Part 4 added 4 April 2006
Part 5 added 9 April 2006
Part 6 added 16 April 2006
Disclaimer: Still want to own Ezra and his smile but I don't. Pity, I could do a lot with that smile.
Author's Note: Michelle created the Seven Brothers AU years ago and as far as I can remember there has only been three stories written in this AU. "The Reading Of The Will" was written by Rebecca and tells of how the seven brothers came together. You will need to read Rebecca's story first to understand the references in this story. I have it on file if you need it but I haven't been able to find her second story in this AU.
Rating: PG - Language and violence
Ezra Standish, a man who enjoyed the better things in life had been delegated to the back of the pickup with a four-legged animal. Not that the animal was bad company, not at all, in fact it turned out to be better company than the six individuals who kept claiming to be his kin. More often than not you would find Ezra sitting on one of the many chairs on the porch that surrounded the large house with the dog lying at his feet. He found his conversations with Jack to be more interesting and entertaining. Jack didn't question him, didn't doubt him or mistrust him like the others. He could talk to him the way he couldn't and wouldn't talk to the others.
Standish removed the hat he was wearing and tried to shake the dust from it. It was useless because the dust stuck to the sweat stained areas of the hat. His sweat. His hard working sweat. They had thrown him into the deep end and worked him harder than he had ever worked in his life, (as much as his still healing ribs would allow that was). They had no respect for the injured and dying. He was dying. The pain he was feeling told him so. He even had the blisters to prove it. Not only did he have to wear a ridiculous hat, but he also had to forgo his suits and wear jeans. He found jeans to be uncomfortable and for some reason they garnered too much attention from the female sex. He wanted women to be attracted to his intelligence and not the way his backside looked in a pair of jeans. He wasn't Buck Wilmington.
He was now left with only one suit, which stood out among the K-mart clothing line of jeans, shirts and t-shirts. The rest of his suits were in storage, along with his car and expensive watch. It seems that there was no use for a Porsche on a ranch. The one time he did wear his suit into town he stood out like a sore thumb and that was something he didn't want, not while Moore could still be looking for him.
Another fly entered his mouth. It was the third one that had flown into his mouth during the one-hour trip to town. He had to remember to keep his mouth shut or there would be more. A smile filled his face when he turned to look at Jack, (Linc Larabee's dog). He was facing towards the front of the pick-up with his head hanging over the side, his jaw was open, and his tongue was flapping in the wind that was rushing past them. He wasn't having any problems with flies and if he did all he had to do was swallow. Dogs. They had the life, as long as they had a good owner.
Ezra recognised a landmark; they would reach town in another ten minutes. They had been sent to buy the monthly supplies but Ezra was sure he would be able to talk Buck and JD into stopping at Duncan's bar in Four Corners for a very cold beer, just what was required after riding in the back of a pickup for an hour. It wouldn't be too hard to convince Buck because his latest girlfriend was working as a waitress at the bar. How long this girlfriend would last, Ezra didn't know, she was already the third one in the three weeks since he'd been here; the man was just like his father. Correction. Their father.
The pickup began to slow as they drove through the edge of town. Four Corners was a town like any other: (that's if you didn't include the Larabee clan and their family troubles) it had a school, a town hall, a sheriffs department and everything else that a small town held. The only thing it didn't have was a way for a man to escape and Ezra wanted to escape but he had made a promise not to leave and he was a man who kept his promises. He only had eleven months left then he could leave with a cool one-million dollars.
Ezra began to fall forward and was then slammed back against the pickup's back window when the vehicle came to an abrupt halt. He swore and pressed the palm of his hand against the back of his head. Damn! These men were going to be the death of him and/or his inheritance. Ezra grimaced when he pictured himself handing over a one million-dollar check to the local hospital to cover a year's worth of medical bills.
After deciding not to complain about Wilmington's driving he jumped from the pick-up and told Jack to stay where he was. The dog whimpered and licked his face but it wasn't going to help. He repeated the order and the dog went and sat in a corner where he would wait for them to return.
Without a word to anyone Ezra followed his two half brothers into the store. It wasn't the usual supermarket; this was a store where you could buy in bulk. Instead of grabbing a trolley each, Buck simply handed over a long list to a young woman and spoke a few words into her ear. She blushed severely in return then left to fill the order. Ezra grimaced in disgust. Buck didn't seem to care much about women, only that he could have them when he wanted them. But Ezra would one day learn that Buck treated all women with respect. He wasn't entirely like their father. He would love them and leave them but he never abandoned them.
JD openly laughed at his half-brother was doing.
'Watch and learn JD, watch and learn,' said Buck.
'Learn what,' Ezra answered before JD could, 'learn how to drag a young girl through the dirt.'
'It's washing the dirt off that's the best part Ezra.' Buck nudged and winked at JD.
'You're unbelievable.' Ezra turned around and stormed outside.
'He doesn't like us very much does he Buck?' JD was frowning at the man who now stood on the porch with his arms crossed in front of him.
Buck put an arm around JD's shoulders and said, 'Other way around JD, he doesn't like himself very much at the moment but that'll change with time.'
Ezra had noted that JD had settled in quickly and soon became part of the instant family. He was glad for JD who had only recently lost his mother. The kid now he had six half-brothers that he hadn't known about until a month ago.
JD had taken to everyone, including one Ezra Standish and Ezra could not for the life of him understand why the kid liked him. Ezra Standish wasn't a man that was easily liked. Just as Buck had just said, he didn't even like himself much of the time.
'We'll be back in an hour Lindsey so there's no rush.' Buck yelled.
'We're we going Buck?' JD ran after Buck who was already walking out the store, (past one surprised Ezra Standish) and onto the main street. He then took off in a direction that would take them to destination they were told not to go. Certain orders were given by one Chris Larabee. Do not go to Duncan's Bar
Ezra almost fell over his own feet in surprise when he heard the bar being mentioned. He thought he was going to have to talk them into it.
'Well that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.' Ezra used his dirty hands to comb through his short hair to make himself look more presentable but without realising it he only made it worse.
During the three weeks he'd been here he had never been in the bar. He had managed to look through the windows but when he was about to step through the door the person he was with would either tell him "no" or grab him by the shirt collar and pull him away. But now he was going to get his chance. He admired the way the door swung open then close behind him just like the saloon doors did in the old west. The bar itself though was simply furnished with round tables and chairs. There were three doors that held the sign "Private! Members Only". It would truly make his day if they turned out to be gambling rooms. Buck would know because he had lived here in town until his mother died and then at the ranch afterwards.
Ezra quickly moved to the table without looking desperate, sat down and waited for someone to bring him his first cold beer. He sure as hell wasn't going to stop at one. He noticed when Buck sat down opposite him. Neither man had the intention of buying the first round. It was left to JD to go to the bar and buy three beers. He stared lovingly at the beer when it was placed in front of him. He didn't wait for JD to sit down, instead he left his manners at the door and emptied the glass in one attempt then smacked his lips with his tongue in satisfaction.
'Thirsty huh Ezra?' Buck smiled at the satisfied expression on his brother's face then emptied his own glass.
