Saga of Blood - Beginnings
An Alternate Universe story with the gentlemen from the Magnificent Seven in it.

Disclaimer: The characters Josiah Sanchez, Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, Nathan Jackson, Ezra Standish, Vin Tanner, and JD are characters from the program The Magnificent Seven TV series. They are not mine and are owned by Trilogy, CBS and MGM. I am making no profit from their use.

My thanks to Michelle for setting the idea in my head and allowing me to run with it.

Warning: In this part, the boys are just that - boys.


A while back, Michelle brought up an idea -- lets have an AU with the guys as brothers, estranged and unknown, but brothers. Their father's last wish was gather them together into one family. I watched the discussion and was curious, but could not get any ideas about the first meetings of the guys. I kept seeing their father -- searching for his sons and wondering, worrying, trying to keep the ones he had safe and happy.

So, with Michelle's permission and a wary eye on the stories already out (I don't want to spoil them or make them completely untenable), here is what I see, all from Lincoln's perspective.

I hope you enjoy.

Ronnee

Saga of Blood: Beginnings
Ronnee

An Alternate Universe featuring the men from the Magnificent Seven.

South Texas 1962

Lincoln Josiah Larabee stared at the old rancher, his pale gray eyes flashing furiously. At fifteen, Larabee considered himself a man and most people agreed with him. Both his parents had died two years earlier and young Linc had fled a step ahead of Social Services. For two long
years, the boy had survived, eeking a living through whatever means necessary. He knew he did not have much - a forged id, five hundred dollars in the bank, his beat up pick-up truck, and a lot of hard earned experience. But even with that little, he had not expected Ramirez' reaction.

"You will stay away from my granddaughter, gringo." Mario Hernando Leon de Ramirez was a big man. Standing nearly six feet tall, he was not that much taller than Linc. His girth, all 275 lbs of it, made the younger man seem small. "It's bad enough that you ruined her - now you want to ruin my entire family?"

"I will marry her." Lincoln struggled against the two ranch hands pinning him in place. Although tall for his age and wiry from hard work, he was no match for the older men.

"You will do no such thing." Ramirez sneered. "Never has a member of my family mixed with your kind. We are pure bloods and can trace our bloodlines back to the hidalgos of Spain. Tomorrow morning my granddaughter will marry Santo Jesus Sanchez, a man of breeding and true understanding of the value of our race. You won't be around to interfere."

"You can't make me stop loving her!" Lincoln hissed furiously. In his years on the edge of Texan society, he had never faced such determined hatred. Most of the people he knew, while not exactly what he would call good friends, accepted him and his hard working ways.

Ramirez' response to Larabee's words was immediate. Before the young man could pull away, the hidalgo's huge fists struck - one to the young man's jaw and one to his stomach. As the two ranch hands held him upright, the old man continued beating him. His last coherent thought was how glad he was the old man did not know his granddaughter was carrying his child. He might kill Lincoln, but Marisul and the baby were safe from his hatred.


^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Lincoln stared at the newspaper article in dismay. She was gone. When Ramirez had told him about the arranged wedding, he had left out one very important fact - Sanchez' home was not in the United States. The man was only visiting an old family friend. Marrying that friend's granddaughter was a plus to the visit - he got to take home a very pretty, child bride.

He carefully tore the wedding announcement from the paper and folding it, he tucked it into his wallet. He had lost her; Marisul was gone. His unborn son was gone. He would never forget them; he would never give up on finding them again. For now, he had no choice but to let them go.

For several long, silent minutes he stared across the street. A sign caught his attention - Uncle Sam wants you. Lincoln blinked. He did not have anywhere else to go - he was out of money, his truck was trashed, and he had lost his job. He glanced at the posters adorning the windows. It was better than anything else he could think of at the moment.

Leaving a quarter by his empty coffee cup, Lincoln Larabee stiffly stood and left the diner. Maybe the army would be a good place for him to start over.

^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Nevada, 1971

"Linc?" The woman on the hospital bed was pale, her skin nearly translucent but her voice was filled with love and happiness.

"He's beautiful, Angie." Lincoln Larabee could not help the bright smile that flushed his face. He dropped his beret on the bedside table and propped himself beside his wife.

