SAVING GRACE

By Jeanette Alice Ann

 

The Magnificent Seven -OW / Rated G / Word Count: 9925

SAVING GRACE image by Angela

A/N: – Please be gentle as this is my very first fanfic. A big thanks to Jordan and Maggie who inspired me to write at all, and to LaraMee for being a very patient beta. I'd also like to thank Angela for creating this beautiful image for me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 


 Jenny Winters gave one last furtive glance down the dusty, sun baked high street as the stagecoach pulled up in front of her. Her absence would surely have been noticed by now; she had no doubt that they would follow her. Quickly she boarded the creaky coach, seating herself opposite a young man wearing a bottle green coat who grinned at her from under his hat, exposing a gold tooth. Flustered she felt the heat rise to her cheeks and responded with a shy smile of her own. Also sharing the coach was an elderly couple who said "hello". Acknowledging her fellow passengers with a quick nod and slight smile she then looked down at her lap smoothing her skirt. Wanting to become invisible Jenny looked out of the window as her journey began, unaware that she was being watched from a shaded alleyway by a man with a nasty scar down his right cheek.

Ezra Standish considered himself a good judge of character, and the beauty of this new arrival did not go unnoticed by him. She was slight of frame, with long dark hair that curled softly about her face. Her eyes had grabbed his attention at first but now they were hidden by her bonnet. It was, however, her demeanour that got him most intrigued, she seemed nervous and twitchy, almost scared. There had been a mixture of fear and sadness in those eyes. He decided there and then to find out what was troubling this young lady.

"Going far my dear?" the old lady asked.

 

Startled out of her dark thoughts Jenny nodded "Four Corners, I have a brother who lives on a ranch several miles past there."
 
"What is his name my dear?" asked Ezra. "I may know him."
 
"Michael, I haven't seen him for many years as he is quite a bit older than me, he married a woman from there, Alice, when I was a little girl." Why have I just confided in these people?  thought Jenny. She again looked out of the window, unable to shake the feeling of being watched.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7
 
High above, just below the ridge of the hills, a group of riders watched the stagecoach trundle along down in the valley. The leader of the group was a man in his 50's, thick set with ice cold blue eyes that seemed to look into your very soul. Brad Fleming was not a man to be messed with and he fairly simmered with anger that this slip of a girl had defied him and dared to run away. Fingering the telegram inside his pocket, he took it out and read the message again: MAGGIE AND GRACE CAPTURED AND HELD AT TURNERS PLACE. "We'll intercept the stage at Devil's Canyon. I want them all back in my custody by nightfall, day after tomorrow," he growled as he turned his horse and started down the slope.

 

Most of his men were afraid of Fleming, most that is except his right-hand man Simmons. After spying on Jenny earlier he had rendezvoused with his boss to confirm his suspicions and was now eager to get moving again. Simmons scratched absently at the scar on his face as he always did when tense. Grinning sadistically he turned his horse and followed his boss.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7
 
It was dusk as the stage pulled into the next town and its passengers disembarked. Ezra got out first and helped the old couple out, and then he smiled up at Jenny and gently but firmly took her slim waist in his strong arms and lifted her down. As he did so a flash of pain crossed her face but it was gone again so quickly that he wondered if he had imagined it. He was tired and longed for his bed this night instead of going to the saloon for a game of cards I would never live it down if Buck knew he thought as a smile crossed his face.

 

He had been away in San Francisco for a couple of weeks after he had received news of his Mother being ill. Now that she was recovered he was heading home and had received a wire stating that Buck would meet him at the next town after being on an errand for the Judge. He would bring Chaucer with him and they would ride the rest of the way together. They had received a wire from the Judge that a miscreant Ezra had had a big hand in putting behind bars had escaped. Chris had insisted that Buck met him and watch his back, as the others were equally busy with a troublesome gang in Four Corners.

 

"May I escort you to your room my dear?" he asked giving a slight bow, offering his arm, with an impish grin on his face.

