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Doreen

 

 

First Contact

Much as I love The Homecoming this is my personal alternate perspective on how two brothers met. (With a little help from the original script). An AU for the High Riders (aka The Homecoming)

Lorem .

Dusk approached and the air was heavy as summer rain threatened in the foothills of central California .

Travelling alone and following a winding, up-and-down trail for the best part of three weeks, Johnny Madrid was more than relieved at the prospect of soon being able to tell his much hated estranged father exactly what he thought of him for disowning both his mother and himself all those years ago.

Still, Johnny grudgingly admitted, if the Pinkerton agent hadn't arrived in the nick of time he'd have been filled with lead and lying in a ditch in Mexico by now. Johnny shuddered at the thought of the close call. Maybe he'd grudgingly thank the old man for saving him from the firing squad as he took the $1000 promised for an hour of his time… maybe he wouldn't.

The decision was still unmade as Johnny rounded a sharp bend and pulled to a sudden halt.

With the suppleness of a man constantly on the move his eyes grew wary as he dropped his right hand automatically to his holstered gun, his instincts primed for trouble. He hadn't survived a lonely existence to his early twenties by not being cautious.

Taking a slow even breath he kneed his mount closer and finally stopped by a wrecked stagecoach which lay on its side with luggage strewn haphazardly about and empty harness flapping in the slight breeze after the terrified team had broken free and fled in a panic.

Three figures lay bloodied and inert on the ground and Johnny could see immediately this wasn't some tragic accident. A cash-box had been smashed open and the two men nearest him were stretched out, each with a bullet through the head and seemingly executed in a ruthless and chilling fashion.

A short distance away the third hapless individual was lying face down and swinging from the saddle Johnny took a few paces towards him and turned the stranger over.

He looked to be around his age, face bruised, blond hair streaked red from a cut to the temple and blood covering the left side of a finely tailored suit jacket.

Wearing the garments of a well-to-do city gentleman from the eastern seaboard, had circumstances been different Johnny would have found much amusement in this overly flamboyant attire. But not this time; only feeling sorrow for the man who wore no gun belt and so was ill prepared for the harsh unlawful conditions of the west. You came a long way to die alone friend , he inwardly reflected as he turned to move away.

It was then he heard the sound of the faintest of moans and a noticeable stirring from the body at his feet. Taking hold of his canteen Johnny knelt back down by the dandy's side to feel for a pulse. It was weak but steady and he undid a waistcoat and white laced ruffled shirt beneath it, pulling back as much of the saturated material as he could to see where a bullet had gone clean through the left shoulder but blood still eased out freely from the wound.

Johnny grabbed hold of the first thing that came to hand, an expensive looking silk tie which was around the man's neck and stuffed it into the gaping hole, plugging it and reducing the life-threatening flow to a life-saving slow seep.

The man groaned again and pain-filled eyes as blue as Johnny's own suddenly opened and stared blurrily at him. With his face twisted by pain the stranger attempted to sit up but Johnny pushed him gently back to the ground. “Easy mister, I'm not going to hurt you but you've lost a lot of blood and need to keep still,” he told him in a reassuring fashion and lifted the blond head just enough to allow him to take a few swallows of water.

This gesture seemed to relax the man who gave a nod of appreciation. “What happened?” he asked; his well-spoken voice croaked and faint with confusion.

Using a thumb Johnny pushed his hat to the back on his head. “I was hoping you'd tell me, but it looks like you got yourself caught up in an ambush.”

The man's expression showed disbelief for a few moments before he gave a faint nod of remembrance. “There were four men,” he said, frowning hard. “I'd just crawled out of the stage when...”

His voice trailed at the memory of seeing a gun pointed towards him and he lifted a hand and felt the wad of damp padding on his shoulder. “How bad is it?”

Johnny gave a reassuring smile. “Bullet passed straight through. Any other passengers?”

There was a shake of the head. “This was a special delivery of cash from the bank in Green River to one in Morro Coyo so I hitched a ride.” He gave a sigh. “I was told no one knew what they were carrying.”

