M7FFA Entry


A Diamond in the Rough

by Gina

Galloping through this isolated path she casually rests herself upon her cream colored stallion. The meandering hills and landscape mesmerizes her eyes and mind. She looks beyond the hills then suddenly feels a jerk, a sense of falling and a crash. She sees a smear of the sky then a huge animal on top of her, cutting the sun's rays. A growl.

A scream.

A shot then down.

"You okay Miss?" asks a man kneeling beside her. She adjusts her eyes on him and notices the half-shaven, dark eyed, middle-aged man who has just saved her life. "I'm fine thank you," she assures him getting up. He helps her by holding her waist and placing one hand on her back. She smiles wiping the dust off her and sees the bear on the ground. "He was just a baby. He probably was as startled and scared as you were," the man tells her taking out his handkerchief and wiping his face. "And hungry too," she says walking toward her horse which has gotten caught in the bushes. She picks some of her things that fell off along the way and places them up back on her horse then walks toward the man's wagon. "We weren't formally introduced. My name is Susan Bloom.. "Harry Sharpe..

"Thank you for saving my life..

"All in a day's work ma'am." He tips his hat and starts.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The shots broke the silence of the trail like thunder. Susan hurries to see where she heard the shots and comes to a clearing. She sees men gathered around a wagon and a man on the ground. The men are kicking and yelling at the down man. Only one is on a horse and he is the one from where the shots rang out. Susan gathers herself and takes out her gun.

She rides up to the group of men and sees that the down man is the same one who saved her life before. She fires once getting their attention and holds up her gun to the man who is on the horse. The man holds his own on her as she draws near.

"I suggest you get away from that man," Susan demands him.

"I suggest you move on..

"I suggest YOU move on and leave him alone," she says cocking the hammer of the gun.

"And what business do you have for this old man?.

"He saved my life..

"And now you've saved his," he says and pauses looking at her straight in the eye.

Turning his solid head, he commands to his men "Come on, let's go..

"But.." one of the men rebukes.

"Let's go. We're done here." They ride off and Susan gets down to help Sharpe up.

"Roles have reversed a little, huh." Sharpe points smiling.

"It seems that way..

"They gone and took my wagon, damn."

"I guess that's what they came after you for..

"You could say that. But I'm not one to give in without a fight. We better get going. I don't want to spent another minute here," Sharpe tells her as he heads weakly to her horse. Just then a shot is fired and Sharpe is knocked to the ground. Susan runs to his aid and blood emerges from his chest. She presses on it and holds her gun scanning left to right. She signals for her horse to come near.

Another shot is fired. Harry Sharpe grabs her hand and demands "No. Leave me. There's nothing you can do. Go, get out of here."

Her eyes are wild and confused.

A third shot is fired that careens her right shoulder.

"Go!" he pleads as replaces a piece of rock in her hand. "That's what they were after."

She looks back at him and he is gone. She gets on her horse and rides out.

"Enough," orders the boss. "The man's dead."

"What about the girl?"

"Let's go on with the plan. We can't waste our time on some cowgirl..

Forging a bond between the green earth and herself she carefully eases off her grasp of the horse and her gun. She is weary, tired, and needs some rest. She places her gun back and goes off her stallion. She had seen a creek near and decided to stop to rest there with her horse. She guides her horse down a meager hill to the edge of the creek. She takes a look at the rock still clutched in her hand.

*What does this piece of rock mean?* thought Susan. *After all, it looked like they were just after his wagon.* Susan shook her head. *Oh yeah like I'm an expert on looks or how things appear. I'm not exactly a lady: going off most my life, running and hurling from one disaster to another.* She looks back at the piece of rock in her hand. *Then again why did they kill him? He knew something he shouldn't have or was a part of it which I truly doubt.* Her eyes slowly enclosed her and then darkness.

"What's a prisoner's favorite punctuation mark?" JD is livelying his friends up with jokes he's made up which at the moment is not very amusing.

"The period, because it means the end of his sentence," JD announces.

His six friends utter something and each goes away tending to their things or looking for some.

"Oh come on guys. Vin, you thought that was funny right?"

Vin Tanner nods and goes out the swinging doors.

"Buck come on." JD looks to him for approval.

"Kid, don't quit your day job," Buck tells his friend wrapping his arm around him.

As she observes her surroundings, she wonders if this town would take kindly to strangers. Strangers like herself anyway. She stops in front of the general store and climbs off her horse. She unhooks her little knapsack and bag placing them on her shoulder. She unbelts her saddle and lays it on the wooden rail. Her gaze transfixed itself on a tiny hole at the edge of the saddle. Susan turns back to her stallion and sees the spot. A bullet hole. The blood was smeared probably from the saddle and now is dripping out. Susan quickly grabs a piece of cloth and places it on her horse's side.

"Damn it, Cadbury, why didn't you tell me?" she yells rubbing her horse. "I could have walked here instead of riding on you." The blood is seeping through the cloth and she has to find something to cover it. She bends down and looks through her bag. Nothing. She looks up. The store. She jumps over the wooden rail onto the boardwalk and goes inside.

