Betrayal

The Stranger

By Leslie

Authors Notes: The character of Northstar was first introduce in The Stranger, to learn about her background you would need to read the story first.

Disclaimer: Don't own them, but love to write about them.

It was another hot July afternoon and wandering out in the open plain at this time of the day could be dangerous especially without water. In the vastness of the desert you could make out in the far horizon seven riders wearily riding along the trail.

“Damn, it’s only noon and it has to be hot!” Taking off his black smartly trimmed hat for the tenth time and wiping his forehead with his monogram handkerchief initials EPS, the sweat beginning to build again. “How do you gentlemen stand to ride on such a hideous afternoon is beyond me.”

Buck starts to laugh and turns to Ezra, “you complain when it’s too cold and when it’s too hot, is their anything that makes you happy?”

“Of course Mr. Wilmington, a refreshing bath, a card game and whiskey.”

Josiah always quick to say a blessing merely replies. “Amend, brother Ezra!”

Just then Vin notices buzzards circling in the distance, he takes his eyepiece out, in this type of weather sometimes people underestimate the heat and find themselves in real trouble. Vin looks and sees a body lying in the distance. “Chris, looks like someone maybe in trouble over yonder.”

Vin hands the eyepiece to Chris; he looks through it and sees the same thing. “Hold it boys, looks like someone’s in trouble?” They all stop and turn their attention towards the circling buzzards. Turning their horses in unison they head straight for the individual in trouble. As they arrive closer to the body, Buck notices the shape of the body is that of a woman. When they near the body Buck and Nathan are off their horses. Buck arrives first and turns the frail body. As he turns the body over he hears a click and freezes.

“Move and I’ll take more than skin off.” She looks at the face of the man in front of her and recognition in her eyes. “Buck, am I glad to see you!”

“Lily?” Buck takes a breath of relief. “You mind lowering your gun?”

“Oh, sorry Buck couldn’t take the chance.” She lowers her weapon much to Buck’s relief and helps Northstar to her feet.

Northstar quickly surveys the others and is happy to see her old friends; it has been almost four months since she last saw them. After returning from England with Anna Belle and Sledge she had decided to leave her two friends and return west. She hadn’t realized how much she missed them ‘til now. “Well boys you are a pleasant sight to behold!”

They are stun in the condition, in which they find their friend. Her half-naked body suggests that she may have been attacked. “Are you alright?” She smiles at Chris always concerned for everyone. Ezra was off his horse and walks over to Northstar and wraps his coat around her. The dress she wears is quite revealing.

“Yes. But I’m afraid my attackers took my horse and my guns. However, I was lucky they hadn’t noticed my many other assets or who knows what might have happened.”

Chris becomes angry with Lily’s lighten response. “You’re damn lucky, what the hell are you doing out here by yourself?”

Lily responds in kind, “I was headed to Four Corners for a visit, but I see my error. I guess I should have telegraphed first.” She turns her attention to the bush behind her where the rest of her clothing and supplies are located. “I was playing decoy to draw attention to myself so that I could acquire another horse then I’d chase after the thieves who stole Dante. Had I known I’d lure you gentlemen I would have dress more appropriately.” She begins changing in the bush and when done she is angrier then a hornets nest. Returning Ezra’s coat, “now if you gentlemen will excuse me I can do without your help!”

Buck looks over to Chris then runs after Northstar. “Now Lily, Chris didn’t mean anything by his remarks, he’s only concern for your safety.”

“Well you can tell Mr. Chris Larabee, that I can take care of myself.”

“Now, now Lily Buck is right, you know how our fearless leader is, his concern would also extend to our own well being. You also may have notice that in hot days like today tempers sometimes can flare up.” She stopped Ezra was right it was a hot day and she was tired.

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I’ve been out here for almost two hours and the men who jumped me were only kind enough to leave me water but not much more.”

“You my dear are far too trusting, how did they manage to take you?”

“Oh, you know one of them pretended to be injured and me the trusting sort that I am fell right into their trap. All they wanted was Dante.”

JD was the one who asked the question; “do you know why they wanted your horse or who they were?”

“Not entirely, but I think I know who might be behind the crime.” She then began to recount events leading up to there finding her. “I met this man in Middletown two days ride from here, he instant I sell him Dante, he was quite upset when I refused.”

“Well maybe we should pay him a visited and show him his error.”

“No Vin I appreciate the offer, but if I know Dante he’ll find his way back to me.”

“You have a lot of faith in that horse Miss Lily.”

She smiles, “that I do Mr. Jackson.” She then looks at her friends; “well boys I don’t suppose you’d offer a ride to a weary traveler?”

JD didn’t hesitate, “you can ride with me!” With that she gathered her belongings and jump onto JD’s horse.

After a few hours ride and with night beginning to fall Chris decided it was time to make camp. Vin scouted ahead and found the perfect spot, they unloaded their horses pulled out their blankets and started a fire, Vin and Buck went out looking for game, while the others gathered and asked Lily what brought her back. Ezra was especially interested on Anna Belle’s situation.

“Well it happened like this, after Jeremy and I returned to Kansas City, most of his men had left those that stayed were just following orders. We convinced them to continue to stay and that we would go in search of the rightful owner of the ranch. I met with his lawyers and found the information we needed to find her. We left for England as soon as possible arriving their almost a month later. The information we were given proved valid, but she was in very bad shape (she noticed the hurt look on Ezra) still she proved to be stronger then we first thought. Within a few weeks she was strong enough to travel and we set sail for the return home. We thought it best to distance her of all bad memories. As it was the drugs she was given had robbed her of most of her memories but as we winged her from them she began to remember what happened."

"We recounted events leading to the death of her Stepfather and the circumstances of our search for her. She was very greatful and Jeremy proved to be quite an asset. Without him I don’t think Anna Belle would have recovered quite as fast and I’m happy to say that they fell in love and were married a week ago. I thought it best to depart and leave the honeymoon couple alone. Since I didn’t have anywhere to go and the circus didn’t have the same appeal I decided to come visit my old friends. Now you’re up-to-date on my adventures what have you boys been up to since last I saw you?”