Johnny snorted derisively. “Well someone sure did.”

“What about the driver and shotgun?”

Johnny studied the lifeless forms and shook his head slowly. “Both dead,” he informed.

As he noticeably flinched at the disclosure the man pursed his lips tight and fought against a fresh bout of nausea.

“Do you want more water?”

Receiving a nod Johnny placed the canteen to the man's lips again. “So what's your name?” he asked moments later.

The man took several deep breaths before he gave an answer.

“Scott Garrett...” The introduction went unfinished as Scott's eyelids shuttered again and he pursed his lips tight as another agonizing wave of pain threatened to overwhelm him. “And you are?” he managed to ask through clenched teeth.

“ Madrid …Johnny Madrid.”

Johnny tensed in case there was a reaction to his name but showing no expression of recognition Scott gave a weak smile, clearly unaware of Madrid 's infamous reputation as a gunslinger. “It's a pleasure to meet you Johnny. Just wish it had been in less painful circumstances.”

“I'm sure you do,” Johnny answered dryly then stared up at the threatening sky. “It'll be dark in an hour and looks like there's rain heading this way. You're in no shape for a hard ride so seeing as we're miles from the next town in both directions we need to find shelter near to hand so I can sort out that wound of yours before it festers and turns bad.”

“You got something in mind?” Scott asked, remembering well from experience gained while imprisoned for a year in that hell-hole in Virginia the injury may not be serious now but if infection was allowed to set in it might well become potentially fatal.

Johnny absently ran a thumb and finger up and down his nose in a thoughtful way. “I just remembered seeing an abandoned cabin set up on the ridge around half a mile back. It should keep us dry while I do some doctoring and you can rest up there till you get your strength back.”

Scott agreed. “I appreciate your help and time friend. Hope I'm not keeping you from any pressing engagements.”

Johnny thought of the eagerly anticipated confrontation soon to come but shook his head with a smile. “There's nothing that can't keep for a day or two.”

Scott turned his head towards the stench of death lying feet away. “What about them.”

Johnny followed his gaze and shrugged. “I daresay there'll be a search party sent from town once it's realized the stage is long overdue. They'll take care of the burying.”

His matter of fact attitude caught Scott's attention. He thought he'd seen the last of violent death during the war but it seemed to be also expected and accepted to more of an extent than he'd ever envisaged the further he'd travelled west.

“Are you ready to move?”

Through half closed eyes Scott covertly studied the young man who carried the look of someone well used to trouble. But there was something else about him that brought reassurance and the fact he had to trust this stranger with his life for some reason didn't alarm him or fill him with fear at the thought.

Scott's brow furrowed and he wondered why as he gave Johnny a nod.


***********


It was no easy task helping Scott into the saddle in the weakened state he was in, but once secured Johnny placed his foot in the stirrup about to mount behind him when he heard a quiet but firm request.

“I need my bag.”

Johnny's expression took on one of incredulity. “I'm not Wells Fargo freight! It's going to take all my time getting the pair of us up to the cabin never mind carrying a load of luggage as well.”

However Scott was stubbornly insistent as he pointed a shaky finger. “No Johnny, just the canvas valise.”

With a sigh of resignation Johnny strode across to where the bag lay and picked it up then shoved it into a pair of waiting hands.

“Thanks,” Scott acknowledged in a whisper.

“You're welcome but if you drop the bag it stays dropped,” Johnny warned as he swung up onto his horse's back and took hold of the reins. “Now just lean into me and keep still.”

Finding himself cradled into Johnny's chest Scott did as ordered, concentrating hard on trying to hold onto his belongings and blot out the pain from his shoulder.

“So where've you travelled from Scott?” Johnny asked as they moved off.

“ Boston ,” Scott murmured, his chin bent low onto his chest. “You heard of it?”

“Sure I've heard of it. You had yourself some tea-party once I seem to recall.”

“So I've been told though I didn't get an invite.”

Johnny grinned with amusement. “Well sure looks like this is your lucky day Boston ,” he wryly observed a few moments later.

