The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

Wind And Rain

Second in the Johnny and Holly series - -which is best read in sequence.

Disclaimer: The boys unfortunately do not belong to me. I would have treated them better. However, the characters of Holly Vasquez and Chrissy Templar are mine. They were born in my head and are the loves of Johnny and Val.
Rated R. Implied adult situations
A huge thanks goes out to Cat for the beta! .

 

Johnny Lancer stood on the platform of the tiny Salinas train station and waited. The train was not due yet for another thirty minutes so there was plenty of time for anticipation. Usually a patient man, you had to be given the type of work he had been in most of his life,  he was in desperate need of these several days to be away from the rigors of the ranch. Filled with a yearning for a bit of the 'old way of life', he was anxious for the start of the coming week.

He had been diligent in his responsibilities at Lancer, indeed, going above and beyond, much to Murdoch's surprise and complete joy; his younger son was 'toeing the line'. Johnny was showing discipline, which had been absent for most of his entire young life. Murdoch knew this was a huge turning point for Johnny, though Johnny may not have known it himself, and Murdoch saw it and was overjoyed.

Over the last several months there had been very tense moments that included dangerous, life-threatening circumstances in which Johnny had been involved. Murdoch could do nothing as he watched, helpless and horrified, as Johnny had been swept along in the midst of a stampede and escaped before the lethal horns could deliver a life-ending slash to horse or rider.

Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River, long time friend of Johnny's and now the entire Lancer family, often requested help regarding legal issues. When transferring prisoners to another town, going out on a posse or whenever 'civic duty' called, Lancer would always offer their help and manpower. Johnny's tracking abilities and skill with his Colt were legendary and led to the apprehension of many an outlaw.

The matter that most worried the Lancer patriarch was the fact that folks did not let Madrid fade away. And the issue came up all too frequently; gunfighters seeking the next thrill, the next level to enhancing their reputation or youngsters looking to begin making their own name. The day that Murdoch ceased to draw breath would be the day that he stopped his worry.

So, when the chance presented itself for a change of scenery, Johnny jumped at it. Murdoch needed official ranch business in Salinas to be completed and thinking back to the last several weeks Johnny had put in, he asked if Johnny would take care of it for him. The conversation that followed warmed Murdoch's staunch Scottish heart as the young man consented, eager to be about issues other than stupid cows for a bit.

"Johnny, when you get this done, I want you to....." at this point Murdoch hesitated, drawing out the last of his 'order' as he watched Johnny's eyes, the eyes that held the same strength and vibrant color of Murdoch's grandmother's eyes. He looked for anything to indicate what was going on in his son's head. But he saw nothing other than a favorable reception and Johnny waiting for Murdoch to finish.

"I want you to take some time off, son, you've had a rough few weeks and some relaxation would do you good." Murdoch's search of the blue gaze did not disappoint him as Johnny's smile not only lit up the entire room, but also kindled a warm glow in Murdoch's heart. The grin continued to grow as Johnny let his thoughts explode and come to life in his head. His plans were quickly made and ready to put in motion.

Wanting to verify what he thought had been offered, Johnny had to ask lest he be in for a letdown of major proportions. The sparkle of his eyes flared in anxious anticipation.

"Ah, Murdoch, did you just tell me ta take some time offa work?" he asked with a hopeful chuckle.

"Yes, son, some well deserved time off! Time for yourself!" Murdoch could do nothing but laugh at Johnny's surprised expression. The dazzling smile Johnny gave his 'ol' man' was enough to take the breath out of Murdoch's body. It was worth everything to him to see his young son, the more undisciplined, the more carefree son so happy.

"Thanks, Murdoch. I 'preciate it... a lot!" Then Johnny went up to his room, taking the stairs three at a time as he ran plans through his head.

Ahhhh, youth! Was I ever that young and wild? Murdoch thought with the happiness that continued to grow in his heart. The sweet smile lines on his rugged and weathered face were new since the boys were now home and etched deeper with every blessed new day!

 

Johnny wasted no time. He left for Green River in hopes of receiving a response from each of two telegrams that he would send. Years ago, Johnny and Val were able to help a friend, Trace McCloud, out of a life and death situation and Trace had never forgotten that the two stood by him in his time of desperate need. He vowed to make it up to them, one way or another. Since that time, Trace had become a successful rancher acquiring substantial properties. On the land was a quiet mountain valley twenty five miles northwest of Salinas. A cabin nestled in the valley tucked in between the majestic peaks was the chosen spot for Johnny to enjoy his time away from Lancer. The cabin stood amidst great stands of Ponderosa Pines and a stream fed lake graced the view. Straight across the lake from the cabin, surrounded by walls of mountains, lay a meadow and the whole created the feeling of seclusion and serenity.

Johnny and Val had used the cabin for hunting trips in the past as Trace had been generous loaning it to them. And now, it would work perfectly in Johnny's plans but he needed to confirm with Trace to make sure.

He waited at the Angels Nest after attending to an errand at the bank and a stop at the cafe provided lunch. A beer would help the wait pass quickly. The time seemed to crawl, almost as if the clock wanted to go backwards but an agonizing two hours later he made it to the telegraph office to find answers to both messages he sent. With a smile that grew into a silly grin, Johnny pocketed both missives and headed for home.

<><><><> 

Four days later, he was in Salinas in his comfortable hotel room. He leaned against the window frame and thought about tomorrow. His business for Murdoch was now finished and, thankfully, it had been completed quickly. He contemplated his plans for the 'well deserved' time off; in the morning he would rent a packhorse, purchase supplies and head for the cabin.

The night was long even considering he'd spent much time in the saloon. He did not want 'company' nor did he look for a poker game to occupy the hours but finally elected to turn in and wait for morning. Maybe he would sleep and eventually, he did.

The cool mountain air rejuvenated his mind and soul; he sucked in great breaths and felt the rush as it soothed him, inside and out. It was a beautiful day and was about to become much better. Even the packhorse co-operated!

The trail led into the mountains above Salinas. The high peaks seemed to melt into the sky and were covered in an ethereal haze. It felt sacred, touched by God. It was a place of quiet, healing peace and Johnny was refreshed, renewed with every visit.

After several hours of travel, Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt. The scene that stretched out before him seemed to call his name, beckoned him to lounge for a while, to lie in the lush grass and soft moss and just..... be. Later, Johnny, there'll be time for that later... Then he nudged his amigo forward and they continued on.

The small stream was the same only more full than in the past. The mountain rains of late had been generous and filled the streams, creeks, ponds and lakes to capacity and Johnny anticipated the lake that rested in front of the cabin, clear and inviting, to shimmer and sparkle as if precious jewels floated on the surface of the water. And he was right. The lake, a friendly companion of the cabin, was fringed with tall pines all around, the only exception being the meadow that lay directly across from the cabin porch. The mountains behind dipped low to allow an early peek at the sun as it rose to bathe the mornings in sweet new light.

Johnny carefully checked for danger before dismounting Barranca. He scoured the ground for signs of recent prints from hoof or boot. Finding none he rode around the cabin at a safe distance but found nothing to alert him to any danger. He noted there was an even layer of dust on the porch, the only marks left by the squirrels and other tiny guests. Johnny left Barranca in the trees and approached soundlessly. It was safe. The first task was to unload the packhorse and carry the supplies into the cabin, then he saw to the horses. A tiny barn out back with an equally tiny corral served them well. Johnny stripped the gear from the sweaty animals, brushed them down and fed and watered them. Once again in the cabin he began to put away the provisions.

He turned and looked around the cozy space. It never ceased to amaze him just how the place affected him. It was a place Johnny could live in for the rest of his life. Sure, the Lancer estancia was impressive, a place of wealth and importance. But this cabin was enough, more than enough, after all, Johnny never wanted much. He grew up without anything and survived. But this small dwelling had everything he ever needed and he knew he could be happy and satisfied here.

It sure was a nice cozy set up, Johnny had always thought. Trace McCloud made the cabin very comfortable. It was more than a cabin, it was a very quaint and welcoming home. The furnishings seemed almost out of place. A sofa and two matching chairs graced the living quarters and were arranged in front of a massive stone fireplace and on the floor lay a large bearskin rug. The kitchen was fully stocked and complete with a pump that saved one from torturous trips to an outside well. There was a bedroom that claimed a large soft bed and a small loft room upstairs. All the comforts of home...... Johnny thought.

It was perfect and Johnny knew his time here would be enjoyed to the fullest.

It had been well kept and as he walked out under the inviting covered front porch, he decided a trip down to the lake was next on his 'agenda'. Large rocks sat just into the calm, glass-like water.  Johnny watched as a doe came down the meadow with her fawns to drink. He watched them for a time and smiled as the fawns romped and played as the mother stood watchful. He heard the jays scold him from their perches in the trees and he watched a fox scurry from one cover to the next scouting around for mice. Johnny turned his face to the sky and inhaled the fresh pine scent as he closed his eyes to let his senses absorb every sight, sound and smell. Yes, he really needed this. He needed this time to re-energize his soul.