Walking across the street of this dusty town, Vin came to the water bucket. He needed some fresh water for himself in his wagon for he was running out. He picks up the bucket and proceeds to take up some water from the well. As he bends down and turns his head he sees a blood soaked cloth on the ground beside a horse. He drops the bucket and walks over to the horse. He walks around and sees him bleeding on his side. He takes out his bandanna and places it on the horse's side. The horse moved a little unfamiliar to this person beside him.

"Hey buddy. You're going to be all right." Vin Tanner wonders what had happened to this beautiful horse and who owned him. "Where's your owner pal?" He pats and rubs the horse's mane. He sees plates, brushes, clothes and other bear necessities scattered on the ground including a knapsack. *Must have left in a hurry,* he thinks. He looks back at the horse and rubs him.

Susan comes out of the store carrying some first aid instruments and many bandages. She sees a tall young man with a slouch hat standing next to her horse and was about to call to him to get away but notices him talking and tending to her horse as well as he could. Cadbury isn't afraid.

"Excuse me Sir," says Susan. Vin Tanner looks at a figure carrying bandages dressed in a chestnut overcoat, leather boots, and a tan cowboy hat.

"That's my horse," she continues.

"Ma'am." Vin nods his head to the young lady. "He's hurt."

"Yes, I know," Susan says as she goes under the wooden rail to the side of her horse.

"Do you know of anyone who can fix him?"

Vin looks at the lady and says "Yeah, there's an animal doctor at the stables."

Susan looks back at the first aid things she has just bought. "I guess I won't be needing all of these." She puts them in her bag. "Where are the stables?"

Vin nods in the direction. "I'll take you there, it's not that far."

"All right," agrees Susan as she gathers her things. She unwraps the reins and gets Cadbury to turn. "Good boy." She rubs his forehead. Vin watches and begins to walk beside the horse keeping pressure on the wound.

"What's his name?"

"Cadbury," she tells him.

"And yours?" asks Vin.

"Oh!" She smiles not realizing that she didn't tell him. "It's Susan Bloom."

"Vin Tanner." He tips his hat.

"Nice to meet you. And thank you. Cadbury doesn't let just anyone touch him." She rubs him again. "I guess he likes you."

"He's a beautiful horse."

"Yeah, I've had him for along time. We've been through a lot."

They come to the front of the stables and stop.

"Here," Vin Tanner gives her his bandanna. "I'm going to go see if he's in." Vin goes in and then comes out. "He's in. Bring Cadbury inside."

"He's going to have to stay the night." Justice Pine told Susan. They had spent the day cleaning and repairing Cadbury's wound including taking the bullet out. It was growing dark when Justice Pine told her this.

"Thank you. We appreciate it," she tells the doctor caressing her horse. They lead Cadbury to the stables and place him in a corner. Vin Tanner talks to the doctor and walks back to Susan. Susan was surprised Vin had stayed during the whole process and offered his services.

He knew exactly how to handle Cadbury and was so gentle. She had never seen anyone care so much about animals and was glad he had showed up when he did.

Vin Tanner kept himself busy during the whole operation deciding it best to help the doctor out and this lady. Besides, he needed a change in pace and sights. He slows his steps and stops in a leaning position.

"He should be better within a couple of days."

"That's fine. We're not in a hurry to go anywhere." Susan inspects Cadbury.

"You got anywhere to stay?" asks Vin caringly.

"I'm staying right here."

"You don't want to go to a hotel."

"No, thanks. I'd rather stay here with Cadbury for tonight. I have everything I need." Susan pulls out her knapsack.

"Well, Miss, sleep tight."

"Thank you Mr. Tanner. You've been very helpful. Good night." Susan watches him stride out of the stables and lies down looking at Cadbury.

"Well, buddy, he was awfully nice don't you think? Let's hope the rest of this town is like that."

Strolling through the streets, Susan is once again observing the town. Not finding anything peculiar it seemed like a descent place. She sees a fruit stand and decides to buy one. She flips through her pockets and came across the rock. It had bugged her that she didn't understand what this rock meant. *What am I supposed to do with it?* It's no gem or didn't appear to have any value.

Sounds of gunshots broke her train of concentration. People start to run and causes Susan to drop the rock. She's now in the crossfire. Some men were trying to rob the bank and it seemed they were running towards her. She soon sees other men moving in and surrounding her. One of them was the man who helped her with her horse, Cadbury. She then sees a young kid in a bowler hat along with an older man with a mustache. Susan thinks she saw some coming from the church and a clinic. Her gaze finds that of a man in a black coat yelling to the people then suddenly, Susan felt an object strike the back of her head and she falls to the ground. She felt herself get pulled up half way in a kneeling position. Then a deathlike silence. The bank robber has a gun pointed to her head.

"Don't try anything, Larabee. Or she's a goner."

"You've done enough. Let her go." A stern voice demanded.

Susan tilted her head to glaze at the solitary man blocking the bank robber's escape. The intense, strong-willed, look in the eyes of the black attired man honed Susan's instincts that he meant business. Noticing movement off to the side she sees the fancy dressed gentleman from earlier, coming around the back side of the building. One in front, another coming from behind, Susan knew she was in a bad situation and didn't want to be caught in the middle.