Scott slowly turned his head; his eyes fever-bright as he stared at the face inches from his own. “You expect me to count myself lucky for getting shot?”

“Hell no, but at least you've got the pleasure of my excellent company on this pleasant ride.”

Scott's reply was short and precise. “I'll reserve judgment on that.”

Hearing his retort Johnny huffed good-naturedly then felt Scott's body sag unresistingly against him again and he realized he'd drifted into a blessed pain-free slumber. He smiled as the dead weight settled trustingly within his hold.

Throughout his violent life Johnny had never allowed any man to penetrate the veneer of cold-heartedness he portrayed to one and all. But for some reason he suddenly felt a strong wave of protectiveness wash through him for the Bostonian dandy. His face furrowed in a frown as he wondered why.


***********

For the next half hour the horse picked its way sure-footedly under its extra weight along a faint trail leading towards a ram-shackled cabin half hidden behind a stand of trees.

As Johnny had correctly guessed it had been left empty for many months but the roof still looked well maintained and there was a constant supply of water from a fast flowing stream nearby. He pulled on the reins and brought the horse to a halt, his arms aching with the strain of keeping Scott upright. Not sure how he was going to get him down without hurting him too much it was at this point Scott fortuitously chose to wake up.

“Hey Boston , hold onto the saddle horn.”

Without a murmur of dissent Scott automatically complied as Johnny quickly jumped to the ground and pulled the canvas bag from his companion's tight grasp. He then half carried, half dragged Scott inside the single roomed shack and eased him down on a crudely made bed in the corner, its straw mattress though threadbare still useable.

“Will you be okay for a couple of minutes?”

Scott nodded as he rested his back on the wall and wiped a sleeve across his flushed face.

Johnny gave him a final quick glance. “I won't be long,” he promised then disappeared outside.

Light was failing as Johnny took care of his mount, unsaddling and then securing it under a lean-to at the side. He found a discarded wooden bucket and quickly filling it from the stream took it back to the mare and watched her drink for a few moments. She wasn't the fastest horse he'd ever owned but had served him well since he'd left Mexico .

Hopefully he'd be able to trade her in for something better once he'd gotten hold of Lancer's money, and holding that idea Johnny left the horse with enough rope to graze, picked up the saddle and Scott's bag and staggered back into the cabin.

He kicked the door closed behind him and dropped everything to the floor as he looked around the temporary accommodation for the first time. It wasn't much but the last occupant had been gracious in leaving along with the bed an oil lamp, a rickety table, a battered looking coffee pot and a stove. A pile of firewood was stacked around it so he placed kindling inside, found matches in a small tin holder in his pocket and almost immediately welcoming warmth began to spread around the room.

Johnny removed his hat and jacket then lit the lamp and stood for a moment, studying Scott in the flickering light. He could see he'd managed to take off his coat and was struggling with his waistcoat so went to his aid. “How's it going Boston ?”

“How do you think?” Scott grumbled a little tetchily as he clumsily rolled up his discarded clothing with one hand and formed it into a useable pillow. He trustingly showed him a bulging wallet without a thought. “At least they didn't take this.”

“I know I saw it earlier,” Johnny told him as he took a bottle from his saddle bag, uncorked it and took a swig. He then offered it over. “Here. It might help put you in a better mood.”

Scott took a full mouthful but then his expression changed to sheer disgust. “What was that?” he asked, handing the bottle back and swallowing down the burning sensation in his throat.

“Why Boston , you never sampled the delights of good old tequila before?” Johnny asked with a laugh.

“Isn't it obvious?” Scott croaked; his face ashen and glistening wet in the lamplight. “And the name is Scott.”

Johnny shrugged. “ Boston suits you better,” he said then suddenly serious he touched Scott's forehead with his palm. “You're burning up.”

“Tell me something I don't know,” Scott replied in obvious discomfort as the throbbing in his shoulder intensified. “Can we get started?”

“Sure but I'm going to have to sterilize the wound first.”

“You got something to use?”

