Disclaimer: The characters of The Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. They belong to MGM, and CBS, and much as I hate to admit it. I make no money from this venture.

Rating: NC17

Warnings: Sexual situations, some violence, and language.

Author's notes: This story came out of a challenge I made on the M7 fic list. The basic premise is this: After the last cancellation of their show, the 7 where put into suspended animation, and taken to a secret facility in Conneticut. Our, (the writers of the stories), job was to get the guys out, one at a time, and get them across the country to Las Vegas, where help and protection where waiting for them. Since I put out the challenge, I chose Ezra as my guy.

Through the story, several songs where used. These songs as follows:

Breathless: The Corrs
The Gambler: Kenny Rogers
Cain's Blood: 4 Runner
She's Every Woman: Garth Brooks

In the last part, I used a scene from Romeo and Juliet. I can claim no right to this wonderful piece of art. All credit goes to William Shakespeare.

Wild Cards
Michelle Naylor

She sat in her car staring at the large facility before her. It seemed so normal, as if it were an office building or a hospital. But this building was anything but normal. She knew that. This place was different. This place was special. Somewhere underneath that large, unimposing building, HE waited for her.

She got out of the car, took two steps forward, then turned around and got back in, same as she had done several times already.

Lord, what was she doing?

What in the world had possessed her to take on this assignment in the first place? She had never been one for all this James Bond/ cloak and dagger stuff.

The answer was clear to her.

It really hadn't taken much to get her to do it.

HE was all the reason she needed.

HE was what she was here for.

HE was in THERE.

All she had to do was enter the facility using the ID she had been given, go to the holding room, administer the whatevernametheycalledit drug, wake HIM up, and get HIM out of there before anyone saw them. Piece of cake, right?

Yeah, right. So why did she feel so nervous?

She needed reassurance. A voice to pickup her spirits, encourage her, and just get her ass in gear and do what she had to do.

She picked up her brand new GTE cell phone, and dialed the number that had been imprinted in her memory over the last few months of preparation and planning. The shrill ringing sounded in her ear several times before the other end was finally picked up.

"Hello?" She smiled at the sound of the voice. If anyone could help her get over this panic, it was the voice on the other end of her phone.

"Hi." She said, clearing her throat and trying her best to sound normal. "It's me."

"Where are you?" Concern filled the voice, bringing a feeling of warmth to her heart.

"Sitting in my car in front of the facility, trying to get up my nerve."

There was silence, and then, "This was your idea, you know."

She sighed. That point always had to be brought up. "Yeah, I know. But I didn't think it could really work. I mean, that we could really do this, get them out."

"Well, guess what? We can and we are. Kate's already gotten out Chris. The others are on their way for the rest of guys. You go in there, get Ezra, and take care of him."

"You make it sound do easy. You're not here. You aren't seeing what I'm seeing, or doing what I'm doing."

"Hey, Gyps, babe, calm down. I know you're scared. I would be too, but listen, I also know that you can do this. I have faith that you can do this."

She looked to the building again, feeling the sourness ease up a little from her stomach. "You should have been a psychologist."

"Just blame the modern economic system that I'm not. Now get in there and get that man out. I fully expect to see the both of you in Vegas by the end of the month."

"That brings up another question. Even by car, its not going to take a month to get to Vegas. Why such a big time span?" She had calculated it all in her head, and even with the occasional stops to eat, sleep, and what have you, it shouldn't take much more than a week to drive cross-country.

"We thought it was a good idea to have some extra time, just in case."

"In case of what? And who is this WE you keep talking about?"

"Do you really think we could have gotten all this information by ourselves. We did have help, but I can't tell you anymore than that right now. You'll find out when you get to Vegas."

She sighed. This was beginning to sound like an episode of 'Mission Impossible'. She actually looked around expecting to see Peter Graves.



"Ok, I'll do this. I will do this. I CAN do this."

"That's the spirit! Now, you take care of that man. I don't want to see any unnecessary blemishes on that beautiful face of his."

"And what about my beautiful face?" She heard deep, throaty laughter that she had come to know so well sound over the miles that separated them. This woman had become a good friend, even though the two had yet to meet in person.

"Can't wait to finally see it. You be careful, ok?"

"I will be. Don't worry."

"Oh honey, don't tell me not to worry. I'm a mother. It's my second nature to worry."

She laughed, feeling much better than a few minutes before. "Well then, Mom, I'll be seeing you soon."

There was silence, and then when the voice started speaking again she swore she could hear her friend crying. "I love you, Gypsy girl. I just wanted you to know that."

She heard the click on the other end, then the sound of the dial tone.

She stared at the phone for a minuet before slipping it into her coat pocket, then got out of the car.

All the weeks of waiting and planning had come down to this second, this moment in time. It was all or nothing. Time to put all her cards on the table, play her hand, and hope that she came out a winner.

She shook her head at all the gambling clichés that had just run through her mind. They were fitting though. After all, it was a gambler she was here for, and she was about to bet all she had on the biggest gamble of her life.

Michelle, or Gypsy as she was called on the BrigaDears list, checked over the uniform that she wore. In truth, she hated it. Security fashion just did not suit her. But, the uniform would at least get her inside the building, if not into the room where the 7 men were kept.

No. 6 men, she reminded herself. Chris was already out, gallivanting all over God knew where with Kate.

She hid a smile, lifting the strap of a small black bag over her shoulder and walking into the main entrance. Kate and Chris, now there was a match up. By now the two would either be a step away from killing each other, or they would be barely able to keep their hands off each other.

She sent up another silent prayer, not only for Kate and Chris, but for herself and Ezra, and for the other ladies who would follow and the men that they would free.

This was a good thing that they were doing, of that she had no doubt.

These 7 men, they deserved so much more than to be locked away where no one who really loved or cared about them could get to them.

So, one late night spent on the computer and she found this place. This ultra secret institution where networks put their TV show characters on hold till their fate was decided. Unfortunately, very few of those characters made it out, and most were made to forget who they were and given new identities on different shows. But then, many just went back to this place once again and the whole process started all over again.

She would be damned if she was going to let that happen to The Magnificent 7. The world needed them too much. God help her, SHE needed them too much.

Well, she needed one of them at lest.

Anyway, she had passed along the information that she found to some of the others, and before she knew it, the rescue was planned. Who was helping, and how? Was it someone with the Network? She didn't know, and wasn't told. The only thing she knew was that it was her job to do one of the rescues, the rest would be taken care of.

She quickly looked over the map that she had been keeping folded up and in her pocket. Not that she really needed to look at it, the map had become embedded in her memory. Every corridor and room was known by her. She could walk through this place with her eyes closed, and not get lost. She was not likely to try it though. She was not stupid.

Crazy maybe, but not stupid.

The guys had been moved to a different room after Kate had escaped with Chris, one with a security clearance only entrance and higher surveillance.

Thank God, or whoever it was helping them from the inside, for the electronic security pass that hung from a chain around her neck. It would allow her passage into the most private parts of this facility. It would get her past guards and other personnel without so much as a glance. The only thing she wondered about was how it could possibly get her out of this place with a fancily dressed old west gambler in tow.

Well, she would just have to worry about that when the time came.

The elevator that would take her down to the floor where her intended was being held was in front of her.

She punched the series of numbers that had been given to her along with the map, uniform, and other things, into the keypad set into the wall beside the large silver doors. There was a beep as the small red light on the pad switched over to green, and the door slid open silently.

The elevator was only halfway down to the floor, and Michelle was already feeling the sickly, nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She would never have called herself an especially brave person,.......hell, she made the Cowardly Lion look good. She had surprised herself on getting this far. To turn back now would only cause disappointment to those who were counting on her. Not mention to herself.

And to Ezra. Most of all to Ezra.

She couldn't help but think that he would feel that he wasn't thought enough of for someone to rescue him the way the others were. She couldn't do that to him.

'Oh, for God's sake. Stop it!' She mentally chastised herself. 'You're here already. Just do what you've got to do and get the friggin hell out of this place'.

She heard the binging sound that told her that she had arrived at her destination, and the large silver doors slid apart to reveal a long corridor, lit only by very bright florescent bulbs.

She stood in the hallway for a moment, letting her eyesight adjust to the new lighting, then began her walk. The silence for the hall made her footsteps seem all the more louder. The heels of her boots clicked against the tiled floor, and echoed off the walls on either side of her. For every inch she moved forward, the hall seemed to become longer and longer.

What was the name of that old movie she had seen not too long ago? The Longest Mile? Well, she now knew what that was like. This felt like more than just a single mile. More like 100.

A door waited for her at the end of the damned hall, guarded by the largest man she had ever seen. The man was pure muscle. So much so that it looked like he had no neck. It was just shoulders, then head. And an ugly one at that. She hoped the old saying about 'big muscles, little brain' was true in this case.

"Hello. Mike, right? I'm your 4:00 replacement." She smiled, doing her very best to look sweetly innocent; which for her was a hard thing to do. No matter how much she would try, the sparkle in her eyes would always give her away. But this was serious, and if she were to be caught, it would be disastrous for everyone. She had no intention of being the one to jeopardize the whole mission.

He looked at her warily, as if he wasn't completely sure of her right to be there. "Uh, wasn't Tommy supposed to take over?" He flipped through some papers on the desk. "Says right here he's supposed to be in."

"Tommy's sick. Didn't anyone call you?" She actually had no idea about whether Tommy was sick or not. It was another one of those 'don't tell, don't ask' moments. Christ, she was starting to feel like she was stuck smack dab in the middle of some sort of government conspiracy.

Next thing she would know, she would be a featured guest on the Art Bell show. Or maybe a daytime talk show. 'Defunct TV show characters, and the woman who love them'. Talk about your ratings boost. Not that any ratings boost would help the six remaining men within that room. That was why she was here. That was why she had to get in there.

"I didn't here anything about him calling in sick." The guard continued to stare at her with uncertainty. What was the matter with him anyway?

Didn't he ever see a female security officer before?

"All I know is that he got food poisoning. Something about bad meat on the sandwich's from a vending machine." She smiled inwardly at the sight of his paling face as he looked down at the half eaten turkey and cheese sandwich in front of him. "But, if you need to double check, I'll wait."

"Um, no. No, that shouldn't be necessary. I,...uh..., I have to go anyway." He stood up and handed her a walkie-talkie. "By the way, did you hear what kind of sandwich Tommy got sick on?" He held the plastic wrapped food lightly by the corner, as if he was afraid even touching it would infect him.

"No, I didn't." She just couldn't help herself, and added, "But I've heard he likes turkey." It was all she could do not to burst out laughing as the guard took off down the hall, throwing the offending sandwich into the nearest trashcan. He would probably be forcing himself to throw up all night. She knew what she just did was mean, and that she ought to be ashamed of herself, and feel sorry for the man. But she didn't. On either account.

She knew it wasn't his fault that The Magnificent Seven were kidnapped, drugged, and locked up in this godforsaken place; but he was guilty by association, and therefore deserved whatever punishment he received.

She turned in the chair in which she now sat and looked at the television monitor in front of her. It showed a black and white scene of a big, empty room. Empty except for six large containers that somehow made her think of coffins. She shuddered at the thought. If she did not succeed, that's exactly what they would be.

Time to get to work! Opening up the bag, she retrieved a videocassette marked 'Confidential: Security use only'. The cassette was part of the package that had been delivered to her only a few days before, along with the two syringes she would need to revive Ezra.

She already knew what was on it. The same scene that now played out in front of her was recorded onto the tape for a length of 3 hours. It should be enough time, she hoped, to do what she had to do and then get the hell out of there.

She slid the tape into the VCR below the monitor and hit 'play'. The screen blinked for only a second, and the same picture again came into focus. That should keep anyone else watching from becoming suspicious of anything. Provided of course that Mister big, dumb, and ugly didn't try to find out the truth about her story of Tommy and the toxic turkey sandwich.

The door waited behind her, and beyond it was someone she wouldn't have dared hope she would ever see. Not in the flesh, real and breathing, human. She could hear her heart beating erratically in her ears.

Soon..., soon she would leave here..., with him...., and then.....

Then what? Good Lord, girl, what do you think? Then you take him to Vegas, deposit him to the people who more or less funded this little project and hope for the best. Under no circumstances could she think of him as anything more than an objective of her job. No matter what her fantasies had created around him.

Right! She slid her pass through the reader and smiled when a buzzer sounded, allowing her entrance inside.

She decided not to waste any time, the less she spent here the better.

Ezra's container was labeled number 0076. She quickly looked inside the windows of the others, gasping in each turn as she gazed upon the still, frozen faces of Vin, Buck, JD, Josiah, and Nathan.

She wanted to cry. This wasn't right. They should not be here. They should be awake, living out their lives on her TV screen every week. Damn the heartless bastards who called themselves network executives. Who were they to say what the public wanted to watch anyway? What did they know? They thought something like 'Worlds Funniest Police Chases 2' was quality programming! Well, she would have none of that. If they didn't want these men, she knew plenty of people who did.

"Don't worry guys." She whispered. "I'll take good care of him for you. I'll reunite him with you without any undue injury. I promise."

With a deep breath meant to calm her nerves and gather her courage, she stepped next to Ezra.

His eyes were closed, hiding from her what she knew were startlingly green eyes. Eyes that had drawn her to him from the first time she had ever seen him. His face was slack, and his lips slightly parted. Lips that she longed to see turning up into the beautiful, enigmatic smile of his. She wanted to see him laughing, to hear that southern twang when he spoke. She wanted............

She wanted him to get him out of there.

Mentally slapping herself for her temporary fantasizing, she turned her attention back to the job at hand. This was business after all. That was all it was. She entered the combination of numbers that would unlock the container into the keypad. There was a 'whoosing' sound, and she felt a cool blast of air across her face as the lid opened.

Her eyes took in the full figure of Ezra P. Standish, Gambler extraordinaire, and all around gorgeous male specimen. He was still dressed in the outfit he had on when he was frozen in time. A gold brocade vest covered a crisp white shirt, and the string tie still held its perfect knot. She reached out to touch the bright red coat, amazed at its softness. He looked as if he could have stepped right out of her dreams. Lord knew she had had plenty of those.

The ticking of a clock that hung on the wall reminded her that time was of the essence. She opened the bag again and took out the two syringes. One red, one blue. The substance contained within the red one would raise his body temperature, enabling her to administer the reversal agent in the blue one, which would bring him out of the suspended animation state. At lest that was what she had been told. She hoped they were right, cause it was all she had to go on.

"I'm sorry about this." She said, pulling the collar of his shirt down to expose his neck. "But I don't think you're really going to feel anything, are you?" She pushed the syringe into this skin, injecting the liquid into him, and snapping her eyes shut as she did so. She hated needles.

When it was done, she removed the needle from his neck and stood back. It would take about 20 minuets to take effect. 20 minutes that would seem like 20 hours.

She pulled a wheeled leg chair over and placed it in front of Ezra, and sat down to wait. Hey, if nothing else, she had quite an interesting view to keep her occupied.

Time passes quickly when your mind is off somewhere in dream land, as Michelle realized when hers snapped back into reality.

She had spent the last 20 minutes staring at the inert form of Ezra, and her fantasy life took over. She imagined herself leaning in and capturing his mouth with her own, waking him with that magic kiss usually reserved for fairy tales. Only this time it was the Prince who was under a spell from a wicked network exec. The fair damsel was the hero in this version. In her daydream she saw him awaken and smile at her. He took her into his arms and drew her to him for another kiss. She heard trumpets play, crowds cheer, horns....beeping?

What the hell was that?

She jumped up and searched over Ezra's container, for the noise seemed to be coming from there. A red light blinked on one of the monitors that were hooked up to him. The screen held an electric reading of his body temperature. When she had given him the first injection it had registered at 30 degrees, now it read 90. Almost normal. She was surprised the injection had really worked that quickly. And here she thought the only thing that could make such a drastic change in temperature in so short a time was the weather in Ohio.

She yanked the wire that connected Ezra to the monitor off of him, careful not to harm him, and the loud beeping stopped. The room was send once more into silence.

"Please God, do not let anyone have noticed that." She muttered herself. She hoped that no other alarms would sound as she worked on bringing Ezra back to the land of the living. It was hard enough of a job as it was.

With shaking hands, she grasped the blue syringe. It was now or never time. Again she pulled his collar back and plunged the needle into him.

She felt completely sick doing so. If she never saw another needle again in her life, it would be way too soon.

How long would it take for the reversal agent to work again? She had forgotten, but sincerely hoped that it would not be too much longer.

She paced the room, mentally willing time to move faster. Apparently, when your mind is not occupied with flights of fancy, the clock refuses to even budge.

"Come on Ezra." She said, allowing her hand to reach up and touch his cheek. "Wake up. Please, please wake up."

His fist thought was that he was cold. So very, very cold. Was it wintertime already? He despised the season. Not even the thickest, most expensive blankets he could find would block out the bone chilling winds of winter in Four Corners.

He shivered, and tried to move his hand in search of his bed covers, but found that his muscles refused to respond to the commands of his brain. He felt weak and sluggish. Funny, he couldn't recall having been ill recently. Nathan surly would have driven him crazy with his mother hen act if he had even suspected that Ezra had not felt well.

Drawing a deep breath, he forced his eyelids to open; using up what felt like a huge amount of strength to do so. What he really wanted was to just let his eyes slide shut again, to drift back into the comfort of sleep, but he heard something, someone, asking him, begging him to wake up.

He felt a feather light touch against his cheek. A scent, like a field of flowers after a fresh spring rain, drifted into his senses.

The voice, the touch, the scent,.....all were most definitely female.

What a truly wondrous way to awaken.

His vision was blurry, and he blinked several times in attempt to clear the swimming images in front of him.

"Ezra?" The woman spoke to him again, and he turned his head toward the direction of the voice. He could not see her, only the hint of her face. He closed his eyes again, and opened them. The scene became clearer. "That's it. Come on."

She came into focus then. An oval shaped face surrounded a pair of blue eyes. Gray-blue. He watched those eyes grow larger as they met with his own, and a smile came over her face.

"Hello." A simple word, inconsequential most of the time. A word used for a friendly greeting. Yet she made it sound as if it were the single most important word that could be uttered.

With much effort, he raised his hand; wanting to reach out and touch this girl.....no, this woman. He was not yet entirely sure that she was not a figment of his imagination. Some remnant of a waking dream.

His fingers had barely brushed her soft cheek, when he felt himself begin to sag.

"Aw, hell." He muttered, as he fell forward into her arms.

Michelle couldn't believe it. His eyes were even more amazing in person than they had ever appeared on her TV screen.

They were like two bright, shinning emeralds. Precious jewels held in a setting of long, dark lashes. She wanted nothing more than to loose herself in them; lock herself inside his gaze and forget the rest of the world.

"Hello." She had said, at a loss for any other word that might fit the current moment. He blinked at her again, and let out a whisper soft sigh.

The feel of his breath caressed her skin. He breathed. He lived. It was all just too much to take in, and she found herself forcing back tears as they threatened to fall from her eyes. His hand moved, and her breath caught in her throat at the realization that he meant to touch her.

Dear Lord. Her heart beat so fast that she swore she could feel it jumping out of her chest.

His fingers lightly brushed her skin, and tingles of sensation spread their way through her. Her eyes drifted shut as she waited for the warmth of his palm to cup her cheek.

"Aw, hell." At the sound of his southern-laced voice, her eyes opened wide. He wavered, and fell forward.

She grabbed him before he could hit the ground. Her arms could not hold the addition of his weight, and she toppled over, landing hard on her back with Ezra laying still on top of her.

There where times when one could forget about the turning of the clock and just let dreams and fantasies take over; when one can just let the fates do what they may and damn all the consequences that might befall.

But despite the fact that she had Ezra on top of her,....a position she had imagined more than she liked to admit.......,this was not one of those times.

"Ezra." she said, pushing at his shoulders and willing him to get up.

"Ezra! Come on, getup." A grunting sound emitted from the mouth that was only inches away from hers. "We don't have much time. Ezra, please. We have to go."

"What?" The groggy green eyes opened once more to focus on her. A lazy smile came over his mouth, bringing out the dimples on each side of his face. She felt her stomach drop. This man was so devastatingly handsome. She could not for the world tear her eyes away from the sight of his wide smile.

"Ezra?" It was not more than a whisper, drowned out from her lips as the pressure of his touched them. The kiss was lighter than air, yet it was enough to evoke a startled gasp from her. She had not been expecting it, although she knew that she had secretly yearned for the touch.

His eyes continued to stare into hers, holding her captive in their depths. She swallowed hard, forcing her attention away from the emerald jewels and back to the matter at hand. Namely, removing both herself and this very virile man from this facility.

"Get up." she said again, using all her strength to roll his weight off of her. Her body immediately chilled now that the warmth his created was missing. "We have to go."

"And where are we to go to, may I ask?" His weakened state made it difficult for him to raise himself to his feet, and Michelle helped him by putting a steadying arm about his waist.

"As far away from here as possible." She held onto him until he stopped swaying, then let go and ran over to the door. She opened it to check that the hallway was still empty. It was, and she looked back over at Ezra, who was looking about the room with a very confused expression.

"What is this place?" He asked, turning his attention once again to her. "And who are you, madam?"

Oh dear. She knew that it would not be so easy as to get him to leave with her with no questions asked. But what to tell him? The truth would, of course, be the best way. To be honest, she didn't think she could come up with any story that would be half as fantastic sounding. Time, though, was of the essence, and she didn't want to get into all of that now.

"I'm a friend. Please, Ezra, I don't have time for much of an explanation. Just believe me. We have to leave." He looked at her with a blank expression, but she could practically see the distress flashing in his eyes.

"You know my name, but I am not aware of yours."

"You can call me Michelle." She said, reaching for his hand and pulling him toward the door. If they hurried they would be able to get over the state line before nightfall.

Ezra held back, refusing to move. He kept her at arms length and looked her over head to toe. "Well then, Miss Michelle, perhaps you can tell me what this place is, and why I'm here."

She sighed. "Ok, short version. You and the other guys; Chris, Vin,....all of them, where taken from the town you called home, drugged, and put into a sleep like state. Me and my friends decided to rescue you." She smiled at him and pulled on his hand. "Let's go."

He pulled his hand from her grasp and stood back, his arms crossed over his chest. "I don't think so."

"Look, I know you don't know me, and as such you have no reason to trust me, but I am telling you the truth when I say that we are in danger here." His eyes narrowed at her, and his mouth formed a stubborn line. "Don't look at me like that. I could out stubborn you anytime."

Two perfectly formed eyebrows raised, and a amused grin appeared on his face at the tone in her voice. "Indeed? Would you be willing to make a wager on that?"

Her hand shot toward him with lightning speed. He was too stunned to stop her when she grabbed a fistful of gold brocade and yanked him forward. The woman was surprisingly strong.

"Listen up Mister. I am not some mark for you to practice your gambling skills on. I am here to help you. But, without your cooperation it just might get a little difficult. The building in which we are currently in is crawling with people who would do just about anything to make sure you don't leave here alive. I do not intent on that happening. So, if you want to live, I suggest you keep your condescending attitude to yourself, and trust me." With that she let go of him and went back over to the door; pulling it open with a jerk. She stood next to the open door, one hand on the handle, the other balled into a fist on her hip. Her eyes glared at Ezra.

He pulled down on his vest, straightening out the wrinkles she had caused with her grip. Just what in heavens name was going on here? The last thing he remembered was sitting in the saloon, indulging himself in a hand of poker with his friends. Naturally there were several bottles of rather dry whiskey around, but he was certain he didn't have so much to drink that he would forget coming to this......this......whatever this place was. She had said something about him being drugged, and made to fall into a deep sleep. Well, that could account for his confusion, although he could not for the life of him think of anyone who would go to such lengths. If someone had wanted to get rid of him, then why had they not just killed him? Not that he was disappointed, but the whole thing did not make very much sense to him.

Nothing did at the moment.

Where was he? And where were the others? The woman, Michelle, said that they had also been captured. Where they alive? Ezra felt a growing ache in his heart at the thought of this six men he called friends, the only ones he ever had, being dead.

"Are the others alright?" he asked, needing to know for his own peace of mind.

Her face softened, the hardness disappearing to be replaced by a look of understanding. "As of right now, I know that Chris is free. He's on his way to the meeting point. The others,.....well,...." She didn't want to tell him, didn't want him to turn around and see the frozen faces of the men still deep within the suspended animation. If he did, she would have a hard time getting him to come with her. "There are others who are coming for them. They will all be set free." She looked at his face, his features betraying none of his emotions, but his eyes told her all that she needed to know. Ezra's eyes where the window into which his soul could be seen. Right now she could see that he was confused, worried about his friends, and even a little frightened. She couldn't blame him. There was a lot to be frightened of.

"Ezra, please, I will explain everything to you, but not here. If you leave with me, I promise you will be reunited with your friends." She hoped and prayed that her sincerity would convince him. They had to leave now, before anyone became suspicious. She held out her hand to him, pleading to him with her eyes to take it within his.

Ezra was not one to give his trust lightly, especially to a woman who he had just met. Yet something inside him urged him to do so. He saw nothing but honesty reflected in her big blue eyes. He had once placed his faith and trust in six men who had come to be the most important people in his life. What then would come of him doing the same with her?

He stepped forward; wrapping his long, slender fingers around hers, he brought her hand up to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles.

"I do hope that you will not betray your word to me."

"I won't." she said, shaking her head. "I could never betray you. Not for anything."

He smiled at her words. Despite his reservations about the whole situation, he liked her. She obviously had more than her fare share of courage. "Well then. Shall we depart?"

She sighed in relief. He was going with her. Thank God. "Yes, we shall."

She led him through the door, stopping only a second to grab her bag.

She saw his look at the sight of the television monitor and VCR, but did not take the time to explain. There would be plenty of time later to catch him up on the passage of the last 100 years. They quickly walked down the hall to the tall elevator doors. She reached to push the 'up' button when she heard the 'ding' that signaled the doors would open soon.

Oh God. Oh no.

"Come on." she yelled, pulling him with her into a run back down the hallway.

"Where are we going?" he yelled back.

