The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. This story is strictly for entertainment. 

My thanks to Antoinette and MAC for your help and support, and to my niece Mary for her original drawing for the title banner.

The worth of a man

In the Gambler and the Renegade OW AU – Prequel to Darkness and Light.

Ezra/OMC   Ezra/Vin

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colors and textures that come alive in others.
Albert Schweitzer

 

 

Purgatory

Ezra Standish was a professional gambler, the red coat and black Mississippi river boat gambler style hat he wore were visual badges of his trade. Purgatory was a hell hole and the only reason he was currently seated in a rat and flea infested excuse for a saloon in a town that was a cesspool was Craig Goodwin, the man owed him money.  Goodwin was a poor excuse for a gambler and an even poorer excuse for a gunman, he owed him $250 but had skipped town, be it one step in front of an angry mob but that was no excuse. He had still run out on his debt and Ezra had followed him down to Purgatory to collect one way or other.

As always Ezra was sat with his cards they flicked between his fingers as he cut and produced aces and kings on command, it was then a shadow was cast over him, he looked up and the breath seemed to catch in his throat, as he found himself looking up into a man’s face, even with its somber cast it couldn’t hide that he was a fine looking man.

“Can I interest you in a game Mister?” Ezra left the question hanging in the air.

The man in black didn’t answer but Ezra’s expert eyes had taken in the gun and the way it was worn, and knew he was looking at a gun man and an above average one.

“Pray take a seat Sir, a game of cards is a good way of getting acquainted, and breaking the ice between strangers,” Ezra flashed him one of his gold tooth smiles, but the gunman didn’t return it, his expression never changed, as he took a seat.

But instead of sitting opposite him the gun man sat down at his side, making Ezra change his position.  Ezra tried not to show how uncomfortable he was now in his new position with his back partly exposed to the men in the room.  The gun man placed a bottle of whiskey in front of himself and his back to the wall. The flat brimmed hat he wore was slanted down shading his eyes, it was when he reached for the bottle and splashed a half tot of whiskey into it that he pushed the hat back so it hung on his back by the stampede strap, that Ezra saw the green eyes, cold and emotionless and the blond hair worn longer than most, a hank of it dropped over one eye. The blond man brushed it back and then tipped the glass and drained it, and pulled out a cheroot taking one of the matches from the container on the table and struck it on the table top. Once he had it going to his satisfaction he spoke, the accent put him from around Indiana way, “Lost aren’t you gambler,” Larabee nodded at the run down saloon.  

“No I am always where I want to be mister?” Ezra left the question hanging in the air between them as for the second time he tried to draw the gun man’s name from him.

“Larabee, Chris Larabee,” the twist of the lips was nowhere near a smile, it reminded Ezra of a predator eyeing a particular sweet morsel and it sent a pleasant shudder through his body.

Another man approached the table, only to halt unsure as Larabee turned to look at him; the man muttered a quick apology and hurried away.

“You seem to have a very interesting effect on people Mr. Larabee?”

The infamous gun man lips twitched again, and he reached for the pack of cards, Ezra watched as Larabee cut the card shuffling them and dealing left handed.

“Impressive Mr. Larabee.”

“It was learning to deal left handed or stop playing, like my cards too much to do that.”

Ezra looked at his cards, and threw a dollar into the pot, the clunk of a second coin showed that Larabee was matching the bid, the amount in the pot raised slowly, the silence between them stretched, and Ezra could feel the tension building it was as if the air between them was charged like with a summer storm. Ezra found himself concentrating on Larabee’s hand the way the long tapered fingers tapped the cards into place, he could imagine the feel of those strong hands on his body, the…..  Ezra pulled himself back to the present, he could just imagine if he acted on those feelings of attraction he would dead a heart beat later. If the rumors he heard were true, Larabee had been married and his all black clothing marked that he was still in deepest mourning for his dead family. A family man wouldn’t want to share the favors of a gambler.

Larabee called and Ezra laid his hand down, the gun man gave an annoyed grunt and threw in his cards, and leaned back in his chair, and took another drink of whiskey as Ezra began to collect the cards together for his deal. It was then he saw Larabee’s attention was attracted to the door of the saloon, Ezra turned to follow the gun man’s gaze, and but all he saw was the swing doors.   Larabee drained his drink and then got to his feet, pulled his hat back on and then collected his money pocketing it and then left the saloon taking his whiskey with him, without another word to Ezra, only then did the noise level in the saloon slowly rise back to normal. Ezra sat looking after him, and allowed himself to admire the lean body of the gunman, the cool somber gunman was a vision that he would carry to his bed tonight. With a soft sigh he turned back to the table and smiled flashing his gold tooth as others now came to join his table, some to play poker other interested more in learning about Larabee. That night when Ezra went to bed his dreams were filled with the  lean hard body and blond hair of Chris Larabee. 

0-0-0-0-0

Two weeks later

Morgan

Upstairs in the Black Dog Saloon

Julian Parker was a rich man’s son, his father owned a bank, and had a monopoly on the stores of his home town, his land holdings had been brought from the local small farmers and ranchers where the possible rail way line was coming through. Maybe not this year or the next or any time soon but one day, and it were an investment that his father’s hoarded like a miser with his gold.

Gus Parker had plans for his son, and it amused Julian that his father was willing to buy his co-operation. Parker senior turned a blind eye to his un-natural cravings and even covered them up, in return for Julian marrying Maggie Fisher, the local cattle baron’s daughter, and getting her with child and joining together their dynasties. Julian had delayed the wedding for as long as possible, liking more the status of an engaged man, as it cloaked him with respectability, if a story ever did filter through, it would be dismissed with the words he’s a respectable engaged man.

For that reason on business for his father he felt that he could indulge his needs and the gambler in the saloon had been too perfect to refuse. The trim firm body, the tight pants showing off the curve of that perfect ass, and that southern accent that rolled over him like molasses and made his cock twitch just listening to it. A few hands of poker and money passed between them, and the conversation showed the gambler to have a razor sharp mind and a dry sense of humor, the word games they had played had established what he needed to know this young gambler wanted to fuck just as much as he did.

Julian had made a show of leaving the saloon, but had immediately doubled back, and taken the back stairs up to the bedrooms above the bar. He saw the gambler what was his name Ezra, Edward, Ezra, that was it Ezra, standing by the door. As he passed down the hall he could hear the thumping of headboards, the grunts and cries as the saloon girls serviced their customers. There was a bounce to his stride as he walked, the blood was singing in his veins, as his body thrummed with hard to suppress excitement, he watched his vision in a red coat, push the door open and allow him to slip inside the bedroom, before following them in and locking the door behind them.

The room was hot, and Julian felt the sweat begin to bead his face, and his breath came a little faster. Ezra was his entertainment for the night, and good memories to take home with him when the business trip was over, this dark haired flashing eyes gambler was just what he needed and he was determined to have him.

He closed the distance between them and caught the gambler’s gun belt and pulled him close. In two strides he had Ezra or was it Edward, it didn’t really matter which, he had him pressed up against the wall his knee pressed up between the gambler’s legs, rubbing up against him, feeling the gambler harden, as he heard the low groan come from the beautiful mouth, as he felt the gambler’s hands ghosting over his body, in a need to touch and be touched.

Julian couldn’t wait any longer and began to strip him, pushing Ezra onto the bed and then followed him down, pinning the trim body against the mattress, reveling in the feel of Ezra’s naked body grinding against him, laid out for his pleasure.  His hands stroking Ezra’s flanks and down to his hips, as he teased him with small bites to his collar bone, and then his tongue licking down to circle and target the gambler’s brown  nipples that hardened for him as if begging for his attention. Julian gnawed on them, Ezra moaned his body bucking at the sharp stinging pain, then Julian was swirling his tongue over them, soothing them, as his hand stroked lower over the gambler’s hard stomach, he trailed finger nails down using just enough pressure to mark the smooth skin, and then his hand moved lower, tugging at the dark curls that framed Ezra’s cock.  He did it hard enough for Ezra to cry out, and then calmed that sweet mouth in a long ravishing kiss, that stole the gambler’s breath away. Pain and pleasure Julian considered himself a master of the subtle balance of the two that brought his partner to the edge of coming but denied him the release. It was an art form that brought the best out of them, giving them a frantic need to please him, in return for the mind shattering relief they would get when he finally let them come. More and more he wanted to hear that proud independent gambler beg him, beg him to let him come, beg him to fill his tight ass with his cock.

It was then that Ezra resisted him, and pushed up against his chest, Julian rolled onto his side, propping his head on one hand Julian watched as Ezra padded naked to his saddle bags, bending to undo one. Julian admired the view he got of Ezra’s firm tight ass, his mouth going dry as he imagined all the things he wanted to do to it.   

Ezra pulled a small tin of grease from his saddle bag and drop it against the pillow,   Julian’s hand grabbed Ezra and pulling him down onto the bed, the younger gambler hit the bed on his back his legs splaying open, it was all the invite that Julian wanted his hands pushing the gambler’s thighs future apart so that he could nestle between them.

