Rating: PG15 for adult situations.
Notes: 3:10 To Yuma/Magnificent Seven/Highlander, a story in the 'Echoes the Sea' AU series. This exists entirely due to the repetitive poking efforts of ninjababe and her posse. This story is set a few weeks after the events in strangevisitor7's story Child Of My Heart.
Characters: Ben Wade, Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, Ezra Standish, Oren Travis, Charlotte Sparrow.
Summary: Ben Wade's arrival in New Mexico brings him full circle with his past.
On A Raven's Wing ~ Part Two
An approaching rider jolted Charlotte from her reverie. As the figure drew near, she recognized the familiar form of Chris Larabee and she wondered what brought the leader of the Seven to her ranch. Vin Tanner had been by earlier in the day, as part of a scheduled patrol, so she could think of no good reason for the gunslinger to be here. For a moment, the fear that something had happened to Ezra flashed across her thoughts, but she quickly stamped down such imaginings. There was no urgency in Chris’s bearing, nothing that would suggest any sort of emergency.
Soon enough, he had dismounted and was walking towards her. She was honest enough to admit that she found Chris more than a little distracting, and took the time to appreciate the view as he approached. He was tall and lean, with a whipcord grace that held an edge of danger, like a lion on the African plain; compelling, yet lethal. But Charlotte had no intention of acting on the attraction that tugged at her. He was mortal, and she wasn’t ready to deal with the inevitable grief of another such entanglement. Not to mention, Ezra would be appalled at the thought. She remembered quite well his horror at the interest Josiah Sanchez had paid to his mother only a few weeks prior. No, Chris Larabee was definitely not the sort of man she could afford to open her heart to.
“Pearl,” Chris called out as he drew near, tipping his hat.
“Chris,” she acknowledged. “What brings you so far from home?”
“Know it’s a busy time what with calving and foaling, and wanted t’see if you and the boys needed a hand.”
Charlotte shook her head in amused frustration. Ever since Ezra had reentered her life a few months prior and she had become acquainted with the men he rode with, she had found herself overwhelmed with offers of help. They were all quite persistent in their efforts, and while she appreciated their genuine concern, it wasn’t at all necessary; she had been taking care of herself, and those under her care, for a very long time.
“I appreciate your offer, Chris, but truly, I have all well in hand.” She gestured, indicating that he follow her around the side the hacienda style ranch house.
Falling into step beside her, he walked with her towards the back garden. “Ezra says you’re down a hand since last week.” He looked at her, frustration evident on his face. “Keep tellin’ you, Pearl, you’re Ezra’s kin and we look out for our own. Can’t do that if you don’t ask for help when you need it,” he chided.
She bit back a sharp retort with some difficulty, knowing he meant well. But Lord above, she did not take well to people meddling in her affairs! It was hard enough these days finding the privacy to train the newly immortal Ezra in swordplay. The last thing she needed were his six companions showing up unexpectedly in their desire to be helpful.
Sitting down on one of the chairs under the apple tree, she finally replied, “And I assure you that should I require aid, you will be the first person I call on.”
Taking the chair across from hers, he snorted. “Sure you will, Pearl,” he retorted wryly.
Deciding to ignore his last comment, she asked, “Would you care for some refreshment? I have a fine Madeira wine that I took receipt of only a few days ago.”
“Would appreciate it.”
Her current maid, Beth, was making her way towards them, having caught sight of them out the kitchen window.
“Beth,” Charlotte called out, “will you please bring the Madeira…oh, and some of that ginger loaf as well?”
“Yes’m.” The girl halted her progress, heading back to the house.
Chris’s expression perked up. “Ginger loaf? My ma used to make a mighty fine ginger loaf when I was a boy. Always was my favourite.”
“It’s Jess’s as well,” she commented, referring to her third oldest child. “It’s hard being in the middle of a large family, and he needed some extra cheering up yesterday.”
“Those kids are lucky to have you,” Chris told her, the sincerity of his statement evident in his voice.
“On the contrary, it is I who am the fortunate one.” She smiled fondly, picturing each of her six adopted children in her mind’s eye.
Beth returned with the wine and cake, setting the tray on the table between her mistress and her guest. “That’s all right, Beth, I’ll serve,” Charlotte told the girl. “The children will be home from school in a few hours. Would you please put the cookies in the oven?” The maid nodded, bobbed a curtsey, and left to attend to her duties.
“What?” Charlotte asked, noting the wide grin on Chris’s face. “Didn’t your mother bake cookies for you when you got home from school?”
“She might have at that,” he agreed. “Just thinking that it’s a good thing Vin don’t know you bake cookies for the kids in the afternoons, or you’d be seeing even more of him than you do now.”
Charlotte joined Chris’s laughter. The sharpshooter’s sweet tooth was well known and the subject of much amusement amongst his friends.
She handed Chris a glass of the sweet red wine and a piece of the ginger loaf. “Then it best remain our secret,” she said merrily. “I’m afraid young Mr. Tanner has the ability to eat me out of house and home given the opportunity!”
Chris took a bite of the cake. “This is as good as my ma’s,” he told her, savouring the sweet confection.
Pleased, she said, “I shall send some home with you. Jess wouldn’t mind sharing.”
“Real kind of you, ma’am.” Then he smiled. “And I ain’t telling the others, neither!”
They spent the next half hour amiably chatting about the new foals and Charlotte’s plan for buying a stallion that had caught her fancy in Doña Ana the week prior, until finally, Chris stood to take his leave. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said with a tip of his hat, “but it’s time I was gettin’ back.”
“I enjoyed our visit – as unexpected as it was,” she finished dryly.
Chris flashed a grin. “I’ll be back tomorrow with some of the boys. Have a list of what needs doing ready.” He didn’t give her a chance to protest as he strode away, leaving her sputtering in his wake.
Then she started to laugh, the humour of the situation overriding her indignation at the man’s highhandedness. So Chris Larabee thought he could best her? Then the battle was on! He would find that when it came to stubbornness, she was in a class all her own.
Still laughing softly, she made her way to the back of the garden and her roses, happy to see that some already had buds. The flowers were a reminder of her childhood in England, and she spent a great deal of time caring for them. As she reached out to touch a leaf, a large hand came over her mouth, and a strong arm snaked around her waist, pulling her hard against the body of her captor.
Her heart froze when a familiar voice said softly in her ear, “Why, Charlotte Sparrow, keeping company with gunslingers. I would have thought you’d have learned your lesson on that score sixteen year ago.”