"Anywhere but to the elevator." She yanked open a door, not knowing what it led to. She almost cried for joy at the sight of the empty stairwell. She pulled Ezra inside and shut the door behind them just as she heard the elevator doors slide open.

Michelle leaned against the door, trying to calm her rapid breathing.

"Dear God. Dear God."

"Somehow, I truly don't think this is the time for praying." Ezra said.

She once again shocked him when she began to laugh. He wondered briefly if the woman was out of her mind.

"I bet Josiah would say differently. Besides, a little help from the Supreme Being never hurt anyone I ever knew."

Ezra had to admit the truth of that statement. And she was right, Josiah would say it was time to pray. He looked around the dark and empty stairwell. "So, what do we do now?"

"We go up." She said, pointing her finger in that general direction. "And we better hurry. Once they see that you're gone, they're gonna be after us."

"May I ask who 'they' are?" He wasn't sure if he should really ask. There was every chance that knowing was worse than not.

"'They' are the ones who are trying to stop you and your friends from ever seeing the light of day again. Come on." She grabbed his hand again and dragged him after her up the stairs. They would have to climb up 6 stories, but as long as they kept going and didn't stop they might be able to keep ahead of whomever might follow.

"I don't like the thought of running out on the others." Ever since the incident at the Indian village, Ezra had made it a point to never leave the side of those men again. He had strived to prove to them, and to himself, that he was worthy of their trust and respect. Now, just when he had begun to think he had achieved that goal, here he was being drug along by some strange woman up a flight of stairs. To him, if felt as if he were leaving the others behind to face whatever foe was after them. Would they think he had left to save his own self?

"I already told you, they're being taken care of. Ezra, you are not running out, you're just escaping."

"There's a difference?"

"Yes. Now shut up and keep climbing."

"Well, please excuse me, madam!" He had never in his life been spoken to like that by a woman before. Of course, he had also never seen a woman who dressed like she did either. The dark blue trousers she wore hugged her hips, showing off her womanly curves to great advantage.

It was an enticing sight, watching her backside sway left to right as she hurried up the stairs, and he had to force himself from thinking un-gentlemanly like thoughts. No matter her manner of dress and her short temper, he had no doubt in his mind that she was a lady, and he intended to treat her as such.

They must have climbed up about 4 flights already, and Ezra wondered how much further they would have to go. He had never seen a building any taller than 5 floors before. Besides, he was feeling slightly weak. Not that he would admit to that. Now did not seem like the time to let his physical limitations get in the way, and Michelle took to the stairs as if she climbed that far every day.

He was a man after all, he couldn't let himself be shown up by a woman.

"Is our destination much farther?" he asked with as much nonchalance as he could muster.

They had just rounded the 5th floor corner, and Michelle stopped to look back at the man coming up behind her. " It's just one more flight. Ezra, are you alright?" She had detected how tired his voice sounded. Damnit, she shouldn't have made him do anything so strenuous so soon after coming out of the stasis. He was bound to be weak. But what could she do?

"Here, you can lean on me." She put one arm around his waist, intending on helping him climb the last few remaining stairs, but he stepped away from her as if her touch burned him.

"No, I can make it." The tone of his voice was tense.

"I'm sorry." She said, "I was only trying to help."

Ezra considered the woman before him. She couldn't have been any older than Vin, yet like the tracker, her eyes appeared older and wiser than her physical age would suggest. A coil of dark hair had escaped the thick braid at the back of her head to brush against her cheek.

Ezra fought back the urge to reach out and tuck the soft curl behind her ear. He had always loved curly hair on a woman. His mind tried to picture what her hair would look like loosened from its braid. Would it tumble over her shoulders with wild abandon? Or would it fall like silk across her face?

He shook his head in effort to clear those visions from his mind. What was he doing? She had told him in very clear terms that his life was in danger, and he was fantasizing about her hair? Whatever drugs had been given to him must still be affecting him.

"No. I apologize. I should not have been so curt with a lady. Shall we?" He held his hand out to her, drawing in a soft breath when her fingers slipped between his. They fit nicely, his hand and hers. He felt a tug on his arm, and brought his thoughts back to the situation at hand.

They climbed side by side up the remaining stairs, meeting a large metal door at the top. Michelle swiped what looked to be some kind of card through a thin hole at the side of the door, and then opened it, pulling him with her as she exited to bright sunlight.

"What did you just do?" He asked, picking up the card attached to a chain around her neck and examining it closely.

"I unlocked the door, what did it look like?" She said with a laugh.

"Without a key?" He raised his eyebrow in question. "Or are you saying that this......, this thing.....?"

"It's an electronic security pass, and yes, it unlocked the door."


"I'll explain later, Ezra, right now I think we should get the hell out of here."

She pulled him forward again before he could respond to hearing her use of profanity. Not that he'd never heard a woman swear before, but they had been 'working girls', and Michelle did not seem to be that kind of woman. She seemed, despite her nerve and temperament, to be almost....innocent. It was a shock to hear such language coming from the face of an angel.

A noise, louder than a hundred trumpets, suddenly filled the air, and Ezra dropped Michelle's hand to cover his ears.

What the hell?! He looked at Michelle with wide eyes. He could not hear her speak, but recognized the way her mouth formed the word she uttered.


Now that word he knew he had never heard a woman say, whore or not. But he had to admit the word was fitting.

What the fuck was that sound, what the fuck was going on, and how the fuck were they getting out of this?

He could see no wagon or horses, only very odd looking, variously colored boxes on wheels. To his horror, it was to one of those things that she was now running toward.

"Ezra! Ezra, lets go. They know."

Well, at lest 'they' know something! He stood where he was, trying to drown out the ear shattering sound, watching with awe as Michelle climbed into one of the weird little box things and actually moved it over to him.

The side of the box opened, bumping him on his leg. He saw Michelle inside, motioning for him to get in. Oh no. Not on her life, his life, or anyone else's.

"Get in, Ezra!"

He could see the anger in her eyes, mixed with the sheer terror that he felt pouring through his own veins. He knew that terror must be showing on his face, but at the moment he could not control that. All control had been taken from him, and he did not like it at all.

"Either get in the car, or we're both dead. I don't want to die yet, Ezra. Do you?"

No! He didn't want to die, not until he knew what was happening. And she was his only hope of finding out.

"Aw, hell." He muttered, diving into the box and pulling the side back in place. He let out a yelp of shock when the contraption shot forward and took off at high speed.

"Put on your seat belt." She yelled at him.

"My what?" He had a hard enough time catching his breath, let alone trying to understand what she was saying. With one hand on the wheel, she reached over him with the other and grabbed a black strap, pulling it over him.

"You see that buckle at the side of your seat?"

Ezra looked down, his eyes searching for what she could mean. A buckle? Like a belt buckle?

Oh, that's what it was! The metal thing at the end of the strap must go into the buckle. How clever. Ezra snapped the belt into place, lifting his head in time to see what looked to be a large gate start to close in front of them.

"Oh, no they don't". Michelle mumbled. The car, as she called it, look on extra speed, if such a thing were possible. Ezra snapped his eyes shut as the car went through the gate, closing together just inches behind the cars bumper.

It was a while until Ezra would dare open his eyes again. He could feel the speed with which the car thing went. He had trained and ridden some of the fastest horses on Earth, but they had never made him so nervous.

This thing....well, it was astounding. He finally felt the car come to a stop, and lifted his eyelids. A paved road stretched out in front of them, a strange yellow line drawn down the middle of it. They were surrounded by trees. Michelle sat slumped forward in her seat, her forehead resting on top of the wheel. He could hear her whispering, "shit, shit, shit", over and over again. Heavens, even his mother would blush at the language this girl used.

"Could you refrain from using such expletives?" Once again, she started laughing. The girl could find humor in the strangest situations.

"Oh God. I'm sorry Ezra. Really I am. Sometimes I just don't realize." She took a few breaths to bring the laughter under control. "I really don't talk like that normally."

"I should hope not. A lady should be accustomed to using more genteel language."

"Genteel?" She threw him a disbelieving gaze. "Oh, Ezra, I never thought I'd actually hear you say a word like that to me." She shook her head in amusement, and started the car again, this time going at a more respectable pace.

Ezra looked at the collection of buttons and knobs that seemed to be set into the fabric of the car. A set of green numbers read 5:00pm. A clock. It was a clock. Albeit, the strangest one he's ever seen. But then, this seemed to be the day for new and strange things.

"They're not following us. I can't believe it." Michelle said, her eyes starring into a mirror that reflected the scene behind them. "I don't like it. That was too easy."

"My mother always taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth." Ezra said, looking behind them at the empty road.

"Maude also taught you to lie, cheat, and steal your way through life. Please pardon me for not wanting to listen to her advice."

Ezra turned back to look at her. "Are you acquainted with my mother?" Was that it? Was this some scheme of Maude's? No, not possible. Not even Maude Standish could pull something like this off.

"No, not personally anyway." She said. "I know of her though, and I know the kind of 'mother' she's been to you."

He detected a note of bitterness in her voice. She obviously did not approve of the way his mother chose to raise him. Not big surprise there, he himself at times felt resentful toward her, but she was still his mother, and he felt it his duty to come to her defense.

"I admit, she's not the doting parent that I could have hoped for, but she did the best that she could by me."

"I'm sorry. I've got no right to badmouth her. Let's forget about Maude and concentrate on the matter at hand."

Ok, here they went. A little explanation for what was going on. "Fine. May I ask you a question?"


"What is this contraption?" He spread his arm out to indicate the car.

"It's a car. An automobile. You know how a train runs, by steam?" At his nod, she continued. "Well, it's sort of the same concept, except smaller, and cars run on gas. We put the gas in the tank, and it makes the engine go. With out it, the car will just stop."

Ezra remembered something from some time ago, about someone entertaining such an idea for what they called a 'horseless carriage', but it had seemed ridicules to him at the time. Had something so miraculous really been invented? He was riding in the proof. Not being able to question what was so clear before his eyes, so he gave a nod and moved on.

"Alright. May I ask you another question?" She nodded. "What is this about, and where are we going?"

"That's two questions." At his stern look, she sighed. "Look, I know you're confused, and very curious about everything that's happened so far, and believe me I will explain, but it will have to wait til a little later. I want to cover some miles before the day is over, and hopefully cross a few state lines."

"State lines? Just where exactly are we?"

"Connecticut." The word was uttered under her breath, but in the silence of the car, it was perfectly audible to him.


Impossible! Just yesterday he had been all the way across the country in a place that was not even a state yet, and now he was riding in a horse-less carriage in Connecticut? Good Lord, what could possibly happen next?

Michelle went through several different ways to explain things to Ezra without really telling him the whole story, but found it to be impossible.

Damn it all, every time he trained those bright green eyes on her she wanted to get down on her knees and confess all.

So, she decided to tell him all.

Just as soon as they got the hell out of Dodge. Or Greenwich as the case may be.

They would be crossing over into New York soon, that was good. The more distance they put between themselves and the bad guys the better.

She stole a glance at the now peaceful features of Ezra's face. He had finally given into his weakness and exhaustion and fallen asleep. Hopefully he would remain that way until they reached Pennsylvania. She didn't want Ezra's first full view of the 20th century to be of New York City. Talk about your culture shock. The countryside would be much easier on him.

The late evening traffic was light, so she was able to easily get off at the New York exit. Her eyes kept glancing into the rearview mirror, afraid that at any moment she would see the execs coming after her. Not that she would really be able to tell if it were them.

She imagined black sedans or Cadillacs would be the vehicle of choice, but for all she knew they could be in the red corvette that was coming up beside her. She sucked in her breath until the corvette passed her by. God, Michelle. You're just being paranoid. Calm down.

Yeah, sure. Really, what was there to be nervous about? So she was on the run with a man who shouldn't even exist in the world as she knew it. Big deal! Oh man, what was she getting herself into?

A soft moan came from Ezra, but he remained asleep. Perhaps he was dreaming. She wondered what he dreamt about. Probably about his friends and his life back in Four Corners. She wished she could give that life back to him, but it wasn't her decision to make.

Again she thought about the secret group behind the whole operation. Who were they, and what did they want with these 7 men? She trusted,....at least she hoped,.....that they had only the best intentions toward them. She had to believe that, otherwise she wouldn't be able to stand turning him over to them. It wouldn't be easy to do that anyway.

"Ezra." He felt a hand shake his shoulder. With a moan, he pushed the offending hand away and tried to let himself go back to the lovely dream he was having.

He was out riding his horse on a bright, sunny day. The horse's main whipped around wildly in the wind.

A female rider was ahead of him, and he was trying to catch up to her as they raced toward the lake. He could see her hair as it bounced along with the motion of her horse.

Her hair was long and dark, falling in luscious curls down her back. He couldn't wait to get his hands on that hair.

She had reached the lake before him, dismounting and running for the water while shedding her clothing before he could even bring his horse to a stop. He watched with a smile as she dove in, her body concealed from his eyes by the cool waters.

Her laughing voice reached his ears, inviting him to join her. Ezra did not need to be asked twice.

He removed his jacket, laying it carefully across a large rock near where he tethered his horse. The rest of his clothes were dropped in a trail leading to the edge of the water, where he slipped his now naked body beneath the smooth water.

He swam to her, and drew her near to him. Her clear blue eyes held a sparkle of mischief, and she tossed her now wet hair back, leaving her neck exposed for Ezra to cover with his lips. Her arms were around him, running up and down his back, coming dangerously close to caressing his buttocks.

Even in his sleep he felt his body react to this woman's touch. He could feel her lips capture his, drawing them into her mouth; her teeth nipping at his bottom lip..............

"Ezra, get up!"

Damn it! Why now?! Whoever was trying to draw him out of this very erotic dream was asking for trouble.

He opened his still groggy green eyes to look into a pair of blue ones. The same eyes from his dream.

For a moment reality faded, to be replaced by his fantasy. Raising a hand, he cupped her cheek, his thumb traced the outline of her lips. Full lips. Soft. Yes, soft. He remembered the feel of them beneath his own. He leaned forward, his hand moving to the back of her head as he caught her lovely lips once more in a kiss. He felt her shudder slightly, then she melted against him, her mouth yielding to the way his moved against it.

With his tongue he urged her lips apart, gaining entrance into the moisture of her mouth.

Oh yes. This was more like it.

There was a battle going on inside her mind. One voice kept screaming out at her, saying that she must stop this at once; the other telling that voice to shut up. Her body was simply enjoying the sensations that Ezra's lips were causing.

Dear Lord, he was kissing her. Big time.

She had dreamed of this, and more, countless times, but her dreams could not even begin to compare to this. This was happening, this was real, this.......... This was crazy!

Michelle tore her lips away from Ezra's, stumbling backwards out of the open car door she had been leaning into to wake Ezra up.

She managed to gain her footing before toppling over and landing on her behind.

"Ezra." She said, amazed that she cold find her voice so quickly after having her breath taken from her. "I...., we....., we've stopped." No shit they stopped. Her lips were still tingling from the way Ezra had expertly kissed them. They felt so empty now, and they yearned to have his lips dancing over them again.

He sat there looking up at her in fascination, as if it were not really her he saw, but a specter that remained from whatever dream he had been having when she had woken him.

His tongue darted out to quickly run over his lips, nearly undoing her resolve to keep her distance from him. That tongue had touched her lips, hand joined with her own.

Michelle couldn't stand it. She burst into tears.

If there was one thing that Ezra couldn't stand, it was the sight of a woman crying. The gentleman in him couldn't bear the thought of her being upset, and he knew what she must be upset about.

He had no right to take such horrendous advantage of her. He was a scoundrel in the truest sense of the word. Scrambling to his feet, he got out of the car and approached her with apprehension.

"My apologies, dear lady. I was not in my right mind." He watched as a hesitant smile appeared on her trembling lips. Lips that only moments ago had yielded to him so willingly. Really Ezra, the woman is obviously distraught and all you can think about is kissing her like there's no tomorrow.

What in God's name had come over him?

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the fine linen handkerchief he kept there. With a gentle hand, he wiped the tears from her cheeks, then pressed the cloth into her hand.

Michelle grasped his fingers, holding on while her eyes stared into his.

"I.....," she began, but her voice cracked. She took a breath, and swallowed hard against the lump inside of her throat. "I thought we should stop for the night. I know how tired you must be."

Ezra looked around at the new surroundings. They stood in front of a long structure lined with doors. The door before them stood open.

"This is a hotel?" He asked. It was like no other hotel he had ever seen, but he was slowly getting used to the unusual sights she presented him with.

"Yeah. Well, more of a 'motel' actually. But it's good enough for one night. It's clean anyway."

Ezra looked from the open door, to Michelle. There was one room, and two of them. Surly she didn't mean..... "We're staying together in one room?" Not that he minded the prospect, but after her reaction to his kiss, he knew that she might be uncomfortable with it.

"It's not that unusual." She smiled, the memory of his kiss still fresh in her mind, but now subdued by more important matters. "We have a lot to talk about, Ezra, and that would be easier if we stay together. Besides, I don't think I trust you on your own. How do I know you wouldn't run off?"

Ezra had no intension of doing anything of the sort. For one thing, she was his only guide in this strange and crazy place, and for another, he simply found her fascinating. And Ezra was smart enough to realize that she was his best chance of surviving whatever danger faced them in the journey ahead.

But she was right. In any other circumstance, Ezra would look for the quickest escape route, and she had no reason to believe he wouldn't do so now.

"You don't." He said, watching her face for any reaction. There was none.

"Neither do you." She said. Oh, she was good. Ezra had the feeling this was going to be one hell of a ride.

A car sat across the street from the Sundown Motel, in the parking lot of an all night mini-mart.

The lone occupant of the car struck a match and lit the cigarette that dangled from his lips. With one hand, he picked up the cell phone plugged into the lighter jack and dialed in a number. After 3 rings, the line was picked up.

"It's me." He said before any 'hellos' could be exchanged.

"What do you have?" The voice on the other end asked.

"They've made in to Pennsylvania. Stopped for the night at some roadside dump." He took a drag from the cigarette, the smoke quickly filling the air inside the car. "I could just finish them both off right now and save you the trouble."

"No! Go near them until I say so, and your main duty will be cleaning my cat's litter box. That girl is going to lead me to all her cohorts, and Standish is her weakness. Just follow them, and keep me posted. I'll tell you when to act."

"Yes sir." He ended the call and sat back in the leather seat. Follow them. Huh! Some job. Sure it was easy, and the money couldn't be beat, but it was boring. Well, for the most part anyway.

That little display those two had put on before was entertaining enough. He had been disappointed when they stopped. Not that he thought it would take them long to start up again.

He thought about the girl. No, not long at all. Maybe he better buy more cigarettes.

"Where would you like me to start?" Michelle asked, sitting down on one of the two beds in the small room.

She had changed from her clothing of earlier into another pair of trousers. These were Denim, the blue color so faded that they appeared almost white, and they were worn slightly at the knees. A large red shirt hung loosely around her. He liked the color, it suited her. The whole outfit did. She looked comfortable and free, not all bunched up and concealed the way the woman he was used to seeing looked. But it was her hair that kept his gaze riveted. She had loosened it from its braid, and it now fell over one shoulder as she ran a comb through it. For the first time he noticed the reddish tinge in some of the stands that fell from between the teeth of the comb. He should have known. A woman of her spirit and temper couldn't have been anything but a red head.

"I believe the beginning would be the appropriate place." He said as he sat on the other bed. The mattress was firm, but comfortable. He yearned to lie down and drift off to sleep, but it seemed that Michelle was now going to try to offer an explanation. This promised to be a story worth staying awake for.

"Ok." She stopped the hypnotic combing of her hair, and pulled her legs up under her, Indian style. "The first thing I should tell you is that the year is 1999."

Ezra controlled his features so that she would not see the shock that he felt. He knew something had been wrong, that the things he had seen could not have possibly existed in the world as he knew it.

But 1999?


"Are you trying to say that I have somehow traveled through time?"

"No." She shook her head and laughed. "Time travel is just as impossible in this century as it was in the last one."

"Then, pray tell, how did I go from the 19th Century to the 20th Century in what seems to be a span of an hour?"

"You were in that place for much longer than that. Several months in fact. I had to get you out before,......"

"Please, do go on. This is most intriguing."

Michelle got off the bed and crossed the small room to her bag. She removed a book, and several papers.

She would not meet his eyes.

He didn't like that.

"Ezra, have you ever had any memories that didn't seem like they could be yours? Any strange or confusing thoughts that you couldn't figure out?"

"Yes. In fact, I'm having several strange and confusing thoughts at this very moment."

"Oh man, this isn't easy." She muttered under her breath. "You're not who you think you are. I mean, you are, but you're really not."

Dear God in heaven, and people told him that they couldn't understand him when he spoke!

What did she mean, not whom he thought he was?

He was Ezra P. Standish, son of Maude and,......, well, ok, he wasn't sure who had fathered him, but he obviously did have a father.

He was one of seven protectors of a town called Four Corners. He had found an unlikely family with those men. He spent his time in the saloon that had once belonged to him, the saloon that he had hoped to regain someday.

He knew who he was.

So why did her question unnerve him so much?

She handed him the papers, and he looked down at them, clutched in his hand.

The printing was strange, like it would appear in a newspaper, and yet not quite. It was too neat and clean, and the ink didn't come off on his fingers.

He smoothed out the white pages and scanned the words that they held. When his eyes found his own name, he couldn't help but give a gasp at what he read.

'Ezra P. Standish,....or Smith,......or Simpson, depending on which surname he chooses to go by, is a Gambler by trade, but is also notorious for being one of the best conmen in the west.

His mother, the equally notorious Maude Standish, taught her trade to her son, in-between the times she would leave him with many relatives, (and many who were not), across the country.

Ezra grew up believing that the only person he could count on was himself, but he often has a hard time putting faith in his own being. Though he presents a tough and cold exterior, Ezra has a soft heart, especially where children are concerned.

Handsome, smart, and cunning, he lends an air of mystery to the Magnificent 7, and as Ezra himself might say, 7 is a very lucky number.'

Looking back up at the woman who sat next to him, he held out the paper with a slightly shaking hand.

"What is this?" he asked with a calm voice, although inside he was very frightened. How could so much be known about him? How could it all be there before him in print? He didn't understand, and he didn't like not understanding. He had to be in control of himself at all times, and yet he knew that he hadn't had control for one minute since this woman had come into his life.

"I wrote it." She said. "Not long after I first,...., first saw you."

"I've never met you until today."

"True. " She nodded. "But I do know you. I've known you for almost a year now. I know how you think, and how you feel. I know your likes and your dislikes. I know that you like to stay up late at night, taking part in a game of chance, and sleep in late in the mornings. I know you like to present a fine appearance, so you spend whatever money you have on clothes and go without as far as other necessities. I know that behind that damn wall you've built around yourself that you're still a scared and scarred little boy still looking for love and approval; and I know that no matter how hard you try, you can never believe in yourself enough to trust what your heart tells you is true."


She jumped back at his sudden outburst. For a minute she could see green fire flashing in his eyes before the wall went up again and those eyes went cold.

"Please, stop." He said, this time in a much calmer voice.

"Ezra, I'm sorry. I didn't mean too,......"

He held up a hand to stop her. "I really don't want to hear anymore about it right now, please. I....," He swallowed hard against the lump forming in his throat, "I'm tired. Could we continue this at a later time?"

"Ezra, please don't shut me out. I want to help you, but I can't unless you let me." She searched his face for any answer to her plea, but the handsome features remained impassive. She could only begin to guess what kind of turmoil his mind was going through.

Why should this man refuse the comfort and help she was so readily and willingly giving him?

Because he can't trust. Not in himself, and not in anyone else.

It was enough to make her cry, the sadness she felt from this man.

"All right, I guess we could both use some rest." She settled onto her own bed, and watched as Ezra lay down, his eyes closing. "Goodnight." She said, but received no answer. She knew he was not already asleep, just too lost in his own thoughts to hear her.

A beam of bright morning sunlight peeked through the curtains and bathed Michelle's face in warmth, waking her from the dream-troubled sleep that had plagued her through the long night.

With a sigh, she turned over and opened still sleepy eyes to look at the figure that lay curled up on the bed across from her.

Ezra looked so still, so peaceful that it was almost a shame to have to wake him. In sleep, his face softened, making him appear much younger than she would have at first guessed.

She wondered just exactly how old he really was. Perhaps his age was just one more thing about him that would remain a mystery.

She sat up and tossed the covers off of her. She would have liked nothing better than to stay within the cocoon of warmth that the blankets provided, but she knew they would have to get going soon. They had a lot of miles to cover, and she wanted to stop somewhere where they could get Ezra some new clothes. He couldn't wear his bright, fancy clothes and not get noticed.

She had brought along a fresh shirt and pants for him, but knowing Ezra he would want to carefully choose each item on his own before he would allow it to touch his body.

Damned lucky clothes!

She mentally slapped herself for that thought. So far, she had been able to control any lusty thoughts about the man in her company, with the exception of the kiss the night before.

At the memory of that kiss, she felt her lips start to tingle. Even now, she remembered the sensation of his lips on hers. If she had not stopped the kiss when she did,......, well, she did not have to search her imagination very far to know that they would have ended up inside the motel room either way.

A shower. That was what she needed. A nice, reviving cold shower to wash away all the thoughts of Ezra that she had no business thinking.

She pulled a pair of jeans and a bright blue t-shirt from her bag and tossed the items over her arm. Then, reaching once more in to the large duffel bag, she found the clothes she brought for Ezra.

Black pants in the softest material she ever did feel. To the touch, it felt like suede. Smooth and supple. The silk shirt didn't feel too bad either. She chose it for its dark green color. It reminded her of Ezra's eyes.

She laid the clothing on the edge of Ezra's bed, wondering what he would think to find them there waiting for him. Her traitorous mind pictured him waking, reaching out to touch the soft materials, sliding them over his skin,...................

Ok then. Cold shower it was.

The sound of rain woke Ezra up.

Damnable weather. He could easily sleep several more hours, but not with the sound that the rain drops were making. It must be a bad storm, the downpour sounded fast and heavy, but curiously there was no thunder.

Ezra opened his eyes, and sat up quickly, looking in momentary shock at his surroundings, until the memory of the night before returned to him.

