M7FFA Entry

 

The Best Intentions


by Carrie Byrd


Ratings/Warnings: PG, violence




It was her hair that first caught his attention. It was a blaze of gold in the hot afternoon sun that beat down on the desert town of Four Corners. The green eyed gambler unconsciously leaned forward to stare at the slim woman perched astride a broad-backed sorrel mare that seemed to dwarf her slim figure. Her hat was pushed back, and her eyes glinted in the sun as she reined the skittish animal in front of the saloon where he sat. Seemingly not noticing the intent gaze of the man sitting outside the saloon doors, she strode through them without pausing. Ezra stared after her and wondered if the feeling that something was about to happen was a good or bad thing.

Inside the saloon, the blonde woman had perched on one of the hard wooden stools lining the bar and called to Inez to bring a whiskey. The Mexican woman complied, and had moved down the bar to take another order when her patron's voice was drowned out by an unbelieving cry. She looked up in time to see Vin Tanner sweep the strange woman up in a bear hug, accompanying it with an uncharacteristic whoop.

Ezra stood watching the scene from just beyond the batwing doors, and he and Inez shared an incredulous look. The tracker, normally quiet and unassuming was the focus of every person in the room as he swung the woman around joyfully.

"Vin Tanner! You put me down this instant!" The woman's voice was indignant, but filled with suppressed laughter and Ezra was charmed by its silken lilt.

Vin, who rarely got beyond a shy half smile, laughed. "I'll put you down as soon as you tell me what you're doing here, Bonnie."

"I can't tell you anything if you're squeezing the life out of me!" The woman cried, struggling to free herself from Vin's enthusiastic embrace.

The rangy man set her free reluctantly, and Ezra understood the reluctance perfectly. If she were pressed against him he wouldn't want to let her go either. She was about 5'6", and slim. She'd shed the jacket he'd first seen her in and revealed soft curves encased in faded denims and a dusty white cotton work shirt. Her green eyes glowed in the dim light of the saloon, and whiskey colored flecks reflected the color of the drink she held in her hand. Unusual eyes, he thought. Eyes that could capture a man a pull him in effortlessly. Ezra shook his head. She was unlike any woman he'd ever seen before, and he suspected that the storm that he'd felt brewing might begin with her.

Bonnie shot back the whiskey she held in her hand, and turned to Vin with a smile, readying her explanation. "I was just passing through actually. I needed a break and so did my horse, so here we are." She held up the glass. "I got thirsty."

Bonnie could feel the handsome man's eyes burning into her, but she focused her attention on Vin instead. He was the reason she was here after all. To settle old scores, and to tell old secrets now that the time had finally come. This was no time, she thought, to get distracted by a pretty face. No she amended, a handsome face, gorgeous, even, with eyes like green ice behind a mask of carefully schooled indifference. He'd been the first thing she'd seen coming into town, his bright read coat catching her eye from his seat beneath the awning in front of the dusty little saloon. Like him, she had practice hiding her emotions, and so she ignored the quickening little beat of her heart when she saw his classically handsome profile and impeccable taste in clothes. She gave herself a mental shake and reminded herself that she was here for Vin. Vin, who, as always wore rough and ready clothes, nothing so sophisticated as black linen pants that showed off the fit lines of a slender body, with a crisp red jacket accenting the red-gold glints in dark, curling hair. If only he would stop staring at her, maybe she would be able to concentrate.

Vin laid a possessive hand on her back and turned her to face the green-eyed man with a broad smile. "Ezra, I'd like you to meet my friend, Bonnie Walker."

Vin knew the man? Bonnie couldn't believe it. They were so different, like night and day, like the desert and the deep blue grass of Kentucky.

"It is truly a pleasure to meet so lovely a lady in a town so often bereft of beauty by its simple starkness," Ezra drawled.

