Copyright April 2004
The wooded glen shuddered with each burst of gunfire and every curse that branded itself upon its silence.
"Damn it all to hell!"
Mid-morning sunlight soothed the giant oak's trembling leaves as a calming breeze drifted through its branches. Birds protested the violent clamor and wisely deserted their homes, followed quickly by the remaining forest inhabitants. Soon the glen was abandoned by most, leaving only the infidel behind - the intruder that was ranting at the heavens with his words and his weapons.
The infidel was Chris Larabee, gunfighter extraordinaire and leader of the guardian law force of Four Corners.
Another volley of gunfire rang out. Glass shattered, fragments exploding into the sunshine, tiny prisms of light briefly hanging in the air before raining down on the earth. Aim was taken on a fleeing deer, the revolver's sight following the frightened doe as she retreated into the inner sanctum of the forest. A brittle laugh congratulated the animal's escape and a shot aimed into the air provided a warning to those left behind that they should heed her wisdom.
The silent gunman lowered his weapon and emptied the firing chamber, his green eyes lazily studying the falling brass casings as they scattered across the ground's blanket of clover. With another curse, he discarded the useless gun, throwing it at a nearby tree stump.
Chris reached for his rifle but the presence of a hand gripping his arm discouraged further gunplay. He looked up and found himself gazing at Orrin Travis, Federal Circuit Judge.
The older man unloaded the rifle and placed it next to Chris's gun. "I think you've scared off enough wildlife, Mr. Larabee."
The younger man frowned and choked back the protest that was quick to rise to his lips. Turning away, Chris stared at a thick stand of pine trees. "What do you want?"
With a shadow of concern in his eyes, the judge watched the gunfighter. "Larabee . . . ."
A twig was snapped in two and tossed to the ground. "If you're here to defend your daughter-in-law's position, I'd prefer you just leave. I'm not in the mood to hear how my perversion is ruining this town."
Larabee reached out and broke free a scraggly tree limb. "And don't say one word about my sinful nature influencing your grandson, Billy. I'm sick and tired of Mary's righteous lectures."
The gray-haired judge stepped closer and placed his hand on Chris's shoulder. "She's only thinking about the welfare of her son. About the welfare of the town. You know how set her heart is on gaining statehood."
Chris stripped the limb free of its leaves and scattered them on the ground. "So, does that mean the town is more important than friends? Your daughter is sure the little politician, Judge, deciding what's good and bad for the town. Well, she can take her pious attitude and go to hell. Me and Vin aren't . . . ."
Travis gripped Larabee's shoulder tight. "Look. Mary's talked to me and I'm really trying to . . . ."
Turning to face the older man, Chris shook off the judge's hand. His emerald green eyes flashed with anger and his hands clenched at his side as he forced out his words, "No, you're not! You and Mary don't understand one goddamn thing about how I feel, about what's going on. The two of you passed judgment and left me to burn in hell."
Orrin took a deep breath in an attempt to control his temper. "Dammit, Larabee. Is this how you honor Sarah's memory by. . ."
The gunslinger slammed the judge against the trunk of a nearby oak tree. Grabbing him by the shoulders, Chris leaned close, the fury in his eyes making the older man flinch. "Don't you dare bring Sarah into this." He took a hold of the judge's shirt and pulled Orrin so close he could feel the heat of the man's breath. "My sweet Sarah is dead and the memory of her and my son will forever remain a part of me." Chris tightened his grip and snarled, "Unfortunately, I'm still alive, Travis. Alive. And finally, finally I've managed to crawl out of my wife's grave, but dammit, Orrin, I'm lonely. It's been three years, three years since I've let anyone close to me." The gunman closed his eyes briefly. "I'm tired of being alone, Judge. Real tired." Chris pushed himself away and stumbled over a fallen branch, toppling to his knees.
Orrin saw the tears that fell from Chris' eyes and he was honestly unable to tell if it was from the pain of the fall or the pain in Chris' heart. Straightening his jacket, he moved to stand beside the younger man and started to reach out to assist him to his feet but changed his mind and let his hand fall to his side.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Chris choked on his laughter. "You have no idea, Orrin. You and Mary have no idea whatsoever." Getting to his feet, he walked away, afraid the older man would make a comment about the tears leaking from his eyes. Unfortunately, Orrin followed, intent on understanding the torment the gunfighter was going through.
Cautious in his approach, Orrin cleared his throat before speaking. "Chris, is it so bad that you had to turn to him?"
Chris hung his head, every muscle in his body screaming with exhausted frustration. He dug his fingers into the bark of the tree he was standing next to and his nails clawed the wood in a fruitless attempt to contain his anger. "Him has a name, Judge." Chris took a shaky breath and released his hold on the tree. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he sighed wearily. "Orrin, is it so hard for you and Mary to understand how lonely I am? How hungry I am for love?"