Angelica Beatrix Van Haff Larabee smiled at him. Their marriage was a happy one, as happy as it could be with him being stationed overseas. They had met while he was on furlough in Hawaii and she was on vacation from college. A whirlwind romance had left them married, and unknown to them at the time, expectant parents. She had quietly and happily informed him of the baby while making herself a home in a tiny apartment not far from her parents' house. In that apartment Chris had taken his first steps while his father fought in an unwanted war and his mother waited for him to come home.

"I think so too." She whispered.

Linc took her hand, gently carrying it to his lips. The smile she rewarded him with was worth the small gesture. She looked so fragile, nestled against the pillows, IV's running to both arms.

"The doctors won't tell me." Her voice trailed off.

"Chris is fine. Just a few bumps and bruises." Linc forced himself to sound cheerful, but it was hard.

From the moment his commanding officer pulled him from the mess with orders to return to the world immediately, he had been terrified. No one in the Army knew exactly what had happened. All they knew was that the orders were at the request of on of the military hospitals and his family had been involved in an accident. Upon his arrival in Nevada, he had been rushed strait to the hospital. One of the corpsmen had detoured long enough to show him Chris, playing awkwardly with a nurse, one arm in a cast.

Then he had met with the doctor. Angie's parents had both died instantly in the car accident. Angie herself had been injured in a way that gave them very little hope. Right now she was lucid and the drugs were keeping her painfree, but they had no hope. At the doctor's request he had shaved and spruced up before walking into the room. He had understood why the moment he saw his wife. Although she was trying so hard to put on a cheerful front, it was obvious she was dying.

"Your eyes tell me what they won't." Angie let her fingers wrap around his hand. "How long?"

Lincoln bowed his head, rubbing his cheek against the back of her hand. "That depends on how long you hold on - you can beat this."

"I held on for you to come home." Her words surprised him and he looked up to see the love shining in her eyes. "Chris needs his daddy."

"Don't leave us." Lincoln begged, hating the feeling that once again he was losing something precious.

"I'll always be in your heart." She smiled at him.

He could see the exhaustion in her face. He whispered, "Rest, I'll be here when you wake up."

Still smiling, she drifted into sleep. He watched, tears filling his eyes as her breathing slowed. When she stopped breathing he bit back his cry of outrage. All his life fate had stolen his family members from him. He looked up in time to see the doctor check the equipment surrounding Angie's frail form. The man's expression said it all - she was gone. Linc leaned over and placed a lingering kiss on her unresponsive lips before standing and stalking out of the room. He had forgotten how much it hurt to lose someone.

^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

An hour later, he found himself near the nursery, watching the tiny babies in their bassinettes. His reflection in the glass that separated them shocked him. He looked so old. Tears were shimmering in his care-lined eyes and the long years in the service, spending all his free cash searching for Marisul had left creases around his mouth. He easily looked to be in his thirties instead of twenty-five.

He had lost everything again. In their letters, he and Angie had made so many plans. This was his last tour and then he was getting out of the Army. Ten years, especially with nine of those years as a Ranger, was more than enough. But what was he going to do now? He had planned on coming back to a wife and son, building a future. He was going to save up enough money to finally own a ranch, something like what his father had owned down in Texas and they were going to give Chris lots of brothers and sisters. All that was gone.

"Captain Larabee?" The soft southern drawl of a young nurse made him look up. The contrast between her dark skin and Chris' fair skin was striking. Wide, doe soft, concerned eyes were watching him, their concern striking hard. "This is your son."

The toddler was almost as pale as his cast, his sad green eyes fixed on Linc. They had never met before and the boy was uncertain.

"Hello, son." Linc drawled softly, his voice crooning. Once, a long time ago, he had been able to con wild, unbroken horses to trust him with that tone. It worked just as well with babies. The boy smiled, tiny teeth shining brightly. Linc gently ran on of his rough fingers caress a chubby cheek and Chris grabbed it fiercely. "May I?"

The nurse let him take the boy. Linc settled the heavy weight of his son against his hip, mimicking the way the nurse had held the child. Chris' eyes were the same pale green as his mother's, but his face and his hair were pure Larabee. When Chris extended the arm encased in plaster, Linc gravely studied it and then settled a gentle kiss on the unencumbered hand. Chris chuckled and yawned, his face trusting the man who held him. Linc could not quite believe how small, how sturdy, how fragile the boy in his arms was. He hugged the boy close, wanting nothing more than to protect his son.