Bonnie suppressed a smile. Kentucky wasn't that far off. His smooth rich voice wrapped around her like fine silk. "You flatter me, sir. I'm a bit dusty to be that beautiful." She shrugged. "On the other hand, I've never been one to turn down a compliment."

Vin did not miss the flirtation in Bonnie's voice and he raised a surprised brow. The Bonnie he'd known would have blushed and stared intently at the floor, perhaps murmuring an almost inaudibly thanks, but she would never have returned Ezra's subtle flirtation in kind. And for that matter what did Ezra think he was doing, flirting with her.

Vin unconsciously pulled the girl closer to him, his hand fitting easily in the curve of her slim waist. "Well, Bonnie, we've got a lot of catching up to do," Vin said, turning slightly so that Ezra was blocked off from the small circle they had created.

"Indeed. But first I'd like to get a room and get cleaned up. If you'll excuse me?" She slid smoothly from Vin's grasp, smiled at Ezra and threw two coins on the counter to cover her drink before making a graceful exit.

Ezra watched Bonnie leave before turning to Vin, who was leaning against the bar, watching the gambler watch Bonnie. "Your friend is quite a lovely woman," he said, gesturing to Inez to bring him a drink. He picked up her glass and turned it so that it caught the light, and smiled as rainbows danced across the scarred bar.

Vin eyed Ezra suspiciously. "I know," he said shortly.

"Might I inquire as to how you are acquainted with the young lady?" Ezra asked.

"Huh?"

"How do you know her?" Vin's eyes lit with understanding.

"I guess you could say me and Bonnie grew up together," he said.

A pleased expression crept into Ezra's eyes. "So she's like a sister to you, then."

Vin looked startled, and smiled his sly smile. "I wouldn't say she was like a sister Ezra." His smile widened. "I definitely wouldn't say that." Vin nodded to the gambler and then strolled slowly through the doors Bonnie had exited only a moment before.

Bonnie stood in front of the mirror and admired her reflection. It was too bad that Vin couldn't have seen her like this first. She'd grown up, and she didn't think he realized it. She smiled, and blew her reflection a kiss. If he didn't realize it yet, he was gonna, she thought, and, gathering her skirts, she went to meet him.

Vin was standing at the bottom of the stairs perfecting his lean when Bonnie began her descent. He took one look at her and leaned a little too far. The patrons in the hotel lobby giggled nervously as they peered at the prone form of the lanky tracker where he lay on the floor. Chris Larabee, who had entered just in time to see Vin's ignominious tumble, had suppressed a smile. His friend was normally the picture of grace. He followed the man's still stunned gaze to the stairs to see what had caused the tumble and very nearly followed him down.

The woman on the stairs was a vision. Her simply cut blue dress hugged her body in a way that would make men want to do the same. He supposed that it wasn't quite the style, with its simplicity, but it suited her far better than the frills and bustles that most other women wore. Her honey colored hair glinted in the warm lighting in the room. Her eyes were flecked with mischief and puzzlement as she stared down at the man she'd come to see. Chris sighed in appreciation. She was well worth taking a fall for.

Bonnie had seen Vin's fall and found herself warring between a mischievous pleasure and concern for her prone friend. When she set eyes on the black-clad man who stood beside him her concern evaporated in a wave of curiosity. The man held a hand out to Vin and she studied him carefully. Clearly, he and Vin were friends. Were ALL of Vin's friends in this little town gorgeous? The long legs were tightly encased in black jeans and he moved with a lithe grace that reminded her of a cat on the prowl. Sandy blonde hair that fell in his eyes, a rakish grin and green eyes that could freeze your soul or light it on fire completed what was an altogether breathtaking picture. Especially, Bonnie mused, when he was bent over like that . . . still he wasn't quite so handsome as that other man . . . Ezra, or at least, he didn't have the same appeal for Bonnie.

Vin finally regained his senses enough so that he was on his feet when Bonnie reached the bottom of the stairs. "Bonnie," he said, "I never expected you to clean up quite so good."