"That's no way to treat a Lady," Ezra says formally aiming his derringer at the bank robber, which distracts his attention away from Susan for a moment letting her slowly reach in her gun belt to pull out her peacemaker.

"I mean it, the girl's a goner," the man declares grabbing her soft wavy brown hair, pulling her head back roughly against his shoulder.

"Man, did you pick the wrong girl," Susan tells him. He looks down at her and sees a gun aimed at his crotch. "Which is more precious, the money or your balls?" Her fingers cock the hammer. His eyes widen and he loosens his grip of his gun. Susan sees her chance.

She grabs his arm while she slides one leg underneath causing him to fall to his side. She gets up still holding his arm and he screams in pain. She takes hold of his gun and is now in back of him in the same position she was-kneeling.

JD's mouth is wide open amazed at what just happened. "Did you see that?"

"Yeah. That I did. Well, can't leave her standing there forever." Buck is amazed himself as he's walking over to her.

"Now that's a trick I've never seen before," Ezra tells her standing next to her on the boardwalk. Chris Larabee walks to her.

"I won't be needing this." Susan gives him the man's gun.

"Thank you Miss."

"It's Susan. Susan Bloom."

"Chris Larabee."

Chris begins to ask her something but is cut short by Buck.

"May I say that was a sight. You're also much more captivating up close. Perhaps you can show me a few of those maneuvers?" Buck charmingly smiles unable to control himself.

"It looks like you've captured more than just Mr. Thomas." Chris looks at Buck disapprovingly. He understands Buck's genuine feelings about ladies and he has come to expect it but, Buck can also overstate his intentions. Chris looks at Thomas and lifts him up.

"I didn't have to do anything." Chris looks back at Susan. Susan looks at Thomas and moves closer to him. She points the gun again and guides it up to his face. She pulls the trigger and click. Thomas jumps.

Nothing. She brings the barrel up over her shoulder.

"I knew I had to buy something." Susan smiles, winks, and walks away.

Collecting notes for her article in the Clarion newspaper, Mary Travis finds her way in the saloon. Searching she finds the lawmen at a table and proceeds to them.

"Hello boys. I was hoping you would help me with my article," Mary greets the gentlemen.

"What can we do for you, Mary?" Chris asks the lovely blonde.

"I'm doing an article on the bank robbery from this morning. I need to know more about the lady bounty hunter who captured Jay Thomas," informs Mary.

Vin makes a sharp glance around the table and puts down his glass.

"What's there to know?" asks Chris a bit uneasy with Mary writing about this person especially since Mary could stretch things somewhat like the way he experienced when he first came into town.

"Well, can you tell me what her name is?"

"Ah well, I know that one." Buck jumps at the opportunity. It's not surprising that he would know, it's basically his job to get familiar with all the new ladies. "It's Susan Bloom. Pretty name for a feisty thing."

"Is she a real bounty hunter like Vin before, Mrs. Travis?" asks JD to Mary inquisitively.

"I don't think so but, ever since this morning people have been questioning what she does. Some even think she's after Mr. Tanner being that he's got a bounty on his head." Once Mary said that everyone looked at Vin. "But," Mary continues "if I can find her maybe she'll clear some things up."

"Maybe she doesn't want to be found," Josiah speaks up.

"She can't stay hidden forever, Mr. Sanchez."

"Mary you're not going to put false reports on your paper. It's not right," Nathan tells Mary.

"Of course not. I only write the truth and always will."

"I can tell you one truth. Jay Thomas is mighty glad that gun wasn't loaded." Laughter proceeds from JD's remark.

"Amen to that."

Resting against a pole, Susan hears some commotion from the townspeople as they pass by.

*Bounty Hunter. Me? I wish.* She looks at the ground and there's broken pieces of an object scattered. It's her rock she realizes.

Something else catches her eye. She bends down to collect the glittering, shining crystal. A diamond. It was inside the rock.

*So that's what he meant,* she realizes. *They were after diamonds.*

"More re whiskey Senorita?" Inez pours a fresh bottle into Susan's glass.

"Is the bar always this noisy?" Susan asks.

"Only at night Senorita." Inez smiles at the newcomer.

"Thank you." Susan picks up her glass and takes a sip. She closes her eyes just for a moment to let everything sink in. The clanging of glasses, the banging of chairs, the laughter, and the talking. It's been along time since she's heard this much noise. She often dreamed that life would be this lively and exciting. Probably full of hope and miracles. But that's not how life works. She knew that because besides all the laughter and the joyous sound there were loathsome and lonely souls drinking.

She looks back down at her glass and sees the diamond next to it. It reflects the candlelit lamps circulated in the room. *He said this is what they were after. This is what they killed for, not for the wagon. But, this is only one. There has got to be more but where? Maybe those men thought the diamonds were in the wagon. They are probably long gone with them anyway. I don't see how I could do anything.* Turning her head she takes another drink. Her eyes meet up with a man. A man who was observing her and wanting to know what she was all about but, who was he to judge a person. She gradually sets down her glass and looks away. She gets off the stool and adjusts her hat. She looks back at him and nods.

Chris nods in recognition. He only noticed her a few minutes ago and was observing her. She never once realized that he was observing her until that moment when their eyes met. Even then she never flinched. He remembers from the morning when she overpowered Jay Thomas she never flinched or showed any sense of backing down. Not even to him.

