The Judge's Daughter
"One hour until we reach Four Corners." Lorena Travis heard the stagecoach driver yell.
She excitedly looked down at her nephew Billy. He had fallen asleep a ways back and she thought it best to let him sleep as long as he chose, knowing full well he'd need the energy for the arrival in Four Corners.
He'd been so excited for the trip especially when he found out his aunt Rena was going to be escorting him. Rena, which she was more commonly called by family and friends had become very close with her nephew after he came to stay with her and her parents, Orin and Evie Travis. He was an amazing boy and he reminded her so much of her brother Stephen.
After Billy's return from his first trip to Four Corners he talked of nothing else, but the seven men her father had hired to look after the town in his absence. Rena was excited to meet these seven men. Not only because she wanted to meet the objects of Billy's endless tales, but because she wanted to thank them for helping solve her brothers murder.
Lorena was suddenly pulled out of her thoughts by gunfire. It sounded as if it was coming from all directions and was quickly getting closer. Then she heard the driver yell for them to get down. There were two older men traveling with them and one of them pulled a gun. He told her to get Billy down and he would protect them as long as he could. Billy was fully awake by this point and he let Rena grab him and she pushed him as far as he would go under the passenger seat.
What happened next only took minutes, but it seemed like hours. The stage came to a quick stop and the door was thrust open. The passenger with the gun didn't even get a shot off before a man with a bandana wrapped around his face opened fire and shot him twice in the chest. Rena just shielded Billy from view and whispered for him to keep his eyes closed and that no matter what happened not to come out from under the seat. He quickly shook his head in understanding.
The second passenger begged and pleaded for his life offering over all his money and his belonging on the top of the stage. The robber just laughed a cold spin-chilling laugh and shot the second passenger.
By this point Rena was doing everything humanly possible to keep it together. She refused to show this evil man any fear and she had to be strong for Billy.
"Well, well looky what we have here," the executioner yelled to the other men outside of the coach.
He reached in and grabbed Rena by the hair and pulled her out of the stage. As much as it hurt she refused to scream. Men like this get off on fear, especially when it comes from a woman. She could still see Billy hunched down on the floor under the seat and she prayed they didn't find him.
"Well aren't you a pretty little flower," the man said while using his gun to run over her body.
"Looks like were gonna' have us some fun tonight Jake," another voice came from behind them.
"Shut-up you moron. How many times we gonna' have to tell ya not to use our names?" the man holding her which she now new as Jake yelled.
"Sorry, boss," came the winy voice.
The man named Jake quickly swung her around and pulled her into him. If not for the bandana he was wearing his breath would have been on her when he spoke.
"Aint you a classy little thing. Probably pretty high on yourself. Don't worry we'll break ya in all gentle like…the first time anyway. Aint that right boys?" And then he laughed that awful laugh that Rena knew she'd never forget.
Next Rena saw a third man going to the stage most likely to see what he could get off the two dead passengers and she knew she needed to do something or they would find Billy.
She pulled her leg up and kneed Jake in the groin; he let her go and dropped his gun in the process. She quickly reached down to pick it up, but she was too late. Rena was grabbed from behind and Jake even in pain stumbled over to her and her captor.
"You bitch!" he hissed, then pulled back his arm and punched her.
When Rena woke it was dark and she could make out a fire about fifteen to twenty feet away. Her head pounded and she was freezing. It took her a few minutes to register that her shoes and stockings were gone along with most of her clothing. She was left wearing only her corset and a petticoat. She frantically tried to remember how she got here and where here was.
Where was Billy? She hysterically wondered.
She quickly sat up and that was a big mistake. The sudden movement made her feel nauseous and her head started to spin. She stayed still for a minute and when she opened her eyes she was able to focus. She could make out three figures by the fire, but weren't their four of them and where was Billy? Just then she heard someone walk up behind her.
"Sleeping beauty is finally awake. You shouldn't a hurt Jake like that. You really made him mad," came a winy voice.
She just sat on the ground and tried to make out his face, but it was too dark even with the fire glow.
He bent down and whispered so only she could hear. "Now your gonna' get up and behave yourself and then I won't have to hurt ya. Understand?"