Bonnie smiled. It was a slightly backwards compliment, but one of the first she'd ever gotten from him that hadn't been in relation to her throwing arm or her ability to spit or some such thing. "Why, thank you Vin," she purred. "Who's your friend?"

"This is Chris Larabee," Vin said.

"THE Chris Larabee?" Bonnie eyed the black-clad man with renewed interest. "I've heard big things about you."

Chris narrowed his piercing green eyes. "Don't believe everything you hear."

Bonnie laughed. "Oh, I don't." Chris looked at her in surprise. "I don't believe in fairy tales." Bonnie's smile was sugary sweet and Vin looked at her in shock. She led the way out the door and Vin hurried after her, shooting Chris an apologetic look.

Josiah settled into the chair next to Chris and flagged Inez down for a drink. Ezra joined the two men, his long, slim fingers shuffling his cards effortlessly. "Would either of you two gentlemen care to join me in a game of chance?" He smiled, his green eyes sparkling.

"You cheat Ezra, and I'm broke." Josiah sighed and settled back into the battered wooden chair, and it creaked with his bulk.

"Why sir, I am offended by such a slanderous remark upon my character." Ezra drew himself as if he was insulted but made no move to leave the table. Instead, his fingers began to fly as he began to shuffle the cards at a greater speed, until they were almost a blur.

"Brother Ezra, you have an altogether too great a propensity to show off." Josiah favored the smaller man with a smile and Ezra winked.

"My mother always said, if you've got it, flaunt it." Ezra hesitated, "Although I'm not quite sure she was referring to her card playing skills. Still, I suppose it's as true in any case."

The two men grinned and Larabee looked at them bemusedly, amazed at the camaraderie that had sprung up not only between Ezra and Josiah, but between all of the men he rode with. He had to admit, he rather felt a bond with them to, not that he would ever have admitted to the green-eyed gambler that he had come to enjoy the man's company. No, that would only given a boost to Ezra's already plentiful ego. And speaking of egos . . . Buck looked like his had been wounded, Chris mused. The big man had entered the saloon with his shoulders slumped dejectedly and JD followed close on his heels, the grin tugging at the edges of the boy's lips reassured Chris that whatever had happened wasn't serious.

"Why, Mr. Wilmington, you look positively desolate. May I inquire as to whether a member of the gentler sex is responsible for your dismal countenance?" Ezra looked at the mustachioed man curiously.

"Ezra, I don't know what you said, but shut up," Buck growled. He dropped down into a seat at the table and pulled his hat low over his eyes. "Some women just ain't worth it."

"Who was she?" Chris asked.

"It was Vin's friend, Bonnie!! Boy you guys should have seen it, if Buck had stayed any longer he might have caught cold she was so cool to him." JD's enthusiastic description brought smiles to every face but Buck's. "

"Pray tell, Mr. Dunne, precisely what happened," Ezra asked.

"Well, Buck saw her, and being Buck he went right over to her. Vin introduced him, cause he had to, and me too, cause I was with Buck. And then Buck tried to put his 'animal magnetism' to work. She shot him down like a slow moving duck!" the men laughed at Buck's misfortune, and the kid's glee.

"Well, Buck, you can't win 'em all. Hell," Josiah smothered a grin, "I've seen this little girl, and she might be a looker, but I'm not sure what you'd do with her when you got her. She looks like a spitfire."

"She didn't used to be." The quiet tracker dropped lightly into a chair at the table that locals recognized as 'belonging' to the seven. "But she sure is now." Vin looked around the table at his friends in confusion. "The Bonnie I remember was quiet little tomboy. Her brother Jack and I were real good friends. Did just about everything together. She used to tag along, be a little pest. Like to drive us crazy. Last time I saw her she was about 16, just turning into a cute little thing. No boy'd give her a second look though; cause they was all scared of Jack. He was awful protective of her." Vin shook his head. "Damn. She sure grew up."