He groaned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

Michelle wasn't in the room. He supposed that might have been a good thing, for he didn't want her to start telling him again what she had said last night.

Never mind that he had asked for an explanation, what she had to say was not what he wanted to hear.

It was all so complicated. He liked people and things that he could easily read, and he could not read her. She scared him, and he also did not like feeling scared.

But he knew that she was his only chance at finding his friends again. Hadn't she promised him that? He would be reunited with Chris and Vin, with Buck and JD, Nathan and Josiah. He had never thought he would miss them, nor that he would so look forward to seeing them again, but he did, and he was. They were as close to family as he had ever come; not even Maude could be included with that term.


All that he had to do was trust Michelle.

But how could he do that when he couldn't even trust himself around her?

There was no mistaking his body's reaction to her touch. Last night, when her hand had brushed his, he had had to jerk away. Her fingers burned him, made him imagine things that he was sure would anger her if she found out.

And her lips,......, oh, those soft, full lips, moving so gently beneath his own; what he wouldn't give to feel them again.

The rain had stopped, and he could now hear noise coming from the other side of the wall that his bed was next to. The sound of soft female sighs reached his ears.

She was in there; in that small water closet he had seen and used last night.

Most convenient, to have such facilities close at hand. Most of the finer hotels he had been in had them, but since going westward they had become few and far between.

What he had thought was rain must have been her washing herself.

His body tightened at the thought of water running in tiny beads over her skin. If he didn't think that it would only make the vision worse, he would have doused himself with cold water.

The door to the water closet opened, and he jumped from the bed, straightening his clothes as best he could. He hated falling asleep while fully dressed, but since he had no bedclothes, and it just wouldn't do for him to sleep in the buff with her so,...., well, what choice did her have?

She walked into the room dressed in another pair of figure hugging denim pants, and a blue cotton shirt that made her eyes stand out. Once again, she was running a comb through that long, luscious, WET hair.

His dream, the one he had had before he woke to feel her lips on his, the one that had returned to him over and over again throughout the night, in that dream he had run his fingers through her water soaked hair.

Would it feel as good as it had in his dreams?

"Good morning." She said, tossing the wet strands over one shoulder.

"Morning." He drawled out. Managing to say any more than that at the moment would take quite a feat.

"We should get going. I thought we could stop at the West Virginia boarder. There's this outlet mall there, and we need to get you some clothes."

She sounded so casual and unconcerned, as if she did not feel the tension hanging heavy in the air. It was so thick, Ezra could hardly breath.

"I,...., I don't believe I have the funds to take such an excursion."

She smiled at him as she packed her other clothes back into the large bag. "Don't worry. I've got it covered. In the meantime, try those out." She pointed to the shirt and pants lying across his bed. He hadn't noticed them before. "I tried to pick out the nicest things I could. There's not a lot of lace and ruffles in men's clothing nowadays."

"It's very nice." Ezra said, his hand softly stroking the smooth silk of the shirt. "Thank you."

"Your welcome." Was it his imagination, or did she blush?

They stood staring at each other, neither sure what to say next, and afraid if they did say something it would spoil the calm of the moment. Calm was not something they would have a lot of in the next several days.

"Would you like to wash up?" Michelle asked. "I could show you how to use the shower. I mean,..., not SHOW you, but I could,......"

"Thank you." Ezra said with a laugh. "But I do believe I can discover how it works for myself."

Although having her in that tiny room with him did have its good side.

Before he could change his mind and take her up on her offer, he grabbed the clothes and headed for the water closet.

If ever there was an activity that Ezra enjoyed that didn't involve making money, it was spending it. He had always been an avid shopper, and he took pride in finding just the right fabrics, the perfect fit, and the look that befit him. He was a gentleman, and a gentleman must dress appropriately.

He must have visited every tailor, every fine haberdashery from New Orleans to San Francisco, but no place he had ever been could have prepared him for the sprawling collection of buildings that Michelle referred to as an 'Outlet Mall'.

So many stores, so many different things being offered for sale.

What, pray tell, was a 'Pokemon Card'?

"Trust me, you don't want to know." Michelle said when he voiced that question. "Besides, I'm not sure I could explain good enough. You might need to ask a 6 year old."

She led him into one of the many buildings; 'Structure' the large letters above the door read, and Ezra had to stop to take in the sight before him.

The store was filled from one wall to the other with more clothes than he had ever seen at one time. It must have taken about a thousand tailors and seamstresses to pre-make all these clothes.

"I know it's not what you're used to, "Michelle said, "but it's the best I can afford for you at the moment. The only clothes that come close to what your taste runs to costs a small fortune in today's prices."

"I appreciate you loaning me the money to make these purchases. I give my word that you will be compensated." Ezra said as he fingered a bright blue shirt. True, it wasn't his usual taste, but then he noticed that none of the men he had seen wore suites or hats, and the clothing they did wear looked very,....well,...casual was the only word he could come up with. Michelle had said it would be best to dress him in the current fashions, that the way he was used to dressing attracted too much attention.

"Here," Michelle said, placing a pile of trousers in his arms. "Why don't you go try these on?"

"Try them on?" Ezra had never bought pants that had not been cut and tailored to his exact proportions before. In his mind, ready made meant ill fitting.

Michelle quirked an eyebrow at him, and then, as if reading his mind, said, "Ezra, those pants your are wearing right now were mass produced. Same with the shirt. They both come in many different sizes and colors and for all you know you could walk out of this store and run into another man wearing the same thing. It is how things are done nowadays. Just go over there behind that door and see which of these fit, I'm going to go look at some jeans."

"Jeans?" She wanted him to wear jeans? How vulgar!

He looked down at the collection of pants that he held mostly colored black, and a few muted browns. Mass produced, huh?

He sighed, and entered the small, closet like room she had indicated to him. He had to wonder why he was following that woman's orders. Ever since their first meeting the day before it had seemed that if she said 'jump', Ezra would ask 'how high?'. It was perplexing to say the least.

It was also disturbing to realize that he was completely dependent on her. He was an 1800's man lost in the 1900's with no idea of how he got there, or why. Of course, Michelle had tried to explain that to him last night. He hadn't wanted to hear it then.

If he were still the Ezra Standish that Maude had 'raised', (her word, not his), he would sneak out the door and run as far from Michelle as he could. The part of him that said that he didn't need or want anyone's help demanded that he do just that. So, it was a shock to him to see that he was still there. Truth be told, he didn't want to leave her, and that was perhaps the most frightening thing of all.

He had to admit the woman had gumption-going to all the dangers of rescuing him from his captivity. She was a rare one.

He smiled, thinking of how well Chris and the others would like her.

A half an hour later, Ezra walked out of the store; his hands loaded with bags. Michelle had insisted that they buy a pair of jeans, as well as some footwear that she called 'tennis shoes'. Ezra had played tennis before, but he didn't recognize the shoes. They were surprisingly comfortable.

He had chosen all the shirts himself, selecting every brightly colored silk he could find, as well as a soft leather coat that he seemed to have taken a liking to, seeing as it adorned his body even now.

He had nearly died of embarrassment when Michelle had dropped a package on top of his selections that turned out to be some kind of underthings called 'briefs'.

"How can you be sure of the size?" he had asked, trying to figure out what the picture of a bunch of fruit on the front of the package had to do with underclothes.

She merely looked him over, from the top of his head to the tips of his boots. She grinned, the look on her face something akin to pure pleasure, and said, "Lucky guess."

What a brazen woman she was! Buck would have been beside himself.

Ezra placed his packages inside the trunk of Michelle's car, beside her large black bag. "Do you suppose I have need of one of these?" he asked, indicating her bag.

"Hmm, I guess we should pick one up. All those paper bags will be hard to transport." She looked around them. So many stores, selling so many things, so why was it there were no places that sold luggage? She sighed. There had to be something. "Over there. " She said, turning toward a store that advertised itself as 'Leather and more'.

The smell of cowhide assaulted him as soon as he walked in.

"Mmmmm, what a scent." Michelle said, as she breathed in deeply. "Second only to the smell of a new book."

"A new book?" Ezra smiled at her.

"Yeah. Brand new, never opened by any other human being. You just hold the book in front of you, and flip the pages. It's the best. They should make a cologne out of that scent."

Ezra could not keep the smile off his face. He had thought he was the only person who so enjoyed the smell of a freshly printed book. Michelle was turning out to be one delightful discovery after another.

"There's some bags." Michelle pointed over to a wall at the far end of the store. A huge sign hung over the selection of bags, spelling out 'SALE' in large, red block letters. "Gosh, I just love that word." She said, a gleeful smile on her face.

"You astound me. You love the smell of a fresh book, and the word 'sale' seems to bring joy to your heart."

"Oh yeah. 'Sale' is a good word. Not half as good as 'clearance', but good none the less." She sent him a smile over her shoulder as she headed for the wall.

Ezra made to follow her, when another wall drew his attention. This one was lined with hats, all sizes, shapes, and colors. He looked over to Michelle, who was busy pulling down a large, black leather bag from a top shelf.

His made up his mind, and headed for the hats.

The first selections he came to were some strange sort of round crowned creations, with a large brim extending out from the front. Different names were written across each of them.

Who, or what, where the Red Socks? Or the Cubs? And why would anyone want to advertise that they were a Yankee?

Completely confounded, Ezra moved on, his eyes searching the shelves until he found what he was looking for.

It was there, underneath a sign that said 'Western Hats. 25% off'. (He briefly wondered if such a sign would send Michelle into the throws of ecstasy as much as 'sale' seemed to, but that only made his mind conjure up an image of what she would look like in such a state. The sudden tightening of his body told him that he just best forget that image and concentrate on the moment at hand.)

He pulled the black, low crowned, wide brimmed hat from the shelf and examined it. It was quite similar to his own. Of all the items of his clothing he missed, his hat was the one he felt lost without. He didn't know what happened to it. He could not recall if he had it when Michelle pulled him out of his prison, he just knew it was gone, and that his head felt empty without it.

Standing before a small mirror placed on the shelf for customer use, he placed the hat on his head, arranging it at a slightly rakish angle.

Oh, there he was!

The clothes were different, and definitely took some getting used to, but they did look good on him, and with the hat on his head he no longer felt so out of place.

"Ezra?" He heard Michelle's voice behind him. Still looking in the mirror; he caught her reflection there. She was looking at him, a strange expression on her face.

He smiled at her, knowing she could see his face in the surface of the mirror. "My apologies for leaving your side, my dear, but this hat seemed to call out to me."

He watched as she drew in a long breath, and then exhaled slowly. "It's ok." She said.

"Excuse me?" A young woman wearing a tag proclaiming her name to be 'Sammi' interrupted their moment. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Huh?" Michelle looked over at her, surprised to see the salesgirl next to her. "Oh, yeah. We'll,....," She turned her eyes to Ezra again. "We'll take this one." She handed the girl the black bag she had chosen, and her credit card. Ezra had gone back to admiring the hat. He smiled once more when he heard Michelle say, "And throw in that hat as well."

Michelle could not believe the difference a simple hat could make. The moment she saw him with that black hat on his head, she thought she had died and gone to gambler heaven.

He was so beautiful. His green eyes seemed alive for the first time since she had rescued him from the facility. She couldn't help herself from returning the smile he gave her when they walked out of the store, his new bag in his hand and his new hat set firmly on his head.

What was it about him that made her want to lavish gifts on him? All he had to do was bestow another little boy smile on her, and she would be reaching for her credit cards again.

She wanted to take him home and spoil him rotten.

Good God! Was she crazy? He was a man, for heaven's sake, not a Scottish terrier.

They were spending more time at the outlet mall than she had intended. After 'Leather and more', they decided to grab a bite to eat.

Ezra had screwed up is nose at the sight of the food court, but must have decided to keep his opinions about the place to himself. He sat at a table while she went to get them some food.

As she walked to 'The Mail Grill', she passed a table that had two teenage girls sitting at it. Their conversation caught her attention when she heard one girl say, "Oh my Gwad! Check out that guy in the cowboy hat. What a hottie!"

Michelle turned her head and saw both girls staring over at Ezra, who was absently fiddling with a paper napkin.

"Oh wow. " The other girl said, "I sure would like to get myself a piece of that."

Michelle groaned. Why, why, why did those two little pieces of jailbait have to be talking so loudly?

Not that it really upset her. No, of course it didn't. She knew what Ezra looked like, she knew that woman found him attractive,.........

"I'd like to get all hot and sweaty with him."

,.............she knew she was going to dump her large ice tea over Britney-clone's head.

She managed to order her and Ezra's food, and to wait patiently without going over to tell the gabby twins to please shut the fuck up.

She was very proud of herself for this.

But while on the way back to the table where Ezra waited for her, she happened to see the girls wave at him. To her astonishment, Ezra brought his fingertips to his hat brim and tipped it forward in acknowledgement.

The little nymphomaniacs giggled.

They giggled!

She set the tray down on the table with a thud, causing ice tea to splash over the side of the cup and land on Ezra's sleeve.

"Sorry." She muttered, without much conviction.

Ezra dabbed at the spot with a napkin. "I do hope you are not always so clumsy."

"Gee, I'll try not to be. Lord knows we wouldn't want to soil your new clothes. It would be most unseemly for you to be seen looking like a slob, now wouldn't it?"

Ezra furrowed his brow as he studied her. "I detect a note of sarcasm in your tone. Tell me, have I offended you somehow?"

Michelle took a large bite out of her grilled chicken sandwich, and chased it down with a swig of tea. "No, of course not. What makes you think that?"

Deciding to let the question be, Ezra lifted the bun on his sandwich, not sure what to make of the piece of boneless chicken, topped with lettuce and a tomato slice. And just what were these strange, yellow, crispy stick things?

"They're French fries." Michelle said, seeing him studying the oblong potatoes.

"This is French?" he asked, the doubt evident in his voice.

Michelle felt her previous ire ease up. Ezra was still a stranger in a strange place and time. "No. At least I don't think so. It's just what they' re called. They're potatoes, cut into slices and then deep-fried. Try them."

Ezra tentatively brought one of the fried to his mouth and took a bite. "Interesting." He said without expression. "I am reminded of the pan fried potatoes my Uncle's Negro housemaid used to make when I stayed with them."

"Um, Ezra, just a side note, but please, we don't say," she cleared her throat and said "Negro", under her breath. "The term is African American now."

He smiled. "African American. Sounds distinguished. Nathan would like that term very much, I think."

"I'm sure he would." She said, taking in the flash of sadness that was revealed in Ezra's eyes before the mask slipped back into place.

"Tell me," he said, after biting into another fry, chewing and swallowing politely before continuing, "Are people more tolerant of each other in this time?"

What could she tell him?

A person's sex, age, religion, or race was no longer a determining factor when it came to the most basic of human rights.

Everyone was given the opportunity to become a doctor, or lawyer, or business owner, as long as they had the money to get the education they needed.

Woman had been given the vote many years ago, and were no longer tied to the kitchen stove.

America had become a land filled with many different people and cultures.

And yet, there were still those who thought themselves better than everyone else.

How would Ezra feel to know the KKK still existed? He didn't seem the type to put up with such sick-minded individuals as they.

And what would he think to know that children could be capable of killing one another? She knew he held a soft spot for kids. She didn't think she'd be able to tell him about that.

"Some things are better." She said, deciding to follow the 'less is more' rule. "And some things are worse."

She quickly swallowed the rest of her tea, and picked up the remains of their meal "Are you finished?" She noticed that although he barely touched his sandwich, he managed to polish off the French fries.

"I believe my hunger has been sated for now."

"Good. We should get going." Michelle dumped the garbage into a nearby trashcan and set the tray on top.

Ezra stood near her, and as she turned to him, he held his arm out to her. No man had ever offered her his arm before, not of his own accord.

She smiled, and allowed her had to slip through the crook of his elbow.

'Eat your hearts out girls', she thought as they walked past the still drooling teenagers.

It felt good to be back in the South. Although it looked as if West Virginia had changed drastically from the time he had been there.

He saw strange clusters of buildings along the paved road as he and Michelle once again set out. Once, Michelle even stopped at some sort of booth, and gave the man who sat in it some money. She said that they were on a toll road. If they wanted to travel it, they had to pay so much to do so.

He wondered why she simply didn't pick a different route. It seemed ridiculous to him to pay for just using a road.

The mountains surrounded them on all sides. They were certainly beautiful.

Vin would love the mountains here.

As he continued to watch the scenery pass by, he heard a soft voice sing.

"Almost heaven, West Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River,......"

He smiled. The song was unfamiliar to him, but he understood what the words meant. West Virginia did have a way of getting to a person. In the life that he thought he remembered, he had spent little time here; staying only long enough to run a con, (he couldn't recall which one), with Maude. It didn't work out, and they had had to make their escape quickly. Ezra was disappointed, not that the con didn't work, but that he couldn't spend more time there.

Michelle's soft voice continued to sing. "Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads."

"You sing very well. " He said. She looked over at him, and a slight pink blush swept over her pale skin.

"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about when I was young. My family and me used to take trips down South, and we'd drive through here. My mom would always want to play that song. Every time I hear it, I think about those trips."

"You needn't be sorry. You shouldn't be ashamed of sharing such a lovely gift with one who is in need of happy memories."

"Don't you have any happy memories?" she asked, making a right hand turn onto another road. He found he rather liked the feeling of riding in the automobile, after the initial shock of it had worn off. He was slowly getting used to the world as it was now. But then, Ezra had always prided himself on being able to adapt to different situations.

"I can recall a rather good summer spent at an Uncle's cabin in the woods when I was 12. He taught me to hunt and fish. My mother was never much of the outdoors type, and I found those skills did not come to much use until I made my way west. Until then I had never had to forage for my own meals."

A thought came to him, one that he found funny. He laughed. "I should think my compatriots would find it surprising to know that I am most capable with a bow and arrow."

"I think you don't give them enough credit, Ezra. Perhaps if you gave them the chance to really know you, you might find some things surprising about them as well."

"In my profession it is not wise to form close attachments."

"And yet you have."

Ezra said nothing, and turned his head to look out the window once more.

It was true; he had become close to the others while fulfilling his obligations as peacekeeper. He hadn't meant for it to happen, Lord knew he had done everything he could to keep them all at arm's length, but they simply refused to let him stay at a distance. They drew him in with promises of friendship, a promise of family. Those were things he never really had before, things he could never really afford t have, and he found that he missed them.

He would never admit as much to anyone else, but that did not make the feeling any less true.

He felt that he was only half himself without his friends. He felt lost and vulnerable without them there to watch his back.

For what seemed like the thousandth time, he wondered how the others were. Were they, like him, lost and confused; not sure who to trust? Were they any closer to figuring out what had happened to them?

"Would you share with me the reason why we are in this situation?"

"I tried to do that last night. You didn't seem too eager to hear the truth."

"I apologize for that. I was not in my right mind. I should not have raised my voice to a lady, especially one who is risking herself for me as you are."

She made a noise, somewhere between a laugh and a snort. He had heard a similar noise coming from Vin. "Ezra, you make it sound like taking you out of the place was an inconvenience to me."

"Well, I assume of course that you will be compensated for the job you have undertaken,......"

"Wait just a minute!" she interrupted him. Making a quick turn, she pulled into a parking lot in front of another one of those motel places. Switching off the car, she turned to him.

"Is that what you think? That I'm doing this for some sort of personal gain? Let's get some things straight here, shall we?"

"Number one, I went into that place because I wanted to. I got you out because I wanted to."

"Number two, I am not now, nor will I ever be, getting anything for this. I'm doing it because I want to; because I think it will all be worth it in the end. I'm doing this because I think you deserve better than to be locked away. I'm doing this because I care! "Ezra, I do not want your gratitude, or any apologies made to me for having to put up with you."

With that, she got out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

Ezra remained where he was, letting the weight of her words settle in around him.

She cared? About him?

Try as he might, he didn't know how to take that. He had thought she was simply fulfilling a duty, and once it was done she would collect her reward and be on her way.

That was how it always was, how it should be.

She cared?

It was preposterous, completely beyond the laws of basic human self-preservation. Look out for number one, Ezra, because no one else will ever look out for you-that's what Maude always told him.

She cared?

He wanted to believe her. Despite his inability to understand, he wanted to believe her, to trust her.

Trust was something Ezra did not give easily. There had never been anyone who had taken an interest in him who did not have an ulterior motive.

Well,......never,....except for six men,....and one woman.

Good Lord! She cared.

A tap on the window brought his eyes up to meet hers through the glass. He could swear that Michelle's gray-blue eyes had darkened with her anger. They shown a darker blue, bordering on green. Fascinating, those eyes.

He rolled the window down by using the crank at the side of the door.

"Are you hungry?"

It was a strange question to ask after her outburst, but he nodded, noticing for the first time that his stomach was growling.

"It's nearing 8 o'clock. We'll eat, then we'll talk."

Ezra got out of the car. She stood before him, her arms crossed over her chest. She backed away from him slightly. He knew that she was still upset over what he had thought, but she was willing to meet him half way. He couldn't expect anymore than that from her.

"I'm,...," he began, but stopped at the look on her face. "I know you don't want to hear it, but I am all the same."

She shook her head, the beginnings of a smile playing over her lips. "What am I going to do with you, Ezra P. Standish?"

"At the present time," he said, running his thumb over his chin, "how about you feed me?"

"Do you like crab legs?"

Ezra placed his hand over his heart. "My dear lady, you have just said the world's most magical words."

She laughed at his dramatic gesture. "Get back in the car then."

"You never really told me, where exactly are we headed?" he asked once they were seated in the car.

She didn't look up at him when she answered. "Las Vegas."

"Las Vegas." He repeated. "And where is that?"


"We are headed all the way to the Nevada territory? My, that is quite a distance, is it not?"

"Yes," she agreed. "It is."

He nodded. "So, why are we going to this,....Las Vegas?"

She laughed again. Ezra wondered if he would always thrill at the sound. "Your guess is as good as mine, but trust me, you're going to love it"

Later that evening, their bellies full of crabmeat, Ezra and Michelle walked side by side along a park lane that wound itself around a crystal clear lake. The night air was pleasant, not too warm, and not too cool.

The sky was filled with stars, reflecting into the lake, making the water look as if it were filled with diamonds.

When Michelle spoke that observation out loud, Ezra replied that if it were, he would reach in to pick the biggest and best for her.

"And then you would fill your own pockets to the brim?"

Ezra turned his head to her, an astonished look on his face. "Whatever in the world would make you think that?"

"I'm not trying to put you down, but I know you. Come on, the truth now; what would you do if you really come across a lake filled with diamonds?"

A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Before or after I remove all my clothes and jump into it naked?"

Michelle was glad of the dark, because it hid the flush of heat she felt in her face at Ezra's words. He had said that simply to get a reaction from her, she was sure. She wasn't going to give in to him.

"Let's sit." She pointed to a park bench along the path. It was quiet here, not many other couples choosing to walk along this romantic spot during the middle of the week. They would have plenty of privacy for the talk they were about to have.

Once they were both seated, Michelle opened her mouth to begin, then closed it. She took a deep breath, then bit her bottom lip.

"My dear, if you wish to say something, using actual words is always the best course of action."

"I know. It's just,..."

"Just what?"

"For the life of me, I don't' know what to say. I mean, I know what I want to tell you, I just don't know how to say it. I'm afraid if I do say it that you'll get angry, and you won't let me say anymore. I'm afraid you won't believe me, and it's really so very important that you do."

"Would it make you feel better if I promise not to say anything until after you have finished?"

Michelle nodded, her eyes looking out over the star dusted water. Ezra also turned to look over the lake. "Then I give my word."

"Alright then. " Another deep breathe. This was harder than she thought it would be. " The reason I know so much about you is because I've been watching you. One day out of every week, I watch you and your friends live out your lives in Four Corners. I was there when you met Chris, I saw you shoot that target. I saw you play with those children at the Seminole village. I wasn't there in person, but I saw you.

"Its called Television. It's,......a box?,....and there's this glass screen on it. TV shows are sort of like plays, only they are put on film, like photographs. Have you ever seen a series of pictures taken, and when you put them one on top of the other and flip through them, it looks like a moving image?"

At Ezra's nod, she continued. "Well, it's kind of like that, only with color and sound.

"You and the others were the subjects of one of these,...moving pictures. The show was called 'The Magnificent Seven'. It ran for a few months, then for some reason, the network-the company that owned the show-decided they didn't want to have it on anymore.

"But they didn't count on anyone actually noticing the show, and liking it. That's where I, and many more like me, come in. We're fans. We loved the show, and its characters, so much that we refused to let it go.

"So, when we found out about the Facility and that you guys were there, we decided to do something about it. We did do something about it, and so here we are."

Ezra waited until he was sure she was finished before saying anything. "Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that I believe you.

"Why am I, and my friends, so important to these 'network' people?"

"Well, they created you."

An eyebrow raised in question. "Are they God, then?"

"They would like to think they are. For some reason, they seem to think that they know more than the viewing public at large. They put on shows like 'Survivor', where people are put into situations where they whine and backstab each other, and somehow brainwash viewers into thinking that it's quality entertainment. 'Reality Show' they call them. Let me tell you, I get enough of reality everyday. When I turn on the TV, I want a little fantasy."

"Is that what I am to you, a fantasy?"

"You were. I thought that's all you ever would be, until I found you."

"How did you accomplish that? It would seem to me that if these people had wanted to keep us under wraps, they would have been more secretive about it."

"That's where it starts getting weird." She stood and stretched her arms over her head. Ezra tried to ignore the way that motion made her breasts strain against her blue top. Despite any reservations he may have had about his current predicament, he still found her appealing, and each moment he spent within her company only strengthened his attraction to her.

"Dear me. It gets weirder still." He said to himself. He stood up as well, and they resumed their walk.

"After the show was cancelled I emailed CBS,......"

"Pardon me. Emailed?" Ezra asked.

"It's a letter, only it's sent by computer. Please, don't ask me to explain computers to you. Just know that they're very fast, and you can talk to anyone in the world with them.

"Anyway, someone replied to my letter, and told me the most fantastic story. I wouldn't have believed them if they hadn't of sent along copies of papers stating the transfer of you and other others to this facility in Connecticut. I guess I really just wanted to believe. I never found out my source's name, but I suspect it was someone working on the inside.

