It was late summer in Four Corners – the time when women’s fancy turns to—
“It’s time for the Faire!” Mary Travis announced as she handed out flyers. “Pies, games, pony rides—“
Chris frowned, arrested by her words as he walked past. He turned slightly. “Excuse me?”
Mary frowned slightly, then laughed. “Not your horse Pony, Mister Larabee. Small horses – for the children!”
Despite himself, Chris smiled at her enthusiasm and his mishearing. “Any of my horde take a paper yet?”
“As a matter of fact, Mrs. Tanner took one.” Pride touched Mary’s voice. “And she read the headlines all by herself.”
Chris nodded and headed into the Saloon. Sure enough, Vivian Tanner was sitting at a table, engrossed in the paper. She was also devouring Inez’s specialty eggs and tortillas, her hand curved between bites over her slightly rounded abdomen. Chris headed her way.
Without turning at all, she sent, Mornin’, Cowboy.
Chris shook his head and chuckled as he sat down. “That’s scary, how you know what’s around you when you seem absorbed.”
“Pot, meet kettle,” she said around a mouthful of egg.
“Where’s Ezra?” No sooner had the words left his mouth than the man in question entered – still slightly dusty and in the plain clothing he wore on patrol. As Ezra walked to the bar to order breakfast, Chris grinned. “Who went on patrol with him?”
“JD.” Vivian tilted her face up as Ezra came to the table, and her husband kissed her lips gently as he sat down. “Good patrol?”
“When you go riding later,” Ezra said with a smile as Inez delivered his drink, “See if you can locate my ears. I do believe JD talked them completely off.”
“He’ll do that,” Chris chuckled.
How are you? Ezra sent his wife as Inez delivered his huevos rancheros.
Better now that I ain’t pukin’ m’guts up every few hours, she informed him. Oh, Maudie sent word she’ll be in New Orleans for a few days – said she’d send us some baby things on the next train. When he sent her a wave of loving affirmation, she switched to speech. “And I got the Clarion today.”
An eyebrow raised as he finished a chewing a hearty forkful. After he swallowed, he asked, “Why? We’re aware of all that happens in town without—“
“Faire’s next weekend.” She smiled. “Figured we could get involved with a few things.”
Ezra grinned mischievously at his wife. “Are you planning on entering your peach pie?”
She threw her napkin at him as they laughed. “You mean my ‘pathetic attempts’ at peach pie! No way – not without a lot of help from Nettie!”
Chris appropriated the paper while they teased each other and looked over the information about the Second Annual Four Corners Faire. Hey, Ez?
Ezra, mouth full once more, looked up at him questioningly.
You gonna tell your ma about this?
His reply was a closed-mouth grin. I should. She’d begin laying odds by wire!
“Aw, hell!” Vivian growled as she slammed the sugaring spoon onto the table with so much force it bounced. “I ain’t never gonna get this!”
“Yes, you are,” Nettie Welles said forcefully. “Now c’mon, we’ll do it again—“
Vivian shook her head. “Nettie, I ain’t no cook! I’s a tracker and shooter – and that’s all I’m ever gonna be! I ain’t never gonna be able t’learn this!”
Nettie had heard enough. She ripped the half-off apron from Vivian’s grasp and slammed it onto the table. She then forcibly turned the taller woman to face her and cupped Vivian’s chin. “Now, you listen to me!” she snarled. “I ain’t gonna live forever, and you need to learn how to care for a family! Your family! It ain’t just you and Ezra no more!”
Vivian frowned, though her eyes were getting wider and wider. “This…ain’t….just about the Faire, then?”
Nettie released her and smiled. “No. It starts with peach pie, but it leads to more. You need to learn to cook, Vivian – and it isn’t going to be hard.”
Vivian shook her head. “You sound so sure—“
“I am sure,” Nettie said with a smile. “There’s no magic to cookin’ – that’s the male part’a your brain talkin’.”
"Well, if it’s not magic, then how come I’m so bad at it?”
Nettie’s smile grew. “Because you got somethin’ standin’ in your way.”
“You.” Her hand stroked Vivian’s forearm. “Relax.”
She took a deep breath. “So if it isn’t magic…”
“It’s just readin’ and rememberin’ and followin’ directions. You learned how to read, you can learn to do this.”
Now Vivian laughed. “I had help with that, Nettie.”
“I know.” She held out the apron. “And you’ve got help with this.”