"If you're just figuring that out, Mr. Tanner, you're slower than I gave you credit for." Ezra shook his head. Vin glared at him. And Ezra shrugged. "May I inquire as to what brings such a lovely woman to our humble little town."

"She won't say," Vin said. Chris frowned. "All she'll say is that she's taking care of some old business."

"Don't you think that's kind of strange Vin? That someone you haven't seen just pops up out of the blue and won't say why?" Chris asked.

"I know what you're thinkin' Chris, but she ain't here about the bounty. She ain't that kind of girl. Why, I remember she was so tender hearted she couldn't stand to see a man wear spurs. Once, she got into a fight with a whole group of boys cause they was picking on some poor old mangy mutt." Vin chuckled at the memory.

"And as I recall, I whooped you too, Vin Tanner, all of you." Bonnie's voice was filled with amusement. Vin grinned, but didn't say anything. "I just thought I'd come in and clarify something for you before I went to bed. I'm not here about the bounty, although I do know about it. Jack and I have had our share of men come looking for you when they found out we knew you." She sighed, and none of the men missed the look of sadness that passed over her face. "We never said anything about you to them, Just so you know." Bonnie turned on her heels and disappeared back through the batwing doors that hung in the front of the saloon. She paused halfway down the boardwalk, and drank in the cool desert air.

"Then why are you here?" Bonnie jumped when Ezra's voice came out of the darkness. "I won't repeat it to Mr. Tanner if I don't think it's necessary, but I'm not a big fan of surprises. I am, however, quite skilled at reading people, and whatever's going on, I'd wager it has something to do with the bounty on his head. ."

"I hold Vin that Jack was still in Texas." Bonnie said. Ezra just stared at her, confused by the sudden change of topic. He opened his mouth to interrupt her, but she held up a slim brown hand and cut him off. "Strictly speaking that's true. Of course, he's dead, which makes it a bit hard for him to get around, but technically, he is still in Texas." Bonnie's defiant façade dropped for a moment, and he could see the fear and pain that was plaguing her. "He was killed by one of the men that were looking for Vin. Name was Dick Dastardly. He wanted to know where Vin was and Jack wouldn't say. It was just bad luck that we got one of Vin's rare letters that day. Hell, it's only this past year or so that we've heard from him at all. I was taking care of getting supplies for the ranch over in the general store when Jack came in to tell me about it. I guess he overheard cause he hunted Jack down on his way home, took the letter off of him. I found the body out on the trail on my way home. He didn't just kill Jack--he mutilated him, it was so . . .horrible."

Bonnie suppressed a shudder and Ezra slipped an arm around her. She stiffened before relaxing into his soft embrace. "I couldn't recognize his face, it was so . . . I could only tell it was Jack because of other things, like there was this scar on the bottom of his left foot where he stepped on a rock in the creek when we were little. You know the kind of thing I mean . . ." she sighed. "Jack was all I had. We lost our parents pretty young, and sort of took care of each other. Even when he thought I was a pest he never dumped me. I was totally lost, I just didn't know what to do without him." Bonnie sighed again, and leaned against Ezra's burgundy coat, enjoying the feel of the soft material under her cheek. "By the time I got Jack . . . taken care of, I'd formulated a plan. I had to find Vin. I knew that's where the bounty hunter would be headed. And I knew he had a head start on me. We'd figured out where Vin was a long time ago, even if he didn't ever say precisely where he was. It wasn't too hard to figure out. So I got my stuff together and just headed out. It's only a matter of time before Dastardly shows up here, and I'm going to make him pay for what he did."

"But why didn't you just tell Mr. Tanner this in the first place?" Ezra asked.

"Are you kidding?" Bonnie laughed incredulously. "Vin's always been as bad as Jack for big brothering me. Do you really think he'd let me go gunning for some professional bounty hunter? Not likely." Bonnie gestured to her dress and frowned. "I even tried to dress up a bit, maybe make Vin see that I've grown up, but he hasn't said a word, so I'm starting to wonder if he's even noticed."