"Then, one day I got a phone call. Ummmmm,....telephones? Like a telegraph, only you can speak directly to the person you're trying to contact. Here," She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and handed it to him. He stared with fascination at it.

"How does it work?" He asked, flipping it over in his hands.

Michelle smiled and took the phone back. She punched in some numbers, then held it up to Ezra's ear. His eyes went wide, and he smiled as a recorded voice told him the time and weather report.

"Amazing." He said. " So much technology in this time."

Michelle couldn't help the surge of emotion she felt inside of her. Ezra was like a child just beginning to discover all the joys of life. Each new thing he discovered, he asked her endless questions about it. What was it, what did it do, how did it make her daily life easier? It was obvious that he delighted in what he saw.

"If we had had such an invention back in Four Corners, it would have been an asset to us."

"Yes, well, a phone is handy thing to have. As I was saying before, I got a call on one of these. Someone, I'm not sure who-again, no names were mentioned-asked if I would like to volunteer for a rescue group. No need to tell you what that rescue job was, I guess. When I asked why I was chosen, I was told that they had gotten my name from a second party. I assume this was my source as the Facility. I've been in contact with one of them since then. She's never told me her name, and she never calls me by mine, only by my nickname. How she found out what that was, I couldn't tell you."

"What is it?"

"What is what?"

"Your nickname?"

"Oh. It's Gypsy."

"Gypsy? As in a fortune teller?" he laughed.

"Why are you laughing? Don't you believe in people who can foresee the future?" She stopped walking and faced him.

"I mean no disrespect. I certainly don't want to insult you should you actually possess such a power." In fact, Ezra had reason to believe in prophecy very much. He had learned how to use his ever-present cards to tell fortunes, something that he used in several cons. He found that there really was something to it, especially after he told his own fortune one night before he left for the west. The cards showed him a great adventure, danger, and, most compelling of all, the joining of his life with others. Vague things to be sure, but fortune telling was a matter of interpretation.

"Well, I don't." Michelle said. "At least not very much. No, I got the name another way. I'd explain, but you wouldn't understand the significance."

They lapsed into silence. Ezra raised his eyes to the full, yellow bright moon. He wondered if any of the others were also gazing up at it, wondering where and how he was, same as he was wondered about them.

"When will we get to this Las Vegas?" he asked.

"The cross country trip usually takes about a week. I found that I really shouldn't make any plans though. I thought we'd be in Kentucky by now. I'm really sorry, Ezra, but we'll have to rush it tomorrow. We've spent too much time here as it is."

"Are you in that much of a hurry to be rid of me?" he asked with a smile in his voice.

"Not at all. You're trying, Ezra, but you're never boring." She felt his hand take a hold of hers.

" I just,....I just wanted to say,..., in case I forget to later,...., thank you. For all that you are doing for me. No one has ever been so kind before."

"I'm just doing what any person would do in this situation." She said, shaking her head.

"No. You are going above and beyond the call of your duty. " He raised her hand to his lips, and placed a kiss there. He did not miss the intake of her breath as he did so.

"I believe you, Miss Michelle. You know so much about me, how could you be telling anything but the truth. I find that I don't really mind you knowing so much. Somehow I feel that I am safe as long as you do know."

He leaned forward, and took her lips. She melted against him. Her lips parted with just a slight touch of his tongue, and he let himself explore the inside of her mouth.

She felt on fire. His kiss was like nothing she had ever known before. He ran his tongue over her teeth, and dove in deeper once more. It was heaven that's what it was. Pure heaven.

It ended all to quickly. "You are tired." He said. "Shall we take our rest now?"

She nodded, any words she might have said having been taken away with the power of his kiss.

He leaned against a tree, watching the two of them as they walked away hand in hand. They certainly knew how to put on a show.

If he had been that Gambler man, he would have thrown that girl in the bushes and screwed her every which way. Damn him for being a so-called gentleman anyway.

He was in need of some action. Maybe, after this job was done, the boss man would let him have some fun with the girl. She was a cute thing. Spunky too.

He flicked the cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath his shoe. Pushing himself away from the tree, he followed them at a distance, careful not to let himself be seen.

"What do you mean the room only has one bed?" Michelle asked the man behind the front desk of the small motel where she and Ezra had stopped for the night.

"Exactly that. All double rooms are full up." The man pushed his registry book toward her. "You want it?"

Michelle bit her bottom lip and turned her head to look out the glass door at Ezra, who was leaning against the side of the car. He caught her gaze, and gave her a tip of his hat. He winked, then smiled.

Oh dear.

"Are there any other motels around?"

"Yep, but I don't think you'll have any luck. There's a big fishing tournament here this week. Have one every year. Folks come from miles around. Why last year I remember this fella caught a bass that was this big long. " He spread his hands out to roughly the size of a small dolphin.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Yes, I'm sure it was. " She picked up the pen and stared at the line where her name would go. "Do you have any roll-a-way bed's?"

"Yep, got two. "

"Good.' She scrawled her first name, then hesitated before writing her last. She wasn't sure whether or not anyone was following them, but it wasn't too good of an idea to leave much of a paper trail behind them. She had used her credit cards at the outlet mall, but was paying cash for the room.

She wrote the first name that came to her mind- Haviland, her paternal grandmother's name.

It wasn't really a lie. It may not have been her name, but it was her blood.

"Could you bring one of the roll-a-ways to our room, please?"

"No can do." The clerk smiled, handing her a key with the number 4 printed on the tag.

"But you said you had two of them."

"Yes ma'm, but they're both in use. Fishing tournament you know."

She muttered a curse to all fish under her breath, and snatched the key from his hand.

"Enjoy your stay with us, miss,....," he looked down at this registry book, "Haviland."

"Thanks." She said with as much of a smile as she could muster.

Ok, this would be all right. She could do this. One of them would just have to sleep on the floor is all.

One night, it wouldn't hurt either of them.

One night, one bed; one man, one woman; one totally out of her league sales girl from Ohio with one totally out of his century gambler, in one totally fucked up situation.

Damn it!

"Everything alright?" Ezra asked her as she walked up to him.

"Perfect. Just peachy. They've only got a room with one bed in it." She unlocked the trunk and lifted their bags out, handing his over to him.

"One bed?" Ezra's eyebrows rose an inch or so. "They have nothing else?"

"No, apparently every hotel in the area is filled We're lucky to have what we do."

"I don't wish to sound as if I do not enjoy your company, but it is highly improper for a man such as myself to share a bed with a lady such as you. I could, perhaps, pass the night in the back of your automobile."

"Ezra, you're not sleeping in the car."


"No buts. We're both adults here, and don't think your being a gentleman, protecting my reputation as it were. My reputation is not important enough for anyone to worry about. I can sleep on the floor, I've done it before, I can do it again." She lifted her bag's large strap over her shoulder.

"I will not even begin to think of depriving you of a soft bed on which to rest. If one of us must pass the night on the floor, it will be me. And I happen to think your reputation is a very important thing indeed."

She smiled. Stubborn son-of-a-bitch, too much of a gentleman for his own good. "I'm not a damsel in distress, Ezra."

He chuckled. "I realize that, my dear, but I would not be able to live with myself knowing you would not be comfortable."

"I thought you were the one who enjoyed all the creature comforts."

His shoulders lifted and fell in a shrug. "Perhaps I do, but that does not make me callous or rude."

She knew she wasn't going to win. Might as well let him have it his way. "Alright, if that's the way you want it."

They walked the short distance to room number 4. Michelle unlocked the door and pushed it open, then felt along the wall next to the door for the light switch. Finding it, she flipped the switch up.

The now illuminated room was an interior decorators nightmare. The carpet was a muddy brown; the walls painted a dirty eggshell color. A white Formica table and two padded wooden chairs stood near the blue curtained window. A low wooden dresser lined one wall, topped by two ugly lamps, an ancient looking television, and a rotary style telephone.

The large king size bed took up most of the room. It was covered with a garishly colored pink and purple spread. A painting of two men in a fishing boat on a lake hung over the bed. It was the only wall decoration in the room, and the only thing that was not visually distasteful.

"Good lord." Ezra said, looking at his new surroundings. "I do believe whomever decorated was color blind. Even a salamander coordinates better."

"Well," Michelle said, setting her bag down on the floor beside the bed. "At least our eye's will be closed for 95% of the time. We won't have to look at it for too long."

"It's the other 5% I find frightening."

She had to laugh, simply because she agreed with him. Like him, she liked everything to match. This showed even in the way she dressed. Her pants went with her shoes, which went with her socks, which matched her shirt, which matched the scrunchi she used to pull her hair back into a ponytail. Even her underwear matched.

"You want to take a shower?" she asked, taking a quick look inside the tiny bathroom, relieved to find its color to be sterile white.

When she received no answer, she went back into the room to find him looking quizzically at the television set. "Ezra?"

"What?" He looked up at her.

"I said, do you want to wash up?"

"No. No, I believe I shall perform my ablutions in the morning." He went back to looking at the TV. "You say that you watched me and my comrades on one of these?"

"Yes, although my TV was at least made within the current decade. This one looks older than me." The thing had turn dials for goodness sakes! She wondered if it was a color set, let alone if it even worked.

She reached around him and pulled the 'on/off' button out. It took a minute before the picture came on. It was snowy, but at least it was color. She turned up the volume so Ezra could hear the reporter on the screen talk about the evening news.

"If you want to change the channel, you turn this dial left or right. More modern sets aren't like this. We have remote controls that let us operate the set at a distance. A lot of people wouldn't know how to work a TV without a remote."

"Amazing." Ezra lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed as a story about the fishing tournament was shown.

"If you're not going to use the bathroom, do you mind if I commandeer it for a while?" she asked, but he was beyond hearing her or answering. He sat still on the bed, staring at the television in fascination.

She shook her head. "Men." She muttered as she entered the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

When she came out a little while later, Ezra was still sitting in the same spot, but now had a frown on his face. He looked up at her as she came into the room.

"You live in a very violent society."

She shrugged and nodded, moving past him to her bag, which she opened to remove her comb and a bottle of hair de-frizzer.

"Does it not bother you?" he asked.

"Of course it does." She answered, squeezing a dab of the gel into the palm of her hand.

"Then why the nonchalance?"

"What can I do? The world is what it is. As much as I wish things were different, I'm only one person, and I can't save everyone."

"You saved me."

"I helped you escape, Ezra, but you're not safe. Not yet." She combed through her hair, tugging harder when she encountered a tangle. "Ouch."

Ezra pursed his lips. "So many wonderful things you have in this century. I would have never thought to dream of half the inventions I've seen in the last two days, and still no one can come up with a way to make man more civil to each other?"

"It's not as bad as the nightly news makes it out to be. I mean, there's a lot of horrible stuff out there, don't get me wrong, but reporters make it a point to find the most terrible, vile things to tell people. You rarely see anything good on the news. That's why I try not to watch, too depressing.

"Besides," she said, setting down her comb and taking a seat beside him on the bed. "the old west couldn't exactly be considered Utopia, now could it?"

Ezra cracked a smile. "Point taken."

"Good." She got back up and switched off the TV. "Lets do something else."

Ezra looked at her standing there in her loose cotton pants and tight sleeveless shirt. Her long, curly, (and God Damnit, still wet), hair hung down to her breasts, leaving damp spots in very strategic places.

He knew he was being a cad, but he couldn't help himself.

"Really now, and what did you have in mind?"

Michelle didn't miss the look he gave her. She wanted to scream. This was too much. He was flirting with her. Well, two could play that game. Putting on her best imitation of a Southern accent, she said, "Why, Mr. Standish, I'm surprised at you. Are you insinuating what I believe you are?"

Ezra fought the rising laughter in his throat. "Well, my dear, what is a man supposed to think when a lady invites him to share her room?"

"That she wants to play poker." Michelle said. She reached for her bag again and pulled a brand new pack of playing cards from it. It was still in its factory sealed plastic wrapper.

Ezra's eyes lit up. He grabbed the cards from her hand, and torn open the wrapper with eager hands, like a child opening up a present on Christmas morning.

"You like them?" Michelle asked, smiling. He took the cards from the box, and fanned them out in his hands.

He looked at them as he shuffled them from hand to hand. "Maverick? I've never heard of that brand before."

"They were named after a gambler on another TV show."

"And they are smaller than I am used too, but,...," Impulsively, he got to his feet and closed the distance between them. He placed a quick kiss on her smiling lips. "Thank you. I feared my playing abilities would become weak without practice."

Michelle touched her lips with her fingers. It was the fourth kiss she had received from him in two days. She wondered how many other kisses she would get in the days to come.

She enjoyed the feel of his lips. She wanted him to kiss her again. And again, and again, and,......, Whoa girl! Stop right there.

Ezra had kissed her twice out of confusion, and twice out of thanks, not out of any other need.

Besides, she shouldn't think about him like that. He was her responsibility, he was,......he was,......., he was so cute when he smiled like that. The gold tooth flashed in the corner of his mouth as his dexterous fingers turned the cards over on each other.

"Did you mention something about playing a game of chance?" he asked, smiling at her.

"Yes, I did. But you'll have to teach me; I've never played before. " She said, moving over to sit in one of the wooden chairs.

"Never?" He looked at her as if she had just confessed a sin to him. "My dear girl, it is easy to learn, but tuff to master."

"So show me."

"But to play Poker, one must have a pot to win."

"You don't have any money." She reminded him.

"Ah, yes, money. That does present a problem. Well, I suppose we shall just have to play for something else."

Kisses! Her mind screamed.

No, no, no, no, no! Did she have to beat the monster inside of her down with a baseball bat?

"I do believe, " he said, taking the chair across from her. "that there is one thing in this room which both of us truly wants."

"And what would that be?"

He looked pointedly over at the bed.

"But just before you were insisting that I take the bed."

"This way one of us will win if fair and square. There will be no arguing about it."

"Ok." She agreed. "Fair enough."

"Alright then. " He began to deal out the cards.

"I can't believe you beat me. If I didn't know better, I would swear that I have been swindled." Ezra complained from his position on the floor.

"You let me win." Michelle's voice came from the bed.

"I did no such thing. Are you suggesting that I would cheat to loose?"

"No, I'm suggesting that you let me win."

"My dear, there is no room for charity in the game of Poker."

"Uh-huh." Michelle rolled over on the bed till her face looked over the edge at him. He shifted again, trying to find a comfortable spot. "Face it, Ezra, you're just too much of a gentleman to have let me sleep on the floor." She grinned down at him.

Ezra made a 'humph' sound, and rolled over, his back facing her.

"Ezra?" she said. He remained still. "Oh come on, this is ridiculous. It's a big bed. Get up here."

"Surly you are not,......"

"Surly I am. Get up here. You'll never get any sleep down there."

He pulled himself up into a sitting position. "You honestly think I will be able to sleep lying next to you?"

She blushed in the darkness. "Do I make you that uncomfortable?"

"No. It's not that. It's that you make me TOO comfortable."

She reached down and grabbed his hand to pull him up. "It's alright. I won't bite you."

He sighed, and looked up to meet her eyes. "Are you sure?"

"I just said I was. Come on."

He got off the floor, and sat down carefully on the bed as she scooted over to make room for him. "This is highly improper."

"Who the hell is gonna care?"

"Lord, I have never known a woman to have a mouth like you." he said, lying down on top of the covers.

"And I've never known a bigger stubborn fool than you."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

She pulled the covers further up to her chin and rolled over. "Good-night, Ezra."

"Good-night." He said.

They both went to sleep then, drifting off on the sound of each other's breathing.

"Hey Ezra? You decent?" Michelle asked as she knocked on the bathroom door the next morning.

"Ouch! Damn it." Came the voice from the other side. The door swung open, and Ezra appeared before her in a pair of khaki pants and a dark red shirt, which just happened to match the blood running from the cut on his chin.

"What happened?"

"This," he said, holding up the disposable razor from her kit that she had given him, "is an implement of torture."

"Really?" She rinsed a paper towel under cold water and handed it to him. He pressed it against the thin cut. "They seem to do my legs just fine." She pulled the dress she was wearing up to expose her smooth legs. The sound of the razor clattering into the sink made her look up. "Something wrong?"

"You,....You're wearing a dress?"

"Yes, Ezra. I have been known to dress like a real girl from time to time."

The deep blue, ankle length dress skimmed her body, hiding as well as revealing the curves he found himself admiring. A long slit ran up both the left and right sides, showing off her shapely legs each time she moved. It was sleeveless, and Ezra was rewarded with the sight of creamy white shoulders.

"Will you not be cold in that?" He wanted her to cover herself up so he wouldn't be faced with such temptation.

She shrugged. "I've got a jacket. You can take that towel away now."

Ezra removed the wet towel from his chin. The bleeding had stopped.

"Don't go spraying an cologne near your chin," she said, "It will sting like the dickens."

"Thanks for the warning."

"You want some breakfast? They've got coffee, juice, and bagels in the main lobby."

Ezra wasn't sure what a bagel was. Obviously some kind of breakfast food. He could really go for some steak and eggs, but none seemed forthcoming. "Coffee would be appreciated."

"Sure. I'm going down there now. Just meet me there when you're done."

She turned and left the tiny room. Ezra leaned over till his head peaked around the doorframe and watched her as she swayed from the motel room and out the door.

He turned back to the mirror, and looked into it at his reflection. "A dress, " He muttered. "Good lord."

He picked up his dropped razor from the sink and resumed his shaving.

"Ouch! Damn it."

She knew she was grinning like an idiot, but she could have cared less about the curious looks she received from the other occupants of the lobby.

Michelle hummed to herself as she put a bagel on to toast. So far, it was turning out to be a good day. She had awoken to find Ezra's arm lying across her stomach. He must have moved closer to her in his sleep. She had just lain there for a while, studying his face in the early morning light before reluctantly waking him.

She grinned, picturing him with the safety razor in his hands, trying to figure out how to work it. To his credit, he hadn't asked for help, although she would have loved to shave him. It seemed a very private, intimate thing to do.

Her bagel popped out of the toaster, and she grabbed a small container of cream cheese to spread on top of it. A large, ice filled bowel of canned juices stood next to the toaster, and she selected an orange juice for herself.

As she turned to go over to the large coffeepot, she ran right into a man's large chest.

"Oh," she said, "I'm sorry."

"Hey, no problem." He smiled down at her. He was very tall; probably about 6 foot 2, she estimated. He had a pleasant enough face, if not overly attractive. His smile was warm and friendly, but for some reason a shiver of warning raced down her spine.

"Excuse me." She said, moving out around him. She walked over to the coffee.

"Gonna be a nice day, don't you think?" She looked up. He was standing beside her, reaching for one of the Styrofoam cups piled beside the pot.

"Looks like." She answered, not wanting to be rude, yet wishing that he would go away.

She poured Ezra's coffee, knowing that he preferred it black. Making her way to a group of chairs around a small table, she sat down and took a bite out of her bagel.

A hand set a cup on the table. She suppressed a groan. Oh good, her new friend was here again.

"Hi again. Mind if I sit here?" he asked.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do." But either he didn't hear her, or just decided to ignore her wishes. He pulled a chair out and sat his large frame on it.

"Name's Bill."

"Charmed." She said in an icy tone. Just who did this guy think he was? Did she look like she was interested?

"You here for the Tournament?" he asked. He reached into his jean pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out with his teeth and then offered her one.

"No thanks. I'd rather live." She said, eyeing the cigarette in his mouth with distaste.

Bill shrugged, put away the pack, and pulled a sliver lighter out. "So, you into fishing?" he asked again, lighting the cigarette and blowing a cloud of nicotine right at her.

She felt her eyes begin to water. "No." It came out more as a cough. "Just passing through."

"Traveling alone, are you?" He leaned back in his chair, crossing his left knee with his right ankle.

Warning bells went off in her head. What? Was this guy some sort of serial killer looking for his next victim? "Look, sir, I don't mean to sound like a bitch, but I really don't have time for this. I'm waiting for my friend. So if you would just kindly leave me alone, I'd appreciate it."

He took another drag on the cigarette. "Just trying to be friendly." He said, but his smile was no longer pleasant. It reminded Michelle of the grin she'd seen on a crocodile-deadly.

"Hi honey."

Michelle barely had time to react to the voice in her ear before a hand came around to the back of her neck and pulled her head around to meet Ezra's lips. He gave her a loud, wet kiss and released her. Taking a seat next to her, he beamed a smile at Bill.

"I don't believe we've met sir."

Across from them, Bill looked unfazed. "Bill." He said, holding out one beefy hand to Ezra.

Ezra grasped it, and released it quickly. "Pleasure." He picked up his cup and took a sip of the still hot brew. "Thank you for the coffee, darlin'." He smiled at Michelle and took one of her hands in his. He kissed her knuckles, then sat there running his thumb over her wrist.

Michelle was too stunned to wrestle her hand from his grasp.

"You will have to excuse us, Bill, we are newlyweds."


Michelle stood up abruptly, yanking Ezra out of his chair as she did so. "I think it's time to leave." She said with a sweet smile.

"How right you are, my dear. You see, Bill, she just can not wait to resume the honeymoon."

That was it! She was going to strangle him. "Ezra, let's get out to the car, please. Bill, I wish I could say it's been a pleasure, but I would be lying."

Ezra tipped his hat at Bill as Michelle pulled him along by the hand.

Once they were at the car, she pried her hand from his and walked around to the drivers side, yanking the door open and then slamming it shut once she was seated inside.

Ezra opened his passenger door and slid inside. Michelle waited until he shut the door before turning on him.

"What was that?"

"What do you mean?" he asked with a perfectly innocent expression on his handsome face.

"That." She gestured with her hand to the motel behind them. "What in the world did you do that for?"

He shrugged. "You appeared to be in need of assistance."

"I was doing just fine."

"It did not seem to me that that behemoth was going to take his leave of you anytime soon."

"I could have handled him."

"Could you have, now? He did not look the type to take no for a final answer."

"That was no reason for you to go over there and,....Damn, Ezra." She leaned forward till her forehead met the steering wheel. "Eruggghhhh." She groaned out.

"My apologies. I assumed a lady still liked for a man to act chivalrous." He said.

"Chivalrous, yes. Like an idiot, no. Look, this trip is going to be hard enough, I don't need you acting like Sir Galahad on me."

"Not a problem." He inclined his head in an accepting gesture. "I have always been more of a Lancelot man."

She started the car, and as she shifted into drive, she sent him a little grin. "I've always preferred Arthur myself."

"As did Guinevere." He said, returning her grin. "At first."

Just when he thought he's seen and heard everything new and shocking in this century, Michelle goes and throws something else into the mix.

Halfway through Kentucky, she suddenly said she'd had enough of the silence inside the car, and reached for the buttons on her dashboard. Music filled the car. Loud, fast music. Music like he'd never heard before.

"Alright." Michelle said. She turned a dial, and the sound became louder. "Go on, go on, leave me breathless." She sang along. Her fingers began to tap on the steering wheel. "Tempt me, tease me, till I can't deny this lovin' feelin'."

If he had thought she was talking to him, he would have been glad to oblige her. He had never heard such suggestive lyrics before outside of a New Orleans whorehouse.

"Excuse me?" He tried to make his voice be heard over the noise.

Michelle continued to sing along, her head bobbing along with the bouncy beat. He reached for the button she had pushed before, this time choosing the arrow that pointed down. As he suspected, the volume went down, but Michelle's voice continued.

"Make me long for your kiss." She stopped when she noticed she could no longer hear the song blasting out of the speakers.

"My dear, if you long for my kisses, all you have to do is ask." He found himself highly amused at the sudden flush in her face.

"What do you call this?"


"Although that is highly doubtable, it is not what I was referring to. I meant, what is this device?" He waved a hand at the controls.

"Radio. It works on airwaves. Think of it in the same way as a Television or Telephone. See these arrows? Push up or down, and you can scan through several different stations till you find what you want to listen to." She demonstrated, pushing the down arrow.

The numbers on the little screen jumped several times before stopping.

They now read 99.5. There was no music this time, but a voice filled the car.

"Good-afternoon, everybody! Sure hope you're enjoying the great day out there. We've got lots of fantastic prizes for you to win coming up real soon, including those tickets to see the man who is up next. This is Kenny Rogers with one of my all time favorites, right here on our all oldies afternoon on 99.5 Kentucky Kountry."

The song began to play. Ezra sent Michelle a strange look when she began to laugh hysterically.

"Is there something amusing about this tune?" he asked, listening and trying to decipher what brought on her sudden mirth.

The song told a story about two men meeting on a train. They talked shared whiskey and cigarettes.

All right, so far it didn't sound so bad.

Michelle was still giggling madly, and she had tears coming out of her eyes.

"This song,....its,......oh my,...."She dissolved into laughter again.

"Might I suggest you pull over before your humor causes an accident?"

She gulped down another laugh. Breathing deeply, she got herself under control. "Sorry." She still could not seem to control her grin. "This song, it's called 'The Gambler'."

Ezra listened some more as the song played.

You've got to know when to hold them,
Know when to fold them,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.

You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table,
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done."

"Sounds like sage advice. " He said, "Am I to assume your laughter was because this song reminds you of me?"

She nodded, her chest heaving from laughter being held inside.

"I see. Well, there could be worse things that would bring me to mind, I suppose."

The radio remained on the station until static took over its air. Michelle managed to find another country station at Ezra's insistence.

The sun was just beginning to set as they pulled into the campground. The area of Missouri that they were in was a campers haven, and motel rooms were few and far between; but this particular ground at least had a bathhouse, and they could rent a tent and sleeping bags.

"You mean to tell me that people do this for the pure enjoyment of it?" Ezra asked as he surveyed the grounds full of tents, and people sitting around fires.

"Come on, Ezra. I thought you would at least be used to sleeping out in the elements." Michelle drove a stake into the ground with a large mallet.

"Used to it, yes, but never once have I said that I liked doing it."

She looked up at him from her crouched position by the partially erected tent. "Are you going to help me, or what?"

"A gentleman does not debase himself by engaging in menial labor."

She grinned. "And a gentleman also does not let a lady do all the work by herself."