 

Jenny accepted his kind offer, not able to understand fully why, but feeling somehow safe in his company. She was totally exhausted from the tensions of the day and was thankful for his arm as he led her to her room. She needed to retrieve the telegram that she knew her brother would have sent her, but it could wait until tomorrow. Tonight she just needed to sleep.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

That night Ezra lay awake, deep in thought. Jenny worried him; what was she so afraid of?; He had seen the terror in her eyes every time she looked out a window at the citizens passing by, though she had tried hard to conceal it. He decided she was running from someone, but whom? And why would anyone chase her?  Just before he drifted off to sleep, he decided to hire a horse and ride the rest of the way a safe distance behind the stage so he would know if anyone was following it.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Jenny looked at herself in the mirror and decided that she looked dreadful.  There were black bags under her eyes, following a sleepless night that found her starting at every noise outside her room. It was just after dawn now and she was eager to be at the telegraph office as soon as it opened. Picking her cloak up off the bed she left her room and made her way down to the foyer. She gave an involuntary gasp as Ezra came up behind her politely clearing his throat to make his presence known.
 
"My apologies my dear, I did not mean to startle you."
 
"I'm just a little jumpy, I didn’t sleep too well last night," came her response. "I need to get to the telegraph office, there should be a message waiting for me."
 
"May I escort you then?  It is a little early for a lady to be out unescorted."
 
"If you wish," she whispered.
 
"If you don't mind my enquiring, what’s troubling you? You seem very nervous, as if you expect to be followed." asked Ezra.
 
"Oh no!" she snapped a little too sharply and quickly to be entirely believable. "It's just that I haven’t travelled so far before and I’m a little nervous."

 

Ezra did not believe her but for the time being held his tongue.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

At the office, a fat, balding man stood behind the desk as Jenny inquired about any messages for her.

 

"Yes ma'am, it came yesterday," he said as he clumsily searched for the item in question, "ah here it is." Locating it under a pile of papers, he handed it to her.

 

Thanking him as she handed over a coin she stepped outside into the already stifling heat to read it.

 

"What is it?" asked Ezra seeing what little colour there was drain from her face.

 

All she could do was stare at the words on the paper in her hand: MAGGIE AND GRACE NOT ARRIVED. SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE FEW DAYS AGO. SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG. Michael.

 

Her mind raced for possible explanations but the only one she could think of was that Brad Fleming had found out their plan and somehow got them. Tears started to blur the print and then she felt her legs buckle. Strong arms instantly enfolded her and lifted her off her feet as he whispered calming words of concern into her soft hair. Closing her eyes she wept quietly as Ezra carried her back to the hotel. The old couple from the stage were there, in the foyer, as Ezra came through the door with Jenny in his arms.
 
"Oh my, what has happened?" asked Edith. "Put her down on this couch, young man. Jed, fetch a hot coffee and put some brandy in it! She looks like she's seen a ghost, poor lamb."

 

As Jed went to do as bidden, Ezra gently lowered Jenny onto the couch and stepped back to let Edith look after her.


 "I think she’s had some bad news," he explained. "She received a telegram then collapsed." His heart went out to this young girl who seemed both strong and vulnerable at the same time.
 
Whilst Ezra was explaining, Jenny tried to gather her tattered nerves and thoughts. When she had first contacted Michael and told him of her situation he had wanted to rush to her rescue. She had managed to dissuade him, fearing for his safety, so together they had come up with an alternative plan, but this seemed to have failed miserably now.

 

Sipping the hot coffee that Jed bought her, Jenny recovered enough to try and put their minds at rest. "I'm fine honestly," she said with a weak smile. "I just had a shock that's all. Nothing that I can't sort out once I reach my destination." As images of a dark haired girl with big, sad, brown eyes looking up at her assailed her memory, her mind raced out of control. Did Brad Fleming have Grace and Maggie? Had they been attacked by Indians? She had heard rumours of a group of young renegade Indian braves who had decided to kill as many of the new settlers as they could against the wishes of their elders. Either case was something she did not want to contemplate. Bravely she summoned a smile though her stomach was churning. It was with great relief she heard the arrival of the stagecoach; she just wanted to be alone with her thoughts. Ezra escorted them all to the coach and helped the ladies inside before bidding them farewell.

 

"You’re not travelling any further?" enquired Edith.