"Where are you taking me?" she asked
"Me and you's gonna have us some fun, alone," he said grabbing her by the arm.
She was about to yell out to get the other men's attention, but realized it wouldn't better the situation any.
He led her far enough away from the fire to where it barely shed any light on them.
"Lay on the ground," he demanded her
As Rena stood there beside him she realized how little the man actually was. And for the first time since the whole ordeal started that afternoon she realized there might be some hope left.
As she was lying down on the ground for the little man she thought now would be a good time to ask about Billy.
"Where is the little boy?"
"What boy?" came the winy voice.
And for some unknown reason she believed he truly didn't now what she was talking about. As she was lowering herself to the ground she felt around and found a fairly large rock. It would have to do.
"Oh nothing. I must have been hallucinating from the hit to the head." And with that she brought the rock up and smashed it against the little man's head.
He went down instantly and she quickly searched on the ground for his gun and once in hand she took off in the opposite direction of the campfire. She wasn't sure how long she ran, but she finally stopped and waited to listen if she could hear anyone coming. It was fairly quiet and she was hoping the other men around the fire had yet to discover her missing.
After a quick break she continued on. To where and what direction she didn't know, but as long as it took her away from the four men it was the right direction for her. Several times over the night her mind wondered to Billy, she hoped and prayed the little man was right and that they never found him. But if so than that meant Billy was all alone. Her only hope was that when the stage didn't get in on time that someone went looking for it. She knew Mary wouldn't rest until she knew where Billy was.
Rena stopped and looked to the sky "Please let Billy be ok," she whispered out loud. And then she continued on.
Rena had stopped somewhere in the night and let herself rest. She felt certain that by now they had realized she was gone, but they had three different directions to choose from and would not risk splitting up. By now with dawn coming the stage would soon be discovered if it hadn't been already and a posse would be soon on their tales. She concealed herself in amongst several large boulders. Her bare feet were killing her and her head still throbbed. Rena wasn't a doctor or even close, but she was sure she had a concussion. Before she knew it she drifted off to sleep.
She wasn't sure how long she slept, but suddenly she was awoken by the soft sound of footsteps on the dry grass and twigs. She quickly grabbed the gun that had fallen from her grip during sleep and carefully stood making sure she didn't break the cover of the large rocks. She slowly peeked around to see an impeccably dressed man in a scarlet jacket. He was walking carefully and taking glimpses as if he were looking for someone. Her, Maybe? She didn't remember him as being one of the men from the stagecoach robbery, but then again she hadn't gotten a good look at any of them. Still, he didn't strike her as a robber or killer. He looked more like a gambler. Either way she decided to play it safe and she started carefully off in the other direction.
She didn't make it very far before she heard a southern draw call out.
"Whomever has taken sanctuary behind the boulders make yourself known."
Rena waited a second and decided it was best to comply, but not without a fight. She whipped out from behind the rocks with the gun raised and she met with the most handsome face she's ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on.
"Now… now miss please put your arsenal away. There is no need for that with me. I assure you," the handsome man drawled as a bit of shock quickly passed over his face and then it was gone.
"You'll have to excuse me sir, but it's been quite an uneasy twenty-four hours and I will not put this gun down for you or anyone," Rena confidently spouted.
"That is quite understandable, but I believe I know of your uneasiness and I am here to help you Miss Travis," he said while holstering his gun.
"How do you know my name?" and as she asked the question it all made sense. The clothes the southern accent. Billy had described in great detail the seven peacekeepers and she believed she knew which one this was.
Before she allowed him to answer she barked out another order.
"Take off your jacket please sir," she said watching him closely.
The man looked at her with an expression that never changed and quickly took off the jacket. When Rena saw the contraption on his right forearm she knew her hunch had been right. She lowered her gun and closed the gap between them. She extended her hand to the handsome gentleman and said.
"Well Mr. Standish it is a pleasure to finally meet to," she said with the first sincere smile crossing her face in almost a day.
It was Ezra's turn to be taken back.
"Miss Travis I am quite relieved to find you alive. Truth be told we were quite worried," he said taking the hand she extended. "I take it Master Billy has spoke of me?" Ezra stated with the most charming smile. That's when Rena remembered Billy.