'I'll get the next round.' Ezra was up and moving before Buck could say anything.
'You think he likes his drink?' JD was frowning at Ezra's back.
'He likes a cold beer after sitting in the back of a pickup for an hour.' Buck corrected JD.
'He didn't have to sit in the back, there was room in the front for all of us.'
'I don't think he felt welcome in front with us. He's got this impression that we don't like him.' Buck was watching as Ezra made his way back to the table.
'Where would he get that idea?'
'I can give you a few reasons off the top of my head.'
'Chris,' said JD.
'Nathan,' JD continued.
'He thinks the only one that likes him is the dog.' Buck stopped talking when Ezra arrived with three more cold beers. There was a smile on the Southerner's face that he hadn't seen before. It wasn't artificial or full of sarcasm like it usually was. This was Ezra in a relaxed state. He wasn't on the defensive but instead open to conversation and perhaps a little fun.
When Ezra sat down Buck asked, 'What do you like to do for fun Ezra?'
'Fun and yeah you.'
Buck was able to stop himself from grimacing in frustration; trying to get information out of this guy was like trying to pull teeth from a conscious man without reducing the painful effects first.
' Do you mean things like Hobbies? Drinking? Gambling maybe? Womanising?'
Buck knew what the womanising remark was made for his benefit. Yes he was like his father in that regard and like his father he respected women and treated them well. He didn't use them then throw them away like Ezra thought he did. The women in town knew what to expect from him and they didn't ask for anything more.
'Yeah, what do you like to do for fun?'
'What do you do?' Ezra threw the question back at Wilmington without answering it.
'Go out on the town with my friends, enjoy a drink and a game of cards.' Buck saw the glint in Ezra's green eyes and thought he may have accidentally found something that Ezra liked to do. "You like a game of cards?"
'Occasionally.' Ezra answered without giving out too much information.
'Poker?' Buck asked.
Buck pointed over his shoulder at the private rooms. 'Some big games go on in there.'
'For someone who has a vocabulary the size of the titanic you're not saying much.'
'Not much to say.'
'I've played poker before but not for money.' JD told them.
'You don't play poker for anything else JD,' said Ezra.
The hour-long trip in the back of a pickup had been worth it. Not only was he enjoying a cold beer but he now knew that gambling not only existed in Four Corners but for some unknown reason it was also allowed. Now if only he had some money to play with. Payday or "monthly allowance" as Travis had put it wasn't for another week; they had to work for a month before they received their first payment.
'Played a few myself.' Buck said to grab Ezra's attention again. 'Won a few too.'
'And the law allows it?'
'This is an easy-going town Ezra, and so are the games. They don't allow cheating though, if you're caught cheating you'll never play again.'
'I don't cheat.'
There was an ugly tone in Ezra's voice that Buck didn't like. 'I wasn't accusing you of being a cheat Ezra.'
'I'm glad to hear that Mr. Wilmington.'
'So when are we going to play?' Buck smiled across the table at his half brother.
'As soon as we land our hands on some cash.' Ezra smiled back.
'And I know just where to get some.' Buck was looking past JD at someone in the background. Both Ezra and JD turned to see who he was watching. Four men were standing at the bar. They looked as though they'd already had a few beers.
'What're you gonna do Buck,' asked JD.
'I'm gonna get me and Ezra here some money so we can have us a game of poker.' He nodded at the four men. 'Thad Morgan. Owns a small ranch on the North side of town. That man would bet his own mother if he thought he had a chance of winning. You stay here while I go and have a chat, see if I can get him to agree on something.' Buck stood up, took two steps and then turned back to Ezra. 'You a good player, 'cause if you're not then there's no use in-?'
The one word was said with enough confidence that Buck didn't even question him.
Ezra and JD listened to the few parts of the conversation that they could hear. It had started out friendly enough but soon turned angry. It ended abruptly and Buck returned to the table.
'Well?' JD was curious to know what had been decided.
Ezra couldn't help but think that Buck was going to lead the boy astray.
'It was fugly.'
'What?' Ezra choked on his beer. He'd never heard the phrase before.
'That was fuck ugly!' growled Buck.
'I'm going to have to remember that one.' Ezra couldn't help but laugh at the expression on Buck's face. He thought it was priceless. If he had a friend in the world he would tell them about it.
'And?' JD asked.
'A horse race tomorrow at our ranch.'
'What's wrong with that?' asked JD.
'They choose the horse and rider.'
'Like I said, what's wrong with that?' JD asked again.
'You're asking too many questions for your own good JD!'
'Well if you gave out more information I wouldn't need to ask so many questions!'
'Just answer his damn question Buck,' Ezra told him, 'tell him how Morgan played you for a fool.'
'What makes you think he played me?'
'Let's just say that I can read a situation better than you think.'
'What the hell are you talking about Ezra... it all went exactly the way I planned it.'
'You Mr. Wilmington are a liar. And you're stupid when it comes to this sort of thing so next time let's make introductions and I'll do the talking.'
'He's not stupid Ezra so don't talk to him like that.'
'Explain it to the boy Mr. Wilmington.'
'Stop calling me that and he didn't... damn it! He did, he always does.' Buck raised his hands above his head then dropped them back onto the table.
Ezra leaned closer to JD. 'Think about it Mr. Dunne. How many of us are good enough to ride in a horse race and after you think about that think about this, all they have to do is pick a bad horse.'
'That's the sort of bet he made?' JD smiled at Ezra. 'You would have to be pretty stupid to make that kind of bet.'
'Apparently he is.' Ezra agreed then asked, 'How much?'
Buck scowled at him and answered, 'Two hundred.'
Ezra laughed and shook his head then said, 'Buck you never gamble against a stacked deck and you never bet what you don't have.'
'Tell me about it.' Buck grumbled.
Chris glared at Buck. He had always known the man could be an idiot, but why did he also have to be so bloody stupid. No doubt it had been Buck's idea to have a horse race but to allow the opposition to choose the horse and rider was absolutely idiotic, and foolish. Buck was an ignoramus. Ah hell, it had only been three weeks and already he was listening to Ezra too much, way too much. The man had a way with words that only a dictionary could understand. Even JD was using words that he couldn't hope to understand unless they were explained to him and it had become well known that Ezra often refused to explain his statements.
What was Buck going to do if Morgan chose JD? He would probably renounce the bet. JD was young and new to the life of a rancher; if you looked hard enough you would see the green moisture behind his ears. The youngster had only gotten the hang of riding a horse, but he was yet to gain the skills to ride in a race, especially along the terrain that had been chosen.
'What!' Buck yelled and turned around to look at his friends - he refused to see Chris, who was glaring at him, if he looked into those cold green eyes he would no doubt drop dead on the spot. 'No way, he hasn't even been a horse!'
Chris frowned, the only person here who hasn't been on a horse was Ezra, and that man was even greener than JD. Buck Wilmington was a dead man. He dropped his arms and walked to the two arguing men.
'No,' Chris pulled Buck away from Morgan and took the ladies man's place. 'There is no way in hell that Ezra is going to get on a horse. It's one thing to be stupid enough to make a bet like this, and believe me, Buck is that stupid... '
'Hey!' Buck protested.
