Ezra Standish! Furthermore, the reason he is my former husband is because that is the way I want him! Don't you ever speak to that man without my permission!"

"Mother, I am hardly a child. I do not need your permission to speak to strangers I encounter. Besides, I owe it to your honor to seek retribution for the unjust remark he bestowed upon you."

"I can see I am at some point going to have to explain this situation to you, but it will have to wait until I can figure how to escape this ordeal."

With that, Maude ordered Ezra to promise he would not speak to Terrence again or to play cards with him. Nathan happened by at that exact time. Maude stopped him and asked him to make sure Ezra had no communication with Mr. Sutton. He agreed as he examined her split lip. Maude, then, walked back to her hotel room. She paced her room for nearly an hour. She tried desperately to figure out what this man could possible want. Why was he here? There must be a reason why he had come back after all these years. He seems to only show up when he wants something from her. The stress began to give her a tension headache. She rubbed her temples as she sat in front of a mirror in her room. As she looked into the mirror, rubbing her head, she asked herself questions about the reasons this man was intruding on her life once again. What could he possibly want from her? She was at wits end. She knew his appearance could not be good, for he already met Ezra. Something she desperately tried to avoid since Ezra's birth. Suddenly a knock was heard upon her door.

"Who is it?" She asked.

"Josiah," the reply came.

She quickly wiped the tears from her swollen eyes and unlocked the door. Upon her opening the door, Josiah entered and shut the door behind him. Seeing she had been crying, he attempted to comfort her.

"Can I be of any help?"

"Josiah," she said gently patting his chest, "I do not know what to do. What does he want? I have sat here trying to understand why he has come. My head…"

"Ma'am, I know it's no consolation, but I am sure he will soon reveal his intent. When he does, we will all be there for you."

"Oh, Josiah, you are so sweet."

Josiah stayed with Maude until night fell. With the pain in her head, she decided to go to bed and rest. Josiah softly read to her to help ease the tension and take her mind off her current affliction. Josiah decided to stay the night and guard the lady he was so attracted to. He made himself comfortable in the chair beside her bed and dozed off as she peacefully slept.

Ezra and Inez, meanwhile, were cleaning up the Standish Tavern. Ezra was still miffed at loosing to this newcomer, Terrence Sutton. Inez sensed Ezra's tension and tried to lighten him up. They playfully teased each other as they turned each chair up onto the tables. As Ezra and Inez finished with the chairs, a shadow appeared.

"Remain stationary," the shadow spoke softly, yet firmly.

"Mr. Sutton?" Inez questioned as she froze in position.

The shadow moved closer. A gun was now evident in his grip.

"Senorita, Ezra," Terrence greeted. "Mr. Sutton, do you require a beverage? If so, I am sure we can accommodate you," Ezra stated, his hands held high.

Terrence approached Ezra, "I do believe Maude called you Ezra?"

"What of it?" Ezra snapped, heeding his mother's warnings of the man.

"Senorita, remove Ezra's weapons and place them on the bar," Terrence ordered Inez pointing to the bar.

Inez did as she was told.

"Now, retrieve some rope, enough to bind you both," he instructed.

"Sever it halfway," Terrence again instructed.

Inez, again, did as was ordered of her.

"Bind his hands behind him," the man ordered as he still held his gun to Ezra. "Make certain it is tight."

Inez obeyed. Terrence forced Ezra to the floor after Inez finished tying him; he, then, took the remainder of the rope and bound Inez to a support beam in the tavern. He then took two silk neckerchiefs and silenced Ezra and Inez. After the two were bound and gagged, Terrence Sutton enlightened them to his plan.

"Ezra, you will accompany me to a secluded location. Senorita, you will communicate to Maude Standish that I have our son. {Ezra and Inez looked at one another in astonishment when Sutton used the term 'our'.} Relate to her that she may behold him once more if my instructions are regarded exactly. I will require the return of the money she embezzled, as well as the jewelry she appropriated. With the return of these articles, I shall return Ezra to her. However, if she falters, Ezra shall infallibly perish. The anguish he will sustain depends upon her earnestness in resolving this issue. She is to rendezvous with me in the desert. She will depart unaccompanied and proceed due west for one day. We shall then converge to discuss the transfer of our goods."

