"Well, Sir, are you a man or a mouse?" I stared at myself in the mirror and heard a faint squeak from the corner of my room. Sighing, I hoped that wasn't a bad omen. The time had come to make Buck put up or shut up. He'd been flirting with me for three months and it was now my turn.
Strolling down to breakfast, I spotted my prey sitting at the corner table with JD across from him. Making a quick decision, I gave Inez my order before sitting down next to the youngest member of our group. "Good morning, gentlemen. It looks to be a fine day."
"Morning, Ezra, you look pretty nice in that jacket." JD fingered the fabric of the sleeve of the green whole cloth. "It matches your eyes."
"Why thank you, sir, that is quite a compliment. You are also looking very nice this morning. Do I detect a rendezvous with Miss Casey?" I smiled at him and he beamed back at me.
"Yeah, we're going to ride over to Sarney and watch the train come in." He checked his watch and gave an exclamation. "Gosh, I've got to go or she'll be mad. We're going to take Mrs. Potter's wagon and bring back the supplies she ordered. See you guys later."
And he dashed off leaving Buck and I alone at the table.
"He's right, you do look nice this morning." Buck's voice seemed deeper than usual and I used the flirty look that Mother had perfected on him.
"Thank you, kind sir. I felt rather springlike this morning and decided to celebrate." I thanked Inez for the plate of food she set before me and shook out my napkin onto my lap.
"But it's fall, Ezra, not spring. It's the first of September not the first of May." Buck toyed with the handle of his coffee cup but never once took his eyes off of me.
"Very true, Mr. Wilmington, but I have found that the heart pays no attention to the days that come and go. The heart has its own seasons." I finished my egg and proceeded to the beans, which were a constant staple of frontier diet.
"Your heart been talking to you, Ezra?" He drawled my name and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.
"Yes, indeed it has, Mr. Wilmington. Man wasn't meant to live alone, or so Josiah quotes from the Bible." I chewed and swallowed while watching Buck's fingers tighten on the porcelain handle of his cup. "Perhaps you would be willing to give me some pointers on seducing a willing ... partner?"
He swallowed hard and leaned forward. "And would this willing, I might say, very willing partner have any distinguishing marks?"
"I have long been partial to blue eyes." I took a sip of the tea that Inez brewed for me. "And it would be nice if they liked some of the things that I enjoy. Swimming for one or perhaps woodcarving, yes, those are definitely two interests that come to mind."
Buck sat up straight and beckoned to Inez. When she arrived with a frown at his half-finished plate of food, he handed her his coffee cup. "Inez, would you be a real darling and bring me some of what Ezra here is drinking."
"You want tea?" Her eyes flashed and her smile bloomed wider than I'd ever seen it. "I'll just bring out the pot so you can share it." Turning away, she winked at me and hurried off.
I was still trying to come to terms with his request and I kept my eyes on my plate where I was mopping up the last of my breakfast. Then I remembered my question to myself earlier and I straightened my shoulders and raised my gaze to his face. The look there was one I'd never seen before. Hope, happiness and longing were all there for me to see.
"Tea and I hope to be good friends." He said slowly. "And this afternoon, after my patrol, perhaps you'd be willing to meet me over at Swan Pond. I love swimming."
"Really?" I said a little breathlessly. Inez plunked the teapot and a new cup down between us before departing and I used the time to get control of myself. I had to be sure that he understood what I was offering. "Let me pour you a cup of tea, Mr. Wilmington. I would be glad to meet you for an afternoon swim. However, to get back to my dilemma. I am looking for a partner who is willing to be with me for ... forever. They need to be reliable and at the same time fun loving. I know that I often appear frivolous but my heart will only commit to one person and one person only."
"I know just what you mean, Ezra." He manfully took a sip and his eyes widened in surprise. "This tastes good. What's in it?"
"It's a blend of my own with cinnamon added. I'm rather partial to the unexpected."
His eyes heated up. "That's what I like about you, Ezra, you can surprise me over and over again. And I think I understand the requirements of the ... person you're looking for. Faithful and loving and in the relationship for the long haul, that sound about right?"
I nodded and realized that the hand holding my cup was shaking just a little. "It's a lot to ask of someone, I know. But over the course of the last few months, my friendships with all of you have led me to believe that I am," now my voice was shaking, "worthy of such a love."
"Damn right you are, Ezra." He leaned closer and began to say something else but a shadow fell over the table and Chris interrupted him.
"Buck, time for your patrol. Vin said he saw sign of several horses leading up to the stable then away." His laconic command made me want to scream and I could see Buck ready a blast at him but the Larabee glare stopped him in his tracks. "Ezra, you need to take the afternoon patrol. Josiah had to ride over to the Hale's."