"It's nearly time for him to sleep, Captain Larabee." The nurse led him to Chris' room. "Visiting hours are over in thirty minutes."

Linc looked up at her, shocked. They were going to separate him from his son? "I'm staying."

"Please, Captain Larabee, you need to rest and the hospital is no place for you to get that." Her words were gentle but firm. "You are going to need to make a lot of arrangements in the morning. Once Chris goes to sleep, you should go and get some yourself. Let us take care of him tonight. Tomorrow you'll find out just how much of a handful a one-year-old can be."

"He's ten months, two days, and seven hours old." Linc retorted instinctively. He saw her blink in astonishment. Of course he knew, to the hour, exactly how old his son was. "I can handle my son."

She smiled. "I know you can, but you need time to grieve before you have to handle him."

Linc glanced down at he boy. While they were talking, Chris had laid his head on Linc's chest and drifted off, his free hand holding tightly to his father's uniform shirt. It was only then that Linc realized Chris had never spoken a word. "Why can't he talk?"

"It's shock, Captain. That little boy has been through a lot. He can hear fine and when he's comfortable, he'll talk again."

Linc glanced at the nurse's id tag. "Nurse Jackson, you'll keep an eye on him for me?"

She smiled, her white teeth flashing against her dark skin. For the first time, he noticed she was beautiful. He watched her graceful movements as she took Chris from him and gently settled him into his crib. She rubbed the small back, crooning a lullaby until she was certain Chris was sound asleep. Then she waved Linc out of the room and closed the door.

"I'm a pediatric nurse, captain. I always keep an eye on the children. Chris will be fine until morning, I promise you." Her southern accent lilted the words but did not hide her quiet determination.

"When can I come back?"

"Parents can come back at six a.m."

Lincoln peeked through the nursery window and nodded. "I'll be here."

"Where will you go?"

Linc shrugged. He was not about to tell the nurse he was heading for the bar across the street from the hospital. "I left my bag in the doctor's office."

"It's at the nurse's desk. We've been holding it for you." She led the way to the desk where several nurses were quietly talking among themselves.

"I can see him again at six?" Linc confirmed the information, locking it into his memory. He could see the nurses watching him covertly as he spoke to Nurse Jackson.

"If you're here at six, we'll even let you feed him." The woman smiled.

"I can do that." Linc replied. He thanked them all, picked up his bag, and quietly left.

^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Linc entered the bar, his eyes automatically scanning it for exits, potential trouble, and the like. He noted the sign that announced rooms for rent and headed for the bar. He noted the stares his creased, worn uniform drew and ignored them.

"How much are the rooms?" He asked the woman behind the bar. She looked up, her eyes measuring him thoughtfully. She was pretty, not beautiful like the pediatric nurse he had met earlier, but downright pretty. Her bright blue eyes, full pink lips, and soft looking skin were enticingly
pretty. Her expression though, free spirited, willful, and proud told its own story. This woman was an independent one, untamed. He guessed her age to be about thirty-five or so. "I want one for a least tonight, maybe several days."

"Do you plan on drinking yourself into a stupor?" She asked calmly. Behind her, a big man moved into view, his muscles heavily defined by his tight t-shirt.

"No, ma'am. My son is across the street. They told me to find a place to stay until he can go home." Linc heard his pain in his voice but it was too late to hide it from the woman.

"And your wife?" The woman's voice was softer now, not pitying, but concerned.

"The damn drunk that put my boy in there, took her and the folks." The bitterness in Linc's voice shocked him. He quickly forced his emotions back under his control and met the woman's eyes.

"Room's twenty for the week. The bathroom is shared between all three rooms, but only one is occupied right now. My name is Ellen Wilmington." She nodded to her shadow. "Jeremy will show you to your room."

"Lincoln Larabee." Linc quickly handed her a twenty. He measured the man in the half shadow. "I won't be any trouble."

"I know you won't."



"Come on, solder-boy. Closing time." The soft voice at his elbow was a surprise. Sad blue eyes were watching him - warily.