Inez glanced at Ezra hoping she understood the educated tongue of this well-dressed seemingly evil man. Terrence saw the fear in Inez's eyes as they flashed to Ezra. He approached her as she slumped on the floor clinging to the beam to which she was bound. He unlaced the blousen top of her dress. His fingers quickly slipping inside to feel the hot, clammy flesh of her bosom and the hastened palpitations of her racing heart as he placed the barrel of his gun against her cheek. His attempt to kiss her was halted when she quickly turned away. Ezra's anger mounted as he tried to move towards the man assaulting the woman. A woman he regarded as a trusted friend. He was, however, helpless in rescuing her. Terrence, with his gun-free hand, grabbed Inez beneath her chin; he forced her to turn her head back to look him in the eye. He could feel her quiver in his grasp. The evil in his eyes penetrated her and bore deep into her soul as he promised these words to her:

"Senorita, when Mrs. Standish has restored my property, I shall return to ravish you," these words he breathed heavily upon her as he forced his lips upon hers, bruising her lower jaw where his strong fingers dug in.

She struggled to free herself to no avail. The silk neckerchief that muzzled Inez's screams did not seem to affect the onward advances of Mr. Sutton. The tears she wept merely streaked her cheeks. Ezra felt despair for the woman that came to him not too long ago requesting a position at the tavern. His inability to help her in her time of need made him furious. He promised himself to seek retribution against this man for the fear he bestowed upon this usually strong woman. Ezra had admired her strength and enthusiasm since the day he met her. She was not, he thought, a damsel in distress by nature, for she had far too much more fire within her.

Terrence Sutton rose to his feet and yanked Ezra by his arms to his feet. He re-aimed his gun at Ezra and led him to the horses tied in front of the tavern. In the still of the night, they left.


Again, the rising sun awoke an unsuspecting town. A man ventured into the Standish Tavern for an early morning drink. To his surprise, he found Inez bound, gagged and visibly shaken. In his shock, he failed to release her; instead, he fled through town yelling for help. The remaining six men quickly responded to the man's cries. He summoned them to the tavern, where now a crowd was gathering outside peering in. Nervously, Maude approached the tavern with Josiah. Another man had already gone into the tavern and began untying Inez. The six entered, accompanied by Mary, Maude and Sammi. Nathan examined the bruise on her jaw and the marks on her wrists made by the rope. Inez spoke quickly mixing English with Spanish to relate her story. Buck held her close to comfort her, and she let him. Yet, thoughts of courting her were the farthest from his mind at this moment.

"So, this is why he has come," Maude said quietly.

"Maude, we'll get Ezra back," Josiah comforted her.

"I am sorry you had to encounter this evil man, Inez," Maude apologized.

Inez did not answer; instead, she continued to cling to Buck, still shaken by the treatment she received.

The tavern remained closed as the six men reviewed their options.

"I must go alone," Maude interrupted them.

"Maude, with all due respect, you don't believe he's going to just hand Ezra over to you, do you?" Chris questioned.

"You know 'im better'n we do, Ma'am. Do you think he'll return Ezra as he said?" Vin added.

"I don't know," Maude tearfully admitted placing her head into the palms of her hands.

They discussed the situation a little more concluding that JD and Buck would stay behind to protect Four Corners and Inez in case of Sutton's return for her. Chris would lead the others onward to the desert. Vin's sharp-shooting accuracy was figured to be the ace up their sleeves. Nathan was to tend to any injuries Ezra might endure at the hands of Terrence Sutton. Josiah was merely Maude's comforter and shoulder to lean on. The four men and Maude set out headed west of Four Corners. They had no intentions of giving Terrence what he wanted; however, they had intended on taking possession of a very much alive Ezra.

For Ezra, the day brought pain and suffering as Mr. Sutton took every advantage of beating him. If Ezra walked too slow, ate too slow, or breathed the wrong way, Sutton punched and kicked him until he rolled in agony. Ezra, at one point, could feel several of his ribs fracture as the man placed his boot with terrific force into his ribcage. While stopped by a stream, Ezra leaned over to lap up the water to refresh his swollen tongue from the heat. With his hands still tied behind him, he attempted to drink. Sutton saw this and kneeled into Ezra's back pressing his head fully beneath the water. Sutton released him only when his body became rigid as he choked and struggled for air. Ezra rolled to his side attempting to recapture his breath. Soon after, they again were riding. Terrence Sutton continued to keep Ezra in line with an occasional lashing of the horsewhip he kept close at hand. When they reached their destination, Sutton pushed Ezra from his horse. The fall left Ezra unconscious as his head landed heavily on a nearby rock. The rock left a gash that bled leaving his hair matted on the right side. Sutton left him where he lay.

