The two, very tired and dirty riders came upon the horizon of the small, frontier town. The younger of the two looked to the new dawn and smiled.
"Itís early; best get into town and secure a room before we attract attention to ourselves," the petite woman said to her companion.
"Land sakes, Bess, we are safe now.Would you stop fretting!" the very eloquently dressed woman spat, as she brushed trail dust from her sleeves, causing a cloud to form around her head and force her to cough.
The other woman, younger and dressed in men's clothing, just shook her head at her older sister."Jennie, we canít stop lookiní over our shoulders... ever.You and your stunt made sure of that."
The sharply dressed woman just rolled her eyes."Lighten up, Bess.That old coot had it cominí."
"Maybe so, Jennie, but that old coot has two very young sons that ainít gonna just let us ride off with their father's money!"
"Their Pa stole it; didnít belong to him in the first place," Jennie said with conviction.
"Shoulda just let things be, but you donít know how to do that!Now weíre on the run again.Iím tired of runniní, Jennie."
"We will settle down soon... I promise," Jennie said with a smile."Just needed a nest egg first."
Bess blew out a frustrated breath and looked back on the quaint little town."Only place from here is Mexico."
Jennie looked on in horror."I donít speak Spanish."
"Then you best behave in this here town.Maybe if we keep low and donít draw attention to ourselves, we can stay for awhile," Bess said with a smile on her face at the mere thought of being off the trail for a while.
Jennie looked toward the town and crinkled up her nose in disgust, but when she looked on her little sister and saw the smile of hope Bess wore, she mumbled, "I promise Iíll try and be on my best behavior."
Bess put her hat back on, tucking her strawberry-blonde locks up under it and then reined her horse towards town slowly, allowing her sister to catch up.
Vin was sitting on the porch out front of the boarding house with Josiah when the two riders made their way into town.The two men looked at one another, then back out to the street as the riders passed.A very disgruntled Ezra made his way from the saloon and stopped his ranting about the early morning wake up call he had received from Chris to no one in particular, as the riders passed him.He took in their appearance and smiled. With one last glance at the riders' backs he joined Josiah and Vin.
"Trouble?" Josiah asked, while handing a steaming cup of coffee to Ezra.
"Look too tired to be trouble just yet," Vin answered.
"I hardly think those two fair beauties will pose a problem," Ezra drawled as he blew on the scalding java.
"Two?" Vin asked, sitting forward allowing his tipped back chair to settle all four legs on the boardwalk.
Josiah smiled and tipped his head as he looked to the riders that were now dismounting at the livery. "Well Iíll be."
"Well, just cuz they're ladies, donít mean they ainít trouble, Ezra," Vin said.
Ezra nodded his head in agreement and sipped his coffee."I concur Mista Tanna, but they appear to be a little worse for the wear.I believe the only intentions they have at the moment lay in the hotel."
"Best keep an eye on them ta be on the safe side.Know how Chris is with new arrivals," Vin said keeping an eagle eye on the pair that were now doing just as Ezra had predicted and heading for the Gem Hotel.
"That task I shall leave in your capable hands, gentleman.I, on the other hand, have patrol," Ezra said through a yawn he attempted to stifle.
"Late night at the tables?" Josiah asked with a hint of amusement at Ezraís plight.
"Yes, a very lucrative one as well," Ezra said with a gold toothed smile.
Vin chuckled and pointed down the boardwalk to Chris, who was making his way to them."Best get goiní Ezra."
Ezra rolled his eyes and then set his tin cup down.He tipped his hat to Josiah and Vin, and then quickly made his way in the direction of the livery, passing Chris on the way.
"Donít fall asleep out there, Ezra."
Ezra gave Chris a three-fingered salute as he made his way to the livery, giving one glance over to the ladies entering the Gem Hotel and smiled to himself.
Bess laid in bed for hours just staring at the ceiling and listening to the hustle and bustle of the frontier town coming to life for the day.She imagined the people below on the street, partaking in their daily routines and chores.Normal things, things that many took for granted, but Bess longed for a normal life in one place, a place she felt safe and secure.
She tried to think on the last time she felt completely safe.It was so hard to wrap her mind around the long ago memory, but she did and allowed herself to go back.She was four years old on her fathers lap, listening to him playing his mouth organ and her mother singing along as she prepared their evening supper.Her older sister was flitting around the room in the new dress their father had brought home for her.
"Oh daddy... itís beautiful," Jennie said as she continued to twist and send the dress sailing around her.
"You really shouldnít spoil her so, Daniel," Darla Martin said, partially scolding her husband.
"Ainít nothiní ever gonna be too good for my little gals," he retorted as he teasingly pinched the end of Bessí nose, which caused her to giggle.
Everything in that moment seemed perfect and right with the world, but it was the last time the family would ever be together.
Bess opened her eyes from the memory, knowing the bad one would come and drown the good, as it always did.She rolled onto her side and allowed the tears that had built up to stream down the side of her face.She looked at her sister, who was fast asleep in the bed beside her and Bess wondered how she could do it.How could Jennie never long for those timesÖ never want back the treasure they had lost the day their father was killed.
Bess blinked away the remaining tears and continued to watch her sister sleep, thinking maybe Jennie was the lucky one.She was able to move on and never look back, never wishing or dreaming for things that would probably never come around for either of them again.Bess had tried to do the same, but in the end she always came back to that small cabin in the woods sitting on her fathers lap, feeling loved, safe and secure.She began to whisper the song her father would play on his harmonica and before she knew it, she was asleep.
When Bess finally woke and pried her eyes open, she was immediately aware it was completely dark in the roomÖ night had fallen.She sat up in her bed and fumbled with the lamp she knew was at her bedside, patting the table for the matches.Finally able to get the lamp lit, she turned it on low, and looked over to her sister's bed, which to her horror, was empty.
"Jennie," she said into the room, knowing she wouldnít be getting a response.Bess reached for her pocket watch on the bedside table."Damn it!" she swore into the empty room.It was almost nine oí clock and Bess knew exactly where her sister was.She stood and quickly dressed, in her haste forgetting to pull back her wild mane of strawberry-blonde hair.
Bess ran down the steps and out of the hotel.She stood on the front porch and scanned the town, cursing herself for not paying better attention when they rode in.It only took a moment to ascertain the location of the saloon.It was catty-corner to the hotel and she dashed over as if she were being chased.
She burst through the batwing doors, surprised at how busy the establishment was considering the size of the town.She scanned the room without any luck then looked once again to the left of her, where a crowd was formed around a table that sat up a bit from the rest on a platform.Bessís gut told her thatís where sheíd find her sister.
Being a petite gal it took her a bit to push through the crowd of burly men, but when she finally made it to the inner circle, there sat her sister all dolled up and from the pile of cash laid before her, it looked as though Jennie were cleaning the three men out.Bess sighed and inched her way closer to Jennie, but was stopped when a large hand grabbed her upper arm.
