“… right, Buck?”
“So there really was a fire-breathing dragon who rescued the maiden from your nefarious clutches?”
After a moment, it penetrated Buck’s preoccupation that that didn’t make a lick of sense. He blinked and focused on Josiah again. “What?”
Josiah shook his head, brow creased in a frown. “Buck,” he said, leaning forward across the table to lend his words more weight. “If you don’t get this under control, someone’s going to get it under control for you, and I don’t think you’ll like that much.”
He didn’t ask get what under control; he already knew what Josiah meant. So he nodded, and rubbed a hand across his eyes, as if that would help. He didn’t think it would; he wasn’t sure what would help.
And as soon as Josiah had tossed back his last whiskey of the evening and departed, Buck found his eyes drawn back to the poker table on the far side of the saloon, where Ezra presided over his game. It was a decidedly different Ezra from the one who’d sat there only last week, however, and Buck just couldn’t seem to stop himself from staring.
Because last week, Ezra had been a man, and now… he most decidedly was not. Everything about him had changed in some way. His hair was the same shade, but it was longer, and now artfully curled into ringlets over his shoulders – his bare shoulders, not so broad as they had been. His eyes hadn’t changed, but the rest of his features were not quite the same: softer, blurred… more feminine.
Not to mention the way the dress he wore emphasized that femininity in every way that the purple monstrosity he’d worn before just hadn’t… décolletage, slender arms, smoothly corseted waist flaring into womanly hips…
“Jesus Christ, Buck, stop starin’ at him.”
Buck jumped in his seat and counted himself lucky he hadn’t been holding a drink. The words were spoken in a familiar tone, but the voice wasn’t. When he glanced toward the seat across the table, he saw why: it was Vin.
Vin, who’d had the misfortune to get himself and Ezra caught in the blast of that curse Chris had been talking about, and, like Ezra, was now a woman. And, Buck thought as privately as he could, one just as pretty.
Vin’s hair wasn’t exactly loose; there were a couple of combs caught in it, sweeping it back over his ears so it was out of his face. Ezra’s curls were clearly artificial, but Vin’s weren’t, creating a soft wave that flowed down his back. Like Ezra, his eyes hadn’t changed, but his face had – a softer (but still mulish) jawline, without his perpetual stubble, cheekbones a bit more prominent. Vin, too, wore a dress, but not a flashy one like Ezra’s, because Mary had kitted him out as soon as she’d heard. It was a light blue calico, with a high neck and long sleeves, and the way he tugged first at one cuff, then the other, then the lacy collar told Buck louder than words that he hated the whole ensemble.
Buck could tell, too, that Mary had laced him into a corset, just from the way Vin breathed, short and not quite panicked because he couldn’t take a deep breath. Explains why he’s sittin’ so straight, Buck thought a little dazedly, and his eyes fixed about six inches south of Vin’s chin. Yep, definitely a corset…
“And if you don’t stop starin’ at me like that, I might just have to hurt you,” Vin growled, and it sounded so… strange, so downright ridiculous for a lady to talk to him like that that Buck couldn’t help but chuckle. But that just made Vin even angrier. “I’m warnin’ you, Buck…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Buck managed. “I’m tryin’, Vin, but damn, ain’t you looked in a mirror yet?” He made a motion with his hands, outlining a very feminine figure in the air between them.
Vin just kept on glaring. “You call me a girl, and you an’ me will be havin’ words, Buck.”
He grinned back; too much time with Chris just wouldn’t let him keep from poking the bear. “What kinds of words… darlin’?”
Vin turned red as a beet, then cursed him up one side and down the other, and Buck just about shook himself apart laughing. “Vin, you know a lady shouldn’t know those kinds of words!”
Vin stood up so quick that he almost knocked the chair over, and it got tangled up in his skirts as he scrabbled for a gun that he wasn’t carrying.
“All right, enough.” Chris laid a hand on Vin’s shoulder, and Vin twitched and went still, like he was a horse that Chris could calm. “Buck, shut the hell up.” Buck just grinned unrepentantly. “Vin…” Chris sighed, like he knew there wasn’t anything he could say. “Why don’t you take a walk, cool off a bit?”
Vin pushed out of the saloon as fast as his skirts would let him.
Chris slumped into the chair Vin had nearly knocked over and poured himself a slug of whiskey in the glass Josiah had abandoned. “You keep needlin’ him like that, he might just shoot you,” he said, his tone weary.
Sighing, Buck nodded, then grinned gamely at Chris. “Sure is fun, though.”
Chris rolled his eyes and tossed back the whiskey. “And stop starin’ at Ezra,” he finished darkly, standing once more. “You keep on, you won’t like what happens.” With that, he strode off.
With another sigh, Buck stood and corked the bottle before returning it to Inez. I should stop starin’ at them, he acknowledged ruefully. But damn, they were pretty enough men before… how in the hell can I stop now?
Living with this until it wore off or was broken wasn’t going to be easy. But at least I can still enjoy a real lady’s company, he thought, and was cheered by it. He made his way over to Miss Violet, who’d been making eyes at him all evening.
And if at a delicate moment, he imagined that her eyes were a sharp blue, well, who the hell would know but him?