Her eyes told a different story. Chris takes up a shot of whiskey. He didn't think much about her before but, once Mary and the others started talking about her being a bounty hunter and Vin being the bounty he started to think differently. Truly she couldn't but, he didn't want to risk anything happening to his friend. Vin understood him in a way unlike the others and that made him more susceptible and easier to talk to. He didn't ask many questions and held to that privacy and you knew that what you had told him or said wouldn't come out from his lips unless you wanted it out. Vin helped him fill that empty space Chris held inside.

Treading through the forests, five men come back from their excursion to an abandoned fort.

There are three other men sitting beside a fire.

"Boss, there is a problem," one of the men tells them.

"What is it, Asa?" the boss asks the medium built but, stressful man.

"The path that the wagon was supposed to take ain't there anymore."

"What do you mean?" the boss yells.

"Well, uh, the path has been closed."

"Closed? What do you mean?" One of the men lifts him up by the shirt.

"They built a train track there and they're still building it," the man meekly states.

"Dean. Put him down. There's got to be another way."

Dean puts him down and looks at his friend and boss, Luke.

"What else is there?" Luke asks Asa.

"Well, sir, it seems that they have been rerouted to a town called Four Corners. It's not that far from here."

"How is that supposed to help us get the diamonds?" Dean asks.

"It is just a little setback. We'll go there tomorrow and see how this town handles." Luke's reassurance that everything will work as planned settles them in.

"Clearly gentlemen, the time has come for the unveiling." The southern drawl only reaped of an uncontested win at hand. Buck, disgusted, puts down his hand.

"I have better luck with women than playing cards."

"You merely lack in skill Mr. Wilmington..

"You merely cheat Ezra," Buck rebukes.

Chris comes in the saloon hoping to find someone.

"You guys seen Vin?" he asks in his husky voice.

"I distinctly remember him going in the stables," Ezra tells him.

"Thanks." Chris exits.

"Now, who's ready for another game?" Ezra shuffles his cards.

Chris walks over to the stables hoping that Vin didn't leave yet, if he was going out for one of his rides. He sees the stable door open and hears people talking.

"So, do you think he can ride today?" Susan asks Vin who came to the stables to check on his patient.

"I reckon so."

"Hear that Cadbury." Susan tells her horse patting him. "We can go out." She picks up her saddle. "Thank you so much. You've been a great help."

"No problem, Susan."

Vin helps her with belting her saddle. Susan looks at him and notices the harmonica in his pocket. She silently grins at the thought of him actually playing a tune. Vin notices her grin from the corner of his eye and smiles himself. Susan sees the smile and wonders if he's mocking her or laughing. Her smile fades away and she feels betrayed in some way.

"Listen Vin, I know I'm not like other ladies who come around here. I may not talk all nice or dress the same or even act the same as them. I know the rumors and speculations they call or think of me but, what the hell do they know." Susan flatly declares to him.

"Do you think I believe them?" Vin asks her. Susan continues to look at him.

"No...it's just...I don't know." Susan looks away. "I..just didn't want you to feel that way."

"I don't."

"What about your friends?"

"Heck, you're the most fun they've seen in awhile," Vin tells her.

Susan laughs.

Chris not denying it smiles at the little remark and decides that what he needed Vin for could wait.

Arriving at the hint of dawn, Luke's gang separate and take a look around this quiet and peaceful town. Luke heads to the saloon and gets himself a drink.

Standing outside he notices two men at the jailhouse and assumes that they are the lawmen around the town. One in black clothing and the other is just a kid. He then sees a tall, thin man with a slouch hat coming towards them. The one in black says a word or two to him. Someone on horseback comes slowly across. He looks up and stares at the person. *What a pleasant surprise,* he thinks to himself as the horse comes in front of him. She sees him staying calm and not wanting to make a big deal out of it. Her suspicions are greatly affected by his appearance and she understands what she has to do. *But not now,* she thinks to herself, *going to have to weigh my options.*

The clouds of darkness enveloped the town quickly until the only sound of life was the music and laughter from the saloon. Reading outside his church, Josiah took the time out to examine who was coming into town.

*What lovely creature has wondered into our mists?* he thought as the figure came closer to the light. *Oh, it is only Miss Bloom. *He nods his head to her and she nods back. *She is disturbed,* he thinks to himself, *she carries such a sorrow in her eyes and a strong will in mind yet, does she understand her heart?* He stayed with the figure until it drifted out of sight.

*I have to tell.* Her thoughts are racing as she came off her horse. *There's no way around it. They are going to strike. I know it, I saw it in his eyes. But there is only one I can tell. I hope he believes me.* Pacing herself she draws near to his wagon. *He lives in a wagon. Well, it's better than not having one.* She straightens herself up and goes to the back of the wagon. *Should I knock? There is a light. Stop hesitating.* She takes a deep breath.

"Mr. Tanner?" She calls out hoping that she didn't disturb him.

"Yes, Susan." A hand touches her shoulder. Startled she twists her body and was about to grab his hand but, lost her footing.

"Whoa. You alright."

Vin Tanner catches her before she falls. Standing face to face with him she moves away.