With that JD was the one to start recounting most of their stories, Ezra hearing that Anna Belle was now well and back home was relieved but he couldn’t help feeling a heavy loss, he was at one time very much in love with her. He was very quiet for the rest of the night and when Vin and Buck returned with snake for dinner he quickly excused himself being unable to feast on such an uncivilized meal and would take first watch.

Chris had a feeling he knew what the real problem was and after everyone was getting ready to sleep he went over to Ezra. Ezra heard someone approaching and was relieved to see Chris. “The others have gone to sleep thought I’d come by and see if you needed anything? Or if you’d like to talk?”

“No on both questions Mr. Larabee. At the moment I would prefer my own company.”

“Well if you change your mind I’ll be relieving you in about four hours.” Chris was about to leave but couldn’t without commenting on the look Ezra had when he heard that Anna Belle had married another man. “Ezra? It couldn’t have been easy to hear she married another man. I could see it in your face that it hurt.”

“It did Mr. Larabee, but as you can see I am quite over it now. Besides I have given the young lady enough grief and pain to last two life times. My pain can not possibly compare to hers.” Chris nodded and turned to walk away then Ezra made one last comment. “Chris!” He turned around surprise at Ezra’s use of his first name. “Thank you for your concern.”

Chris didn’t say anything, just tipped his hat and returned to camp. His thoughts were back when he first met Ezra and how he felt when he let them down. He had always prided himself on his good judgement. He couldn’t believe that he could have made such an error. But since then Ezra has proven himself time and time again and considered him a good friend. Even despite Ezra’s need to find new marks in town he came to depend on Ezra’s keen assessment on the character of new people that come into their town. Vin also has that same talent but where Vin goes on instinct Ezra has an uncanny ability to be more accurate on judging new people a sort of sixth sense.

*******

Back in Four Corners, a new stranger was arriving looking for an old friend. A tall slender, quite beautiful woman she rode on a black gelding and wore a long buckskin colored coat and her hat was well wore from long years of adjusting to suit her. When she got off her horse in front of the saloon she removed her Remington rifle she also wore a Remington revolver on her left side her shirt had Indian design and tightly fitted to show every inch of her womanly assets.

When she entered the saloon the men inside couldn’t help but notice the stranger enter. She went straight to the bar and ordered whiskey. Then she asked the bartender “I’m looking for a friend of mind who I believe lives in town?”

The bartender looked at her and smiled, “who might that be Miss?”

“His name is Vin Tanner.”

The bartender smiled again recognizing the name, “yes he does live here, and in fact he and six other men help protect our town. However, at the moment they are all out of town helping some of the neighboring ranchers. But I believe Mrs. Travis received word of their return.”

“Can you tell me where I can find Mrs. Travis?”

“She owns the Clarion Newspaper just down the boardwalk across the street.”

“Thank you you’ve been most helpful.” She then paid him and left an extra tip for the information. “You keep the change.”

“Thank you Ma’am.”

She walked out the saloon and headed across the street and saw the newspaper. She went inside and saw a young woman not much older than her also very pretty working behind the counter properly working on tomorrow’s news. She thought to herself ‘if this woman only knew on the kind of news she would be creating.’ “Excuse me, are you Mrs. Travis?”

Mary got up from her desk and walked over to the counter, “why yes can I help you?”

“The bartender over at the saloon said you might be able to help me.” Mary looked at her with her deep sea colored eyes. “I have a friend that lives in town name Vin Tanner, the bartender said you might know when he is expected back.”

Mary smiled at the thought of meeting a friend of Vin Tanner, “yes I received word from them two days ago he and his friends should be back by tomorrow afternoon. I’m glad to meet a friend of Vin Tanner’s.” She took out her hand and introduced herself. “Mary Travis.”

“Catherine Monroe, but my friends call me Cat.” They both shook hands and Mary was very excited to hear about Vin’s friend.

“How do you know Vin.”

This impress Cat very much, that means she must be a real close friend of Vin’s to refer to him on personal terms. “We use to team up on occasion when looking for bounties.”

Mary was surprise, “I always thought of Vin as a solidarity man when out hunting.”

“Well from time to time we’d team up, it was better that way especially when the odds were against us and the bounty was high enough.”

“Well I must say, you are the second woman bounty hunter I’ve met this year.”

“Really, I thought I was the only woman bounty hunter this far west, hell I thought I was the only one. Who are you referring too, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Not at all, well to tell you the truth when we first met her she was actually disguised as a man, but turned out to be a woman. She went by the name Northstar.”

“Well I’ll be damn, I met Northstar once, had no idea myself he was really a woman. That would explain a lot. Is Northstar still in town?”

“No, she left a few months back to help out a friend, who ran into trouble overseas.”

“So, she’s in Europe, pity it would have been fun to see her again. Well I appreciate your help, should you see Vin before I do will you tell him I’ll be at the hotel.”

“Yes I will, I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.”

“Oh, I plan too.” She smiled at Mary and left the Clarion headed towards the saloon. It was funny but when she said that Mary felt a cold shiver down her spin as though something bad were going to happen. She shrugged it off thinking how nice it would be for Vin to see an old friend, especially one as beautiful as Cat.

Cat checked into the hotel and began to undress; yes she could hardly wait to see Vin and his friends. Over the years she had changed drastically, more than anything on searching for prey; the hunt had become an adrenaline rush for her. She enjoyed playing with her target just like a cat playing with her mouse. She would prolong stalking her query always making sure to let him know that she was not far behind. Never letting him rest or eat and when she pounce on him ready for the kill; the kill’s becoming more brutal then the last.

She began to go over her plans for Vin. She would play the part of a concern friend letting him know that several bounty hunters had banded together on hearing about his six friends. She then planned on first dividing the men starting with the gambler, he wasn’t the type for Vin to be friends with so she hoped to alienate him for her first kill. The young boy would be far too trusting and become easy prey for her he would be second. She wasn’t too concern about the preacher or the healer, but she did have her eyes on Chris Larabee. She knew that he would be the type of man Vin would become close too. By the description she had acquired he reminded her of Vin’s older brother Daniel, long since dead he’d often talk about him and how he missed him.