"Already?" Linc was tipsy from the whiskey but he was not drunk. It took a lot more than a single bottle to make him drunk.

"Two a.m. Come on, I'll help you upstairs." Ellen extended her hand to him.

Linc stood, not needed in the assistance. "I'm fine ma'am."

She looked at him, her eyes measuring him carefully. "How old did you say you were, Larabee?"

"What's today?" Linc was not sure of the date, between crossing the date line and all the time zones he had gotten a little lost. He leaned on the wall, waiting for the room to stop swimming.

"May 10th."

"At twelve-oh-six a.m. I turned twenty-five." He sighed. He felt old. He very carefully saluted the barkeep and took a step towards the stairs.

"Wait up, soldier. I'm not letting you handle those steps alone." Ellen wrapped her arm around his waist and steadied his steps. "How long were you married?"

"Nineteen months, two weeks." He took a deep breath, inhaling the perfume she wore.

"How long had you known her?"

"Nineteen months, two weeks." Linc smiled. "It was love at first sight."

Ellen chuckled. "Come on, let's get you to your room."

"You're pretty, Ellen." He whispered, delighting in her blush.

"That's enough of that, soldier-boy."

"Why do you call me that?" He didn't really mind it, but it was unsettling.

"And I'm almost fourteen years older than you are." There was a sadness in her eyes that made Linc unhappy. "You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago. Just like you he had to be older than he was but his eyes, they told everyone exactly how young he was."

She brought him to a stop at his door. "Get some sleep, soldier-boy."

Linc was not quite sure why he kissed her, but he was experienced enough to know she enjoyed it.

^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

At exactly 5:30a.m. Linc's eyes popped open. He had trained himself to wake exactly when he needed to, a survival skill when living in the Rangers, and it stood him in good stead this morning. Moving as silently as possible, he slid out of bed, letting Ellen sleep. The chill morning air made him shiver as he headed for bathroom.

As he showered, he mentally railed at himself over the lapse in discipline. For nineteen months, the entire time he was away from Angie, he had remained celibate and sober. Now, less then twenty-four hours after her death, and he drank enough to end up in bed with the first willing woman. How could he walk away from her without hurting her, without destroying the gentle soul she had shown him? He had not meant for them to end up in bed, much less doing what they had done.

He could hear his father's voice explaining the facts of life when he was a kid - "Linc, you never ever betray a woman. They're not made like men are. They take things into their hearts and let them fester." The older Larabee had smiled sadly. "You give one your word and you honor it. Hell, boy, you treasure them and never forget that a woman will walk through fire for the man she loves or her children. But inside, they are soft and fragile. They never forget a wrong, never forgive a betrayal, and never let go of a loved one."

She met him at the door of the tiny room with a smile. "You remind me of my husband." She spoke, shocking him. He froze, waiting. "He was always so gentle, so tender. Thank you for that."

Linc stared after her as she walked down the hall and unlocked a steel safety door. "I'll see you around sometime."

He was not sure what had just happened but he thought she had just 'let him down easy.' Shaking his head wryly, he quickly dressed in another uniform. And he had been worried about her.


At exactly 06:00, Linc slid into his son's room. Chris lay in his crib, eyes still closed, the soft gentle movements of his chest marking his breathing. Using the backs of his fingers, he touched the boy's cheek. After a moment, the pale green eyes flared open.

They stared at each other in silence. Gray eyes met green eyes, each taking in the presence of the other. Finally, Chris smiled, gurgling at his father. Linc started to pick the boy up and noted the wet diaper.

"You are going to have to learn to use the toilet, kid." Linc grumbled as he stared at the offending garment. He studied it for a moment and managed to get it off the boy. Then he looked around, searching for another.

"What are you doing?" An unfamiliar voice asked coldly.

"Changing my son, I think." Linc responded, turning his attention to the white clad, angry woman in the doorway. He raised an eyebrow. "Where do I get new cloths?"

"Captain Larabee," the woman growled, stalking forward. "That is not your job."

Gently placing one hand on Chris' stomach, he glared at the woman. His words were cold, clipped, and full of menace. "He's my son. I'll take care of him. All you have to do is show me how to do it."