Vivian studied her face closely, then slowly smiled as she took the apron and tied it on. “Pass me the knife.”
After a few more minutes of cutting and sugaring peaches, Nettie asked, “So when’re you tellin’ Ezra what you signed him up for?”
“I’m not.” Vivian grinned at Nettie. “And nobody else is, either. We’re keepin’ it secret till the day of the Faire.”
Nettie shook her head. “That slick one? Especially with that link you three have?”
“Nettie.” Vivian’s smile was positively wicked. “Trust me.”
The older woman laughed. “Why am I suddenly scared for Mister Slick?”
And Vivian joined her in the laughter.
The morning of the Faire dawned and Vivian woke Ezra with a kiss.
Ezra smiled and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Mm... I feel as though I'm in a faery tale,” he teased. “To what do I owe the honour?”
She smiled and ran a finger down his cheek, sending him an image of what she'd seen out the window – Mary on a ladder hanging a banner that read “Second Annual Four Corners 'Ye Olde Faire' Celebration”.
“It's Faire day,” Vivian informed him. “And I wanna spend a day of fun.”
Ezra chuckled and kissed her lips. Then he wiggled down and placed a kiss just above her navel. “And good morning to you, little one,” he purred to her stomach. “Are you going to spend a day of fun with your mother and I?”
Vivian chuckled fondly as the child moved at its father's voice. She ran loving fingers through Ezra's tousled curls. “As if it had a choice,” she teased gently. “We're kind'a attached right now.”
Ezra smiled and embraced her again, kissing her tenderly. “So what kind of fun do you intend to have?”
Her smile was warm. “I wanna see how that pie of mine did. I also intend to show up that loudmouth from back East who's claimin' he can outshoot everyone in town!”
Laughing, Ezra rubbed her arm. “And if anybody can show Mister Sawyer up, it'll be you!” His gilded grin grew. “Doubly sweet, since his views on women make the late Marshall Bryce look like a raving bluestocking!”
Vivian laughed with him and slid out of bed. Pulling on her clothes, she said, “Oh – wear somethin' you won't mind getting' dirty.”
“Oh?” Ezra asked, an eyebrow on the rise. “Are you expecting me to get dirty?”
“Considerin' you're gonna be competin' against Buck for a greased pig...”
Ezra paused in buttoning his shirt. “I'm what?” He reached out mentally to his wife.
Sure enough... She opened the link fully to him again and he saw she'd signed him up for that and for some sleight-of-hand to amuse the children.
He smiled at that. You minx, he sent affectionately, hugging her.
I know how much you love being with the children, she replied. And children love to watch grown men wallow with a greased pig.
Ezra laughed. You do realise, of course, there will be retribution for your deception?
Vivian smiled into his eyes. I wouldn't have it any other way. One more kiss, and she slid her jacket on. Let's get this day started.
Greased pig, Ezra humphed. Lovely.
Ezra folded his cards, to the protesting groans of his young audience. He smiled and nodded at the chlidren. “Come back at five,” he told them. “Mister Buck and I will be wrestling the greased pig then!”
The children cheered, then one little girl asked, “Where will you be in the meantime, Mister Tanner?”
Ezra smiled a warm, gilded grin at her. “I’ll be watching the contests Mrs. Tanner is entered into.”
“That’s right!” an older boy snapped his fingers. “She’s in the shootin’ contest, ain’t she?”
“Yes, she is,” Ezra nodded. He pointed at the chlidren. “And you – all of you – will stay far away from that, do you hear me? To give everyone a fair chance, let them focus on the match instead of on mistakenly hitting one of you.”
More protesting groans sounded, but agreements sprang up. A second girl piped up, “Can we at least go to the pie judging?”
Ezra’s grin spread again. “If your parents agree.” His smile grew as the children scrambled in all directions to obtain permission.”
When Ezra walked to the pie-judging table, he had four juvenile shadoes. Vivian saw them coming and chuckled. “Ah, Papa Duck with his chicks!”
Ezra laughed and kissed his wife to the chorus of four disgusted, “EWWWW!”s. He turned to the children. “One more ‘Ew’ out of you, and I’m sending you home!” After apologies went up all around, Ezra nodded in satisfaction and turned back to Vivian. “Have they begun the judging yet?”
“They were just ‘bout to,” Vivian grinned.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Ezra laughed and guided her back to the table.
It was a blind taste test. Only the bakers knew which number was theirs. The results were announced after the four judges had tasted and conferred.