Oh yes, she was going to have fun with him and when it was all over she’d take him in for the bounty and even stay to watch him hang. It was a pity Northstar wasn’t in town she would have liked to tear her heart out. She had stopped her from killing one of her prey by travelling with her and then had the nerve to refuse any part of the bounty as though she were doing her a favor.

*******

The next morning everyone arose well rested and hungry they ate what was left of their snake dinner. Even Ezra decided he was a lot hungrier then he anticipated and decided it would have to do. He was surprise on how tasty the snake had been.

They all gathered their supplies and were ready to continue for home. They arrived in Four Corners by mid-afternoon and headed for the saloon. Chris however, headed for the Clarion to let Mary know they were back. When Chris entered Mary looked up and smiled it always did his heart good to see her smile. “Good afternoon Chris, it’s nice to know that you’ve return safe and sound. There wasn’t too much trouble I hope.”

“No more than usual Mary.” But he was glad to be back. “Anything new happing here?”

“As a matter of fact, just yesterday a young lady came looking for Vin, seems she’s an old friend of his.”

“Really, is she still in town.”

“Yes, she’s staying at the hotel, asked me to let Vin know she was in town. Very pretty and a bounty hunter. Said she even met Northstar once, couldn’t believe she was also another woman bounty hunter.”

“Speaking of which, we found Northstar on our way back, got into some trouble and had her horse stolen.”

“She’s alright?”

“Oh yeah, you know Northstar takes a lot more than her horse stolen to stop her. I’ll let Vin know that he has a friend in town. Did she say what her name is?”

“Catherine Monroe.”

Chris tipped his hat and headed for the saloon, “I’ll see you later Mary.” And walked out. Mary smiled as he walked towards the saloon; she couldn’t image her life without him. She was slowly beginning to care a great deal for Chris, but worried about him as well. He still hadn’t found Ella Gaines, the woman responsible for his families death.

She remembered how he and his men found her husband’s killer and saved her son’s life. She only hoped that when it came time and he found his wife’s killer that he would bring her to justice rather than take revenge. She was afraid that it would make him withdraw more.

*******

Cat was vigilant and when noon came and went she spotted the seven men returning, but was more appealing when she saw that Northstar was riding behind the young boys horse. “Oh, I don’t think I could have planned it any better.” She smiled at her good fortune, “let the games begin.” She put her eyepiece on her bed and walked over to the saloon.

When she arrived opening the saloon doors and peering inside, she saw Vin at the bar picking up a bottle of whiskey. ‘Always the helpful boy,’ she thought to herself. She entered and headed for the bar she took out her revolver and stuck it behind Vin. Vin then tense, “do you know that there’s a bounty of 500 dollars on your head? What do you think, should I collect on it?”

Vin then relaxed when he recognized her voice, “only if you give me a kiss before we leave.”

She smiled and re-holstered her gun. Vin turned around and faced her with a broad smile on his face. “You had me worried there thought I was in real trouble.”

“Serves you right for not covering your back. I thought you’d learn that by now.”

Then behind her was Buck with his gun drawn, “that’s what friends are for.”

She smiled turned slowly around and looked at the handsome gentleman before her with brown eyes and unshaven he looked good enough to eat. “So, the rumors of your friends are true. Seems I don’t have to worry about you too much.”

Vin then introduced her to Buck and all three headed to the back table. “Gentlemen, I’d like you all to meet an old friend of my Catherine Monroe, this is Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, JD Dunne, Ezra Standish and another bounty hunter Northstar.”

She nodded to all of them, and smiled at Northstar, “oh, Northstar and I have already met, found out yesterday however that you are another woman bounty hunter. I am very impress, you had me fooled.”

Northstar smiled too, “it’s alright Cat, I had a lot of people fooled, it’s good to see you. What brings you here?”

They all sat down and just then Chris walked in and noticed the additional young lady sitting down with his friends, Mary was right she is a real beauty. “You must be Vin’s friend Catherine Monroe.”

“Guilty as charged, which would make you Chris Larabee.” She wasn’t about to let him have the last word on information.

“I’m impress, how did you know?”

“Well I’m afraid that’s one of the reasons I’m in town.” She pulled out a magazine from her breast pocket. “This look familiar to you?”

Vin took the magazine and read the cover, it read the Magnificent Seven. “Why would this bring you hear?”

“Why? Well have you read the inside of the dime novel; it refers to you by name. Here let me read this to you ‘Vin Tanner a bounty hunter turn hunted’ how’s that for keeping a low profile.”

“So what you are saying dear lady, is that there are other bounty hunters capable of reading as well?”

“You bet that gold tooth of yours that’s the truth. I was in Texas a few weeks ago and got wind of a couple of men joining forces to bring you in.”

“The bounty on my head is only $500 not enough to split on more than two men.”

“These aren’t the type of men who care. According to what I overheard there more interested in all seven of you. Seems you’ve all cause some concern to the wrong people.”

“Oh joy, it’s not enough that I have to worry about unsatisfied customers now it seems I must worry about cut throats who find our good deeds unsatisfactory.”

Chris looked over to Ezra and shot him a look that made him continue shuffling his deck of cards. “What else can you tell us.”

She looked at Chris, “only that they’ll be here sooner rather than later. I’m hoping that I’ve headed them off at least a week but I can’t be sure.”

“Alright then a week is what we shoot for, we’ll begin to patrol in groups of three, that is if you two ladies won’t mind helping out.”

“I knew it wouldn’t be a dull moment upon my return.”

Chris looked over to Cat, “I didn’t come all this way not to help Vin, you can count on me.”

“Okay, Nathan you Ezra and Northstar will take the first watch starting tonight. Josiah, Vin and Miss Monroe will relieve you four hours later then Buck, JD and I will take the third watch and we will continue for as long as it takes. Any questions?”

Ezra was a little reluctant this was the first night back in town and properly would miss out on a few card games, but Chris was right they were a team when one was in trouble they all backed each other. No one questioned Chris. With that settled, Vin and Cat went out to talk. Since the first watch was Nathan’s, Ezra’s and Northstar they decided to rest before their watch began. Josiah excused himself and JD headed towards the sheriff’s office leaving Chris and Buck.