'But to put Ezra, who only saw a real one for the first time three weeks ago, on a horse is suicidal.'
Ezra who had been standing a short distance away raised an eyebrow in surprise. He'd been chosen to ride the horse. He would have laughed out loud except everyone would look at him as though he were crazy. Ezra knew what they were thinking; Ezra Standish, city boy, ride a horse, the man wouldn't go anywhere near one, he didn't like the smell, says they're uncouth creatures that don't have a brain in their heads - Ezra ride a horse, yeah right. For some reason the six men had thought that it would be best if he didn't learn to ride straight away because of his ribs.
They wanted him to hang around the horses until they got use to him. That's how they had put it, "for the horses to get use to him" and not the other way around. Did they think he was going to be a bad influence on them? What could he teach a horse? They'd been surprised by the fact that he had known what a horse was.
'Buck made a bet Chris, he can't go back on that.' Morgan told him although he refused to look at him. He was staring at Buck, the man who had made the bet in the first place.
'Ezra can't even get on a horse.' Chris retorted.
'A bet's a bet.'
'He's right Mr. Larabee,' Ezra came forward, 'Buck is just going to have to lose the bet.'
'I ain't losing this bet Ezra!' Buck growled from his position behind Chris.
'You are if I'm riding,' Ezra smiled, 'unless of course I get half of your winnings.'
'Ezra!' Chris grabbed Ezra's left elbow and dragged him away to an area that was more private then leaned in close, too close. 'Ezra, you don't know how to ride a horse, you never saw a horse until you came here.'
'There is a lot that I don't know how to do Mr. Larabee but I'm sure I can learn.'
'God damn it Ezra, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Chris.'
'Mr. Lara... '
'Ezra, I'm your brother, you don't call your brother Mr.' Chris was becoming impatient with the man.
'Half brother Mr. Larabee,' Ezra reminded him, 'and I've only known you for three weeks, and for that first week you were, and still are I might add, a control freak, and a rude impatient man with a very short temper.'
'I'm not controlling Ezra.' Chris put his hands on his hips and glared into Ezra's green eyes.
'I am a grown man, and I can do what I please and that includes leaving this ranch. Now, I am going to get on a horse and race that man. Buck made a bet and now I'm part of that bet. There isn't anything I can do about it.'
'You can say no.'
'That would make me a coward.'
'You're not a coward Ezra, and saying no won't make you one.'
'I'm carrying out the bet.' Ezra began to walk away but Chris grabbed him and pulled him back.
'Don't do this Ezra.'
'You can't stop me!'
'I don't have to, you won't be able to mount the horse.'
Ezra smiled and shook his head. 'Well at least I could say I tried.'
Buck looked worriedly at Ezra when the Southerner rejoined them. 'Everything okay Ezra?'
'Everything's fine Mr. Wilmington.'
'That's Buck to you.'
Ezra ignored him. 'Have you chosen a particular horse for me to ride yet Mr. Morgan?'
'That one, the chestnut with the white face.' Morgan pointed to a horse that stood alone and away from the other horses.
'That one,' Buck also pointed to make sure they were talking about the same horse, 'that one right there, the one standing on it's own.'
'Yep, looks like it wouldn't even make it half way around the course, not even that I would say.'
'You're going to pick that one.'
'Yeah, I am.' Morgan argued. 'Is there something wrong with that?'
'No,' Buck started laughing, 'nothing wrong with that at all.'
'What are you laughing at?' Morgan demanded.
'That horse won't even make it past the starting line. It's stupid, it actually sits down when you try to get it moving.'
'That horse sits down?' Morgan joined Buck in his laughter.
'Then you're going to lose the bet.'
'Huh?' Buck stopped laughing and began to choke.
'If that horse won't go anywhere, you're going to lose the bet.' Morgan informed him.
'You got that right.' Morgan slapped Buck on the back. 'So how 'bout you pick out a horse and a rider from my group.' Morgan nodded to the small group of men that had been standing to the side watching and listening to the conversation.
'That one and that one.' Buck grunted.
He'd lost the bet and the race hadn't even started. It wasn't going to start. If it weren't for the money, he'd be grateful. Buck hadn't expected Morgan to pick Ezra. But at least the horse he chose wouldn't hurt Ezra, unless of course the mare sat on him.
'Good choice Buck, you just chose a pole and a water bucket.' Ezra told him. 'I might have a chance of winning after all.'
'I'm gonna have to pay up aren't I.' Buck slapped his forehead with an open palm.
'Buck, just how much did you bet?' Chris asked him.
'Um, well,' Buck grumbled the rest of the words out behind his hand.
'What was that Buck, I didn't hear your attempt at plain English.'
'Two hundred.' Buck looked everywhere except at his half brother.
'Take it easy Chris,' he lifted an arm in an attempt to calm the man down.
'It was a stupid idea to make the bet in the first place, it's suicidal to put Ezra on a horse... '
'Don't worry Chris, that horse isn't going anywhere, Ezra won't get hurt.'
'Don't interrupt me Buck.'
'And it's completely idiotic to bet money that you don't have!'
'That's what I told him,' said Ezra.
'You don't have the money?' Morgan asked him.
'I wasn't planning on losing.' Buck groaned.
'The bet stands Buck,' Morgan growled, 'and I expect the money to be here by the time the race finishes.'
'In that case, you might want to re-pick the horse and rider.' Ezra nudged Buck in the side.
'Whose side are you on?' Buck pushed Ezra away.
Ezra returned the favour by pushing him back.
'Guys.' Morgan was tapping his foot on the ground.
Buck gave one more shove then quickly moved away before Ezra could push back.
'Okay, I pick Jarrod and... and... and... that palomino.'
'Nice choice Buck.' Ezra agreed with him.
'What the hell would you know?'
'That's a pretty horse, you think she'll beat mine?'
'That's a gelding Ezra, a male horse.' Buck told him and nodded his head downwards.
Ezra bent over and placed his hands on his knees. 'Whew, is that what you mean when you tell the ladies that your hung like a horse.'
Buck glared at his brothers when they began to encourage Ezra's bantering. 'No Ezra, I'm hung like a Stallion.'
'What's the difference?' Ezra knew the difference but he wanted to watch Buck squirm.
'The gelding's been cut.' Buck leaned sideways so only Ezra could hear him.
'Oh,' Ezra nodded. 'From what I've seen you're more like a gelding than a stallion.'
'So help me Ezra I'm going to-'
'Can we cut the crap and start this race.' Morgan yelled before Buck could tell Ezra what he was going to do with the Southerner's body before he buried him in a pile of horse shit.
'Sure Morgan, we'll just get Saddie saddled up and give Ezra a few pointers. Half an hour be okay with you?'
'Twenty minutes.' Morgan returned.
'Twenty it is then.' Buck nodded.
'Mr. Wilmington,' Ezra nudged him again. 'You think twenty minutes is long enough for you to teach me how to get on a horse?'
'You're only going to need to learn to stay on Saddie when she sits down.' Buck growled. 'Now are you coming or are you just going to stand there grinning like an idiot!'