"Hey purdy lady, buy you a drink?" the intoxicated man asked as he pulled her into him, almost causing her to vomit at the stench permeating from him.
"Let go of me now!" she said through clenched teeth while trying not to breath in anymore of his obnoxious odor.
"A feisty one," he said through a gap-toothed smile."I like my women feisty."
With the tight crowd around the table, it was hard for Bess to fight back, so she turned her head and yelled for her sister, "Jennie! Time to go!"
The pretty blonde at the table looked up from her cards and smiled, "Found yourself a man there, Bess?"
Bess glared at her sister."Now, Jennie!"
"Is there a problem here?" came a voice from behind Bess.
"Ainít no problem, if this fellow would unhand me," Bess hissed at the dirty man still gripping her arm.
"You heard the lady, Bart.Let her go!"
"We was just haviní some fun, Larabee."
"Donít look like the lady is enjoying herself; now, let her go!" Chris demanded, pulling back his black duster to reveal his guns.
"Damn you peacekeepers, take all the fun outta everything around here!"He threw Bess into Chris and then turned, shoving people aside as he stumbled to the bar
"You alright, maíam?" Chris asked as he helped her get her footing and led her to the other side of the table, where there was a little more breathing room.
Bess shook her head. "Thanks, Mister."
Jennie scanned the men at the table and the hand she held.She looked over to her sister and then back to her hand, again.In a huff, she threw her cards down."I fold." She started to gather up her cash.
Ezra looked at the woman as if she were insane.He knew she had another full house and didnít understand why she would fold.His question was answered when the beauty left her seat and went to the woman with Chris.
"I was cleaning up, Bess."Jennieís words didnít speak her concern for her sister, but her eyes did.
Bess turned to Chris."Thanks again."And with that, Bess look Jennieís hand and drug them through the crowd that was thinning out with the game now over. When they were on the boardwalk, Bess turned to Jennie with fire in her eyes."What the hell were you doiní?"
Jennie looked on Bess innocently and fluttered her eyes. "I was just playiní a few hands, Bess."
"Donít bat your eyes at me.I ainít a man and I ainít falliní fur it!I told you we had to stay outta site Jennie!"
"Darliní, I canít just sit up in that piddling little room all day and do nothiní.Iíll go crazy."
"Crazy is better then in jail or dead!"
"You worry too much, Bess," Jennie said crossing her arms.
"One of us needs to," Bess countered.
Jennie rolled her eyes and uncrossed her arms."Iím sorry.Wonít happen again."
Bess searched her sister's eyes, but if there was one thing Jennie was good at... it was an unreadable poker face.
Bess watched over the top of her book as Jennie paced the floor at the end of the beds, sure her sister was going to wear a hole in the floor boards soon.
"Read a book," Bess suggested.
"Tried that," Jennie said still pacing.
"Write something," Bess pressed.
"Tried that, too."
"Do something different with your hair."
That stopped Jennieís pacing as her hands went to her hair."How bad is it?" she asked horror stricken.
Bess just laughed."It looks beautiful as always, just thought it would give you something to do."
Jennie went to the side of Bessí bed and took the book from her sister's hand."Bess, I canít take this anymore.I need to get out of this room before I die of utter boredom."
Bess looked at her sister and sighed."All right.Weíll go and see what the General Store has to offer, but no spending of that oleí coots money and no gambling."
Jennie jumped from the bed."Deal."
Bess allowed Jennie to enthusiastically lead her down the boardwalk to the Potter General Store.As the bell above the door clanged, Bess could almost see her sister's eyes glisten at the thought of spending money.
"Good afternoon ladies," Mrs. Potter greeted from behind the counter.
"Afternoon," they said in unison.
"Anything in particular I can help you find?"
Jennie had already found the object of interest to her, as she sorted through the dresses.
"No thank you maíam," Bess said with a warm smile.
Mrs. Potter just smiled at the petite young lady, liking the quiet woman already.There was something about Bess that brought out the motherly instinct in her.Gloria Potter couldnít put her finger on exactly what; maybe it was the sadness she saw in the young womanís eyes.
"I found it!" Jennie said excitedly as she held the violet silk and satin dress up for Bess to see.
"Itís pretty, Jennie," Bess said with a smile.All the frills and lace, it certainly suited her fancy sister.
"You would look beautiful in that as well," Mrs. Potter said to Bess.
"Me?" Bess asked wide-eyed.
The womenís reaction causing Mrs. Potter to look at Jennie and wonder why she never helped her sister to see the beauty she held."Yes, youíre more beautiful then you realize my dear."
"Iíll take it," Jennie said to Mrs. Potter as she placed the dress on the counter excitedly, not even noticing she had interrupted the womenís small chat.
Mrs. Potter smiled at the exuberant woman, silently thinking how different these two were, though they looked so much alike.Both had big blue eyes, full lips, rosy cheeks, and long curly reddish blonde-hair.The only outward difference, other than their choice in clothing, was that Bess had thick copper highlights in her hair, that Gloria was sure were beautiful when the sun hit them.
After rapping up the dress for Jennie, Mrs. Potter thanked them for the business and as Bess was walking out the door behind Jennie, she stopped and turned to Mrs. Potter with a smile.
And with that, Bess was out the door leaving Gloria with a smile of her own on her face.
Jennie took Bess by the arm and pulled her little sister into her with a smile."That was fun."
"Barrels," Bess said, causing Jennie to squeeze her arm.
"Little sister, one of these days youíre gonna realize the pleasures a nice dress brings," Jennie said with a grin, noticing the man she met last night sitting in front of the saloon.
Bess just rolled her eyes and laughed.
"Ladies... ladies," Buck said as he walked up the boardwalk with his arms wide open to them in welcome and a huge smile.
"Mr. Wilmington... is it?"Jennie played naive and fluttered her eyelashes.
Her sister's flirtatious actions caused Bess to look in the other direction and thatís when she saw him... the man dressed in buckskins playing a mouth organ.Bess stood mesmerized by the man, completely forgetting her sister and the other man she was speaking to.
"Bess," Jennie said as she waved a hand in front of Bessís face."Bess?"
Bess reluctantly pulled her eyes off the man she was intently watching and focused on her sister."Sorry," she said, looking at Jennie and the man who was studying her and looking to Vin occasionally out the corner of his eye.
"Name's Buck Wilmington and your sister has agreed to allow me to escort you lovely ladies to the saloon," Buck said with a smile, as he held out his arms to the ladies.
Bess looked to Jennie in disbelief."Will you excuse us for a moment please, Buck?"
Bess pulled her sister by the arm and led her away from Buck a few feet and whispered, "You promised no more gambling, Jennie."
"Yes, but I didnít promise no drinking.I need to quench my thirst, little sister."
Bess shook her head in disbelief."Fine."She raised her hands and slapped them on the sides of her thighs."I give up.I surrender, but if you do one illegal thing while weíre here, Iím through and youíre on your own."