"He noticed." Ezra smiled. "Trust me, he noticed. And I think you need to tell him, tell of them, what you've just told me. It wouldn't hurt to have some help, you know. And you can watch Vin's back more effectively if he's keeping an eye out too."

"I guess you're right." Bonnie reluctantly pulled herself away from the southerner, smoothing the creases she'd made in his jacket self-consciously. "Sorry about that."

"Don't mention it. A wrinkle in my attire is a small forfeit to be able to give a lady such as yourself some degree of comfort." Ezra offered his arm to the slim woman, and smiled brightly when she took it, enjoying the feel of having her so close to him. He'd enjoyed having her wrapped in his arms more than he wanted to admit, but he would never take advantage of a woman in such a vulnerable state. They stopped outside the saloon doors and she dropped his arm, straightened her skirt, smiled at him, and plunged into the light and noise of the busy bar.

"Are you out of your mind?" Vin's exclamation caught everyone off guard. The man was normally so quiet that to hear him yell was as unexpected as snow in July. "I can't believe you were planning to go up against some crazy bounty hunter."

Bonnie looked at him in disgust and then shot Ezra an 'I told you so' look. "I can handle Dastardly."

"I don't care, you aren't going to get the chance," Vin said.

"Excuse me?" Bonnie's eyes sparkled dangerously and almost unconsciously the other men began to back away from the two friends.

"I said you aren't going to get the chance. I want you out of this. It's too dangerous." Vin nodded his head with finality.

"Like hell!" Bonnie stepped closer and looked the bounty hunter in the eye. "I'm not just going to sit back for this Vin Tanner, and if you think I am, you're sadly mistaken. This bastard killed my brother. I owe him for that, and I always pay my debts. And I strongly suggest that you don't try to stop me Vin."

"But . . ." Vin began, but she cut him off.

"But nothing. Besides, I'm the only one who can recognize Dastardly."

"Doesn't that mean that he could also recognize you?" Ezra interjected.

"I don't think so. Dastardly never actually approached me. I'm not sure he even knows I exist. But Jack had pointed him out to me, so I could keep my guard up." Bonnie looked at Ezra with a quick smile and the turned back to Vin. "You may not like it Vin, but you need me. And I need this. It would be nice if I didn't have to do it alone, but I' m not going to stop just because you say so."

Vin stared at her. "Alright." The other six men nodded in agreement. Bonnie nodded.

"This is what I think we should do," Bonnie pulled a chair up to the table and began explaining her plan to the seven men.

They didn't have to wait long. Two days later Dastardly rode into town followed by a handful of rough looking men. Bonnie was strolling down the boardwalk with Ezra when she saw him. The gambler looked up as her grip on his arm tightened and followed her gaze. Dastardly was a big man, with beady eyes and a small mustache. He rode with his hat pulled low and his black duster flapping around him. He wore two six guns slung low across his hips and wore ammunition belts slung across his chest like a bandalero straight out of Purgatory. His expression was a leer that looked like it took effort to maintain, and possibly left a headache in its wake.

"He looks like he's trying too hard," Ezra murmured.

"He looks like an idiot, but he's a dangerous idiot, Ezra. Besides, his men don't look quite so stupid as he does."

Ezra turned his green eyes to the band of ruffians following the man in black. They did indeed look more competent than their leader. Rough and uncouth, with an arsenal of guns that probably could have supplied a small army.

Bonnie sighed. "I guess we'd better sound the alarm." She looked back at the group that was dismounting in front of the saloon. "I knew he wouldn't be alone, but I hadn't counted on there being so many."

"I suggest we spread the word to our compatriots and regroup to discuss these new developments. If you would be so kind as to stop by the jail and inform Mr. Dunne and Mr. Wilmington of these events and have them meet at the church, we'll be able to get this show on the road, so to speak." Ezra smiled, and raised her hand to his lips. "Do be careful my dear, I would hate to lose the company of so lovely a lady."