'Oh I'm coming, I have to see this... she actually sits down?'
'Really,' Ezra smiled.
'She doesn't actually sit on anything does she?'
'What do you mean?' Buck stopped and gave Ezra a suspicious look.
'Does she sit on a chair, sofa... you?'
'What!' he took a step closer, his body language was warning Ezra not to say anything that would piss him off, but he'd learnt in the last three weeks that Ezra used his mouth when he was being threatened or pushed into something he didn't want to do.
'Well, you said you were hung like a gelding.' Ezra's expression was serious.
'Ezra, when this race is over, and that's going to take all but two minutes, I'm gonna to take you around the back of the barn and whip your ass then bury you. Do you understand me?'
'I'll be looking forward to it Buck.' Ezra smiled and continued walking to the corral.
Buck stared after him. That was the first time Ezra had called him by his first name. He turned to let Chris know what had happened but quickly turned away when he saw the expression of anger on his brother's face. The others looked as though they were trying to decide whose side they were on. He could easily tell that Vin and JD were on his side, or was it Ezra's. Josiah looked, as though he were about to hit him. Nathan just had that look of disgust he'd had on his face ever since he learnt that Ezra not only gambled but also conned people out of their money.
'Here Saddie, here girl, come to papa.' Ezra called the horse but when it refused he began to make kissing noises.
'What are you doin' Ezra? That ain't no way to call a horse.'
'It works on dogs.' Ezra shrugged.
'That is not a dog Ezra.' Buck moved Ezra to one side then positioned him so he could do nothing but watch. 'I'll show you how it's done.'
Buck grabbed a rope that was hanging on one of the posts and climbed the rails. He walked straight to the horse, (if there was one thing you could say about Saddie, it was that she liked people) and looped the rope around her neck. He then led her towards the stables.
'You comin' Ezra.' Buck called to him.
'Running all the way Buck.' Ezra didn't hurry, it wasn't going to take Buck long to saddle Saddie, but it was going to take him a while to explain how to get on a horse. By the time he'd reached his destination, the horse was saddled.
'What took you so long?'
'I told you I was running all the way.' Ezra smiled.
'What is it with you today? You're in a good mood. This is something I haven't seen before.'
'I'm thinking about my half of the winnings... '
'There isn't going to be any.'
'And I'm going to win your half.'
'I told you, there isn't going to be any,... or are you going to cheat?'
'I don't cheat.' Ezra growled. His good mood disappeared as quickly as his smile. 'Now are you going to give me some pointers about the route Saddie and I are going to take.'
Buck could have hit himself. Chris was right. He could be really stupid.
'What's the use, you can't win. Saddie won't go anywhere.'
'I still want to know.'
'Why don't I show you how to get on first.'
'That can wait, tell me about the course.'
It took Buck five minutes to tell Ezra about the path he wasn't going to take. It was pretty straightforward. The path had been worn into the ground through years of horses and motorbikes using the same trail.
'Thank you, now if I could have a moment with the horse please.'
'Mr. Wilmington, I am not going to do anything to the animal, I'm not going to give her some sort of wonder drug to make her go... '
'Ezra, I know that, it's just, well, you've never been this close to a horse before. You won't know how to handle her if she tries something.'
'What do you think she's going to do? Sit on me?'
'I'm only asking for a private moment with the young lady horse.'
Buck ran his hand through his hair. Why was this man so difficult to talk to? 'I'll come back in a few minutes.'
When Buck left them alone, Ezra rested his head against the horse's neck. 'Why am I here Saddie?'
It was a question that neither he nor the horse could answer. Saddie turned her head to look at him.
'Yes, animals are a lot easier to get along with. Animals give us unconditional love.' Ezra rubbed Saddie's nose and playfully pulled at her ears. 'We've got a race to run Saddie, you feel up to it?'
She pushed at Ezra with her head, he came back and she pushed him again.
'I'll take that as a yes.' Ezra smiled and rubbed the horse's upper lip. 'At least after this we can see each other during the day.' Ezra chuckled when Saddie snorted in his face.
Ezra took the reins and led the horse out of the stables. Buck was waiting outside.
'I saw this in a movie once. They led the horse by this lead and... '
'They're called reins Ezra.' Buck took the horse from Ezra and led it to the starting point.
'Reins it is then.' Ezra followed them. 'Hey Buck.'
Buck stopped and turned around. 'You change your mind Ezra.'
'No, no I haven't. Thought maybe you would be interested in a little bet between us.'
'A bet on what?'
'On whether or not that horse sits down.'
'You'd lose Ezra.'
'Then you agree to a bet.' Ezra raised an eyebrow at him.
'What is it that you want to bet?'
'The two hundred dollars that you're going to win. One hundred of it is mine... '
'What makes you think that Ezra?' Buck placed his hands on his hips. He didn't realise that Chris was watching him closely and that his brother knew his body language well enough to know that he was up to something that wasn't good.
'Because I'm riding the horse Mr. Wilmington.'
'So you want to bet your half of the winnings against my half that Saddie won't sit down.'
'Yes.' Ezra agreed.
'Why not, it's not like we're going to win anyway.'
'But you will if she sits down.'
'She's going to sit down Ezra, she always does.'
'Then what do you have to lose.'
'Absolutely nothing Ezra.'
'We're agreed on it then.'
'Yep, at least I'll have a hundred to pay Morgan.'
'Yes Chris.' Buck pulled at the reins and Saddie walked behind him.
'What the hell are you up to now?'
'Nothing. What makes you think I'm up to something?'
'Because I know you, I know how you think and I know what every movement of your body means, and at the moment, your body language is telling me that you're up to something.'
Ezra grimaced in disgust. Of course you know him Chris, your father didn't send you and your mother away when you were a child. You had the opportunity to grow up with Buck and Nathan.
'He was merely trying to talk me out of my attempt to mount that horse.' Ezra explained to him.
Chris narrowed his eyes at his half-brother. He was beginning to trust Ezra in some areas but he wouldn't put it past the man to lie his way out of trouble.
'Is that true Buck?'
'You don't believe me Mr. Larabee?' Ezra began to rub the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together. It was a habit that he had picked up as a child.
'It's not that I don't believe you Ezra, it's that... '
'You don't trust me. Is that it? You think I would lie to you over something as little as this?'
'Ezra,' Vin liked Ezra, he knew the man had a good heart, he was just brought up the wrong way, 'that's not what Chris is saying.'
'Stay out of this Mr. Tanner, it's none of your business.' Ezra didn't need anybody to stand up and fight his fights for him. He was quite capable of doing it himself. He'd always taken care of himself.
'He's only trying to help Ezra, he's your brother, we all are,' said Chris.
'Half brothers Mr. Larabee and that's only because your father was a womanising, selfish bastard that thought only of himself. He used women, planted his seed then tossed them away as though they were nothing but useless pieces of rubbish. But he didn't do that with every woman did he! No, you and Nathan had a father and Buck was always close by.'
'I'm going to forget you said that Ezra. You didn't know him, he wasn't like that.' Chris held his anger in check.
'You're right Mr. Larabee, I didn't know him, and if he were here today, I would tell him to burn in hell!'