Jennie smiled and turned back to Buck."We are ready, kind sir."
Buck turned back to Bess smiling and extended his arm to her again.Bess liked the man; she couldnít fault him for falling for Jennieís charms.She walked to him and took it softly, allowing the man to lead them to the saloon.As they passed the buckskin man on the porch, Buck looked towards Bess with a smile. "That there is Vin Tanner, a friend."
Bess blushed immediately at the man's intuitiveness.
Buck leaned in and whispered, "Your secret is safe with me," then winked causing Bess to smile brightly.
Buck led the ladies to the table Jennie had played at the other night and she smiled as her opponent was there as well.
"Miss Jennie, have you come to allow me the chance to win some of my money back?" Ezra asked with a cunning smile.
Jennie looked to Bess and then back towards Ezra."No, unfortunately I am just here for a refreshment," she said giving Ezra the same flutter of her eye lids that she had given Buck just minutes ago.
Bess relinquished Buckís arm and took a seat across from the man in black who had come to her rescue the previous night.Bess smiled at him and he smirked back.
"What can I get you ladies to drink?" Buck asked.
"Whiskey would be nice," Jennie said sweetly.
ĎBeer," was all Bess said, knowing her sister's nose was turned up at her choice of drink.
"May I ask what brought you ladies to our dusty little backwater?" Ezra drawled, while shuffling his cards.
Bess looked to Jennie and allowed her sister to work her magic.
"San Francisco," Jennie answered.
"I see."Ezra raised his eyebrows with curiosity. "And what interest lies there?"
"Our brother and his family.Our parents passed away a few months ago and we are in need of the only family we have left," Jennie said displaying a poignant look on her face and dabbing at her eyes with her fingers.
Bess just looked at her hands, not able to look the men in the eye knowing her sister was lying.
Ezra wasnít buying the womanís act, but he didnít let on.He looked at the younger of the two women and studied her next.In the commotion of the night before he had not been allowed significant time to observe her, but he got the feeling she didnít approve of her sister's tricks.
"Bess is it?" he asked.
She looked up and met with kind emerald eyes that almost appeared to dance and she couldnít look away from him."Yes," she answered.
Buck returned with the ladies' drinks and he wasnít alone.With him was the buckskin-clad man from the saloonís porch.Bess watched as her sister perked up, as well and Jennie went about charming the entire table.Bess listened to the tales her sister told and witnessed the mannerisms of her body, knowing the men were hanging onto every word and chuckling as she told stories Bess knew were untrue.
What seemed like hours passed and after a few beers, Bess was ready to go.She tired of watching her sister in action and not only that, she and Vin were now in a private conversation at the end of the table, leaving just Ezra and Bess alone.Buck and Chris had left for patrol a few moments ago.
"Sheís quite amazing... your sister," Ezra leaned in and said to Bess, who hadnít realized sheíd been starring at Jennie and Vin.
"Yeah, sheís something all right," Bess mumbled, winning her a slight chuckle from Ezra.
"She reminds me of someone," Ezra said losing a bit of his smile.
Bess tilted her head a bit and studied the charming man for a moment."Who?"
"My mutha," he said coolly.
Bess looked at him questionably with a look that brought Ezraís smile back.
"The stories your sister told, were fabrications were they not?"
Bess pulled back in her chair in horror."They... uh."
Ezra placed a hand over hers."No need to worry; I donít plan to share that information with my associates."
"Thank you," she said, while looking out of the corner of her eye to Jennie.
"You are taken by Mista Tanna?" Ezra asked watching her reaction closely.
Bess thought of denying it, but knew this man would read her lie and call her on it."Yes, but it doesnít matter."
"Bess, I doubt that my associate is as smitten with your sister as you may think.Mista Tanna is a very good judge of people."
"Maybe so, Ezra, but I know the effect my sister has on men," Bess said sadly.
"You shouldnít count yourself so short, Bess," Ezra said with sincerity."You could have the same effect my dear.
Bess chuckled at this."I highly doubt that.When I am standing beside my sister itís as if I donít even exist."
"I could help you change that... if you allowed me," Ezra said with a smile.
Bess just stared at the well-dressed man."How?"
"I have had my share of shining pennies until they sparkle," he said with a reminiscent smile."I would like to help you win over your heartís desire, if you so wish it."
"My heartÖ now, wait a daggone minute.I never said anything about my heart, Ezra!" she said with a horrified look on her face.
"Well, then let us have a short term goal; there is a Harvest Dance on Saturday and I have it under good authority that Mista Tanna will be there."
"A dance would require a dress!"Her face went pale at the thought.
"Yes, a dress would be the appropriate attire for such an occasion."
"I... I donít know, Ezra.I havenít worn a dress since I was a child."
"Then this is the perfect time to change that," he said with a smile.
Bess looked at her sister and Vin, who appeared to be getting closer by the minute and then back to Ezra."I accept your help."
"Wonderful news.Then we shall meet here tomorrow at and begin polishing your diamond in the rough."
Bess sat on her bed and watched Jennie prepare for her picnic lunch with, one Vin Tanner and for the first time in her life, she wished for her sister's grace and charm.Bess had feelings building inside her; one's she wasnít use to when it concerned her sister... jealousy.
Jennie turned to Bess and smiled."How do I look in my new dress?"
Bess forced a smile and spoke as cheerfully as she could, "You look beautiful."
"Iím telling you, Bess, Vin is simply wonderful, like no man I have ever met before," Jennie said dreamily.
Bess just looked at Jennie.This wasnít the first time her sister had that starry look in her eyes and it infuriated Bess even more to think that her sister would probably break Vinís heart before he even saw it coming.
"I know what youíre thinkiní, little sister," Jennie said as she sat down on the bed beside her sister."But this time I truly mean every word.Vin is different; heís wild and wooly, yet so kind and gentle."
Bess smiled at the description, even though she had yet to speak with the man, itís how she had pictured him.
Jennie leaned over and kissed her sister's cheek."Donít worry, I wonít go near the saloon today.I wonít need to," Jennie said with a huge grin.
Bess waited until her sister was out the door and then she went to the dressing table and sat down.She pulled her wild hair from its restraint, allowing it to fall over her shoulders and down her back.She looked at her sister's silver hairbrush and then back to her reflection in the mirror.She picked up the brush quickly and swiped it through her hair a few times causing it to look worse then before.Bess threw the hairbrush across the room and went to her bed to finish reading her book.She decided that enlisting Ezraís help would only be wasting both their time.
Ezra looked one last time at his pocket watch and sighed.He had hoped Bess would show and that thought struck him as odd.He had taken an instant liking to the quiet young woman, enjoyed her company, but the disappointment of her not showing up and spending the afternoon with him truly surprised him.
"Hey, Ezra.You donít look so good," JD said as he sat down beside his friend.
Ezra looked up at JD and smiled."Nonsense, I am fine Mista Dunne."
"If you say so," JD said with a shrug of the shoulders.