“What’s on your mind Chris? I know that look you’re worried about more than what could be coming.”

“Only the usual, the people of this town. I’m beginning to think that maybe we cause more problems by staying then the reason we were hired in the first place.”

“Yeah, but think of what would happen if we did leave, the cattle association would have a field day on the destruction of this town. Hell the last time we left they almost succeeded.”

“You’re right, I wonder what the bounty is on all of us and what kind of incentive would bring these men to try and kill us.”

“These days it doesn’t take much.” Which didn’t help the situation or the worry Chris and the rest were left with.

*******

Since it was early afternoon and the day was hot Vin invited Cat for a swim out by the lake JD and Casey enjoy fishing at. “How long has it been since I last saw you?”

Cat looked over to Vin “at least five years.”

“Why’d you wait this long to see me?”

“Vin, you didn’t exactly leave word as to your whereabouts. Then when I heard about the trouble you were in, I decided to look up your friend Jock Steele and asked him where he found you.”

“You mean you headed towards New York! I’ll wager you found city life their enjoyable?”

“I’m afraid you’d lose that wager, it was far too civilized for me.”

As they arrived at the lake both of them took their boots and socks and waded in rolling their pant legs. It was nice and refreshing they sat by the edge of the lake neither one saying much. “I’m sorry I didn’t come looking for you sooner. I just couldn’t rehash more bad memories. You can understand that can’t you Vin?”

Vin understood, after his brothers’ death Cat was heartbroken. She had loved Danny very much, they both had. Then something happened between them, maybe it was a need to comfort one another of the tragic lost and this is how they expressed their grief; whatever the reason they both became romantically involved. She had loved his brother, but Danny was to marry someone else. Vin wasn’t sure why, but also knew that Danny loved Beth too. Neither of them spoke of there own break up, but Vin always felt something special towards Cat. It was only after Danny’s death that she became aware of Vin, but then she just left without so much as a goodbye. “I guess, but I’m glad your here.”

“So am I.” She looked over at him and smiled a shy smile, and then they looked more deeply. She moved closer and tilted they’re heads ready to kiss they looked at each others eyes one more time just before closing them and touched lips lightly and then more earnestly. Vin then put his arms around her pressing himself closer and then she did the same. When they released one another both out of breath, “I’d forgotten how good a kisser you are.”

“Really,” he said. “Then let me remind you of what else I’m good at.”

“Mmm… that sounds very good.”

*******

In Texas, we find a horse rancher sitting outside the veranda wondering what her hired assassin was doing. She had instant on working alone on this matter. She’d hope that this time she would finally be rid of Chris Larabee’s six friends. She smiled to herself, thinking of the surprise on Larabee’s face just before she killed them. Fowler had always said that if she ever needed another hired killer Cat was his most adept pupil. “Soon Chris Larabee you will be mine again.”

*******

It was late evening as Nathan, Ezra and Northstar began their patrol of the town. They were a few people who came in late and headed for the saloon, for whiskey or beer. Ezra had wished he could go in and start a game; he was getting that old feeling at the pit of his stomach the excitement and anticipation of the game. He would have to speak with Chris about changing shifts. Nights were his favorite time of day, when the real day begins.

“Ezra, you look like you lost your best friend?”

“My dear Northstar, there are gentlemen inside with money and a need to know what to do with it. Yet here I stand able to help those men, but I am bound by duty to resist the temptation.”

“Ezra, one night that you don’t gamble is not going to kill you.”

“Oh, how little of the world you know my dear!”

“I’ll tell you what, why don’t you go and watch the other side of town and I’ll guard this side, and you won’t have to endure such pain.”

“Oh, if life were that simple, but perhaps you are right. Duty over gambling what can I be thinking!”

She laughed, the more she got to know Ezra the more she realized how much she cared for him. He was the real reason she had returned. After hearing Anna Belle talk about him and how she had fallen in love with him. Realizing her own feelings for him made her want to return and express her love for him. But a man like Ezra expressing such feelings could jeopardize their friendship. No it would be best to find out if he had any feelings for her before going any further with her thoughts. She hated being secretive or coy, but was aware that men were somewhat more complex then she had anticipated. She would buy her time and hope that nature would somehow take place. Just then she saw two riders coming in. Vin and Cat had finally decided to return.

“Evening folks!” They both nodded their heads as they came in. Northstar notice a change between them, something new had been added. Which for some reason worried her.

During each of the shift changes nothing happened, but they continue there patrolling. After Chris finished his shift he walked over to the Clarion to visit Mary and see if she needed any help. “Afternoon Mary!”

“Chris, how are things going.”

“Quiet so far. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No.” Then she changed her mind. “On the other hand I could use an escort over to Nettie’s. I received a new schoolbook for Casey to read. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, I’d be happy too.”

After a few minutes Chris and Mary rode off leaving the town in capable hands. The rest of the men pretty much always kept an eye on things during the day. The only one still in bed was Ezra and it was hard to get him up.

While Northstar decided to take advantage of the day and visit the Indian village outside of town. She wanted to let them know that she was back in town should they need anything. She had often visited different Indian tribes during her bounty hunting time. Most of her tracking skill came from living with these people. Just like Vin she had lived with the Indian’s for many years even before her time with the circus. She enjoyed the simple life they led and the spirituality of their beliefs. It was the latter for which she wanted to visit them. They had a special root that would induce a dream state which would show you not so much what the future held but would give you a clearer look at what changes were coming.

*******

Back in town, Cat was keeping a watchful eye noticing when Chris and Mary left as well as Northstar’s activities. She looked over at the bed as Vin was sleeping very soundly, after Chris and the others relieved them they had gone back to his room and spent that morning together; smiling while looking at him she was enjoying herself very much.

Vin slowly opened his eyes and looked at Cat, he looked at her slender body as the sunlight shinning through the window bounce off her nightshirt. He smiled at her, “good morning.”

“More like good afternoon sleepy head.”

“Really,” he sat up a bit along the headboard of the bed. Then motion to the bed, “why don’t you come over hear and give me a kiss?” She went over to the bed embraced Vin as she planted a wet kiss, then he turned and placed her gently on her back finishing their kiss they both laughed, “I can get use to this type of treatment.”