The blade of the ax had been sharpened since he'd been here last. It bit through the logs and soon he had chopped enough wood for several days. As he surveyed his work, he brushed the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve then collected soap and towel and ambled to the lake for a much needed bath.

Johnny scrubbed himself clean then dove under the water, rinsing the soap as he broke through the surface and created rings that rippled out for twenty feet in all directions. While he drifted in the water an eagle swooped down on the lake's surface and in one graceful move snagged a large fish in the deadly talons. It flew up into a tree as the meal struggled in its grip, then the raptor began to eat. Good idea, amigo! Johnny shook his head of thick, soft hair and the drops of water were flung outward to join the floating ripples on the lake surface. He stepped onto the shore and without bothering to dress, he gathered up his clothes and walked naked to the cabin. He fixed himself a light lunch, letting the water air dry on his skin, ate his meal and lay down on the bearskin in front of the fireplace to promptly fall asleep.

The screech of jays outside roused him to consciousness. The raucous calls penetrated his groggy head, pierced his brain and brought him out of the hazy sleep. It was then he realized the chill that enveloped his body. Time ta get dressed b'fore ya freeze.... he thought and began to pull on his clothes.

Johnny stood and looked the cabin over. Everything was fine except for one thing. He set about this last chore and when completed, he mounted Barranca and led the pack horse back along the tiny trail where he had come in the day before. It was sure nice to get time off, especially since the rest of his plans were falling into place. He'd only been here one day and already felt rested, rested like he hadn't felt in a long, long time... but he also knew that it was partly because of the coming plans that had been made.

<><><><> 

So, here he was, patiently, or not so patiently, waiting for the train. He took the watch that Murdoch had given to him shortly after his arrival at Lancer, to check the time. Fifteen more minutes. Easy, Johnny-Boy. Only fifteen more minutes. He watched the people start to gather to welcome the train, anxious to see whomever it was they were meeting. Johnny looked up over the mountains surrounding Salinas. It was a cloudless day and not too warm. Up in the mountains would be cooler; the trees held the heat away from the cabin and Johnny knew it would be perfect.

A small boy ran into him as he stood there, he thought protected and out of the way. The little boy looked up at him and mumbled something that Johnny could not make out and was on his way again. Soon a woman approached him and apologized as she held the little boy by the ear and made him tell Johnny how sorry he was for not watching where he going and for almost knocking him over. Johnny tipped his hat and murmured that it was all right, no one was hurt. He flashed her ‘the’ smile and she blushed then dragged the little boy away. Then he heard it, the train whistle coming up through the south pass and his heart skipped a beat.

Soon the train hove into town with great plumes of smoke that belched out from the brakes and smoke stack to stop so the passenger cars were even with the platform. Eleven people stepped off the train and one by one the families, friends or business acquaintances found their intended connections and left. And Johnny was standing on the platform alone. He looked at the conductor and asked if there had been anyone left on the train.

"No, sir, they all stepped off...." Johnny turned around to look once more down the side of the cars.

"Uh, except for one, mister...." the conductor continued. Johnny spun around to see her standing behind the man on the first step leading down to the platform. She had piled her hair in an ornate coiffure on top of her head and had donned a dress that was cut to fit her trim form and compliment it to its finest. The light cream color highlighted her darker Mexican skin that fairly glowed, the contrast flattering. She was truly beautiful!

A large smile split his face as he lunged for her, pulling her into his tight embrace. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him solidly with fiery ardor that seared his brain, not to mention other parts of him. The strength of her hug and the deeply impassioned kiss almost did Johnny in. He thought they had better get out of here before he embarrassed himself right here on the platform. He looked at the conductor and nodded, the man winked back as if to say Boy, I envy you tonight!

Johnny led Holly Vasquez to his hotel room where once in private he closed the door behind them. Leaning against it he was, once again, overwhelmed by her beauty, her only flaw, a tiny, faint scar high on her left cheekbone. He reached her in a split second, arms wrapped tightly around her and kissed her hard enough to make her head dizzy with pleasure.

His fingers were in her silky black hair, gently releasing it from its pins to cascade down her back. Their lips warmed to the pleasure and bodies melted together. With eager fingers he unbuttoned her dress and disposed of her under things as she unbuckled his gunbelt, belt and made short work of the calzoneras all without breaking their heated kiss.  He backed her up against the bed and they fell onto it with pants and groans of exquisite, uncontrolled lust. They kicked out of their clothes and with skin on skin, pressing together so they could not tell where one left off and the other started they began their secret tryst, their desperately needed time together, time well spent, for both of them.

<><><><> 

Johnny opened his eyes and realized that it was dark outside. He quietly got out of bed and pulled the curtains closed then lit the lamp, turning it low so it would not disturb the beauty sleeping in his bed. And beautiful she was! He could hardly take his eyes away from her captivating face, her cheeks still flushed by their sweet, precious lovemaking, and her glorious hair spread across the pillows.

Then Johnny remembered what had roused him. His belly growled in protest and he quietly pulled on his clothes. As he was strapping on his gun belt she woke, stretching out her lithe body with a low and sensual growl. He moved about the room, steps graceful and cat-like. No wasted energy spent, he moved with purpose. He came to the edge of the bed and sat beside her, his fingers brushing her hair out of her face.

"'M hungry. Thought I'd get us somethin' ta eat."

"I can go with you..." as she started to get out of bed.

"Uh uh. I like you like this. I'll be right back, stay here an'....don't get dressed..." he whispered in her ear with a laugh and kissed her deeply. She slipped her arms around his neck, kissed him back and he almost said ta hell with gettin' somethin' ta eat, almost got back into bed with her, but in the end he'd made the right choice and left in search of food.

He returned to their room to find Holly sitting up in bed with only the sheet pulled over her naked form. In her hand she held a brush as she gently, smoothly pulled it through the long, silky hair making it shine in the lamp light. Dios! I could watch her do that forever! Does she have any idea what she's doin' ta me? He continued to watch as she smiled seductively at him wondering how long he would stand there holding that tray. Finally, as his belly growled again he pulled the table beside the bed, quickly undressed and was tucked in beside her in less than a minute. He fed her spicy chicken, cooked with the peppers they both favored, and bit half of it as she put it into her mouth.

Kissing her gently he pulled away not wanting her to choke, and once again let his eyes roam the exquisite features. Her smile was one that Johnny found irresistible and he kissed her again until soon, the food forgotten, they began a slow, sensual beat to their loving, a sweet dance they perfected so well, each step in time with the other. They soared together, locked in each other's arms, then breathless and exhausted, they lay panting, hearts thudding in their chests, hammering against ribs and blood pounding through their veins. The sweet, softly spoken murmurings, whispered amidst nuzzles and caresses coaxed drowsy eyes to close and, again, sleep overtook them.

Dawn broke on the horizon when Johnny opened his eyes. Completely rested, feeling better than he had for months, he watched her sleep. A thick tangle of silky hair lay across her face and fluttered in time with her breathing. He watched her features relaxed in sleep, the rise and fall of breasts, full and teasing drove him wild with desire. If he wasn't careful, they would be getting a very late start today.

<><><><> 

They got their things together after a mock threat from Holly caused his wandering hands to behave and they were ready to leave the hotel, the chastised hands now under control. Johnny had rented a sweet little dapple-gray mare for Holly to ride. She was an accomplished rider, but he felt easier having a gentle horse for her. They started up the trail out of town. Johnny had not told her where they were going or what they would be doing, well, she already knew a lot of they what would be doing but not all of it. Johnny smiled to himself as he watched the emotions on her face. The sweet smile was most often there, but Johnny also detected reverence and awe as she took in that beauty around her.

They had been riding for several hours when he pulled Barranca to a stop and she reined her mare along side him. Johnny looked into her eyes and without a word spoken, he reached out a hand and pulled her to him. He kissed her with such tenderness and saw her eyes fill with tears and knew that no one had ever made her feel this way before. He was a man of contradictions, he was both deadly yet caring and gentle.

They crossed meadows and stopped to watch a deer drink at the edge of a small lake. The pines were thicker and the scent in the air was magnificent! Holly closed her eyes and breathed as deeply as she could. Johnny watched her enjoying the venture that only the mountains could provide and he smiled to himself. Yup, Johnny, this was a great idea!  She stopped and opened her eyes to see Johnny watching her and she laughed.

"You think I am muy loco?" she asked grinning.

"Nope, I think you are muy beautiful...." and he ran his hand through her hair cascading down her back as it shined brightly in the sun. Then they were riding on their way again.