Just then, Bess walked into the saloon, instantly knowing where to find Ezra and made her way to the table.
Ezra watched her approach and smiled, causing JD to look and see what had caught Ezraís attention.He was surprised when the woman walked up to the table, smiled, and quietly said Ezraís name.
"Mista Dunne, I would like you to meet a visitor to our fair municipality, Miss Bess..."And Ezraís smile shrunk a bit, realizing he had never obtained Bessí last name.
Bess fidgeted a bit, realizing what Ezra was about to ask her and she spit out the first thing that came to mind as she looked at JDís hat."Masterson."
JDís interest perked immediately."You related to Bat Masterson?"
Realizing what she had just done, Bess gave a quick answer."Distantly.Ezra are you ready?"
Ezra looked at her even more intrigued than before, knowing she had just lied about her last name."Yes," he said standing and turning to a still dumbfounded JD."Good day, Mista Dunne."
"See ya, Ezra," JD mumbled as he watched the odd couple walk out of the saloon.
When Bess and Ezra were outside of the saloon, Ezra offered his arm to Bess with a smile.
Taking Ezraís arm she smiled up at him and spoke."Iím sorry I was late, Ezra.I almost didnít come."
Ezra studied her for a moment, deciding now wasnít the right time to inquire about her lie to JD; knowing it would most likely scare her off."I am pleased you changed your mind."
Bess was surprised by the comment that flew out of her mouth next."So am I."
Ezra smiled and led them through town, slowly pointing out certain businesses and townspeople.Bess enjoyed listening to his silky, southern drawl and humorous tales of past events.Bess was so interested in Ezraís stories and such that she didnít realize where they were until the bell above the door announced their entrance.
"Ezra, why are we here?" she asked looking up to him.
"My dear, you need a dress and other items for Saturday night's festivities," Ezra said as he awarded Mrs. Potter with a warm smile.
Bess knew a dress was part of this deal with Ezra, butÖ so soon?She wasnít prepared for this and her heart began to skip a beat as he led her to the assortment of dresses.
Mrs. Potter watched the couple intently and it warmed her heart to see that Mr. Standish was taking an interest in the pretty young gal.Gloria knew Ezra attempted to present himself as a man only out for his own personal gain, but she knew better.She had witnessed, on several occasions, the kind things Ezra did for others in secret, never wanting recognition for said deeds.She knew the meek and shy woman was in good hands as she watched Ezraís delicate manner with her.
Bess watched as Ezra intently studied every dress and then would look at her, then shake his head and go on to the next.A manís eyes all over her, as his were, would have frightened Bess, but nothing about Ezra frightened her.She found him easy to be around and her usually tied tongue with men, was not bound with him.
Ezra almost thought the perfect dress would not be found, until Mrs. Potter came up behind them.
"Mr. Standish. I think this one may be what you are looking for," Gloria said as she held up the periwinkle blue dress, with intricate lace around the low neckline and sleeves.
Ezra turned and the moment he laid eyes on the lavish garment, he knew this was it.He looked at Bess and smiled, as Mrs. Potter held the dress up to the petite woman.
"Yes, this is perfect!" Ezra said.
"Brings out your beautiful eyes," Gloria said to Bess, who blushed all the way to her toes.
"Yes, indeed it does," Ezra said, not able to take his eyes off of Bess.
"Will you be in need of other items as well, Mr. Standish?" Gloria asked.
Ezra pulled his eyes off Bess and looked to Gloria."Yes, all the usual feminine items will be required."
"Iíll get them and the dress wrapped up for you," Gloria said with a smile to Ezra, then Bess.
After Gloria was gone and Bess was sure her red face was almost gone, she looked up to Ezra, who now had his back to her and was studying something.Bess walked around and peered over his shoulder to see he was methodically choosing between an assortment of hair combs.Bess watched his smooth and well-manicured hands brush over them and finally fall on a set that looked very expensive.
"Ezra, I canít afford those."She got on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear.
Ezra turned to her with a grin, their lips almost touching, causing Bess to settle her feet on the ground at the heat she felt rise in her body at the near contact.
Ezra felt it too and gathered his composure, before he walked over to the counter and set the combs on the counter with the other items, disregarding Bessís earlier comment.
"Will that be all?" Gloria asked.
"For the moment, yes," Ezra answered, as he pulled a wad of cash out of his vest pocket and handed over the amount for the items.
Bess blinked in disbelief at what he was doing, as did Mrs. Potter.
Ezra thanked Mrs. Potter and collected the items off of the counter and made for the door.He waited for Bess to open it for him.
Bess looked to Mrs. Potter, who had a smile on her face again and then forced her legs to work and make for the door.When they were outside Bess jumped in front of Ezra, causing him to almost run into her.
"My dear, I wish to get these items to your room before I drop them," he said looking over the brown paper wrapped items.
Bess shook her head slightly and looked him intently in the eye."I canít let you do this for me, Ezra."
"We can discuss this matter after I have relinquished the items to your room."With that said, Ezra side stepped a still shocked Bess and made for the Gem Hotel.
Bess followed him up the stairs to her room and unlocked the door, allowing him access to deposit the items on one of the beds.Ezra turned to find her in the doorway watching him and he sighed, knowing the usually quiet young woman was about to become stubborn and put up a fight.
"Ezra, I donít know what you want in return for these items, but I..."
Ezra put his hand up to stop her."I want nothing in return, Bess."
"You must want something; your money back, if nothing else," she said going to the drawer where she had what little money was her's, and not her sister's or from the old coot.She turned and handed the money to Ezra."That is all I have at the moment, but I will get you the rest... I promise."
Ezra looked at the money and an almost hurt look flashed on his face, but it was gone now.He took her hand that held the money in his and brought them to her chest."I will not take your money.I offered to do this for you of my own volition and I do not expect anything in return," he said making eye contact.
Bess looked deep in his eyes and searched them; something new was there, but she didnít know what it was.She wasnít good at reading people like her sister."I want to repay you somehow for your kindness, Ezra.Please," she pleaded with her eyes.
Ezra smiled inwardly at her need to give something in return and he thought for a moment and then asked for what he wanted most from her."Your last name."
Bess pulled back from Ezra and he released the hand he still had over hers."I told you, itís Masterson."
"Your real name, Bess," he requested.
Bess bit on her bottom lip and then looked up to him again."Martin, Bethany Martin. My family called me Bess."
Ezra smiled knowing she was telling him the truth.But he knew there was a reason she had been so secretive about her last name and had been so quick to drag her sister from the saloon last night.As before, Ezra didnít push.In time he would ask her about that and assist them in whatever trouble it was they were running from."Well, Miss Martin.I suddenly find myself famished and in need of nourishment.I would like it very much if you joined me.I do hate dining alone," he said extending his arm to her.
Bess tucked her money back in the drawer she had retrieved it from and then took Ezraís arm still looking at him and wondering what she had done to deserve his kindness.