"Billy! Did you find him? Please tell me that he is well!" she said almost pleadingly.
"Yes, Billy is safe, yet he's quite distressed over your whereabouts. He will be relieved to see you, " Ezra said while trying not to look at the state of Rena's undress.
Ezra took his jacket off and helped Rena put it on. He then made a quick assessment of her injuries and decided by the look of her feet and the distance to his horse the best course of action would be to carry her. Being the gentleman he asked before he picked her up.
Rena didn't put up much of a fight. She was exhausted and didn't think her cut feet would withstand much more.
When they made it to his horse he climbed up first and helped her onto the horse. Knowing how exhausted she was he thought it better to but her across his lap so he could hold onto her incase she fell asleep, which she did with her right arm wrapped around the side of him and her head on his shoulder.
Ezra rode with his damsel to his rendezvous spot where the remaining six peacekeepers would be meeting him, but Ezra and Lorena didn't make it very far before the gunfire ensued. At first Lorena thought she was having a nightmare. But when Ezra shook her and told her to hold on she knew it was real. Ezra kicked his horse into a gallop and tried to out run the two men behind him. Ezra knew he could take them, but he was not willing to put Miss Travis in danger.
Just as they were about to make it to the shelter of some trees Ezra was hit in the back of his right shoulder. He lost the grip he had on the reins and along with loosing control of his horse Lorena almost lost her balance and fell off of his lap. She quickly grabbed the reins and situated herself so she could take control. She felt Ezra wrap his left arm around her waist and he held on as she put his horse back into a gallop. To Ezra's surprise she knew how to handle the animal and was able to weave them in and out of the trees with enough speed that she gave them the distance they needed to outrun their pursuers.
When she was sure they had enough distance between themselves and the outlaws she found shelter and pulled his horse to a stop and quickly jumped down. She then reached up and offered her assistance in helping Ezra get off the horse. He waved her hands away and told her he was not in need of her assistance. As he made his dissent off the horse he lost his balance and fell to the ground. Lorena quickly made her way to his side and realized just how pale he was. She felt his forehead and he was in the beginnings of running a fever. Lorena knew a fever associated with a gunshot wound was not good.
"Ezra! Ezra!" she said trying to keep him conscious.
"Yes Miss Travis. I can hear you. There is no need for shouting," he said not opening
"I'm sorry, but I need to know if you have anything in your saddle bags that I can use to treat your wound," she said taking his jacket off and putting it under his head.
"Um," he mumbled running his tongue over his lower lip.
"Yes, I have several shirts that may be of use. My canteen is full as well," he managed to get out in breaths.
"Ezra stay with me, please. I'm going to get the supplies from your bag, I'll only be gone a moment," she said running her hand over his cheek before she quickly went to collect the supplies.
She tore one of his silk shirts into strips to be used as bandages. She then very gently so not to alarm Ezra removed his shoulder holster, his spring contraption on his forearm and unbuttoned his shirt. Lorena only removed it enough to get to the wound on his shoulder; she then checked and didn't see an exit wound. She knew the bullet was still in him and that it needed to come out soon. Rena didn't know the first thing about removing a bullet, in fact this was her first time seeing a bullet wound. Her only option was to clean it the best she could. She cleaned his wound with the water from his canteen and just as she was about to wrap his shoulder he suddenly reached up and grabbed her hand. It startled her because she thought he was unconscious.
"In my jacket… there is a flask," he said then letting go of her hand.
She carefully lifted his head and pulled the jacket out from under him. She gently laid his head on her lap and felt in his jacket for the flask. Once in hand she careful poured some of the contents over his wound and then proceeded to wrap it as best she could. Exhausted she leaned back against a tree and ran her hands through Ezra's hair. Lorena attempted to fight sleep, but it quickly consumed her.
"Where the hell is Ezra?" Chris spouted
"It's been an hour. He shoulda' been here by now," Vin said worried.
"Chris I think we should check it out. Somethin don't feel right," Buck said with the same worry.
Chris looked at each of his friends and saw the same worry in each of their faces.
"JD! You and Josiah head back to town. Judge Travis should be arriving soon and I want you there to give him the update on our search for his daughter. Vin, Buck, and I will track Ezra down," Chris said heading to his horse.