My heart fell but I stiffened my spine and nodded agreement. "Certainly, Mr. Larabee. I hope that Grandmother Hale isn't feeling too badly?"
He shrugged and left his normal irritating self. Buck was swearing under his breath and hastily finishing his breakfast. "Damn ... interfering ... bastard." He gulped more tea and shot me a look that almost melted me to the chair. "I will see you later, Ezra. I got just the solution to your dilemma. Till then, you stay safe."
I nodded and felt his leg briefly touch mine under the table. It felt like lightning sliding up to my stomach and tingling there before dissipating. His eyes showed astonishment and a smoldering desire that made my breath grow short. Then he was gone, striding out of the saloon and leaving me feeling as if the sun had gone out of the day.
Sighing, I finished my tea and prepared for my own duties. Mrs. Potter had set up a small school in the back room of her store and I taught literature and history to a class of five very disparate children. Ranging from age six to twelve, it was always a challenge to tailor the lessons to each one without either dumbing it down or letting it soar too far over their young minds.
But I rather relished the challenge and was all ready thinking about the Trojan Wars. Introducing them to Homer even in translation should prove very interesting. Going back upstairs, I gathered my books and papers, making sure I had the right ones before walking over to the drygoods store. The children were all there, well scrubbed and eagerly awaiting their new lessons.
They were all bright, inquiring minds that it was a pleasure to teach. One of these days, perhaps I would stop gambling and just teach. It is a noble profession this guiding of young minds to the treasures in literature but not alas, a very ruminative one. Still, it was something to think about instead of whether or not Buck was serious.
That was another challenge entirely.
The three hours flew by while the children peppered me with questions, listened to my reading of Homer and prepared their own retellings of the war in question. Gloria Potter brought in milk and cookies about eleven then stayed to participate in the discussion about whether or not the Greek Gods had ever really existed. Josiah would be giving his lessons the next day on religion and philosophy.
That should prove to be a very interesting discussion, I thought fondly and waved the little ones off for the day. There was still time to eat a little lunch before I had to begin my patrol. Inez had roast chicken broiling with some spinach leaves as garnish. Quite good actually and so I made sure that I told her. I'd ordered a cookbook from New York and she was slowly but surely working her way through the thick tome.
I had to help her translate some of the more arcane terms but that was no hardship at all. And it was improving our meals immensely. Mrs. Potter had ordered some of the spices needed and some of the good wives of Four Corners were also beginning to experiment a little. I liked to think that all the citizens of this small town were on their way to more discriminating tastes.
Heading for the jail, I found Buck behind the desk, looking over wanted posters. He looked up when I entered and the smile that blossomed could only be termed ... heated. "Ez', good to see you. Nothing much is going on." He stood and circled the desk, stalking me with that graceful gait of his. "I hope your morning went well."
He was right in front of me not six inches away so I could feel the heat radiating from him. It was all I could do not to lean forward. "Yes, indeed, the children are now arguing the merits of the Trojan War and preparing to pepper Josiah about the Greek gods tomorrow."
Buck put his arms on either side of me, against the wooded door. "I'm glad to hear it. Now, I think I'll check out what Inez is serving for lunch."
And he leaned in and kissed me. I sank back against the door thankful it was there to hold up my suddenly boneless body. He was heat and light exploding over my senses like dynamite. His tongue outlined my lips and entered when I parted them. Rich musk and perhaps just a hint of our morning tea still remained.
When he pulled away, we were both panting heavily. My hands had found their way to his leather vest and were holding on tightly. Our groins were still glued together and the matching bulges twitched beneath the fabric.
"Oh God, Ezra, you taste good." He shook his head and kissed my forehead. "Chicken and something I don't recognize."
"Spinach." I managed to say while I tried to get my breathing under control.
"Yuck, I hate spinach." He said plaintively and stepped away from me.
I let him go reluctantly. "It's good for you. Ask Inez for some lemon, that will help."
"Okay." He straightened up and eased his cock within those tight jeans of his. "I will see you later, Ezra. It's a warm day and the pond will be just as nice at dusk."
Swimming, I reminded myself, he's talking about swimming. "We shall see, Mr. Wilmington."
"Buck, I wish you'd call me Buck, just once." That big hand of his caressed my cheek.
"Buck." I had to whisper it because my voice had shrunk to nothing.
And he was kissing me again, sweetly. I could drown in one of his kisses and hoped that I'd have the chance later. Then he was gone and I found myself sitting at the desk with no idea of how I'd gotten there. Out of force of habit, I sorted through them, memorizing faces and descriptions until I knew that I had my body under control. Once that had been accomplished, I got up to make my rounds of the town.