Bess flopped down on her bed and smiled up at the ceiling, still thinking on Ezra and her day.She couldnít remember the last time she had enjoyed herself so much and she hugged herself and closed her eyes.This was the placeÖ this was the place she wanted to stay.She had felt it yesterday morning when she sat on her horse and studied the horizon of the town and the way it looked as the morning sun touched it.It was almost as if she was being guided to this town and the people sheíd met.
She rolled over and looked at the packages on Jennieís bed and thought of Ezra again as her smile grew.He was a remarkable man.Her daddy would have enjoyed the Southerner's sense of humor and intelligence.Daniel Martin had loved to laugh and tell extravagant stories.Yes...he would have liked Ezra, that, Bess was sure of.
Hearing her sister's voice on the other side of the door caused Bess to jump up and grab the packages, stuffing them under her bed.She was just getting the last package under as Jennie entered the room, almost as if she were floating on air.Jennie was humming as she came over and sat on the bed beside Bess who was still on the floor.
"What are you doin' down there, Bess?" Jennie asked.
"Nothing just dropped something.How was your day?" Bess asked wanting to change the subject.
Jennie stood up and waltzed around the room."Stupendous!Vin asked me to the Harvest Dance on Saturday."
Thatís when Bessí smile dropped from her face, remembering Vin.In all the excitement of her day, she had forgotten the reason for all the items under her bed.
Jennie stopped dancing and watched Bess with a very serious look on her face."I think Iím in love, little sister."
Bess swallowed hard and pushed down the feeling to scream at the top of her lungs, "It's not fair; you always get what you want!" But she didnít.She put a smile on her face and stood to give her sister a hug."Iím happy for you, Jennie," Bess lied as she continued to hug her sister, not wanting Jennie to see the tear that was streaming down her face."I need to go... I want to check on Harmonica."
"A night with a smelly horse.What fun," Jennie said sarcastically.
Bess pulled away from her sister swiftly and went to the door, but was stopped on her exit.
"I am having supper with Vin, would you be so kind as to ask on your way out that water be brought up for a bath?"
"No problem," Bess said as she shut the door.She descended the stairs two at a time and was stopped dead in her tracks by a familiar voice on the way to the hotel front desk.
"I do hope thatís not the manner in which you plan on taking those steps tomorrow eve in your dress," came a Southern drawl.
Bess whipped around and the look on her face wiped away Ezraís smirk and raised eyebrow.
"I ainít gonna be weariní that dress, Ezra.Iíll take it back tomorrow and get you your money back."And with that said, Bess ran out of the Hotel completely forgetting to order Jennieís bath water.
Ezra followed her to the stables and could tell by the Sorrel's whinnies which stable she had taken refuge in.He peaked over the pen to see her huddled in the corner of the stall with her knees pulled up under her chin.Ezra opened the pen's door and made his way to her, bending at the knees and squatting down before her.
"Go away," she mumbled."Iím not in the mood for any of your pep talks tonight, Ezra."
Ezra looked around the stall and sucked in a breath at what he was about to do.He lifted the tails of his jacket and sat down beside Bess.
Hearing Ezraís rustling Bess looked up and was shocked to see the elegant man sitting in the hay beside her.She couldnít help but smile."Youíre going to get dirty, Ezra," she said flatly.
"The sooner you tell me your woes, the less time I shall spend in this swill," he said with a disgusted look on his face.
Bess giggled a bit at the look on his face and then wiped the smile off of her face."Vin has asked Jennie to the dance."
"I see," Ezra said, his wheels of thought in motion.
"Iíll take the items back to Mrs. Potter first thing tomorrow," Bess said picking up a piece of hay and twirling it between her fingers.
"There is another alternative, my dear Bess.You could allow me to be your escort," Ezra said waiting with bated breath for her answer.
"I thought you would have had other arrangements by now," Bess said in shock that the handsome and charismatic man before her didnít have a choice of women to ask to the dance.
Playing off of the fact that Ezra wasnít interested in any women in town until now, that is; he spoke nonchalantly."I hadnít made a choice as of yet, but now I have.A friend in need always comes first."
Bess smiled at being called his friend; something sheíd never really had.She trusted Ezra without question and spending a night on his arm wouldnít be dull, thatís for sure.
"Yes, I accept your offer, kind sir," she said bowing her head and giggling.
Ezra watched as she giggled.The light from the lamp in the next stall illuminated her face and as he sat there in the muck of the horse stall no longer caring about the harm to his clothing, he was delighted in watching this womanís eyes fill with laughter and begin to snuff out the sadness that broke his heart many times over since he had met her.He knew at that moment he wanted to protect her from any further heartbreak.He wanted to protect her from whatever it was she and her sister seemed to be running from.He wanted... He wantedÖ her.That was the bottom line.He allowed himself to face up to the feelings that had been building with each moment he spent with her.There was an innocence about her, a need for security, to be loved and Ezra wanted to be the one to give that and more to her.
"What are you thinking about?" Bess asked leaning in towards Ezra, tickling his chin with the piece of hay in her hand.
Ezraís eyes danced as he looked into hers, but he didnít think it was time yet to share his feelings with her.
"That you shouldnít give up on Mista Tanna"
Bess furrowed her brows and tilted her head a bit."What are you saying Ezra?"
"Iím saying that there are times one must lay their heart on the line... be bold and tell the one they love how they feel, no matter the consequences."
Ezra wished he could take his own advice and he bowed his head pretending to study his hands.He knew that he was a coward when it came to his own heart; a fact he faced sitting here aching for this woman before him, but unable to express what was in his own heart for fear of the outcome, whether it be good or bad.
"Ezra, you keep speaking of love and my heart.I donít love Vin.I donít even know him.I'm drawn to him - yes, but love him?No.You make it sound as if Iím a silly schoolgirl.Itís not really about Vin, itís just..." Bess looked away, ashamed when she continued, "Iíve always been in the shadow of my sister, traipsing all over the countryside and only useful when she needs to be pulled from a scrape.I want more than that."
"You deserve more, Bess," Ezra whispered.
Bess' eyes locked with Ezraís when suddenly Bess blinked and jumped to her feet."Jennieís bath water... I completely forgot.I have to go!"Bess ran to the stall door and then turned quickly, leaning down and placing a kiss on Ezraís cheek."Thank you."
With that, Bess was gone, leaving Ezra sitting in the mucky stall whispering, "What just happened there?"
Bess stepped out of the bath the next afternoon, drying herself off and preparing to dress for that evening's dance.Knowing that she wouldnít get room, or help from Jennie, Bess had asked Ezra if she could dress in his room.After several noís, he finally gave in and allowed her the use of his room.
Bess opened the brown wrappers and looked at the items laid out before her Ezraís bed.She began to pace the room looking at them and then finally grabbed the first undergarment and pulled it on.She looked at the corset, biting her bottom lip and turned it this way and that.She knew that the lacing went in the back with the fasteners in the front.She managed to get the item on correctly, but it didnít feel right.After almost laying down on the bed and crying in frustration, Bess did the only thing she could do, she asked for help.She creaked Ezraís door open and peaked out to find him where he said he would be, in a chair beside the door reading a book if she needed anything.