There had been no discussion as far as Julian was concerned he didn’t have to ask to top the gambler, he just took it as his right, he set to work now to make Ezra forget everything but his need to have Julian buried deep inside of him. Julian whispered “Now where did we get up too, I know,”

His hand snaked down to torment Ezra’s body, Julian didn’t bother to undress, the feel of that naked body rubbing against him, being  clothed when his partner was naked pinned under him, gave Julian a surge of power, a feeling of total domination over the gambler.   His father might dominate him at home, but here in the bedroom he was the dominate one, he called the shot, he could bend the gambler to his will. He chucked as he felt Ezra writhe under him, it seemed he was not the only one turned on by the feeling of cloth against flesh, the gambler throw his head back and groan it was such as earthy sound that it made Julian feel as if his whole body was on fire, and the only way it could be extinguished it was by burying himself deep inside of Ezra.

Leaning in he whispered softly to Ezra, his warm breath against Ezra’s ear,  all the time working his body, keeping him balance on that exquisite edge, the gambler dug his fingers in the grease and reached down and prepared himself, as Julian’s continued his sweet assault on his nipples,  his hands and mouth making Ezra groan with need. 

 

Julian suddenly caught Ezra’s wrist pulling his fingers out with a soft pop from his hole, and then he flipped the gambler onto his belly, caught him round the hips and pulled him up into a kneel position, that firm ass his for the taking.  Julian didn’t hesitated he entered him hard and fast, the breath was knocked from Ezra’s lungs, as he pushed into him, somehow Julian found the control to hold himself still so that Ezra could  get used to being filled and let  pain become pleasure.  Only then did Julian began to move and soon the two men were lost in the sensation of coupling, their word constricted until it was reduced to the feel of cloth rubbing against naked flesh,   a hard cock plundering a willing body, the sound of panting and moaning, the squeak of bed springs and the thump of the head board against the wall.  Julian threw back his head and roared as he came flooding the gambler’s bowels with his cum, as he thrust in as deep and as hard as he could. Slumping down Julian’s weight pushed Ezra down onto the bed, pinning him in place, “God you’re good” breathlessly Julian whispered into Ezra’s ear as he pressed  kiss at the back of the gambler’s  neck he pulled out, ignoring the soft cry of pain from Ezra as he slipped free of the tight hot clinging channel.

“That was something” Julian continued reaching out and traced a finger down Ezra’s face, totally captivated by the handsome flushed face, and this very special man that shared his bed, his body so responsive to his every touch,  even that other gambler hasn’t been this good . Ezra’s tongue flicked out across the pad of his finger, something so small but coupled with the smoldering look in the green eyes, found Julian beginning to harden, this man could turn him on so fast it made his head spin. Ezra pushed him onto his back, and it was then he felt the gambler’s cock was still hard and throbbing, for some reason he hadn’t come.  Ezra leaned down and claimed his mouth in a long kiss that left him Julian breathless as he rubbed against Julian’s hand. But at the same time it wasn’t want Julian wanted, he caught Ezra and rolled him under him. It had taken all his  control not to push  Ezra away from him, the gambler was one hell of a good ass, but he didn’t want to touch him like that, instead he caught Ezra’s hand and pressed a kiss to his palm, and guided the gambler’s hand back down. As he whispered with kisses to his eyes and mouth “come for me, want to see you come.”

For a heartbeat he thought that Ezra was about to deny him, but Ezra’s need was too great and he worked his cock, it didn’t take much he was so hard the pre-com was leaking from him that he had to have release and cried out as his cum splattered over his belly and hand, Julian claimed his mouth in another kiss, and then moved off the bed. Ezra grabbed for him, which made Julian smile, did Ezra actually think he would leave him, the night was still young and he had plans for that trim body and that firm ass.  He said the words that Ezra wanted to hear, it amused him that such an independent self confident man like this gambler could be brought down by a hard cock and soft words, the man was pathetic, the contempt he felt for his own weakness in wanting this gambler turned into contempt for this naked man who was so readily offering his ass up to him.

All the same Julian quickly stripped as he said softly, “I am not going anywhere Ezra,” and then naked pulled the gambler into his arms. Julian pushed against Ezra’s hip rolling onto his stomach, his hand firmly pinning Ezra there when he started to protest wanting to move onto his back.

“Want to see your face Julian, need to”, Ezra pleaded but Julian ignored him, to him Ezra was no more than a willing hole and a fine trim body that was here for his pleasure, what Ezra wanted was immaterial. He would have laughed in Ezra’s face if he hadn’t thought it would curtail the evening’s pleasure, that this gambler would think that he would even want to look at his face as he took him was comical. By now Julian was so hard it was almost painful, as he cooed words of comfort to a man he thought of no different than the $3 whores he used, with  a firm arm round Ezra’s waist he  pulling the gambler onto all fours, pushing his own knee forward to part Ezra’s. Then for a moment Julian halted as his hands then moved to the firm cheeks of Ezra’s ass and Julian spread them and looked  at the fluttering pucker his cum was seeping from it, and a feeling of ownership ran through him, this man was his. This time he entered Ezra slowly, and tenderly, not  because he felt any emotions for Ezra but because it was his pleasure to take him that  way afterwards Julian  tugged the blanket up over their bodies, his hands moving over Ezra, petting and stroking, and gentling him after his climax, and pulling him close and joined him in sleep.

Julian woke up hard, he rolled on his side and trailed his hands over Ezra’s body, and he didn’t have long before he would have to go. He planned to make the most of his time with Ezra as he could, reaching out he fondled Ezra until the gambler woke, and he saw in that split second that Ezra didn’t know who he was so he plundered his mouth with hot kisses until that sweet body was arching up against him. He took the  younger gambler one more time before dressing slowly as always checking his appearance in the flyspecked mirror before leaving by the back stair case with a  with a muttered promise of tonight.

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra lay in his bed, watching the tall blond haired Julian Parker leave his room, the only mementoes of their coupling was the dull ache of his body and the scent of musky sex that clung to his skin, he rolled onto his side and watched the dawn light break over the roof of the store opposite the saloon. He tugged the pillow and wrapped his arms round it pulling it tight against his body, needing a physical connection with something, as the feeling of loneliness ran through him causing him to shudder, as he felt the emptiness now that his lover of the moment was gone. Lover he spat the word out and flung his arm across his face as he threw the pillow away from him,   that was a lie that somehow made the soulless fucking more bearable, he though bitterly nothing more or less, Julian was  more considerate then most but less considerate than some. He was nothing to the man but a warm, willing body, and come the morning he would ignore him as if he wasn’t worth as much consideration as the dirt on his shoes. Ezra slammed his hand down hard against his thigh, again and again, why did he do that, why did he put himself in his position.  The answer he knew with brutal honest was that what he wanted he could never have a long term relationship with a man that would respect and love him.  But who the hell was he trying to con, no one would ever want him for more than a quick fuck or a short time arrangement while they had the itch while they were away from home. Cynically he told himself to enjoy the blond while he could, use him like he was being used, because it would end like all the others all too soon.  What did he expect did he really think there was such a thing as a happy ending, huh? This was something that had to be kept hidden away from the light of day, even in his world of gambling and prostitution, it was dangerous to be too open with his unnatural urges as his mother called them.

Ezra rolled onto his back and reached out blindly onto the floor and found his flask where it had fallen out of his pocket last night, he flicked the lid and drained it, in two large sips, the whiskey warming his body. He dropped it back onto the floor and then rolled out of bed, wincing at the pain in his body and padded to his saddle bag and pulled out a bottle of the cheap rot gut whiskey, uncorked it and took a long drink from the bottle.   Then took another drink as he returned to bed, by tomorrow night he would be clear headed, but for the moment he could lose himself in the two releases he had drink and his own hand. 

Each night for the next week Julian came to his poker table and from there to his bed, and Ezra found he could not turn him away from either. Ezra was a realist and knew that all they had was that time together, nothing more; there was no emotional connection between them, just the physical need.  He knew it was over when Julian paused at the door on his way out and went to drop some notes onto the dresser.

A sickness weld up inside of Ezra, as he said “No Julian,” He met the handsome blond gaze wanting him to understand, that this was different.

The blond man’s head nodded “I didn’t mean to upset your Ezra, I just, you have made me so happy I wanted to give you something so you could buy something for yourself. A new watch, a new…” he trailed off and shrugged.

“Your company is enough, tomorrow night.” Ezra hated himself for sounding so needy.

“I finished my business yesterday; I am catching the stage coach tomorrow, sorry.” He turned and reached for the door handle, only for Ezra to cover his hand he hadn’t heard the gambler get up the door was pushed back close he felt the pressure of Ezra’s naked body against him, and for a heat beat he closed his eyes, and then turned and in two strides had Ezra pushed back on the bed, and he was covering him, tearing open his fly to push into the warm heat of a willing body, something to keep him warm on the trip back to Clarkesville.   The next time when he left he looked down at a sleeping Ezra Standish, peeled the notes from his wallet and pushed them into Ezra’s coat pocket and left on the next stage coach out of town.

That afternoon as Ezra was dressing he pushed his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a handful of dollar bills, and he sank down onto the bed. Thirty dollars that was what Julian has thought he was worth, Ezra threw the money away from him, and picked the bottle up, and took a long pull on it. “Bastard” he breathed the word as he took another drink, “fucking bastard” and threw the bottle it smashed against the wall, and Ezra buried his face in his hands. That night in the saloon, Ezra’s winning streak came to an end, the next morning he rode out of town and headed south.

0-0-0-0-0

Three months later

Clarkesville.

Buck Wilmington was no man’s fool, a professional gunman he made a living selling his gun to the highest bidder and sometimes that meant wearing a badge.  He had arrived in Clarkesville two months ago the sheriff William ‘Billy’ Monroe was an old friend and while they had been talking over old times, Billy had been keen for him to become his Deputy  explaining that he would need an extra deputy if the range war he had been worrying about kicked off.