"The baby needs his mother." The nurse was nearly as tall as he was. Her features were closed, furious at his intrusion into her territory. "I'll just take him to her and she can handle the boy."

"She's dead." There was absolutely no inflection in Linc's voice as he scooped the naked toddler from the crib, holding him protectively to his chest. Suddenly, he was afraid that if she took Chris, he would never see the boy again. Only this time, unlike the child he lost when he lost Marisul, he knew he would die before letting Chris vanish. "There ain't no need for you to take him to the morgue. Just stay away from us."

The woman paused, her eyes widening at his defensive gesture. She blinked and stepped back. Linc carefully turned his body to keep her as far from Chris as possible, watching her warily.

As she did, another nurse entered the room and paused. She looked from one adult to the other. "Captain Larabee? Lieutenant Crenshaw?"

"She ain't taking him to the morgue." Linc's voice was low, soft, and menacing. He split his attention between the two women, wondering why his father had not warned him just how dangerous women could be. He did not want to hurt them, but he was not letting them take his son.

The newcomer raised her eyebrows and turned to the older nurse.

"I said I was taking him to his mother." A blush quickly coated Crenshaw's cheeks.

"It's all right, Captain." The nurse soothed. "Let me get him dressed and then."

"No, ma'am." Linc responded vehemently. "Just give me his stuff and I'll do it."

"Have you ever taken care of a baby, captain?" The younger woman asked gently.

"I'll learn, but y'all ain't taking my son to no morgue." Linc felt the panic in his chest intensify.

"Easy, soldier." She motioned for the first nurse to leave. "She didn't realize that your wife had died. We were under orders to let Mrs. Larabee have as much contact with the baby as we could."

Still cradling Chris, Linc glanced down at his son. The bright eyes were fixed on his collar tabs and the tiny fingers were trying fruitlessly to remove the shiny metal from the cloth. "Nurse Jackson said I could take care of him if I came in at 0600."

"If you let me dress him, I'll let you feed him." The young woman smiled gently. "We aren't trying to take him away."

Reluctantly, Linc let her take Chris. The nurse seemed to understand his fear, she kept her moves slow as she showed him how to fold and pin a diaper on his squirming son. Then she had another nurse bring in a tray, breakfast for two, and encouraged him to feed the boy.

~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

"Captain Larabee?" A man in a suit stood in the doorway.

Linc stood, leaving Chris play to with the blocks in the crib by himself for a moment. He let his eyes study the man, taking in the charcoal suit, the sad face, and the briefcase in his left hand. He felt his muscles coil at the unspoken threat in the man's posture. "Yes, sir."

"I'm Orrin Travis, Mr. Carl Van Haff's attorney." The man introduced himself quietly. "We need to talk."

"Come in." Linc gestured to the room. There weren't many small children in the military hospital, so Chris had a room to himself.

"It would be best if we took this elsewhere." The lawyer's brown eyes did not soften as he studied Linc.

"I am not leaving my son, sir." Linc forced himself to stay polite.

"Very well." Travis sighed and came into the room. "Why did you marry my client's daughter?"

Linc frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Did you know who she was?"

"She was beautiful and full of life." Linc felt the tears fill his eyes as he thought back to the day he had met Angie. "I was learning to surf and lost my board. She pulled me aboard her boat. The sun was so bright and it made a halo around her head." He did notice the silence that grew as he focused on that day. "It was like meeting an angel on earth and then when I told her that, she laughed. 'Cause that's her name, Mr. Travis and it's the truth. My angel - and God done took her back to heaven."

"She's rich, Captain Larabee and you and the boy are her heirs."

"Don't want her money. Lock it up until Chris is a man. I'll take care of him on my own." Linc growled. How on earth could the man think he wanted Angie's money over Angie.

"It can be arranged so you can't touch the money."

"Do it."

"How will you manage?"

Linc turned furious eyes on the lawyer. "When I was twelve, my folks died. The bank took the ranch. I went out and got a job. I've put away half of everything I've ever earned - so I would never have to go hungry again. Chris will never want for anything."

"Angie's father bought the two of you a ranch."