Bess cleared her throat and waited for Ezra to look up. "I need you... your help.I need your help with this dang corset."
Ezra cleared his throat and looked at her bare shoulders, then down to the saloon where Inez was working."I shall fetch Ms. Recillos to help assist you."
"No, Ezra. Please, this is humiliating enough," she said while pleading with her eyes.
Ezra ran his tongue over his gold tooth, a habit he did when he was contemplating a very important decision.He scanned the mezzanine above the saloon and then conceded, placing his book on the chair.Bess smiled and opened the door the whole way, as she took a few steps into his room and turned her back to him.
Ezra walked in slowly and closed the door behind him.As he got closer to her, he could smell the lavender from the scented soaps he gave her to use and he almost turned and ran from the room.He could feel himself becoming aroused.He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, which was the wrong thing to do, as his senses were once again filled with the smell from her skin and freshly washed hair.
"Ezra?" Bess asked as she twisted at the waist to see what he was doing.
Ezra didnít answer her.He just motioned with his finger for her turn back around and with her back straight again, he grasped the back lacing and began to pull, gently.As Ezra tightened the laces, Bess positioned her breasts, causing more cleavage then she had wanted, but didnít want to ask Ezra to redo the back.Not thinking Bess turned to him and smiled, speaking softly, "Thank You, Ezra."
Ezra wanted to turn his head at the sight before him.It was the gentlemanly thing to do, but he couldnít take his eyes off of her.Her bare shoulders, the damp hair spiraling down her back and the smell of her, was once again intoxicating him.
They stood there staring at one another for a long time and as Bess looked into Ezraís eyes, she thought back over all the kind things he had done for her over the last two days and the afternoon that they had spent together today just talking, both sharing things from their childhoods that had molded them into the people they were today.She thought back on all the comments that were intended to make her feel she was more then she ever could have imagined of herself.Thatís when she knew, in the time spent with Ezra, hoping to turn Vinís head her way that she had fallen in love with Ezra.
Bess had never even come close to loving a man before, but she knew and trusted what she was feeling for the southern gentleman before her.She took a step towards him, placing her shaking hands on his chest and brought her body into his.She then laid her head on his shoulder.
Ezra blinked in disbelief and slowly wrapped his arms around her back and held on tight.He wanted to give her what he knew she needed most, to feel safe and loved.
"Ezra?" Bess said.
"I..."But she was cut off by a knock at the door.
Ezra reluctantly pulled away from Bess."Thatís Mrs. Potter.I asked her to come and help you with your tresses."
Bess smiled, took her dress and went behind the dressing screen as Ezra opened the door for Mrs. Potter.They spoke for a moment and then Ezra left the room saying he would be back for Bess in an hour.
Once Bess had her dress on, she stepped from behind the screen and Mrs. Potter clasped her hands together in delight.
"You look simply magical, my dear," Gloria said, her eyes shiny with tears.
"Thank you, I feel magical," Bess said as she twirled in her dress and went to stand before Ezraís full-length mirror.
"Come, now and let's get to work."Gloria pointed to the stool at the dressing table.
Bess sat and listened to Gloria talk endlessly of her children and deceased husband.She listened intently, enjoying her time with the woman that reminded her so much of her own mother.
Gloria took a few curls and pulled them out around Bessís face and then smiled."You are finished."
Bess stood and went to the full-length mirror again and this time she didnít recognize the woman staring back at her at all.She felt like a princess in the stories her father used to tell she and Jennie as children.
Gloria came up behind Bess and placed her hands on the young womanís shoulders."Ezra made an excellent, choice."
"Yes, the dress is beautiful," Bess agreed.
"The dress too," Gloria said with a wink."I best be going."
"No, please, will you wait with me?I am a bundle of nerves," Bess said with a small smile.
"Of course," Gloria said, taking a seat on the bed beside Bess.
They shared in small talk for a few moments until a small knock came at the door.Gloria smiled at Bess and patted the womanís hand."Iíll let him in.Enjoy your evening."
Bess smiled and stood at the end of the bed and waited for Ezra to step into the room.She could see he had shed his scarlet jacket for his black one, with a vest underneath that complimented her dress nicely.
Ezra took in the vision before him, feeling as if heíd just been punched in the gut as he struggled to breath.
Bess smiled when she saw the look on his face, taking the steps required to close the gap and stood before him.
"You are so exquisite, Bess Martin." Ezra said barely above a whisper.
"With your help, of course," she replied.
Ezra shook his head, no."You needed no help from me."
Bess blushed and bit on her bottom lip for a moment."Iím grateful for the time we shared."
"As am I," Ezra said, now seeing in her eyes what he had hoped for and truly never believed he would see.He didnít feel worthy of this womanís love and never expected her to reciprocate the feelings heíd felt for her, but here she was before him, the most beautiful thing inside and out that he had ever seen and she was in his life.
"We should be going," Ezra said holding out his arm.
Bess took his arm and wrapped her's tightly around it, the need to be as close to him as she could overwhelming her.
Ezra was in no hurry to share her with anyone just yet and walked slowly to the Grain Exchange, where the Fall dance was taking place.He wanted so many times to stop and tell her everything in his heart, but he thought better of it.After the dance and the days to come, there would be plenty of time to tell her how he felt towards her.But in the next few moments Ezra would learn just how little time he truly had.
"Thatís her, Mac.Mr. Parnell said the fancy dressed one," the little weasel of a man said.
"Sheís with one of them lawmen though; ainít good to take one of them.It's liable to bring the rest of Ďem down on us," the giant said.
"Gotta git her away from him, then."
The two men looked at one another and then back to the other two fairly large men behind them and nodded.
Ezra and Bess were just passing a gap between the buildings, when Ezra was knocked on the head with a large object.Bess was grabbed from behind, but she managed to get out one scream, before the man holding her said in her ear, "Weíll kill Ďem if you donít shut your trap!"
Bess turned her head and watched as Ezra was drug by the collar into the alleyway.She shook her head that she understood and tried to stifle the sobs that were taking over from her worry for Ezra.
The man holding her picked her off of the ground and carried her down the alleyway to the back of the building where horses were waiting.
"What are we gonna do with him boss?" one of the men asked as they pointed a gun at Ezra, who was moaning.
"Let him be!" Bess screamed and wiggled in the man's arms that were holding her.
"Stop fightiní me, girl or we shoot your beau!" the man holding her said menacingly.
Bess saw that Ezra was about to say something, so she bit down hard on the manís arm that was holding her, drawing blood.She ran to Ezra, dropping on her knees and brushed her hand over his face."Ezra, Ezra, please wake up, "she sobbed."I need you, please.I love you!" she screamed as another of the men grabbed her by the waist and pulled her up from the ground, but she kept on screaming for Ezra to get up.