Buck had readily accepted the job not only was he helping a friend and getting paid for it but he   had good reason to believe that Chris Larabee was in the area, and if there was a range war, his friend would be hiring out his gun. Five years ago he had watched his wild devil may care friend fall for a sweet girl, marry and settle down. The wanderlust had left Buck and he had happily settled down working Chris Larabee’s horse ranch as a partner. He invest what money he had in helping to  buy horses, and basked in the happiness  of the newlyweds and when Adam their son was born, he was a uncle and he reveled in that role. Then two years ago they had returned from a horse buying trip to find the house burned to the ground and the dead bodies of Sarah and Adam Larabee burned into black husks. It was then he had watched as the man that was Chris Larabee, father, and husband had died. The man that had ridden away from their burials had been another; this one wore the all black of deepest mourning, and was consumed by hatred. For a while he had travelled with Chris, but finally he had been driven away, by Chris’s black homicidal drunk rages, and the savage beatings when that anger had turned on him as its only release. But Buck was unable to write his old friend off so he tried to keep tags on him, but the West was a big place. Even so the reputation that Chris was earning made his name known and each new story had saddened Buck down to his very soul.

The town of Clarkesville had grown over the last couple of years and had aspirations so already a divide had emerged.  On one side the decent god fearing people and on the other side of, what the locals called the deadline, gamblers, and whores.  Picking up his hat he gave a nod to Sheriff Billy  Monroe, and headed out to walk the line as he called it, and see what new scum had surfaced over night on the wrong side of the tracks.

0-0-0-0-0

Turner’s Saloon

Ezra  was seated at his table in Turner’s Saloon , that  was  if you could call this flea bitten dive with warped floor boards, a make shift counter with a cracked mirror and whiskey that would that so rough it would take paint off, a saloon, he personally had some less than gentlemanly words for it. But it was the only place in town that he could afford a table at, and since he was down to his last $50 of his own money Ezra knew he had to play somewhere, and it might as well be here. He would just have to bide his time and build his money up, until he could afford to buy into one of the high stakes games at the Golden Nugget on Main Street.

Giving the others a smile that made his gold tooth flash in the lamp light he laid his cards down, “a full house gentlemen.”

Then men in disgust threw their cards onto the table. Phil Gordon shook his head “you’re one lucky bastard you know that Standish.”

Ezra’s hand paused only fractionally as he scooped up the money, he cocked his head slightly, but Phil just smiled warmly at him, no hard feelings there.

0-0-0-0

Ezra went to collect a bottle of whiskey from the bartender, it had been doctored half whiskey half water, it upset his sensibilities to spoil good whiskey but that was nothing like good whiskey.  It was then he saw the big man slide into place next to him, he leaned on the counter his hand resting near this gun.  The big man moved the label of his jacket so that he could get a look at the badge he wore, Ezra knew that on the wrong side of the tracks gambling and prostitution was legal, so there was only one reason a lawman would be over here, it was just a matter of how he was going to play it.

“Name’s Deputy Sheriff Buck Wilmington,”

 “Ezra Standish, Deputy Wilmington, an honest gambler just looking for a game.”

“Honest?” There was a hint of amusement in Buck’s voice as he  let the word hang in the air for a moment as if test it then he added, “just make sure that you are Standish if you want to keep playing.”

“How much Mr. Wilmington.” The gambler cocked his head slightly as if weighting him up.

Buck shook his head “you better not be saying what I think your saying Standish, you play and keep it legal and that’s all there is to it. You break the law and I’ll throw your ass into jail.” Wilmington nodded towards the table “it looks like your latest victims have arrived Standish.” It never failed to amuse the cynic in Buck that the good people of Clarkesville would stand up and denounce the whores and gamblers yet once the night time came they would line up to take their turns.

Ezra turned back to his table and smiled in welcome to his newest marks, the smile hardened as he saw one of the men.

“Good evening Mr. Standish, Mr. Turner said that you could give us a good game.” Julian Parker opened his wallet and took a wad of money from it, enough to choke a horse,   his tapered fingers tidying it into a neat pile. “I am sure that this will be enough to buy me a good evening entertainment don’t you think so Mr. Standish.” He raised an eyebrow and gave Ezra a knowing smile.

“It depends Sir on how the cards fall.” Ezra replied smoothly and coolly, and began to deal.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Buck had watched as the latest fools were preparing to be parted from their money, and headed for the door, when Nellie caught his eyes, the ginger headed fire brand had blown into town a week ago and quickly became a firm favorite with the men. Nellie was pretty, feisty, and a damn good lay and Buck always liked an adventurous girl, but hell he liked all woman, finding pleasure in their uniqueness. Buck went over leaning close and talking quickly as he arranged to spend some time with her later.

It was then he noticed the newcomer, the man was younger than him, he wore a well worn buckskin jacket, a slouch confederate cavalry hat, and a strapped down mare’s leg. He met Buck’s inquisitive look head on, his blue eyes cold and calculating, this Buck knew was a dangerous man, he just needed to find out which side of the law the man walked on. The man was a buffalo hunter or tracker by the look of him, he laid a Winchester on the counter and ordered a drink, slapping the coin down, and turning with a foot resting on the rail running along the base of the bar, and viewed the room.  He was a man that liked to know exactly what was going on round him that was certain. It was then Buck was brought back to the present by a warm small hand cupping him, and squeezing Nellie certainly had a way of getting his attention as she whispered sweet nothings into his ear as she caught his hand and began to tug it as she turned away and started towards the stairs.

Reluctantly, Buck eased back “later sweet heart, old Buck has some work to do.” Nellie pouted and then turned her attention to the newcomer, only for him to shake his head and turn back to his drink, with a huh she flounced off only to be caught and pulled into the lap of a cowboy already well on the way to being drunk. Buck made a mental note to check the wanted posters and then carried on with his patrol.

0-0-0-0-0

Sheriff Monroe  sat at his desk, a cup of coffee in his hand, the man was in his late fifties, what hair he had was grey and in the winter his joints began to give him  trouble, he had  had given the best part of his life to law enforcement, only to end up in a dead end town, risking his life for $30  a month and all found and to be looking his retirement in the eye knowing that he would be walking away with a couple of bucks in his pocket and empty platitudes of the town fathers, a drifter the same as all the ones he had driven out of all the towns he had worked.

Monroe pulled himself back to the present “Any one I should know about Buck.”

“Gambler by the name of Standish, and a long hair tracker, buckskin jacket and reb cavalry hat.”

Monroe frowned, “wears a mare’s leg.”

“Yeah, you know him.”

“Texan by the name of Vin Tanner, bounty killer, real mean son of a bitch.”

“He any good?”

“Hell yes, if you’ve got a price on your head, you don’t want him on your trail, can shot the balls off a fly at 1000 yards, a fucking reb sharpshooter.”

Buck crossed to the pot belly stove and poured himself a cup of coffee, “seems like you know him?” He left the question hanging, but cocked an eye at his boss waiting for an answer.

“Could say that, the son of a bitch, he brought in Mick Saunders over the back of his horse, Saunders was a punk kid, but didn’t deserve that, I knew his father in the war.” Monroe lapsed into silence, his hand tightening on the cup he was holding.

“So you want me to run him off.” Buck’s voice didn’t give any indication of what he felt one way or other.

“Leave him be for the moment, I like to have that long haired breed where I can see him,” the loathing was rolling off Monroe’s tongue, leaving Buck in no doubt what he thought of the bounty hunter.

“Blue eyed never seen a breed with blue eyes,” Buck drawled.

“As good as one, lived with the Comanche, a white renegade, shouldn’t be with decent people.”

Buck didn’t like the calculating way Monroe was looking at him.

“Spit it out Billy what you want doing.”

“Keep an eye on him, but make sure that he doesn’t leave town, and if he steps one foot out of line, throw his ass into jail.”

“Free country Billy, man can leave town if he wants too.”

Billy’s voice e went hard “Just fucking well do it Buck, he don’t leave town until I am ready, you do it or I’ll get Matt too.” The threat hung in the air.

Buck drained his coffee, “that what you want, Billy, but I ain’t happy about it.” But if it kept Matt away from the tracker that was all that mattered, Matt Parker was a real son on a bitch, and following Billy like a cur dog, and was ready to use his fists to enforce what Billy wanted.

“Don’t pay you to be happy Buck, just to help me keep the law.” Monroe paused and then said “What about the other one, the gambler.”

“He looks successful enough to possibly be cheating, read him the riot act.” Buck didn’t tell Billy about the proposition his old friend didn’t need more temptation than he already had.

Monroe nodded “If he crosses the dead line I want to know about it.”

Buck frowned he didn’t like the sound of that, he was all too aware that Billy Monroe was one for dipping his hands in to other men’s pockets, he never put the squeeze on the decent good folk, but the men and women across the deadline felt it. He took money off the madams and the saloon owners and sex off the whores, no one refused him or he would beat them bloody and drag them to jail and it was getting worse and he hadn’t been able to stop it. It now looked like Billy was past redemption, and Buck knew he was going to have to leave town soon, no longer able to stomach his old friend any more. Because Billy had become cruel money grabbing has been a shadow of the man he had called friend and respected. If he didn’t get out soon then all he was going to have left to remember Billy Monroe by was hate and contempt for what once had been a good man.

