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Author's Chapter Notes:
Chris learns of the deception
1 the letter

Chris grabbed Mary's hand as he rubbed his tired eyes. He felt a rage like he had never felt before. Mary steered him toward the nearest chair and forced him to sit down.

"Look at me Chris. It's from Rafe isn't it" she said in a soft voice. She lifted his chin and met his eyes. The look of concern and fear caught her off guard. The letter had broke down his defenses. He felt the exhaustion of the past weeks sink in. For a moment he had let his guard down as he looked into the caring blue eyes of Mary. In the next instant his shields were back up and he stood. He needed to take action.

"Mary he's done it again. That bastard has killed another woman in Roswell New Mexico. I've got to get Vin and the others" he said as he crumpled the letter tightly in his hands.

Mary's face paled and she touched his arm, "Chris you can't go with all of them, he may head back here or after your sister" she said with concern.

"I'll wire my brothers to keep an eye out for Eileen and I'll have Josiah Nathan and J.D. stay here" he said as he looked at her and headed for the door. He shoved the letter in the stove and watched the paper burn. "I'll see you before I leave."


2 the posse

Vin, Buck and Ezra were playing a friendly game of poker in the saloon.

"Boys I need your help. That bastard Rafe has killed someone else in Roswell. He sent me a letter in care of the Clarion while I was out looking for him. I want to get to Roswell before he knows we're there."

"Do you want us all Chris?" Buck asked.

"No, I need J.D., Josiah and Nathan here. I'll let them know to keep an eye on the town and on the ladies especially."

"Now that sounds like a job for me" Buck said with a smile.

"No Buck I need you to watch my back and I need Vin to help us track the bastard down" Chris sneered at Buck as he saw Vin get up to gather supplies.

"What do you need me for?" asked Ezra.

"Your skills in deception might just come in handy seeing as how Rafe came back into town without our knowledge."

"Why thank you for the compliment" Ezra said with a smile as he got up to get the things he would need for his trip.

As Vin headed toward the door Chris motioned for him to stay. Vin looked at him with concern. He knew his friend too well. "You're frightened ain't you Cowboy" he said looking into his eyes.

"I thought losing Sarah and Adam was the worst thing I'd ever have to face in my life, but this...I don't know which way to turn. I know that my brothers, Matt and John, will look after Eileen but I don't trust him. He's taunting me Vin."

"We'll catch the bastard and this time we'll hang him until there ain't a breath left in his body" Vin said as he gave his friend's forearm a gentle squeeze and left the bar.

Chris ordered a glass of whiskey and sipped it slowly. He sat for a moment gathering his thoughts. He remembered a time when he was in a dark place and all he lived for was the next gunfight and the next drink. He didn't care if he lived or died let alone if others lived or died. That was a long time ago. Despite himself he found a reason to start to caring again. Things and people started to matter to him. He had noticed the change and at times even caught himself grinning and laughing.

The dark times of the past were becoming just that: the past. He was becoming a different man than the one who had come to this town. Here he found a woman defending a black man against a mob who wanted him dead.

He still had a reputation of a gunslinger but he was now upholding the law. It was a law that he could believe in. He had people that depended on him and that he could depend on. He finished his drink, broke out of his reverie and walked toward the Clarion.

She stood near the printing press intent on her work as she set type one handed. He walked around her and whispered in her ear "Thank you" and took a moment to smell her hair.

She looked back at him and smiled at him quizzically "For what?" she asked as she felt his warm embrace. She leaned into him with a small sigh.

"It's not important" he said once more putting his shields up. "I'll wire you when we're in Roswell. J.D. and the others will help if you need anything. Tell Billy I'll be back" he said as he looked at her smile once more before leaving.


3 while the cat's away


Mesilla's bar was the only decent watering hole in over forty miles and the man in black was sipping his whiskey slowly. He savored the taste of it as it went down his throat and hit his stomach. He had been here about a week and was waiting for Barbara to meet him with a picnic basket of fried chicken and apple pie.

Barbara was a young widow with no children and family back east. She was drawn toward the man in black as she was still in mourning for her husband.

He paid for the bottle, and smiled as the woman came through the door. He tied the picnic basket to the saddle and once on his horse, pulled her to sit up in front of him. They rode quite a ways until they reached a creek and some shade a ways off the trail.

He laid out the blanket and as they ate their picnic he complimented the cook by kissing her. It had been a long time since she felt this way, but it was too soon.

"Please take me back" she said as she watched him standing by his horse.

She then noticed the rifle and heard the cocking of it. She stood there in shock. Her mouth fell open and she tried to scream, but only air came out.

He smiled and walked a distance away. He watched as she stood motionless. It was as if she was welcoming what was to come. She turned her hands in supplication as she felt the bullet enter her heart. She would soon be back with her husband.

The man in black had no need for the blanket this time and left her body where it lay.


epilogue


Mary received the letter to Chris care of the Clarion and this time recognized the handwriting. Chris was well on his way to Roswell with the others, so she opened the letter. Chris hadn't let her read the first one. This one she would.

She sat in the chair and read it with shaking hands.


Dear Chris,
I just wanted to let you know that you are becoming well known in these parts. Your reputation is growing by leaps and bounds.
Her name was Barbara. She was a lovely young widow with no children and family somewhere back east. She froze before I shot her and this time I left her where she lay. No one will really miss her I'm sure, except for you.
Did you tell Mary of the others?
See you soon old friend.





Mary held the letter tight as Josiah came through the doors of the Clarion. He took one look at Mary and went to hold her.

"Chris, oh Lord Chris" was all she could say as she felt Josiah comfort her. The letter dropped to the floor and was caught by a stray breeze tossing it like a leaf from a tree.


To be continued
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