Bonnie stared into his green eyes for a moment, a soft flush creeping up her cheeks. Slowly, Ezra released her hand and she turned towards the jail. Glancing over her shoulder she couldn't help but admire the gambler. He had style, and flair, and a heart of gold, even if he didn't want anyone to know it. And he was gorgeous. Really, really gorgeous. Bonnie sighed and shook her head, this was really not the time to be thinking about Ezra or the way he made her skin tingle and her heart beat a little bit faster and her stomach twist up in knots all just by smiling at her. Or the ways his hands moved over a deck of cards that made her wonder what they'd feel like against her skin or . . . no. Now was definitely not the time to be thinking of these things.

Bonnie stopped outside of the jail and peered in the streaky windows. Buck and JD sat inside, through the door she could hear their good-natured ribbing and she tapped on the window to alert them to her presence.

Both men leapt to their feet, and Buck gave her a gallant smile. "Why Miss Bonnie, you're looking plumb lovely today, and may I say that is a beautiful dress?"

"Cool it Buck. It didn't work the first ten times and it's not going to work now. Besides, I didn't come in here just to see your pretty little face. Dastardly's in town, and he brought a few friends, which means that we need to figure out exactly what we're going to do. We're supposed to meet at the church. I'm heading over now, I suggest you two wait a few minutes so that it doesn't look too suspicious."

"Dick Dastardly? What's he look like?" JD asked.

"A Chris Larabee wanna be with a serious case of const . . . um, never mind." Buck smothered a grin, and clapped his hand over JD's mouth before the boy could ask for an explanation. Look for a heavy, heavily armed man in black." Bonnie looked out the window and nodded. "It's clear for the moment, so I'm heading over. I'll see you boys in a few minutes."

Waving good-bye to the two men Bonnie ducked out of the jail and headed down the dusty street to the partially restored church. The heavy wooden door creaked and she stepped into the dimly lit building where Nathan and Josiah were working side by side restoring the hard wooden pews. "Hi boys!" The two men looked up at the bright sound of Bonnie's voice. "It's that time. Dastardly and company just hit town."

Josiah straightened up, his impressive bulk seeming to fill the room. "How many."

"Counting Dastardly? Six. Enough guns to stock an armory though, and they look like they know how to use them with more than the average skill level. JD and Buck should be along shortly and Ezra's gonna find the others and send them over. Now, it's just a matter of time."

Time was not something that they had a lot of. Dastardly had begun asking about Vin the second he got off of his pretentious black stallion and by the time night fell someone had let something slip. Minutes later, he was standing in the street, flanked by his men, and screaming Vin's name. Now Bonnie and the seven were crouched in strategic positions around the town. Ezra could hear Bonnie's light breathing at his side. And smiled in the darkness.

"Tanner! Tanner! I'm calling you out!! It's time for you to take a little trip back home!" Dastardly's voice echoed in the darkened streets.

"I'm calling you out?" Ezra looked at Bonnie in disbelief. "Is this guy for real?"

"Real enough to kill my brother." Bonnie's voice was tight and Ezra laid a hand on her arm.

"Are you holding up okay, darlin'?" He peered at her face, which was illuminated only by the night sky, and suddenly realized that her eyes were dark with fear and anger and her mouth, normally curved into a perpetually merry smile was pulled into a tight line.

"You don't have to worry Ezra. I'll be fine. This isn't my first gunfight, you know." Bonnie said.

Ezra looked at her in surprise. "I didn't know that."

"Dastardly isn't the first one to look for Vin. Not the first one not to take no for an answer either. Even if he had been it wouldn't have mattered. Times are tough, and this is wild country. An independent woman is considered an easy target. Especially for men like Dastardly and his cohorts." Bonnie looked at Ezra with cool eyes. "I learned to take care of myself."