Cat slowly touched his face and then his chest. “I don’t suppose you’d put that in writing.” Looking very serious at him.

“If it meant you’d stay, yes.”

Then she pushed him away and got up. “Are you serious Vin?”

“Yes I am.” “Vin seriously, I was just being playful, heat of the moment. It just won’t work between us we’re too much alike. We both enjoy our freedom.”

“For you I’d be willing to change and I won’t want you to give up your freedom.”

“Let’s worry about one thing at a time, there’s trouble coming and we both need to focus on that.”

“Alright, but when this is over what say we focus on us.” With that they started kissing again and laughing until passion took over their bodies.

*******

Northstar arrived at the Indian Village and waved at Kojay a chieftain elder. She dismounted the horse that she borrowed Dante had not yet showed up. Walking over to Kojay she welcomed his embraced. “It is good to see you again child.”

“Thank you Kojay. It has been far too long since we last saw each other. I hope coming here will not be too much trouble?”

“You are always welcome in my tent and our village. What brings you here?”

“I wish to go on a vision quest. I have been edgy lately and not sure if it’s because my friends maybe in trouble or if it’s the arrival of someone from my past?”

“You hope the vision quest will help?”

“They have always help me in the past. I just have a bad feeling and need some reassurance. I also require your console to help me interpret my visions. Will you help me?”

“Of course.”

Before leaving Northstar had asked Josiah to inform Chris that she would be at the Indian Village and would return the next day. Which would mean someone would have to cover two shifts. Josiah said that he didn’t think Chris would mind. With that she had left but didn’t give a reason for the visit.

*******

Cat was present when Josiah informed the others of Northstar’s sudden departure, so she volunteered to take two shifts which would give her time to be with Ezra. None of them were aware of her liaison with Vin so she would openly flirt when he wasn’t around until she had time to seduce the gambler.

That evening while patrolling she walked over to the gambler. “You know we haven’t had anytime to talk since I met you?”

“Really, and what would a beautiful woman wish to converse about with me?”

“For one thing how did you find yourself in this place? You don’t look like the kind of man that belongs here out west. You look more like a city boy.”

“Do you realize that you are the first person who has actually ask me and yet I would not know how to answer you.”

Seeing him vulnerable made him more approachable. She used this opportunity to lean up against him breathing heavily and touching his face. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been attracted to a man especially one with green eyes.”

Ezra felt himself leaning towards her as well feeling the same way. “I thought you and Vin have an understanding?”

Pressing herself closer to him she spoke softly, “Vin and I grew up together our relationship is more brother and sister.” He then tilted his head and pressed his lips on hers and was about to kiss when Nathan walked by.

He coughed to make them look “shouldn’t you two be keeping an eye out?”

“I’m sorry Nathan this was my fault I shouldn’t have distracted Ezra.” She shyly pulled away looking at the gambler.

“No clearly I was at fault, I’ve lived here longer and should know better.”

Nathan looked at both, “look I’m not putting fault on either one, just suggesting keeping a good watch in town.”

After both watch duties she left with Vin and stayed the night. He was still in bed when Cat saw Ezra outside. She dressed and quietly went out, catching him headed towards the livery stables. “Are you going riding this afternoon?”

“Yes indeed, would you care to join me on this auspicious day.”

“I would.” She took hold of his arm and both walked to their horses.

Chris and Buck were headed towards the saloon when they spied them, “its funny but for some reason I thought Cat and Vin were sweet on each other.”

“I thought so too Buck, but when it comes to women you can never tell.”

Both entered the saloon JD was sitting having a sarsaparilla as they approach and sat next to him. “Well kid how’s that drink?”

“The same warm.”

*******

There in the distance rode a mysterious rider. She stood there watching as the rider approach closing in. The rider was dark and menacing but she wasn’t afraid. He motioned to her to follow.

Her horse Dante was waiting saddled and ready as they both rode off. The mist surrounding them was becoming thick then a clearing began to appear revealing a woman. It was Cat talking with a man she didn’t recognize the image then change and she saw Cat again this time with Ezra then with Vin up above was the same man watching them. Two gunshots were fired and Ezra fell, Vin looked on and was helpless. She then saw JD with Chris and Buck suddenly Vin came out running and shouting but it was too late they too were dead and he was helpless again.

When she came out of the vision quest Kojay was there. “Was your search complete child?”

“I’m not sure, but my friends maybe in serious trouble.” Just then two riders came into camp it was Nathan and Josiah. They had decided to ride and check on Northstar. She was wearing an Indian ceremonial dress that was given to her some years back. Standing up as her friends approach the pit of her stomachache with the thought that they could be bringing bad news.

Josiah tipped his hat to both Northstar and Kojay. “Afternoon, came to see how your vision quest has fair.”

Northstar was relieved she looked to Nathan since he had watch duty with Ezra. “Nathan is Ezra alright?”

“As far as I know he’s find. Why do you ask?”

“My vision showed me that terrible things are going to happen and somehow Cat is behind them.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw her kill Ezra and Vin was powerless to stop it then Buck and JD were also dead I’m not sure how they died, but I saw Vin again and he couldn’t stop it. Somehow Cat want’s to hurt him through his friends.” She looked at both of them as she came to this conclusion. “Do you know were Cat is?”

“Last night while on duty I saw Cat and Ezra about to kiss.”

Then Josiah commented, “the night before while on duty with Vin and Cat I got the impression that something special was between them.”

“She is playing a game with them, pitting them against one another. We have to get back into town.” Northstar had both of them go into town and she decided to head towards the lake where Ezra loved swimming most afternoons. She was sure that’s where Ezra was shot.

*******

Both Ezra and Cat rode off towards the lake as Northstar fear. It was the same place Vin had taken her when they first arrived. “This is a beautiful place Ezra, Vin and I were just here yesterday, but somehow today its even more special.”

“Perhaps it is the company you are keeping this afternoon?”