"I'm fine." Vin looks in her and asks. "Everything okay?"

"I need to tell you something," she flat out says getting her composure.

"Why don't we go inside?" Vin opens up the back of the wagon and jumps inside. He gives his hand for her to climb up. Once they were settled she starts to tell him about the Harry Sharpe and the menshe saw kill him. She tells him about the diamond and the fact that she saw the leader of the group here in town this morning.

Vin listens very carefully and doesn't ask any questions until it's over.

"That's how my horse got shot," Susan tells him.

"They are after diamonds," says Vin.

"But, I don't know what diamonds or where they are. This morning they came here for a reason and I'm afraid that they are going to strike. Do you think you and your friends can help?.

"We're going to have to talk this over but, I don't see any reason not to," replies Vin.

"Then you believe me? Because if you don't I will do this by myself," she says so definitively getting up, not wanting to make him thinks she was helpless.

"Yes, I believe you," responds Vin standing up looking at her straight in the eye.

Susan perceives the understanding and respect in him. She know she would help her in his subtle ways.

"Thank you." she says with great relief. She turns her head and sees the silver moon sparkling. She wants to breathe in all the fresh scents and tranquillity of the night air but is startled by the noise coming from the saloon. She bends her head a little and puts her hand to her forehead over her eyes closing them.

"Is something wrong?"

Vin notices the change in mood.

"Oh, nothing. It's just the noise." She looks back at him. "I've gotten so used to the silence and stillness that it....sort of became a part of me."

He studies her with silence and she can do the same. She looks into his face, sees the twinkle in his ocean blue eyes, and forgets about the world. She felt herself free inside with a blissful sensation flow through her in this moment. Everything seems to evaporate into the night as she continues to gaze at him. Vin hunts through her visage and draws closer to her sturdy but, soft exterior. Unfolding a smile with her eyes he finds the magic inside. *Such a beautiful smile, it's a shame of the things you hide behind it.* Drawing nearer to each other they close their eyes.

"Vin." Chris appears outside and quickly turns away. He just caught them before their lips even touched and he felt that he had violated them. Looking back at each others' eyes they step away. Her eyes still locked into his she whispers.

"I should go." She picks up her hat and steps out. "Good night." She tells Chris facing him as she strides away.

"Good night," Chris answers. Vin steps down with his slouch hat and looks at Chris.

"I'll knock next time," Chris says grinning at his friend.

JD stumbled into some of the townspeople walking the boardwalk as he hurried over to the saloon, where the others waited for him.

"Sorry...Sorry," he uttered, breezing through the saloon doors. Grabbing a chair JD sat down next to Buck, listening as Susan finished giving more description of the outlaws.

"That's all I can remember." Susan finished looking at each man.

"There's a wagon coming through here that's headed to Valley Court." JD spat out, not being able to keep the information to himself any longer.

"That could be it. Does it say what's on it?" asks Susan.

"Nope. They wouldn't tell me what's on the wagon," JD answers.

"That has to be it. When's it coming?" Susan declares.

Glancing over to watch his hero, JD waited 'til the blond gunslinger nodded his head to answer the small woman's question. "It's scheduled for this afternoon around three."

"Okay guys, do you believe me?" pausing to catch her breath. "Do you want to help me or what?" Looking into each man's face around the table as she asked them. Her heart skipped a beat as she came across the disbelieving green eyes of the men's leader. "Well...Mr. Larabee?"

His eyes never left the young women's face. "Well....What do you say boys?" Chris asked, voice low.

"I never let a lady fight by herself. I'm in. Kid you coming?" Buck tells his companions and looks to JD.

"You bet I am."

"I'm in," Vin declares.

"God never turned down a stranger. I'm not going to start." Josiah nods his head in agreement.

"Count me," Nathan says sitting next to Josiah. "What about you Ezra?"

"Well, I had no inclination in playing solitaire tonight. I'm in."

"Okay Miss Bloom. We're in but, only if what you say is true."

"That will be apparent soon," Susan tells him adjusting her hat and walks toward the batwing doors. She stops when she is an inch away, turns her head slightly looking back, and says "I hate it when I'm wrong anyway."

Hours passed as Chris silently in the shadows grinds his teeth as Susan walks passed the batwing doors of the saloon. He's still unsure of what to think about the woman, not knowing if he could bring himself to trust her, he wasn't like Vin. It was true she has not been a threat of any kind, but...Chris couldn't put his fears to rest-even for Vin's sake. *I can not ignore a situation that I can't control.*

Walking into the saloon Vin strolled over and leaned next to the bar to watch Chris sitting all alone at their usual table. Concern was etched in his face as Vin studied his best friend. He had the feeling Chris was purposely keeping his distance. Not liking where this was going, the tracker moved to sit down next to Chris and poured himself a glass of whiskey. Both men's eyes turned to the sound of the saloon doors being slammed open as Susan walked back though followed closely by Buck who is trying to make some kind of conversation.

"Doesn't he ever quit?" Vin states to his friend.

"He doesn't know how." Chris grinds his teeth and moves his lips.

"Well, maybe when the wagon comes it may give Susan some time to breathe," says Vin.