"Not much further," Johnny called back to her as they continued down the trail. A half hour later, they stopped in front of the cabin and Johnny dismounted from Barranca. He walked over to the Gray and reached up for Holly as she fell into his arms then he carried her to the porch. He pretended to trip over the ground covered deep with pine needles and moss and threatened to drop her; she clutched more firmly around his neck, giggled and laughed. She sighed deeply as he set her down on the steps letting her body slide down the length of his.

"Well, this is it for the next five days. What'dya think, querida?" Holly looked around with dancing, sparkling eyes and laughter on her sweet mouth. Again, she breathed deeply.

"Juanito, it is beautiful! I love it here! Can we go inside?" Johnny was up on the porch to open the door for her. She walked into the cabin and looked around; the smile on her face told Johnny exactly what he wanted to know. She turned to him and threw herself into his arms as she looped hers around his neck.

"Oh, Juanito! It is perfect! For the next five days, this is our home!" and she kissed him hot and hard and... it was wonderful...

<><><><> 

They settled in and Holly started to cook, noting that Johnny had been so thoughtful to stock the cabin with the food they were going to need. He got the horses bedded down in the small barn then returned to the cabin. She noted the huge bouquet of wild columbines in a jar filled with water. The large elegant white and yellow blossoms looked beautiful as they had welcomed her into this little bit of Heaven. It was evening and the sun was going down. The night was beginning to get cool. Johnny started the fire in the stone fireplace and turned to watch Holly as she puttered in the kitchen.

"So, Juanito, how is it that you have this place?" she asked with a sweet but suggestive smile.

"Oh, it belongs to a friend. Val an' I use it sometimes if we go huntin'. Been here a couple a times," he said softly, his voice sounding very exciting, very sexy to her ears. Holly put the lid on the kettle and came to where he was seated in one of the large chairs facing the fire. She melted onto his lap and rested her head on his strong shoulder. He immediately wrapped his arms around her as if she would fly away and hugged her close, and she lost herself in the feel of him. Together they watched the flames as they danced up and down the logs, completely mesmerized by the fire.

After their meal was done and the dishes were cleaned and put away Holly went into the bedroom and in a few minutes returned dressed in a simple but elegant white nightgown.  She went to the door, opened it to wander onto the porch and looked down at the lake. Holly watched for a while then stepped down the four stairs on her way to the water's edge.

The air was chilly but the water was not. She stepped in and soon she was knee deep with her gown pulled up around her hips. Johnny was watching her from the porch, his heart pounding like thunder in his chest. The full moon had risen over the meadow opposite the cabin and there, in the reflection on the water was her silhouette, the gown on her body like mist as it swirled around her and Johnny could see every lovely, soft and beckoning curve. Juanito, I am here...come touch me! It called out to him. Dios! I can't even look at her without wantin' ta crawl in between those long, pretty legs...Like I ain't got a mind of my own anymore! And he slowly and quietly sauntered down to the water, a lusty smile on his handsome face.

He removed his gun belt, shirt, boots, pants, and long johns, then stepped into the water. When she turned to meet him, his breath caught in his throat. Her black eyes reflected the moon and glittered like diamonds. Does she know what she does ta me? He thought and he reached out his arms and pulled her gown over her head, throwing it to shore to land safely on a rock. He leaned down to kiss her and she...... quickly splashed water in his face and swam away, not getting very far before he grabbed her, kissed her mouth and then dunked her. She came up, sputtered, and gave a shriek that made the night birds scatter and the owl stop in mid hoot. Their play lasted for an hour before the water started to cool off and they made their way to the house, with his arm around her shoulders for a bit of warmth, to sit before the blazing fire.

Johnny lay on his back with his hands behind his head and watched as she sat beside him to brush out that glorious hair, the bearskin rug soft and warm beneath them. She finally laid the brush aside and put her hand on Johnny's chest, her fingers began to undo the buttons of his shirt. She ran her hands over his lean body and asked him to roll over onto his belly then she began the luxurious back rub that he loved. She massaged his shoulders, kneading the tightness from the strong, hard muscles then used her finger tips as she rubbed in tiny circles down his spine and then with the heel of her hands rubbed outward, away from the spine to his sides, then back to the spine and outward again.

When she was done he could barely move, so relaxed was he without a coherent thought in his head. She began to drag her hair slowly across his back and watched as it raised goose bumps on his bare flesh. Johnny sighed in complete and total bliss. She cuddled down next to him and together fell asleep bathed in the soft glow and heat from the fire. The wind began to blow gently and the trees rattled their leaves as if applauding the beautiful sensual display in the water and the lovers lying together, their final bow for the night’s performance.

<><><><> 

Johnny woke to the delicious aroma of coffee and raised a sleepy head from the bearskin rug to look around. No Holly in sight. The sun had just peeked up over the mountains beginning a new day in spectacular fashion. Its deep pinks and reds stained everything in colors that no painter ever mastered on his palette.

The front door was open and he could see Holly sitting on the steps of the porch watching the beauty unfold over the lake. Johnny retrieved a cup of coffee, then went to sit with her. The sun warmed his body as the shirt he wore hung open and was untucked. He settled on the step below her and leaned down gracefully to position himself between her knees, he rested his head between her breasts, his arms on her thighs as if they were the arms of a chair. She wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her chin on the top of his head. Neither spoke for several minutes and enjoyed the quiet and just.... breathed. Just being. It felt as if they were alone in the world, just the two of them….. all alone. Johnny was the first to break the silence.

"Sleep alright, querida?"

"Yes, I did. Best that I have in a long time." Johnny smiled at this. "How long have you been planning this, querido?"

"Oh, not too long. Just kinda fit inta my schedule...." he answered in that soft voice that drove her wild. He felt her chin rest on his head, the air filled with her soft scent and it overpowered his mind. His heart beat faster as he closed his eyes and reveled in the simple act of just being next to her.

"Really? Since when does Johnny Madrid have a schedule?" Mierda, 'm gonna hafta tell her sooner or later 'bout Madrid... an’ Lancer! he thought. But not wanting to spoil the moment, he just chuckled and drank his coffee. The sun rose higher and, again, Johnny's belly announced it was time to eat.

"I had better get you some food otherwise I fear you will fade away right before my eyes!" And she left him there on the porch to watch the day unfold into golden sunshine. The mist coming off the lake added to the feeling of they were the only two people in these mountains and that thought held great appeal to Johnny. He finished the coffee, wandered out to the barn, and checked on the horses.

After a delightful and leisurely breakfast together, Johnny saddled their mounts to go for a ride. The day was bright, sunny, and pleasingly warm. He brought the Gray and Barranca to the cabin as Holly cleaned up the breakfast dishes. As soon as she was ready, they mounted and rode west through dense pine woods filled with chattering squirrels. They raced and chased with Holly and Johnny as their audience, Holly giggling with delight at their antics. She gasped and pointed to the magnificent billowing clouds oozing up and over the mountaintop above them.

"Oh, Juanito! Look how beautiful those clouds are! How white and brilliant! It looks like you could reach out and touch them!"

Johnny was warmed to see how amazed and pleased Holly was with the change of scenery. He supposed as all of her life was spent in desert-like areas, the green of the Ponderosa pines and blues of the lake and sky seemed to delight her heart. He was pleasantly surprised at this side of her given the fact that she was a ‘hardened woman of the night’. But there was still enough child-like energy that she could appreciate the things the mountains offered and Johnny grinned to himself.

"Que? Juanito, what is so funny?"

"Nuthin’, querida, nuthin'," and he spurred Barranca down the trail.

The morning passed quickly and he could hold himself back no longer. He reined Barranca to a stop at the edge of a small clearing ringed with pines and aspens. Ferns grew wild and out in the clearing were clumps of colorful columbines. A tiny babbling stream meandered through the flower-carpeted grass and moss. Johnny ground tied the horses. He reached up and took Holly by the waist and helped her down; again, he let her slide the length of his body before her toes touched the grass. He held her tight not wanting to break the connection, his hug almost desperate. His breath quickened, Dios I can't stop when it comes to her..... And finally, he released his hold.

He unsaddled the horses and spread his bedroll on the ground by the stream. Johnny took her by the hand and led her to the blanket; they kicked off their boots and fell into a tangled pile. She laughed as he kissed her ears and nuzzled her neck. The sun revitalized her skin and her heart. This man made her feel so special, made her feel like she was the most important woman alive; he made her feel like.... his.

His fingers teased the buttons her blouse. She had chosen well. This one had only a few to secure the cloth and was more wrapped around rather than using many of the annoying tiny fastenings to hold it closed. Johnny had it off her in seconds, the thin cotton underwear was not much of an obstacle, and in turn, she unbuttoned his shirt as he worked the buckles of his belts and very soon, both were as they had been the day they were born, but now they were together, very together.

The afternoon spent wrapped in each other's arms, locked together, wrapped in their undeniable passion, hearts filled with peace.

Johnny cracked an eye open and saw clear blue sky. He felt Holly at his side and nudged her awake.