 

"No, I shall hire a horse to complete my journey," he said, looking directly at Jenny and noticing the flicker of panic on her face before she managed to recover. She is definitely afraid of something he thought, convinced he'd made the right decision to follow from a distance.

 

As the stage pulled out Jenny looked back at Ezra until he was out of sight, a tear slowly running down her cheek; he had been the only person that had made her feel safe in a long time. She couldn’t know that as soon as the stage was out of sight Ezra went to the livery and got himself a horse and then quickly went after the stage.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

It was stiflingly hot in the stage as it rumbled along the trail, making the journey very uncomfortable. Not that Jenny noticed; she was too deep in thought. Where was Grace? Was she safe? Visions of the child lying hurt filled her mind and a dark ache gripped at her heart. A sudden cry came from behind, jolted Jenny from her gloom, and she looked up just as an arrow imbedded itself in the window frame mere inches from her face. The colour drained from her features as the driver shouted, rather unnecessarily, "Indians!" before whipping the team to go faster.

 

Edith gripped Jed's arm for dear life. They were all thrown from side to side mercilessly as the stage tried desperately to outrun the Indians.

 

Jenny's knuckles were white where she gripped the door handle, her eyes wide as saucers. A sudden wish that Ezra was there shot into her mind unbidden. She felt the need for his strength, his reassurance that it would be alright. But most of all she wanted to hide in his embrace, remembering how it felt to be held in his arms.

As the stagecoach careened along the prairie floor, it slammed against an outcropping of stone, wrenching the door open. She was thrown out, even as old hands tried in vain to catch her, then pain registered briefly before everything went black.

 

Watching the attack on the stage from his hiding place within the rocks, Brad Fleming failed to see Jenny thrown clear as the door was on the far side hidden from his view. He and his men watched, their faces void of emotion as the stage turned over and everyone was slaughtered either by the Indians or the stage turning over. Turning to Simmons he growled. "Hell, so much for that little bitch. The savages did your job for you. We’ll go down and just make sure she’s really dead. Go and get the woman and girl, I want no loose ends left to trip me up." He then turned and rode down the hill towards the wrecked stagecoach. However as they were about to approach, they heard horses approaching fast and realised that to not be seen, they had to return the way they had come. Once safely back in the hills he took one last glance around at the “braves” ransacking the luggage before riding slowly in the opposite direction. He had gotten close enough to see the blood and dead bodies to be reassured that there were indeed no survivors.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Having been slowed down by the sheer bad luck of having his horse catch a stone in his hoof, Ezra now sat, totally stunned, amongst the same rocks Fleming had recently vacated, starring down at the wrecked stage. He had spotted Fleming and his gang riding away from the trail on his approach and thought it strange that they would abandon their pursuit at this point. Now he knew the reason. Grimly once the scene was clear, he rode his mount down towards the stage to see if there were any survivors, though he seriously doubted there would be. He felt a pain grip around his heart as a pretty face with soft dark eyes and a shy smile floated before his eyes. He berated himself for not being there to protect them, though he doubted he could have done much against a group capable of the carnage before him. Still I should have been there to try, he thought. He had heard the rumours about the young warriors but believed it to be a ploy by local cattle ranchers to scare off settlers in the area. You’re a fool Ezra, he thought.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Pain clawed at her consciousness like a vulture at its prey as she slowly came to. There was deathly quiet all around, in sharp contrast to the war cries, panicked screaming and gun shots from before. She tried to open her eyes, but the pain behind them exploded the second she did, so she quickly closed them again. She tried to move but a sharp pain in her left shoulder forced an involuntary cry from her. She was aware of pain all over as if she had been run over by a heard of cattle. Slowly the darkness began to descend on her again; bringing relief from the pain, but as she slowly lost consciousness she thought she heard horse’s hooves approaching.