Johnny nodded as he picked up the tequila again and held it up to the light of the lamp to see how much was left. The bottle was still over half full so he uncorked it and took another fortifying swallow. “This here is my special medicinal remedy,” he said. “It'll do the job just fine, I guarantee it.”

“You're the doctor,” Scott murmured. “Better get it done then Johnny before I lose the will to live.”

“Just give me a minute Boston . I need to find something to use as bandages first.”

“There's scissors and a couple of clean towels in my bag suitable for purpose.”

Johnny looked at him, his expression of surprise easy to interpret. “Is that why you were insistent on bringing that bag with you? You figured you'd need this gear?”

Scott nodded. “I've been well trained to think ahead for any unforeseen contingency. Bad habit I can't get rid of.”

“Bad habit but a sound one,” Johnny reluctantly concurred. “I better warn you though, what I'm about to do is going to hurt and sting.”

“I know, I've been shot before,” Scott answered tightly, inwardly cursing his wound. “And you'll find soap in the bag to use on your hands. I've seen enough men die because infection spread unnecessarily to last a lifetime.”

Intrigued, Johnny tilted his head and stared at him thoughtfully, wanting to find out more about this ‘dandy's' past. Maybe later he decided as he helped Scott remove his shirt and gently eased away the sodden length of finest silk.

Scott winced as fresh rivulets of blood leaked out from the wound and stared at the bloodstained neck tie reflectively. “I bought this in Paris in '67. Couldn't you have found something a little less expensive to ruin?”

“I tell you Boston if I'd known it held such pleasant memories I'd have been more selective but in my defense you were bleeding to death at the time.”

Scott looked up quickly and realized he'd been overly petty and ungracious. “Sorry. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. It's just that...”

Johnny gave him a pitying look. “It's okay. I can see you're not yourself,” he interrupted and began washing his hands in a mix of tequila and soap. And with the constant beat of rain now on the roof he rolled up his sleeves to the elbow and set about his task.

Being more than thorough Johnny used up the contents of the bottle to disinfect the angry raw wound and worked doggedly and quickly to stem and clean up the bleeding, both at the entry and exit holes. After a short while all was padded and re-bandaged and he gave a grunt of approval, well satisfied with his work as he slowly straightened up.

“I told you this was your lucky day Boston . Bullet just missed the bone. Another half inch to the right you'd have had a splintered shoulder, maybe even lost the use of your arm.”

Throughout the prodding and probing Scott had kept his eyes shut tight and hands clenched, grimacing as beads of sweat ran off his brow. But as he studied Johnny's handiwork he knew from past experience his treatment couldn't have been bettered by any doctor.

“Good work,” he acknowledged quietly with a nod of gratitude. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“Pleased to be of service sir and I'll be sure to send you the bill later,” Johnny joked as he gave a bow.

Scott gave a weak chuckle as his shirt was eased back on and without the strength to even button it up he sank back down, resting his head on the make-shift pillow.

There were a couple of pieces of toweling left and without thinking Johnny wetted them thoroughly and used one to gently wipe away the grime and congealed blood from Scott's face, the second placed on his forehead; the cooling effect instant and soothing on the heated brow.

“You make a fine nurse,” Scott told him with a wan smile. “Thanks again.”

“All part of the service Boston . Just make sure you don't move about too much and I reckon you'll be as good as new in no time.”

“I expect you're right. I've always been quick to heal.”

Johnny threw the discarded necktie into the stove, rewashed his hands then took hold of his saddlebag again. “Want something to eat?” he asked as he pulled out a few biscuits and strips of dried jerky and sat down on the floor by the side of the bed.

Scott accepted one of the biscuits offered but after taking a bite spat it out with a look of distaste on his face. “How old are these?”

Johnny frowned thoughtfully for a moment. “Not sure. They came with the horse,” he answered and began chewing on a piece of sun-dried meat.

Scott murmured something inaudible under his breath and refusing the offer of more resigned to feeling hungry as he slapped the damp cloth back over his face.