"How do you know that it will?" Chris asks skeptical to the whole situation. He didn't want to say it so bluntly but, he's not one to weasel out something into a million words like Ezra. Vin looks back at his friend and realizes that Chris still had doubts about the whole thing.

"You don't believe her?"

"It's not exactly black and white here Vin." Chris turns to his friend.

"What makes you think she is making this all up? Why would she?.

"She could be turning tables on us, Vin. You don't know her. You think every person who comes into town doesn't have a secret agenda to live up to?"

"Then why did you agree? You could have told her what she had wasn't enough to get all of our help..

"Because there may be more to this than what she wants us to believe." Chris in a steel face eyes his friend with the knowledge of matters involving the unsuspected.

"Do you think she's in on this?.

"I think she's in on you..

The wagon came according to schedule and the contents were shown to be carrying diamonds. It was supposed to be a secret move but somehow word leaked out. The seven peacekeepers made a plan to send this wagon out and to leave as scheduled but, the diamonds would leave the next morning with another wagon. A few of them would ride with the scheduled wagon to catch the men who were after the diamonds and then comeback.

Waiting anxiously for the wagon to come into view, Dean calls out to Asa.

"Hey Asa, what time is it?"

"It's ten minutes 'til five."

"Alright men, gather up and get ready." Dean yells out to them. He brought five men with him including Asa and the rest of them stayed with the boss, Luke. "Here they come." The wagon appears in the evening sun and the men start on their run towards it. They start shooting it to get the wagon's attention but, then shots are fired back at them. The wagon goes faster and the men on the horses split up. One man on horseback moves closer to the side of the wagon and tries to get on. All of a sudden, Ezra jumps up and knocks him over his horse. Ezra gets on the horse and continues shooting. Nathan is on top shooting as well. JD is controlling the reins of the wagon and keeping low, he spins the wagon back.

Dean takes aim at JD and just when he is in striking distance a sharp pain grips him and he falls to the ground. Vin Tanner aim sat another person. Asa sees Dean fall and makes a run for it.

"Boss! Boss!" Asa comes back calling hysterically. Luke comes out wondering what happened.

"Where is everybody?

"Boss, there was an ambush...there.. there were men with guns waiting for us. They shot Dean." Telling him out of breath and alarmed.

"What? How in ...."

Luke angrily yells out and suddenly his mind clicks. "That girl! Damn it."

Susan sees the wagon come back and runs to it. It's definitely had a long trip. The wheels are crooked and there are holes everywhere. Its drapes are down and at least one of the doors is broken. Vin comes out carrying two men with Ezra following, his derringer at hand. JD comes down with a grin and Nathan calls out for Josiah.

"We lost this one on the road."

"He was the lucky one," comments Vin.

"Let's dispose these miscreants in the proper housing." Ezra points his gun and they go into the jailhouse. Chris steps out.

"How'd it go?"

"No real trouble," Vin tells him.

Susan walks over next to Chris and tells him, "There are more."

Susan looks at Vin. "How many did this?"

"About five. Reckon they'll come back."

"We'll be ready," Chris says.

Susan turns back at Vin. "You alright?" she asks him.

He nods his head and she turns walking back to the stables. Once inside, she goes to her horse and rubs his head.

"Everything went well, Cadbury." She stretches her head and back and goes to her lamp. Someone grabs her mouth and holds her making her unable to move. He whispers into her ear.

"Time for a little barbecue."

Pacing towards the saloon where his imminent partners were enjoying the fine luxuries withheld, Vin Tanner sets himself down worn out from the recent expedition.

Pouring out a drink, he savors the taste on his tongue and eases back against his seat. His mind starts to wander and it sets on Susan. He begins to contemplate about the first time he saw her standing with her arms wrapped around the bandages like cradling a baby. Her suspicious green eyes gazing at him underneath her tilted hat. Then just last night, he saw something else. It was something deeper and oppressive that she perhaps couldn't handle.

*She's a strong and dependent lady with a wicked sense of handling herself in situations,* recalls Vin, *still, I feel she's not trying to get herself out of it but, seeing how far it goes.* Justice Pine comes running through the doors.

"Fire in the stables," he yells with wide panicked eyes. Everyone jumps up and runs outside. They see the bright orange flames and dark black smoke hovering over the stables. *Susan!* Vin realizes. He runs and tries to open the big stable doors but then the horses knock it over. They flow out of there within a flash and Vin goes inside.

"Susan! Where are you?" he yells with frustration and fearfulness. Pulling his bandanna over the lower part of his face to protect it against the smoke and heat Vin heard the screams of a terrified horse trapped. Recklessly, he tries to go through the heavy black smoke to reach the horse knowing it had to be Cadbury. Vin heard Chris and Buck yelling for more water as they washed down the flames.

"Susan!" There is still no answer but detects Cadbury's cries and knows that he must get to him. He searches blindly through the fiery heat and the charcoal smoke yielding his search for just a seconds which he feels he cannot stake at this point. Cadbury's upper torso leaps up, frightening Vin and falters him back. He straightens up, winces, and finds that Cadbury's stall has a board diagonally blocking the door. Vin quickly goes to the upper side and with all his strength pulls the board off the railing letting it drop.