"I bet you did." Ezra smiled and his gold tooth gleamed in the moonlight. "Doesn't make it any easier though."

"No. I don't suppose it does." Bonnie frowned at the still shrieking figure in the street. "Is he ever going to shut up?"

Ezra nodded to a shadowy figure that had begun moving forward from under the shelter of the wooden awning that shielded the boardwalk.

Bonnie nodded. "Show time."

Vin's voice carried to the place where she and Ezra crouched behind the false front of the general store. "I'm right here, now stop screaming like a wounded calf in a hail storm and tell me what the hell you want."

Dastardly smiled, his rotting teeth shining in the dark. "I want the five hundred dollars I'll get for your head pretty boy. Hope you got your bags packed." The men that stood beside him snickered.

"I'm not much of a traveling man. I reckon I'll just stay right here." Vin leaned coolly against a wooden post.

"If you don't want to pack a bag that's fine boy. We can always take you back in one." The men snickered again and Bonnie grimaced. Their laughter was getting on her nerves.

"Not likely."

"It's one against six little man, do you really think you can take us all?" Dastardly smiled.

"Sure it's only me? You might want to take a second look around."

Vin's slow smile sent a shiver through Dastardly, and he looked around, and saw the light glinting off a gun barrel in an alley. Two on top of the general store. One inside the jail, one on top. Three others scattered in strategic places. Dastardly spotted them all, and the color drained from his face. The sound of guns being cocked echoed throughout the town. Dastardly hadn't been prepared to face any real opposition. His men were though. They had known what they were riding into. And they had known that Dastardly was incompetent and had ridden with him because it gave them an excuse to do what they loved. An excuse that could yield five hundred dollars. And they got to kill people.

Vin saw what was coming and had just enough time to dive out of the street before the shots began to fly. In the next few minutes Ezra concentrated all his attention on the street, saying a silent prayer that they would all make it through in one piece. Which might have been the reason he didn't see the woman at his side slip away. The fight was over in a matter of minutes and when the dust cleared none of the outlaws were standing. With the exception of Dastardly who wasn't really standing so much as he was cowering on his knees in the street. Which is where Ezra saw Bonnie approach him. And swore softly when he saw her raise her arm and saw the moonlight glint off the cool metal of the colt's barrel.

"You killed my brother. Maybe not with your own hands. Hell, obviously not with your own hands coward that you are. But you still killed him just as surely as if you'd held the gun. Or knife. They used both you know." Bonnie's hand trembled slightly. "I swore—swore on his grave that I'd make you pay. That justice would be served and here we are."

"Please. I'm so sorry. Oh God. Oh Please. Don't kill me. I'll do anything. Just don't kill me . . .please." Dastardly was a pathetic sight. He knelt in front of her, and his eyes were wide with fear. He looked from Bonnie, whose weapon was pointed at him unwaveringly, to the men who stood around her. Three of the men struggled with emotions that they didn't know how to cope with.

Chris watched as she stood above the man who had killed her family . . .destroyed her life, and felt a brief stab of envy even as doubt crept into his mind as to whether she would survive the harm that killing a man in cold blood would do to her soul.

Vin watched and wondered if he should stop her. The man at her feet had killed his best friend. Had broken some part of Bonnie's spirit and stolen away the joy that had always been so much a part of her. All of her laughter, all of her smiles had been shadows of the way they used to be, and Vin knew that Dastardly was the reason she had changed and he didn't like it . . .but he had to wonder if the next change might be for the worse.

And Ezra watched with horror and pity and something else, a fear that the woman that he'd fallen for so fast and so hard - her laughter, her smiles, her passion - would all disappear in the aftermath of her revenge . . .and he realized he couldn't risk that. He stepped up behind the slim blonde woman. "Bonnie, darlin' don't do this."

"I have to Ezra. He killed Jack. He killed him." Bonnie's voice trembled. "I have to make him pay."

"There are better ways." Ezra took another step closer to her.