0-0-0-0-0

Vin Tanner went back to the livery stable to check on his horse, he had very little money but when it was a choice between food for himself or Diablo and he always put his horse first. He patted the black horse’s broad white nose affectionately as it nuzzled against his chest, happy to be back with his master again. Diablo stood 18 hands of mean lean muscle, he had the rare blend of stamina and speed, his long strides eat up the countryside, he barely tolerated other people and the only one that could lay hands on him, and still retain them was Vin, even so he was apt to sneak in a bite or two if he thought Vin’s attention was wavering. The horse pushed at this pocket and Vin pulled out the apple he had brought, bit off a piece and then fed it to the horse, old Diablo loved his apples.

When the horse pushed against him for more, Vin patted his strong neck, “Sorry boy that’s all we’ve got, seen me a bounty in the saloon sitting there as pretty as you please, not much, but put some food in our bellies. Don’t look as if he’s going anywhere, fixing to take him as soon as I can cut him out of the herd.”

Diablo huffed in agreement, Vin smiled and patted him affectingly  and then began to bed down for the night in the  horse’s stall, in the far corner, the straw would keep him warm, and Diablo would sound the alarm if anyone came near him while he slept. Vin pulled his thread bare blanket up round him and tugged his hat down over his eyes, under the blanket his hand rested on his mares leg that laid across his stomach, only then did he allow himself to sleep.

0-0-0-0-0-0

6.00 am

Julian Parker, straightened his tie and then looked back to where Ezra Standish was laid on the bed half seated prompted up on his elbows a sheet tantalizing draped across his hips.  Julian turned back to the mirror and checked his hair, and then picked up his hat, reaching towards the inner pocket of the jacket, then his hand dropped away, and catching Ezra’s eye he shrugged embarrassed. Relieved when Ezra smiled no insult taken “I’ll join your table again on Tuesday night, for another hand or two if you’ll allow me,”

Ezra was well practiced at this game; he hadn’t automatically assumed that Julian wanted to spend the night, until they started to play their word game over the hands of poker. Also he wasn’t sure if he was prepared to let the man back into his bed, but by the end of the evening Ezra knew that he couldn’t deny Julian just like he couldn’t turn his back on a poker game. They had retired to his room, and the two of them had finally collapsed exhausted and sated onto the bed in the early hours of the morning. It paid to be careful when Julian left his room, Ezra had seen what happened when the good people found one of their calling, a quick hanging was preferable to being arrested and sent to jail. Alonso, a fellow gambler, had lasted three fear filled months in prison before he had taken his own life after repeated rapes had torn his insides apart and left him racked with pain and fever, Ezra was brought back to the present, by the touch of Julian’s hand, as it cupped his face and he leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips.  

Julian smiled again as he straightened up and then with one last look at the dark headed handsome man he was leaving behind left the room, a bounce in his stride. As he stepped out onto the sidewalk Julian paused for a moment and looked up at the night sky, already the streaks across it showed the dawn was coming soon. He pushed his hands into his pocket, and started walking he wanted to be home before his father and mother realized that he hasn’t just been out late but hadn’t returned until the early hours.

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra got up and padded naked to the door and threw the lock, and then poured water into a bowl, and used a piece of flannel to wash himself down. Turning he reached a hand out and picked up his flask from the chest of drawers, and traced his fingers over the engraved name, and flicked the cap open with his thumb and raised it in bitter salute to himself. God when had he become that weak that he so craved another’s touch that he was willing to allow Julian back into his bed again.

Ezra sat down on the bed, and cupped the flask in his hands, it was his only reminder of his father, or rather the only man that Maude his mother had hitched up with that had treated him like a son, his hand tightened on the flask.  The flask was like him, it looked like something it wasn’t. It looked silver but in reality was a cheat metal and summed up his life even the nearest thing he had to a father had been false; nothing in his life was what it seemed. He had bedded Julian Parker because of his lean body and his blond hair reminded him of the black dressed icy blond gunman Chris Larabee who he had met in the border town of Purgatory. He yearned for the blond, but he knew that he could never have him, hell the man would blow his head off if he ever thought that he was lusting after his body. So Julian was no different than his flask, beautiful but a copy of something that he could never have.

0-0-0-0-0

Livery Stable

6.00 am

Vin shivered with the cold, and tried to burrow down into the straw, but sleep wouldn’t come and he spent the rest of the night watching and waiting for the watery morning light to break through the night. Once it was light enough to see he dug the poster from his pocket, and his fingers ghosted over the lettering he couldn’t read or write, but he had memorized his posters, this gambler was Ezra Standish, or Simpson, or Sutherland, didn’t matter, he had run from Fort Laramie escaping before he stood trial, the bounty on him $50, and he needed the money.

 

0-0-0-0-0

Buck was coming back from his night with the Widow Cummings, she made no demands on him other that she wanted a good time, and Buck was only too happy to supply it. He paused when he saw Matt and another deputy Jack Carpenter, heading towards the livery, and decided to see what they were up to, knowing the two men it wouldn’t be anything good.

0-0-0-0-0-0

When Buck got there all hell was beginning to let loose, Vin Tanner was on his feet a bowie knife in his hands and facing down Matt and Jack. Matt had one hand clamped to a bleeding forearm, with Jack’s colt pointed straight at Vin Tanner.

“Easy boys.” Buck kept his hands clear as he entered the livery stable.

“His fucking horse bit us and the bastard pulled a knife on us. I…. Matt started.

“Back off, Matt.” Buck said, he saw the way Tanner stood he  had one arm wrapped round his ribs, and there was blood running from his mouth and nose, it didn’t take a genius to know that they had jumped the  bounty hunter and come off worse.

“Fuck you Buck” Jack snarled.

Buck’s hand dropped to his gun, and Jack spluttered to a halt, “No call to take on like that Buck, he’s an Indian lover, a fucking renegade.”

“Think it’s time you boys left, you had your fun, now get off before I let him carve you up with the pig sticker of his.”

Buck waited until they had left, and then turned his attention to the hunter, Tanner hadn’t relaxed he didn’t blame him. “Looks like they got you good in the ribs, they bust anything.”

Vin shook his head, and then winced, Buck swore under his breath, and keeping his eyes fixed on Tanner’s blue eyes, knowing that they might be the only indication he got if Tanner was going to strike at him.  He closed the distance between them, “if I was with them Tanner, I would have let them finish what they started,” Buck waited a heartbeat, and then reached out and took Vin by the arm and helped him to the pile of hay bales, and got him sat down. He heard the hiss of pain as the younger man lowered himself down.

“Your horse got Matt good, what is he part snapping turtle.”

“Old Diablo can be a mit protective.”

“Good horse,” Buck said, and saw the nod that Vin gave him, and then the big man knelt down, “let's take a look see.” Carefully Buck helped him peel the buckskin jacket back, “sorry Tanner,” Buck apologized in advance knowing it was going to hurt. Finally he sat back on his heels, “nothing broken but you is going to be black and blue by morning.”

Buck got up and removed his bandana and dipped it into a water bucket, and rang it out, Vin reached for it; Buck pressed it into Vin’s hand, and watched as the younger man, pressed it to his nose and used it to clean the blood from his lips.

“Get out of town Tanner and do it now.” Buck warned as he turned to leave, only to hear Tanner call after him.

“Thanks.”

Buck paused nodded and then left the livery stable, the sun was now climbing up into the sky, he saw Tiny and his brother emerging from their homes and heading towards the livery stable, Tanner would be safe for the moment. 

0-0-0-0-0

Morning

Julian Parker sat across the breakfast table from his parents; his father was the wealthiest man in the county, a robber baron if there ever was one.  His mother was kind and caring, but kept herself busy with her Ladies Committee, and Temperance League, she was dropping hints about  Maggie Fisher.  Julian was sure that his mother had no ideas that he like men, but his father, that was a different story. He had told Ezra that he would come back on the Tuesday night, but already he could feel his pulse starting to beat faster as he thought of the gambler, his body laid out on the bed like a feast for a starving man. Tonight he would be at Ezra’s table again, and damn caution; he had to have him again. But one thing with the dawning of a new day had bothered him. Why, had Ezra arrived in Clarkesville, he had been careful or so he thought not to let the gambler know where he lived. Yet here he was, it could be a coincidence, but he didn’t really believe in them. It would have been simpler if Ezra had accepted the money, after all any man that let another man use him like a woman had to be a whore. He had always paid for his pleasures, and he decided that the reason Ezra must have got under his skin was because he was the one man that refused the money. And last night when Ezra has opened the card game with the exact amount he had left in his pocket that last time, he had never felt himself get so hard so fast in his life.  Hell he had been half afraid to stand up afterwards to get a new bottle of drink because he was scare he would embarrassed himself.  But it had been well worth it afterwards; Ezra was one fine bit of ass and his body responded so well to the slightest stimuli, he could keep him hanging on the edge of coming for as long as he wanted as he played with him. That beautiful body twisting and writhing under him as he ploughed him up to the hilt. His mouth watered at what he planned to so to him tonight, but then the sobering thought came to mind, and it was like a dash of cold water. Ezra refused money for being fucked, what if he wanted more from him, then it could turn nasty, and Julian had more to lose from being exposed than some itinerant gambler.

“Julian.”

Julian was pulled back to the present, “yes mother.”

“Don’t forget you’re being taking Maggie to the church social on Saturday, you do make such a striking couple, only yesterday her mother……….”

