Notes: 3:10 To Yuma/Magnificent Seven/Highlander, a story in the 'Echoes the Sea' AU series, Ben Wade/OFC. 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 Four
Charlotte paused outside the door of the old barn that sat at the edge of her property, down near the river. The dilapidated building had witnessed more than its share of drama and anguish over the last six months, and now there was to be yet more.
Beth’s reappearance in the garden had interrupted Charlotte’s unexpected reunion with Ben, so she had convinced him to come here and wait for her. Now that the children were caught up in chores and homework, she had taken the opportunity to steal away. It was her usual practice to ride after supper, so her absence would go unremarked upon.
The crack of a branch underfoot caused her to whirl towards the sound. She wasn’t at all surprised to find Ben standing there, studying her as if trying to commit her to memory. Several days growth of beard and the dust of the trail served to make him look entirely disreputable – like his Wanted Poster, she thought to herself with no little sadness. He still had the neck length wavy brown hair she remembered so well, along with his penchant for stylish hats and vests.
For a moment, they locked eyes, remembering what they once had. Then Ben strode up to her, grasping her shoulders. “We can pretend just for now,” he whispered, his lips descending, kissing her, reaching for a past they both knew could never be recovered.
She didn’t pull away, allowing the intimacy, the memory of how it had been between them as fresh as if it had only been yesterday.
Finally they broke apart, as if by some silent accord. The moment was fraught with such emotion that Charlotte thought she might weep. So much that could have been; so much hope and promise, now like dust beneath her feet.
Turning away, she walked a short distance from her onetime lover, willing herself to maintain control. Then she asked, “How did you know where to find me, Ben?” Truly, she was baffled at how he could have found her after the passage of so many years.
He stood behind her, not touching her. “Five years ago, I was in Doña Ana. Saw you there, outside the church, holding two crying youngsters. They were of an age, a boy and a girl; you were comforting them.”
“Patrick and Penny,” she whispered, recognizing his description. That was the day the wagon train had arrived with the orphaned twins, their parents having died on the trail west. Oren Travis had arranged for Charlotte to adopt the five-year-olds.
“Decided me and the boys should move on; there were other towns and other banks.” His fingers began to skim the back of her neck and she shivered a little. “Saw the love in your eyes for those kids. Made me wonder if things might have been different between us if there had been someone like you there after my mama abandoned me when my pa was killed.” His voice held a softness that was at odds with the hardened man he’d become.
Bowing her head, she wiped away the tears that she was no longer able to ward off. “And you left without a word.” It was partly a question.
His hand now rested against her neck, and she could feel the heat of his body against her back. “Figured I’d caused you enough pain, enough sadness, back in Galveston; didn’t want to bring you any more. And I suppose I didn’t want to see the regret in your eyes for putting yourself between me and that bullet….”
Galveston, Texas, 1850
The two weeks she’d spent with Ben had been some of the happiest she could recall in a very long time. There were no expectations, no demands, neither of them interested in delving into the other’s past. They were both content to exist in the here and now. Both of them spent part of their days dealing with business; Charlotte, her shipping company, and Ben…well, she wasn’t quite sure what Ben’s work entailed, nor had she asked.
Today, they had ridden about two hours down the island for a picnic. It had been a wonderful day, full of laughter and love. They had even gone swimming, the beach they’d chosen for their time away from Galveston private and deserted but for them. She loved to swim in the ocean; it was the one place where she felt totally free from care. And swimming with one’s lover always brought an added dimension of bliss.
Now, as they finally made their way back home, Charlotte reflected on the day, feeling pleasantly tired from their exertions. She was so relaxed that the steady rhythm of her horse almost caused her to doze off.
Ben chuckled, reaching out to touch her arm. “Don’t fall asleep now. Wouldn’t want you to fall from the saddle,” he admonished gently.
“Then perhaps I should ride with you,” she said, her eyes drinking him in. Her breath caught a little at seeing a matching look in his eyes.
“Maybe you should.” His voice was a low rumble. He pulled their horses to a stop, leaning over to kiss her. She shrieked when he instead pulled her from her mount onto his horse, settling her against him sidesaddle. “Now you know better than to tempt me, Charlotte Sparrow,” he scolded, lips twitching.
“Do I?” She tossed her head.
“If you don’t already, you will once I’m done with you,” he promised in a voice that made her feel as if she would melt.
Their lips came together with a slow, hungry intensity that made her blood pulse with heat. When his hand slipped up under her petticoats to stroke the bare skin of her thigh, she gasped, shifting, trying to press even closer. His hand drifted higher and she thought she might shatter from the sensations his touch brought.
Then he broke the kiss, looking down into her eyes. “What am I going to do with you?”
Breathless, she laughed, “If you do not know, I would be more than happy to illustrate in exacting detail.”
“Would you now? I think I’d like that,” he told her with a wicked grin.
“I thought you might,” she replied in a husky voice. “Lesson numb—“
A rifle shot thundered into the quiet, causing Ben’s horse to rear in fright. Charlotte tumbled from her insecure perch, Ben unable to hold onto her as the horse bucked wildly. She hit the ground hard, her head impacting against a rock. Fighting for consciousness, she gasped at the pain that threatened to split her skull in two, but in the end, the blackness won out, and she knew no more.