Chris had been standing on the steps in front of the Grain Exchange smoking a cheroot when he heard the first muffled scream.He turned to the right and listened closer, but heard nothing more.He started for the boardwalk when Buck called out, "Where ya headed, Chris?"
Chris didnít answer, he just pulled back his black duster and pulled his gun out of his holster.It was all the answer Buck needed as he yelled over his shoulder for JD to get the others and then followed Chris down the boardwalk.
More screams came, giving them a better idea where the obvious assault on a woman was taking place.As they got to the gap in the buildings, Chris looked over his shoulder to see Buck right behind him.Wilmington was looking down the boardwalk to see the remaining five men hustling towards them.
"Buck, Nathan, youíre with me.Rest of you around the back," Chris whispered.
Chris, Nathan and Buck were half way down the alley when they very clearly heard a woman begging Ezra to wake up.Chris turned to Buck.They both wore worried looks and hastened their trek down the side street until they had four men in view.One was holding a woman up off of her feet, which were flailing at a man down a few feet from them.
"Shit!" Buck whispered to Chris.
Bess watched as the little man aimed his gun at Ezra again."Donít think he should be left alive."
"Shoot him!" the man holding Bess said.
"No!" she screamed as shots rang out and the man holding Bess dropped her to the ground to reach for his weapon.Bess crawled to Ezraís side and hovered over him.She put her hand behind his neck and immediately noticed it felt wet.She knew he was bleeding. She twisted at the waist when her arm was tugged, shoving the little man off of her, but he grabbed her again, aiming a gun at Ezra.Just as he pulled the trigger she laid over Ezra.
Bess wasnít sure what happened, but she felt a sharp pain in her side and then her body started to go cold and a need for sleep started to wash over her.
Chris and Buck watched on in horror when the little man shot the woman they now knew was Bess.One last shot rang out as Ezra had triggered his derringer into his hand and was propped up on one elbow.
Nathan was to the downed couple in a matter of seconds.He quickly surmised that Ezraís head wound would produce nothing more then a concussion, but Bess was another story.Until he got her into better light and examined her, he wouldnít know the extent of the wound.
Ezra watched on in shock as Bess was carried away in a hurry as Chris and Buck helped him to his feet.
"I need to be with her," Ezra said through gasps and then nausea hit him.
"Take it easy, Ezra," Chris said.
Ezra shook his head, which only made the pounding in his temples worse and he winced.
"Letís get you back to your room," Buck suggested.
"No!" Ezra said sternly as he squared his shoulders and shook off their offers of help.He stumbled a few times on his way to the stairs that led to the clinic, with Buck and Chris right there to pick up their stubborn friend right away when he fell.He reluctantly allowed his friends to help him up the stairs.There to greet them was a pacing Jennie and the rest of the men, with the exception of Josiah, who was assisting Nathan with Bess.
Ezra looked at Jennie angrily.She looked behind her on either side as if she thought the glare was intended for someone else.
Ezra walked slowly to her, Vin, not liking the look on Ezraís face stepped in front of Jennie."Whatís goiní on Ezra?" Vin asked in a deep warning voice to Ezra.
"A question for Miss Jennie, as I believe what just transpired had something to with her," Ezra said looking Vin dead in the eye.
Chris not liking where this was going moved so he was standing between his two men.He wasnít needed to intervene, as Jennie spoke up.
"Vin, itís alright.Ezra is right," Jennie said from behind him.
Vin turned his back to Ezra and looked at Jennie, waiting for more, as was everyone else that was present.
"I told you I had done some things in my past that werenít exactly on the level," Jennie said not able to look Vin in the face.
"Cons!" Ezra heatedly interjected.
Vin ignored Ezra and waited for her to continue.
"One of these happened not too long before we arrived here."
"What did you do?" Chris asked, the anger seething into his voice.
Jennie played with her fingers as she spoke."I stole money from some ole coot.It wasnít his in the first place!" she stated, now looking up and focusing on Vin."He and his men took it from a stagecoach carrying the railroad's pay."
"You waited until he did the dirty work and then you took it out from under his nose," Chris stated.
Jennie shook her head, yes."Bess told me they would come lookiní for it, but I didnít think with it being from a stage robbery that they would risk cominí for it.I thought Bess was just worryin'," Jennie trailed off as the realization of what her actions may have cost her only sister.
"Was Bess a part in this robbery?" Chris asked, looking towards Ezra, who appeared as if he were ready to tear Larabee's head off for even asking the question.
"No!" Jennie said quickly."Bess hated the things I did.She..." She choked on her words."Bess just wanted to settle down somewhere, but I made that almost impossible."
Ezra was not able to listen to anymore and moved down the porch to find a chair to sit in while waiting on word about Bess.There were watchful eyes on the gambler as Nathan had instructed.
Several hours later the door to Nathanís clinic opened and he appeared, bypassing Jennie and going straight for Ezra, who stood with help from Buck.
"She's lost a lot of blood, but I was able to get the bullet out.Weíll know more in a day or so whether infection will set in," Nathan said sadly to Ezra.
Ezra rubbed his hand along his jaw line and neck nervously."May I see her?"
"Yes, and then you should get some rest, Ezra." Nathan answered.
"Thank you for your concern, Mista Jackson, but I need to be with Bess."
Jennie watched as Ezra entered the clinic and started to follow, but Vin grabbed her upper arm."Let them have their time, Jennie."
Jennie looked into the now cool eyes of Vin Tanner and turned away from him, as the long overdue tears for her sister made their appearance on her face.
When Ezra saw the pale form lying in the bed, his legs almost went limp on him.Josiah saw Ezraís state and silently left his seat in the corner and went to his friend to add the support Ezra needed to make it to Bessís side.
Ezra took her tiny hand in his and he brushed it caressingly with his thumb.He then laid his head on the bed beside her and let the tears come.Sobs wracked threw his body.
Josiah gave Ezra his space, but eventually went over and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder to remind Ezra he wasnít alone.
"Why Josiah?Why now?We have just found one another," Ezra said with his face now buried in his hands.
"I canít answer that Ezra; I donít understand his plans... I just know there are reasons behind them," Josiah said quietly.
"Reasons.What possible reason could there be for taking someone like Bess?Sheís all thatís good Josiah.She deserved so much better then to die saving me... so much more."
"Sheís still with us Ezra.Donít doubt her strength."
Ezra looked down at Bessí face and exhaled, not sure what he was going to do if she didnít pull through.
Jennie paced the porch outside of Nathan's clinic.Vin had tried to tell her several times to get some sleep, but Jennie wouldn't leave, not until she saw her sister and apologized.Apologized for the endless travel and dangerous situations Jennie had put them in over the years.
Jennie didn't hear the door open behind her or know anyone was standing there until Nathan said her name.Jennie whirled around, hope showing on her face.
Nathan gave Jennie a small smile and spoke."Bess hasn't shown any sign of infection yet, Miss Jennie."