Ezra awoke to the crackle of a fire. Terrence had already eaten supper. The silk neckerchief long since removed allowed Ezra to ask for his supper.

"You do not require nourishment," Terrence answered him.

"How am I to continue if I do not replenish my strength?"

Terrence smiled an evil grin, "Do you expect to survive?"

"You told Inez…" Ezra began.

"Fool! The ultimate grievance I can bestow on your mother is your demise!"

"You had no intentions of releasing me."

"Your death and her sorrow shall be my greatest pleasure. She will bear witness to your final breath as she cradles your lifeless body in her arms."

Ezra cringed at the thought of how this man was amusing himself at his expense. Ezra laid her head back down as the throbbing from the wound he received ached terribly. He closed his eyes with hopes to alleviate some of the pain. However, the night was to be a long one. Terrence Sutton was as awake as he was bored. Ezra didn't see him retrieve a piece of iron from his belongings. Terrence heated the iron rod over the fire. The metal soon became white hot as Sutton left it in the fire to drag Ezra closer. Ezra asked why he was moving him, but his question went unanswered until… the iron rod seared through the silk shirt he wore. It felt as though it melted layers of flesh with it. Ezra's scream of pain was heard only by Terrence in the empty desert. As the fire danced in his eyes, Terrence reveled in the torturous pain he brought upon Ezra. He again heated the iron. This time he removed Ezra's shirt, as he wanted to see Ezra's body cringe as the metal scorched his flesh. Sutton again placed the iron to Ezra enjoying the scent of his burning flesh. Several times, over and over, he repeated the torture. Ezra, breathing heavily and now merely moaning in pain, hoped he would lose consciousness. It was not to be. Sutton, then, took his horsewhip in hand. Ezra remembered the scars he saw on Vin when they had gone to the reservation to escape Vin's father. He remembered imagining how painful the gashes must have been. Ezra figured himself more sensitive than Vin; how would he survive this onslaught of torture? His mind quickly returned to the present as the sound of the whip warned of the coming pain. The sting of the whip stole his breath. He struggled, with each lash of the whip, to escape and crawl away. He rolled to his stomach. The desert sand irritated the scorched flesh on his chest, but his mind ignored it. The stinging gashes on his back were taking their toll. He was weak, barely able to grasp the sand in his hand. He lay there, face down, clinging to each breath.

The salt from Ezra's sweaty body now intensified the stinging gashes that criss-crossed his back. He realized he did lose consciousness or fall asleep, as he barely lifted his head and opened one eye. He noticed he could only open one as the other was swollen shut. He also found a burning thirst in his throat and a piercing hunger in his stomach. Yet, his body was too weak; he could not rise up to his feet, crawl or even call out to his captor. He was alone and helpless, and he thought for sure that this would be his final day.


Ezra's four friends and his mother had reached the desert, too. Chris instructed Vin to find a place he could shoot from. Nathan stayed with Chris as Josiah gave Maude some last minute comforting and a good luck kiss. She fully embraced him; then, she left the group to wander into the vast openness of the desert.

Terrence tied Ezra to his horse and led the horse out of hiding. Ezra's body slumped forward; the sun glistened on his blood-drenched flesh. Vin knew the weapon that made such marks as he bowed his head. His own back flinched as he remembered the whip slash through his own flesh. Chris and Josiah, too, cringed at the injuries they saw. Nathan knew he'd have his work cut out for him. He only could hope that infection had not yet set in.

As Maude and Terrence approached one another, fear for Ezra's lifeless body overwhelmed her.

"Terrence, you bastard!"

"Do not fret, my dear, he is not yet dead."

Ezra moaned and attempted to raise his head. He failed to do so, but not before Maude saw the blood in his hair.

"I presume you followed my instructions precisely?"

"Release Ezra first if you want anything from me," Maude ordered.

"Maude, dear woman, I suppose you know me better than that. And might I remind you it was you who betrayed me. It was you who utilized my comrade to deceive me. It was you who took my possessions and my unborn scion. You can not fathom what you have appropriated from me. You prevented me from rearing my son in my image."