M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Ezra dismounted and grimly walked towards the wreckage of the stage. He found the driver and guard almost immediately and bile quickly rose to his throat at the sight of them. Arrows were sticking from every part of their bodies. Resuming his search of the area he found Edith and Jed lying, amazingly, side by side in death some yards from the stage, but there was no sign of Jenny anywhere. He glanced inside the stage but looking at it upside down, with the door torn open, he doubted anyone would have remained inside and not be thrown clear. All he saw was the blood covered torn seats. He looked around and found the tracks from many horses. Vin had taught him enough to tell that they had turned and gone the way the stage had come. Also the horses were shod, confirming his suspicion that it was an evil ploy from the ranchers, who didn’t mind murdering a few people to dissuade future settlers. Seeing no sign of Jenny at all he presumed they had taken her. Being a pretty young female he could only think of one reason why they would, which meant she would be kept alive for the time being. He would ride after them and try to free her, but he could not leave these poor people for the vultures.  So he sadly started the task of burying the dead.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Finishing his grim task as quickly as possible, Ezra set out to follow the tracks left by the raiders. A few minutes later as he paused to wipe the sweat from his eyes with his handkerchief he wished yet again that Vin was with him. If the ranch hands had Jenny as he suspected could he rescue her?  They were obviously desperate men who had no intentions of leaving any witnesses. Even if he could make it back to Four Corners and get his friends to help him, he doubted she would be alive by the time they reached her.

 

A small sound made him suddenly alert; his gun drawn and ready in the blink of an eye. His eyes scanned the horizon, every muscle in his body alert and ready for action. And then he heard it again. It sounded like a faint groan. Gripping his gun even tighter he located the sound just behind some rocks. His heart thudding in his chest, he walked towards the sound and caught a glimpse of a body. He gasped as he found Jenny, lying in an impossible position; groaning faintly, yet not conscious. He was at her side in a heartbeat and gently as he could he checked her for broken bones. Her left arm was pinned behind her body in a totally unnatural way and there was blood trickling down her cheek from a nasty gash on her forehead. She also seemed to be covered in cuts that would need tending to avoid infection. Slowly he lifted her to make her more comfortable; wincing at the cry of pain as he moved her injured arm. Jenny’s eyes briefly fluttered open but there was no recognition in them. He lay her down in the shade, pressing his canteen to her lips. Her left shoulder was certainly dislocated, he knew what that felt like. He knew he had to push it back into position as Nathan had done for him, but also knew the severity of the pain that it would inflict on her. Thankfully she was unconscious; he braced her body with his knee, took her arm in his left, held her shoulder with his right and then quickly yanked it back into position. Her scream echoed off the surrounding mountains but she quickly drifted back into the depths of darkness.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Night was closing in. It would soon get very cold. He knew he had to find them shelter and build a fire for warmth or she wouldn't last the night. Although her injuries weren’t too severe, shock was setting in and he didn't like the look of her head injury. Gently lifting her onto his horse he mounted behind her, cradling her in his arms as he scanned the hills on both sides of the canyon hoping to find a cave that would offer them shelter. 
 
Luck was on his side as he found a suitable place before it was totally dark. He settled her on his blanket, noticing that she seemed to be breathing better. Ezra set about making a fire and putting a coffee pot on to boil. He was putting more wood on the fire when he heard a groan behind him. Turning he gave her his best dimple inducing grin, as she looked at him with groggy eyes.


"Where am I?" she asked quietly. She had come to, feeling warm and strangely safe, the pain in her arm had dulled down to a faint ache but the pain in her head still throbbed mercilessly.
 
"You're safe now," he said, a look of concern as he noticed her squint from pain. "How are you feeling?"
 
"I don’t recall everything that happened,” she said, clearly confused and a little scared. Her eyes suddenly went wide as saucers as she remembered a little from before. "Where are Edith and Jed?” She asked, afraid of the answer.
 
"I'm afraid they didn't make it," Ezra hesitated, not wanting to upset her more, taking her hand in his to try to ease her sadness as he saw tears well up in her eyes. She tried to sit up and was hit by a sudden attack of dizziness. Ezra's arm was around her in an instant, supporting her and protecting her from falling. She let her head fall against his shoulder as grief and shock enveloped her.


Jenny started to weep and he held her close until her tears subsided. She looked up at him then, her eyes wide, and her lashes long and moist. Looking down into those eyes Ezra leaned forward as if he was going to kiss her and then at the last moment placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

 

The young woman turned her face away to hide the fierce heat that had suddenly rushed to her cheeks and said in a small, not quite steady, voice, “Th…thank you for looking after me.


