Rating-------PG13-language and violence
Disclaimer----Not mine…never were, but I love writing about the Seven.
Comments----This story came about thanks to Marti who's always there with ideas and a willingness to give them to me. I have a long list of story plots she's given me and hope to do justice to each and every one…poor Chris. Thanks to Antoinette and Marti for the wonderful beta job. Antoinette, thanks again for not digging too big a hole to hide in.
Chris pulled his duster tight around his body as he rode the final leg of his journey into Four Corners . He'd spent the last few days at his ‘little piece of heaven' and enjoyed the solace to a certain degree. Now it was time to get back to the town he helped protect and the people who'd become part of his family. He knew they were getting ready for Thanksgiving and he'd already accepted an invitation to join Mary Travis and her in laws for dinner the next day. He pulled Pony to a stop outside the livery and handed the reins to Yosemite .
“Take good care of him.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Larabee,” Yosemite agreed and led the animal inside.
Chris walked past Potter's store and nodded a greeting to Gloria Potter and the woman who stood at the counter.
“Gettin' a mite cooler.”
“A mite? Shit, Vin, if this is what you call a mite, I'd hate to see what you call freezing,” Larabee said when the Texan joined him from out of nowhere.
“Cold is jumpin' inta a near froze lake with nothin' on but a smile,” Tanner said.
“Now that's a scary picture. Where is everyone?”
“Nate's up at his clinic making sure the stuff he ordered came in on the stage. Josiah's at the church. Ezra's in bed. Buck and JD are at the jail.”
“Any trouble while I was gone?”
“Not really. Had a couple of fellas start ta fight at the saloon, but it didn't ‘mount ta much. Everythin' okay at yer place?”
“Yeah! A raccoon was trying to lay claim to it, but I moved him out pretty damn quick.”
“Relative of yours?”
“Ya still goin' ta Mrs. Travis' fer dinner tamorrow?” Tanner asked, as he shoved open the door to the saloon.
“Didn't make any other plans. What about you?”
“Me and JD are headin' out ta Miss Nettie's place after I finish my patrol tanight. Figure I'd keep an eye out for a turkey fer her.”
“Why don't you and JD head on out early? I'll take your patrol tonight. It's so damn cold out I doubt if there'll be anyone dumb enough to be around.”
“You're just a belly full of laughs today. Better watch it or I'll take back my offer,” Larabee said with a grin.
“Damn, ya sure about takin' my patrol?”
“Sure. Get JD and go find Nettie a nice big turkey.”
“Thanks, Chris!” the Texan said and hurried off.
Chris walked up to the counter and smiled at Inez Recillos as she slid a glass of whiskey toward him. “Thanks, Inez.”
“You're welcome, Senor. It is very cold.”
“Yes, it is,” Larabee agreed, downing the drink and handing it back for a refill. He heard the doors open behind him and glanced in the mirror hanging behind the bar.
“Afternoon, Chris,” Jackson said.
“Nathan,” Larabee greeted. “Thought you were going out to Rain's village?”
“I am, I just needed to check a few things before I left. Did you know Mrs. Travis came in on the stage with the Judge and Billy?”
“Mary mentioned she might be coming,” Larabee said. “Have you met her?”
“Yeah, she seems a bit stuffy, but it could be just the long trip,” Jackson explained.
“He's excited about being back in town. All he's been asking about is you,” the healer said with a grin.
“Guess I'd best go find him,” Larabee said. Billy Travis had managed to find a place in his heart and Chris was anxious to see the young boy whose life he'd saved a few short months ago. The boy had witnessed his father's murder and had refused to talk about it until that same man tried to kill both Chris and Billy at the old Travis homestead.
“Might be a good idea, you have a good time with him, Chris,” Jackson ordered and watched the gunslinger leave the saloon.
“I believe Senor Larabee would have been a wonderful father,” Inez said.
“From what Buck told us there was none better. You have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Inez,” Jackson told her.
“I will, Senor, don't eat too much turkey,” the woman said and was once again left alone in the saloon. She would be spending the holiday with the Potter family and knew Buck Wilmington, Ezra Standish, and Josiah Sanchez would also be there. She smiled at the warmth Wilmington 's name generated and loved the light-hearted teasing friendship she had with him. Humming an old tune her mother had taught her, Inez went back to cleaning the glasses.