"I suppose that puts us at an impasse."

"Ezra." She swung the mallet around in a threatening manner. "Get over here before I start pounding more than just stakes into the ground."

His expression feigned shock. "I thought you didn't condone violence."

She gave him a grin evilly reminiscent of Chris Larabee's. "I don't."

He sighed, went over to her, and took the mallet from her hand. "I'm only doing this under extreme duress, you realize."

Between the two of them, they managed to get the tent up, and to have it remain somewhat stable.

"What do you say we go check out the night life?" Michelle said, nodding her head toward the pavilion some feet away from them. She could hear music coming from over there, and the scent of steaks on the grill was carried to her on the night breeze. Her mouth watered.

"I suppose in the absence of a respectable restaurant, it will have to do." Ezra's nose also caught the delectable scent in the air.

Upon reaching the pavilion, they were met with a jovial face, and a loud, "Howdy, folks!"

The owner of the voice had large brown eyes, and a thick white beard. He was short, and comfortably plump. He reminded Michelle for all the world of a cowboy Santa Clause.

"Welcome! You folks lookin' for a steak?"

"Smells wonderful." Michelle said, finding his wide, friendly smile irresistible.

"Well then, come on in. Got lots a food. Go find yerselfs a seat. How you like yer steaks done?"

"Rare." Ezra spoke up.

"Well done." Michelle said at the same time.

They looked at each other.

The cowboy Santa laughed. "I guess opposites really do attract. I'll have those up fer ya in a jiffy."

"Pardon me sir, would you happen to have any spirits on hand?" Ezra asked him.

"Ifin ya mean beer or whiskey, son, ya can find some behind the bar." He headed back to his sizzling grill and Michelle and Ezra found a seat at a picnic table in the corner.

"How can you eat something that still has an animals life blood running through it?" She asked him as he pulled the cards she gave him out of the pocket of his leather coat.

A half smile graced his face as he began to shuffle. "How can you eat a steak that has been burnt to a crisp?" He raised his green eyes to her, but kept his mental concentration on the cards in his hands.

"At least my steak won't still be breathing."

"Must we fight over something so trivial?" Ezra ended his shuffling and began dealing out the cards between them.

Michelle picked up her cards and examined them. "So what are we playing for?"

"If I am the victor, you shall eat half of my still breathing steak." He said with a serious tone and expression, but she could see the merriment dancing in his eyes.

"And if I win?" She asked.

"That is for you to decide."

"Hmmm." She propped her chin on her fist and thought. A quick gaze over the room showed her several other couples engaged in conversation at their own tables. A group of men that she guessed to be fishermen were eating at another table. More people were taking advantage of the music by using an empty portion of the pavilion as a dance floor.

She smiled. "Alright. I win, you have to dance with me."

An eyebrow raised. "Dance?"

"You do know how to dance, don't you?"

"I'll have you know I was trained at one of the finest institutes of the art in the country."

"Somehow I don't think they taught you how to do the Lambada."

"The what?"

"Play, Ezra." She laughed.

"Are you sure you have never learned the concept of this game before?" Ezra asked her. His empty plate sat beside him on the table, the steak it had held now digesting nicely in his own stomach.

Michelle was taking her sweet time finishing off her own meal. She slowly cut into her thoroughly cooked meat, and brought the morsel up to her mouth, parted her lips, and took the piece off the fork by using her tongue.

Evil little witch. Thought she was going to get a rise out of him, did she? He put on his best 'bored' face and watched as she made a show out of eating; all the while he was digging his fingers into his knee under the table.

"You just really must be a good teacher." She said, wiping her mouth with a napkin.

"And I do think that you really must be a first class conwoman. My mother and you would get along swimmingly."

"Are you going to open that?" She asked, pointing at the bottle of Jack Daniels that was brought over to them at Ezra's request.

He picked up the bottle and read the black label. "Produced in the hills of Tennessee, is it?"

"Yep. Whole town of Lynchburg survives on the distillery. Lynchburg. You know, I have always wondered how it got that name."

"Perhaps it is best if you do not ask." He said, unscrewing the cap and pouring small amounts into the glasses provided. He handed one to her, and raised his own glass. "To you, my lady." He drank the liquid down in one swallow.

She looked at her glass, turning it, letting the lights around them catch the amber color of the whiskey.

"Are you not going to imbibe?"

"I've never drank straight whiskey before." She admitted.

"Oh. Well, something tells me that you've never saved a man's life before, either. As they say, there is a first time for everything. Drink it fast. Whiskey burns going down."

He poured himself another.

"Are you trying to get drunk enough that you won't have to pay up?" She looked over at the dance floor, where people were doing a line dance. 4 Runner's song 'Cain's Blood' blared from the speakers.

"I would never renege on a deal. As soon as a more appropriate refrain is played, I shall take you for a turn about the floor."

"Afraid you wouldn't be able to keep up with something this faced paced?" She asked as the song changed to Leane Rimes.

"I do not fear any such thing. In fact I find the music to be quite thrilling. There is something very basic and primitive about it. It stirs the blood and makes the heart race. Look at them." He said, directing her gaze toward the couples on the floor. "This is how our pagan ancestors must have danced while praying to their gods for a good harvest,....or for love. Yes, I think that's it. This is reminiscent of a fertility rite. The basic beat of the music seems to imitate the motion of two bodies engaged in passion." He turned to her again. She was looking at him with that strange expression again; the one he had seen on her face the other day when she bought him the hat.

He had known enough women to know when they were aroused, and Michelle's eyes were shinning bright with need.

But need for what?

Was it him, or was it simply the moment, the music, the liquor?

He looked down at her hands and saw the glass still rested between her palms, the whiskey still untouched inside of it.

"No, my dear, it is not fear of the pace. I simply prefer to hold my partner close while in a dance."

Their eyes held one another's, both captured by what they saw expressed there. The glass in her hand raised to her mouth and she tossed the drink back. A shudder coursed through her as it drained down her throat and filled her stomach with warmth.

The music changed again, and Ezra smiled as he held his hand out to her.

"I believe this shall meet out needs."

Slowly, her hand reached up to lightly grasp his. She rose from her chair and he led her to the floor, where other couples were twirling in each other's arms to the rhythm of the music.

Ezra's arm came around to touch the small of her back, his other hand holding hers. Her free hand came up to touch his shoulder.

"Do you know how to do a two step?" She asked, not daring to break the contact between his eyes and hers.

"It is not much different from a waltz it would seem." He smiled, and drew her closer to him. With a step backward, he swung her out onto the floor.

The lights blurred around them, but all Michelle could see was Ezra's eyes as he looked down at her. The music swelled around them, making them move with it. Ezra's hand gripped her tighter as he led her through the dance steps.

He released her to swing her out away from him, only to pull her back towards him again, pulling her all the more closer, until their bodies were pressed up against each other.

Michelle could feel Ezra's heart beat against her chest, directly over the spot where her own was beating erratically. Their hearts seemed to meld until she could not longer tell which was hers and which was his.

His eyes glowed, reminding her of the eyes of a cat that was on the hunt, and she was his prey.

She could not fight him when his mouth lowered onto hers. She did not want to fight.

Ezra's mouth moved against hers, urging her to respond. The hand that had rested on his shoulder moved up till her fingers tangled into he short hairs behind his head. Her other arm found its way around his waist.

She could feel his arms around her. The slight tugging of her hair told her that Ezra was running his fingers through her long strands. It felt nice. He felt nice. If anything, she knew that Ezra's mouth was good for more than just throwing out all those fancy words of his.

The desire to feel his mouth on other parts of her body was overwhelming.

With her tongue she licked at his lips until they parted, and she entered, tasting and savoring him.

He let out a gasp at her boldness. Lord, but she was wanton. He could still taste the combination of steak and whiskey inside her mouth. Never before had anything tasted so delicious, nor had anything stirred the hunger inside of him the way holding her to him did.

Her hair, oh dear God, her hair was soft and thick. He scrunched up the curls in his hand. He could feel their texture, the way they spiraled down and jumbled together. He wanted to see her hair falling all around her sweet body. He wanted to see it all messed up the morning after a night of pure lust.

Tonight was that night. He couldn't hold himself back any longer, and it would seem his need was reciprocated.

With great regret, his tore his lips from hers. "We are making an exhibition here. However much I would love to continue, I do not feel the need to have an audience. Might I suggest we journey back to our tent?"

Her breath came in short, fast pants. He could feel the hotness of it against his neck. Her head had fallen to his shoulder, and he felt her nod of acceptance there.

"Come then." He took her hand and led her from the pavilion.

The walk back to their tent was spent in silence, the only sounds coming from the distant music and laughter left behind them, and the soft sounds of crickets playing their nightly concert.

Michelle held on tightly to Ezra's hand as they approached their lonely tent, and she had to wonder why she chose a spot so far removed from the crowd. Had it been in her mind all along to be with him this night?

No, it had been on her mind since the first night.

Could it have only been 3 days ago? It felt like so much more, as if so many things that taken place. The very world she lived in felt different. She felt different. No matter what the next few days held in store for them, she knew she would never go back to being a nobody salesgirl from Ohio.

In Ezra's eyes she saw a new her-- someone exciting and beautiful. It was a person she had never been before. She needed him to show her, to teach her how to be that person.

Ezra drew back the flap that served as the tent's entrance, his eyes giving her the invitation that his lips could not express. She ducked inside, followed closely by him.

Michelle picked up one of their rented sleeping bags and unzipped it all the way, spreading it out like a blanket on the ground.

Ezra removed his hat and jacket and laid them carefully atop his bag, which sat to one corner. He lowered himself onto the ground, and with one hand grabbed hers, bringing her down with him.

Michelle lay on her back, starring up at Ezra, who was leaning on one elbow, looking back at her, a storm of different emotions clouding his eyes.

"All you have to do," he said, letting one hand softly caress her cheek, "is to say that you do not want to do this, and we will stop."

"Do you want to do this?" she asked. Her fingers reached up to undo the buttons on his shirt. One by one, they came apart until she was able to spread the silken fabric apart and touch her hands to his smooth, solid chest. "Do you want me?"

Ezra groaned when he felt her touch against his skin. Her fingers trailed down his abdomen, ending their search at the waistband of his pants.

"Michelle," he growled out her name. "I wanted this, wanted you, from the moment I first opened my eyes to see you there."

She fumbled with the belt at this waist. "And I wanted you from the first moment I saw you shoot blanks into that target at the saloon."

He laughed, "Well, shall we see if my aim is still up to par?" He lowered his mouth onto hers, delving inside her, going deeper and deeper until she thought she would swallow him.

She could feel him moving her dress up her body, his fingers bunching it up as he urged it off of her. She raised her arms to help him as he flung it off over her head.

"Dear Lord." She wore nothing underneath that dress but two pieces of underclothing so small he wasn't sure if they deserved the name. His hand tentatively reached up to touch one breast encased in satiny blue material. "Oh my." It looked, and felt, so enticing. "What,...what do you call this?" he asked, sweeping his hand over to feel her other side.

"It's called a Bra." She said, enjoying the feel of his massaging fingers.

"A Bra." He echoed. "Somehow that name does not seem fitting enough for something so wondrous. And this?" He raised himself enough to look down at the matching satin that barely covered her.

"Panties, they're called panties."

"They are terribly indecent." He said with a gleam in his eyes.

"They come off you know." She teased.

He laughed low in his throat. "We will get to that in time. First, show me how to undo this." He said, once again trailing his hand across her satin bra.

She sat up, and reached her hands behind her. In an instant the satin came loose, and the straps fell off her shoulders. He pulled them the rest of the way down her arms, slowly exposing her to his hungry eyes.

He pushed her down again, and claimed one of her breasts with his mouth, the other he rubbed and kneaded with the palm of his hand.

She gasped; her eyes going wide at the feel of his mouth on her as he licked and kissed her until she felt her nipples grow taunt.

"Sweet." Ezra whispered, leaving her breast to nuzzle at her neck. "So sweet."

She felt that she was going off like a rocket, shooting straight up into the unknown reaches of outer space.

Ezra was now burying his face into her hair, his hands tossing her curls.

"You have the most glorious hair. I've longed to feel it against my skin."

"I hate to disappoint you." She said, her breathing hard, "but it's not natural. The curl, the color, I wouldn't have it if not for lots of chemical inducement."

"Whatever it is, I don't care. It feels good. It smells like strawberries. Do you like strawberries?"

"Yes, I love them. I love them even more when they've been dipped in chocolate."

Ezra made a low, guttural groan. "I too like the taste of chocolate. I would love to dip you in the substance, I am sure you would taste heavenly." He claimed her mouth once more.

Michelle's hands sought the button and zipper of Ezra's pants. She made short work of both, and pulled them down, along with his briefs. He shifted his hips so they could be pulled off, and then he kicked them away.

She pushed Ezra over, arranging herself on top of him, each leg straddling him on either side.

She began to kiss him at his shoulders, his neck. She dipped her tongue into the hollow of this throat.

She could feel him grow hard against her, pushing up, demanding release; but she also sensed he was holding back, waiting for her to catch up with him.

Her lips trailed their kisses down to his chest, where she touched and teased him in the same manner he had done to her.

Her hands roamed over him, tracing the lines of each muscle on his arms, kneading the hard flesh of his thighs. With a daring she never knew herself to possess, she touched one trembling finger to his manhood.

The feather-like touch was all Ezra needed to simply explode inside. He grabbed her by her hips, still encased in their satin covering, and rolled over with her till he once again looked down on her. He gripped the sides of her panties with tight fists, and urged her to "Take them off, now."

She did as he bided, moving herself around till they slipped down her legs and were tossed over to join the pile of their clothes in the corner.

The feel of her wiggling body sent him off again. He moved against her, testing her willingness to let him in. He found her warm and wet.

"Incredible." He said between the kisses he placed on her body.

Yes, incredible, she wholly agreed. Nothing had ever felt so good, so right. She shifted beneath him again, and arched her back.

"Ezra, please." She breathed, and felt the first entrance of him into her body.

She gasped. Out of shock, surprise, pleasure? Perhaps one, perhaps them all. She was feeling so many different things that it was hard to keep track of them all.

He raised himself up, and then delved in again, each time going further and further into the mystery that was Michelle. He could hear her moans in his ear, feel her fingers as they gripped at his back.

With a final plunge, he fully entered her,....then stopped. His body stiffened in sudden realization.


"Ezra, its ok." She kissed his neck. Her body pleaded with him to finish what had been started.

"Oh damn. Why did you not tell me?"

"Because it doesn't matter. I want it to be here and now. I want it to be you." She wrapped her legs around him and pushed herself up, forcing him to break through the barrier that had kept her in innocence for far too long.

The minute he broke through, Ezra lost all sense of place and time. He began to move within her, his body taking over where his mind left off.

Michelle bit her lip at the sharp pain that coursed through her, but that pain soon ebbed, replaced by sensations she had never known, nor had any words to describe. She closed her eyes and let herself be carried away on the wave of desire that Ezra was causing in her.

Ezra thrust himself on her. He could feel her trembling, knew she was close to her release. With a final, hard push, he let loose, filling her with his heat.

Their twin cries carried out into the night.

When Ezra came back to himself, he was still laying on top of her. Her breathing had evened out, and her eyes were closed. A smile of pleasure graced her lips.

He gently placed a kiss on those lips, and left her body.

Reaching for the other sleeping bag, he unzipped it, and spread it over their bodies.

He took her in his arms again, pulling her up against him.

His own exhaustion took him then, drawing him into dreams filled with nothing but the woman he held.

The sound of birds singing their morning song woke Ezra from his slumber. He rolled over; reaching for the body that he recalled had lain beside him. When his hand touched only empty air, he opened his eyes and sat up.

"Michelle?" he called out. "Michelle!"

"Right here." Her face looked in at him from the open flap of the tent.

Her hair was freshly washed and brushed, and she was dressed in a crisp white shirt, tied at her waist, and a pair of black pants.

She looked lovely.

"Did you think I left you?" She teased, ducking inside. She held a cup in her hand, which she handed to him.

"Coffee." She said, kissing him on the cheek.

"Thank you." He looked at the Styrofoam cup with its plastic lid. A small triangle cut into the lid allowed for him to drink. "Do you never drink coffee?"

"Nope." She shook her head, and held up a can that said 'orange juice' on it. "I've tried coffee just about every way a person can drink it, and just never got a taste for it."

"I see." He took a sip, and watched her as she crawled around the tent, picking up their rumbled clothes.


"Yes?" She looked over her shoulder at him. He was so damned cute; sitting there wrapped in a sleeping bag. She was tempted to crawl back under there with him.

"I was wondering. Last night, did I,...what I mean to say is,...well, I know that a woman's first time can be quite painful. If I hurt you in any way, then I am dreadfully sorry."

"No." She scooted over to him. "Ezra, don't be sorry for giving me the best night I've ever had."

He shook his head slowly. "You should have told me."

"Would it have made a difference?"

He raised his eyes to meet hers. He wasn't sure what he would find there. Regret maybe? Would she be ashamed of their night together?

She cupped his cheek with her hand, and smiled. "I can honestly say that last night was the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. I'm glad it was you." She kissed him then, letting her lips linger on his.

His arm wrapped around her, pulling her closer, although he knew that he could never get close enough. He pulled her down on top of him, his mouth searching hers, his hands tangling in her fresh, clean curls.

"Ezra." She managed to pant out between his kisses. "Ezra, we have to stop."

"Why?" He pouted.

He actually pouted. She started to laugh. "Because we still have a long way to go."

"Ah, yes, our journey. How many more days is it to go now?"

"About 3 or 4 give or take."

"4 days." He said. "4 days left. And what shall happen when we reach our destination?"

She laid her head on his shoulder. "I don't know. These people, they said they're going to protect you. You'll be safe. No one is ever going to hurt you or your friends ever again."

"And you?" He kept his arms around her; afraid if he let her go she would disappear.

"I don't know that either. I know I can't go back to my life as it was before." She got up, pulling him off the ground by the hand. "Let's not think about it, Ok? Let's go. We have to make a stop near the state border. A town called Joplin."

"This place is bigger than I thought."

Now there was a phrase that commonly passed through her lips. It seemed a lot of places were always bigger than she thought.

'Guess that means I don't get out much'. She thought.

It was true. At that point in her life the farthest west she had ever been was St. Louis. Even the 'Gateway to the West' had been bigger than she thought. She laughed to herself. "Lord," This time she spoke out loud. "Why do I get the feeling Vegas is gonna knock me on my ass."

"Tell me about the city we are headed to." Ezra sat beside her in the passenger seat, shuffling the now ever present deck of cards. Michelle quickly found out that it was something of a nervous habit with Ezra.

"I need to keep my hands busy. " he had told her. "Without the cards, I tend to fidget."

"I've never been there." She looked left and right along the road, keeping an eye out for a street called North Main.

Her packet of instructions had included a direction to go to North Main Maxi Storage in Joplin, Missouri. She had received a claim ticket and a set of keys on a ring shaped like a hand of cards.

What they opened, she didn't know, but she was curious to find out.

"Surely you must know something of it." Ezra was also looking out for the street they needed, keeping one eye on his cards, and one on the road. "I believe that is the street you need." He said, pointing to a street to the left.

Michelle hit the brakes before she passed the road up, and made the turn.

"Thanks. Like I said, I've never been there. I've seen pictures, but I've never had the real Las Vegas experience."

"Las Vegas experience? Hmmm, that sounds interesting. Do tell?"

"Ah! Look, there it is." She pointed to a sign at the right that proclaimed the place to be The North Main Maxi Storage.

She pulled in and found a parking space. "Let's go see what this is all about."

"Hold on a minute." Ezra put a hand on her arm. "I get the feeling you are purposely trying to misdirect me away from the subject of our destination. What is it, exactly, that you don't want to tell me?"

"What possible reason would I have to want to misdirect you?" She smiled, but it was a nervous smile.

"You know," he said, leaning in closer to her, "I know of many ways to loosen tightly closed lips. One of my favorites is to attack the outside areas. Unless I am mistaken, there is a certain spot behind your ear that makes you,......" He began to nibble at an area just below her right earlobe.

"Ahhhh." Michelle gasped out. "Ezra, stop." She began to laugh as his tongue tickled the sensitive spot.

"No, no, no." His tongue moved to lick the backside of her ear. "No stopping until information is shared."

"I just may keep my mouth shut then, because I'm enjoying this way too much."

"You are shameless. Come now, you can only keep this a secret for so long."

Michelle bit back a sharp cry when she actually felt Ezra give the side of her neck a small bite.

"Ooohh, she liked that." He said in gleeful voice. "Let's try it again."

"Alright, stop, I'll tell you." She pushed on his shoulder.

"Darn, just when I was starting to have fun."

"You're incorrigible." She said, rubbing at the little bite on her neck. She knew she would end up having a mark there.

"No, my dear, I merely decide what I want and go after it with great enthusiasm."

"Hmmm, I'll say." She wiggled he eyebrows.

"Shall I start my encouragement again?" He asked, leaning toward her once more.

"No! Get away." She couldn't help but laugh. Ezra had a playful side to him that was coming out more and more, and she found she was as drawn to that side of him as she was to his more 'dangerous', gambler side.

"Las Vegas is a city built out in the middle of the Nevada desert. It's main attractions are the various large hotels that people go to too eat, drink, relax, and,...."

"And?" Ezra said with an encouraging smile.

"Gamble." She said under her breath.

"Come again?"

"Gamble." This time she said it louder. "I said, people go there to gamble. They play Roulette, Blackjack, they pour quarters into slot machines. It's the main, if not only, source of revenue in the city."

Ezra blinked. "You're telling me that you are taking me to a place that is a sort of paradise of Gambling?

She nodded. "Basically, yes."

"I see." He began to smile, a smile which just grew wider and wider. One would have thought she had just told him she was giving him a one-way ticket to heaven. "And all these hotels, they all have casinos in them?"

"Mm-hm. Wait till you see them, Ez, they're huge. One place, the MGM Grand, has a front entrance shaped like a huge lion's head. And the Excalibur looks like a medieval castle. There's one based on the myths of ancient Greece, and another that is supposed to be like a miniature New York City." She was sounding as excited as he looked, only for different reasons. From pictures she had seen, Las Vegas looked more like a Disney theme park and less like the den of sin it was always portrayed as.

"A whole city dedicated to the art of the game of chance." Ezra sounded wistful, his eyes taking on a dream like quality. "What a novel idea. We will have time to sample the pleasures these casinos have to offer us, will we not?"

"Not if we don't get our ass's in gear, we won't." She pointed at his door, and said, "Out." She wanted to know what was so important about having her stop here.

In a mere 10 minutes, she had her answer. After turning her claim ticket in, they were led out to a large, garage-like storage unit.

The young man in the red shirt with 'Maxi Storage' stitched above the right breast pocket opened the door and said, "It's all yours." He walked away; leaving the two of them alone to discover what was inside.

Michelle switched on the light to reveal a large gray tarp covering,....something.

She moved closer, Ezra at her heels.

"What is it?" he asked, as curious about the object as she was.

"Only one way to find out." She said, taking hold of the tarp. "Help me here."

Together they pulled the heavy tarp off and flung it aside.

Michelle stood there staring at what they had found underneath, her mouth hanging open in astonishment.

"It's an automobile." Ezra said.

"An automobile? Uh-uh, no way. This is not a car, this is a religious experience."

Before them stood the most gorgeous piece of machinery on four wheels she had ever had the luck to see. "This is a,....oh god, this is a Ford Thunderbird. A classic."

Late 60's she would guess. Sixty-six or sixty-seven. Long and sleek, with a polished red surface that reflected the harsh lights above it.

She walked around it, her hand caressing the smooth surface as one would a lover.

"Oh, you beautiful thing." She murmured. It was a convertible to boot! The vinyl top could be rolled back to let the air whip one's hair about.

She opened the driver's door and settled herself into the leather front seat, which stretched out like a sofa. Lord, but it felt good.

"Man, I think I'm in love." She said. She wondered if it was possible to emotionally commit to a car.

Ezra watched her as she walked around the car, the look in her eyes akin to the look one would get if struck by Cupid's arrow. She whispered to it as though it were a living entity. He had to admit the auto was very striking. Even he felt the draw of it. Something told him that this was how a car was supposed to look, and all the others on the road were merely pretenders to the throne.

"There's got to be a mistake." Michelle said from her seat inside. "Why would they leave me a car?"

Ezra slid in beside her, and ran his hand over the soft leather upholstery. "Perhaps they felt you needed a change of vehicles?"

"Maybe." She ran her fingers around the large circle of a steering wheel. Ezra could tell she wanted the car, desperately wanted it.

"Try the key." He suggested. If the key in her possession started the car, it was theirs for the taking.

Michelle took the keys she found in her package and slipped it into the ignition. On the first turn, the engine roared to life, the sound settling down into a soft purr.

Michelle let out a loud whoop. "God, listen to that."

Ezra laughed. "It would seem that this is divine providence, as it were."

"I still don't get it, but,....oh, what the hell! As long as it's here, I would be a fool not to take this car."

A short while later, after transferring their luggage and making arrangements to have her own car stored, they climbed back into the Thunderbird.

Michelle slipped on the dark glasses she wore while driving, and steered their new transportation onto the road.

"So what now?" Ezra asked. The top was down, and he leaned his head back to feel the wind against his face.

"Now," she said, flashing him a smile, "how about we go get our kicks on Route 66."

"This is a dream." She said as she drove the Thunderbird along the twisting, winding road.

"The road, or the car?" Ezra asked. She had a smile on her face that would not erase, and Ezra found himself returning her obvious enthusiasm.

"Both. Oh god, I just can't believe it. I've wanted to come here for so long, it's just so hard to convince my brain I'm really here, even though my eyes can see it."

"I had no idea you felt so strongly about Kansas." Ezra said, his dry humor making an appearance.

"Very funny. I meant this road. This is Route 66. This is the road that brought hundreds of people west during the Depression years. This is the road that started the tradition of the family vacation. This is the mother road. This is America."

"This is a cornfield."

She reached up to pull away a strand of hair that had been whipped into her eyes by the wind. "How very observant of you. Come on, here we are, experiencing one of those very uncommon once-in-a-lifetime things."