Julian let his mother talk, paying only a slight interest in what she was saying, Maggie lacked everything he liked, her overweigh body poured into a corset, that left her on the edge of passing out. He like the hard curves of a man’s body, feeling the muscle under him, the scarp of whiskers against his face, he gave a soft sigh.  Hearing his father clear his throat, he looked up from his breakfast and smiled “Yes mother of course.” His father disappearing behind the local broadsheet, the tutting noise his only words during the meal.

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra emerged at noon, and enjoyed a surprisingly good meal at Sally’s Eatery, and then headed across the deadline, towards the bath house, he paused as he saw Julian go by, his arm tucked round that of a small, plump but pretty woman. For a split second the two of them locked eyes, Julian looking away quickly turning into the woman, and saying something that made her laugh. It didn’t surprise Ezra, it was the shadow and mirrors that they used to hide their true nature, and he turned away and headed into the bath house. At this time t he bath house should be quiet, and he could enjoy a good soak.

Mr. Lang was sat at his station just inside of the door, leafing through the Morgan Morning News; he looked up, from the broadsheet, and put his hand out for the money, closing his fist round the coins that the fancy dressed gambler dropped into his hand.  The large room was curtained off, each cubical had a large metal tub in the middle of it, next to it two buckets of cold water, Ezra stripped off his jacket and hung it up on the hook, and he was unbuckling his gun belt when one of the youths Lang had working for him, pushed open the curtains and lowered two steaming buckets of water on the floor. Quickly the young man mixed the hot and cold water until it was just right he took the hot water buckets with a mumbled “be back in  a minute” while Ezra eased his aching body into the water, sighing with relief as the heat began to soak into his muscles. The young man returned and added a final bucket to the foot of the bath and then placed a bar of lye soap, and a threadbare towel, then was gone.

Ezra took a sniff at the soap, and wrinkled his nose in disgust, but dipped it into the water with the cleaning rag and began to wash himself, cleaning away the last residue of last night’s loving making. He leaned his head back against the edge of the bath, and closed his eyes and just let himself enjoy the luxurious feel of the warm water moving over his body.

The double click of a Winchester being cocked brought Ezra’s snapping open and reaching for his gun, but his hand halted just short of it, as he looked up from the booted foot that pinned it to the floor, and then up the old pants to the dirty buckskin jacket and then up into the face of the man that was holding the Winchester, no a mares leg.  

Ezra eased back, slowly, his mind spinning, as he tried to place the gunman, and came up blank. “I fear sir that you have me at a disadvantage, but I am sure that you are mistaken we haven’t met before.”

The soft Texan accent did nothing to soften the words. “I’s here to collect the bounty on you, $50, can do it two ways, hard or easy your call.”

“You’re mistaken Mister,” Ezra paused.

“Tanner, and you’re Simpson.”

“There Mr. Tanner you have mistaken me, I…”

“Don’t matter what name you’re using now, a bounty’s a bounty, so get your ass out of the tub, and get dressed.”

Ezra leaned back, “and if I don’t, are you prepared to shoot me, Mr. Tanner.”

For a second the vivid blue eyes of the bounty hunter met Ezra’s “not me shooting you that you should worry about Simpson, but where.” Tanner’s lips twitched into a cold smile, as the barrel of the mare’s leg dropped slightly and were now pointing between Ezra’s legs, causing the gambler to close them quickly.

“You sir are no gentleman,” Ezra huffed, but not prepared to see if the Texan was joking.  Slowly he began to get up, Tanner had moved away from the tub, leaving him no chance of being able to drag the Texan down.

A  towel hit Ezra in the face, and he began to dry himself, as he did so he studied the bounty hunter, the man was possible slightly younger than him, just a little taller, and his body was lean and sleek, reminding Ezra of a panther he  saw at a traveling show. Good looking under that stubble, the hair long and hanging on his shoulders, he saw the slouched confederate cavalry hat, a bounty hunter, but also a tracker if he didn’t miss his guess. Not a man he wanted dogging his tracks, when he got away from him. Ezra had no doubt that he could escape from the man, it was just how.  It was then Ezra caught the look the bounty hunter gave him, it was fleeting but he was sure that the man just checked out his ass. Ezra continued dressing slowing down giving the hunter a show, all the time monitoring him with covert glances. He suppressed a smile he was more than sure that Tanner was interested in him, he finished dressing pulling his jacket on.

Ezra pulled his hat on, “This is a mistake Mr. Tanner, I can safely say you are wasting your time, and there is no bounty on me.  I suggest a visit to the Sheriff straight away to put this mistake correct I have business to conclude tonight and.”

Tanner ignored him, and instead pulled a poster from his pocket and showed it to him Ezra didn’t let his face show his annoyance the old Fort Laramie poster, he had stood a better chance of talking his way out of this before Tanner had produced it, evidence in black and white could be he mused so inconvenient.   Tanner folded it and put it back into the pocket of the buckskin jacket. A gesture of the mare’s leg and Ezra started to walk out of the bath house, surprised when Tanner, caught the back of his jacket and hauled him to halt  as he did so Ezra collided with Tanner and for a moment savored the lean muscular body the hunter, before Tanner pushed him towards the back door. Outside there was his horse saddled along with a black horse that was trying to take a bite out of his horse’s hide.

“It seems Mr. Tanner; your horse is as ill bred as yourself.” But the bounty hunter didn’t say anything; he pulled himself on his horse, the mare’s leg never wavering, and then waited for Ezra to mount up. Ezra’s mind was racing he had to somehow stop the hunter from getting him out of town, because once in the wilds his chances of escape against a tracker like Tanner dropped off. Even though Tanner had caught him he didn’t really want to hurt the man.

The ambush caught them before they could get out of town, Sheriff Monroe, Matt and Jack Carpenter, were all waiting for them the men ringed them the Sheriffs scattered gun pointed straight at Vin Tanner.

“Lose the gun Tanner now.”

“Not doing anything wrong Sheriff, man’s got a poster on him, just doing my job.” Tanner made no move to drop the mare’s leg, keeping it pointed at Ezra.

Monroe spat in the dirt showing what he thought of that. The Sheriff looked at Ezra up and down, noting the red jacket, and the description snapped into place Standish, the gambler from the deadline.

“What’s this breed saying your did Standish?”

If Ezra showed any surprise the man knew his name he didn’t show it. “

“Mr. Tanner believed  that I was wanted for a small violation of the law in  Fort Laramie, I have never been in Fort Laramie, Mr. Tanner is clearly wrong.

“You can prove that Tanner?” Monroe drawled.

Vin nodded “got me a wanted poster,” keeping one hand still on the mare’s leg he reached into his pocket, this expression Ezra decided would have been priceless under any other circumstances. The bounty hunter clawed at the pocket, the poster was missing.

“No poster Mr. Tanner?” Ezra said levelly, now to turn the screw, “perhaps you can tell these gentlemen what was written on the poster.”

“His names Ezra Simpson, he’s wanted in Fort Laramie, the bounty is $50.”

“What else is on the poster Mr. Tanner?” Catching the look in the hunter’s eyes he under stood and ruthlessly pressed home his advantage, “the truth of the matter is that Mr. Tanner can’t read, therefore gentlemen if he can’t read the poster how can he be sure that he has the right man. It is simply a mistake.”

“The gentleman’s name is Ezra Standish”, a cultured voice cut in, as Julian Parker stepped forward, I happen to have been playing cards with Mr. Standish last night. This breed,”

“Ain’t a breed,” Vin said there was a chill to the words that made the hair at the back of Ezra’s neck stand on end.  Out of the corner of his eyes, Ezra saw one of the deputies’ moves, a flash of metal, then a dull thud and a cry of pain, and Tanners body dropped out of the saddle as Matt’s rifle thudded into the bounty hunter sending him crashing to the ground off his horse.  The mare’s leg fell from his hand as he clawed for it, fighting the pain; a foot came down pinning it in place. Matt stood over him, the barrel of his Winchester pressed to the back of Vin Tanners head, “Keep your mouth closed Tanner, your betters are talking.”

“Gentlemen, please” Ezra cut in quickly “there is no need for this Mr.  Tanner made an honest mistake, and.”

“And he would have taken you out of town Mr. Standish, and possibly killed you, and you would not have been the first.” Parker looked towards Monroe, enjoying his manipulation of the lawman.

The older man nodded “boys were going to have a talk with him.” Ezra didn’t like the look Monroe gave his men, it meant only pain for the bounty hunter and although he was pleased not to be taken out of town with a gun at his back, he didn’t like what he was seeing. In his jacket pocket Ezra fingered the rough paper of the wanted poster that he had managed to pickpocket from the Texan.

“Mr. Parker, I am sure that Mr. Tanner will leave town now, he realizes his mistake.”

Parker shook his head, “unfortunately you are unaware of the nature of these animals, they only learn through example. Sheriff Monroe is quite experienced in dealing with his kind.” Julian paused, “I do believe that I was heading to the hotel before all this occurred. Will you join me for luncheon Mr. Standish, it isn’t often I get to talk to an educated man in these parts.” He indicated the alleyway that would take them back to the main street. With one concerned look at Vin Tanner, Ezra followed him; he paused as he stepped onto Main Street as he heard the first muffled blows. About to turn back Ezra felt his elbow caught and tugged forcefully. “That is over Ezra, believe me you do not want to get involved”, Parker smiled “and over luncheon you can tell me why that uncouth creature was after you.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Buck Wilmington had returned back to town after being called out to the French Ranch, about some cattle rustling. He tied his big grey horse Scout up in front of the jail, leaving the horse to take his fill of the water trough. Matt came out he stopped, “Missed some fun Buck, that breed you helped this morning, got the message alright now.”

