It was no secret that Maude Standish loved money. It was no secret to the Seven that Josiah Sanchez loved Maude Standish.
What was a secret was how she felt about him.
The others could feel it in the air. They could feel the crackling tension around their oldest and strongest member.
Something was up – but they couldn’t figure out what.
Something was going to give – and each of them hoped they wouldn’t be the one in Josiah’s path when he finally blew.
On a September morning, blow Josiah finally did. He stormed from the church to the telegraph office. He was in there almost an hour before he stormed to the livery and out of town as fast as Prophet could gallop.
Chris raised an eyebrow, watching this odd tableau. Any idea where he’s goin’? he fired to his mental linkbrothers.
That was the way to Eagle Bend, Vin sent back from above as Chris saw a green jacket vanish into the telegraph office. Ez is goin’ to check out what Taylor--
Tyler! Ezra interrupted.
What-the-hell-ever, Vin shot back, has to do with it.
Chris stood up. Hurry, Ez. I don’t like mysteries.
Especially when it concerns one of us, the others sent in unison.
Chris blinked and frowned at Buck, who was just walking up. “I’ve become predictable,” he sighed.
“Only t’me and the brothers,” Buck grinned. “Cause we know ya so well.” The smile fled. “So what’s goin’ on?”
“Not sure y—“ Chris stiffened slightly and his hazel eyes clicked to emerald as Ezra relayed information.
Josiah sent a wire to Eagle Bend. My mother is there. Mister Tyler says he was agitated about my mother’s ‘avarice’ – that was his word. Josiah ordered Tyler to send ‘I’m coming to get her’, and then he tore out.
No five dollar words. Ezra was rattled.
Chris relayed it to Buck, who nodded. “I’ll get the others.”
As he walked out, a grim-faced Ezra exited the telegraph office. It gets better, he sent.
Do tell? Vin shot back.
One of my mother’s prospective ‘marks’ is in Eagle Bend. I assume she’s gone there with fleecing on her mind. Unfortunately, this gentleman has recently been convicted in absentia of murder back east – a fact my mother may be unaware of.
Shit, the others responded in unison.
Eagle Bend, the next evening.
JD came out of the saloon, sighing. “Nobody seems to know anything!”
“On the contrary,” Ezra smiled as he exited behind JD. “I gleaned much.”
JD gaped at him. “But all you did was play cards and gossip!”
Buck chuckled. “Most times y’learn more from a gossip than a direct question, kid!”
Ezra’s face went grim. “The ‘mark’ – Tobias Wellington – has taken Mother to his cabin. Josiah frightened the information of its location out of Wellington’s accomplice. Cabin’s five miles east of here.”
Chris nodded. “Let’s ride!”
The six became seven as they surrounded the cabin. Josiah had been tracking the pair. “She’s in there against her will,” he informed the others.
“Are you sure of this?” Ezra asked. “This is my mother we’re talking about….”
“He’d slapped her,” Josiah ground out. “He called her all sorts of names and told her she’d have to earn her money like….” He ground his jaw before he finished, “like any other common—“
“Shit,” Ezra growled before he could finish the sentiment.
“Follow our lead,” Chris ground out. Moving as one, Chris, Vin and Ezra approached the cabin. The split up and on a mental countdown, the Triad ---
One of Chris’s spurred boots made quick work of the door. Mare’s leg and Remington butts shattered windows inward simultaneously, and then Vin and Ezra somersaulted inside.
It was immediately obvious they had not been at the cabin long. The print of his hand still stood out on her face and he had made virtually no headway in disrobing her. She was struggling against the knots, screaming obscenities at him even as he turned toward the noise of breaking glass.
Ezra flew into Wellington, knocking him away from Maude. Vin went to untie her, while Chris motioned for the others to enter.
A split-second later, Wellington was throwing broken bits of chair down and Ezra was completing an ungainly dive to the floor.
Nathan and Josiah charged in – Nathan to the downed man, Josiah to Maude. “Ezra, you okay?” Nathan asked as he helped Ezra sit up.
“Let me at him, Pop!” Ezra slurred. “I can take him!”
Despite the situation, Nathan had to chuckle at that. “Concussed,” he told the others after he saw Ezra’s uneven pupils.
“We know,” Chris and Vin groaned even as they kept their guns trained on Wellington.
Josiah led a furious Maude out of the cabin before she could rip Wellington’s eyes out of his head.
Nathan moved to get Ezra out, when Ezra stopped him. He looked at Vin and painfully shook his head.
Vin nodded, his jaw setting stubbornly.
“You ass,” Ezra ground out aloud. “Go ahead.”
Vin grinned and nodded. Ezra suddenly let out a groan and melted into Nathan’s supportive embrace. “Damn….these….hurt….”
“Yeah, they sure do,” Nathan winced sympathetically as he led Ezra out.
Only then did Vin raise emerald eyes and grin at Wellington. The mare’s leg rose higher. “I strongly suggest,” he drawled in an altered voice, “that you refrain from movin’. Otherwise, you could find yourself breathin’ through a new orifice.”
“Huh?” Wellington gasped at the sophisticated words from the rough-dressed man.
“That was his mother,” Chris informed him. “And you are gonna hang for it. How many other women have you hurt an’ killed?”
As Wellington wet himself and blabbed his killing spree, Buck left the cabin and had to shake for a moment.
Merging was one thing – but when Ezra and Vin switched places like that---
That was damned eerie!
“Are you all right, Maudie?” Josiah asked, holding her and looking her over.
“Yes, thanks to you gentlemen,” she smiled her gratitude as he covered her with hi jacket to hide her dress’s ripped shoulders.
“Good.” Then Josiah hugged her close. “Maudie, when are you going to give this up? You were almost killed pursuing mammon!”
“I was only doing what I do,” she protested. “I have come to….care….about you as well, Mister Sanchez, but I simply am too old and set in my ways.”
His eyes burned with sincerity. “Then give me a chance to help you! Stay with me a portion of the year – let me care for you and show you true love instead of avarice!”
Her head tilted. “And precisely how large a portion of the year are we discussing?”
Josiah thought for a moment. “Have you had anything to eat since lunch?”
Puzzled by the shift in subjects, she was startled into admitting, “He plied me with six shots of whiskey to try to make me docile.”
“Then stay with me six months. September to March.” She opened her mouth and he coaxed, “You’d be with Ezra more….”
“Well….” she wavered.
The Triad sat on the cabin steps and watched this as Buck and JD rode Wellington back to Four Corners for trial and Nathan finished with the tea for Ezra’s aching head. You think she’ll stay? Vin asked.
Once he played the ‘Ezra’ card, it became a certainty, Ezra grimaced.
You think he’ll be able to tame her? Chris asked.
Ezra gently shook his ringing head. My mother will never become what Josiah wants her to become. Slowly, he broke into a gilded grin. But it is certainly going to be interesting to watch him try!
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