"How so?"

"Well, how many other people do you know who take road trips down Route 66 in a classic Ford Thunderbird with a character from a television show?"

He laughed. "Alright, you have me there. In fact that sounds as if it could be a plot for one of your television programs. Perhaps once this trip is over you should consider writing."

"Nah, the Route 66 thing has been done already." She shook her head. "I'm happy just to be here."

They spent the rest of their day's ride with Michelle telling him about the history and legends of the road they were traveling that she had read from many books and committed to her memory.

Ezra laughed out loud when she told him a story about bootleggers during the liquor free 1920's.

They had to dump their entire brew, mash, and stills off of a bridge into the river below to keep themselves from being discovered by approaching law enforcers. It so happened that there was a flock of migrating geese making use of the same river. Within an hour, the geese had drunk so much of the water that they could barely fly.

They managed to make it as far as the next bridge, where traffic was held up by ambling, honking, and staggering geese, absolutely plastered from their impromptu happy hour.

Michelle told him all this as they crossed the small, arching bridge where it had all supposedly taken place.

"Apparently the geese kept returning to the same spot by the river year after year."

Ezra chuckled at the image his mind created of a bunch of drunken water foul. "I can't say as I blame them."

Michelle pushed on their journey until well into nightfall.

They were into Oklahoma when she finally pulled the car to a stop and switched the engine off.

Ezra looked around, peering into the semi-darkness. "There does not seem to be any establishments around where we can pass the night."

"There's a town just a mile or two down the road." She said, getting out of the car and walking around to the front, where she proceeded to hoist herself on top of the hood, and settle into a sitting position. "I just wanted to stop to see if we might,...see something."

"What is one to see in the night?" he asked, looking toward the sky. It was overcast. No stars broke through, and the moon played hide and seek with the clouds.

"A light. A ghostlight. Don't you dare laugh, I'm serious. Folks around here call it Spooklight. It's been seen for hundreds of years."

"What is it exactly?" Ezra didn't really believe in ghosts, but he would admit to enjoying a good scary story now and then.

"Like I said, it's a light. It appears right over there, on that bluff called Devil's Promenade. It's a ball of light that rolls and dances over the land. "There have been many theories as to what it could be, such as ball lightening, but so far nothing can really give a good explanation for it. "Someone once said they thought it was a wandering, atmospheric reflection of headlights on the highway."

"Sounds plausible." Ezra got out to lean his frame against the door. He would humor her and watch for this 'Spooklight' with her. He owed her at least this much, after all.

"Yes, but considering that it was first seen by the Quapaw Indians back in the mid-1800's, I don't think that theory holds much water. There weren't exactly a lot of cars on the roads back then."

"I'm afraid I'll have to agree with you on that one." He moved closer to her, till he was able to touch her leg, which dangled over the side of the car, with one caressing hand. "Do you really believe in such stories as this?"

She shrugged. "Why not. It's not any stranger than some other things I've heard or seen."

"But ghosts? Spirits of the dead? Come now, that is the stuff of children's night-time tales."

She pushed his hand away and jumped off the hood. "I thought you of all people would be a little more open-minded. Look at you, you shouldn't even be standing here, but you are. That in itself is a miracle. There is so much in this world that we don't know about, that we can't see, simply because we refuse to. Yes, I believe in ghosts, because they give me hope; hope that there is more to life than the time we spend on Earth. Hope that death is not really the end, but just the beginning of another life. Yeah, you bet I believe in ghosts. I believe in a lot of things."

She went over to him; her hand reached up to gently cup his cheek. "I believed in you, didn't I?"

Ezra brought his hand up to take hers. He placed a kiss on her wrist, and drew her against him. His arms encircled her. "You speak forcefully. You should have gone into politics."

"No way. I only believe in the good side of the paranormal."

He laughed, and kissed her on her lips. "So much passion."

"Why don't we go find ourselves a room and we'll see how much passion I have." She smiled up at him suggestively. "I really don't think Spooklight is going to put in an appearance tonight."

As they drove away, a small light began to appear in the distance of the area they had just left. It bobbed and jostled its way across the plain, and rose to the highest point of the rocky bluff before it's light winked out.

On this night, no one was there to witness the Spooklight.

Another night passed. Another night which they spent exploring each other, reveling in the magic they created.

Ezra had woken that morning to find Michelle's face smiling at him, and without even a 'good-morning' he reached for her, pulling her over top of him, and they proceeded to make it the best morning he could remember.

He could get used to this, to her.

"Have you given anymore thought to what you will do after we reach Las Vegas?" he asked her.

She evaded his question with another kiss, which led to round 2 of their early morning lovemaking session. Too much more of this and he wouldn't be fit to walk.

They had finally ended up pressed against the back wall of the bathroom shower, the cool water spraying down on them doing little to extinguish the heat between them.

They emerged, and dried each other off with the thick, white towel provided.

"Mmmm, you smell delicious." Ezra murmured in her ear.

"Ezra, we really do have to stop." Michelle said, but she made no move to stop Ezra from kissing her neck.

"Can we not just take the day off from traveling?" Ezra pulled at the towel she had wrapped around her. It fell from her body and dropped to the floor. "I, for one, would much rather spend the day in bed."

"Ezra," she said in a tone usually reserved for telling a child that they could not have the toy that they desired.

"Oh, alright." He pouted, making her giggle.

"Don't do that. It makes your bottom lip look so plump and pretty. You have no idea how much I want to kiss it."

She picked up the dropped towel and wrapped it around her again. She turned her back to him and walked out of the tiny bathroom.

"Dear god, woman, you're not making this easy." He called out after her. He was answered with the sound of her ringing laughter.

"What fun would easy be?" She asked, her head popping around the doorframe.

"You are trouble with a capitol T." He walked out of the bathroom without benefit of covering, giving her full view of his naked body.

"Putting yourself on display won't work." She said, eyeing his behind as he bent over to pick up a pair of pants.

She pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, frowning at the dwindling selection of clean clothes in her bag. She had enough to get to Vegas, she guessed. She would get everything cleaned before going back home.

The thought of home filled her with conflicting feelings of warmth and sadness. Warmth because she loved her house, her parents, her darling nephews and little baby niece. Sadness because deep down she knew she didn't belong there anymore.

Too much had changed.

She would always think of Ohio as home, but now that she had gotten at taste of adventure, she found she liked it. It suited her.

Perhaps after Ezra was safe, she would keep traveling. Find someplace where she could start over again. Someplace where everywhere she looked she wouldn't see a pair of green eyes and a gold tooth winking out at her from a little boy smile.

She wished she could stay with Ezra, if only for a little while. Help him settle in with his new life, but she knew it wouldn't be good for either of them.

No, she would simply enjoy what was left of her fantasy, and then,...well, she would have to figure that out when the time came.

"Weatherman says we are due for some rain today, straight through into the evening." Ezra was standing in front of the TV set, buttoning up a dark blue shirt.

Ezra had developed quite a fascination for televisions, and radios.

She smiled to think of what his reaction would be to computers.

For an old west man, he was certainly beginning to fit in with the modern age.

"Darn. Guess that means we can't keep the top down today." She walked over to the window and pulled the heavy drapes apart to look out at the red Thunderbird sitting in front of their door.

A sigh escaped her lips. It was certainly a beautiful car. She recalled now that during her correspondence with her contact, she mentioned perhaps taking Route 66 to Vegas. She had said she wished she owned a classic car, a car worthy of traveling such a historic road.

She would remember to thank whoever was responsible when she got to Vegas. Right before she gave the car back, along with Ezra.

Perfect, she was to loose two things that made her happy.

Damn this secret society anyway.

"Well, darlin', I do believe that there are things we can do inside that car with the top up." Ezra came up behind her, and wrapped his arms around her waist. He began nuzzling her neck. "I noticed the back seat has plenty of room."

She laughed. "We'll be driving in the car, Ezra. Driving," she stressed.

Although making out in the back seat was an interesting idea. If only they could find an old fashioned drive-in.

"You are in such a hurry. Did no one ever teach you to stop and appreciate your surroundings?" Ezra liked to travel at a slower pace, except when running from towns that were threatening him with bodily harm if he should ever show his face in them again. In those cases he rode hell bent for leather.

He supposed he should be in a hurry this time as well. Michelle had stated time and again that his life was in danger, as was hers by just being with him. But he wanted to savor each minute she was with him.

He wanted more than just a few days of hectic traveling and even more hectic sex to set to memory. If he could lock them both inside this room for the rest of the year, he would do it.

"Oh, I appreciate my surroundings, alright." She turned in his arms, and rose on her feet an inch or two to touch his lips with hers.

A clap of thunder made her jump out of his arms. They both looked at each other, and laughed.

"A little sign from the man above that we should be on our way?" He grinned at her.

They grabbed their bags and dashed out into the rain. A minute later, the classic car was once again heading down the road.

"I'm telling you, I don't think I should wait any longer." He paced around the small room, the phone base in one hand, its receiver held up to his ear with the other.

"I don't pay you to think." Came the answer from the other end.

"You don't pay me to sit on my ass and do nothing either. I'm telling you, I should just make a grab for them now, before they get there."

He plopped down on the bed and set the phone's base back on the table with a bang. He picked up his pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

"No. I want them all in once place. Then we can pick them all up together."

"Haven't you ever heard of the saying 'divide and conquer'? With them all separated, they would be much easier to catch."

"HA! Those seven are the hardest bunch I've ever dealt with. Slippery as eels, each one of them."

"Well then, why don't you just let me get the gambler? Couldn't we use him against the rest of them? They would come to you then."

"We do it my way." It seemed to be the final word on the subject.

"Yeah, whatever." He slammed the phone down, not caring if it sounded loud in the man's ear.

He fell back against the mattress and took a drag off his cigarette.

If only Mr. Boss Man knew what those two were doing. If only he could watch them paw at each other, and play championship tongue hockey, he would want to put a stop to it too.

Or perhaps he would just like to watch.

Well screw him.

He had much better things to do than just 'watch' them.

He got off the bed, and went over to the table to take a look at his new purchases, picked up at the last mini-mart he stopped at to get cigarettes.

Some nice strong rope, a roll of duct tape, and a shiny, sharp knife.

Yeah, he would end this in his own way, and show Mr. Boss Man who was the smarter one.

"People have some abhorrent eating habits in this century." Ezra grabbed a paper napkin and wiped the tomato sauce and grease off of his hands.

"You don't seem to be complaining much, Mr. French Fries." Michelle laughed as she picked up the now empty pizza box and dumped it in the trashcan.

The downpour outside had prevented them from seeking their meal at a local restaurant, so it had been pizza, breadsticks, and a bottle of wine in their hotel room instead.

"I may be adverse to such an evening's repast, but I am also unable to ignore the call of my stomach. As surprising as it is, I seem to want to eat more than I did,...well,....before."

"I'm sure Nathan would be glad to hear that." She reached over to refill his empty plastic cup with more red wine.

Ezra sipped at the semi-sweet, blood colored drink. Not bad. There was a lot to say about modern times.

"Funny," he said, twisting the cup around in his hands and watching the dim lights catch in the wine, turning it a bright ruby," I seem to be doing, saying, and thinking very many things I would not have previously. Add to that the fact that it does not seem so strange to me anymore. One would think I would have been more aware of such a change in myself."

"Perhaps," She touched his hand with her own, drawing it to her face. She placed the soft palm against her cheek, needing to feel the touch of him on her skin. "Perhaps that's because you haven't really changed. Perhaps you've always been this way, but you just created such a wonderful con about you, that you fooled everyone. Even yourself."

He brushed his fingers over her cheek, letting his thumb reach down to run over her full bottom lip. She sighed, her eyes closing as she gave herself over to his touch.

"You make me feel so real." He whispered.

"You are real." She felt his hand move to her neck, his fingers sweeping over her hair. It felt so good.

"No. I'm not, really. I am just a creation of someone's mind."

"Ezra, don't say that." She caught his hand with hers, stopping the attention to her hair. "You can see, breath, eat. You laugh, you feel. You can talk, and,..., you can love."

He smiled, knowing that she was recalling their previous night, and the morning that followed it. He felt his body stir at the mere thought of her beneath him, touching him.

"You may have thoughts and memories that were created by someone else, but this," she placed her other hand over his heart, "this is yours. And no one can ever take this from you."

Ezra took the hand from his chest and brought it to his lips. On each knuckle he placed a light kiss. He pulled her closer, leaning his head down toward her.

She pulled back. "Wait."

"Is something the matter?"

"No, but, Ezra, I've been eating pizza. My breath smells like garlic."

"Ah, I see. But I also believe I partook of the meal as well. Would my breath not have the same odor?"

"Really can't argue with logic like that, can I?" She began to play with the buttons of his shirt.

"Besides," he said, "There are some cultures who regard garlic as an aphrodisiac." He began pushing her back until they both lay on the bed, him leaning above her.

"They do, do they?"

"Oh, yes. It is said the scent alone is enough to heighten the senses to pleasure."

"Hmmm, guess we should put the theory to the test." The top 3 buttons of his shirt were undone now, and she raised her head enough to touch the tip of her tongue to the hollow of Ezra's throat. She heard his breath exhale, felt the ever so slight shudder of his body.

"I would never take you for the scientific type."

She laughed. "I'm not. But I'm also not above trying new things."

"Oh my. Now that does sound interesting." His hands began to rub the sides of her breasts. Slowly, up and down his fingers moved, drawing up the fabric of her shirt with each movement.

He was good. He could undress a woman without her even realizing it. A giggle came from her throat. Must be something he learned from Buck.

"What sort of thing do you wish to try?"

"Well, I was wondering,......," she trailed off, her tongue moved across her lips


She pushed him back till he lay down, and swung herself on top of him. She trailed her hand down his chest to the button that closed his pants.

His eyes widened as she unhooked them and pulled the zipper down.

"Oh. Oh my." He could not keep his breath from hitching up a notch. "You,....have you ever,....,?"

"Nope." She grinned. "That's what makes it new."

"You don't have to." But even as he said it, he could feel himself harden. He needed release, and quickly.

"But I want to."

Ezra's teeth bit down on his bottom lip as he felt the soft, satiny touch of her lips on him. Her warm tongue licked the tip of his erection and he groaned.

His arms reached above him to grasp the headboard, and he held on tight, afraid his need for her would cause her to stop the attention she was showing him.

It was torture. Pure, horrible torture, and it was the most glorious feeling in the world.

She had taken him fully now. He could practically feel her nervousness in the way her body would shake.

Was she doing it right? Was he enjoying it?

Yes. Oh, yes. To both questions.

He held fast as she sucked and licked him. He felt certain he would explode soon.

A sharp pinch at the tip made his eyes snap open.

Had she bitten him?

In a flash, he let go of the headboard and grabbed her arms, pulling her up till her face was above his.

"What was that?"

"I don't know." She said. The poor girl looked sorry, almost afraid. "It just happened. I'm sorry, Ezra. I didn't mean,...., I mean,...., I've never,...,"

He silenced her with his lips, shoving his tongue inside her mouth, and crushing her to him with one arm around her neck.

He kissed her until she was afraid she would die from not being able to breathe.

His hands dug into her hair, not letting her move an inch. She couldn't do anything more than lie there on top of him and let him attack her mouth.

"Take your pants off." He growled out into her mouth. "Now."

It was an order, delivered in a tone that left little room for argument.

She pulled herself away enough to give him a saucy salute. "Yes sir, General, sir."


"Long story." She stripped the pants from her legs and tossed them aside. "Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime."

"Maybe." He said. "But right now I want you here." He pointed to his groin.

"With pleasure." She climbed back on him, straddling him.

He placed his palms on her thighs and guided her into place.

As soon as he entered her, the world shattered around him.

Michelle lay on her side; her face toward the cream colored wall of their motel room. She listened as the raindrops beat out a rhythm on the roof. The storm had subsided, both outside, and inside of the room.

She could hear Ezra's breathing, evened out and calm in his sleep, when just a mere hour before he had taken his air in large heaves.

Once again he had taken her so wonderfully, so completely. Her body still tingled from his touch.

She carefully moved off the bed so she would not disturb him, and reached for the nearest article of clothing to cover herself.

It was one of Ezra's new shirts. Blue silk. She brought the fabric to her face and inhaled, breathing in the scent of him that still clung to it.

Slipping her arms through the sleeves, she quietly made her way to the bathroom and shut the door.

The sudden burst of light when she flipped the switch on made her snap her eyes shut. She waited a minute for her vision to adjust before looking into the mirror.

"Oh man." She groaned.

Her hair looked a fright. Curls were knotted together and sticking out in all directions. It looked like she had stuck her finger in a light socket instead of what had really caused the mess.

Ezra's fingers.

They had pulled, tugged, and tossed her hair every which way.

He loved her hair, he had said. Loved its feel, its smell. Loved how it cascaded over her shoulders.

He loved her hair.

He hadn't said a word about her.

Not that he should. It shouldn't matter.

But it did.

She leaned her forehead against the cool glass of the mirror.

Dear God, she was in trouble now.

She had been sent on a mission, had been entrusted with the care and safety of another human being, had been give the opportunity to prove that she was a level headed, responsible adult who could handle any situation forced upon her, and she had gone and done the worst possible thing.

She had fallen in love with Ezra Standish.

She said the words, she was sure, during their tussle on the bed while Ezra was nipping at the sensitive skin beneath her earlobe.

The words had just come out. She had been unable to stop them, and for a horrified minute she was afraid he was going to stop, to look at her with pitying eyes, to laugh.

But he turned his attentive lips to her mouth, drowning out any further embarrassing outbursts.

She sat down on the cold tiled floor and drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.

In another two days they would be in Vegas, and the whole mystery behind this journey would finally be solved for them both.

Ezra would go on to whatever destiny awaited him, leaving her behind in the dust.

She wasn't to be a part of his life; she was never supposed to be.

All she would be left with was the memory of how it felt to love him.

He,..., he would simply forget.

She hung her head down till her chin hit her knees, and cried.

Ezra studied the profile of his companion as she drove the car along the road. She looked like the same person who rescued him, the same one who fed and clothed him, treated him better than anyone he could remember before, the very same one he had made love to the last few nights; but this girl was different.

This girl was too quiet. There was none of the endless chatter he'd come to regard as a part of her. Her easy, happy smile was nowhere to be seen, and the rest of her was so,...standoffish.

When he had tried to put his arm around her, she had ducked away. She did not kiss him, touch him, or even look at him.

Try as he might, Ezra could not recall doing anything to have made her this way. He knew nothing had been wrong last night.

Ah, yes, last night. He smiled. Last night had been good.

For a woman with very little experience in the bedroom, Michelle had a sexual appetite that would put a worldlier woman to shame.

And she had said, (he could swear he heard it), she said that she loved him.

It was said so softly, just a whisper against his ear, but there it was.

He didn't know what to say to that.

Did he love her?

He admired her, surely. She was strong, smart, kind, and courageous. He was grateful to her for everything she had done for him, not asking for anything in return.

He thought her so beautiful. Her smile was enough to make any of his days better. And when the sun went down he only wanted to get her behind closed doors and show her the wonders of man/woman relations.

He'd known many other women before; at least in the life he thought had always been his. But no other came close to her.

Buck would be besotted, JD in awe. Josiah would find someone else to turn his fatherly attention too, Nathan a new sparring partner. Vin would admire her for her courage, and in her Chris would find a reason to smile again.

They would all love her.

He loved her.

Ezra looked at her again, her face staring off into some unknown point in the distance.

He loved her! He did!

Now that his mind admitted the truth, it seemed so natural a feeling. As if it had always been.

Should he tell her now?

No, no, not yet. He would wait, wait for the perfect time, the right moment. Until then, he had to find some way to show her.

A little further down the road, she pulled into a dusty parking lot in front of a building calling itself 'The Trading Post'.

"How quaint." He drawled, taking in the chipped paint of the sign, and the brown weathered wood that made up the outside structure.

"I need to stretch my legs." She said, and got out, offering no more words to him.

As she walked toward the building, Ezra followed.

The store was nothing like what he recalled a trading post to be. Shelves were lined with Indian art that had tags saying 'Made in Taiwan', with such outrageous prices they caused him to choke. Who would buy such things?

Ezra shook his head in wonder, and moved on to a glass counter that contained hand made jewelry.

Right away, his eyes fell upon a bracelet set with some kind of green stone.

Not emeralds, to be sure. Not even jade. In fact, he couldn't place a name that he knew of on them. But it was lovely; similar to pieces he had seen grace the wrists of ladies of his time.

He was gazing so intently at the bracelet, that it startled him when a hand reached in from the other side and brought the piece of jewelry out for his inspection.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" a voice asked. He looked up to see an elderly lady standing behind the counter, smiling at him.

"Yes. Yes, madam, indeed it is." He took the bracelet in his hand. The stones were held together by delicate links of gold. He could imagine slipping it over Michelle's wrist, clasping it together for her.

"Would this be a present for someone special?" the old lady asked.

"Yes." Ezra smiled his most charming smile. "I dare say, someone very special."

The old lady looked over at the only other customer in the store, a young woman half-heartedly fingering a woven Indian scarf. "I see." She smiled knowingly. "Well, you're in luck young man, this piece is on sale. Thirty dollars."

"Oh." Ezra couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice. Thirty dollars?! He didn't even have one dollar to his name.

It was something he hoped to change quickly. As soon as they arrived to this gambling paradise, he would start amassing his fortune. He would make sure Michelle received the best of everything.

Right at the moment though, he wanted the bracelet. He had to have it for her.

The light from the overhead lamps reflected off the ring on his smallest finger. He looked down. The ruby set in gold winked back up at him.

He had won the ring in a card game on a riverboat on the Mississippi. That's what he remembered. That's the story his mind always thought it knew.

But it wasn't the truth. He knew that nothing he could recall of his youth was. The ring meant nothing to him now. He was surprised to discover that it never really did.

He slipped the ring from his finger. "What would you say this fine piece of jewelry is worth?" he asked, holding the small ring out to her.

"Don't rightly know. But sir, I can't take that ring?"

"Is this not a trading post?"

"That's the name." She nodded. "But the only thing we trade is our merchandise for money."

Ezra smiled, making sure his gold tooth flashed as he did so. "Madam, this ring is very valuable. Why, the ruby once was a part of Louis the 15th's crown. It's been in my family for generations."

The old woman chuckled. "Don't try conning me, young man. I've been around the block more times than you've got years to remember. I know a shyster when I hear one."

Ezra sighed. Being out of his element, he decided that his conning abilities were leaving him. Either that, or people just were not as gullible as they once were.

He clutched the ring, the only thing of real value he had, tightly in his hand and looked longingly at the green bracelet on the counter.

"She mean that much?"

Ezra looked back up as the woman spoke. "I'm not sure yet, but I'm sure willing to try to find out."

She nodded. "All I really needed to hear. Let's see that ring."

A few seconds later, one bracelet and twenty dollars in cash rested in the pocket of his coat.

Turned out the ruby was false! Man-made, if one could believe such a thing.

Oh well, he had gotten what he wanted out of it. All's well that ends well.

Michelle's mood remained in place for the rest of the day. Ezra kept up a steady chatter, regaling her with stories of his adventures as a gambler; most of them embellished to make them more exciting, just to hear the sound of talking within the moving vehicle.

He was in the middle of a tale about his time at a New Orleans casino.

"And Mother came up with the most outrageous scheme to con the owner out of the place. Seems he was cheating the patrons with rigged games. Mother can not abide dishonest cheaters." He laughed. "Dishonest cheaters. Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?"

He looked over at her. She looked as if she had not heard a word he said. Her face was a blank slate; her eyes seemed far away.

Damn, but he would like to get her into a high stakes poker game!

"So I ran around wearing only a southern flag about my shoulders, and singing Dixie."

Nothing. Not a darn thing. Not even the crack of a smile.

All right then. Ezra sighed and lapsed into silence. He played with the buttons that controlled the radio till he found the sounds of the country music he knew she liked. It really wasn't all that bad, and he liked hearing the sound of southern accents in the voices that sang.

He hummed along with a voice that he recognized Michelle telling him was Garth Brooks.

'She's sun and rain, she's fire and ice.
A little crazy, but it's nice.
And when she gets mad, you best leave her alone.'

Ezra leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and smiled to himself.

'Cause she'll rage just like a river
Then she'll beg you to forgive her.
Oh, she's every woman that I've ever known.'

Every woman? Well, he supposed so. Michelle certainly had the mood swings of a woman down pat. About ready to kill one minute, and so loving in the next.

Yet she was so unlike any other before her. She didn't need, nor want, a man to provide for her. She didn't need to be taken care of, spoiled, or worshiped.

In fact, there was only one thing he believed she really needed,...to be loved.

'She's anything but typical.
She's so unpredictable.
Oh, but even at her worst she ain't that bad.
She's as real as real can be,
And she's every fantasy.
Oh, she's every lover that I ever had.
And she's every lover that I never had.'

Oh yes. As a lover she went beyond. Never before had he felt such tidal waves of passion and emotion as when she lay beside him in bed.

He didn't think he'd ever be able to find such satisfaction again.

The song changed, the announcer telling him a name that left as quickly as it had reached his ears. It didn't matter. He had plenty of time to learn about the music artists.

"Ezra?" Michelle's voice seemed far away. She tore her eyes from the road to look at him. He met her gaze and saw the fear, the unsureness in her blue eyes. "I,...,"

"What darlin'?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"You were obviously going to say something."

"No, just,...., we'll be there by tomorrow night."

"I see." Now it was his turn to stare down the road, toward a future he didn't know about, one he had never planned.

The thought of the future scared him.

"Everything is going to be ok." She said. Ezra didn't know if she was trying to convince herself, or him.

"I look forward to seeing the others again." That was the one bright spot at the end of the proverbial tunnel they were traveling through.

He had the feeling he would need their companionship, for he also had the feeling that once he and Michelle reached their destination, she would leave him.

Michelle's voice seemed to magically reappear around dinnertime, but she still seemed a bit down.

They took their meal in the small café attached to the little roadside Inn they stopped at.

It was a charming place, only 6 rooms in total, and painted a light brown color, with white shutters on the windows, giving the whole place the appearance of a gingerbread house.