Buck pushed past him, ignoring Monroe and Jack sat in the front office drinking coffee to get through to the cells. Vin Tanner was laid on the floor of one of the cells his body pulled up in a tight ball, his face hidden by his long hair, but blood was smeared on the floor.

Buck grabbed the key from the wall, and quickly unlocked the door and then kneeling turned Tanner over onto his back, as he spoke to him softly, “easy Tanner I ain’t going to hurt you.”

 The fist that shot out caught Buck on the jaw and sent him falling backwards onto his ass, Tanner was up and half way out of the door when Buck still on the floor grabbed his ankle and pulled hard, bringing the smaller man slamming down near  to him. Buck managed to avoid the kick at his head with Tanner’s other foot.  Buck scrambled onto the younger man landing  hard onto  Tanners back, to try and knock the fight out of him,  but all he got was an elbow in the face that would have broken his nose if it had landed,  Buck managed use  his greater weight and bigger build to pin the trashing man down. Finally in desperation Buck slammed Vin’s head against the floor and the young man’s body went limp under him. He heard a laugh from the doorway and say Billy Monroe stood there. “Regular wild cat isn’t he.”

“What the hell happened Billy?” Buck demanded, as he carefully got to his feet and fingered his face feeling his teeth, satisfied he was alright, Buck bent caught Vin’s arms and dragged him back into the cell, the hauled him onto the cot and flipped him onto his stomach.

“Out the way Buck.” Matt said as he pushed past and upended a bucket of piss onto the tracker, “that should wake him up.”

Vin’s head moved and then dropped back on the straw mattress.

Buck grabbed Matt, “what the fuck did you do that for.”

“You think I am going to waste good water on that scum.”

“Billy.” Buck looked at this old friend, the man just smiled and turned his back leaving Buck alone with Vin Tanner as his toddy Matt, followed him out. Looking down at the bounty hunter, Buck ran a hand through his hair, “Hell son what have you got yourself into.” He locked the cell door and pocketed the key, it was the only one, and while he had it no one could get to Tanner.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Hotel

Julian lit his cigar, all the time his eyes on Ezra, this was a god send to him, if Ezra was wanted then he had a way of getting rid of the gambler if or when he tired with him the man refused to leave. Tomorrow he would have Tommy send a telegram to Fort Laramie to find out what Ezra had done. He would then hold all the cards in this relationship, and like a good cigar he was going to savor the power he had over this handsome young gambler.

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra made all the right small talk, but he knew that he had to play his cards carefully, and not just the ones on the poker table, he was good a reading people and were Julian was concerned he had let his need overwhelm his common senses. Handsome, Julian was, there was darkness in him, and he had seen in their love making. Love making on his side, fucking on Julian’s. Julian Parker didn’t like touching him, oh he would fuck him into the mattress, but he wouldn’t touch him to prepare him, or bring him off if he didn’t come when Julian did. It was as if  his responses had to be done as a show for Julian, yet he had allowed Julian back into his bed last night, and like an addiction would allow him in it again tonight. Of all the towns he had to have ended up Julian’s home town, the greatest cosmic joke. Ezra started as he felt Julian’s hand on his thigh the fingers trailing up to rub against his cock, quickly Ezra looked round no one was looking Julian actions were hidden under draped table cloth. Biting the inside of his lip Ezra stop  an inadvertent cry of pain as Julian pinched his inner thigh hard making him open his legs giving him greater access to his body. Julian smiled at him, a smug smile as he took another pull on his cigar; the man Ezra knew was savoring the two vices in his life, his body and a fine cigar. Ezra clamped his hand on Julian’s wrist and dragged his hand away from him. As Ezra hissed “I am no play thing Mr. Parker,” and then Ezra was on his feet and walking away.

“Ezra.”

“Mr. Parker.” Ezra made his tone final, and he walked away, pausing at the door to the hotel looked towards the alley way where Julian had walked him away from where the law enforcers had been holding Vin Tanner.

They would have let the tracker go, wouldn’t they? In his mind’s eye Ezra saw the trackers face, good looking his long hair framing a face with the most vivid blue eyes he had ever seen. A long lean body, hidden by old battered clothes, with a start he realized that he had imprinted everything about the tracker on his mind and with a very physical start he realized that he was attracted to the man.

He took a step down the boardwalk and then turned back and shook his head; his mind kept going back to Vin Tanner. He would check up on the tracker, more than likely he was out of town by now, the local law enforcers had made it clear he was not wanted in town. Ezra was torn he told himself to forget Tanner, the man had wanted to take him in for the bounty, but still he hadn’t deserved to be beaten down.

 It was then he saw Buck Wilmington, coming out of the jail, on his heels was the Sheriff he didn’t know what was said but the Sheriff looked royally pissed off and the deputy’s face was dark with anger. Then Deputy Wilmington stalked off, the Sheriff went to follow and turned and went back inside the door to the jail rocking on its hinges. In the short time since their first meeting Ezra had learned a lot about Wilmington, from the sporting girls, the man was a firm favorite and the one thing they had said was that he was honest, wouldn’t take a dime off them for protection, but would take on any man that hurt them. Ezra looked back at the jail, and then headed straight for it, only to have his arm caught he spun round to find Julian stood there.

“You don’t walk out on me Ezra,” he snarled.

“And you Mr. Parker do not own me.” Ezra kept his voice low, and he pulled his arm, Julian refused to let go and the next thing Julian knew he was looking up at Ezra Standish; the gambler straightened the cuff of his shirt and tugged the jacket sleeve back into place. “Mr. Parker you are no gentleman and your place at my table tonight is canceled.” All Parker could do was watch Ezra walk away, the anger in Julian was building, who the hell was Ezra Standish a nothing to think he could walk out on him.

Getting to his feet he growled at Mr. Falkner’s a shop owner, “What the fuck are you looking at.” He glared at the people that now stood looking at him, and pushed past them to head towards his home. Standish had embarrassed him in public, and that he wouldn’t let stand. The other gambler had known his place until he tried to leave him, Alfonso had learned and so would Standish, that the only person that could walk out was Julian Parker.  He would make Ezra Standish rue the day he walked out on him.  

0-0-0-0-0

Buck Wilmington turned to face Standish, as he heard footsteps come up behind him. “You want something Standish.”

“I wanted to check up on Mr. Tanner, there was a small mistake made on his part he thought I was wanted.”

“Tanner don’t make mistakes, he’s a professional, if he said you’re wanted I personally would look for your poster Standish.” Buck put in levelly.

“That is beside the point; Mr. Tanner was injured when the Sheriff facilitated my release from Mr. Tanner. “

“And you care Mr. Standish?” Buck asked.

Ezra shook his head, and then swore under his breath, “Mr. Tanner was doing his jobs nothing more, I would have gotten away from him, I feel perhaps wrongly, that there was something more personal in the Sheriff intervention and that concerns me. I was a reason for someone else’s purpose.”

“So did you kill someone?”

“Heaven forbid Deputy Wilmington, I have protected myself, but I have not murdered, the only willful killings I have done have been with a pack of cards.  It was a small matter of an understanding at Fort Laramie, the judge was taking too long to get to the Fort for the case, and I had big stakes poker game pending elsewhere. It was merely an oversight on my part not to return.” Ezra paused “I have a feeling you know the other half of this problem,” Ezra cocked his head slightly to one side and met Buck’s gaze levelly

“Yeah, Billy didn’t want Tanner to leave town, and with you in tow he was about to do that. Must have paid Frankie the livery hand to tell him if Tanner was making plans to leave.”

“What did he do to this Billy?” Ezra asked.

“Billy as in Sheriff Billy Monroe Tanner brought  in a punk kid over the back of his horse, shot him clear out of the saddle, the boy was running with a bad  crowd, killed a bank teller and raped and killed a hostage woman cashier after they all had a go at her. Billy. Sheriff Monroe he knew the boy’s father in the war, and had been waiting for a chance to get hold of Tanner, him jumping you gave Monroe what he wanted.”

“Mr. Tanner behind bars, I had hoped they had just showed him the errors of his way.” Ezra put in, and then swore under his breath again. “We have to get him out of there.”

For a long minute Buck just looked at him, as he registered the concern in the gambler’s voice, “Deputy Wilmington, we are having this discussion for a reason.” Ezra said.

“I am on duty tonight, if you get the horses, I can get Tanner out of there.”

“Can I ask the same question Deputy Wilmington why? you don’t know Mr. Tanner and your voice tells me that you dislike his profession and possibly him?”

Buck shifted slightly his usually jovial face serious, “that’s personal, Standish. But you better believe me that if anything happens to Tanner, what happened at Pickett’s Charge is going to be a skirmish compared to the hell that’s going to coming to Clarkesville.”

“Hell Mr. Wilmington?”

“Hell, Standish riding a black horse.” Buck started walking and Ezra fell into step.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Vin came round on his stomach, pain was knifing through his head he tried to lift it off the mattress, he just managed to pull himself to the edge as he emptied his stomach onto the floor, and blacked out again, his last conscious through was of Buck Wilmington, the big man holding him down and slamming his head into the floor.