Ezra heard the smile in her voice, even though her face was hidden from him. “You’re most welcome my dear.” Letting her go and settling her back down on the makeshift bed, he watched her for what seemed like a long time before finally turning away to tend to the coffee pot on the fire, leaving her with her thoughts.

Watching his muscles ripple through his shirt to the rhythm of his breathing, Jenny lay feeling securely drowsy as the effects of the day and her injuries slowly took their toll. As she drifted her mind went back to their first meeting.

 

As she seated herself in the stagecoach she had looked up only to be met by the most gorgeous green eyes she had ever seen.  In them you could see into his soul, they were that expressive. She immediately felt the colour rush to her cheeks. Who would have known that those eyes would belong to the gentleman who helped her down from the stage and made himself her personal protector? Re-focusing on him in the present she pondered his character. He was truly a gentleman as he had turned away, not forcing himself upon her as many may have. "He may be my protector from savages and outlaws," she thought to herself.  "But who will protect me from him!  And more to the point, from my treacherous heart, and just where did those muscles comefrom?! He hides them well under his slack tailored clothing."

 

How could she put her total trust in this stranger, after all she had only known him two days! But her heart did not seem to be listening to reason as it did a flip flop when he turned and offered her coffee. She simply shook her head and, closing her eyes, she let sleep take over.

 

For a while Ezra just sat watching her breast rise and fall as Jenny gently slumbered. He felt a familiar feeling rise from deep inside himself as he watched her, and had to fight the urge to take her in his arms, caressing away whatever it was that was troubling her.  Instead he gently stroked her soft hair back from her damp forehead, and she murmured under his touch. He felt certain he was falling in love with this girl and would do anything to win her heart. It was then that his eyes caught sight of her skin where her sleeve was torn. Frowning, he very tenderly lifted her arm higher to reveal a mass of bruises.  Then, picking up the blanket that had slipped off when he stood, he noticed her leg was the same where her skirt had lifted and her stocking was torn. Unfortunately he had been around enough to know that most of the bruises were too old to have been caused by such a recent incident. His face grew hard as he recalled the flash of pain crossing her face the day before as he helped her from the stage.  At that time it had happened so fast he had convinced himself he had imagined it. But now he had even more evidence that he had been right.  Someone had done this to her! His fist clenched and unclenched as he pictured those riders who had been following her. Gently he replaced the blanket; his questions would have to wait. For now, she needed the rest.

 

Jenny did not rest though; she became more and more agitated. Though he had done his best to clean her cuts after she had fallen asleep, many showed signs that they were becoming infected. Now she had a fever and was muttering things he couldn’t make out. The only word he caught was "Grace" which she repeated several times. Dousing his handkerchief in the water from his canteen, he tried to cool her down.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

After a few hours it became clear that she needed more help than he could give her, but what could he do? He could not leave her alone as she would not make it through the night. The fever was getting worse with every minute which on its own was serious, but he had also heard Nathan speak often enough about internal injuries to cause him extra concern. Add that to the head injury and he was not happy at all. He did not want to put her through a jolting horse ride no matter what the distance, but how could he get her to town? They were not too far from Landon where he was to meet Buck. The attack had happened mid-afternoon and the stage had been due in town that evening.Thinking of the supposed “Indians” suddenly gave him an idea, it would not be easy in the dark but they had no other options left. Re-soaking the necktie, he made her as comfortable as possible and then made for the wreck as quickly as he could. Reaching his destination, salvaging what he needed was hampered considerably by the lack of a good moon this night but he persevered and was soon heading back to the cave with the desired items.