Linc froze, his eyes wide as he studied the man in front of him. "The Four Corners?" At the lawyer's nod, he let slowly sank onto the floor. "I wrote to her about that place. I'd seen once, when delivering a horse to a spread nearby. Told her all about my dream of turning it into a place for us to raise Chris."

The lawyer's face was concerned as he stared at Linc. "Captain Larabee?"

"Was that where they were going?"

Travis shook his head. "They were leaving my oldest son's graduation."

"Put the ranch in Chris' name. I don't want anything that I don't earn."

"I can't do that, Captain." Travis smiled sadly. "You gave her your power of attorney so she had the whole thing put in your name the day Chris was born."

"Then why live here?" Linc was bewildered by the knowledge that Angie had taken his dreams and made them reality.

"She was waiting for you to come home."

"I only have six weeks to go - why couldn't she have stayed alive for six weeks?" Linc felt the tears build again, but Chris' forlorn wail caught his attention. Banishing his own misery, he stood and went to his son. He cradled Chris to him, letting him rest his head on his shoulder. It had been a long day and the boy was tired. He began pacing, one hand rubbing his son's back. "What do I do now?"

"We get him released from the hospital and you from the army." Travis watched him carefully. He made a quick decision. "We get you and him settled at the ranch and then you explain why you've got a private detective on retainer."

Linc stared at the lawyer in shock. He knew about the search for Marisul.

"I was Angie's godfather. When you two eloped, her father and I had you investigated. We knew about your age - but that didn't matter, not to us. That was easy enough for us to understand. The PI, that was another matter. We couldn't get the Texan to talk about your case."

"Did Angie know about your investigation?"

Travis shook his head.

Linc sighed and began talking.

^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

November 1971

Chris' head was heavy against Linc's shoulder as he led Travis into the saloon. In the months since the boy's release from the hospital, Linc had not let his son out of his sight. He glanced around the saloon noting the differences for the first time. In several months that he had been gone, working on the ranch, learning to know his son, things had changed. The bar seemed dingy; the saloon itself less friendly.

He looked over at Travis with a frown, "Something's wrong."

Travis looked up at Linc's comment. He looked around the saloon for differences from the last time he had been there, but he saw none. "What do you mean?"

Linc shrugged as he glanced around the saloon, cradling his tired son to his shoulder. He caught the eye of the big man behind the bar and frowned. The young bruiser was glaring at them with a hatred that Linc could not understand. "I'm not sure. Can you keep an eye on Chris for me?"

Before the lawyer could disagree, the older man was holding the toddler while his father headed for the bar.

"Ain't you done enough?" The hate filled blue eyes were almost as fierce as the venom in the man's voice.

"What did I do?" Linc asked softly.

"You know what you done." The normally impassive face was furious. "You - you did that and then you just left! You made us lose everything."

"Jeremy? What's wrong?" Ellen's voice sounded exhausted.

"Get out before she sees you and your son." There was a bitter sneer in Jeremy's voice.

"Jeremy? Please don't be fighting again." Ellen stepped out of the kitchen and froze. "Lincoln."

Linc felt his jaw drop but he could not help the reaction. Now he understood some of the other man's anger. Ellen had lost weight she did not have to lose; it showed in her face and neck. Oh, Linc knew from the look of her body - swollen belly and breasts - that the scales would argue with him, but she was too damn skinny. The baby, the one she had not said a word about when they spoke on the phone, was easily six months along, and he would bet it was his. But Ellen had not said a single word about being pregnant.

"Were you going to tell me?" He asked, pain and shock lacing his voice.

"I'm a big girl, soldier-boy." Ellen smiled wistfully, laying her hand on Jeremy's arm. "I can take care of myself."

"We're fired 'cause of you." Jeremy growled.

"Jeremy, go to the kitchen." Ellen's voice turned cold.

The big man shook his head fretfully and for the first time Lincoln noticed the startling resemblance between them. From the look of the eyes and profile, they were kin. He also noted the slightly dull look as Jeremy tried to explain his refusal. He had known the big man was slow, now he realized it was more than that. Something in the giant man's mind was broken beyond repair and he was devoted to Ellen. She was his anchor and by his actions, Linc had threatened the man's world. It took another gentle but firm request on Ellen's part to convince Jeremy to go into the kitchen.

