Notes: A story in the 'Echoes the Sea/Aces Immortal' AU series. Set a week after strangevisitor7's story 'Each Must Know His Part', and many thanks to her as well for the beta.
Characters: Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson, Vin Tanner, Cecily Black Desjardins
Summary: When Ezra yearns for a distraction, the unexpected arrival of his sister in Four Corners might be more than he bargained for.
'Silk and Firecrackers' ~ Part One
Ezra was in dire need of a distraction. Since winning his first challenge a week ago, he’d felt restless and at a loose end. It was as if there was something he should be doing, whatever it was, hanging there, just beyond the edge of his memory.
Charlotte had told him it was normal, that another Immortal’s Quickening could take time to settle. It would pass soon enough; his opponent being quite young from all evidence. In the meantime, she had suggested a variety of coping mechanisms, including visiting one of the fine ladies at Miss Nedra’s brothel in Doña Ana. He had practically choked to death on the scotch he’d been drinking at the time upon hearing that particular piece of advice. She had merely patted his arm, telling him that Quickenings and sex very often went hand in hand, and that it was something he needed to know. Then she had changed the subject to something entirely innocuous and less likely to mortify him.
He chuckled to himself; his cousin had been quite correct, though he would never, ever admit it to her! And upon reflection, perhaps another visit to Miss Nedra’s establishment was in order. Pushing his hat farther down over his eyes, he sprawled in his chair in front of the jail, legs extended, letting the warmth of the autumn sun bake into him.
“M'excusez-vous, monsieur, seriez-vous le shérif?” a feminine voice asked.
“Je ne suis pas, madame,” Ezra began, only to push his hat back abruptly, looking up as recognition dawned. “Cecily?” Then he was on his feet, pulling his sister into his arms as she giggled delightedly. In her fashionable high heeled French boots, she reached Ezra’s nose, and paired with the dress of jade green silk she was wearing, Cecily looked as if she’d stepped out of a Paris fashion house. “Dear God, what on Earth are you doing here?”
“Why I am here for Mama’s wedding this week, of course!” she exclaimed, green eyes sparkling, kissing each of his cheeks.
Ezra stepped back, hands on her shoulders. “Mama?”
She suddenly seemed shy, looking down at her lace gloved hands. “I have thought of her as that for many years, Ezra. However, I had the idea in my head that it was disrespectful to my own mother’s memory. But I am older and wiser now,” she smacked Ezra’s arm lightly when he snorted, “and have come to realize that she would have wanted me to love Charlotte as the mother she has been to me.”
“That seems perfectly sensible; something you so rarely are,” he told her with a fond grin, jumping back when she made to hit him.
“Do you think it will be all right with her?” she sounded uncertain.
“My dearest sister, believe me when I tell you it will probably make Charlotte cry. I’d have a hankie ready.” He touched her cheek. “I can not believe you are actually here. Your housekeeper wrote that you were traveling the Orient and that you would be unable to attend the wedding.”
“By fortuitous circumstance, I had cut my trip short, arriving home in time to attend. I decided I wanted to surprise her.”
“And so she shall be,” Ezra assured her. “She has missed you these last twelve years.”
“And I her; I have missed you both.”
Ezra took her arm as they started to stroll down the boardwalk. “My condolences on the death of your husband, Cecily,” he said quietly.
She smiled softly. “Jean-Philippe was a dear man. The few years we had together were happy ones.”
Looking at her sidelong, he lightly squeezed her arm. “And he left you a very wealthy widow.”
“Indeed he did,” she agreed. “I am most fortunate.”
“Yes, well, you always did say you’d be rich one day.” In fact, being rich had been the goal of them both when they were children. And it had seemed that Cecily, at least, had accomplished it.
They walked in companionable silence for a few moments before she stopped suddenly, stepping in front of him, a set look on her face. “Now, Ezra, we really must discuss this…desperado, that mama is planning to marry.”
It took a moment for her words to sink in, and then Ezra threw his head back, laughing till tears practically fell from his eyes. “Desperado?” He caught his breath. “Mr. Larabee is many things, but I would not count ‘desperado’ amongst them.”
“That is not what I hear.”
“You’ve been talking to my mother , haven’t you?” He shook his head, sighing.
“And what if I have? Aunt Maude is concerned, and frankly, Ezra, so am I!”
“Oh yes, Mother’s concern for others is legendary,” he said dryly.