'I didn't know him either Ezra.' JD growled at him. 'But I wouldn't say something like that to him. He had his reasons, he just never had a chance to tell us what they were.'
'I gave him a chance JD, he refused to take it.'
'What are you talking about?' Chris clenched his fists.
'Nothing.' He thought about the green signature card in his wallet but threw the thought away. Lincoln Larabee was dead and could no longer give Ezra the answer to the question he'd been asking all his life. He turned to Buck. 'Mr. Wilmington, I believe we have a race to win.'
Chris shook his head. The man was as stubborn as his father. He couldn't even ride a horse and yet he was expecting to win the race and the bet.
Buck looked at Chris and sent him an expression that told him he needed to calm down. His expression changed when Chris glared back at him.
'You better go and show him how to get on that horse Buck.' Chris told him. 'And Buck, if he gets hurt, you're going to pay dearly.'
'Are you coming Mr. Wilmington!' Ezra yelled out to him.
'I'm not going to win either way.' Buck grumbled as he moved to follow Ezra.
Morgan already had the palomino saddled and his rider was sitting on the animal. His form was relaxed and the reins were hanging loosely in his hands, his right leg crossed over the pummel of the saddle. An expression of confidence told Buck that there was not a chance in hell that he was going to lose to Ezra Standish.
'How do I get on Mr. Wilmington?'
'We're not back to Mr. are we Ezra.'
'Would you prefer I call you fugly?'
Buck couldn't help but smile at the use of the term he had used the day before. Ezra was learning and he was learning fast. He was going to be a part of this, Buck was sure of it.
Jarrod laughed out loud and shook his head in amusement. 'You see this Morgan, he doesn't even know how to get on the horse.'
'Shut up Jarrod!' Buck warned him.
'Not a problem Buck, I'll just sit here and watch.' Jarrod smiled and winked at Ezra.
'Ezra, you put your left foot in here, this is what you call a stirrup. You always mount the horse on it's left side... '
'Now is not the time to ask questions Ezra. Then you grab the pommel with both hands, pull yourself up like this and swing your right leg over as though you were getting on a bike. Here, I'll show you first, then you have a go.'
Ezra watched with a hint of amusement written on his face. These men must think he was an idiot.
'Now you have a go.'
Ezra did as he was shown. His foot in the stirrup, his hand on the pommel then he pulled himself up onto the horse. 'Like that?'
'Yeah, like that.' Buck looked over his shoulder at Chris who had a look of surprise on his face.
'Is there a key or anything to get it started?'
'Now I know you're pulling my leg.' Buck slapped Ezra's thigh.
'You ready Standish?' Morgan asked him.
'Ready as I'll ever be.' he gripped the reins that Buck handed to him with both hands.
'On the count of three.' Morgan told them.
Chris and the others moved closer in case they needed to catch Ezra if he fell from the horse.
'Ezra, hold on tight with your thighs when she sits down.' Buck told him.
Buck noticed that Jarrod wasn't even prepared. He hadn't changed his position on the horse. He was actually wearing a stupid grin on his face.
Chris saw a slight change in Ezra's body language. The reins were switched to his right hand, his feet shifted in the stirrups and he leaned slightly forward. Obviously Morgan and Jarrod didn't notice the change. They were too busy counting winnings they were yet to win.
'Son-of-a-bitch.' Vin had seen the change as well.
'Still have Saddie to consider.' Chris told him.
All it took was a nudge with his heels and Saddie took off at a gallop. Ezra was leaning forward; the reins lose in his fingers. He knew how to ride a horse, with his legs and not his hands. He looked over his shoulder and saw Jarrod struggling to control his mount. He couldn't and the result was his butt landing hard on the ground and his horse galloping off in another direction. 'Now that's what I call an idiot.'
The dust cleared, leaving a group of stunned men.
'Bastard!' Buck pulled his hat off his head and threw it onto the ground.
'Lucky bastard.' Vin said admiringly. 'Saddie didn't even sit down.'
'I just bet him a hundred that she would sit down.
'You've been had Buck,' said Vin.
'I thought he didn't know how to ride a horse.' JD looked at Chris then Vin.
'He didn't as far as we were concerned.' Josiah laughed loudly and nudged young JD with his elbow.
Ezra didn't slow down until he was sure he had a good solid start on Jarrod. The directions that Buck had given him were easy to follow and as long as Jarrod didn't know of a quicker way to get back to the ranch then he would win the race and the two hundred dollars. He gently pulled on the reins and Saddie slowed to a canter. He had time and he wanted to take in the scenery. He'd seen it many times before but it had been from the front seat of the pickup or more often from the back of the truck.
The land was green and healthy, the trees both lush and tall. Cattle of more than one variety grazed the fields and Ezra grimaced. There was something about seeing these cows alive during the day and then dead on a plate when you sat down at the dinner table at night. He'd sometimes wondered if the cow he was eating was one of the cows he had seen on the ranch. It was almost enough to put him off his meal, almost.
He looked away and saw that the road was about to follow the curve of a small hill. Just around the hill was a sharp turn to the left so he slowed Saddie down to a trot and followed the road. The slight bounce made his side hurt so he urged the horse back into a canter. What he saw when he rounded the hill wasn't what he expected to see. He pulled on the reins harder than he should have and Saddie skidded to a stop. He kept his body in the ready position which caused Saddie to dance around in a circle but a few quiet words settled her down.
A four wheel drive was parked in the middle of the trail. Two men, (goons really) were leaning back against the hood. They were waiting patiently for someone or something.
'Country life seems to be treating you well Ezra.' These men worked for Moore. The man he owed money to. The man his mother owed money to. 'Took us a while to find you.' The one in charge continued. 'Mr. Moore wants his money.'
'I don't have it.'
The man who had spoken looked around at the surrounding area. 'You won't get it working on a two-bit ranch like this,' he growled.
Ezra laughed. He couldn't help it. 'Two-bit, is that what you think? If I stay here for a year I'll earn a one million-dollar inheritance.'
'Really? Mr. Moore isn't willing to wait a year; he's waited long enough already, besides a cool million wouldn't cover a year's worth of interest on the amount of money you owe.' The man took three steps forward. 'Get off the horse.'
Ezra hesitated before dismounting. He then moved forward until he was standing in front of the mare.
'He's not going to get his money if you kill me.' Ezra warned him.
'We're not here to kill you Standish.'
Ezra swallowed the lump in his throat. After the first beating he was warned that the next one would be worse. But it wasn't the beating that worried him; it was the questions that Chris Larabee would be asking when they found him. He would also lose the race and the bets, two hundred dollars that he could have used to help raise the money he owed Moore.
'Another warning?' Ezra ran his tongue along his lower lip.
'Something like that.'
'Something? Then you better hurry because there are more riders coming up behind me.'
'One rider and if he interferes we'll kill him.'
Ezra watched the man for a moment and realised that he was serious. He would kill Jarrod as soon as he came around the corner. Ezra turned and jumped onto Saddie's back without the use of the stirrup. He turned her around but before he could create any sort of distance between himself and the two men he felt the sudden sting of pain in his left and found himself in midair and falling towards the ground. It took only a few seconds but it seemed like he had fallen off a high cliff. It also felt like it.