"You don't have to do this on your own, Ellen." Linc spoke softly, eyeing her warily. "Let me help."

"Help? Why should I?" Ellen balled her fists on her hips. "Don't you think I can handle this on my own?"

"No. I'm not saying that." Fear swept through him. Linc had spent years learning to read other people by their eyes, their stance, and the unspoken words they refused to say aloud. Right now his instincts were telling him that if he did not tread very carefully, he would lose Ellen. And if she decided to run, he was afraid he would never find her. "I know you can do this on your own, I'm just saying you don't have to. Let me help you."

"I am not going to let you support us - you're just starting off." Ellen protested. Her eyes were steely with determination.

Linc raised his hands in supplication. "Easy, Ellen. just listen to me. Give me a little time and I'll figure a way to work everything out."

"Today's our last day." Ellen whispered. "We've got to be out of here at closing."

"I'll have everything arranged by then." Linc had learned to make snap decisions early in his life, and he made one now. "No matter what, don't leave without us."

"Where I go, Jeremy goes." The fierce, protective glare she shot nearly made him laugh. That was his fiery lady. nothing could keep her down long.

"I know that. I wouldn't ask you to leave your brother behind." Linc admitted quietly. "I've got to get back to Chris and Orrin."

"We'll be here when you get back." Ellen smiled, some of her exhaustion fading.

Linc nodded to her and then turned on his heels. He had some plans to make and not much time to get them done.

"Problems?" Orrin Travis raised an eyebrow as Linc pulled up a chair.

Linc ignored the older man as he quickly gave ordered food for the three of them. Once the waitress was on her way, he turned to the lawyer. "How much of my money is free and clear?"

The lawyer became still, thinking over the question. "About 25. Why?"

"Would that be enough for a down payment on the Saloon in town?" Linc knew the older man would figure it out pretty fast. "I'm going to stake them if I can. They can take over the mortgage and I'll stay the silent partner."

"Trouble?"

"I got drunk the night Angie died." Linc handed Chris a toy to keep the boy occupied.

Orrin winced. "Tell me it wasn't."

"She's a widow and was missing her husband. I didn't force her, but I didn't take any precautions either." The ex-soldier shrugged. "Stupid of me, even if I was drinking. She and her brother need a place but they don't want charity."

"Why can't the brother take care of them?" The sharp brown eyes stared at Linc, measuring and assessing the younger man's words.

"He's," Linc hesitated, "slow."

Orrin nodded. "I see."

"No, you don't." His voice was vehement even though he pitched it low. "I am not loosing another one. It's bad enough I don't know what happened to Marisul or our baby. I've been hunting for eleven years and I still haven't found them. That's not going to happen again."

Orrin sighed, "I hear you. I'll see what we can do about the saloon, you feed Chris and talk the lady into listening."

With that the lawyer stood and took his leave. Linc glanced at Chris, smiling as he saw the quiet boy happily playing with his toy horses. He could put the saloon in Ellen's name, let them run the place, and he would be able to keep an eye on them from his ranch. It wasn't ideal but he knew enough about Ellen to know that was all she was about to let him get away with. If he pushed to hard, she would take her brother and the unborn baby and vanish. Linc would have to swallow his pride and let her live her own life. But if that were the only way to keep track of his child, he would do it.

He sighed, letting Chris climb into his lap. When the food was delivered, he fed his son from his own plate. The new ranch was all he had ever dreamed, Angie had followed every thought he had ever mentioned for their home. It wasn't the same, though. The place might look like the ranch his father had lost to the bank, but it was not. It was a new place, a new start. He hated starting over, but at least this time he was not alone. He had his son. He had mustered out of the Army and was going raise Chris just like his father had raised him - to love the land. Soon there would be another Larabee to share it with too. And maybe he would find Marisul again. Maybe, now that he had a stable life, the PI would find something.

fin

Before you ladies panic, there will be more -- there has to be. But the beginning has come to an end. Why? Because Linc, stubborn coot that he is, insists. Chris just shrugged at me. Josiah grinned and whispered a secret in my ear. Ezra refuses to discuss his mother with me in any shape or form. Nathan is sulking and glaring.

As soon as they cooperate, I'll write the next installment. Hopefully soon
Ronnee