"Chris, what should we tell him about Miss Travis?" JD asked hesitantly.
"The truth. We haven't found her and it doesn't look good." With that Chris mounted his horse and waited for Buck and Vin to do the same.
Josiah and JD's first stop once in town was The Clarion. As they made their way into the office they could feel the tension in the air. The Judge, Mary, and Nathan were in a deep conversation. As soon as they looked up at the two men that joined them they stopped talking and Judge Travis took quick steps to meet them.
"Lorena? Please tell me you've found her," Judge Travis said hopefully.
Both men shook their heads.
"Any sign of her?" came Mary's voice from behind her father in law.
"No Mrs.Travis, but Chris, Vin, and Buck are still looking," Came JD's voice.
"Well it's good you men have returned, because we have some news regarding Lorena's kidnappers," the judge said gesturing for them to join him at Mary's desk.
Mary handed Josiah the parchment, which he read with a very serious look taking over his face. Once finished he passed it to JD so he could read it as well. Once JD looked up with questioning eyes Josiah asked what they both were wondering.
"These men were after Lorena; robbing the stage was just a cover," he said meeting each person's eyes in the room.
"It seems that way Josiah," Nathan contributed.
"As you read in the letter it seems Lorena was abducted to force my hand in giving over the evidence I have on Governor Hopewell's involvement in the attempt on Mary's life as well as other corrupt operations he's involved in," Judge Travis said.
"I knew it!" JD said
"Yes, well unfortunately it's all pointless. I plan to give them what they want," the Judge said with a sigh looking down not able to make eye contact with Mary.
"Judge Travis I don't think you should make a move until we speak with Chris," Josiah said.
"I agree with Josiah. There is no guarantee they will return your daughter alive once they have what they're after," Nathan added.
"I understand gentlemen and I appreciate everything you've done to locate Lorena, but I am not willing to risk her life. I can't loose another child," Orin said taking Mary's hand for support.
"Let's give Chris and the others until morning. If they haven't returned than we will make a decision," Mary said.
They all nodded in agreement and with the exception of Mary made their way to the saloon to wait on the others.
When Lorena woke the sun was setting and she knew she'd been asleep for over an hour; something she had hoped to avoid. She looked down at Ezra who was starting to shake from the fever. She carefully moved his shirt and could see it would soon be time to change his bandage. She took one of the strips of cloth and wiped the sweat from his face. She was about to try and wake him to take some water when she heard horses coming in their direction. She quickly, but carefully lifted Ezra's head and laid it back onto his jacket. She removed his gun from his shoulder holster she'd removed earlier and took cover a few feet from where Ezra was laying. She waited for a few minutes and it sounded like there were at least two riders.
After what seemed like forever she finally heard voices. Three, she heard three separate voices. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but she knew if they were here then they were looking for her and Ezra.
As they finally came close enough one of the men yelled out Ezra's name.
"Buck, Vin over here. It's Ezra!" Chris yelled.
"Looks like someone's tended to him," Vin added.
"Yeah, but who?" Buck said pulling his gun, scanning the area.
"Vin, get his horse we need to get him to Nathan," Chris ordered.
Once Lorena heard the names used and the concern for Ezra she realized it was safe to show herself. She stood and made her way towards the men tending to Ezra.
Buck noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and quickly stood from his kneeling position beside Ezra. Once he realized it was a woman, and a barely clothed woman at that he lowered his gun.
"Miss Travis?" he questioned
When Chris heard the name Buck used he quickly looked up.
"Yes. I'm Lorena Travis and I take it you are friends of Ezra's," she stated looking at Ezra with concern.
"Lorena Travis?" Chris asked completely shocked.
"Yes. Ezra found me and we were on our way to meet with you, until two of the men from the stagecoach robbery came up on us and shot Ezra. I did the best I could to stop the bleeding, but the bullet is still in him," she said kneeling down beside him.
"You did a fine job of tending to him. Thank You," Chris said making eye contact.
"Best get goin'," Vin said coming up behind Chris.
"Miss Travis can you ride?" Buck asked.
"Good, we'll put Ezra on Vin's horse with him," Chris said.
After they were all on their horses and settled they quickly made their way back to town.