0-0-0-0-0

Evening

Ezra was playing cards, he looked up and saw Julian Parker take a seat opposite him and make a play at opening his wallet and taking out a sheaf of notes. The game of chance took its twists and turns, Julian was losing heavily and drinking to match. So when Ezra finally called it a night it was with at least $80 of Julian’s money, all through the hands of poker  Ezra had kept the verbal sparring with Julian muted giving him a clear warning he was not welcome.

Buck took over the watch at 9.00 pm, bringing a tray of food across for Tanner, when he opened the door to the cells he swore, at the rank smell of vomit, Tanner hadn’t moved since he had left him earlier. Quickly he unlocked the door to the cell, and grimacing as he leaned over the bounty hunter; he reached and pressed his fingers against Vin’s throat. The pulse was sluggish but steady, he carefully peel up one of his eyelids and saw the way the pupils dilated. The tracker had concussion he had seen enough of it over the years when he was breaking horses to know what was wrong.  Making sure that Vin Tanner was resting easily, he went out got a bucket of sawdust and threw it over the pools of vomit, then locked the cell again and waited. He had agreed with Standish for the gambler to come at midnight.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Ezra was unlocking the door to his room when he heard a footfall behind him, he turned round just as the body ploughed into him, and slamming him back against the wall his head hit the door hard. Julian was all over him, Ezra’s knee came up hard into his attacker’s groin and Julian gave a muffled cry of pain as he doubled over, and collapsed to the floor. Ezra knelt by him, “keep your hands to yourself Julian, or next time I’ll hand you your bollocks on a plate.”

Julian was pulling himself upright his hands still clutching himself when Ezra came out of the room his saddle bags thrown over his shoulder. “I’ll destroy you Standish, you wait and see.”

But Ezra wasn’t listening he had other things to do. Thirty minutes later and one arm that had narrowly missed being amputated by that devil spawn of a horse of Vin Tanner’s, at least Wilmington’s horse had been sweet natured when he finally managed to wake the beast up. Buck came out the back of the jail a limp unresponsive body thrown over his shoulder. He boosted Vin Tanner in front of Ezra, “concussion, no way he’s sitting a horse on his own.”

Ezra found himself with Tanner’s lean body pressed against him, his nose wrinkled at the stench, then he tightened his grip and once Buck was mounted kick Knave into a gallop, with Buck matching his horse stride for stride.

Only once well clear of the town did Buck pull his horse to a halt, “you take good care of him Standish, he’s going to be out of it for a while, needs to rest. Suggest you take the northern trail, when Monroe comes looking he’s going to think you went south heading for the border.”

“Aren’t you taking him Mr. Wilmington?”

Buck threw up his hand, “don’t ask Standish, you got him, he’s yours, good luck.” Then Buck was gone, heading off into the night.

For a long minute Ezra just looked at his retreating back. “Well Mr. Tanner it seems that there is just the two of us, and if we are to remain two the first thing I am going to do is wash this stench off you.”

He leaned into Vin as he heard a low moan, “I am pleased that you agree.”

0-0-0-0-0

The next morning.

Julian’s anger was burning cold, he walked into the printer’s and slapped a folded piece of paper down, when Mr. Carter went to take it, and Julian’s hand came down and pulled it into place. “I want these printed, and then you forget, if you tell anyone, I will have your mortgage revoked and your business destroyed and your family thrown out of your house understand me.”

Mr. Carter nodded, he had known Julian Parker all his life, and he was a vindictive bastard, with his father the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. “Of course Mr. Parker.”

Only then did Julian removed his hand, he watched as the printer read the wording of the wanted poster, and blanched.

“How many Mr. Parker.”

“10, Mr. Carter, I think I should give Mr. Standish a fighting chance don’t you.”

Carter didn’t answer he just nodded, “Mr. Parker that will be $3 for the printing.”

“Really.” There was coldness to that one word, and Mr. Carter quickly amended “no cost, public interest of course.”

“Of Course.”  Julian added and then left with a smirk. He didn’t have to chase Standish; this private wanted poster with its $350 bounty would bring the man back to him.

0-0-0-0-0

Once he was content that he was further enough away from the town for Monroe to have given up his search, Ezra found a shaded place near some water laid out his bed roll and then eased Vin Tanner down. The man was groggy but at least he was more awake then before, the worry that Ezra had been feeling, began to fade. The hotter the day had become the more rank Tanner had begun to smell; he laid him onto the blanket under the shade, and then unwrapped Tanners blanket and quickly stripped the tracker off. For a moment he sat back on his heels and looked down at the lithe body that he had laid bare. There was not one bit of fat on the lean toned body, but he was surprised how saddened he was to see the scars on Tanner’s body, the tracker had lived a hard life. His eyes dropped from his face, down to his cock that was nestled in brown curls, there was nothing of the man that wasn’t fine, and Ezra felt the breath catch in his mouth. It was with a shaking hand that he laid the blanket over him as he caught the small shudder that ran through the injured man. Gently he brushed the long hair from Vin’s face so that he could examine the head wound, carefully he felt round his head, there was one blow to the back of the head, there was a cut to it but the blood had dried, then there was a bruise on the side of his temple, two head injured.

Quickly Ezra made a fire and began to boil water in the coffee pot that Tanner, had in his saddle bag, once it was boiled he used some water to cool it off slightly and then began to wash Vin’s face, removing the dirt and blood. For a moment he hesitated and then began to work his way down the lean body, cleaning the stench off his body. Until finally reluctantly he covered the tracker back up against, then took his clothes to the water and washed them leaving them out on the bank to dry as he dug some clean clothes from the tracker’s saddle bags, clean they might have been but old and threadbare.  

The day worn on slowly, Vin was coming out of it, and finally when Ezra looked up he saw blue eyes watching him warily, “Welcome back to the land of the living Mr. Tanner, I would.” Ezra broke off quickly as Vin tried to sit up only to groan his hands going to his head, as he rolled on his side and dry retched.

Ezra was by his side in a heartbeat, catching hold of his wrists, he felt the tracker tense. “Easy Mr. Tanner, I mean you no harm; you have hurt your head, and its best that you rest and don’t try to move too quickly.” Vin relaxed slowly in his hold, and Ezra released his hands, and then reached for a canteen, he eased Vin up so that he was resting against his chest as he helped the bounty hunter to drink, even as he cautioned “take small sips.”

“Where?”

“Away from Clarkesville.”

“Why?” The voice was so soft Ezra had to lean close to hear him.

“Sheriff Monroe had designs on you that were not lawful.” When he saw the puzzled look and the pain filled frown he added “Monroe wanted you because of a kid you brought in, seems that he was a friend of the boy’s father.” But Vin’s eyes had already closed, Ezra started to move away when he realized that Vin was holding onto his jacket, and had turned into his shoulder. A warm feeling of being needed ran through Ezra, and lightly he petted Vin’s shoulder, and tightened his grip on bounty hunter, what made him press a chaste kiss to the top of the man’s head he didn’t know but it just felt so right. Ezra removed the Remington from his holster and laid it by his side near his hand, if Monroe or anyone comes, they would have to go through him to get to Tanner.

0-0-0-0-0

Three days it had taken for Vin to recover, they had moved slowly and rested they had enough food and Ezra took the time to get to know the bounty hunter. Vin Tanner was on the quiet side and left to himself didn’t say more than three words a day, but it paid to listen when he did.

Ezra had been careful not to show his feeling for  Vin, all the times that he had had to help him to his feet when the headaches and nausea had meant that the bounty hunter was barely able to put one foot in front of the other, supporting that lean body against him, Ezra had been kept his touch impersonal. Until the night when Vin had  collapse against him, his hand had brushed the front of Ezra’s pants there had been a sudden silence, and Ezra had seen those blue eyes open slightly wider, and then a smile a ancient and as sexy as sin had graced the trackers beautiful face. Ezra had searched his eyes and then leaned in and for the first time claimed Vin’s mouth in kiss. But had caught Vin’s hand, and brought it up and pressed a kiss to the palm. “No now Mr. Tanner, later when you’re feeling better, and our first time will be a proper bed not out here under the stars.”

When he saw the puzzlement and hurt in those expressive eyes, it took all of Ezra’s will power not to take the man there and then, but Vin was still not well enough, no matter how willing his body was, and when he finally took this man, as his lover he wanted it to be special, as special as the man himself. Instead he gently brought Vin into an embrace and kissed him soundly, and then eased him down onto the blankets, and pulled him into his arms, pressing a kiss to his forehead as he whispered. “I promise you Mr. Tanner it will be worth the wait.”

Two days later

Ezra was determined to show Vin that he wanted him, not just in his bed but in his life, on arriving in town Ezra had used his money to rent a room, two men sharing was not unusual hell in some places you could find yourself bunking down with a complete stranger. Vin had looked round the room; and out of the window getting his bearings, then tested the bed with his hand.

“Something wrong Mr. Tanner.” Ezra asked as he laid his saddle bags down onto the floor.

Vin looked up, “Ez you’re going to have your cock up my ass, you think you can call me Vin.”

Ezra swallowed hard, “I am sure that I can try Mr. err Vin.”

“What try a little harder,” Vin said arching an eyebrow as he eyes drifted down Ezra’s body.

“I understand the sentiment Vin,” Ezra returned the smile, the gambler turned to undo his saddle bags when he turned back he saw Vin stripping removing his gun and hat in a quick business way.

“Vin…. What’s the hurry, we have all night.”

“Said you wanted to fuck.” There was hurt and puzzlement in Vin’s eyes.