"Querida, wake up. C’mon. We need ta get dressed. There's a few places that I really don't wanna get sunburned." He started to reach for his clothes as she finally roused and did the same. The rest of the day, they spent riding together and exploring the valley surrounding the cabin, taking time to watch the deer and a sly coyote in his never-ending search for food, they saw elk and toward early evening heard a wolf howl. Then the little cabin stood before them and welcomed them home.

Johnny stood on the porch, leaned a shoulder against the roof support post and thought to himself, What was it about this woman that has me obsessed? I can't keep from touching her, I can't think of nuthin’ other making love to her, it's crazy! She's got to have cast some kinda spell. It's like I can't control myself around her. And as he stood with these thoughts, she came out onto the porch and snuck under his arm so it was across her shoulders. He looked down into her face as she smiled up at his and he kissed her softly. She leaned her head on his chest and looked up at the night sky.

"Oh, Johnny, look! A shooting star! We need to make a wish!" and she closed her eyes.

Johnny looked at her as if she had just grown a second head, although a very beautiful second head. Having made her wish she turned to him with an angelic smile quickly transforming into a seductive one. She suddenly realized that he was not totally convinced of her sanity.

"Juanito, what is it?" she asked abruptly, seeing his uncertainty.

"What are you talkin' 'bout? ‘Make a wish’, just cuz ya seen a star?" He was skeptical at the very least.

"You never wished on a star? Even when you were a little boy? Johnny, I cannot believe that! Did you never hear that before? Your mother did not ever say that to you?" she questioned.

"Nope. Never heard anyone say that. My, ah, my mother never said anything if it didn't affect her personally an as long as I wasn't bothering her she didn't care much 'bout I was doin'," Johnny explained, not complaining but stating how things were. Holly put her hands on either side of his face.

"Oh, Juanito, lo siento, I did not mean to bring up any unpleasant memories, querido," and she hugged him.

"Hey, it's alright, can't let that bother you your whole life, it'll kill ya if ya do. Gotta let it go," he said quietly in her ear. "So.... what'da wish for?"

She pulled her head away and stared into his eyes. "I cannot tell you!" she exclaimed. Her black eyes flashed and sparkled, wide with surprise.

"Why not?"

"Because it will not come true if I tell!"

"Hey, it's only me, what am I gonna do ta ruin your wish?" he asked innocently. She smiled up into his face and wrinkled her nose at him.

"Alright, I will tell you. Are you sure you want to know?" she asked, raising a delicately arched brow at him.

"Yeah, I really wanna know." He reached up to tangle his fingers in her hair.

"I wished that nothing changes between us, that we stay just how we are, no strings, no demands, only I would like to see you more often than I do." She saw a change come into his eyes, a shadow that was not there before. "Juanito, are you.... disappointed in my wish, querido?"

Was he disappointed in her wish? Did he want their relationship to change? Change to what? Marriage?.....Did he want to marry her? No, he didn't think so. So what the hell's botherin' me? And he couldn't answer that.

As if she could read his mind she said; "Johnny, what we have is special, so special. Do you think that if we were together all the time it could stay the same? I think not. It would have to change. It would lose its.... magic, and this is magic. I have been alone too long and I am being realistic. I am not looking for a husband. I do what I want, when I want, and most of all answer to no one. Is that so different than what you've done, querido?"

"No, guess not...." He pulled her close and breathed in the scent of her hair. ”Come on, let's go in b'fore we freeze out here," and he took her hand and they went inside. They had no sooner closed the door than another star shot across the sky reflecting on the lake's surface as it raced behind the mountains.

The fire began to throw off heat and Holly sat on the bearskin rug with the white nightgown that Johnny favored, as it was easy to get off her.... She held out her arms to him and he was beside her instantly. She unbuttoned his shirt and had him lie on his belly as she started with another massage that again felt him feeling boneless. She had given him many backrubs over the years they had known each other but she had never ventured to ask about his many scars, until now. She touched the scar left by Pardee's bullet, the injury he sustained right after he had come to Lancer to help Murdoch save the ranch.

"Juanito, how did you come by this scar? It looks newer than the others on your shoulder."

"Was helpin' some people fight land grabbers an' happened ta be at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said with a sigh, nearly asleep, relaxing under the talented fingers as they danced on his back. She touched a long, light colored scar on his right side.

"And this one?"

"You're not gonna believe it...." he answered, his voice muffled as he talked into the rug, tipping his head to give her easier access to his neck as she continued to rub.

"Oh, I bet I do. You forget, I have known you a while, querido,"

"Well, some friends a mine an' I used ta bet on this little game where we'd each kick in money, put it in a hat an' throw the hat in a corral with a bull an' who ever got in the corral with the bull an' got the hat won the money. An' the bull got me b'fore I got the hat."

"But you did get the hat and the money, no?"

"Yup."

"What about this one?" and Holly pointed to a semi circle scar on his back right shoulder.
"You ain't gonna believe this one either but Barranca bit me. Got a matchin' scar on the front. Picked me up an' shook me like I weighed 'bout ten pounds. Sam sure was pissed at me for that one. Said I shoulda been watchin' better since Barranca was sick an' all."

"Who is Sam?" she asked.

"Doctor. A man I know, well. Enough 'bout me. Tell me somethin' I don't know 'bout you." Johnny turned the conversation.

"Anything in particular?" She was not quite sure where to start.

"Yeah, something that I been won'drin' 'bout for a long time. How'd you get the name Holly? It ain't exactly a Mexican name." She laughed and it brought a smile to Johnny's face.

"You are right. It is not Mexican. My mother used to work for a white family in New Mexico. She was with them a long time. They were good to her and she liked them very much. The woman Mama worked for had a picture that she put out at Christmas time; it was of pine boughs, ivy, and holly tied with red and green ribbons. Mama asked what the plant was Mrs. Martin told her 'holly', she thought that was such a pretty name and from that minute she had the name picked out for her first daughter." Holly smiled at the memory.

"Is that where you're from, New Mexico?" Johnny asked, wondering why he did not know this before.

"Yes, I was born there." and Holly suddenly stopped talking. She stopped the back rub, too, and sat doing nothing. Johnny rolled over to see her eyes well up with unshed tears. He quickly sat up, wrapped her in the security of his arms, and started to rock a bit lending her his warmth and strength.

"I'm sorry, querida. Don't answer if ya don't wanna talk 'bout it."

"No, it's alright. It's just that I haven't thought about it for a long time, maybe it would help to talk about it, sometimes it still bothers me...." she whispered against his hard shoulder. "Mama worked for the Martins when she met my father. He was tall, handsome, and gallant! She fell so hard for him and in a few months, they married. Papa worked at the ranch and Mama worked in the hacienda. When I was born, the Martins welcomed me as if I were their own. I grew up loved by parents and the Martins.

“When I was five Papa was killed when a horse fell on him. He did not suffer, death was immediate, but Mama suffered. If it had not been for the Martins, Mama would have died but they helped her through, helped her live. When I was eleven she met another man... " At this, Holly stopped and hesitated. She bowed her head, her voice barely more than a whisper. "Mama met Rafael and they married. He made me feel uncomfortable, small dark eyes, always watching me. As young as I was, I had no idea what kind of man he would turn out to be. A fever came through and many died, among them Mama and the Martins and since there was no one to protect me, Rafael felt he could do what he wanted and he..... raped me when I was twelve...." Holly broke off there not saying any more. Johnny could feel a cold tightness in his belly; a glacial wash drenched him as if he had been thrown in ice water.

"What happened to him, Holly?" Johnny asked quietly.

"....I shot him.... with his own gun. I shot him...” she leaned forward, her head again on his shoulder, and he hugged her and hushed her sobs, as he held her tight. She gathered herself together and continued; she sat back and wiped her eyes on the backs of her hands. After she blinked the tears away, she went on. "I learned a lot after that. I learned to depend on myself, to take care of myself. It is definitely not the profession my mother had in mind for me but I did what I had to do to stay alive. How do you feel about what I do, Juanito?" She looked him straight in the eye when she asked and he knew he had to be honest, but then he always had been with her.

"Well, I ain't gonna lie ta ya, it ain't the profession that I woulda picked out for ya either but, I know what it's like, I been there, ya did what ya had ta do. It made ya what you are, strong." He watched her eyes. Holly knew she could always count on him, count on his honesty, whether she liked what he said or not, it was honest, and she appreciated what he had just told her.

"Juanito, do you know that I have never told anyone that about me? Not even Chrissy knows. You are the only one. And I want you to know how very special you are to me.... You are my.... how you say el secreto?"

"Secret," he answered with a smile having crept into his voice.

"Si, you are my secret lover! You are in my heart forever! Chrissy will be so jealous when I tell her what we did! Johnny...?"

"Huh?" still smiling at her.

"Can we do this again? I am having such a wonderful time with you!" Her eyes held hope as she waited for an answer. Then it dawned on him, he was going to have to tell her about Lancer.