Once in view of town Buck road quickly ahead so he could find Nathan and have him ready for Ezra.
As the rest of the group road into town they made their way directly to Nathan's. Word spread quickly about Ezra's injury and that Lorena was with them. Judge Travis, Mary, and the rest of the seven were waiting for them when they road up.
Ezra was quickly carried to Nathan's clinic and after a quick reunion with her father and Mary, Lorena attempted to follow Josiah and Buck; who had carried Ezra up the steps to Nathan's. Chris stopped her and told her to go clean herself up and they would come and get her when they knew the status of his injury. What finally got Lorena to comply with Chris's request was when Mary told her how much Billy needed to see her and know she was alright. Torn, Lorena gave in and went with Mary and her father.
One look at Billy's excited face made Rena realize that everything she'd been through in the last twenty-four hours was worth it. Her brother's son was worth any sacrifice on her part. They talked for a few minutes and she kissed him goodnight and promised they would visit more tomorrow.
After a long bath and tending to her extremely sore feet, she put on a dress that Mary loaned her and met her father and Mary in the office of The Clarion. They needed to talk and wanted to make sure Billy didn't over hear.
Lorena told her story starting from the first gunshot she heard up until Chris, Vin, and Buck found her. Mary and her father were in complete awe that she had made it as far as she had without serious injury or worse.
After she finished her story Lorena inquired about the stagecoach robbers. Mary and Orin looked at one another and finally Orin decided after everything she'd been through she deserved to know the truth.
Lorena could hardly believe what they were telling her. It would explain why they hadn't killed her, even after she knew the name of the man who appeared to be the ringleader. Rena made her father promise that no matter what happened not to ever give over the evidence he had on Governor Hopewell. It was obvious he was a dangerous man and needed to be put in jail or else there would be more victims.
Lorena attempted sleep and even with the exhaustion she couldn't get Ezra out of her mind. She knew Chris would keep his promise and let her know his condition, but she just couldn't sleep until she saw him.
She climbed out of bed and quietly made her way down the steps and out the back door of The Clarion. She didn't make it very far before someone said her name.
"Miss Travis it's not safe for you to be out here alone," came the voice
As she turned around she noticed Vin sitting on the boardwalk beside The Clarion hidden in the shadows. Chris wanted someone posted outside until the men who kidnapped Rena were caught.
"Vin! You just took five years off my life," she said putting her hand over her chest.
"May I ask what has you up and about this time of night?" he asked coming closer to her.
"I was going to see how Ezra is doing," she said.
"Chris will let you know soon as he knows somthin'," he said taking her arm attempting to turn her back in the direction of The Clarion.
"Please Vin. I need to see him. I won't be able to sleep until I do," she said firmly planting her feet.
"Alright," he said with a sigh knowing he wasn't going to win.
Vin quickly escorted Lorena to the door of Nathan's not wanting her out in the open any longer than possible. He knocked on the door and Josiah quickly answered.
"Vin, Miss Travis?' he said looking at them questioningly.
"Josiah, Miss Travis would like to see Ezra," Vin said.
Josiah looked in at Nathan and he gave Josiah the nod that it was ok.
"I'm going to head back over to The Clarion," Vin said.
"We'll make sure Miss Travis gets home after her visit," Josiah said standing back so Lorena could enter.
Vin tipped his hat and made his way back to the stairs.
Lorena just stood at the end of the bed and looked at Ezra. He was so pale. Finally, after a few moments Josiah came up behind her and tenderly put his hand on her shoulder.
"Would you like to sit beside him Miss Travis?" he asked
Lorena looked into Josiah's eyes and just shook her head yes. Nathan stood up from the chair to let her have a seat.
"He lost a lot of blood, but I was able to retrieve the bullet. With rest he should be just fine Miss Travis," Nathan said as she made her way to the chair.
"Thank you Mr. Jackson," She said with a huge smile as a wave of relief washed over her.
She sat down and took his hand gently in hers. The men told her they would be outside until she was through with her visit. The only sign she gave that she heard them was the nod of her head. Her eyes never left Ezra.
When Lorena didn't come out to get Nathan and Josiah they decided they better check on her. When they opened the door they found her asleep with her head on the bed beside Ezra and his hand still in hers. Neither man could bring themselves to wake her and they chose to keep their vigil outside the door to Nathan's so they would be close enough to make regular check ups on the gambler.