In the light of the campfire his progress speeded up considerably, while he was constantly being reminded of the urgency by her faint moans in the background. It had taken precious time to reach the stage and return to the cave. On hindsight he now realised he had made a bad decision. He should have headed straight to town instead of finding shelter. He had thought it best to wait for the area to be totally clear of the miscreants responsible for the atrocity and treat what wounds he could as soon as possible instead of take the longer ride to town. The cave he had found was luckily large, providing ample space to work in and shelter them. He had hidden the horse in some scrub close enough to leave quickly should the need arise. Before long he looked at his handy work with a degree of satisfaction. Strapped to his horse, he had brought into the cave upon his return, was a travois that would carry her, hopefully, to safety and help. The others will not believe me capable of such menial labour he thought but I am full of surprises they have yet to learn. The moon had finally come out to give him direction as he started the dangerous journey. He was painfully aware of every bump they manoeuvred over in this rough terrain; her distress was only too obvious each time she was jolted. He was only thankful that she was not totally conscious to endure it.

 

After what seemed like hours he could see the light from the town fires in the distance. He could picture Buck waiting in the saloon, a pretty girl on his knee. Smiling to himself at the image of his friend, he urged his horse onwards towards the town clinic.

 

MM7M7M7M7M7M7

 

The sound penetrated his dream and eventually woke him. Someone was hammering at his door so hard they wouldn't need him to open it soon. Grumbling under his breath Doctor Haslet ran his fingers through his sleep tousled, grey hair, grabbed his robe and opened the door. He stumbled backwards as a man he recognized as one of the peacekeepers from Four Corners burst in carrying a girl in his arms. “What...?" he stared open mouthed, the words failing him as Ezra very gently deposited his charge onto the bed in the clinic.

 

"Her name is Jenny. The stage she was travelling on was attacked and she has a head injury, bruising and has had a high fever for the last few hours," Ezra informed him. When it seemed the doctor was walking in his sleep, Ezra shouted "Doctor!!!"

 

That last word; forceful, urgent and full of fear, finally penetrated the still drowsy mind of the doctor.  He sprang into efficient action, instructing Ezra to fetch things and then leave and give him space to do his job. "Don’t worry," he said gently, his hand reassuringly on the younger man's shoulder "You did the right thing by bringing her here. Go get some rest, I’ll let you know how she is later."

 

Ezra nodded, silently looking back over his shoulder at the prone figure of the girl he now knew he loved, as the doctor kindly shepherded him out the door. "Save her Doctor," he said, "She has been treated badly, as you will see, she deserves so much better." then he walked slowly down the street towards the Saloon to find Buck who would be waiting for him to arrive. Knowing his friend would be getting worried, he picked up his pace and saw Wilmington’s silhouette in the open doorway a moment later.

 

A moment later Wilmington was stepping out to meet him on the porch, “What happened to the stage Ezra? I was beginning to get worried,” then noticing the drawn tired expression on his friend’s face said more gently, “come and have a drink and tell me what happened.”

 

Moments later, gratefully receiving the whiskey Buck placed before him, Ezra sat down and started to recount everything that had happened during the last two days. He carefully avoided his feelings for the girl lying fighting for her life against fever in the Doctor’s clinic.

 

Buck was fuming with rage by the time Ezra had finished recounting all that he knew. He hated hearing of any mistreatment of women and would gladly kill any man that lifted a finger to a lady. “I say we go get the boys and find this piece of scum,” he said quietly, hatred giving a steel quality to his usually jovial voice.

 

“We do not even know where to begin to look for this miscreant,” stated Ezra calmly to his friend. “We must wait and hope that Miss Winters recovers from her fever and can tell us where to look.”

 

Although Ezra was wearing his carefully settled poker face hiding any emotional involvement, Buck could tell that the other man was not telling him everything to do with his relationship with Jenny. However, respecting his friend’s privacy, he held his tongue.

 

“As it is a good two days ride back to Four Corners why don’t you go to fetch Mr Larabee and others while I stay here and try to ascertain where we can find this miscreant from Miss Jennifer when she recovers,” suggested Ezra sincerely hoping he was correct about her actually recovering.

 

Buck didn’t like leaving Ezra in the circumstances but being as the telegraph was down following after being cut by the gang his friends were currently dealing with, he had no choice. He had no doubt the gang would be behind bars by time he arrived back home.

 

HOME / ARCHIVE / PART 2

 

Authors Appreciate Feedback. Email Jeanette.

 

 

© Jeanette Alice Ann 2010