“In third place -- #2!” Gloria Potter laughed and clapped her hands as she accepted her white ribbon.
“In second place -- #5!” Young Maria Collins gasped and went to get her red ribbon.
“In first place -- #4!”
Vivian grinned proudly and shook her head as Nettie Welles went to get the coveted blue. “I knowed she’d win – hers are th’best!”
The other ranks were called and Vivian was shocked to find she had taken fourth place – not last as she’d thought!
Ezra celebrated as if she’d won the blue ribbon.
She returned to her room over the Saloon and came down, ready to go to the shooting contest.
Mare’s leg in hand, then in holster, she crossed to the batwing doors, smiling shyly as cheers, applause and supportive shouts sounded in her wake.
When she stepped into the street and headed for the staging area, silence greeted her. Spontaneous cheers broke out after.
Though her cheeks flamed a bit, she held her head high as she prepared to confront Sawyer. She’d visibly prepared for the woman-hating sharpshooter.
For the first time since her wedding, Vivian Tanner wore a dress.
Sawyer lowered his rifle and smirked. Four out of six shots dead-centre. He smirked at his opponent. “Looks like I win again.”
The judge sighed. "Final opponent – Tanner!"
Sawyer frowned, looking around. "Where is he?" he asked, puzzled. "I don’t see the gambler anywhere!"
"Good reason for that," a woman's soft voice drawled. A pregnant blonde woman in a buckskin dress decorated with beads and quills stepped forward. Over the dress she wore a light green mannish-cut swallowtail jacket that was slightly too large. She smiled a cold, closed-mouth smile as she slid a mare's leg out of her hip holster. "You ain't facin' my husband. You're facin' me."
Sawyer purpled as the crowd burst into ribald cheers. When they died down, he bellowed, "Go home, Squaw – till you throw that kid!"
Vivian's eyes narrowed. "All talk. Shut up and shoot!"
"I don't fight half-breeds," Sawyer snarled. "Especially not half-breed squaws."
"More words," Vivian snarled back. "Havin' to run your mouth to make up for the fact that you're too much of a coward to face me in a shootin' contest!"
Sawyer purpled again as the jeers and hoots rang out again. "I. Am Not. A coward," he gritted out as his hand tightened on his rifle.
"Then prove it." Vivian gave a sweet smile and stepped back. "I'll even let you shoot first."
With a growl, Sawyer brought up the gun and fired. He emptied the chambre – and all the shots but two clustered around the centre of the bull's eye.
Smirking, Sawyer stepped back and swept a mocking hand toward the target.
"Six shots," Vivian muttered. She loaded six bullets into the mare's leg clip and barely seemed to aim.
Six times, the distinctive roar barked into the sudden silence. In between was the 'snikt-snikt' of the pump as Vivian ejected a shell and chambred the next one. After the sixth roar, there was a final double click.
Only then did she raise her eyes to meet Sawyer's as the judges fanned the bit of smoke away to check her shots.
The six shots made a near-perfect flower. Each hole overlapped just enough to give the impression of petals around an invisible centre.
Each shot had hit dead-on. Each shot was in the centre of the target.
None of Sawyer's shots – against anyone – had been completely all dead centre.
Sawyer had lost. He saw pure red and reacted without thought. His gun – the loaded one – flew from its holster and came to bear directly on Vivian.
Suddenly metal pressed against Sawyer's ear and he heard a hammer being pulled back. "Drop it," Ezra's cold voice growed into his ear.
In response, Sawyer gritted out, "No damned half-breed whore is going to beat me!" And he pulled his own hammer back.
For a very long moment, all motion in the street stopped. Ezra's eyes met Vivian's. He could shoot Sawyer, but the man's dying twitch would send a bullet toward the woman.
A cruel smile spread across Sawyer's face and his finger began to tighten on the trigger.
The bark of a gunshot rang out and the gun in Sawyer's hand went flying. He clutched his bleeding wrist and looked across the street.
Chris strode toward them. His still-smoking Peacekeeper was levelled at Sawyer. He drew close and growled, "That woman is five times the man you are!"
Sawyer began to deliver a stream of invectives as a reply.
The man has lost his mind! Ezra gasped mentally.
Chris nodded once, coldly. Take him down, Ezra.
Ezra pulled the hammer forward again and flipped his gun around in his hand. He smashed the stock against the base of Sawyer's skull with slightly more force than was absolutely necessary.