"Sure, we'd better wait a while, though..." He braced for the explanation.

"Why?"

OK, fess up Johnny. Tell her 'bout Madrid.... an' Lancer. He sat forward a bit and held her eye contact.

"I don't go by Madrid no more. It's Lancer, Johnny Lancer. Three years ago, my father sent for me an’ my half brother, Scott. Didn’t know I had a brother an’ I didn't expect ta stay. Even went back with the notion of killin' the ol' man. You asked 'bout the newest scar on my shoulder. Well, me 'n Scott were helpin' Murdoch, that's our father, protect the ranch against a band of land pirates, I got shot but we won an' ta make a long story short both Scott an' I stayed. Don't think he intended on stayin' either but it just worked out that way.

“Turns out everything my mother told me when I was growin' up was lies, Murdoch didn't throw us out, she couldn't settle down ta ranch life an' ran off with a gamblin' man an' took me with her. Down 'round the border he dumped her an' she.... worked.... at any cantina that she could get a job at. One man after another an' none of 'em wanted a kid hangin' around so I was on my own a lot.

"She was murdered when I was twelve and I killed him. Been on my own pretty young, too. Anyway, after Scott an' me came ta Lancer an' got all our differences straightened out with Murdoch things been goin' pretty well. Val got a job as sheriff in Green River so I get ta see him a lot an' my brother turned out ta be one helluva man. Proud ta call him brother, now, even though he grew up in Boston." Holly looked confused and Johnny chuckled a bit.

"His mother died when he was born. Murdoch was going for a doctor and while he was gone, Scott was born but Catherine's father got there an’ took Scott back ta Boston with him. Murdoch never even got ta see him. Old man Garrett had more money than he knew what ta do with an’ threatened Murdoch with ruin if he insisted on fightin' for Scott. Garrett had a bunch a lawyers workin' for him an, Murdoch didn't stand a chance on gettin' Scott back. Anything changed between us yet?" he asked her softly. Her head was down and he couldn't see her eyes, he reached out to put his hand under her chin and raised her head to find the black eyes full of tears again, anguish marring her exquisite features.

“Querida, what's the matter?”

Her voice quivered she spoke. "You may start to think that's why I want to be with you now." Johnny watched her eyes, which were straightforward with him, honest... "I have told you already I do not want or expect marriage or money but I do want to continue to see you, no matter what you do, but... I am afraid."

"Afraid, why?"

"Because I know the time will come when you will meet someone, respectable, someone your family will want you to marry. The daughter of another rancher or banker. Your family will encourage you to marry into another good family and I will never see you again..." She started to cry, her slender hands covering her face and his heart broke.

"Holly, look at me," he said softly, he put his hand to her cheek and turned her head but she closed her sad eyes. "Holly, look at me..." and she opened her eyes as the tears spilled out leaving sparkling wet paths down her smooth skin. He kissed them away. Holding her tightly, his arms wrapped around her, enveloping her in his warm security.

"I will make you a promise, Holly. You will never get anything other than honesty from me. I ain't lied ta ya yet an' I don't ever intend to.

"As far as my family wantin’ me ta marry, well they're gonna hafta wait. Sure, Murdoch wants grandkids but that's gonna be up ta Scott. I'm satisfied ta be rowdy Uncle Johnny. Fatherhood is not in my plans an' there ain't any woman in the valley that I wanna settle down with. I am perfectly content to have these private times with you, Holly. There ain't no one I'd rather be with an if we don't see each other for a coupla a months, it'll be that much more special when we do. An' you're right.... it is magic, like nuthin' I've ever had b'fore." He reached out, wiped a tear with his thumb, and continued.

"That first time we met, don't think I ever told ya b'fore, but you saved me as much as I saved you..." Holly's head snapped up, surprise all over her tear-streaked face. "I just got done with a job, a bad job... it turned ugly. I knew it would an' that was prob'ly why I took it. Lost some good friends that day. Well, I went inta that cantina lookin' for trouble. Lookin' ta get myself killed, I guess. Don't know why I thought more trouble'd make me feel any better but I did.

"When no one was b'hind the bar I went inta the back room an' saw Escobar," at the mention of his vile name Holly visibly shivered, "saw him leanin' over you with that knife ta your face an', well, somethin' snapped...an' I found trouble... not the trouble I was lookin' for though. But, I was glad when he tried ta slice me cuz then I had an excuse ta kill him, an’ I wanted ta kill him for what he'd done ta you. I guess what I'm tryin' ta say is you saved me from dyin' that day so we kinda helped each other. I went there with that intention, ta die, but what I left with was you an' a good reason ta keep on livin'." He put a hand on her cheek and said, “Gracias, querida!You saved me, too!" She threw herself into his arms and wrapped hers tightly around his neck and sobbed.

"Juanito... I had... no idea that.... had happened! I am... so sorry!"

He pulled her back suddenly and looked into her dark eyes glistening with tears. "Why, chica, why are you sorry?"

"You lost your friends and almost lost yourself!" she gasped out.

"Well, in that line a work that's a real good chance for that ta happen but look what I gained! Look what we gained," he said, whispering that last few words and he kissed her deeply and passionately. Their bodies came together. Their lovemaking this time was sweet, slow and tender and very special, fulfilling each in a way like never before. They lay together, not speaking for a long while, just enjoying the other's presence.

"I am glad you do not sell your gun anymore, Johnny. I worried about you all those years and I am glad that you have a family, now and are not alone," she finally said, thinking about the earlier conversation and still secretly hoping that their relationship would remain the same.

"Yeah, me too. Findin' that I had a family made me look at some things in a different light. But I'll tell you one thing for certain...."

"What is that, Juanito?"

"I will always feel the same about you." He looked into her eyes but was worried with what he saw there. She still had sadness about her.

"Johnny, I am a whore.... I sell myself," she whispered as if this statement should make him think a second time.

"I ain't one ta cast stones.... ain't that what they call it? Castin' stones? We're good together, Holly. An' we're great lovers. B'sides I know what it's like ta hafta do things just ta stay alive...believe me! You're a good woman, Holly, don't sell yourself short." And he kissed her again...and again.

<><><><> 

They woke to the soft rhythm of rain. Johnny stepped out onto the porch and looked at the sky now glad he chopped all that wood. As the rain drummed on the roof, he thought about the day ahead. Looks like we'll be inside taday he thought, with a huge smile growing on his face, again thinking I can't get enough of her! He entered the kitchen as Holly put their breakfast on the table. It looked delicious and smelled wonderful. It was amazing to Johnny how much better the food tasted in the mountain fresh air, plus the fact of having her around...

"Where'd you learn ta cook like this, querida?" he asked having tasted the eggs and tortillas.

"I learned as a little girl. I always wanted to open a cafe. I love to see people enjoy their meals! Families and friends eating together, having good times, and making good memories, I wanted to be a part of that. But... that took money and I did not have it, so, I did... something else." the last few words were whispered.

"Well, it woulda been successful, I can tell you that! This is really good!" he exclaimed eating until he could not swallow another bite.

"Wait until you have dinner!"

"What'dya got planned?" he asked looking up from his empty plate. His mouth watered in anticipation and eyes held the anxious question.

"Oh, something special, good food. And ....spicy!" she smiled the smile that drove Johnny wild. This is why I can't keep my hands off her! She did encourage him, his appetite for her just as her appetite was for him. They were indeed, a good match. Their 'no strings' attached relationship suited them both, and as Johnny came to realize she was absolutely right with her assessment earlier. If they were together all the time it would not be the same, the excitement would eventually fade. And he did not want what they had to fade.

<><><><> 

"What are you thinking, querido?" she asked seeing the contemplative expression held mischief and his gaze met her black sparkling eyes. His smile ignited sweet shivers to gently wash down her spine. Oh, he is handsome! What a perfect lover I have! she thought as the delightful tickle continued. Holly found herself anxious for bedtime, her heart pounding in her breast. Then she thought Why wait?

"Tell me what you were thinking about, Juanito," she pursued.

"You...." and she went to him, took his hand, and led him to the bedroom.

<><><><> 

They lay completely spent, exhausted in each other's arms, and savored the closeness that comes from such intense intimacy. Their hearts slowed to a normal rate, each drained and fatigued, then they slept.

It was early afternoon when they woke; the rain still beat the roof of the cabin sounding like thousands of tiny feet that drummed across the wooden shakes. The wind howled, blowing the rain across the cabin in waves and enticing them to snuggle down in the soft bed with the warm blankets pulled tightly around them.

Dios, I ain’t ever spent so much time in bed unless I been sick,” Johnny thought aloud, Holly laughed and agreed. She looked up into his eyes and smiled, holding his gaze and not letting it go.

“You’re beautiful!” he whispered to her and held her tighter than he had before. She snuggled against him and sighed contentedly.

“I think maybe you do not see very well, Juanito,” she purred but delighted in his observation.

“Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with my eyes. I know what I see. An’ you’re beautiful,” he leaned over her and kissed her lips softly, tenderly, then settled onto the pillow.

<><><><> 

“Tell me Johnny, when did you first make love to a woman? How old were you and who was she?” Holly asked leaning back to watch his face as he spoke.

“Well, the first woman I had, I was seventeen and she was workin’ at the ranch where I’d just accepted a job helpin’ a fella with a range war. She musta liked what she saw cuz she sure chased me ‘round a while, till I let her catch me, even though she was older’n me. Her name was Charlotte. She was the cook an’ housekeeper for the big house but she always found a reason ta be ‘round when I was there. We just…. started ta see each other an’ next thing I know I’m in her bed.” Holly watched his eyes, amused at the devilment she saw there. She could understand how an older woman would be attracted to Johnny. He had an aura about him that drew women like a moth to a flame. Young ones and older ones. The girls at La Casa de la Rosas dearly loved to see him stroll through the doors even if none of them other than Holly took care of him. He just had a certain appeal that the girls loved.

“Where did you meet Val?  On a job like that?” Holly could listen to Johnny talk all day. The fact that he didn’t do much of it only made her more curious and she wanted to engage him in conversations. So, when he did not seem to mind on the rainy and chilly day, she kept the questions coming his way.

“Yeah, me ‘n Val got thrown tagether doin’ some strategizin’. Got on well together an’ after that job was done we just stayed tagether. He got the job of sheriff in Green River soon after I went ta Lancer.”

“You know you have spoiled me, Johnny…” she said innocently.

He pulled back and looked at her questioningly. “Yeah? How’d I do that?” he asked hesitantly.

She snuggled against him again. “The way you touch me, the way you treat me, just everything you do is special for me. You make me feel like a woman wants to feel.” Mierda, he thought.

"I gotta tell ya, Holly, ya ain't like any woman I ever met b'fore." The words left him in a sweet sigh.

“Juanito, I do want to come back again, if it is alright.”

“I’ll make it alright….” And he pulled her under him again.

<><><><> 

He had never known this want, this need. How was he going to manage this lust when he got back to Lancer? With Holly living so far south it would be impossible to see her every few weeks. He would have to think on this a while. He wondered what else she could do. She could cook very well and she did say she had always dreamed of opening a café. There was an idea……

The wind increased through the afternoon, however, the rain had slowed and eventually stopped. They ate a dinner of spicy beef and peppers with tortillas, a favorite dish of Johnny’s, Holly knew. Enjoying each other’s company they ate quietly, then Johnny produced a bottle of tequila and they sat on the bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire and talked. They discussed old times, old friends and toasted those who were no longer with them.

“I have a toast, querida,” he said with his dazzling smile. She looked at him and arched a graceful brow. “Here’s to us! Off to a rocky start but overcomin' some pretty impossible odds.” They touched tequila filled glasses and tossed down their drinks. She held out her glass as Johnny refilled them.
Darkness had settled and the wind continued its mournful song, the rain started again. Thunder rolled in, at first sounded like cannon fire with its ear shattering booms that echoed off the surrounding mountains. Soon lightning danced across the sky in beautiful patterns and flashed in behind the clouds. It seemed to intensify as the heavens opened up and threatened to fill the small valley. They continued to drink until Johnny heard the horses scream.

He was off the bearskin rug in the time it took for Holly to set the glass on the floor. Johnny grabbed his rifle and Colt and bolted out the door. The rain was cold and he was soaked by the time he had made it to the barn. The door was shut, secured tightly; he could hear the horses inside as they neighed and stomped about their stalls, terrified from the storm. He threw the door open and quickly lit the lantern but saw nothing amiss; he went to Barranca and calmed him with a few soft words, a stroke down his neck and scratches to the ears.

Holly’s gray was another matter entirely. The lightning and thunder had her spooked to the boiling point; Johnny wrapped his fingers around the halter for comfort and control. He stroked her satin neck, then the soft muzzle as he spoke his calming tones. Normally a gentle animal, she spooked with the storm but Johnny soothed her ragged nerves and she was again her sweet self, until a very close bolt of lightning flashed accompanied by its companion blast of thunder. The blinding light and ear shattering booms throughout the tiny valley sent the mare into another frenzy. The startled gray jumped to the side slamming Johnny against the rails of the stall and crashing his head against the boards. He saw stars explode as his vision began to fade and pain seemed to shatter his skull. Then everything went black.

<><><><> 

Holly stood at the kitchen window when Johnny stumbled into the cabin.

“I was about to come looking for……” her voice stopped in mid sentence as she saw Johnny’s face. The sight of the deep, jagged gash above his left eye shocked her into action as the blood poured down his cheekbone and jaw to drip on his collar.

“Johnny, sit here,” she commanded as she pulled out a kitchen chair and he slid onto it, shivering violently with teeth chattering. She went to his saddlebags where she knew he kept a few medical supplies. Holly brought them to the table with a bowl of warm water and began to clean the gash but a shiver ripped through him, she stopped her ministrations to retrieve a blanket from the bedroom and wrapped it around his shoulders. Then she returned her attention to the cut.

“Johnny, this is deep and will need stitches…..” she said as she mopped the blood that flowed out of the wound.

“Well, I know ya done that b’fore!” he joked, speaking clearly. She had sewn him together on several occasions. Holly looked into his eyes relieved to see they were clear and bright.

“Oh, once or twice. You should know! Trust me, querido?” she asked him.

“With my life…” he whispered and met her black eyes with his sweet smile. She nodded, then picked up a needle and thread and began to sew. Johnny sat perfectly still as Holly placed eight small, neat stitches in his head, however he was truly relieved when she was done.

“Johnny, how do you feel? Are you seeing one of me or two?”

“One, thank God, don’t think I can keep two of you satisfied….” He deadpanned. Hands on her hips, she mock threatened to swat him with the towel but she had to laugh and then turned serious.

“To bed with you…. Now!”  she ordered him, flinging out an arm with a graceful finger pointed to the bedroom. A sly smile crawled across his face.

“Ya comin’ with me?” he grinned happily.

“Si, I am coming with you….” And they left the kitchen.

<><><><> 

Once Johnny was tucked into bed, his shivering stopped; Holly cleaned up the kitchen and returned to Johnny. He looked much like a little boy as he reclined on the pillows waiting for her to join him.

“How do you feel, Juanito?” she cooed as she sat next to him on the bed.

“Kinda like I got kicked in the head. It’ll be all right tomorrow. Come ta bed.” Johnny threw back the blankets, and she cuddled up to him to share her body heat. Then she asked:

“You do remember that we just left this bed not too long ago, don’t you?”

“Yeah, what’dya gettin’ at?” he said with another dazzling smile.

<><><><> 

In the early morning’s light, she watched him sleep. Cocooned under the heavy blankets, he rested allowing her the freedom to study his handsome face. Searing deep blue eyes as cold as ice and at times warm and caring, stirred the fires in her heart, hid under lids fringed with long black lashes that were now lying in thick crescents on his cheeks. His thick black-brown hair was tousled and fell in soft tangle on his forehead. She could watch him all day, he was, indeed, very pleasing on the eyes and to the soul.

The hand that lay across her shoulder never ceased to amaze her; hands that held a fierce and determined strength, yet at the same time, possessed great warmth and gentle caresses. Johnny was, indeed, a man of many facets.

Oh, if I could only start over, what a wonderful life we could have had together! Holly! Don’t…..! You know that will never happen! You said it yourself, always together would not be the same. And do not lay this at his feet! She chastised herself but continued to watch him and could not get out of her mind ‘what could have been’.
<><><><> 

For the next day and a half they stayed close to the cabin resting, mainly for Johnny’s sake. Holly proved to be an excellent nurse, watching over him closely and reminding him constantly to be careful, always asking him how he felt to which he replied every time that he was fine.

The second day after the storm both were quiet knowing that tomorrow they would leave and the day after Holly would be on the train headed back to Atascadero.

“Don’t know how I’m gonna wait ta see ya, querida,” Johnny spoke softly.

“When do you think we can do this again, Johnny?” Holly asked.

“Dunno. Got a roundup comin’ an’ after that’s brandin’…. It’ll be a couple a months. Hate ta think a bein’ without ya for so long,” he said wrapping his arms around her as he pulled her close. She tucked her head under his chin so he would not see her tears. I never cried like this before…. Dios, what is wrong with me? she thought…

“I think I will miss you, Juanito.”

“Yeah, I know I’ll miss you, too. Think ya can wait for a couple a months?”

“We have no choice, querido, we have no choice.” He kissed the top of her head and with his face nestled in her hair he slept.