"Terrence, you are obviously still the sadistic man I know you to be. Your image, for your information, is what I protected him from! It is your very image that will not allow him to leave here alive!" Maude angrily snapped.

Terrence's evil grin once again spread across his face as he began to raise his gun to Ezra.

"Retribution is mine, woman! You do realize I could end his life at this very moment? Of course, I shall not. Fulfill my request, and I will allow you the luxury of cradling our dying son."

Vin positioned himself. He had Terrence Sutton in his sites.

"Why hasn't Vin shot that bastard yet?" Nathan muttered to Chris.

"Timing," Chris answered.

"I wish he'd hurry it up," Nathan responded.

"You are not alone," Josiah spoke up just as the sound of Vin's rifle sounded.

Terrence Sutton fell from his horse. Maude Quickly pulled a gun Chris gave her and aimed it at Sutton. In no time, Chris, Vin, Nathan and Josiah had Terrence covered. Nathan and Maude helped Ezra down from his horse. Nathan checked all Ezra's wounds, wrapping the gash in his head and his fractured ribs. He readied him for the ride back to Four Corners where he could better tend to his injuries. He allowed him some water from his canteen, but stopped him after a few gulps.

"You're dehydrated, Ezra; your body can't handle so much so quickly," Nathan warned.

Nathan checked Terrence's wound - superficial for the most part. Nathan tended to the wound and gave him back to Chris and Vin to place under arrest. Chris and Vin tied Terrence Sutton to his horse, as Josiah once more comforted Maude.

"He'll be alright; Nathan will see to that," Josiah told her.

"I know; I've tried so hard to protect him from Terrence," she wept as she clung to Josiah.

He held her close; her trembling body pressed firmly against his strong frame. She felt so safe in his arms. With his hand, he raised her head and gently kissed her soft lips. The tension in Maude left as she felt herself melt into the preacher's arms. His caress made her tremble as she attempted to press more firmly against him.

Chris decided it was time to interrupt, as he, Vin, Nathan and Ezra watched. He nudged Vin and threw a devilish, boyish grin towards Nathan and Ezra, as he approached Josiah and Maude.

"Y'all, we ain't got much water in them canteens to be puttin' out fires; so, can y'all keep them embers down 'til we can get Ezra back to town?" Chris teased.

Josiah smiled at his friend, placed an arm around Maude and walked her to her horse. The four men escorted Ezra, Maude and Terrence back to Four Corners.


After arriving back in Four Corners, Chris and Vin met with Buck and JD. They placed Terrence in jail and explained the ordeal to Buck and JD. Inez watched as Sutton was placed in jail. She approached Chris to remind him to make sure Sutton paid for his abuse of her. Chris told her he would. He then wired Judge Travis.

Nathan tended to Ezra's wounds right away. Maude kept a vigil over Ezra's bed night and day. She promised him if he'd pull through this terrible ordeal she would indulge him in the story behind Terrence Sutton and herself.

Several days of floating between conscious and unconscious states had past. Ezra seemed to be getting stronger, now. The first day he remained conscious, Maude babied him. She changed the dressings on his wounds, spoon fed him and attempted to sponge bathe him. He stopped her from washing any lower than his waist.

To which she responded, "Ezra, I have seen all you have to offer. I am your mother for Heaven's sake!"

When he was stronger still, she gathered everyone to his bedside, where he sat upright. The gathering was a chance for Maude to thank everyone for his or her help in retrieving Ezra, and for her to offer an explanation for Terrence Sutton.

"I have requested your presence here to explain the situation that unfolded here. A long time ago, before the war, I accompanied my father in his travels. He was a gambler by trade, and he employed me to distract his opponents. My mother died when I was young. He became a heavy drinker in later years. He began to lose. His sharp skills began to fail him. One day, he became involved in a card game aboard a riverboat on the Mississippi. When he exhausted his funds, he quickly scribbled his ownership of me on a slip of paper. He lost the hand…and his daughter."

Tears welled up in her eyes as she took out a handkerchief. "Terrence Sutton was his opponent. A preacher had also been aboard, and Terrence wasted no time getting me to him. We were married, and he consummated the marriage that very night. I assumed all was just a con, but my father never came for me. I wept often, crying myself to sleep most nights. He used me the same as my father had. I was to take men to my room, drug them and take their valuables. He brutally beat me if I refused or did not get as much as he felt I ought to have. Many times I had to recover from broken bones, bruises and a variety of other injuries. In fact, if I didn’t allow him the pleasures of his wife, he would violently abuse me. I quickly learned to allow him the pleasures he sought. I realized after six months of marriage that I was soon to bear his child."