Chris spotted the little boy playing with one of Gloria Potter's sons in front of Mary's home and hurried along the street toward him. His eyes lit up as the child spotted him and raced along the edge of the street calling his name.
“Hey, Billy,” Larabee said and plucked the child from midair.
“I missed ya, Chris!”
“Missed you too, Billy. Hey, have you grown some more?”
“Sure did. Ma says I'm growin' like a weed!”
“I think your Ma's right. Pretty soon you'll be as tall as the tree in front of your place.”
“Nah, that's even taller'n you are.”
“How was school?”
“School's boring, but grandma says I gots…”
“I need to go. She says I need to learn to read and cipher and write. Why do I need all that stuff for?”
“Your grandma's right, Billy, you'll need all those things if you want to help your mother with the newspaper.”
“What if I want to be fast with a gun like you?”
“Don't say that, Billy. Being fast with a gun is a reputation I'd rather not have.”
“When you're a fast gun other fast guns want to see if they can beat you and sometimes you lose.”
“You never lose, Chris.”
“Some day I will, Billy,” Larabee stated and looked into the boy's serious face. “Your mom needs you to help her with the paper and I know you'll make a good…no the best newspaperman this town's ever seen.”
“But it's boring!”
“Are you sure about that, Son?”
“Ma writes about cooking and Vin gives her poems and…”
“She interviews important people like the governor and makes sure people have a right to speak out. She's good at it too. Your ma helps a lot of people with her newspaper.”
“Ma's job is ‘portant?”
“It sure is,” Larabee said and placed the boy on the ground as they walked toward the Travis home.
“Mary, I know you are beholding to Mr. Larabee for saving my grandson's life, but do you think it's wise to encourage their friendship?” Evie Travis had watched the gunslinger pick up her grandson and a chill had raced down her spine. She turned away from the scene and made her way back to the table where she'd been busy making pies for the Thanksgiving dinner the next day.
“Chris is a good man…”
“It's Chris now? I don't think that's a wise course either.”
“Mrs. Travis, Chris Larabee is a good friend and he's doing a wonderful job of keeping this town safe.”
“Only because Orrin is paying him and the others to make sure it stays that way. Honestly, Mary, I don't understand why you're staying here! This town killed my Steven and I would have thought you'd want to leave it all behind you,” Evie Travis said as she rolled out the dough for the apple pies she was fixing for dinner that night.
“This is my home, Mrs. Travis, and someday it will be Billy's home. There are good people here and I will not turn my back on them.”
“They had no qualms about turning their back on you when Steven died. Did anyone even try to find his murderer? What about Mr. Potter? If it wasn't for Orrin his killer would still be running around free.”
“Orin did have help from the men he hired and he'd be the first one to tell you that Chris Larabee is a good man.”
“My husband does turn a blind eye to some things, but I do wish he'd thought better than hiring a gunslinger,” Evie said.
“Perhaps he knew this town needed a champion or two,” Mary said, shaking her head at the prejudice the older woman was showing.
“Perhaps, but did you have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner? He has a lot of enemies…”
“Yes, he does, but he also has a lot of friends. I consider myself one of them,” Mary stated. “I need to go pick up a few things at the general store. Is there anything you need?”
“We need some more flour and sugar,” Evie Travis said and knew the conversation was over. She walked to the window and looked out at the street as her daughter in law smiled a greeting at the man dressed totally in black.
“Hello, Mary, I hear you have company? Are you sure they don't mind me coming to dinner tomorrow?”
“Of course its okay, Chris, Judge Travis was glad to hear I invited you. I just hope you realize he'll probably want to talk about the town and what else can be done to keep it safe,” Mary said.
“Hey, Chris, can we go fishing?”
“Sorry, Billy, promised Vin I'd do his patrol today so he could go out to Mrs. Wells' place,” Larabee said.
“Now, Billy, Chris has things he needs to do,” Mary explained.
“Can we go before I have to go back with Grandpa?”
“If your mom says its okay,” Larabee said and they both looked at the blond woman expectantly.
“As long as you do your chores and behave yourself, I don't see why not.”