A few days had passed with no sign of the men that kidnapped Lorena. The men kept regular patrols and never left any member of the Travis family alone. It wasn't hard for them to watch over Lorena because the only time she left Ezra's side was to visit with Billy.
Finally, on the third day after Lorena had been found a Marshall showed up at the jail asking to have a few moments with Miss Travis. He had some questions for her regarding the stagecoach incident.
As JD escorted Lorena into the jail she only saw the back of the Marshall, but as he let out a laugh in response to something Buck said she suddenly grabbed JD's arm because she thought she was going to faint. The laugh sent chills up her spine. It was the laugh that caused the same reaction four days ago.
JD looked at her sudden response and then to the Marshall.
"Miss Travis are you ok?" he asked while putting his arm around her seeing how quickly she became pale.
The only response she gave was to shake her head violently.
Hearing JD, Buck and the Marshall turned to see what was going on.
"Miss Travis, you don't look so good. JD, go get Nathan," Buck said taking over the hold JD had on the young woman.
Buck steered her over to the chair behind the desk putting his back to the Marshall. Buck realized quickly what a bad move that was. Once he had Lorena seated in the chair he felt a gun in his back.
"How unfortunate Mr. Wilmington. I was beginning to like ya'," said the Marshall.
Buck finally understood the reaction Lorena was having to the presence of the Marshall.
"Well now. Let me guess, you're not really a Marshall?" Buck said putting his hands in the air.
"Your wrong Mr. Wilmington. I am a Marshall; a very highly paid Marshall," he laughed.
Lorena thought she was going to scream if she had to listen to that sickening laugh one more time.
"Get in the cell…NOW!" the Marshall yelled.
Buck looked at Lorena and hesitantly made his way into the cell.
"You know your not gonna' get outta town alive," Buck said.
"There's where you're wrong. I'll have insurance with me." And with that he grabbed Lorena by the arm and pulled her out of the seat.
"No!" Buck yelled.
"So we meet again my sweet. You left before we could have our fun," he said running his tongue up her cheek.
She tried to pull away, but it just caused him to get a tighter grip on her arm. Just then the door to the jail flew open as Nathan and JD quickly stepped in. The Marshall quickly put Lorena in front of him.
"Let the girl go!" JD said while putting his hands in the air.
"I don't think so kid. She 's coming with me. Aren't ya' darlin'?" he said while placing a kiss on the back of her head.
Again she tried to pull away and he put his arm around the front of her chest and pulled her into him.
Just then the side door to the jail burst open and Chris came in low. JD and Nathan took this moment to pull their guns. Lorena grabbed the hand he had around her and bit down hard drawing blood. He let go and she quickly ran to JD and Nathan. The Marshall took his gun off Chris and aimed at Lorena, but he never had time to get off a shot. Chris shot him in the chest twice. He was dead almost instantly.
The men gathered around Lorena to make sure she was ok; which she was. A bit shook up, but fine. She identified the Marshall as 'Jake' the leader of the holdup of the stagecoach and the man that shot the driver and the two passengers. The men were sorry he wasn't taken alive. He would have added more testimony to the case Judge Travis had on Governor Hopewell.
Two days had gone by since the arrival of the Marshall and it found Lorena by Ezra's side once again.
He had been awake a few times over those couple of days and he was glad to see she was fine. They talked as long as his strength allowed him and when he was too weak to speak she read to him.
Finally, one day he broached the question he had been afraid to ask, but needed to know before he got to close to the young woman.
"So tell me Lorena when will you and Master Billy be leaving our little burg?' he asked not making eye contact, but looking at his hands.
"Well, funny you brought that up Ezra. I had planned to share that information with you today," she said with a smile on her face.
He finally made eye contact with her as if to will her to continue.
"It seems my father doesn't feel it's safe for Billy and I to travel home until the outcome of the case against Governor Hopewell is heard. Which it just so happens will be months from now," she said
"So you're not leaving?" he asked. For once not even attempting to hide his excitement.
"No, Ezra. I'm not leaving you," Lorena said while taking his hand in hers.