Ezra's gaze on Maude never strayed; however, several others glanced at Ezra for his reaction.} "I swore I would not allow him to touch that child, but I could not escape him. Upon our daughter's birth he became extremely angry. He could not believe I bore him a female child. We were living on the Mississippi at the time. He took the child, screaming as it was, out of my arms; I screamed as well. He hurled the child into the blackness of the river, as she was born in the dark of night. She drowned. Her lifeless body became entangled in shoreline plants. I picked her up, wrapped her in a blanket and buried her there. I knew I could not allow this to happen again. Yet, I allowed him to touch me still, out of fear. Several months later when I again realized I was with child, I plotted an escape, even if my death was a result. I approached an acquaintance of Terrence's, Daniel Standish. He was a tremendous card player. He taught me most of what I didn't learn from my father. I met with Daniel and expressed my desire to leave Terrence. I had hoped he would not reveal my plans to Terrence. He promised to help. He knew I had suffered terribly at Terrence's hand. Daniel had also made it known, previously, his attraction to me. We met several times to plan my escape. Daniel gave me a horse and some of his clothes. I discarded the fancy gown Terrence had bought me, and dressed in Daniel's shirt and pants. Daniel cut my hair short like a man. He placed a hat on my head, and I waited for his signal. While Daniel distracted Terrence, he dropped his handkerchief. He retrieved it, and I was on my way. Free at last and three months pregnant. I rode east. We had a predetermined location where we were to reunite later that night. Daniel kept his word and met with me. He had friends in politics that enabled a divorce from Terrence. Daniel offered to marry me; so, my unborn child would not be born a bastard."

Again the gaze of all shifted to Ezra, but he remained consistently quiet and stared into his mother's eyes. "Daniel and I were married two months before Ezra's birth. Ezra, I am truly sorry I never revealed this to you. I did not want Terrence to influence your life; however, all my efforts were in vain. Daniel died of pneumonia just after Christmas when you were three. The following year, Terrence came back. I fled to a cousin's house; I begged them to care for you. Each time I place you with a different family member was for your benefit, not mine. I would have given anything to raise you myself, but circumstances would not allow me that luxury. Terrence found where you were each time and attempted to take you away. So, you understand, he has had a great influence on your life, and now this. I tried so hard to keep you from him; it seems I have failed. When Daniel died, I had to return to the only life I knew - taverns, saloons, riverboats and gambling. I tried to teach you as much as I could; so, you could survive. I figured the greatest gift my father bestowed on me was his gift of card playing and his silver-tongue. It aided in my escape many times. I decided you, too, might benefit from these gifts. I hope you do not resent me for this. I hope you can find it within your heart to forgive me."

Ezra remained silent; all eyes were upon him. Maude held his hands tight in hers. Finally, Ezra broke his gaze; he glanced down at the hands that clung to his. Memories of good times with his mother flooded his head. He worked his hands out of her grasp, and clutched hers in his.

"Mother," he began, as his captivating green gaze again penetrated her, "I had no idea. Resent you? No, Mother, your life apparently was no easier. I can only imagine the torment you must have endured. Mother, I may be of Terrence Sutton's loins, but you and Daniel Standish are my parents. The only parents I have known. I do not hate you. In fact, I admire you for your courage to protect your child from harm. Regardless of the pain of my childhood, I now understand you, too, had pain and reason to do as you did."

Maude smiled at her son, leaned over him and kissed his cheek, "I may not have been able to express it, Ezra, but I do love you."

Ezra turned to his friends, "Could you ladies and gentlemen leave us? It seems we have much to discuss."

All present left Ezra and Maude to reacquaint themselves as mother and son.

In time, Ezra's wounds healed. He and Maude re-evaluated their relationship, which blossomed into friendship. As for Terrence Sutton, he was tried for kidnapping and the abuse of Inez; Judge Travis had him sent to a territorial prison. Maude and Josiah picked up where they were interrupted in the Standish Tavern by Vin and Chris. Ezra continued to use his mother's "gift" to astonish onlookers as he hand after hand swindled newcomers to town out of their money and/or valuables. In other words, life in Four Corners began to get back to normal…whatever normal was.


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