Air was forced from his lungs when he hit the ground and his left wrist was twisted painfully beneath him. He took a moment to be grateful that he hadn't fallen on his injured side then quickly pushed himself up into a sitting position. He couldn't be caught off guard with these men. Without warning a fist slammed against his face but his right arm kept him from falling back to the ground. A second punch made sure that he did then a heavy weight was pressed down onto his back. It was the goon's knee. The man then lowered himself so he was looking directly into Ezra's pain filled eyes.
'This is how it's going to be Standish. I can either beat the shit out of you now or I can give you a week to come up with the money.'
'I told you I don't have it.'
The man stood up quickly and kicked Ezra's injured side. A second kick caused Ezra to grunt in pain and he tried to move himself into the fetal position for protection. Then the weight was on his back again and it stopped him from moving anywhere.
'Do you want to change your mind or shall I continue?'
'I would like to change my mind.' Ezra managed to talk through the pain. He sighed in relief when the weight was lifted from his back. He tried to take in a deep breath but it caused too much pain. 'A week... sounds good.'
The tip of a gun tapped Ezra on the side of the head. He had been shot. There was a silencer attached to the barrel which explained why he hadn't heard the shot. It also meant that no one else had either. Jarrod was safe. He might be able to keep this incident to himself, tell the others that he had fallen off the horse. It could work. He would collect his winnings and partake in a game of poker and win the money he owed Moore. That's if the people of Four Corners had the kind of money he needed. One problem though; Moore's goons were still here and he was yet to win the race.
'A week it is then.' The man stood up. 'If you don't have it when we come back, we'll go after your mother. After all she's the one that owes Mr. Moore the money.'
The comment didn't concern Ezra. He knew Moore wouldn't hurt a woman, that's why Moore had gone after him and not his mother. 'He wouldn't hurt my mother.'
'No, he wouldn't but I would.'
'He wouldn't let you.'
The man kicked Ezra in the side of the head causing the skin to split and blood to flow. He heard the man's words before he lost consciousness. 'That's the difference between us Standish. Like you, I don't need permission to do what needs to be done. Besides, he doesn't need to know.'
Ezra's vision was beginning to blur. The figure that was walking away from him was turning into a moving mist, a darkness that soon turned solid.
'Ezra... Ezra!' A hand shook his shoulder. 'Hey man, you okay.'
He opened his eyes to find Jarrod knelt down next to him. The two men and car were gone. He looked searched for them but couldn't see them. This meant that Jarrod was safe.
'I'm fine. Fell off the horse.'
'You scared the hell out of me. Thought you were dead when I came around that hill. You were just lying here and there was blood and-'
'Could you help me up please.' He needed a distraction and this was as good as any. He held up his good arm and was pulled to his feet. When he felt dizzy he steadied himself against Saddie who was still standing where he had left her.
'You sure you're okay, you don't look okay. Hell you ain't even steady on your feet. You look like you're gonna fall over.'
'I'm fine Jarrod. Thank you for your concern.' Ezra smiled at the younger man and was grateful when Jarrod smiled back at him.
'The bet still on?' Jarrod's expression was one of hope. He had been told that if he won the race he would earn half of the winnings.
'Unfortunately a bet is a bet and I never back down from a bet,' Ezra stretched his back to test his side. He couldn't help but groan and bend over slightly. He was sure his ribs were damaged again.
'You're not okay, are you?'
Ezra shrugged Jarrod's hand off his shoulder. 'I'm fine!'
'Okay sure.' Jarrod stepped back from Ezra's anger. 'I'll ride back with you though.'
'There is no need, I am quiet capable of riding back on my own.'
'You sure 'cause if you're not I-'
'I'm sure!' He stared hard at Jarrod until the man moved away and mounted his horse. 'I'll see you back at the ranch Jarrod.' He didn't know the man's last name so he had no choice but to use his first name. He didn't like it. It made him feel vulnerable.
'I'll let Buck and the others know what happened and where you are.'
'NO!' he'd realised he had shouted when Jarrod's mouth fell open in shock. 'No, it's alright. I'll get back on my own without any problems. I'll enjoy the quiet time. I don't get much of that these days.' He had to keep Chris and the others away for as long as possible. He needed to get his story straight before his half-brothers started asking him questions he yet had answers to.
'I know what you mean. Those guys can be pretty loud when they want to be.'
'Very,' Ezra chuckled, 'I'm use to being on my own and now all of a sudden I have six half-brothers.'
'Yeah, must've been a shock to find out you're father's dead and that you have six brothers.' Jarrod nodded.
Ezra almost corrected him about his half-brothers but caught himself before he could. Lincoln Larabee was not his father (maybe by birth but that was all) and those six men were not his brothers. He hadn't grown up with them; he'd been separated from these people since he was born. No, these people were not related to him.
'I'll will see you back at the ranch.' Ezra tipped his hat and watched the man ride away. Thoughts then filled his mind. Thoughts about Four Corners and the men who were now in his life, men he hadn't known about three weeks previously.
He was only here because Chris Larabee had talked him into it. No, not talked, threatened. Larabee had threatened him into staying. He had been sure that he would have been able to spend a year on this ranch. It wouldn't be like prison. He still had his freedom and at the end of the year he would have a very small fortune. An amount of money that would grow through the use of his gambling skills.
But he'd realised after the first few weeks that he actually enjoyed being here. He relished the outdoors and the physical labour, which had been a surprise to even him. Not that he would tell any of them. He even enjoyed the company of some of the men. JD Dunne was young and full of energy. The type of energy that a man of his own age didn't have anymore. In Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner he found two men who were not only able to match his sense of humour but who also enjoyed pulling the odd practical joke. He had been the center of attention for the first two weeks but their target had changed. They had both focused in on one Chris Larabee. Ezra was taking his time; when it was right he would seek his revenge and the two men would be none the wiser as to who had challenged them.
Josiah Sanchez was a man who liked to talk and Ezra was able to have intellectual conversations with him but sometimes Sanchez took the conversation too far by prying into his past and Ezra had to leave the room before he said something he would have regretted. Nathan Jackson had taken care of his injury for him but that was all. Whenever he was around the man he felt the tension that filled the air. He later found out from Buck Wilmington that Nathan didn't like a man who took advantage of other people's misfortunes. Buck had told him in a polite manner that Nathan disliked con artists and gamblers. Ezra didn't know where Nathan had gotten the impression that he was a con artist or even a gambler. They knew he had taken a beating before he arrived in Four Corners and he had told them that he had been mugged and they had accepted that answer.
And then there was Chris Larabee. The man was full of anger and hatred and often directed those feelings towards the wrong people. Ezra was yet to find out why. No one, not even Buck spoke of Chris's past. If Ezra wanted to know he would have to find out for himself but at the moment he had no intention of delving into the man's past.
He didn't think he had it in him to get back into the saddle so he took Saddie's reins in his left hand even though it had been sprained it didn't hurt as much as his right arm and began walking back to the ranch.