"No! There has to be justice." Bonnie's voice was strident, and she pulled the hammer back.

"There will be justice darlin'. But this isn't it. This is revenge." Ezra laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and the men held their breath. "You're better than this darlin'." He slid his hand down her arm and took the gun away from her. She leaned against him, unresisting, and he pulled her to him. Ezra pulled her arm and walked her slowly away from the street, and each of the men relaxed unconsciously.

Dastardly had watched the tableau with fear glistening in his eyes, and now was all but forgotten in the aftermath. Now was his chance . . .and the fool that he was, he took it. Grabbing a gun from one of the fallen ruffians he drew on the slim girl and fired. The sound of the gunshot and its echo woke Bonnie from her daze and she felt something hit her, sending her flying against Ezra, both of them tumbling to the ground. It was only when she realized that there was another body on top of her that she realized that Vin was what had hit her, pushing her out of the way of the bullet's path. Scrambling free of the tangle she knelt beside her friend. Blood seeped from his shoulder and his normally clear blue eyes were clouded with pain.

"Oh God, Vin . . .I'm so sorry. I should have shot him. I shouldn't have turned away . . .oh God . . ." Bonnie cradled his head on her lap as Nathan ran up to them.

"I need to look at him Miss Bonnie." Nathan slid Vin's shoulder free of his rough buckskin jacket and cut the shirt away with practiced skill. He probed the wound, and lifted the man to check for an exit wound. "You'll be fine. Lucky he was a bad shot though, or this might have been bad." Nathan smiled with relief, and something he'd said penetrated to Bonnie's mind.

"Was?"

"Didn't you hear that second shot?" Vin asked. Bonnie frowned, then remembered the sound she'd thought was an echo and nodded. "Chris really is fast you know."

Bonnie's gaze strayed to the quiet gunslinger and he tipped his hat to her with a sly smile. "Is he dead?" she asked. Chris nodded. "Thank you." Her gaze strayed to Ezra. "And thank you."

"Darlin', it was a pleasure." Ezra smiled and Bonnie felt her heart jump. "I think Mr. Tanner might appreciate it if we got him out of the street."

Bonnie looked at her lap, where Vin's head still rested, and smiled. "Indeed. And thank you to my friend." Vin smiled weakly and she moved away just enough for Nathan and Chris to lift him up and support him between them. Bonnie looked at Ezra with worried eyes. "He'll be alright won't he?"

"Believe me when I say that since he is in Mr. Jackson's capable hands I have the utmost confidence in his recovery." Ezra led her towards Nathan's small clinic.

Josiah looked at the bodies strewn in the streets and then at Buck and JD. "Well brothers, it looks as if cleanup duty has fallen to us."

JD groaned. "Oh, man. Buck, why do we always have to clean up the bodies?"

Vin watched Ezra and Bonnie stroll along the boardwalk and frowned when he saw Ezra's arm slide around the woman's trim waist. He hurried to catch them, sighing impatiently as him arm shifted in its sling and he had to stop to resettle it. When he caught up with them he laid a hand on Ezra's shoulder.

"Mind if I have a word with you pard?"

Ezra looked at the man with amusement. "Not at all. What seems to be the problem Mr. Tanner?"

To Ezra's surprise Vin blushed. "Actually, I'd kind of like to talk to you in private." Ezra raised an eyebrow, but shrugged, and looked at Bonnie apologetically. "Would you excuse us my dear?" he asked.

"Of course. I'll catch up with you later, I'm going to run and see Mary."

"Thank you. I shall wait with bated breath until we are reunited." Ezra raised her hand and kissed it gently. Bonnie laughed and blew him a kiss and waved goodbye to Vin as she ran down the sidewalk.

"Now Mr. Tanner, What is this matter that is of such importance?"

"What are your intentions towards Bonnie?"

Ezra looked at him incredulously before breaking into a brilliant smile. "Only the best big brother. Only the best."





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