“I think you maybe right.” This time she didn’t wait to get off her horse she leaned over and kissed him passionately and hard. He returned her kiss when they released each other they dismounted. Hand in hand both walked to a clearing. Ezra always brought a blanket to lay upon so not to dirty his fancy clothing. He put the blanket down and both lay next to one another and continued kissing. After awhile Ezra pushed himself from her and got up “where are you going?”

“To swim would you care to accompany me?” He had his hand out to coax her. She too got up and took his hand and removing their clothing both jumped in the lake. Playfully splashing one another and then more kissing. They notice it was getting late and should return to town.

*******

Earlier back in town Vin had gotten up and noticed Cat was not in the room. He dressed and went downstairs and headed towards the saloon. He saw three of his friends sitting and drinking. “Boys, you haven’t seen Cat today?”

Buck was the first to speak, “as a matter of fact both she and Ezra looked like they were headed towards the lake. Look like they wanted to be alone.” Which gave JD a smile, but the look on Vin’s face told something different.

Chris also noticed. “Is something wrong Vin.”

Vin turned to Chris, “nothing a good trashing wouldn’t help.” He then stormed out of the saloon and jumped on his horse riding like a man possessed.

“Oh hell this is going to get ugly,” Buck replied.

“We better go after him no telling what he’ll do.”

All three rode out after Vin. He arrived as Cat went into the bushes to dress her self. Ezra was just coming out when he saw Vin riding in. Cat saw and hid. “Why good afternoon Mr. Tanner.” He then saw an angry look on Vin. “Is something wrong?”

Vin got off his horse and hit Ezra knocking him down. He was caught off guard and looked at Vin in disbelief. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like. I’m beating the hell out of you.”

Then Chris, Buck and JD rode in, while Cat was watching amusing herself, maybe Vin would kill Ezra which would even be better then she’d hope. Then she saw the other three as they arrived and her hopes died. “Damn!” She remained hidden.

Chris pulled Vin away from Ezra just as he was getting ready to hit him again. “Let me go Chris, I’m going to pound some sense into him.”

“Please explain to me what goes on here?”

“We saw you and Cat riding out together and well Vin became upset.”

Then Ezra noticed Cat was no where to be seen. “As you can plainly see Miss. Monroe is no where to be found.” They all looked around and couldn’t see her either.

Chris then released Vin, “you stay away from her, you hear me!” He then mounted his horse and headed back.

“Sorry Ezra we thought Vin knew about the two of you.” Buck and the others got on their horses and left. Then Cat came out of the bushes.

Ezra looked at her, “you mind explaining what just happen?”

“Well you know how brothers can be very protective.”

“Then perhaps you should have presented yourself and explained it to him.”

She went over to the clearing to see if they were far enough away, “explain what Ezra?” Looking at him, “you should really get dress.”

Ezra wasn’t sure what to make of this, so he began to dress. When Cat saw the other four had ridden far enough out of earshot, she turnaround pulled out her gun and shot him right through the heart. Ezra’s look was that of shock as he fell to the ground. Then from up the cliff came a scream, “noooo.” It was Northstar she arrived only to be too late. Then without any hesitation Cat pointed and shot at Northstar as she fell off her horse. Cat then jumped on her mount and rode into town.

Lying there with a gunshot through her chest, closing her eye's tears ran down. “Ezra, I’m so sorry.” Her wound was then already beginning to heal. When the wound sealed she remounted the horse and looked down at the lake and the body of Ezra. She rode off headed to town.

*******

The others had never seen Vin so angry. “She wasn’t there, so she must have ridden off. I just hope she’s alright?”

Both Chris and Buck looked at each other and weren’t sure if they agree with Vin's reasoning but they both hoped he was right. Of course, there was going to be a reef between Vin and Ezra.

Just then Cat walks into the saloon, “howdy boys!” Sits down as if nothing was wrong. “What’s going on you look as if you’ve lost your best friend.”

Vin looked straight into her eyes, “where were you this morning?”

“Over by the pond with Ezra, but he got a little frisky and so decided to leave. Vin don’t be angry with him, he didn’t know about us.”

There was relief in his eyes and he took her hands and smiled at her. “I was a little worried, guess I’ll have to apologize to Ezra later.”

She had a look of surprise, “what do you mean?”

Vin was about to explain when Nathan and Josiah walk in and seeing them with Cat they both took action. “Gentlemen that woman was sent to kill us!”

They all looked at Nathan and Josiah uncertain of their accusation. “What the hell are you talking about Josiah?” They had all stood up and Vin had taken Cat’s hand in his.

“Lily had a vision saw Cat talking with another man by the description I’d have to say it fit Frowler perfectly.”

Chris was the one to become angry. “Is this true?” He looked over to Cat for an answer.

“I guess boys the truth is out!” With that she let go of Vin’s hand and grab for JD and put a knife to his throat.

Vin couldn’t believe what was happening; the woman he loved has now betrayed him and taken his friend hostage. “Cat what are you doing?”

“My job Vin, now why don’t you boys back out that there door and give me some space?” They all backed off and walked out to the street.

With a stern look at Cat, Vin replied, “let him go Cat, there’s no way out and now you’re making things worse.”

The look on Cat’s face gave a disturbing feeling to Vin and the others. It was a look that only an insane person can give. Cat laughed, “my plan was perfect kill all of you and take Vin in for the bounty, except for one thing I didn’t count on was Northstar that little witch ruin everything, but not to worry she and Ezra are both dead.”

The others looked at her and Nathan spoke, “you killed them.”

“That’s right both of them lying in their own blood, you should have seen the look on Ezra’s face it was priceless.” Vin couldn’t believe what she was saying but she continued on. “Up above the cliff then came Northstar she made the mistake of screaming when she saw Ezra fall dead, so I took it as a blessing and shot her as well. I would have enjoyed ripping her heart out but she was too far for me to take the opportunity.”

She then looked at Vin and held JD tightly with her knife as she started to walk over to her horse. “I had hoped you would have killed Ezra to defend my honor but you always hold back your anger.”

“Please Cat, let JD go and we can sit and talk about this you’re not right in the head.”

She laughed again, “I have never been more sound. You have no idea who I am do you Vin?”

“Then tell me why all this?”