“Yeah! When can we go?” Billy asked.
“How about we go first thing Monday morning,” Larabee suggested.
“Can I, Ma?”
“Sure,” Mary agreed.
“I'm gonna go tell Jimmy I'm goin' fishin' with Chris!” Billy said and ran off excitedly.
“Thank you, Chris.”
“For what?” Larabee asked.
“For doing things like this with him, it's been hard on him growing up without his father.”
“You're doing a wonderful job with him, Mary,” Larabee said and walked beside her. They headed toward Potter's store and spoke to several townspeople along the way.
“Chris, it's good to see you.”
“Hello, Judge, glad you accepted Mary's invitation.”
“Thank you. Have you met Evie yet?”
“Not yet, just got into town and wanted to see Billy.”
“Have you seen him? He talked about you the whole trip…well you and his mother,” Travis explained.
“I just saw him,” Larabee answered.
The older man smiled knowingly at the gunslinger. “Let me guess, he wanted to know when you were taking him fishing?”
“Sure did. I told him I'd take him Monday morning,” the blond told him.
“I need to get a few things from Gloria. I'll talk to you later, Chris,” Mary said.
“All right, Mary,” Larabee agreed.
“Chris, why don't you come over to the house and meet Evie?” Travis suggested
“You sure I won't be intruding?”
“Knowing Evie she's been waiting for a chance to meet the man who's caught her grandson's heart. Billy talks a lot about you, Chris, and she wants to know why. Evie's probably going to treat you like a witness at a trial at first, but her bark is worse than her bite.”
“Been in that position before,” Larabee answered and the two men strode quickly toward the Travis home. Once there the older man pushed the door open and motioned Larabee inside.
Chris removed his hat and stepped into the house. He was familiar with the interior and followed the judge into the kitchen. The woman standing beside the stove scowled at him, but was quick to smile once she saw her husband beside him.
“Evie, this is Chris Larabee. The man I was telling you about.”
“Hello, Mr. Larabee, I've heard a lot about you from Orrin and Billy.”
“Hello, Mrs. Travis,” Larabee said, accepting her offered hand. “Billy's told me about you.”
“Please, don't believe everything he tells you. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you, Ma'am, I have to be going,” Larabee said, sensing that the woman did not want him around.
“Are you sure you can't stay, Chris? Evie makes the best coffee and I believe she's been baking,” the judge explained.
“I'm sure. I told Vin I'd be taking his patrol so he could go out to the Wells place. Mrs. Wells invited him and JD to join her and Casey for Thanksgiving Dinner.”
“All right, guess we'll see you tomorrow evening then,” Travis said.
“Wouldn't miss it, Judge, Ma'am,” Larabee said.
“Good day, Mr. Larabee,” Evie Travis said and turned to her husband when the gunslinger hurried out of the house. “How can you be so cavalier about having a gunslinger in our home?”
“Chris Larabee is a good man, Evie, his reputation as a gunslinger is in the past.”
“Is it? What about that man Spikes?”
“He came here looking for Chris, Evie, but not because of something Chris did in the last few years. Spikes was looking for revenge because of something that happened when they were seventeen.”
“That may be, but he still came after Larabee and what if someone else comes along while Billy is with him? Are you willing to take a chance that Billy could get hurt?”
“Evie, do you think my job is an easy one? Do you want me to quit seeing Billy because of the enemies I make when I sentence those men to prison?”
“Is it? I probably have just as many if not more enemies than Chris Larabee, but I am not willing to give up my grandson or my job.”
“I am not asking you to, Orrin, but this is different.”
“No, it's not. I've had several people come after me because of who I am…so has Chris and many others who choose to fight for what's right.”
“I don't wish to argue about this, Orrin, but I do wish you would ask Mr. Larabee to stay away from our grandson.”
“Billy is in no danger from Chris Larabee, Evie, in fact, I feel safer knowing he's around. Now you and I are guests in this house and Mary invited Chris to join us for dinner. Don't go making a scene while he's here!”
“I wouldn't dream of it, but I do hope you're not condoning a romance between him and our daughter in law. He could never take Steven's place!”