"SoÖ she's going to be fine?" Jennie pleaded.
"Still too early to say for sure, Ma'am," Nathan answered.
"Can I see her?" Jennie asked quietly.
Nathan thought on Ezra's insistence that Jennie not be allowed in, but it had been almost two days now and Nathan felt Bess's only family had a right to see her.Nathan moved from the doorway and nodded his head."Don't stay too long."
Jennie smiled meekly and then slowly made her way into the room and to the end of the bed that held her sister.One look at Bess's pale face and Jennie's eyes filled with tears.
"I'mÖ soÖ sorry," Jennie whimpered into the room."It should be me in that bed, Bess.Not youÖ never you."
Jennie moved around to the side of the bed and sat in the chair that had been vacated by Ezra.The gambler was now seated in a chair, propped on its back legs in the corner of Nathan's room and it appeared that he was sleeping.Jennie took one last look at him and then looked back at her sister.
Jennie reached her shaking hand out and brushed a strand of hair off Bess' face."I understand why God wants you with him in heaven, but it's just not your time yet.You just found a man that loves you; I saw it in Ezra's eyes.He's the one Bess.The one that's going to give you everything you've longed for that I selfishly kept from you."
Jennie realized at that moment what she needed to do; what she owed her sister.It meant leaving Vin and breaking his heart to save her sister's, but it was time that Jennie did something for her little sister.Bess had stood by her side even when Jennie knew she didn't deserve it.
Jennie leaned forward and placed a kiss on Bess' forehead and then spoke her last good-bye to her sister."I never forgot themÖ Mama and Daddy.It was just easier to not think on them and after awhile I forgot the good they so loving instilled in us.I'm not cut out to stay in one place and I know the things I do are wrong, but I can't help myselfÖ so, I'm leaving you now, but I know you'll be alright."Jennie smiled and looked through her tears at Ezra, who she wasn't surprised to see watching the scene intently.
At their first meeting, Jennie saw herself in Ezra.Con artists out only for the win and themselves, but Jennie now knew she was wrong.Ezra had something Jennie lost along time ago, a conscience.
"I love you Bess."Jennie smiled slightly and then stood making for the door.
"Take care of yourself, Miss Martin," Ezra said from his corner of the room.
Jennie turned and smiled."I always do."And with that, she was gone from the room.
Jennie allowed herself a few hours of sleep before she hit the trail.Not wanting to take too much time for fear that if she didn't go now alone, she would loose the nerve and wait on her sister.She was tightening her cinch when she felt him enter the livery.
Vin watched as Jennie prepared her horse and waited until she was done before he spoke.
"Where ya headin'?"
Jeannie answered without looking at Vin."Thought San FranciscoÖ see the ocean."
"Will you be back this way?" he asked, but knew the answer.
Jennie looked at the ground and then turned to him with tears in her eyes."No."
Vin stepped closer and cupped her face in his hands and lowered his lips to hers.Their lips said the good-byes for them.
When the couple parted Jennie looked into Vin's eyes."Don't tell Bess where I'm headed; she's bullheaded enough to follow."
Vin nodded his head in promise.
After helping Jennie onto her horse, Vin followed her out of the livery and watched her ride away, understanding why she was leaving.She loved him, but never enough to settle down.He also knew she'd never be back, or probably ever make it to San Francisco. Whoever sent the men that shot Bess would make sure of that.
Three weeks later found Bess sitting on her bed in the hotel, looking at her sister's empty bed.Ezra and Vin had explained Jennie's reasons for leaving and Bess tried to wrap her mind around the fact that her sister was out there alone.Bess had always been there to step in when Jennie's antics got out of hand; Bess had saved her sister's life numerous times.
Bess lay back on her bed and closed her eyes, going back to that cottage in the woods with her family.
"Follow your heart always my children and be bold as love," her mother had told she and Jennie.
Bess opened her eyes and smiled through her tears at the memory when a knock came to her door.Bess sat up, grabbing at the pain that shot through her side and then stood carefully making for the door.
"I thought still being sore and all you may need some help dressing," Mrs. Potter said breezing past Bess and into the room.
Bess closed the door and turned to the woman with a smile. "Yes, thank you."
Mrs. Potter unwrapped the brown package in her hand and pulled out a dress.She held it up for Bess to examine."It took some scrubbing to get the blood out and some tricky mending, but I was able to make it look almost as good as new."
Bess brought her hand to her mouth in shock.It was her periwinkle dress Ezra had bought her for the dance.Mrs. Potter had worked a miracle and Bess didn't know what to say.Gloria put the dress on the bed and took the young woman into her arms and allowed Bess to release the last bit of her anguish over loosing her sister.
When Bess pulled away from Mrs. Potter she was smiling ear to ear."You are too kind, Gloria."
"Hush now."Mrs. Potter brushed the comment away."We need to get you dressed.We don't want to keep that handsome man of yours waiting."
Bess' smile grew just at the thought of being near Ezra.He had been by her side for weeks as she recovered and they spoke often on the future and what it held for them.Bess was certain he was the one.It had been Ezra's love, Ezra's voice that had brought her back from the dark place in which she had almost surrendered.She wondered if he knew that she needed him far more then he claimed he needed her.
An hour later, Bess was standing before the Grain Exchange on the arm of Vin, who had been asked by Ezra to escort her there.Bess looked at the man she had pined over briefly and smiled.She still found him handsome and enchanting, but she now understood why she had been drawn to him.He reminded her so much of her young father that she had only been given a few precious years with.
"I'm sorry Jennie hurt you," Bess said with remorse.
Vin looked down into Bess' eyes to find warmth there and he returned the smile."It's how it was meant to be for us."
They stood in an understanding silence for a moment and then Vin's smile found its way to his face again."Best get you inside."With that, Vin opened the door and escorted Bess inside.
The moment she laid eyes on the extravagant setting before her, Bess realized what Ezra had done and the tears welled up in her eyes.Vin saw her tears and offered her a handkerchief as he stepped back and exited the building.
Ezra came up behind Bess and placed his hands on her shoulders.He leaned in and placed a kiss on the back of her head.Bess wheeled around and jumped into him arms, holding on with all of her might.
"You are beyond amazing, Ezra," she said into his chest.
Ezra wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes at the emotions that washed over him, thankful that he hadn't lost her."You, my love are the amazing one."
Bess pulled back as music started playing behind her and looked up at Ezra, who was grinning from ear to ear."You owe me a dance, Miss Martin."
Bess remembered back to when she and her father would dance in the fields and she stepped back from Ezra with a curtsy.She held her hand out to him and he took it gently with his and they danced.
Bess danced for everyone that nightÖ for Jennie who had set her free and her parents that had been the examples of love and family for Bess.They showed her that nothing was more powerful or bold than putting yourself out there and loving with your whole heart and soul.And Ezra... the man that had given her the strength to look inside herself and see all that she could be; the man whose love had saved her.