“Simple, I was hired by the same person Fowler worked for. I have a responsibility to that woman to finish a job.” She looked over to Chris smiling. “But even more surprising was the fact that Vin and Ezra were also here with Chris Larabee.”

Chris was startled by her words. “What does Vin and Ezra have to do with all this?” He approached closer to Cat.

“Back off Larabee or the boys throat will make a bloody mess.” Chris backed off and then she continued. “Well Mr. Larabee, Vin being a close friend of mind it was easy to gain everyone’s trust. I knew how Vin felt about me so I used him to get to you. Don’t feel too bad Vin I enjoyed myself very much.”

Vin was hurt; no woman has ever hurt him like this. “I never realized how much you must hate me. Although I don’t understand why?”

“It’s not you Vin; it’s your brother Daniel. If he had not spurn me for that whore he wanted to marry none of this would be happening.”

“My brother was killed and you’re holding a grudge on a dead man.”

Her look changed from sinister to malevolent. “Oh my poor Vin; you see it was me who killed your brother, I wasn’t going to let him marry that woman she would have made his life miserable he left me no choice but to kill him.” He wanted to attack her hold her in his hands and strangle her. “Don’t take another step Vin; I know it’s hard to hear but he really didn’t give me much choice.”

Buck put his hand on Vin’s shoulder holding him back, “she has JD Vin.” He looked at him with a sincere look of sorrow for the pain he must be going through and they were all powerless to do anything.

“Now if you boys will control your emotions; I’d like to continue my story. Now as to how Ezra fits in this story well it will surprise you. Your Mr. Standish is Chris’ brother-in-law, or should I say Sarah’s brother to be more accurate.”

“You’re insane, Sarah was an only child.”

“That would be true, but you see Sarah was adopted. I am surprise she never told you or perhaps she was afraid to tell you. Not knowing what kind of family would give her up she thought maybe you wouldn’t love her as much.”

Buck looked over to Chris he had never known this and wondered if Chris did. “I knew, but am surprise you found out.”

“Well Chris I met your wife just before she died very nice young lady. Very proper and easy to talk with; I was curious about her. I wanted to know the kind of woman you’d marry you’re a lot like Daniel and can understand why Vin took to you. You represent the brother he lost. Well Sarah told me she was adopted we were talking about family and I told her I didn’t know mind that’s when she told me that she didn’t know who her real family was and often wondered about them. Which got me very curious she continue to tell me that the family who raised her adopted her and the only thing she had of her real family was a locket.”

“She told you about the locket?” “Yes she did.”

“It burned in the fire.”

Then she laughed and using her left hand while tightly holding JD with her knife on her right hand she pulled out a small locket.

“You mean this little trinket.” She waved it at Chris smiling at the reaction she received. “How you are wondering this came into my possession easy I took it from her the night we burn her and the boy we locked them in so they wouldn’t escape, Fowler was so proud of me. Pity the smoke got to them both before the fire I would have loved to have heard her scream.”

Chris could not contain himself any more it took three of his friends to hold him back, “let me go Buck, I’m going to rip her heart out!”

She continued to laugh and JD was trying desperately to wiggle out of her grasp, he could see the pain she was inflicting on Chris and Vin, plus the others and they were all holding back because she had him. “I am sorry gentlemen but I just couldn’t resist telling you that.” She then tossed the locket at Chris the others release him and he picked the locket up.

“With the help of that there locket I managed to trace her father. His family owned a jewelry company unfortunately the business went bankrupt after Sara’s mother died he couldn’t care for the child and she was given to a family member. They couldn’t care for her either. You see they had a large brood of their own so they gave her to neighbors the Connelly's they had no children she was the child they had always wanted.

It took me awhile but I managed to track her father down he was in a hospital dying of consumption and all that liquor he drank wasn’t good, but he did manage to tell me of his first love and their child. Funny how fate, destiny or the coincidences of life. Whatever you wish to call it; it brought you Vin, Ezra and myself all here.”

Chris was shaking his head; “all this is nothing more then an elaborate scheme to feed your hatred of us.”

“Perhaps except for one thing. Have you ever wondered what a man like Ezra would be doing way out west; no I guess not. Well turns out it was due to a dream of a woman calling out to him to protect her husband while all around her their was fire engulfing her. He told me it happened three years ago, that the woman was unfamiliar to him. Maybe another coincidence so he showed me this…”pulling out a folded piece of paper she tossed it to Chris, who picked it up and opened it. “Still think it’s an elaborate scheme?”

Chris couldn’t believe it he showed the image to Buck, “it’s Sarah!” Chris just nodded couldn’t say a word.

Cat edge further towards her horse moving away from the saloon; the others were distracted at all the information she was feeding them when all of a sudden from up above the saloon building Northstar jumped falling atop both JD and Cat. Northstar grab the knife from Cat giving JD time to pull away from her. With JD safe Northstar released Cat and both stood facing one another. “This is impossible you should be dead.”

“Haven’t you heard I’m hard to kill!”

“Not for long!” Cat attacked Northstar and both were fighting hand over fist each having experience in battle. Northstar had training in the martial arts, but Cat was battling like a wild beast. Each was holding there own until Northstar got the upper hand hitting Cat hard dropping her to the ground. All you could hear was her insane laughter as she lay on the ground.

That’s when Chris moved pulled her up “you think this is funny?” Giving her his cold stare that would scare anyone else but not Cat she stared right back at him. “You are going to tell me were she is?”

“I think not Mr. Larabee. I stand by my code as an assassin never to reveal the contractors whereabouts.”

“Well I’ll just have to change your mind.”

“Do your worse Larabee. I fear nothing.”

Everyone just stared at her, Chris release his hold on her and dusting herself off Chris said, “Get her out of my sight.” Which prompted JD being the town sheriff to take her into custody.

Just then a rider less horse came into town Northstar recognized him and called out to him distracting everyone, then Cat took this opportunity to take one of JD’s guns from his holster pushing him out of her line of fire right at Vin.