<><><><> 

At dusk, they went for a swim. The last two days had been warmer and the water was inviting. Their silly play eventually turned serious then passionate. It seemed the longer they were together the deeper the desire for each other grew. The kisses were sweeter, the loving they shared far exceeded any expectations either of them had before arriving at the cabin. During the times they had been together before this trip they knew what they had was special but this time—this time spent in each other's company had been much more than either one of them anticipated. How would they cope until their next tryst?

They stood in the water held in each other’s arms, both thinking the same unpleasant thoughts. What are we going to do? Holly never let herself even dream about falling in love and now she wondered at the thought. Did she love Johnny? But she quickly let it go as if the thought had wings. It was something wild and it needed its space, it could not be tied down. That was her Johnny Madrid…… But what about Johnny Lancer? No! He is respectable and cannot be with someone like me. Stop, Holly! It isn’t going to change…..ever.

<><><><> 
Johnny felt her tense in his arms and he leaned back to see her face.

“Que? Holly, what’s the matter?” She quickly hid her feelings and put on a deliberate smile.

“I’m getting cold, let's go in and sit by the fire,” she said trying to re direct the conversation. Johnny knew what she was trying to do but he smiled and with his arm across her shoulders, they left the water.

Once inside the cabin Holly found things to occupy her attention but she felt nervous, apprehensive, and skittish. This was not like her; she had never felt so out of control.

“Holly?” Johnny spoke very softly but she was startled when he said her name. “Querida, come here, por favor,” he said and she sat next to him on the rug. He reached out for her and pulled her close. “What’s wrong, Holly?” he asked softly. She sighed deeply and knew she would have to answer him, truthfully.

“Nothing, I just do not want this to end, but we will do it again, si? And I will be patient. Johnny, I want you to know that I have enjoyed our time here. Gracias, querido,” she kissed him lightly on the mouth and almost made it to her feet before he grabbed her hand and pulled her back down onto the rug, he rolled over her and silenced her with hot, smothering kisses.

Their last night was spent in front of the fire on the rug. Their loving was strong, and passionate, and intense. They had both been with many other partners but never, ever had anything remotely close to the sensations they both experienced on this bittersweet night. And all too soon, it would be  morning and they would have to leave.

<><><><> 

They ate breakfast without a word spoken. Johnny had discreetly watched her and knew Holly was having a difficult time knowing they would be on their way within the hour. She tidied the kitchen while Johnny readied the horses. Holly stood in the middle of the cabin and as she looked around, her gaze came to rest on the bearskin rug and she smiled. Never again would she look at another rug like this one without remembering the wonderful days with Johnny.

“I should count myself lucky that I had this time with Juanito instead of feeling sad about leaving,” she said to herself. Boots lightly stepped across the porch and interrupted her solemn thoughts as Johnny entered the kitchen.

“Ready, Holly?”

“Si,” she responded softly, sadly, then they picked up their bags and left the cabin. Johnny shut and locked the door behind them. The click of the lock sounded final and echoed in Holly’s heart.

<><><><> 

With the little valley far behind them, they traversed the mountain, crossed the streams and other valleys and where they were truly beautiful, Holly saw none of it. They were heading back, the time together would be over tomorrow once she boarded the train. For this visit, anyway. Holly was slowly coming to terms with this fact and she fought to keep her emotions at bay. She had to satisfy herself with the fact that she would see Johnny in a few months. That was the way it was and she knew she had to deal with it. They stopped to rest and water the horses then were on their way again. The day was sunny and warm, a pleasant day for travel but it did nothing to lighten the burden in Holly's heart.

Soon Salinas was in sight and after tonight their time would be over. Holly felt her eyes well up with tears, tears she had fought ever since they left the cabin. It was strange, she thought to herself, she had never been one to cry over things before but she had never loved before. There! I said it to myself. I love him! All right, that was half the battle.

<><><><> 

Salinas was a nice quiet town. The streets were clean with many trees that provided restful shade. The town seemed quaint and inviting. There were many people lingering on the boardwalks, conversing with friends and neighbors. Holly looked around and found what she had been scouring the streets to locate. The sign outside the whitewashed building was skillfully painted in dark green letters on a crisp white background. ‘Doctor Benjamin J. Hanley M.D.’. Holly rode over to the hitch rail while Johnny looked on with a raised brow.

“You sick, querida? he asked with a worried frown on his handsome face.

“No, but I want the doctor to look at your cut,” she explained, brooking no argument and she started to dismount. Johnny hopped off Barranca in one fluid move and took her by the waist, again, letting her slide the length of his body before settling her on the ground. He then snuck a quick kiss and she blushed.

“Juanito! You will shock the old ones!” she said with a giggle.

“There ain’t any need for this, Holly. ’M fine.” Then he started to walk away.

“Juanito!” Johnny turned to her. "That is a nasty cut, it needs to be checked over." Holly mounted the stairs, not waiting for him to follow. Standing in the middle of the street, he shrugged and mumbled under his breath then tied Barranca at the rail and found himself in the doctor’s office.

The little bell chimed and a distinguished-looking man appeared from a room down the hall. He removed his spectacles and took in every detail of the two young people standing before him. They looked like they had been traveling a bit, not too dirty, more tired. Then, he took in the cut above the young man’s eye.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Hanley. What can I do for you folks?”

“Nuthin’….” was all Johnny got out before Holly spoke.

“Doctor, I am Holly Vasquez and this is Johnny Lancer. Johnny had an accident and I would feel better if you could take a look and check things out, for my peace of mind, please.” She smiled and the doctor silently congratulated the young man, thinking him very lucky, indeed!

“Yes, of course. This way, young man.” The doctor took them into the examination room, had Johnny sit in a chair, and leaned it back. Holly was already at the basin of water to wash her hands. The doctor looked surprised but said nothing. He washed his hands then started the exam. After a bit of poking and prodding he asked a few questions.

“Are you suffering with any headaches?”

“Not too much. They’re startin’ ta go away.”

“Are you seeing double?”

“No.”

“Are you or have you been nauseous?”

“No.”

“Have you been able to sleep alright?”

“Yes.”

“Who stitched you up?” The doctor was curious.

“She did,” Johnny indicated Holly. The doctor looked over to her and smiled.

“I am impressed, young lady! This is a fine job you did! The stitches should stay in another few days, though. But it doesn’t look like there will be any difficulties. You are a lucky young man!”

Johnny looked over to Holly and grinned. “I know….”  He smiled at her seductively and again she blushed.

The doctor chuckled, Lucky young devil he thought! Turning to Holly, the doctor asked: “Do you have any training in the medical profession, Miss?”

“No, I just do what needs to be done,” Holly said as if it was an every day occurrence.

“What else have you done in the way of healing?”

“Well, I have removed a few bullets, set a broken bone or two, and,” with a big smile she concluded, “delivered two babies!” The doctor was shocked to say the least.
 
“Miss, I have to know, please do not think ill of me when I ask but, did your patients survive?” Johnny broke out in a huge laugh.

“Yeah, I did, Doc!”

“Please, may I see the scar?” the doctor asked, adjusting the spectacles on his nose and anxious to see the results. Johnny looked puzzled but removed his shirt and let the doctor inspect the many bullet wounds on his back and chest.

“Miss Vasquez, I must say this is excellent work! I hope you don’t think this forward but I am in desperate need of help in this office. Would you be in need of employment?” Holly was shocked into silence, no words could she even whisper. Johnny on the other hand had no such problem and he wanted to shout, “Hell, yes, she’s interested!” but he held it down to a gentle clearing of the throat and a quiet "Holly....."

But she stood frozen to the floor and white as a sheet. The doctor saw her distress and apologized for being so forward, only that his need of assistance was great, and she certainly seemed to fit the bill. He begged her forgiveness and bid Johnny and Holly a good evening.

<><><><> 

Having cleaned up after the ride from the cabin, they bathed and changed into clean clothes. Johnny wanted this last night to be special. Holly had not spoken one word since they returned to their room and he needed to encourage her regarding this sudden and unexpected opportunity.

“He was serious, Holly. Ya should think about it,” Johnny persisted softly.

“He doesn’t need anyone like me,” Holly answered bluntly.

“What’dya mean ‘anyone like you’?”

“Johnny, I am a whore and I can not change that.”

“You can’t change what you’ve been but ya can have a chance at a new life…. If ya want.” Then he turned his back and finished shaving. Holly was hurt by that. It was the first time he had ever said anything to hurt her. But in her heart, she knew he was right. She knew he was honest with her, again. They finished dressing in silence.

<><><><> 

The table was tucked in a corner of the quiet dining room. They ordered their dinner of juicy steaks, potatoes, carrots, and green beans. It was a delicious meal. Holly slowly shared the conversation, and Johnny was delighted. Soon they were laughing, looking forward to going back to the hotel room when a shadow passed over them and the low but kind voice begged forgiveness. Dr. Hanley sat down in a seat next to Holly.

“Please, I don’t mean to intrude but I need to ask you again, Miss Vasquez, please…. Young lady, you were born to do this kind of work and from the looks of what I have seen you are very accomplished. I want you to think about this opportunity…..” Holly looked him directly in the eye.