Josiah lifted Sawyer and carted him to jail, where Nathan would check him over.
Ezra went to Vivian. "Are you all right?"
She nodded and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm glad y'all were here," she drawled, burying her face in his shoulder.
"So am I," Ezra groaned, kissing her touseled curls. "He was completely mad…"
Vivian nodded miserably and just held him.
After a moment, Ezra gently tapped her shoulder. "Do you want your ribbon?"
"My – what?" She looked up, confused.
"Your blue ribbon," Ezra smiled at her. "You won fair and square -- earned yourself a nice blue ribbon!"
Pulling away and turning around, Vivian blushed slightly as she saw a grinning JD holding out a blue ribbon. "Thanks, "she said quietly as he pinned it to the lapel of the jacket she was wearing.
"My pleasure, Vivian," JD smiled and hugged her. He whispered, "How'd he take the news of his contest?"
Vivian laughed and winked as she stepped back. Turning back to Ezra, she asked, "You ready?"
"Ready?" he blinked uncomprehendingly.
"I had a date with a pie and with Sawyer," she said as she slid her arm into his. "Now you have a date with a greased pig."
Ezra groaned, but let himself be led into the street once more.
Buck smiled down at Ezra as they waited. “Ready t'get those clothes dirty?”
Ezra glared at him. “If you would cease about my wardrobe, you'd realise it is I who have the advantage over you.”
“Yeah?” Buck frowned. “How d'you figure that?”
The glare turned into a grin as Ezra doffed his jacket and stepped into the fence. Buck shook his head and followed.
A moment later, a box was laid into the ring. It was opened, and a baby pig was released. Its back shone with lard.
The pig squealed and began to run, afraid and not knowing where it was. The whistle blew, and both men dove for the piglet.
They ended up in an undignified pile – Ezra on top of Buck – and the piglet climbed to Ezra's shoulder and let out a squeal.
Growling, Ezra flipped over and grabbed for the piglet. It squealed and launched off his shoulder, darting for the fence.
Both men scrambled after it. The crowd was laughing and cheering and even placing bets. Hearing those, Ezra pointed and yelled out, “If you win, I get a cut!”
In the fence itself, now there was a muddy free-for-all. Ezra was slightly quicker and more agile, but Buck was stronger.
Ultimately, though, speed won over strength. Ezra ended up on his back, using his hands and shirt to capture the slippery, squealing piglet tight against his chest.
It was a long thirty seconds before a whistle blew. “We have a winner!” a judge hollered. “Ezra Tanner wins the struggle – and the piglet!”
Buck laughed at the look on Ezra's face. He reached down and used the tail of his own shirt to lift the piglet from Ezra's hands so the gambler could stand up.
Brushing ineffectually at the dirt covering his shirt, Ezra pointed at the better again. “You owe me a quarter of your winnings, sir!”
“I'll get it to you after you clean up!” the victorious man hooted.
Buck chuckled. “So, what're you gonna name this little lady?”
Ezra frowned. “That's a sow?”
“She sure is,” Buck chuckled. “And she's all yours.”
Ezra sighed. “Good Lord, it must be a sign of the Apocalypse – Buck Wilmington refusing female companionship.” He took the now-drier and much calmer piglet from Buck – who laughed and clapped him on the shoulder – and rubbed its head. The piglet pushed against his hand and grunted affectionately.
Climbing out of the fense, Ezra sighed. “I have won a piglet. So what are we going to do with her?”
Vivian frowned slightly as she took off her bandanna and rubbed the grease and dirt from his cheek and chin. “Good point – we can't keep her up in our rooms over the saloon!”
I can help you there, Chris sent as he walked up. "Seems t'me it's time for you two t'move."
Vivian frowned. "To where?" Chris broadcast a picture, and both sets of eyes widened.
"Good Lord!" Ezra gasped. "You can not be serious!"
"I am," Chris assured them. He lifted a small ring of keys from his pocket, removed three from it, and replaced them into the pocket. The ring of keys, he pressed into Vivian's hand. "Can't think of anyone I'd be prouder t'pass the property on to." A smile, and he walked away.
Vivian and Ezra locked eyes. The cabin, Vivian gasped mentally. He... He gave us his cabin.
Ezra shook his head in wonder. He never ceases to amaze me.
Then Vivian smiled. Me, either. The smile grew. "So... havin' fun?"
He stared at her, and then snorted. "All in all, beloved -- I believe I'd rather engage in a month-long poker tournament!"
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