The café advertised itself as serving the best fried chicken in the state of Arizona; and Ezra would have loved to discover if the claim was true, but, unfortunately, both of them ate very little; preferring to push the side of green peas around the plate, or use the mashed potatoes as sculpting clay.

"What time will we be arriving tomorrow?" he asked.

She didn't look up at him. She seemed intent on making tracks through her potatoes with the tines of her fork. "Don't really know." She shrugged. "Maybe late afternoon, early evening. If we leave early enough we might get there a few hours before then."


The simple word made her look up.

No? What did he mean?

Did he want to push on tonight? Get there before the sun rose?

Didn't want to spend just one more night with her?

"Wha,...., what do you mean?"

"I mean, no, I do not want to get there tomorrow."

She looked confused. "But Ezra, we're almost there. We made it."

"Precisely. What difference can one more day make?"

Michelle blinked slowly as she tried to fully understand what he was saying. "I thought you were anxious to see the other guys again."

"I am, and if they have arrived before me, they will still be there the day after tomorrow. Besides," he grinned, "they are used to me being fashionably late."


"Why not?"

She let out a laugh. It did his heart good to hear that sound again.

"I'll never understand you." She said, shaking her head side to side. "What do you want to do with a whole extra day? In case you haven't noticed, this is not exactly the tourist Mecca of the world."

"I thought I would follow your example of trying new things." He smiled slowly; hoping his baited hook would entice her.

Michelle's eyes went a little wide; her bottom lip tucked in to be bitten by her two front teeth. "What things?"

Oh yeah. Hook, line, and sinker.

Now it was time to reel her in.

"I would like you to teach me to drive." He didn't miss the slight look of disappointment in her eyes that his suggestion didn't have anything to do with a bedroom.

Not to worry, darlin'. He thought. There will be plenty of time for that.

"Drive? A car?"

"That is how most people travel in this century, no?"

"Yeah, but,....,"

"If I am going to be living in this time period," he interrupted, "then I should know how to get around in it. I'm a practical man, and like to be prepared for every eventuality."

Except for her. He had not been prepared for her. She was a shock, like the surprise of a gift he had not been expecting, had not even thought to want, but one he was very glad of receiving.

She took a deep breath. "We shouldn't take anymore time, Ez. The sooner we get there, the safer you'll be."

"I am safe. No one has stopped us, have they?"


"Stop trying to talk yourself out of it. You know you want one more day as much as I do."

As much as she didn't want to admit it, he was right. She did want more time. Just a little more time that she could set to memory, so she could always look back on it and say to herself, once I knew what it felt like to really and truly feel alive.

She looked at him, her blue eyes staring into his smiling deep green ones.

He knew he had won, the bastard!

It seemed Ezra had learned early on in their adventure that she simply could not say no to him.

"All right." She said. "One day. But that's all."

"That is all I ask for." Perhaps with one day he could get her to stay. He would not come right out and ask her. He didn't want her staying out of any obligation she might feel. No, he wanted her to stay because SHE wanted too, because she loved him, IF she had meant those words spoken the night before.

Ezra reached his hand into his pocket and fingered the bracelet that rested there. Now would be the perfect time to spring his little surprise on her. If only he could do so without making himself seem foolish.

But why should it? It was only a gift after all. She had given him a gift, he thought, touching the pack of cards. In fact, she had given him more than one, if he counted his freedom, his life.

He gathered the bracelet in his fist and withdrew it.

"I,...., I have something for you." He said after clearing his throat. "A little trinket, if you will. I saw it, and thought it would look lovely on your wrist." He opened his hand and let the bracelet drop, catching it by the clasp so that it dangled from his fingers. "I noticed you don't wear much jewelry. Just your watch and necklace."

Michelle stared at the bracelet hanging from Ezra's hand. It was beautiful. She said as much, and reached out her hand to take it. Her hand was caught by his, and he held it still while he fastened the bracelet around her wrist.

"I knew it," he said, still holding her hand, "It was made for you. No one else should ever wear it again."

She smiled. "Thank you. I don't know what I've done to deserve it. I've,... I've been in a rotten mood all day."

"Yes, you have. Hence this gift."

She pulled her hand back to take a closer look at the green stones. "Where did you get it?" She looked at him questioningly. "And how did you pay for it? You don't have any money, Ezra."

He shrugged off her questions. "The kind lady at the store we stopped off at earlier today let me make a trade of sorts."

"A trade?" For the first time she noticed his empty fingers. "Ezra, where's your ring?"

"More than likely on the aforementioned kind lady's finger as we speak."

Michelle's expression was one of astonishment. "You traded your ring for this?" She twisted her wrist around, making the bracelet jiggle.

He nodded, looking unconcerned.

"Ezra, this can't be worth more than twenty dollars."

"Thirty, actually. She offered me fifty for the ring, so I took the bracelet in trade, as well as twenty dollars. I do believe I received a fair deal."

"Fifty dollars?" Michelle was horrified. "You could have gotten so much more for that ring. Ezra, I know people who would have paid a lot of money for that ring, just because you wore it."

"Now you tell me." His tone was dry, but his eyes danced with humor. "Really, what does it matter? The ring was a fake, and it gives me much more pleasure to see that bracelet on you than that ring on my finger ever did. And," he inclined his head, a smile tugging at his lips, "I have money in my pocket. You realize this means you won't have to pay for everything anymore."

"I think you'll find twenty bucks doesn't go very far nowadays."

"Indeed? Hmmm," he looked around the room, his eyes landing on a group of men gathered around a table. A pile of poker chips was in the middle of the table. He grinned at her, winked, and got up to walk over to them.

"Good-evening, gentlemen." He said, using a heavier drawl than was his norm. "What's this? Poker? Why I haven't played in ages. Would you mind if I sat in on a few hands?"

Michelle hid her laughter as the men agreed and Ezra joined the game, his twenty dollars now added to the pot.

The poor men had absolutely no idea what had hit them.

The big man sat in a corner booth of the little café . His cheeseburger long gone, he was nursing his second beer, and watching as the gambler proceeded to win the shirts off the backs of the poor slobs who were stupid enough to let him join their game.

He took his lighter from his pants pocket and lit another cigarette. The ashtray to his right was already filled with the butts of 3 previous smokes.

As he exhaled the nicotine laced smoke from his lungs, he thought about what he had overheard sitting in the booth; close enough to hear them, yet far enough away to remain inconspicuous.

So, they were taking an extra day, were they?

Having just a little more time to enjoy each other?

He snorted. The way they looked at each other made him want to barf. However, this could be just what he had been waiting for.

They were a day's drive away from the safety of the other guys. He would be able to make a grab for the gambler, and with him, he would be able to get her.

After all, he deserved a little fun out of this job.

Ezra and Michelle left the little café with their arms around each other. Ezra was smiling with contentment after the card game. It felt good to play a real game again. A real game with real money.

Not that he hadn't enjoyed his playful card games with Michelle, far from it, but there was something about placing money down on the table, letting faith, skill, and luck decide whether or not you would leave with full or empty pockets.

Ezra's pockets were full. To his original twenty, he had added Eighty more.

One hundred dollars. Not a bad nights win. And he had left the other men with enough money so they would not be left dry.

Strange habit for a gambler, but he always left his opponents with at least the original amount of money that they came to the game with; unless of course it was a particularly boastful person who really needed to be taught a lessen. In those cases, he relished taking money from them.

But that was not the case this night.

He had other, more fulfilling things to do.

Michelle laughed as she raced ahead of him to unlock the motel room door.

Her previous bad mood seemed to have diminished, and her blue-gray eyes were lit up once again with the excitement and joy that she seemed to get out of life.

Ezra once again marveled at this woman who was able to feel hurt so deeply, yet was also able to rise above it. She had more sympathy and compassion for others than anyone he ever knew. She was strong, yet still needed to touch another to reassure her.

Her laughter and her tears were both expressions of just how human she was.

He loved her.

There was no doubt of it now. The way his heart leapt when he heard her laughter in his ear, the way his body tightened at just the slightest touch; all were sure signs that he had been caught at last.

If he could just say it,...., but for some reason the words wouldn't come out.

Ezra never did like to open himself up, and to admit his feelings to her would leave him vulnerable.

She could hurt him with just a word or a look. She could break him right in half.

But maybe, just maybe with one day he could change her mind without admitting anything. He needed her to think it would be her idea. He needed to convince her to convince herself.

And a strong, stubborn mind like Michelle's was a hard one to mess with.

But Ezra loved a challenge.

"Are you coming?' He heard her voice and broke away from his thoughts at the sight of her leaning against the open motel room door, grinning at him. Her fingers were slowly undoing the buttons of her blouse. "If you don't come," she said, "the other guests here are going to get quite a show."

Ezra shifted his weight to one leg and crossed his arms over his chest. He grinned rakishly at her, letting his gaze caress her body.

"I am not beyond public exhibition."

She raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I know. You do like to put on a show. However, what I have in mind could get both of us arrested for public indecency."

Ezra has to resist the urge to yell for joy. "In that case," he said, reaching out to slip his arm around her, "I do believe we should take this inside."

They had their lips on each other before the door was shut.

Michelle fumbled with the lock as Ezra pushed her shirt aside and massaged her breasts through the white satin cups of her Bra.

"Oh, how I do love the underclothes women wear now." He removed the shirt, and reached behind her to undo the Bra's hook.

"Seems to me you just like to remove them." She threw her head back as Ezra lowered his head to take the tip of one breast in his mouth.

"Oh,..." She gasped. "Oh, yes."

He left her breast to take her by the hand and lead her to the bed.

"What is it about you?" he asked as they both fell upon the mattress. Clothes were removed and thrown across the room. "All I can think about is burying myself inside you. I would swear you have bewitched me."

"Well, I do have two ancestors who were accused of witchcraft in Salem." She smiled in contentment as Ezra began to kiss his way down her body.

"So it's inherited then."

Her roaming hands found his bare bottom, and she squeezed, digging her short nails into the soft flesh.

Ezra groaned. "Oh, darlin', please don't. I wish to have you right now, but I want to give you pleasure first."

"You give me pleasure by just being here." She kissed his face, his neck, and his shoulders. "You make me take off like a rocket ship by just touching me."

"What is a rocket ship?"

"Guess I haven't explained to you about the space program. We've been to the moon, you know."

"You don't say? That should be a good story, for another time." His hand found its way down to her womanhood. One finger lightly touched her there. Her back arched off the bed. "How about I take you to the moon, darlin'?"

"Mmmm, yes, please." She closed her eyes, giving her body over to Ezra's expert care.

With maddening slowness, Ezra dipped one finger inside her. Immediately she felt her body begin to shiver.

"Don't be in such a hurry." She heard him whisper. "Enjoy it."

"I can't help it. My mind says hold back, buy my body won't listen."

"But there is so much more to come." Another finger slipped inside.

Michelle choked back a cry. Oh dear God! This was more than she could take.

"Shhhh." He planted soft kisses across her stomach. Each movement of his hand sent a spark of fire through her blood. He continued to push deeper and deeper until he felt her body begin to shake. He removed his hand then.

"No." She did not even try to hide her disappointment.

"Do not worry. I won't leave you." Ezra replaced his hand with his own swollen member, slipping so easily inside of her that she barely felt a thing until Ezra began to thrust into her, slowly at first, and then picking up speed as his need took hold.

She moved beneath him, her knees bending up around his thighs, her body thrusting up into his.

She felt it when he came, and it was the trigger that sent her off as well. She cried out when he filled her. She could feel the warmth spread through her.

Ezra shuddered and dropped his head to her shoulder. "Oh darlin'." he breathed.

"I know." she said, her own breathing beginning to calm.

He moved to pull out of her, but she stopped him by pressing in on him with her legs. "No. Don't leave. Not yet. Just,...just lay here with me. Let me feel you."

She wanted to commit every inch of him to memory. She wanted the taste and smell of him to become imprinted on her senses so that when they finally parted for the last time, she would be able to recall what it was like to hold him, touch him, love him.

"Oh my dear, but if I do I fear I shall have to love with you again."

"Love me, Ezra." She said, knowing she meant it in both the physical and emotional ways. "Please love me."

And he did.

Their last day dawned bright and sunny. The heat was reported to rise well into the 90's.

Michelle donned a pair of red denim shorts, causing Ezra's eyes to nearly pop out of his head.

She laughed when he said he wouldn't think about letting her out dressed in such a fashion.

"You don't like them?" She spinned, making sure to wiggle her butt around.

"On the contrary. That is the problem."

"Too bad. I'm wearing them. If you want them off, you'll just have to take them from me."

He raised one brow, and pinned her with a speculating look. "That does not seem such a bad idea."

"But then you'll never get your driving lesson." She dangled the keys to the Thunderbird in front of him. "Come on. It's our day, just like you wanted."

"Could you not put on something more,...concealing?"

Not that he didn't like looking at her legs. She had great legs, long and smooth. He just didn't like the thought of anyone else liking her legs.

"In this type of heat?' She opened the door, letting the already warm outside air flow in.

"The women of my time wore high buttoned collars and long sleeves even in the middle of August." He buttoned up his own white shirt to the top.

"Which explains why they fainted so much." She went to him and pushed his hands away, undoing the buttons at his neck. She also unbuttoned his sleeves and rolled them up. "News flash. I've never fainted, and I don't intend to."

He unrolled his sleeves and rebuttoned them. She shook her head, and muttered something about 'stubborn' men. "You'll b sweltering in an hour."

"I know about the heat in this part of the country. I have handled it before, I shall do so again."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself." She grabbed two plastic bottles of water from the small refrigerator provided. "You'll be needing this." She tossed one at him. "Let's go. There's an old, abandoned drive-in down the road. That's where you'll learn."

"So why is it called a 'drive-in'?" Ezra settled himself into the driver's seat and fastened the belt around him.

The place Michelle had brought him to looked to be a large stretch of a parking lot, like he had seen before, only this one was overgrown with desert plant life and the black top was cracked in places.

A structure of some sort stood to one end, and it looked like it might come crashing to the ground at any moment.

"They used to show movies here. People would drive in and watch from their cars."

"Movies? Like on television?"

"Yes, but longer and without commercial interruption. You see some of those metal poles still standing? There used to be speakers attached to them. That's how they would hear the sound."

"Seems a shame that it should fall victim to nature like this." Ezra said as a tumbleweed rolled past.

"Drive-ins couldn't outlast all the multi-theater movie complexes we have now. Besides, the only real attraction about them was they were cheap entertainment. The movies they showed were never very good, but that was ok cause the real show tool place in the back seat of the car."

He gave her a knowing smile. "Ah. Then it is too bad these forms of entertainment are not still in existence. I seem to recall expressing an interest in trying out the back of this vehicle."

"There are still drive-ins around. Not many, but some still hang on."

"Maybe we will be able to find one sometime?"

"Let's get started here." She changed the subject quickly. She didn't want to discuss a future that wasn't going to happen. "Ok, the pedal down there on your right, that's the gas. The one to the left is the brake. You press the gas to make the car go faster. To stop, you take your foot off the gas and press the brake. You always use your right foot to press both pedals.

"Up here," She tapped the dash, "This gauge shows you how fast you're going. This one lets you know how much fuel you have left."

He nodded in understanding, having already experienced a gas station and the total disgustingness of their restrooms.

Good heavens, even an outhouse was better than that! He wrinkled his nose at the memory.

"Alright, now for the gear shift. It's pretty simple. The 'P' stands for Park. The car should always be in Park when it's off. 'R' is Reverse. You use that when you're backing up. And 'D' is Drive,..."

"I think that explains itself." He said.

"Yeah, I guess it does. Ok, let's try it."

Ezra turned the key, bringing the engine to life. Slowly, he pressed his foot down on the gas. The car moved forward. He grinned.

"Ok, now try turning the wheel to the right."

He did so, and the car began to turn. "Good."

His smile widened. Good. He was doing good.

"Ezra, stop!"

He hit the brake like she said. The car came to a sudden halt just inches from a metal pole.

"Ezra, rule number one of driving. Keep your eyes on the road."


"It's alright. Now put it in reverse and try again."

The lesson went on for another hour till they both admitted to tiring.

Ezra learned how to use the turn signal, the wipers, and the horn.

"How rude." He said when she told him the use of the horn was to basically tell another driver off.

"You are taking your life in your hands every time you get behind the wheel. A car is a dangerous machine, and you have to know how to handle it."

"So, how did I do?" he asked.

"You're going to need more lessons." She admitted.

"Oh, come now, was I that bad?"

"I didn't say that, it's just that driving is a hard thing to learn unless you've been around cars your whole life. I mean, I'm sure learning to ride a horse would be hard for me."

Ezra looked shocked. "You have never ridden a horse?"


He made up his mind then and there that he would repay the driving lessons with horseback riding ones.

Yes, he looked forward to riding a fine, noble steed again, to feel such speed beneath him.

And she would love riding, he thought. He could see her on a white horse, or maybe black.

He wondered if there would be any horses where they were going.

"So, now what?" She asked, after they had switched seats.

She may have been willing to let Ezra drive the Thunderbird around an abandoned parking lot, but she wasn't about to let him take the car down the road.

Not that car. Not on her life.

"I am to provide the entertainment for today?"

"Well, it's your day. You wanted it. You tell me what you want to do."

He smiled. That slow, sexy smile that set her heart to racing. "I am spending it with you. That it all I truly wanted."

Michelle took a deep breath. Oh Lord. Every thing inside of her screamed out for this man. In 6 short days, he had become so much a part of her. She didn't think she'd be able to breathe without him.

And she had to let him go.

Damn it, she should never have given in to him. But all he had to do was look at her, and she lost every rational thought she ever had.

There was no thinking with Ezra, just reacting.

"I want to go back to the motel." He was leaning in toward her, his breath tickling her ear. "I want to hold you."

She turned her face to his and their lips met. Like every time before, they just seemed to meld together, until she wasn't sure if it was her own heart beating so wildly, or his.

"Drive fast." Ezra said, turning from her.

She started the car and took off, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.

Michelle rolled over and snuggled her head against Ezra's shoulder.

She sighed as she rubbed her cheek against his smooth skin.

So this was contentment. She wasn't sure she had ever really felt that before.

She had been happy, of course, but there was something so calming about being held in Ezra's arms, something that no other happy memory in her life could compare too.

"Mmm." He moaned, and pulled her closer. "Now this is my idea of a fruitful way to pass the day."

"You realize the day is almost over?" She said. "The sun will be going down soon."

And that will mark the end, she thought. The end of the best time she'd ever had.

"And so we will pass the evening in the same fashion." He kissed her, long and deep, his tongue reaching inside to seduce her own.

Oh, she really, really could stay in this bed for the rest of her life.

"But don't you think we should come up for food? We will need something to sustain ourselves."

He heaved a dramatic sigh, as if getting out of bed required more energy then he was willing to exert.

"I suppose we shall have to partake of a meal. Only I insist you let me buy this night. I have money of my own now."

She pulled herself from the bed, kissing him quickly. "Keep your money. You'll be able to build on it once you get to Vegas."

He grinned and reached up to fold his hands behind his head. "Ah, yes. I can imagine once Mr. Larabee learns of this location he will come up with numerous ways to keep me under control. I declare, from what you have described, it sounds like heaven on Earth."

"Your idea of heaven, anyway." Michelle pulled on a pair of jeans and a button-up shirt, and reached for the cell phone in her bag. The days had gone by so fast, she had completely forgot to call her contact.

She pressed the button to turn the phone on.

Nothing happened.

"Damn." She muttered.

"What's wrong?" Ezra asked as he started to pull on his own clothes.

"Battery is dead. Just don't check this thing as often as I should." She put down the cell phone, and picked up the receiver on the phone the room provided. "What the...?" She hit several of numbers, hung up, and picked the receiver up again, but still no dial tone sounded.

"Damn again?" Ezra said with a wry grin.

"Yeah, this phone is dead." It could have meant anything; an electrical occurrence, downed lines...anything at all. So why did it make her feel so very nervous?

"Ezra, stay here. I'm going to go to the front desk and tell them about our phone, and use theirs. Please, promise me you'll stay here."

"Darlin', what's the matter? You seen nervous."

"I don't know. Just please, promise me."

He nodded, and said, "I promise."

She hugged and kissed him. "I'll be right back."

Michelle left the room and raced down to the small, cottage like building that served as the lobby and registration desk.

As she reached the door, a man came out.

He was tall, muscular, and had a cigarette dangling from his lips.

With two fingers, he took the cigarette from his mouth, and gave her a smile, which somehow reminded her of they type of grin she'd seen on a hungry hyena at the zoo.

He held the door open for her, offering her a "Well, hello there." The way he said it made her feel slimy.

He looked familiar. She'd seen him before. But where?

He let the door close and walked away. She watched him for a moment, racking her brain, trying to figure out where she knew him from.

She couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.

"Can I help you?"

Michelle turned to the woman behind the desk, who was smiling at her expectantly.

"Oh,...yeah. I need to use your phone. The one in my room is out."

"Really?" The lady placed a cordless phone on the counter. "Of course, here you go. What is your room number?"

"5." She said, and dialed the number of her contact into the cordless.

After two rings she heard the voice that she didn't realize she missed until now.

"Hello?" said the female on the other end.

"Hi. It's Gypsy."

"Oh my God! Gypsy, honey, oh, where are you?"

"We're right at the boarder, me and Ezra. We'll be there tomorrow."

"Oh thank God. I've been so worried. I haven't heard from you."

Michelle smiled. "We're alright. I'm sorry, things were...well, it's just been a little crazy."

"You tell Ezra that Buck, Vin, Nathan, and Josiah are here waiting for him."

Michelle felt relief wash over her to know they where safe. "What about Chris and JD?"

There was a pause. "We don't know yet. Apparently there has been some trouble with Chris."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?"

She heard a laugh. "Yes, trouble and Chris to go together, don't they? I swear, the man should at least TRY to be friendly."

Michelle nearly dropped the phone. A memory only a few days old flashed through her mind.

Just trying to be friendly.

That guy. The cigarette. That sickening way he looked at her.

"Bill." She said out loud.

"What?" her friend's voice asked.

"Ma'am?" The lady behind the desk tried to get her attention. "It seems that phone in your room was turned off somehow. I'm sorry. Can't really tell how it happened."

Michelle looked down at the machine that controlled all the phones in the motel. It was within easy reach of the counter.

Someone tall, with long arms, could reach over and switch the phones off.

She felt the blood in her veins turn to ice water.

"Gypsy! Are you there?"

"I think we're in trouble. That guy, oh God, he's been following us."

What an idiot she had been. She'd been so wrapped up in Ezra that she didn't even stop to think...

Damn! They had gotten away so easily.

Too easily.


He was alone.

She didn't even bother to hang up. The phone dropped, clattering to the floor.

Her ears never heard the voice screaming her nickname as she ran out the door back toward her room.


Michelle called out his name as she threw open the door to their room.

"Right here, darlin'." He drawled, walking out of the bathroom.

She felt a momentary rush of relief before the urgency came back.

"We have to get out of here. Now! We've been followed." She picked up his bag and threw it at him.

Ezra's eyebrows narrowed. "Followed?"

"There's no time, Ezra. Let's go!"

She grabbed her own bag, and with Ezra close behind, they both went for the car.

Michelle stopped suddenly, causing Ezra to walk into her. He looked up to see what had caused her to cease their escape.

A man was leaning against the driver's side door of the Thunderbird. He was looking at them with a smug smile on his face. In his hands was a long, sharp looking knife. He twirled the knife between his fingers.

Ezra stared at the man. He never forgot a face, or a name. "Well, well, well. If it isn't our old friend Bill."

"You remember me. I'm touched."

Bill pointed the knife toward Ezra, and raised the end up and down a few times, imitating the motion one would normally use with a crooked finger in a silent demand to 'come here'.

Michelle put her hand on Ezra's arm. "No."

Bill looked over to her, his eyes traveling up and down her body. "Don't worry, sweetheart. You'll be coming too. He's my quarry, but you're my prize."

"Why are you doing this? Why should you care if he's out in the world and not frozen in some lab?" She moved to stand in front of Ezra. This man would not take him, and if he did it would be over her dead body.

Bill shrugged. "I don't. But the way I see it, he's worth a lot. I thought I might just offer him up to the highest bidder."

"I take offense, sir. I am a human being, not your property to be sold or traded." Ezra wished for all the world to have his derringer. He would have shot this miscreant right between the eyes.

"Oh, but you are. You are the property of the people I work for. You are nothing but a creation. You're not even really Ezra Standish. You're nothing."

"Well, if I am nothing, I would guess I wouldn't mean all that much to you." Ezra moved out from behind Michelle. He wasn't going to let the creep do anything to hurt her, and he wasn't about to let her be hurt protecting him.

"Oh, contraire. You see your owners want you back, along with all your friends. But, as fate would have it, there is another party that seems to hold an interest in your little gang. That is where she comes in." He inclined his head toward Michelle.

"She doesn't come into it at all." Ezra's voice deepened into a dangerous growl.

"How sweet. You two remind me of Romeo and Juliet. Each of you willing to lay down your life for the sake of the other. Do you have any idea how sickening it has been for me to watch the two of you go at each other like a couple of fucking bunnies? I figure I should have my share." He ran his tongue over his lower lip as he once again swept his gaze over her. "Tell me, she as good a screw as she looks?"

Michelle's mouth dropped open in indignation. How dare he!

"You son-of-a-bitch!" Ezra rushed at him, using his quick reflexes to kick the knife from their attacker's hand.

Bill threw a punch at Ezra's face, but the gambler ducked and managed to land his own fist into their attackers stomach.

Bill doubled over, and Michelle took the opportunity to swing her bag at him, hitting him in the head and sending him sprawling to the ground.

Ezra kicked him out of the way, and he and Michelle jumped into the car.

Michelle started the engine and threw the gearshift into reverse.

The tires squealed as they sped out of the parking lot.

Bill picked himself up off the black top. A trickle of blood fell from his nose.

Damn it!

He was going to kill them both.

Holding his stomach, he did a strange sort of combination of a limp and a run to his own car to chase after them.