Chris bent down and picked a wild daisy. Peelings the petals off one by one, he continued to speak to his boss. "I'm not asking for much. All I want is someone to hold me, to talk to me, to listen to me." Chris turned and glanced at the brooding man. "All I want is someone to love me. Is that too much to ask?"
Orrin pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. "But why a man? Why Vin?"
The gunslinger smiled, his thoughtful gaze focusing on a spot beyond the trees. "You wouldn't understand, Orrin."
The circuit judge stepped closer. "Then help me understand. Explain the fascination you have for that cock-sucking bounty hunter."
Orrin found himself flat on his back with Chris' spare gun aimed at his heart.
"Don't ever let me hear you call Vin that again." The gunman growled before lowering his weapon and stalking away.
Orrin fumbled to his feet and dusted off his clothes. "Goddammit!" He watched as Larabee began to load and reload his gun. "What do you want me to call him?"
Chris snapped shut the chamber on his revolver and again took aim at the elder Travis. "You can call him my friend."
Orrin ignored the gunslinger and bent down to retrieve his hat. "Okay. He's your friend. But hell, Larabee, do you have to love him? For God's sake, he's a man. Why in the hell do you have to love a man?"
Chris took a seat on the tree stump and digging around beside it, found his bottle of whiskey. He lifted it to his lips and took a long swallow before looking up at the judge and offering a restrained smile. "He helps me fight my demons, Orrin."
Taking another sip of whiskey, Chris wiped at the moisture again gathering in his eyes. "I'm not lonely when I'm with Vin. He knows me, me, the man. Not the legend, Orrin. Just me, plain old Chris Larabee."
Slipping his hat back on his head, Orrin turned and freed his tethered horse. After mounting, he took a moment and contemplated the forlorn man sitting below him. "Do you love him? Does he make you happy?"
"God, yes! I . . ." Chris choked up. He immediately hung his head in order to hide his loss of control. When he was finally able to rein in his emotions, he looked up and discovered the judge was gone. In a rare moment of eloquence, Chris whispered aloud, his words heard only by the warily returning forest dwellers.
"Vin's in my heart, Judge, and I'll always love him."
Sliding off his seat, Chris stretched back against the sawed off tree trunk and drifted to sleep.
The frightened squawking of a bird woke Chris from his slumber. Glancing at the sun's position in the sky, the gunman checked the time. "Gotta be early afternoon," he muttered to himself. Refusing to return to town just yet, Chris reached for his bottle of whiskey but before he could wrap his fingers around it a hand closed over his and a voice as soothing as the breeze whispered in his ear.
"I believe we can dispense with that particular vice. Wouldn't want to add drunken behavior to Mary's list of Larabee sins."
Chris fell back, an astonished smile on his face. "Vin! What the hell?"
The long-haired tracker laughed and settled down on the ground beside his lover. Straightening his buckskin jacket, Vin Tanner pulled at a blade of grass and began chewing on it. "Nice spot you picked for your nap, Chris."
Chris continued to smile as he reached out his hand to verify Vin's presence. Fingers tangled with his and a comforting squeeze was instantly offered. "And just what brings you to this neck of the woods? I thought we were gonna meet later this evening at the saloon."
Vin drew Chris closer and pressed a kiss to his mouth, tasting the whiskey his lover had consumed earlier. After nipping at the older man's lower lip, he pulled away smiling and brushed the back of his hand down the gunman's cheek. "Imagine my surprise when in the midst of a winning hand of poker, Judge Travis walks in and demands my attention."
Vin dropped his hand and danced his fingers across Chris' thigh. "The man grabs me by the arm and before I could utter a 'how ya doin,' Judge,' he hauls my ass outside." Catching his lover's hand, Vin cupped it over his groin, a husky welcoming moan escaping his lips as he lifted his hips into a touch that was as familiar as his own.
"Before I knew it I was on my horse with the old coot standing there, his hands on his hips and his gaze burning a hole in my gut."
Chris leaned sideways and rubbed his cheek against the softness of Vin's hair. "What did Orrin say?"
Unfastening his breeches, Vin eased Chris' hand inside and guided the gunman's fingers around his erection, initiating a slow, lazy rhythm that, with time, was guaranteed to make him howl.
"Ummm . . . yes, feels . . ." Vin bit his lower lip, wanting nothing more than to surrender to the sweet friction of Chris' hand on his flesh. "The Judge, he said and I quote . . . I don't understand and I don't approve but Larabee is hurting and he needs you. Next thing I know he's slapping the rear of my horse and . . . ." Vin spread his hands out, indicating the glen in which they were sitting. ". . . here I am."