Vin grabs Cadbury's reins trying to lead him through when a huge crackling noise from above is heard and a beam cuts in between them. Cadbury flees out into the open and JD instantly makes a run after him grabbing his reins and calming him down. Chris knows Vin's inside and rushes inside.

"Vin!" A tormenting yell from Chris as he tries to see a sign of his friend. He moves in closer but trips and is struck with a burning sensation. One of his hands has slided into one of the blazes and Chris instantly brushes it off cursing. He takes out his handkerchief and wraps it around his left hand. He continues to look for Vin and finds him trapped underneath the beam.

Vin feels a heavy load on him but can't get himself to move. He then feels a touch and after awhile he is able to take a deep breath. Immediately, he feels himself being carried away and dropped to the ground. Vin opens his eyes and coughs. He is handed a cup of water and drinks it.

He tries to get back up but, is held down.

"What were you trying to do? Save the horse!" Chris yells at him. Vin's eyesight clears up and Chris is staring at him very disapprovingly with patches of dark smoke on his face and a piece of cloth wrapped around one of his hands. He sees Cadbury with JD next to them and the horse snorts.

"Where's Susan?"

Chris looks at his friend unable to answer and then Vin sees something sticking out of Cadbury's saddle. He hazily gets up, takes it out, and reads it.

"Mills Place. No diamonds or no girl."

Dragging along through the dark track, she perceives the irate mood the clan has reserved. She is pushed into one of the tents and stands facing the boss. His countenance is one of fury as he casts his eyes on her.

"I should have killed you along with that old man."

"Ain't that a misfortune."

"Don't play games with me," yells he while advancing towards her with a frustrated poise.

"Aren't we a little touchy?" says Susan making it known that she is not afraid of him.

"I spared your life and this is how you repay me. Do you think that for a minute that I would let you get away?"

"Like I believe you with our last encounter. Why did you kill him?"

"The same reason you're going to get killed. You're in my way."

"The feeling's mutual."

"You probably figured it out, right? Why you're still alive?" Susan keeps her eyes on him as he continues to try to weaken her sense of courage and status. She refuses to give in.

"Take her away and tie her up," he says glaring at her. "Asa, go get the others. We got a long night ahead of us."

Looking through his nautical spyglass, Vin Tanner scanned the field. Luke's men were ready for a fight and made a good note of it with the amount of ammo each of the men carried around.

"Looks like they're expecting us," Vin tells Chris who is sitting next to him overlooking the place.

"Let's not keep them waiting," he says getting up.

Riding out into the field, the seven men separate and go to positions. Buck and JD go to the left, slide off their horses, and head to the two guards keeping busy. Buck signals for JD to take the chubby one with the leather boots while he takes on the dark, heavy built man with the jagged face. JD lowers himself behind a few bushes as the chubby guard leaves his friend. The guard sees something in the bushes and goes to inspect it promptly taking out his gun. He edges near looking over the bushes. He sees a movement and crack! JD stands behind him holding his gun in a fist position.

"Ow!" mutters he as he shakes his hand. "That'll teach you not to mess around with my hat."

Buck carefully creeps behind the dark haired guard. He points his gun and whistles. The guard turns around and sees the gun in his face. Buck signals for his rifle. The guard starts to put it out for him but swings it across Buck's side. The guard punches Buck on the left side of his face and Buck is knocked down but, quickly gets up. The guard makes another swing fortunately, Buck is prepared. Buck ducks and charges into him until they hit the wall. Buck re-stabilizes possessing the rifle and furiously says "Here how does THIS feel!?" swinging the rifle across the guard's head and knocking him out cold.

Josiah and Nathan who went to the right had their own little battle to pick. Someone had Nathan in a choke hold with a gun to his head signaling Josiah to put down his gun. Josiah slowly leaned to place the gun on the floor but watched as Nathan's right hand edged to his knife. Josiah and Nathan make eye contact and in a flash Nathan grabs his knife and stabs the man in the leg. Josiah knocks the gun from the guard's hand and watches the man fall.

Ezra heads to one of the tents and hears people talking inside. He peeps in through a hole and sees Susan tied up.

"Well, little lady, it seems the boss has bigger plans for you than we thought," one of the men tells her as he grabs her and goes out of the tent. Ezra follows the men and sees that they are heading to a wagon. The man throws her up and places her next to a barrel. He proceeds to tie her up. Ezra scans one of the men standing a few feet behind the wagon when the man yells.

"Asa, call me when you're ready. I gotta go get my hat." The man heads back to the tent. Smash! Ezra stands over him glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking and does the old switcharoo.

"Hey, Russell. It's ready," calls Asa. Ezra steps out with his hat bent down over his face. "Okay, bring it out front. The boss is waiting. And you two," Asa continues addressing the other men "get up here and keep this cowgirl company." Ezra gets up front and takes the reins.

Luke sees Chris and Vin coming and gets his men out front. He stares at the black attired man and his blue-eyed companion. Chris surveys around and sees Buck and JD at the right ready for action and Josiah with Nathan signaling for the go. Vin looks around and calls for Chris to turn. As their gaze turned, they see Susan tied to a barrel of gunpowder on a wagon.