After a couple of minutes Johnny's eyes wandered distractedly towards a dark framed photograph and he took it from the canvas bag. “Well will you look at that. Boston, don't you look pretty,” he smiled as he stared at the two Union Army dressed figures; Scott and an older gentleman standing stiff to attention side by side.

Although all he wanted to do was sleep Scott glanced over tiredly to see what Johnny was talking about. The bitter-sweet memory of the best and worst times of his life momentarily flooded back and he closed his eyes again. “I photograph well.”

“And who's this other officer all smarted up?”

“It's General Phil Sheridan. I was in his unit during the war.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Well what do you know, you were a tin soldier. Considering the way you're dressed now I'd never take you for a military type.”

Scott sniffed haughtily. “What do you mean the way I'm dressed? What's wrong with my clothes?”

“Hell, nothings wrong with them if you're living back East. But out here, well they're just not the style, you know what I mean?”

Johnny looked down at his colorful shirt and silver studded pants. “Now me, I've often been told by many a fair maiden I dress with flair and...”

“Were they all attending the blind school?” Scott interrupted.

Enjoying the light-hearted and friendly banter between them Johnny gave him a playful slap on the leg and laughed without taking offence. “You know something Boston ? Reckon I liked you a whole lot better when you were half dead. Gave me a lot less lip then,” he chuckled as he returned the photograph to the bag.

Scott smiled and there was a comfortable silence, each filled with their own thoughts till finally Johnny finished his jerky and broke the quiet between them. “Anyways Boston if you're up to it, mind telling me what you're doing all this way from home?”

As the reason for his journey returned to his mind Scott's expression grew thoughtful. “A personal family matter came up and I reckoned it was time to get it settled,” he admitted without elaborating.

One thousand dollars for just one hour of your time, the Pinkerton man had told him. At first Scott had ignored the offer; he didn't need the money and sure as hell wasn't about to be bribed to do anything by any man, his much despised father included. But the more he'd thought on it the more he'd decided the prospect of meeting the man face to face who'd deserted him since birth was too tempting to refuse.

“So have you got a wife to return to once it's done?”

Shaken back from his reverie Scott shook his head. “No wife. There's just my grandfather and whether I'll head back east I'm not sure. If the right opportunity comes along out here I may just consider taking it.”

Johnny rubbed a hand absently over his bristly jaw. “Let me tell you something Boston . If you do plan on sticking around invest in some hard iron protection,” he advised as he tapped the butt of his gun. “Around these parts it might stop you getting killed someday.”

Appreciating his guidance Scott nodded. “Consider it done,” he said. “So are you local to the area?”

Johnny allowed himself a smile. “Not me. Been in Mexico for a while and got me a little business of my own to sort out around here but once it's done I'll probably head for Arizona to see what work's to be had down there. Never been one for staying in the same place too long.”

“What about family?”

“Mother died when I was a kid. As for my old man…well let's just say though he's still alive he's been dead to me a whole lot of years. There's no one else.”

Feeling as though they shared common ground Scott's voice softened. “Well I'm sure one day you'll put down roots, have a family of your own. It's no less than you deserve.”

The sincerity of his tone made Johnny stare at Scott with a frown then he exhaled loudly. “ Boston , you don't know what you're talking about.”

Pushing up he went to the stove where he threw in another log then crouched down, just watching the flames consume the wood in silence.

Confused at his change of mood Scott eased up slightly, ignoring a healing burning in his shoulder as he studied the hunched figure in the flickering light. “What's wrong? Is there something I should know about you?”

Johnny gave a harsh chuckle. “Plenty I reckon but maybe its best you don't ask.”

Fear crept into Scott's eyes for the briefest moment and as quickly vanished. “Are you an outlaw, a wanted man with a price on your head?”

“No, I'm not on any poster.”

“Well, that's a comfort,” Scott admitted, slanting his eyes questioningly. “So come on Johnny, spit it out.”