“Don’t be that way,” she stamped her foot, “don’t discount her feelings just because you and she have had some sort of falling out.”
‘Falling out’, now there was a nice way to put it, he thought in irritation. Obviously Maude had decided to utilize Cecily in her campaign to wreak havoc in his life. “Mother has no idea what she’s talking about,” he told her firmly, “and you’d do well to take whatever she might tell you with several grains of salt.”
“Do you deny that the man is a notorious gunslinger? That he has been called out on the street by gunmen wanting to see if they’re the faster draw?” She tilted her chin, as if daring him to deny it.
He ran a hand up and down his jaw, frustrated. Damn Maude for her interference! The last thing Charlotte needed was for an overprotective Cecily, primed by his mother, to cause friction just before the wedding.
“You know I cannot,” he began, holding up his hand when she would interrupt him, “but Chris is much more than that. He’s a lawman, a vital part of this community who has risked his life on more than one occasion to protect this town and its inhabitants.”
She sniffed. “As if him being a lawman makes any of this more tolerable!”
“Need I remind you, Cecily, that I too am an officer of the law?” he asked stiffly.
“You most certainly do not,” she said with a touch of disdain, putting a hand on her hip. “But that is a conversation for another time. Right now, my concern is for Mama. And I promise you, Ezra, that I have every intention of making sure this Mr. Larabee is worthy of her before I give my blessing.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, he threw up his hands. “Give your blessing? Like you asked for Charlotte’s blessing when you decided to marry Monsieur Desjardins without even a word till after the deed was done?”
“That was entirely different!” she protested.
“Oh, yes, entirely different in that you knew damn well she’d never approve of you marrying a man old enough to be your grandfather!” His voice rose on the last. Damn it, he loved his sister, but she could be infuriating, and no one could make him lose his temper the way she did.
“You take that back!”
“Take it back?” Ezra laughed at her. “Are you twelve?”
Her eyes were snapping now. “Just because I care about what happens to Mama doesn’t give you the right to insult me!”
“And when exactly did the truth become an insult, Cecily darlin’?” he asked acerbically.
Screeching in outrage, she would have stormed off if Ezra hadn’t grabbed her arm, stopping her. “Since when do you walk away from a fight?” He was chuckling now, as the ridiculousness of the entire situation struck him.
Her lips twisted as if she were trying not to smile. “You always were a rude boy,” she said with a toss of her head.
“Is he botherin’ you, ma’am?” the familiar disapproving voice of Nathan Jackson, the town’s healer and Ezra’s fellow lawman said from behind him.
Just perfect, Ezra groaned to himself.
“Don’t you have nothin’ better t’do, Ezra, than harass women in the street? Should know better!” He’d come around to stand next to Cecily, grim faced and angry. “Sure don’t understand how a man brought up by Mz Black can behave like you do sometimes!”
But before Ezra could respond to the accusation, Cecily took a step forward. “Do you always impose yourself upon private conversations, sir?” she asked in a chilly voice. “Just because you inhabit this godforsaken town is no excuse for poor manners.”
Nathan looked like he’d been kicked by a horse. “Now just a minute, ma’am—“
Cecily cut him off, “Does Mr. Standish make a habit of ‘harassing women in the street’ as you put it? Or is this some sort of prejudice that you assume he’s bothering me because I’m coloured?”
Ezra bit back a smile at Nathan’s consternation. He and Cecily might fight like cats and dogs on occasion, but woe be to any outsider who would try and attack one of them. They would stick together come hell or high water.
He put a placating hand on Cecily’s shoulder. “I am sure Nathan meant no insult; we were rather loud,” he reminded her.
She narrowed her eyes, looking Nathan up and down, obviously finding him wanting. “It might not bother you, Ezra,” she said, turning her attention back to him, “but it does me. You do not deserve to be treated with such suspicion.”
“And I do appreciate it, Cecily. You have always had the protective instincts of a lioness, and that has not changed.”
“I am sorry, ma’am,” Nathan said contritely.
“Your apology should be directed to Ezra,” she instructed him sharply.
He nodded sheepishly. “Sorry, Ezra; shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.”
“Apology accepted, Nathan. Now perhaps you would allow me to make introductions?” Nathan nodded. “Cecily, may I present Mr. Nathan Jackson, our town’s healer and a compatriot of mine.”
Cecily inclined her head in acknowledgment, but remained silent.
“And Nathan, this is Madame Cecily Desjardins…,” he paused, relishing the moment, “my sister.”