JD shouted but just then as Cat was about to pull the trigger another shot rang out from the west end of town for a brief moment time stood still as Cat dropped her weapon and looked at her chest blood began to ooze. She took a gulp and then turned her attention towards the west; the sun was beginning to set she had trouble seeing the stranger approach when she had a clear view the look on her face was fury. “No!” She fell to her knees then slumped over still looking at the man approaching utter disbelief on her face. She took her last breath and was dead.

When it was all over everyone turn his or her attention to the west; the first to react was Northstar as she ran, hugging the man. “Ezra, I can’t believe it your alive. How! I saw her shoot you.”

“Yes, a most heinous act. Instead of hitting my heart she hit my silver flask given to me by my mother.” He then pulled the flask from his breast pocket with a bullet still lodged at the other end of the container tipped with blood.

Seeing this Northstar looked at him. “Ezra it has blood on it, are you all right?”

“Quite so dear lady. Alas were it not for the fruit of elixir that was spilled.”

Everyone laughed and JD reaction, “what did he say!”

“What he means is that he lost his brandy.”

He looked at Nathan, “oh!”

Then Chris looked at JD; “JD tell Charley he has another customer.” He nodded and went to get the undertaker.

Ezra then looked at Vin; “I regret the circumstances that have transpired here.”

“So do I Ezra, but glad you showed up when you did.” Then he took his leave and headed towards the saloon. Chris nodded and Buck followed him to make sure he’d be all right. Nathan also followed and Northstar took Dante’s reins.

Leaving Josiah, Chris and Ezra. Josiah approached Chris putting his hand on his shoulder; “you have been given a second chance of obtaining an additional family member. Perhaps you can accept him?”

While Ezra was looking at the body of the woman he just killed Chris was staring at him for the first time. Funny how he never noticed his eyes so much like Sarah’s. Just then Ezra notice Chris staring. Josiah left them and entered the saloon. “Is something amiss Mr. Larabee?”

He smiled which surprised Ezra. “Ezra why don’t you and I sit and talk a bit.” Chris walked over to Ezra motioning for him to follow him into the saloon and both sat away from the others to discuss the news.

Both sat, “what do you wish to discuss?” Chris handed him the paper with the image of his wife and Ezra looked at him. “Where did you obtain this?”

“Evidently Cat took it from you after she thought she’d kill you. Do you know who she is?”

“As I pointed out to Miss Monroe; I am at a loss as to the identity of the lady.”

“She’s my wife Sarah.”

“I don’t understand Mr. Larabee, how can this woman be your wife? I’ve never acquainted myself with her?”

“Is it true that you saw her in a dream in a house that was burning all around her?”

“Yes, she told you this too, why? What does all this matter to her or you?”

“She said Sarah was your sister.”

Ezra stood up, “and you believe her she was obviously delusional. I would think you’d know better then to believe the ravings of a mad woman. One who would play all of us for fools!”

“I understand your anger Ezra, please sit back down.”

He did, “anger Mr. Larabee, the woman tried to seduce me, then that same woman pointed her pistol and thought she shot me dead. Anger is not the word I would use.”

“I know, but how do you explain this drawing? She also had my wife’s locket and track her father, he was the one who told her of you and your mother.”

Ezra took the locket from the table the etching was very familiar. He then opened the locket and read the inscription ‘Keeper of my Heart---Father.’

Returning the locket to Chris he asked, “have you read the inscription?” Chris without answering nodded then Ezra took out his pocket watch and releasing it from its chain handed it to Chris. “Read the inscription.”

He opened the watch and looked inside reading out loud, “Keeper of my Heart---Father. It’s the same.” He handed it back to Ezra not knowing what to say.

“This was the only thing my father left me. Miss Monroe, did she mention a name of the man in question?”

“No, only that he died of consumption.”

Ezra’s eyes began to water, “I have gain a father and sister only to lose them at the same moment. She was a cruel and evil woman.” They both looked at each other. “You were staring earlier perhaps there is something familiar?”

“You must have your fathers eyes, they’re the same as Sarah’s. I never noticed before.”

“Then it would appear that your quest for justice is mind as well? I don’t suppose the young lady gave notice as to the identity of the culprit behind this charade?”

“Ella, besides that isn’t why I told you this. I thought you had the right to know you had a sister.”

“You have done so Mr. Larabee, and as her brother; although, I was unaware of her parentage it would fall to me to assist?”

*******

While Chris was deciding on this matter, the other boys were wondering what must have been going on, “it doesn’t look like its going good?”

“Well Vin it must not be easy finding out you have a brother like Ezra.”

“Boys; I don’t know, seems to me Ezra’s proven himself on more than one occasion.”

“Buck’s right, after a while you start to get use to him.”

They all looked at Josiah and started laughing quietly. JD had walked into the saloon after notifying Charley about the body and Northstar decided it was time for her to move on. She excused herself and rode off, telling the boys she would be at the Indian Village finishing her vision quest. Then they all quieted down and Vin started recalling what had happen it was beginning to sink in. All he could do was sigh; the others looked at him feeling drained themselves.

Ezra was looking at Chris it must not be easy for him to share the burden. He has lived with the death of his wife and son for such a long time. Even Buck wasn’t aloud to share the burden and he knew Sarah a lot longer then he did. “All right Ezra, I can’t denied you that right.”

“Agreed then.” They stood shaking hands and then Ezra asked, “Mr. Larabee; I know how painful it must be to talk about Sarah, but I wonder if you wouldn’t make an exception as I am new to the family and know nothing of her.”

“All right Ezra provided you stop calling me Mr. Larabee and call me Chris.”

He smiled again, which embarrassed Ezra, “agreed Mr., Chris.” Both men smiled and Chris put his hand on Ezra’s back patting him reassuring him that he was okay about the whole thing. Buck and the others looked on when they saw that everything would be okay too. No one could deny that some good came of all this, he didn’t mention it but when Ezra was just a boy he made a wish for a sister and although he never met her she still existed.

*******

Kojay was expecting Northstar back knew she had to finish her vision quest. As she arrived he saw the look of worry in her eyes. “Were you able to worn your friends.”

“Yes, everything is alright for now at least, but there was something else that I did not mention to the others. I must walk in the dream world to finish the quest before it’s too late.”

THE END?

Email: liliseven@hotmail.com