As they fell into an awkward silence a shiver, almost a shudder passed through the younger man. He wasn't used to opening up to perfect strangers but completely out of character he cleared his throat and began to speak. “ I do what I do because I am who I am; Johnny Madrid, a gunslinger, a hired gun who's been offering his skills to the highest bidder since he was sixteen years old. Does that sound like a man who deserves a family? ”

He stared over, expecting to find a look of disgust, even fear towards him. But all he saw was a face filled with empathy.

“You're not the first and won't be the last this side of the Mississippi to kill men,” Scott said in an even tone. “Hell, even I did the same during the war.”

“But that's different.”

Scott's expression grew sober. “Nevertheless men are still dead by my hand.” He paused, the painful memories still clear and sharp in his mind. “Just tell me this Johnny, have you ever shot an unarmed man in the back?”

Johnny heaved a long heavy sigh. “No, nor have I drawn on a man who didn't draw on me first or ambushed any stage.”

Scott believed him without hesitation. “So you're no cold-blooded killer, just a man who sails close to the wind to make a living. But what I don't understand is why you feel the need to tell me this now?”

“Because I…hell I don't know Boston !” Johnny cried more loudly than he'd intended and stood up, banging his fists hard on the table. “Maybe I just wanted to be straight with you. Let you know the kind of man you've been saddled with.”

Scott hesitated for the briefest of moments. “I'm more than aware of what kind of man you are,” he quickly told him. “You saved my life without a thought of gain even though you knew I had a wad of dollar bills tucked away in my wallet. That makes the Johnny Madrid I've met a decent and honest man in my book and one I'm happy to associate with.”

Chewing over that observation in his mind for a minute or more Johnny felt the tension draining away from his body. “I tell you Boston , they broke the mould when they made you,” he sighed as he returned to sit cross legged on the floor. “Are you always this trusting?”

“I try to be and like to think I see potential in men, and I see it in you Johnny, a whole load of potential. But from where I'm sitting I see you facing a future which looks damned empty unless you have the guts to change and make something better of yourself.”

Scott watched and waited for a few moments, hoping his words were taking effect. But as Johnny failed to respond, seemingly not interested in what he had to say he gave an inner sigh and changing the subject pointed towards a dark dried stain on the front of his shirt. “Not much of a stylish look you've got there Madrid .”

Johnny gave it a quick glance and shrugged. “You sure bleed well Boston . But I've got a spare and good money due my way and then I'll be able to buy me a whole new wardrobe full. And don't worry. This is legal money owed, lawful money promised.”

“Never thought different,” Scott replied and then took a sharp intake of breath and clutched at his shoulder. “Don't suppose you've got anything in your saddlebags to help ease this damn aching have you?”

Johnny gave him a sympathetic look. “Sorry Boston , I only had the one bottle of tequila. But I have coffee beans.”

“How old are they? No, let me guess. You have no idea as they came with the horse,” Scott said, forcing out a warm smile despite his discomfort.

“Now aren't you the funny one,” Johnny responded, matching his grin. “So you want some or not?”

“Oh well, I suppose it's better than nothing,” Scott sighed and rested his head back onto the pillow as Johnny proceeded to fill up the pot from his canteen and set it on top of the stove.

As they waited for the water to boil Johnny settled down again and his mind wandered back to painful memories from his past and suddenly he had the urge to unburden himself. “You know Boston funny thing is I was born on a ranch not too far from here. If I'd stayed there my life might well have taken a different route but when I was barely two years old my old man decided he'd had enough of his Mexican wife and half-breed son and threw the pair of us out.”

Johnny paused; bitterness from what happened still clear in his tone as he suddenly caught the sound of a gentle rhythmic breathing beside him. Scott had already fallen fast asleep, his face once sweated with fever and showing pain now peaceful and relaxed.

With a soft sigh Johnny eased up and draped the blanket from his bedroll on the sleeping form. The unwanted coffee pot was removed from the stove and lamp extinguished and he stood by the window, staring out. The rain had stopped and by the light of a full moon the cabin interior was now bathed in an eerie glow.