Ezra stopped and let his shoulders fall when he heard the approaching riders. He lifted his eyes without lifting his head it felt too heavy to lift and saw that only three of his associates came for him: Larabee, Jackson and Wilmington. It puzzled Ezra that all three men looked concerned. Then he remembered that he was covered in blood and dirt. But he was sure the concern would soon change because these men were experienced enough to know that he hadn't gotten his injuries from falling off a horse. Jackson would know the difference between a gunshot wound and a scratch. Jordan had believed his story but these men wouldn't.
'Ezra, you okay?'
'I'm fine Mr. Jackson, it's nothing to concern yourself about.' Ezra finally lifted his head to look at them.
'Doesn't look like nothing to me Ezra,' said Chris.
'It's nothing! I simply fell off a horse. Anyone can do it and anyone can get himself or herself hurt doing it. Now if you don't mind I would like to get Saddie back to the ranch and taken care of.'
'No Mr. Larabee your horse is not hurt. Saddie just decided to... sit down after all.'
'What happened Ezra?'
'I told you Mr. Larab-'
'You're talking bullshit Ezra,' said Chris, 'I don't believe a word you're saying.'
'And why should you, you haven't so far,' Ezra muttered to himself.
He was about to continue walking when he saw that Chris and Nathan were getting off their horses. They handed their reins to Buck who was content with staying where he was and just listening to the conversation going on in front of him.
'Aw hell,' it was spoken so quietly that no one heard him, 'Mr. Larabee, I told you I was fine, it's just a scratch.'
'Why aren't you riding the horse Ezra?' Nathan asked him.
'I am not going to get on a horse that sits down whenever it feels like it. It wouldn't be prudent to my health.'
Ezra watched Chris carefully. The man's mind was ticking over quickly. 'Looks like she did more than sit.'
'Excuse me?' Ezra raised an eyebrow and almost winced at the painful sting the movement caused.
'Looks like she threw a few punches at you as well.'
'Let me have a look at that arm Ezra.' When Nathan reached out for his arm he couldn't help but take a step backwards.
'I told you I was fine.'
'Ezra.' It was a warning from Chris.
He couldn't help it. He snapped. These men couldn't get involved with his problems. Moore was a dangerous man. A very dangerous man.
'Mr. Larabee, Mr. Jackson, I have told you that I am fine and if you don't believe me... well then... you know what you can do with it.'
'Ezra,' Chris followed Ezra's backward movement, 'I know exactly what I'm going to do with it.' He waited for the answer he knew wasn't coming then continued, 'You want to know what I'm going to do with it?'
Ezra had an idea. 'I think I have an idea of exactly what you wan-'
'I'm going to shove it up your ass and then I'm going to-'
'Chris,' Buck interrupted him and held up a placating hand, 'you wouldn't be able to do what you're thinking of doing because he's too short.'
Chris didn't take his eyes off Ezra when he questioned Buck. 'What does him being short have to do with it?'
'Picture it, you'll make his eyes pop out of his head.'
Chris grimaced in disgust. 'Okay so maybe I won't do that.'
'Then you can shove it!' Ezra stepped into the stirrup and pulled himself up into the saddle. He knew it was a stupid move but he needed to get away from these men. He promptly fell off the other side of the horse and landed on his injured side. 'Shit!'
'Ezra!' Larabee grabbed Saddie's reins while Nathan moved around the horse to check on Ezra.
Ezra tried his best to push Nathan's hands away but the man was experienced in dealing with difficult patients. His hands were quick and accurate in their examination of his injuries. And then it happened.
'Chris, this is a gunshot wound.' Nathan let go of Ezra's arm then knelt back so he could stop Ezra from trying to get up again.
'What the hell happened and this time I want the truth!' Chris demanded of Ezra.
'You're going to have to settle for what I've told you because that's all you're going to get.'
Chris nodded. 'If that's the way you want it. After Nathan patches you up you can pack your things and leave Four Corners.' Chris turned and walked back to his horse. He knew everyone's eyes were on him and did his best to ignore them. He had spoken the words as a threat hoping that Ezra would cave in but he didn't. The man was as stubborn as their father had been.
'There is no need for Mr. Jackson to do anything. I'll leave as soon as I get back to the ranch.'
'Chris,' Buck started.
'I don't want to hear it Buck.' Once he was on his horse he turned it to face North the direction of the ranch then looked at Buck, 'He's keeping something from us. Something dangerous. What if it spreads and hurts someone else? What then? No, he can leave and take whatever trouble he's in with him.'
'Chris, he's hurt, you can't force him to leave!' This time it was Nathan who was arguing for Ezra.
'Mr. Jackson, I am able to take care of myself.' Ezra used the stirrup to pull himself up into a standing position and looked away from Nathan's piercing gaze. 'Mr. Larabee is right. I don't want anyone else to get hurt. This is my problem and I will deal with it my way.'
'Damn it Ezra! You're as stubborn as our father.' Nathan told him.
'How the hell would you know!' Ezra spun towards Nathan a little to quickly and punched his chest with his forefinger. 'You don't know me, you'll never know me and do you know why? Because I won't let you. But I will let you know one thing. I am nothing like Lincoln Larabee because I would never abandon a woman who has given birth to my child. NEVER!'
'He had his reasons Ezra, you would know that if you'd read the letter he left you.'
'If he wanted me to know the reason why he left me and my mother he would have answered my letter.' He realised what he'd said too late. He also knew that it was a subject Chris wasn't going to let go.
'And what do you mean by that?' Chris had turned his horse back around so he could look at his younger half-brother.
'Nothing,' said Ezra.
'You said earlier you gave him a chance and now we're finding out you wrote him a letter,' Chris nodded, 'you want to explain the situation to us.'
'I'm not accepting a no this time Ezra, tell us what you're talking about.'
Ezra sighed and leaned against Saddie. He didn't want these men to know about his past. There was too much there for him to deal with. Too much pain and too much loneliness.
'Ezra.' Buck's tone was gentle. He had a small idea of what Ezra was going through. Although he had known his father since birth he hadn't lived with him. He had lived with his mother in town. Being near his father was better than nothing but it still hurt. There were times when he hated his father for not allowing him and his mother to stay at the ranch particularly when he saw that Chris and Nathan were there with him. As he grew older he began to understand more. His mother had explained that she was the one who had made the decision to live in town, not his father. She had wanted to stay close so he could see his father, to spend time with him, and to get to know his two brothers, which he did. And it was those times that he enjoyed and cherished.
'I sent him a letter when I was seven years old. Sent it so he would have to sign for it. I still have the signature card in my wallet as a reminder that he didn't want to know me, didn't want anything to do with my mother or me. Can you even imagine what it would be like for a child to wait for an answer from his father: a week, a month, a year... thirty three years.' Ezra looked from Buck to Chris who had his down to Nathan. 'When I do finally get an answer it's from a lawyer telling me my father was dead. He had all that time to answer my question and he didn't. Waited until he was dead to even make contact.'
'What question was that Ezra,' asked Buck.
'I wanted to know why he didn't want me.'
'I'm sorry Ezra,' said Chris, 'I have no idea how you felt then or how you feel now. Vin, JD and Josiah would, but I don't.'