“Yes of course” Ezra came closer when he reached out towards Vin the hunter pulled back, Ezra took a steadying breath as he silently asked the question to himself what they have done to you that you expect to be hurt instead of loved.

Ezra made himself move slower reminding himself that Vin was a half wild creature that possibly had never really known a soft loving touch, carefully he leaned into him, and kissed him at the same time as he pushed Vin’s hat back so that it hung on the stamped strap and allowed him to bury his hand into the long hair. He kissed Vin, pleased when he felt the bounty hunters arms go round him. But then Vin broke the kiss and stepped back quickly.

“Don’t need kissing, ain’t no woman Ez.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Oh I know that Mr. Tanner… err Vin.” Ez paused “but did you like it.”

“Yeah, it was nice.” Ezra smiled and moved close and kissed him again, this time finding Vin melting into the kiss.”

Moving Vin back slowly until his knees touched the back of his bed, and pushed him down, before sinking down to knee in front of him. Vin cocked his head to one side and Ezra had to fight the impulse to tell him how endearing he found it. Realizing that Vin might take it the wrong way, and he certainly didn’t want to distract him not now.

“What’s the matter Vin.”

“Never fucked on a bed before.” Ezra gave his knee a gentle squeeze, and the bounty hunter continued. “Fucked against a stable wall and out on the trail, and when I lived with the Indians. Even got took once in a bath house, didn’t want that. But no one ever thought I’s was good enough for a bed.”

Ezra knew his love life had gone to hell with Julian Parker, but compared to this man he had been lucky he had at least had the illusion of being loved.

“Well I think it’s time to show you how you can be loved.” Then more forcefully he added “Should be loved.”  As he spoke he reached out and pushed the braces off Vin’s shoulders, then bending drew off the hunter’s boots and socks, then leaned up and kissed him again, as he began to unbutton Vin’s shirt, and then a second shirt, finally stripping them off. Ezra kissed and nipped each piece of Vin’s skin that was exposed, and then he began to undo the hunter’s flies, and drew the pants off the long legs, then sat back and admired him, the lean body that would soon be his.

Ezra pressed Vin back on the bed and moaned as he felt a hand cupping him through his pants, and Ezra froze, remembering suddenly being naked with Julian when he had been taken, as the other man his so called lover had remained dressed. To show his domination of him, Ezra vowed would never make that mistake with Vin.

Easing back Ezra put a hand to Vin’s chest when he would have sat up, “No Vin”, and quickly he stripped out of his clothes letting them fall on the floor in his hurry, and then eased seen to lay on top of his soon to be lover, reveling on the feel of skin against skin, as he captures Vin mouth in a searing kiss. Together they began to move against each other, the sweet sensation building between them as the ground against each other, until Vin cried out his head thrown back as Ezra had latched onto one of his nipple tonguing it triggering the hunter’s release, and in turn Ezra followed him to climax feeling that firm body writhing under him.  

Ezra rolled onto his side and pulled Vin into his arms, gently calming him with his touch, as he whispered breathless “That Mr. Tanner was mealy the beginning.”

“Said not to call me Mister.” Vin said his voice a rasping whisper.

“I haven’t mounted you yet Mr. Tanner” Ezra laughed softly and nipped at his ear, “remember what you said, the best is yet to come.” Even as he said he remembered Julian, how the man had never asked him, just mounted him as if it was his duty to offer his ass up to Parker. Was he doing the same to Vin?

Slowly as they calmed Ezra began to worship Vin’s body until the Texan was moving under him, his body begging for his touch. Softly he asked “Vin can I take you, if you.”

“Sure pick the wrong time to ask.” Vin said as he pressed his body arching up so that he could make as much contact with Ezra as he could.

“I have to know it’s what you want.”

“Hell you have to be serious called me Vin.” there was a lightness in that rasping drawl that made Ezra more hot and bothered than he had ever felt  before. “Yes fuck yes take me.” Vin almost snarled as Ezra waited for his answer.

“Your wish is my command.” Ezra said as he reached for the tin of grease near the bed and prepared him carefully, until Vin was moving wantonly onto his fingers, only then did Ezra whisper that he was ready. When Vin tried to turn on his belly he caught his arm, and tugged him onto his back. Vin opened his mouth to protest, Ezra beat him to it, “I want to see your face when you come.”

“Never done that before.” Vin said hesitantly.

“Then Mr. Tanner you have never been loved.” Even as he said it Ezra’s heart broke for his lover, that one cared was a sign that Vin had never truly been loved his other couplings had been quick and sometimes brutal fucks just to satisfy an itch, now he was going to make sure that Vin knew different.

Ezra held himself back, this was for Vin, he returned to kissing and stroking his lover, even as he coaxed his knees up towards his chest, and then pressed Vin’s feet flat on the bed, and his knees splayed so that he could kneel between them. Reaching down he claimed Vin’s lips in a long lingering kiss before he moved into Vin beaching his center, even prepared so well he felt tight and Ezra took is carefully, the hot velvet channel sheathed him, seeming to draw him in. All the time he watched Vin’s face reading it stopping when he saw pain stroking Vin’s belly and his flanks until the pain faded and he could move deeper, until finally he rested buried to the root in his lover. Only then he began to move, slowly steady thrusts, searching for the small nub, when he hit it, Vin bucked under him, head thrown back  again as he cried out even as he tried to stop his cry.

“Like to hear you Vin.” 

“Then fucking move.” Vin snarled as he thrust up with his hips and impaled himself deeper.

“As you wish Vin.”

“Vin” the hunter said a grin on his face “not Mr. Tanner.”

“I fear that is now redundant.” Ezra somehow managed to gasp as Vin flexed his inner muscles, and nearly caused the gambler to come. With a  groan Ezra began to move, and all other thoughts were forgotten as the two men were lost in the intense sensation of being loved, the only noise was the soft moans and the slap of flesh on  flesh, then cries of completion as they called each other’s names as they came.

Ezra withdrew as Vin was still riding on the afterglow of coming he heard him give a grunt of pain as he came out of him, quickly he checked his lover and only when he saw no blood did he relax. Gentlemen never hurt his lover and the thought of hurting Vin made him feel sick, he pulled Vin into his arms pleased beyond belief as Vin nestled close to him, burying his face under his chin as his arms and legs intertwined with him.  Ezra was content for the first time in his life, he had found something he thought he would never have, a true lover, he wanted Vin not only in his bed but in his life.  

Clarkesville

Three days later

Monroe was still angry, first Tanner had been broken out of jail by that bastard Buck Wilmington and now death had just ridden into town, there was no mistaking the all black clothing of Chris Larabee. The blond killer was feared for a very good reason, he was the fastest with a gun in the territory, and his temper was known to be volatile. Which made him one mean son of a bitch, and you didn’t want to cross him unless you had a death wish.

Jack Carpenter was propping up the bar, in one hand he had his mug of  beer in the other the battered harmonica they had taken off Tanner, he tapped on the counter to get the attention of the bar keep.

The sudden quietness of the bar brought his attention to Chris Larabee, the gun man took a place at the end of the bar his back against the wall, and ordered a bottle of whiskey, and a glass, and he splashed a good measure into the glass and knocked it back. It was then Jack saw Matt, blanch, as Larabee started towards them his hand resting near the butt of his gun. The man in black loomed over them, his left hand came down hard pinning Jack’s to the bar top, and then pulled the harmonica out from under it.

“That’s mine.” Jack started to say then the words died in his throat as he saw the soulless green eyes bore into him.

“Where did you get it, and don’t lie.” Chris’s hand flexed on his gun.

“Off some breed.” Jack stated to say then reeled back against the bar as he was back handed.

“He ain’t no breed,” Chris said his tone chilling, “he still alive.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said quickly, “Matt tell him that Tanner is alive, he got rescued by Buck and some butt fucking gambler.”

“Who”. The gun was suddenly in his face before he even registered it being drawn, the hammer was pulled back and held by Larabee’s thumb if he let the hammer drop, his brains would be splashed across the counter.

“Buck Wilmington he was a deputy here, and the gambler Ezra Standish, they got him out of jail.”

The hammer of the gun was lowered slowly, and the gun pin wheeled and slapped back into Larabee’s holster.

“You know where they were going.”

“No no, we think they headed to Four Corners.”

Larabee turned on his heels picked up the whiskey bottle, jerked at thumb the two men down the counter, “there paying.” He pocked the harmonica and the whiskey and walked out of the saloon, the customers keeping well clear of him.  The bar keep peered over the bar, and winkled his nose, at the stench of urine, Jack had pissed himself, and now sank down to sit on the floor as he legs finally gave way, in the distance he heard a the thunder of a horse leaving  town at the gallop, he could only pray it was Larabee.

0-0-0-0-0

Jack Carpenter had no idea how lucky he was, Chris Larabee was hunting for the one reason in his life to keep living for, a certain young, tangled haired lean Texan, not yet his lover, but Chris regarded that only as a minor oversight on Vin Tanner’s part. Soon he would claim Vin and god help anyone that got in his way. If Vin had died in that town, then death would have followed swiftly. Chris turned his horse towards Four Corners, he would have words with Buck first and then together they would hunt for Vin and return him to his side where he belonged.  He was a possessive bastard Chris knew that and readily acknowledged it, but it was the only way to keep his soon to be lover safe, he would not lose him like he lost Sarah and his son. Chris dug his spurs in and his horse increased its long mile eating stride, now he was this close he wouldn’t lose him again.

The end.

Continues in  The Hunter Becomes The Hunted