Johnny turned his head to look over at the figure on the bed, recalling what Scott had said. An empty future didn't sound too appealing and for the briefest of moments Johnny wondered if he did have the guts to change his way of life and settle down.

But he didn't want to change. He was his own man and enjoyed being a loner, no one to answer to, didn't he? Johnny frowned, suddenly not completely sure of the answer.

He liked him, this Bostonian dandy filled with quiet strength, dogged determination and genuine compassion. But Johnny also knew he'd need to escape from his persuasive influence the sooner the better otherwise there was a chance, albeit a small one, Johnny Madrid might turn into a decent man.

And with that thought uppermost in his head Johnny made himself as comfortable as he could on the hard dirt floor with the saddle as a headrest, and placing his hat over his face he closed his eyes.


***********

The sun was already blazing down with warmth when Scott eventually awoke and for a moment he was disorientated and not sure where he was. But quickly the memory returned.

He pulled back the blanket and sat slumped on the edge of the bed for a few moments as he awaited strength to return to his legs and took the time to study the man lying feet away.

Johnny was on his back, both arms above his head and quietly snoring. Hardly the look of a hard-nosed gunfighter Scott thought and couldn't help but smile at the sight. But his smile soon faded as he realized the dull constant throbbing in his healing shoulder was nothing in comparison to the pain of a full bladder.

Careful not to make any noise and so disturb the sleeping beauty Scott tentatively pushed up and quietly made his way outside.

After relieving himself and splashing water over his face from the stream he slowly opened the door again then heard a click and was immediately aware of a gun pointed firmly in his direction.

Johnny swore. “Damn you Boston ! What you sneaking around for? You could have had your head blown off!” he cried as he eased his finger off the hammer and returned the firearm to its holster.

Though momentarily startled Scott immediately regained his composure. “I do not sneak, I glide,” he replied with a calming smile as he made his way back to the bed and slowly eased down on the mattress, breathing heavy from the short physical exertion.

With tousled hair and sleepy eyes Johnny scratched at his head. “So where you been gliding?”

For the first time Scott looked around their drab surroundings in the light of day. “If you must know I needed the outhouse but as this is not a five-star establishment I had to make do with the great outdoors instead. Did you sleep well?”

“I always sleep well,” Johnny answered as he let out a yawn then concentrated his gaze on the blond head. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Scott managed a small lie. “Better than I expected. Must be due to your excellent doctoring and a few hours rest,” he said and paused for a moment, swallowing back a slight feeling of queasiness before he continued. “In fact I'm sure I've got enough strength to make that ride to town today.”

“I don't advise it Boston ,” Johnny warned, eyeing him keenly and noting his pallor was still overly pale. “It takes a while for the body to get over losing as much blood as you did. Believe me I know.”

Scott raised a questioning eyebrow but could see by Johnny's tight lipped expression he was not in the mood to say more.

“But I told you I heal fast. I'll be fine.”

Still Johnny looked unconvinced. “What's the rush? You sick of my company?”

“Of course not,” Scott returned quickly, knowing it was just his impatience to meet his alienated father and curious to know the reasons for being summoned in such a business like way that drove him on. “But I'm in dire need of a hot meal. That's unless you have steak and eggs hidden away in that saddle bag of yours.”

“No, just jerky,” Johnny replied as he rose stiffly to his feet. “I can see you're going to be stubbornly stupid so tell you what. I'll go do some visiting of my own to the great outdoors, fix us some fresh coffee then we'll head off slow and easy like.”

Scott managed a grateful smile. “Sounds like a fine plan.”


***********

Barely an hour later they'd packed up and were on their way. Once again progress was slow and there wasn't much conversation between them as Scott pursed his lips tight to hide the discomfort he felt from the horses' bone-jarring walk.

As they came closer to the scene of the ambush they noticed a group of horses tethered and several men working to repair the wrecked stage coach at the side of the road.

A flat bed wagon was also in view containing the bodies of the driver, shotgun and Scott's abandoned luggage and as Johnny pulled to a halt beside it a short man with an ample girth and balding head who seemed to be in charge walked towards them.