Ezra didn't have anything else to say so he took Saddie's reins and began walking back to the ranch.
'I can help you onto the horse if you want Ezra,' said Nathan, 'it'll probably be easier for you than walking.'
'Perhaps that would be better,' nodded Ezra.
Once Nathan had helped him onto the horse Ezra rode away from the three men who were now grouped together and discussing his situation.
'You're not still gonna make him leave are you Chris?' Buck was watching Ezra's retreating form.
'We'll find out what's going on when we get back home,' Chris was also watching Ezra, they all were, 'deal with it, then put it behind us.'
Once the four men had settled their horses in the corral they entered the house to find the remaining Larabee brothers waiting for them. Ezra almost grimaced in horror or disgust he didn't know when JD's mouth dropped open at the sight of his injuries. Vin and Josiah both wore expressions of confusion then concern and finally worry.
'He's fine JD,' Buck pushed the youngest brother out of the way so Ezra could get to the stairs that led to the main bathroom, 'fell off the horse is all.'
'Ezra,' Chris called out to him, 'Nathan is going to get you taken care of then I want you to meet us in the kitchen.'
Ezra turned and glared back down at Chris and said,' What for? A group hug? Really Mr. Larabee, there is no need for such good byes. We don't know each other well enough for that.'
'What's he talking about? Good bye? Is someone leaving?' Vin glanced up at Ezra. When he didn't get an answer from him he turned his questioning gaze to Chris.
'No one's leaving,' Chris assured him, 'but we've got a problem that needs to be dealt with.'
'What sort of problem?' asked Josiah.
'That's what Ezra's going to tell us.'
Thirty minutes later seven men sat in comfortable wooden chairs that surrounded the large kitchen table. Chris and Buck had purchased the new furniture when they had realised the table they had wouldn't be big enough for them all to sit at as a family. The new wood stood out amongst the old kitchen fittings.
Ezra whose injuries had been dealt with - sat at the head of the table with Chris to his left and Buck to his right. A butterfly band-aid covered a small cut above his right eye and his right arm was in a sling. If Ezra stared straight ahead he would be looking into Josiah's questioning eyes so he didn't. Instead he looked down at his left hand that was resting on the table; the forefinger was rubbing the thumb. It was a habit caused by anxiety.
'Well?' Chris questioned Ezra.
Ezra raised his head and glanced at Chris, saw that the man's eyes were only tinted with anger. There was no hint of judgment: yet.
'I owe a man money,' said Ezra, 'I mean my mother owes him money but he is the type of man that won't hurt a lady so he... '
'So he went after you?'
'Yes.' Ezra nodded. 'It was his men who came looking for the money the night before I met you gentlemen.'
'Gentlemen?' Buck snorted.
'How many men?' Chris ignored his brother.
'Just the two. They're very good at what they do.'
Ezra slowly looked at each man before he spoke. 'Twenty five thousand.'
Vin whistled. Josiah tutted. Nathan shook his head in disgust. JD mouthed the word "wow". Buck also shook his head but more in amazement than disgust. Chris stared at Ezra; it was all he could do.
'Isn't anybody going to say anything?' Ezra asked.
'That's a lot of money Ezra,' said Josiah, 'how did your mother manage it?'
'My mother... has a way of getting what she wants... and doesn't care who has to deal with the consequences.'
'Not even her own son,' said JD.
'No Mr. Dunne, not even her own son.'
'It's JD... Chris, we have to pay the money for him or else he's going to get hurt bad.'
'JD, it's not that easy-'
'It's all right Mr. Larabee, I don't expect nor want you to pay my mother's debts. I will take of it.' Ezra didn't even know what hit him. One moment he was looking down at his hand and the next something hit the side of his face. It took a few seconds to realise that it had come from his left and when he looked that way he saw Chris Larabee shaking his right hand. Realisation finally hit home. Chris had hit him. He lifted his hand to his mouth and felt the sting of broken skin. He had done more than hit him; he had cut open his lip.
'What the hell was that for!' Ezra demanded to know.
'I'm your brother, half-brother, whatever way you want to look at it. That means you call me Chris, not Mr. Larabee. So from now on every time you call me Mr. Larabee, I'm going to hit you.'
'You're not serious?'
'Try him,' said Buck.
'You wouldn't... '
'Call me Mr. Larabee and see if I don't.'
Ezra frowned at him then looked sideways at Buck. Both expressions told him that Chris would.
'Don't try him Ezra,' said Vin, 'I have a feeling he would.'
'I agree with you Mr. Tan-.' He stopped speaking when he saw that Chris was raising his fist. 'Oh don't tell me that you're going to hit me if I call every one mister.'
'Try him Ezra,' said Buck, 'and see if he don't.'
'You have got to be kidding me.'
'Do I look like I'm laughing.' Chris demanded to know.
'Mr... Chris, no you don't look like you're laughing, in fact you look like you could do with a laugh or two. Maybe later Buck and Vin will take you out the back and explain how they managed to get that super glue into your boots while you were sleeping.'
Chris didn't even blink. 'So we're clear on the Mister thing?'
'Yes sir, we are.'
'Don't you even start with the sir cause if you do, I'll stick my foot up your ass!'
'I've got it, loud and clear,' said Ezra.
'Good... now, I've got eight thousand in the bank so that leaves-'
'I've got two,' said JD, 'I know it isn't much but my mother's medical bills...'
'Anything is enough JD,' Josiah smiled at him, 'I have ten, so that makes twenty.'
`There is no need for you gentlemen to do this. In fact I don't want you to do this. This is not your problem, it's mine and I'll deal with it.'
'You're part of this family now Ezra so we'll deal with your problem as a family.' Chris told him.
'I've got five,' said Buck.
Chris looked at him in surprise.
'What? You think I don't have any money. Well think again, I've got plenty.'
'I just thought that with the women you date, well,' Chris shrugged, 'either you're cheap or...'
'Or what? You can show a lady a good time without emptying your pocket. You would know that if you gave dating a try.' Buck shot back.
'You're right. I'm sorry.'
'I've got at least six.' Vin told them.
'As much as I appreciate this I can't allow you to hand over your hard earned money to pay off a gambling debt.'
'Ezra,' Josiah looked at him, 'I'm sure if the tables were turned you would no doubt do the same for any one of us.'
'You don't know that Josiah.'
'Oh, so him you have no trouble using a first name.'
'I didn't want to get hit again. There's been too much of that lately.'
Chris nodded. 'Okay, between us we've got the money. When are they coming back for it?'
'We'll wait for them, don't want the guy to think that you can get your hands on that kind of cash easily.'
'Chris, I can't take your money. I can't take anyone's money.'
'You can and you will Ezra,' said Chris, 'you can call it a loan. And the condition of said loan would be that you stay for the year stated in our father's will. Once you receive your inheritance you can pay us back. Simple as that. Every one else agreed?'
Every one nodded.
'Do I have a choice?'
'No, you don't,' said Chris.
'Thank you. I and my mother appreciate it and I assure you that it won't happen again.'
Little did Ezra know, at that very moment his mother was once again running up a small debt to Moore.
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