This was the part of the job that I enjoyed the most. Most of the small shop owners and homeowners were no longer young and needed just a little help now and then. I held a shutter in place for Mr. Murphy so he could fix the bracket. I passed the time of day with Mrs. Harold, who at 87 was the oldest resident in Four Corners. She agreed to speak to the class when we began American history. Her stories would be eye-opening for the children.
The five hours passed slowly but quietly and I said my thank you's to the Lord while taking a final look at the bank. They were closing for the day and I chatted with the bank manager, Mr. White while Miss Murphy tidied up her workspace. When the door opened, I cast a glance at the late customer and froze. My photographic memory compared the hand drawn profile on the wanted poster with the man in front of me.
They matched all too well. I wrenched my gaze back to Mr. White and murmured a command for him to leave and find Buck. Now. Then I walked around the counter and up to Miss Murphy's side. "I'm sorry, Sir, but we're in the process of closing. Is there something which we could help you or can it wait for morning? Miss Murphy, would you go and get the ledgers from my office while I help this gentleman?"
She nodded and walked quickly to the back while I moved into position and covered her retreat. "Sir?"
"I need to make a withdrawal." The gravely voice sent shivers up my spine.
"Indeed, Sir, I'm afraid I don't recognize you as one of our depositors." I waited calmly for his response while my memory replayed every damning word on the poster. 'Wanted for bank robbing and murder.'
The gun was in his holster one moment and trained on me the next. "Don't like to deposit, just withdraw."
"I see, Mr. Story. It is Mr. Ed Story, isn't it?" I was determined that this miscreant would take nothing away from here.
That shook him a little. "Yeah, how'd you know that?"
"Your picture does you justice, Sir. And I'm afraid that I am not the bank manager but one of the men delegated to protect this town. It's small but we like it the way it is. So, you shall have to leave empty handed."
"Shit! You, girl, get back out here now or I'll shoot this fancy man." He raised his voice and I prayed that she'd already gone out the back window.
The front door crashed open and Buck appeared like an avenging angel with his gun already drawn. I threw myself aside and heard shots ring out. A burning pain seared my arm but I ignored it, rolling back onto my feet with my derringer drawn. But Mr. Story was lying on the floor in an ever-widening pool of blood while Buck stood over him.
"Ezra, you okay?" His eyes never left the bank robber but the note of uncertainty made me feel warm.
"Just a scratch, Buck. Thank you for coming so quickly." I holstered my gun and rounded the counter in time to meet Mr. White and Larabee.
Mass confusion reigned for a few moments but then Nathan appeared and pronounced the robber dead. My scratch was deemed serious enough for him to command me to his clinic for patching. Buck's heated blue gaze watched me all the way out the door and I knew that he wanted to join me but could not. That feeling of warmth endured all the way through the cleansing and bandaging of the wound.
"Mr. Jackson, thank you for your prompt attention." I wasn't sure how to put my next question. "I was wondering if you know of something that could be used on ... sore muscles."
"You pull something when you hit the floor?" He asked.
"I am a trifle sore, sir. Would there be something benign that you would recommend?"
"Sure thing, I've got some massage oil that you should be able to apply yourself. I make it up from lavender, rosemary and olive oil. Those olive trees that Mr. Stanislov planted are finally bearing olives and he presses them for their oil." Nathan turned away and went to his worktable.
"Really? I wonder if he'd come to our classes and talk about growing olives and what they are used for? It would fit our studies very well. And perhaps you could come and speak of the ancient Greeks healing cures?" I wondered if he'd be offended but the smile he cast over his shoulder was bright.
"Sure thing, Ezra, I've got a translation of Asclepius that I've been slowly reading over the last few years. Some of his theories are kind of puzzling but interesting all the same."
I swallowed hard and reminded myself to never, ever underestimate our healer. "That sounds wonderful, Mr. Jackson. The children and I will both learn something from your talk."
"You let me know when you want me. Here's the oil. Perhaps Buck could help you out for those spots that are hard to reach." His gaze was bland but with a twinkle that told me that my secret was one no longer.
"Indeed, I shall ask him for aid ... if I should need it." I slipped my shirt back on and he helped me button up. My arm was stiffening up nicely and I thought longingly of the swim that was not to be. He'd already warned me about keeping it dry and clean.
"Take it easy, Ezra. Probably be nice if you retired early tonight and didn't play cards until all hours." He helped me off the examining table and I'm afraid I needed his steadying hand when the room tilted on me.
"I think you must be right, Nathan. I feel a little dizzy."
He was grinning at me and I realized that I'd used his first name. "Then I'll just walk you back to the saloon so's I can be sure you reach it in one piece."
"Thank you, Nathan. I would appreciate the escort." I was losing all sense of formality with these men with whom I was associated.