"One false move and there is going to be a very big explosion," Luke maliciously says watching them advance.

"Heck, there's going to be one even if we don't move," utters Vin.

"Where are the diamonds?" Luke demands looking at Chris. Chris looks at the wagon with Susan on it and spies the guards. He notices Ezra sitting slumberly disguising himself on the wagon. Chris glimpses over at Vin then stares right back at Luke and replies "Right here," Chris glides his hand uncovering his pistol. "You want it?"

Luke thinks this guy is dead for his audacity and thinking he could outsmart him so he glances around unfortunately, what he thinks is not what he expected. He watches some of his men give up their guns to the seven then flashes over at Susan and yells out in frustration.

"Shoot her." The two guards with Susan grab their guns and the one in back of Susan points it at her head. Ezra quickly turns around and shoots him in the back. The other guard takes a minute to assess what just happened and sees Ezra aiming his derringer at him. He has his gun at Susan and gives Ezra an icy glare. The man clenches the trigger and a shot is fired. Vin Tanner had his gun ready and aimed at them by the time Chris spoke up with Luke. When the guard fell he was relieved he shot first.

*Impeccable, Mr. Tanner.* Ezra thinks to himself once he sees the guard fall down without killing Susan. He hears a gun fire from underneath the wagon startling the horses and they begin running. Ezra is caught unbalanced and goes for the reins. An arm abruptly wraps around his neck and is choking him. It's the man he shot in the back. He wrestles with him trying to get loose when he sees that he can reach the reins. Ezra stretches his foot out to catch them and when he does he yanks them making the horses do a sharp turn. The man is forced to the edge along with Ezra and they both fall down.

Susan has wrangled herself free from the barrel and is untieing her legs while riding on this runaway wagon. She holds on to the side of the wagon because of the bouncing of the road and progresses forward. She reaches the front and the reins are flying striking the horses. She climbs over the seat and tries to catch them. The horses makes a violent turn and she flies to her side.

The firing of bullets and yelling of men become the norm in just minutes. Vin sees Susan struggling with the wagon and leaps on his horse. Susan gets back up again and hears someone coming towards her. She turns to see Vin catching up with the wagon. He jumps on and he goes to where she is sitting. The reins are now underneath and he goes in between the horses to grab it. He carefully and quickly takes it and levels himself between the horses pulling the reins to a full stop.

Luke's outrage surpasses his idea of any consolation of winning as he watches the gunfight.

The smell of defeat takes over so he makes a run for it. Chris eyes him and yells to the others "Cover me."

He races through and spies Luke running over to his horse. Chris slams into him and yells "Where do you think you're going?" Luke is forced down with his gun thrown from his hand but grabs a piece of board lying on the ground. Luke swings it at Chris but he ducks and punches Luke in the stomach.

"You're finished," Chris proclaims.

"Ouch!" Buck yells at the healer. "That stings." Nathan has just put some alcohol on his friend's bruise.

"Buck that bruise isn't going to heal by itself," Nathan nags him trying to get him to sit still.

"He's just doing his job Buck. I'll tell you a new joke to help ease the pain," JD tells his friend while waiting on him in the clinic. JD already had his bruises looked after by Nathan.

"Kill me now Nathan," Buck teases his friend and flops flat on the bed.

"Buck!" JD is annoyed by the less than serious remark from his companion. Nathan grins a little at the events that perspired and sees Ezra walk by.

"Ezra I should get a look at you," Nathan yells at him. "I saw that fall you had from the wagon with the guard and it wasn't pretty."

"Don't worry Mr. Jackson. He broke my fall," Ezra replies not wanting any medical attention but to get back to the saloon for a well deserved game.

Besides, he already heard the pain Buck was having. *Better him than me,* he thought.

The streets swarm with people accompanied by the bustle of noise as he relaxes outside the saloon. Dwelling in his seat, he casually rubs the back of his broad stiff neck and grabs his bottle. Pouring his glass, he hears the sound of boots coming towards him and the figure sits down beside him apprehensive with the placement. Chris bites his lower lip, however understands the uncertainty, so glides his glass in front of her.

"I didn't think you cared." Her voice audible for only the dust to hear with her head down but, her eyes facing Chris' upper physique.

"You don't know what I think," Chris voices in a harsh tone as he pours himself a glass. Susan stiffens up like a cold breath of air swooped down upon her.

"Mr. Larabee I know you don't think highly of me and I have in no way wanted you to. I just want to say thank you before it's too late."

"Point taken." Chris pauses and sips a drink. "You're leaving?" Chris inquires making a mental note to himself.

"You got a reason for me to go?" asks Susan.

"Just one," responds Chris looking at the buckskin clad walking out of the Clarion.

"You got a reason to stay?"

"Just one," Susan replies looking in the direction Chris is and glances at Mr Larabee when a sly smile comes across her face. *I know what you're thinking now.*

  Please post a comment on this story or send feedback to gbelle716@juno.com..
Read posted comments.

The M7FFA is an archive for fan fiction. Each story or other work available on this archive was created for the enjoyment of the fans with no intention to infringe on any copyright. No profit has been gained from this archive. The specific content of each work is © the original author/creator and should not be posted or reproduced elsewhere without the creator's express permission.