Cupping the back of Chris' head, Vin kissed him, again tasting the older man's heat, his tongue playing across the gunman's lips before slipping inside to engage in a friendly duel.
The tracker's helpless moans rumbled out and were swiftly caught and swallowed by Chris. He continued to pleasure Vin's shaft, his leisurely stroking alternating with teasing tugs on the fleshy hood that still sheltered his lover's cock.
"What bothers you so much, Chris?" Vin bit lightly on his lover's chin as he carefully maneuvered himself into a position that straddled the gunfighter's hips and began to move deliberately back and forth, forcing his swollen manhood against Chris' groin.
"Damnation, Vin! You tryin' to drive me insane?" The lawman scrambled to get his pants open and his cock out. His hardening shaft was already leaking profusely, providing the lubrication needed for a smooth slide of skin on skin. Chris let his head fall back only to snap it forward when Vin's hand closed around both their erections. Cobalt blue eyes glittered with unspoken desire and love, their gaze filling the emptiness in Chris' heart.
Opening his mouth to utter his own devotion, Chris found his words held hostage by Vin's hungry kisses. The man's slender body began to move frantically, communicating his urgent need and Chris groaned, answering his lover's request by thrusting his hips upward and driving his shaft into the tracker's solid grip.
Ripping his mouth free, Chris struggled for air, his voice low and raspy. "More . . . Christ, yes! Vin, you . . . hurry . . . Now, dammit! NOW!"
The lawman's scream echoed throughout the peaceful glen and his lover's reply followed mere seconds later. Catching the smaller man, Chris cushioned Vin's collapse with his body and held the trembling man in his arms while his lips wandered over Vin's sweat-dampened brow.
"Think they heard us back at town?" Lifting Vin's face, Chris smiled at him before stealing a drowsy kiss. He then eased the marksman into a more comfortable position on the ground and after turning on his side, watched the sensual display of Vin lazily stretching his arms over his head. The innocent moved caused Vin's buckskin jacket to fall open and Chris was treated to a view of the tanned flesh beneath it. Dammit, a shirtless Vin was a sight to behold and Chris couldn't help but let lose a whistle of appreciation. Hell, a naked Vin was even better and maybe with the right encouragement, he might just get his wish.
Chris reached out a hand, intent on easing his lover out of his jacket but his move was aborted when the light from the setting sun slid across Vin's form, casting a glow of amber gold over him. The haunted look that always lurked in Vin's eyes was momentarily erased and Chris' breath caught at the sight of his lover's untamed beauty. "Never thought I'd say this to a man but Christ, you're beautiful, Vin." Stretching across the space between them, Chris traced his fingers over Vin's eyebrows, eyelashes and down his nose to his lips. A devil may care grin greeted his caress and Chris couldn't resist leaning over and kissing the younger man, his lips proving a distraction from the hand wandering south to soothe his lover's sensitive shaft.
His voice a velvety growl of contentment, Vin groaned and closed his hand over Chris,' rubbing them both in the stickiness of their spent seed. Humming happily, he lifted their entwined fingers to his mouth and licked away all evidence of their release. "Love how ya taste, Cowboy," Vin whispered softly.
Closing his eyes, the bounty hunter pushed Chris on his back and crawled on top of him, resting his head on the lawman's shoulder. "Are you still hurting, Chris?"
Chris chuckled as he caught his lover's hand and placed it over his sleepy erection. "Hell no. Does that feel like I'm hurting?"
Vin slid his hand further inside Chris' pants and took a gentle hold of his balls. He massaged the furry sac, grinning at the breathless moans his lover could not deny. "Glad I could help you ease your pain." Brushing a tender kiss along Chris' jaw, Vin grew serious as he pulled the older man up and into his arms. "Don't worry about Mary, the Judge, the town. They ain't important. All you need to remember is that you've got me to watch your back and . . . ." Auburn curls slid across Chris' chest as Vin pushed aside the lawman's shirt to lick and nip at the exposed skin.
". . . and watch your heart. And nobody . . . I mean nobody, Chris, is ever gonna stop me from doin' that." Vin scraped his teeth over his lover's nipple and another grin creased his lean features when the simple action elicited a hiss of pleasure.
"Do you hear me, Chris? Do you hear what I'm sayin'?"
The gunfighter tangled his hands in Vin's long hair and gathered him close for a proper kiss. "I hear you, Vin. And I understand. I understand it all." Pulling Vin into a hug that threatened to break his ribs, Chris Larabee closed his eyes and let out a sigh of pure contentment.
He wasn't lonely any more.