We walked to the saloon slowly, stopped frequently along the way to answer questions from the questioning citizens. Mrs. Chang clucked over the state of my coat and peeled it off of me, telling me in her pigeon English that she would mend it. A more determined lady it has rarely been my fortune to meet. Nathan just helped her take it off of me, ignoring my protests. They decided the shirt could be sent over later and I thanked my lucky stars that they hadn't stripped me to the skin right then and there.
Buck and Chris were waiting for us in the saloon and my gaze went straight to the tall man whose eyes lit up when they saw me. That warm feeling was back and I tried not to show everything I was feeling in one look but it was growing more and more difficult not to just throw myself at him.
"Buck, here's some oil for Ezra's bruises." Nathan handed the bottle to him and Buck's gaze turned worried. "He's fine, Buck. Just some sore muscles and the bullet wound needs some tending tomorrow but it's nice and clean so no infection should set in. Why don't you take him upstairs right now and help him change out of that shirt so Mrs. Chang can mend it, too?"
By now, I was blushing to the tips of my ears but Buck was smiling so brightly, he rivaled the lanterns on the walls. "Why sure thing, Nathan. Poor Ez' might need some help with his buttons and I'm just the man to help."
Chris was looking back and forth between us and the slight smile on his face told me that he understood the subtle conversation going on beneath the banal words. "Take good care of him, Buck. Ezra is a valued member of our group and needs to be treated with all the care that you can muster."
I literally didn't know what to say to that declaration. He thought I was a valued member of the seven? When had that happened? But Buck was by my side and urging me gently up the stairs while I was still coming to grips with the kind words from a man whom I just assumed disliked me.
"Just saying the truth, Ezra, that's what he was doing." Buck's whisper in my ear made me shiver and the hand on my back radiated heat thorough out my whole body. "Now, all we need is Josiah and Vin's approval before we take this any further."
I fumbled with the key to my room and gazed wide-eyed at him. "Really?"
He took it from me and unlocked the door, pulling me inside and shutting it in one graceful motion. Then I was backed against it and kissed within an inch of my life. He was heat and spice to my tongue and we only broke apart when breathing became a necessity.
"Damn, Ezra, I thought he was going to kill you." He pulled me from the door and led me to my bed, seating me as if I was made of fine porcelain and kneeling between my legs. "I was so scared for you. Please don't ever do that again, I don't know if my heart can stand it."
"It's part of our job description, Buck." I cupped his cheek and caressed the smooth shaven skin.
"I know." He turned just enough to place a kiss in my palm, sending a tingle straight to my groin. "But I don't have to like it. You know that requirement you had this morning about someone who'd stay forever?" He waited for my nod and I felt my stomach flutter. "Well, I found someone who wants to be at your side for the rest of his life. Would that be okay?"
"Does he have blue eyes and a fun loving spirit?" I leaned close and kissed those beautiful lips.
He opened and sucked my tongue into his mouth. We feasted on each other for long moments before having to break apart. "Yep, he surely does and while he might not have been a faithful man before, he promises he will be from now on."
"And who might this paragon of virtue be? Buck?" I sighed his name and felt him push me back onto the bed.
"Vin." He said while straddling me and tickling me into laughter at his outrageous statement. "Of course, I think he may be taken already so I guess the second best choice would be ... me."
"Never second choice in my heart, Buck. I think I loved you the first time we met." I met those burning blue eyes and let all that I was feeling show on my face.
He leaned in and kissed me thoroughly while his hands unbuttoned my shirt slowly. Soft murmurs slid into my mind like honey flowing from the comb. Warm fingers stroked my skin everywhere and I began to burn inside and out from the passion he was unleashing in me. Maybe there was really something to that animal magnetism he talked about.
Buck chuckled and I realized that I must have spoken that last thought out loud. "Nope, Ezra, that's just my love overflowing into you and meeting yours. Now let's change you out of that shirt and into a nice clean one so we can go down and have dinner."
"Nathan suggested an early night." I used that flirty look again and realized how very potent it was when his eyes turned navy blue with passion.
"And a massage with that oil he gave me. I think he's absolutely right. So, let's hurry so's we can come back here and I'll take care of you."
"That sounds just right, Buck." I caressed his cheek and he kissed me again gently. "And then we'll have an early night?"
"Going to bed early and having an early night are two different things, Ezra. We'll see what works a little later." He rolled off of me and helped me sit up to remove my shirt. "Damn, I hate it when you get hurt. Now that it's okay to love you, I'm going to hate it even worse."
"It will always be 'okay' to love me, Buck. Just as much as I love you." I told him calmly and watched his eyes light up. It was definitely going to be an early night.
End Buck one