“Do you know what I am?” she asked him very bluntly. The doctor said nothing. “I am not of, let us say, a person of upper class.” Her direct look leveled at the doctor’s face with an unwavering stare but he answered her with sincerity.
 
“I don’t care what you are but I do care what you could be. I am offering you a job, steady employment. Miss Vasquez, I could really use a woman of your caliber.”

“Thank you for the confidence, Doctor, but what do you think will happen when your patients find out who I am or what I have been? All it will take is one person to poison the minds of others and ruin your practice.” Johnny knew that she was right but he also knew that Holly had a way of handling volatile situations such as that. She had a way of managing potentially unstable circumstances and coming out on top. She could win people over with her charm and most people, men and women, were attracted to that charm.

Johnny, again, urged her to reconsider. “Holly, give it some thought. That’s all I ask.” Then he was quiet.

“Listen to him, my dear. He is right. If you change your mind, I’ll be around but please give this serious thought." Dr. Hanley rose from his chair, tipped his hat, and left the table.

Holly sat stunned, suddenly finding her folded hands in her lap very interesting. When she looked up Johnny was smiling at her and she felt comforted.

He thought she looked scared. He had never seen her this scared before. “Think about it, querida.” he said softly.

“I am afraid, Juanito,” she whispered. The corners of his eyes crinkled with his smile.

“Of what?” he leaned forward. “You would do a good job, Holly. I’d let ya be my nurse anytime! Hey, I got an idea. Why don’t we go an' practice?” A suggestive smile grew on his handsome face.

“Johnny, what am I going to do with you?”

“Well, ya can start by….”

She cut him off with a gasp. “Johnny, hush! Do you want people to know what we do?”

“I don’t care if anyone knows what we do!” And he kissed her while they stood in the dining room, an indecent kiss that every woman in that room envied. The women thought her a very lucky girl and the men were wishing they were the one to be with the beauty on this night

<><><><> 

This was their last night together and with dinner over their thoughts wandered to territory that was more familiar. Holly calmed her apprehensions and thoughts of bed were now on their minds. This night was going to have to be enough to sustain them until they could meet again. Johnny put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close on the walk back to their room. It was a nice night for walk, the evening quiet and warm. Suddenly a small boy ran out from an alley up the block and into the street directly in the path of a carriage. The boy fell backwards out of harm's way but not before he spooked the horse that pulled the buggy. Startled, the horse took off before the young woman driving could get control of the animal.

The horse bolted and, feeling no restraint on the reins, galloped faster down the street. As he turned the corner directly in front of Johnny and Holly, the carriage flipped over, taking the young woman with it. Johnny jumped into the path of the runaway horse and caught the harness, successfully bringing the animal to a halt; he calmed it quickly while Holly ran to the woman lying unresponsive in the street. Blood was pouring from a deep cut on her neck. Holly ripped a piece of petticoat from under her dress to stop the blood flow.

“Johnny, go get the doctor, quickly.” Johnny turned and was up the street and out of sight in seconds. Holly applied pressure, then began talking in calm even tones as the woman started to come to her senses and tried to get up. Holly continued to talk while she held the woman still and distracted her with her voice, ever soft and comforting. Holly asked her questions and soon the woman began to respond. Holly looked down the street and saw Johnny coming with the doctor in tow and kept the litany of inquiries and all the while focused her attention from the woman.

“What is your name, Miss?” Holly asked.

“Katherine,” she stated.

“Katherine, you are in luck,” Holly smiled at her, “The doctor is coming now.”

“Th-thank you for your help. What is your name, please?” Katherine asked.

“Holly.”

“Holly, that’s a pretty name!” Katherine smiled.

“Gracias! All right, the doctor is here. Do you want me to stay with you?” Holly asked. Johnny’s heart swelled with pride as he watched Holly work her magic with this injured woman.

“Oh, yes! Please, Holly! Thank you so much!”

With Katherine stabilized, Holly and Johnny followed the injured woman over to the doctor’s office where she learned that the doctor did not currently have a nurse. Holly found herself washing up and assisting the doctor without having been asked. It was a natural thing to do. Johnny knew she had it in her to do this. She was smart, good with people and now maybe she would believe in herself. He waited for over an hour for Holly to join him.

“She gonna be alright?” he asked.

“Si, in a few weeks she’ll be as good as new.”

“Yes, thanks to you, Miss Vasquez, I really wish you would reconsider….”

“I have already told you, Doctor, that all it would take is one person to start talking and….”

“How about letting me worry about that?”

“I am very tired. Please excuse me, Doctor.” Holly turned and left, not bothering to see if Johnny was with her or not. Johnny stopped at the door and turned to face Hanley.

“I’ll talk to her, and thanks, Doc. Her train leaves at ten tomorrow mornin’. Why don’t you meet us at the station?”

Johnny caught up to Holly who was, again, edgy and quiet. They walked slowly back to their hotel.

<><><><> 

Once in their room Johnny took her in his arms and held her close.

“I'm really proud of you, querida,” he whispered into her hair and she broke down and cried. “Que? What’s wrong, Holly? Tell me,” he coaxed.

“I am scared again.”

“Why?”

“I do not know what to do. Here is a chance to make a change in my life and I do not know if I can and it terrifies me! What happens if I stay here and I cannot do this?”

“Holly, listen to me,” and taking her hand they sat on the bed. H continued. “Remember when I told ya that I had a family an’ a ranch? What I didn’t tell ya about was all the doubts I had when I got there. Ranchin’ is discipline and routine. When we first met could ya see me with discipline workin’ on a ranch? Havin’ ta be up at dawn!” She smiled a bit at that. The Johnny Madrid she knew was never up before noon! That was funny, she thought.

“What I’m sayin’ is change is scary as hell but it could turn out to be good, too. But ya don’t know till ya try. This is a good thing, Holly; it’s an opportunity for ya ta make a big change, change your life.” He reached for her and they fell back on the bed. And their last night was spent doing what they did best, making sweet, intense love.

<><><><> 

Morning came too quickly. Already it was nine o’clock and they were just rolling out of bed. Panicked, Holly rushed about gathering the clothes that had been strewn across the room, in an effort to pack before the train left. Johnny had told himself last night that he would not say any more about the subject but he then decided one more try would be worth it.

“Come ta any decisions yet?” She looked scared again. This was the only time he had ever known her scared. And probably it was the first time she had a choice. Her choice. Everything in her life had been a result of someone else's decision. Not her own choice. She had dealt with adversity and hardships but never a choice. And Johnny told himself he was going to help her through this. She deserved this chance.

“I can’t tell you what ta do but ya really need ta think ‘bout this one Holly. It’s a great opportunity here an’ I don’t want ya ta be sorry once ya leave an’ didn’t take it.” Without a word, she put her clothes in her bag and headed out the door.

<><><><> 

They made it to the train station with ten minutes to spare. Holly had her ticket in her hand and although she was ready to get on the train, she was not ready to get on the train. Johnny stood with his arms wrapped around her hugging her close and then they heard the whistle blowing as the train came into town. Johnny could feel her heart beating faster.

“Well, I was hoping to catch you before you left, young lady!” Dr. Hanley stepped out onto the train platform.

“What are you doing here, Doctor?” Holly asked with surprise on her face.

“I had to give it one more try. I don’t think that you realize how good you are at this, Holly. May I call you Holly? Because if we’re going to be working closely together I think that Miss Vasquez is a bit too formal.

"Anyway, Holly, I told you last night that by everything I saw, you would be an excellent assistant. You have a natural feel for people, you know how to handle them and what to say and probably most importantly how to say it. People respond to you! And you respond back and they like that. Holly, you have what it takes to do this job! Please say you’ll do it…” The doctor had said it all. He said what he thought was right, and it was, and now he waited.

Holly could not meet Johnny’s eyes as he, too, waited for her to answer. The train had stopped by the platform and people were boarding, saying their goodbyes and farewells.

The conductor, the same conductor that helped Holly when she arrived in Salinas, waited to hand her into the car. He was patient as she stood there but finally had to speak. “Ma’am, train's got to move out. Can I give you a hand?” he asked. Holly turned her black diamond gaze to him as tears fell down her cheeks.

“No,” she said in a soft voice. She looked up into Johnny’s eyes then suddenly her brilliant smile blossomed and she laughed. “I think I am staying. Thank you, anyway.” She threw herself into Johnny’s arms. He picked her up and spun around and around as she shrieked with joy. She had done it! She made this change and she hoped it was the right one.

“Wait! What about my things in Atascadero?” She looked at Johnny with shock on her face.

“Tell Chrissy ta bring ‘em when ya have her move here with ya. Val ain’t gonna be too happy if she don’t come with ya….” And he smiled that dazzling smile that always melted her heart.

 

 

~end~

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