Michelle slammed her foot down on the gas, wishing for all she was worth that she would be able to make the car fly.

Damn! Damn her own selfish hide.

She had so wanted to spend time with Ezra that she didn't stop to think about the consequences. They had almost been caught. They still could be.

She was an idiot!

"Who was he?" Ezra asked, turning his head to look behind them.

"Our shadow. He's been following us the whole time, watching us. God, I feel so sick!"

"He works for the people who put me and my friends into captivity?"

"Yes, I'm sorry Ezra. This is my fault."

"Don't say that. I'm as much to blame here as you."

At that moment, another car came racing up behind them. This car was newer, faster, and it was catching up with them.

"Oh no. Can this vehicle not go any faster?"

"I've got the pedal to the floor. I don't think I can give it anymore."

A loud ping sounded out, and the drivers-side mirror shattered.

"Aw, fuck, he's shooting at us!"

"Damn." Ezra hung his head. He couldn't allow this to happen. "Pull over. I'll give myself up to him if he leaves you alone. I'm what he wants."

"Are you crazy!? Do you think I've done all this so you can go and play the noble hero? Forget it!"

"He'll kill you!"

"And he'll kill you! If you died, Ezra, I'd rather we die together."

Another shot hit the rear passenger tire. The Thunderbird fishtailed and swerved out of her control.

She hit the brakes, and soon realized her mistake in that.

The speed of the car, coupled with the sudden breaking, caused the car to veer off the road and run head on into a large tree.

Michelle, who had been in too much of a hurry to fasten her seat belt, was pulled forward at impact, smacking her forehead against the steering wheel.

She sat there, dazed for a minute or two. With her fingers, she gently probed the spot on her forehead where she hit.

"Ouch. Ezra, you ok?"

But she received no answer. She slowly looked over at him, and felt her heart drop.

His head was leaning against the now shattered passenger window; a trail of blood ran from the laceration on his temple to stain the collar of his once pristine white shirt.

"Ezra? Oh, God, Ezra? Please wake up. Oh, please, baby, wake up."

As carefully as she could, she turned his head away from the shattered window.

"Ezra, please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Tears fell freely from her eyes, blurring her vision. "I should have gotten you to safety. I should never have wanted to be with you so badly. You deserve so much more."

She tried to stop the flow of blood with the sleeve of her own shirt.

"I love you, Ezra." She whispered, her tears running down to pool inside of her mouth. "I love you so much."

The door jerked open, making her scream, and a hand reached in to grab her arm and drag her out.

"No!" She yelled out, knowing perfectly well that no one would hear her. Ezra was beyond being able to offer any help.

She felt herself be pulled out of the car, and then she was thrown violently against the side of it.

The hand appeared again to turn her around by grabbing the back of her neck.

She found herself face to face with Bill once again.

"You hit me." He tightened his hold on her neck. "That was a very, very, stupid thing to do."

"Let me go." Michelle twisted in his grasp.

"Uh-uh, sweetheart. I got you right where I want you. You and your little lover-boy in there are gonna pay." He let go of her neck, letting his hand travel down her back.

Michelle felt her body recoil from his touch.

"But first." He pushed his body up against hers.

The self-defense class she took a few years ago came back to her as she lifted one foot, then smashed it down on his.

"Ow!" He jumped back just enough for her to bring her knee up, hitting him firmly in the family jewels.

He doubled over. "You,...bitch!" He ground out.

She was about to kick out at him again when she heard the telltale sound of a gun being cocked.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Bill said, bringing the small handgun up to her face.

"Why are you doing this?'

"At first, because I was being paid to. Now, its personal." He grabbed her wrist and dragged her with him to the other side of the car.

He placed the muzzled of the gun against the broken glass of the passenger window, right in line with Ezra's head.

"No!" Michelle screamed.

"Say good-bye to lover-boy."

The sound of a gunshot echoed down the road.

Michelle stood still with shock as she watched the gun fall from Bill's hand. He made a gurgling sound, and a trickle of blood fell from the corner of his mouth. His eyes rolled up, and he fell dead.

She could not move as she stared down at him in horror.

Dead, he was dead.

The man who would have killed Ezra, raped her, was dead.


The answer came to her when a pair of jeans clad legs appeared beside the dead body she was staring at.

She broke away from the gruesome sight to travel up the long, lean legs.

The legs were attached to a torso wearing a white T-shirt. A worn, buckskin coat was hanging from broad shoulders. Long, curly brown hair touched those shoulders.

She felt herself begin to cry again. "Vin."

She started to sag, only to find herself caught by a pair of strong arms.

"Whoa there, darlin'," a honey sweet voice said in her ear. "Ole Buck's gotcha now."

A tall black man came racing down the hill and went right to the car, opened the door and leaned in to get a look at Ezra.

"Nathan," Vin said, swinging a rifle over his shoulder. "Is he ok?"

Michelle began to feel her world slip away. The last thing she heard before all went black was Nathan's voice saying, "We gotta get him to a doctor."

Michelle slowly opened her eyes when the sound of something beeping caught her ear. It sounded like the alarm that woke her up every morning to go to work, but still not quite like it.

This beeping was insistent and annoying.

"God, make it stop." She muttered, wanting to put her hands over her ears, but finding she lacked the energy to raise her arms.

She then heard a deep chuckle beside her.

"To tell you the truth, I don't like it much either, young lady."

Her eyes moved more than her head did to look at the still blurry figure beside her.

It was large, hairy, and was displaying two rows of white teeth.

It looked for all the world like a grizzly bear.


"Yes ma'am. And you must be Gypsy." Josiah was sitting in a plastic chair beside what she correctly guessed was a hospital bed that she was laying in.

"Michelle." She corrected him. "My real name is Michelle. Gypsy is just a nickname."

"And a fitting one, I would say, the way you just traveled across the land."

Michelle ran her tongue across her lips, finding them cracked and dry. Josiah, obviously knowing what she wanted, pressed a cup to her mouth, helping her drink the cool water contained in it.

"Better?" He asked, setting the cup back down on the table beside the bed.

She nodded. "Yes, thank you." She looked around for the first time at the sterile, white hospital room she was in. "What happened? Where did you come from?"

"I can answer that." Another voice, one she recognized, sounded from the door. She turned her head enough to look over at the woman who entered. She was in her late 30's, with shoulder length brown hair. Kind brown eyes smiled back at her. "Your phone call scared the living daylights out of me. As soon as you hung up, I ordered the helicopter, grabbed the guys, and we took off. We were lucky, we found you just in time."

"You mean lucky for me and Ezra." Michelle suddenly gasped and sat up. "Oh my God! Ezra!"

Josiah placed a strong hand on her shoulder. "Calm down now, its ok."

"No, please, he was hurt. Where is he? Is he all right?"

"Gypsy, please, you need to lay down." Her friend, her contact, spoke in a soothing voice. She felt a soft hand brush across her brow. "Ezra is going to be just fine. He got a pretty good knock on the head, but the doctor says as soon as he wakes up, he'll be fine."

"He's still unconscious? How long?"

"Please, honey,......"

"Don't baby me! How long has he been out?"

Josiah's laugh seemed to fill the room. "Lord, I do believe I have found Ezra's match."

"Since the time we found you till now,...about 2 hours. But I don't need you to worry over him. You need to rest yourself. You've got a combination of exhaustion and shock. Ezra's got Vin, Buck, and Nathan hovering over him. He's going to be fine." The last part was stressed with a look that said 'end of discussion'.

Michelle didn't like it, but she laid back down.

Ezra was still unconscious. Oh God. He was hurt and it was her fault. All her fault. Tears fell from the corners of her eyes.

"Don't do that. There's no need to cry. You did good."

"No." She said, shaking her head. "I should have gotten him here sooner. I should have never,...never,...I've made such a huge mistake." Tears now streamed from her eyes, and she began to hiccup.

"You're going to make yourself sick. Here," She was handed a bunch of Kleenex. "You didn't make a mistake. We don't blame you for what happened, and neither will Ezra."

"You don't know what he'll think!"

"What is going on in here?" A very stern looking nurse entered the room, pinning each of them with an angry glare. "Young lady," she directed at Michelle, "you should not be getting so worked up. And you two, I suggest you leave if you're going to get her so upset. She is suffering from shock."

"I'm fine." Michelle gave the nurse a nasty look.

"Yep, definitely Ezra's match." Josiah muttered.

"If you won't rest on your own, I'll give you a sedative." The nurse said. Having worked at the hospital long enough, she knew how to deal with problem patients.

"No. I don't want anything." She begged the nurse.

"I would really have to suggest it. It would be for your own good. You need to sleep." She left and came back shortly with a vial and needle.

"I don't want it! I just want to see Ezra." She turned her pleading eyes to the other two in the room. "Take me to see Ezra."

"You can see him after you've rested. Really ma'am, I would recommend it if you weren't so upset." The nurse told her. "A person in shock can do themselves some injury in this state."

"I am not a child! I can decide for myself if I feel good or bad."

"Gypsy, do it for me. Please? It would make me feel better."

Michelle looked to her contact. Pleading eyes looked back at her.

Damn. She didn't want it. All she wanted was Ezra.

"Promise me you'll let me see him when I wake up."

"Promise." Josiah smiled at her.

The nurse injected the sedative into the IV bag that was attached to the back of Michelle's hand by a long tube.

"It's ok." Michelle heard that reassuring voice again. "Just sleep."

The drug began to take effect. She tried to fight the drowsy feeling spreading through her. She blinked up into a pair of chocolate brown eyes.

"I don't even know your name." She whispered around a yawn.

"I'm Mira."

"Mira." Michelle repeated. "Nice to finally meet you, Mira."

Her eyes slid shut.

It was the next morning before Ezra finally woke.

The nursing staff and doctors got tired of Michelle's pleas to see him, and after she was declared healthy, she was set free.

She rushed to Ezra's room, and was greeted by the sight of Vin, Buck, and Nathan sitting around his bed.

They all looked exhausted. Vin was resting his elbows on the bed near Ezra's head, his hands rubbing his tired eyes. Buck was leaning back in a chair; his head hung back and mouth open. A snore emitted from him. Nathan sat in another chair, a large book in his lap, the pages of which he was slowly turning. Michelle saw that it was a medical book of some kind.

She cleared her throat, making all three of them jump.

Actually, it made Vin and Nathan jump. It was the sound of Nathan's book hitting the floor with a loud 'thump' that rose Buck from his slumber.

"I didn't know she was married, swear!"

Michelle couldn't help the laugh that escaped her.

Vin grinned at the big, mustached man. "Smooth Buck. Real smooth." He stood, stretching out his legs, and twisting his back side to side to work out the kinks caused by sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair for so long. "Hi. Name's Vin." He brought a hand up to tip his hat at her. Then, realizing he wasn't wearing one, dropped the hand and lowered his head, a slight pink color staining his cheeks.

"I know who you are, Vincent Tanner." Michelle said. She raised herself up slightly to softly kiss his right cheek. "Thank you for saving Ezra's life."

The tint on his cheeks turned a deeper shade. He looked down at his feet, shuffling them like a little kid. "Weren't nothin', ma'am."

"It's something to me."

"Smooth Vin. Real smooth." The tall black man quipped as he got up out of his chair.

Vin gave him a dirty look, but Nathan simply smiled. "I'm Nathan." He said, holding his hand out to her.

She took that hand, that strong, gentle hand that had cured so many ills, into her own. "I know. It's good to finally meet you." She kissed him on the cheek as well.

She went for the bed then, unwilling to be away from Ezra for a second longer. She picked up the limp hand and held it between her palms.

"Excuse me, darlin', but don't I get a howdy-do?" Buck was still sitting in his chair, giving her a smile she was sure stopped the hearts of many women.

But there was only one smile that stopped her heart, and she wanted so much for Ezra to wake up and give her one.

"Hi Buck." She said, letting her gaze drift back to the form on the bed.

"Howdy yerself, ma'am. You sure are a pretty sight in the morning."

"Oh, please, Mr. Wilmington. I must insist that you spare the lady your supposed charm." Green eyes opened to look into hers. She smiled as the corners of his mouth tugged up.

"Hi." She whispered.

"Hi yourself." He whispered back.

"Woowe!" Buck let out a yell, and jumped out of the chair, coming to the end of the bed.

Ezra winced at the loud yelp. "Must you be so boisterous, Buck?"

"Can't help it. Hell pard, we've been doing nothing but sitting here waiting for you to wake up."

"Not exactly." Vin said, coming to stand beside Buck. "Buck's been flirting with the nurses, and Nathan's been driving the doctors crazy with his questions. They finally gave him that book to shut him up."

Nathan clutched the precious book to his chest, and sent Vin a sour look.

Ezra smiled at his friends. "Nice to know some things don't change."

"Why don't we give these two some time alone." Nathan said. He nodded toward Michelle and Ezra, who were once again looking only at each other.

The three left the room. As they went, Michelle could hear Buck saying, "Damnedest thing I ever saw. Kisses you both, and ignores ole' Buck."

"Maybe she's immune to your animal magnetism." Answered Nathan.

"Maybe he never had it in the first place." Said Vin.

"Now wait just a cotton pickin' minute Tanner. I'll have you know,......."

Ezra smiled as their voices faded. "Hey." He said, squeezing Michelle's hand. "You did it. Thank you."

"Don't Ezra." Her eyes welled up again. Was she ever going to run out of tears?

"What's the matter?" His words were beginning to slur, and she knew he was about to fall asleep once more.

"What's the matter? You were hurt. I thought,..." She gulped. "I thought I killed you."

"But I'm fine." He yawned. "We're both fine."

She wiped the tears away with her free hand. "Go back to sleep Ezra. You need more rest."

"You'll be here when I awaken again, won't you?"

She leaned down to kiss his forehead. "I'll be here. Sleep now."

His eyes slid closed again, and he slept.

Michelle removed her hand from his, and got up from the chair.

She would be there when he woke, as she promised. She would stay till she knew for certain that Ezra would be all right. Then she would leave. He would have his friends to care for and comfort him.

She would not say good-bye to him. She couldn't bear it.

Michelle stood at the doorway of the large ranch house that was the new home of the Magnificent Seven, watching as the cab pulled up the long driveway.

Mira had brought her here after her release from the hospital.

Ezra was to be released that morning. He was still on the fuzzy side, prone to headaches and tiredness, but the doctor had assured everyone that he would be fine, given time and rest.

Mira had gone with Vin to pick him up and bring him home.


Michelle truly hoped that Ezra would feel that way about the ranch one day. It was beautiful. The house was big; two stories, with 10 bedrooms, 5 baths, a large kitchen, and a living room big enough to hold the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade in.

Buck had already discovered the joys of Football, which he watched on the big screen TV that took up half of one wall in the living room.

Nathan enjoyed the kitchen. He liked to cook all sorts of 'healthy' foods, which he tried to serve to the guys, who made sarcastic comments about his creations.

Josiah found solace in the garden, where he dug, planted and prayed over the assortment of vegetables that grew there.

Vin liked the horses, and there were plenty of them. Wild horses that needed a soft touch and kind word to tame them. Vin was just that man.

There was still no word of Chris or JD. She wished she could have met them, and she hoped that everything was all right with them and their rescuers.

A tear fell from her eye. God, she was going to miss them all.

But Ezra she would be taking with her, if not in body then in spirit. He would be with her in her mind for the rest of her life. It was all she could have, all she could really ask for.

Ezra and she hadn't had much time alone while he was hospitalized. Most of the time Ezra was sleeping, or she was joined in her visits by one of the other guys.

She let her mind recall the last time they were alone. The last time she would ever have with him,...

One day earlier

"Hey." She said, and pulled up the chair next to his bed. "How are you doing?"

"I will be a whole lot better once I am released from this den of depravity. Has no one mentioned to these people that one must still have blood in their veins to continue living? I have been stuck with a needle so many times I am beginning to resemble a pin cushion."

"They're just trying to help you. Here," she placed a brown paper bag on his lap, "I thought this might make you feel better. Soothe all those long, boring hours in-between blood lettings."

"I know only one way to soothe my loneliness." His eyes shone at her. It took every last ounce of strength she possessed not to break down.

"You're still much too weak for that."

"But now there is an incentive to regain my strength." Ezra smiled and picked up the bag. He withdrew a soft cover book. He laughed at the title. "Romeo and Juliet?"

Michelle laughed too. "It really is one of my favorite plays."

"Mine too." He opened the book to a random page and began to read.

"If I profane, with my unworthiest hand, this holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: my lips, two blushing pilgrims ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss." He picked up Michelle's hand as he said this.

"Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much," She recited from memory, "which mannerly devotion shows in this. For saints have hands for pilgrims' hands do touch. And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss."

They touched their hands palm to palm, Ezra's hand was warm. She felt it heat her chilled skin.

Ezra let go of the book and continued to recite unaided. "Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?"

"Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer."

"Oh, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do. They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair."

"Saints do not move, though grant for prayers sake."

Ezra had taken her hand in both of his, massaging her fingers one by one. "Then move not while my prayer's effect I take. Thus from my lips, by thine my sin is purged."

He raised himself up to lightly touch his lips to hers.

"Then have my lips the sin that they have took." Michelle whispered, his lips still so close to hers.

"Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again."

They kissed with more passion. Michelle drank in the taste of his mouth. She found she had become addicted to his kiss. It was like a drug, or alcohol.

Ezra began to drift off soon afterwards. Michelle stayed by his side until he slept.

Before she left, she leaned down to press her lips to his forehead.

"Goodnight, goodnight. Parting is such sweet sorrow."

She ran from the room before the tears came.

A hand on her shoulder brought her out of the memory. She turned her head to see Josiah standing beside her.

"It's not right to leave like this." He said. "He at least deserves to hear you say goodbye."

"He deserves a great many things, Josiah. He deserves the best."

Josiah smiled knowingly. "You love him. Why don't you just tell him?'

She shook her head. "What good would it do? He has a new life, and he needs a chance to get used to it. Where would I fit in?"

"Why don't you give him the choice? If I know one thing about Ezra, he hates to have anyone make decisions for him."

"Josiah," she said, "It's for the best. For both him and me. I'm not supposed to stay. It was never part of the deal. I was to do a job, but I got too involved. It was a mistake."

"Love is never a mistake." A sigh lifted Josiah's wide shoulders. "Stubborn fools, both of you. I don't suppose there is anything I can say to change your mind? You know, we all are quite fond of you."

"I'm sorry." She stepped forward as the cab pulled up and the driver got out. She handed him her lone bag, which he placed into the back seat.

She turned back to Josiah. "I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you'll take care of him. He really is the most special person I've ever known, and although he would deny it, he needs his friends. You, Nathan, Chris, Vin, Buck and JD; you all are the most important things in his life."

"You have an important place in his life now, too. But I guess I would just be wasting my breath trying to convince you of that."

"Do you promise?"

Josiah nodded. "I promise. I'll look after him for you."

Michelle smiled sadly, and raised herself up to kiss him gently on the cheek. "Thank you. Goodbye Josiah."

"May God go with you." He squeezed her hand, then watched as she got into the cab, and rode off.

"She's really leaving?" Nathan came to the doorway.


"Too bad. I like her, she's good for Ezra."

"That she is, brother." Josiah said. "Too bad neither one of them can see that."

As the cab drove out of sight, another car approached.

Nathan and Josiah remained in their spots by the door until the black car rolled to a stop in front of the house.

Vin got out of the passenger side quickly, as if he couldn't stand to stay in the small space one minute longer, and opened the rear door for Ezra.

Nathan came down the steps to lend a hand. "Easy now, Ez." He said.

"Please, Mr. Jackson. I have no intention of doing anything else."

Ezra looked around at the house and surrounding lands. So this was where he had been heading, this is where he would discover his future.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

"Mr. Sanchez." He smiled at Josiah. "A pleasure to see you."

Josiah laughed. "Hell, Ezra." He came down the steps and engulfed the younger man in a large bear hug. "Welcome home, brother."

To everyone's surprise, Ezra returned the embrace.

When Josiah released him, Ezra let his eyes search for the one face he truly wanted to see. He had been disappointed when Michelle had not accompanied Vin and Mira to retrieve him from the hospital.

It was her presence beside him that had managed to get him through the ordeal of being confined to the miserable place for 4 days. It was her presence that saw him through everything during the last week.

"Where is Michelle?" he asked.

Nathan and Josiah shared a look that Ezra did not miss.

"Gentlemen, is there something I should know?"

"Ez, she left." Josiah said, his eyes telling Ezra just how sorry he was.

"Left? To where? She will be back soon, surely." He didn't like the feeling of nervousness that began to settle itself in his stomach.

"No, Ezra." Nathan said. "She's gone home." He tried to give comfort by squeezing Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra stiffened at the touch.

The change was noticeable to all around him. His face, so open just a moment before, went blank. His body, before so relaxed, straightened. It was like watching the Ezra they knew so well from their former life slip back into his body.

"I see." Ezra tried his best to smile, but knew he was making a poor job of it. "If you gentlemen, and you of course, dear lady," he nodded at Mira, "don't mind, I think I shall journey inside to seek my rest."

"That's it?" Vin spoke up. "You're gonna let her go?"

Ezra stopped his walk to the house. He didn't turn around when he answered. "What would you suggest I do, Mr. Tanner? She has made a choice, who am I to stop her from doing as she wishes?"

"Because it's not what she wishes." Mira came around to stand in front of Ezra. She alone could see the moisture shining in his eyes.

"You, you knew this would happen. You sent her to me." Ezra's stated accusingly at her.

"It was her idea. If she hadn't made the first move, you never would have met her, and none of you would be here. What she wanted, what she wished for, Ezra, was you. She loves you, she has from the beginning."

Ezra stared at a point over Mira's shoulder as a tear escaped from the corner of one of his eyes.

Michelle left. She left him. Why did she leave him? Why would she go through everything she did, just to leave him?

"She wants what she believes is best for you." Mira said.

"Then why did she leave?" he whispered.

"Because she didn't know you wanted her to stay." Josiah forcefully turned Ezra around. "I swear, you two are the biggest, most stubborn fools I've ever known. Neither of you have enough courage to come out and say what you feel. "If you love her, Ezra, then for godsakes, tell her!"

"But she's gone." Ezra shrugged off Josiah's hands. "What can I do now?"

"She left not a minute before you got here, in a yellow car. She said she was going to an air something or other."

"Airport." Mira clarified.

"She's gonna fly in one of those things?" Vin shuddered at the thought.

Ezra took a deep breath. He knew what he had to do now. "Not if I can stop her."

He grabbed the keys to the car from Mira's hand, and pushed Josiah aside to get to the vehicle.

"Are you crazy?!" Nathan tried to stop him. "Ezra, you can't drive."

"Yes I can. She taught me how. Now I suggest, Mr. Jackson, that you get out of my way."

Nathan stepped aside.

Ezra climbed into the driver's seat, and slammed the door. The engine started, and the car sped back down the driveway.

Nathan threw his hands up in the air. "That's it. The fool is really gonna kill himself this time."

"We should go after him, just in case." Vin said. "'Sides, sounds like it's gonna be quite a show."

Josiah grinned at him. "I'll go get Buck."

"I'll go saddle the horses." Vin headed for the stable.

Ezra was doing about 80mph down the road. He didn't know what a speed limit was, and he didn't care.

He had only one objective in mind,...to find that yellow car and stop Michelle and himself from making a big mistake.

He should have told her how he felt. He could kick himself for not doing it. As much as he wanted his friends around him, he wanted Michelle even more. He couldn't imagine living in this new world without her.

Ezra suddenly swerved to the right when another car appeared on the road, traveling in the same lane as he was.

A yellow car!

He hit the brakes, bringing his car to a screeching halt.

The yellow car also stopped.

Ezra got out, and heard the sweetest sound in the world.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing? I told you, you drive on the right side of the road. We are not in England!"

Ezra could do nothing more but stand there, a smile lighting up his face.

"What are you smiling at?"


Michelle was mad. How dare he so something so stupid as drive a car on the road? He hadn't learned enough. He could have been killed. Didn't the idiot realize she was coming back to him? It was enough to make her want to throttle him.

Ezra began to walk toward her. "I thought you were leaving? I wonder, what are you doing heading back in the other direction?"

Michelle started walking as well, meeting him halfway. "I forgot something."

"Oh really? And what would that be?"

"This." She threw herself into his arms and kissed him hard.

Ezra brought his arms around her, pulled her closer and kissed her back with a passion.

"I couldn't do it, Ezra. I just couldn't. I didn't even get 5 miles down the road when I realized that the only home I have is where you are. I told the driver to turn around. Ezra, I just have to tell you, I have to know if,..."

"Shh," he placed a finger to her lips. "You don't have to tell me a thing. You being here tells me more than words ever could."

"But you love words."

"No." Ezra cupped her face with his hands. "I love you."

Michelle went still. She blinked a few times. She could not have heard what she thought she just did. Could she?


"I am a man who has always believed that the only person who would ever care about me, would be me. The only problem with that was that I never really did. I never liked the man I saw in the mirror. It took you to help me see that I am not that man. I never was. I need you to help me figure out who Ezra Standish really is."

She placed her hand on his chest, feeling his heart beat under her palm. "Ezra Standish is whoever you want him to be."

"Excuse me." The annoyed voice of the cab driver broke into their moment. "Lady, the meter is running. Time is money."

Ezra grinned down at her. "All that glitters is not gold." He said, and she laughed. "Drive on, my good man. The lady will no longer be in need of your services."

"I still need my money."

They both ignored him.

"Are you sure, Ezra? I can't say that I will be easy to live with."

"I can't promise that either. I tend to be selfish from time to time. I will want to gamble and take risks. I can be stubborn."

"I wouldn't have you any other way."

"Say you're going to stay. Say that you love me."

"I love you, Ezra. I'm going to stay."

He let out a yell, and grabbed her around her waist. He spun around, swinging her legs through the air.

Four riders stood on top of a rocky cliff, watching the scene below.

"I'll be goddamned." Buck laughed.

"Brothers, it looks like our Ezra is going to do just fine." Josiah said.

"Amen to that." Nathan grinned.

The cab driver stood by his taxi." Hey, who is going to give me my money?"

and that, my friends is THE END!

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