“No, he couldn't, but he could be a father figure for Billy and there are times when a boy needs a man's influence. Need I remind you of the times Steven needed a stern hand?”
“No, I know our son had some problems, but he grew into a good man and I miss him so,” Evie said and fought back the tears.
“I miss him too, Evie,” the judge said and hugged his wife close. He felt her soft sobs and held her until she used her apron to wipe her eyes.
“I won't do anything while he's here, Orrin, but I wish you would see things my way.”
“Thank you, Evie, I want Billy to enjoy his visit with his mother. You know how much he misses her.”
“Yes, I do, and I've tried to convince her to come back east to live, but she insists on seeing Steven's dream completed.”
“He did love it here,” Orrin agreed and reached for the cup of strong coffee his wife offered. He knew Evie Travis was set in her ways and understood her concerns about Chris Larabee, but he also knew the gunslinger would never do anything to place Billy in danger. If his wife could just get past the fact that Larabee was a fast draw, then she would be able to see the finer qualities the man had to offer. For now he was just glad he'd been able to get her to give the man a chance.
“Hey, Chris, Vin says you're taking his patrol tonight,” Wilmington said and sat in the seat next to his long time friend.
“That's right. Did JD go with him?”
“They haven't left yet. Mrs. Wells came in to get a few things at Potter's. I wonder if she's making a pumpkin pie this year.”
“Why don't you ask her?”
“I just might do that,” Wilmington said with a grin. “No point in fattening Vin up when I can help him eat it!”
“Thought you, Ezra, and Josiah were spending Thanksgiving with the Potter family?”
“We are, but a man can never have too much pie, especially when it's a little slice of heaven. Are you still planning on dinner with the Travis family?”
“Sure am,” Larabee said, finishing his drink and standing once more. “I need to get a few things before I head out. You and Ezra can watch over the town tonight while I take Vin's patrol.”
“Sure thing, don't expect much in the way of trouble. This place has been downright silent the last few nights.”
“Don't argue with it, Buck,” Larabee said and stood up to leave. The day had gone well and Chris hoped things would continue that way, at least until after the holiday. He walked out of the saloon, smiling inwardly as he thought about the holiday ahead. Thanksgiving had always been a time when families gave thanks for the bountiful gifts they'd received and this year he had many things to be thankful for. His life had changed drastically when he'd lost his wife and son, but now he had things to look forward to again and he silently thanked God for the blessings bestowed on him. He had a family again, six men he cared about and a town full of people who respected him and looked to him and his fellow peacekeepers to keep them safe. He hurried along the street, pulling his duster close once more as a chill wind swept along the street. He reached Potter's store and reached out to open the door, but was stopped when he heard two voices speaking and his name mentioned.
“Chris Larabee's reputation could get him killed some day,” Gloria Potter said.
“He has made enemies through the years,” Nettie Wells said.
“That's what I'm afraid of,” a third voice said. “He's around my grandson and I'm afraid Billy could be hurt! Like when that Spikes man called him out! You have to admit you'd rather not have him at your dinner table!”
Chris swallowed the lump that formed in his throat when he heard the words from the woman he'd helped protect when Guy Royal had tried to take her ranch. He turned away from the general store and strode swiftly toward the livery. His heart seemed to thump against his ribs and he knew he shouldn't let their words bother him, but truth was they did. He'd given everything to this town. He helped protect them and made sure people like Royal and James were kept from taking the town and tearing it apart.
“Ya want me ta saddle Pony, Mr. Larabee?”
“Yeah, figure I'd get an early start. Tell Standish I'm taking his patrol!” Larabee told the liveryman as Standish walked up behind him.
“Mr. Larabee, I am in your debt,” the gambler said.
“I'll remind you of that,” Larabee said. “Just make sure you and Buck keep an eye on things tonight.”
“I shall endeavor to keep the town safe until your return,” Standish assured him and turned away.
“You do that,” Larabee ordered and watched the con man leave. He knew Ezra would find someone to indulge him in a game of poker and would probably come away with a few dollars more than he started with. He heard Yosemite behind him and reached for the reins. “Thanks.”
“Sure thing, I'll make sure there are plenty of oats and hay for him when ya get back,” the liveryman said and watched the gunslinger ride out of town.