Scott lifted his leg over the horse's neck and slipped down, wincing slightly as his boots hit the ground.

“I remember you,” he said, his eyes glinting anger as he placed his bag on the floor. “You're the manager from the stage office in Green River who told me I'd be perfectly safe riding along with that cash box. Jenkins isn't it?”

The man nodded and even though Scott's clothing was stained and disheveled he recognized immediately the tall wealthy passenger who'd paid over the odds for his ticket after missing his connection. “We've been looking for your b...” He paused. “What I mean is we wondered what happened to you.”

“What do you think? I was shot and left for dead! And if it wasn't for my good friend here you'd be taking three corpses back to town today, not two!”

Noticeably flinching at Scott's heated reply Jenkins took out a large handkerchief from his pocket. “But I don't understand. No one knew about the delivery,” he whined as he began wiping dry the sweat on his face. “Don't supposed you got a good look at the robbers did you?”

Frustration boiled within Scott as it was obvious there had been a leak of information but he took a deep calming breath and just shook his head. “It happened so fast though I'm sure there were four of them. Any idea who they were?”

Jenkins pondered for a moment then gave a faint nod. “Ranchers around here have been terrorized for the past six months by a large band of raiders. There's been a lot of killing and I'm guessing they're members of that gang intent on using the funds to buy in extra guns and men.”

“And what does the law have to say about it?” Scott asked with a deep sigh of exasperation.

“There's no law around these parts to say anything.”

Showing little surprise and suddenly feeling weary Scott leaned against the wagon for support and immediately his irritation dissipated as his gaze centered on the tarpaulin covered bodies. “Did these two men have a family?” he asked after a few moments contemplation.

Jenkins frowned with surprise at the change of subject. “Erm…old Josh didn't have any I know of. But Billy had a wife and daughter.”

“And how will they manage now?”

“Not the Company's concern. All employees are well aware of the risks involved and we can't be held responsible for taking care of every kin left behind.”

Scott's jaw tightened somewhat as he nodded thoughtfully and for a long moment stroked a finger along the top of one of his cases. He turned and gave a narrow lipped smile, his voice now quiet with an understated purpose.

“Well Mr. Jenkins I expect full compensation and a generous show of good-will for my inconvenience otherwise you'll be hearing from an old friend of mine in Sacramento . I'm sure the State Governor will be more than happy to see a way of cancelling contracts for your stage line should I tell him of your ineptitude and the way I've been treated.”

A pair of bulging eyes widened in dismay. Not wishing to lose his well paid job by antagonizing this man who seemingly had ties to Government offices Jenkins nodded fervently, his manner now deferential to the extreme.

“Of course sir, you will be amply rewarded,” he promised. “And may I offer you a lift back to town? Considering your injuries it will be a more comfortable ride using the wagon than doubling up on a horse.”

Scott glanced at Johnny who gave a nod, both men knowing the suggestion made sense. “Very well I accept.”

“If you'd like to climb aboard then sir and we can start straight back for Green River .”

There was a firm shake of the head. “No Jenkins. Not Green River . Morro Coyo I was heading for and Morro Coyo I will go.”

Thinking of all the extra miles he'd have to travel that day Jenkins was about to protest. But as he noticed the inflexible and narrow blue eyed stare fixed on him he decided the best thing to do was agree. “Of course sir, I'll just go tell the men of my change of plans.”

As he rushed away Johnny leaned closer, his voice quiet. “You're a friend of the State Governor?”

“No, but he's not to know that.”

Johnny sat back in the saddle and chuckled. “I tell you Boston , you sure can be sneaky when you see fit. And with that straight face of yours you're a natural for playing poker.”

“So I've been told,” Scott replied as he picked up his valise and hauled himself gingerly onto the seat of the wagon, blowing out his cheeks against a sudden stab of soreness in his shoulder.

“Widow is getting the money, isn't she?”

Scott suddenly stilled and gave a faint nod.

“I might have known. Sneaky and generous to a fault,” Johnny acknowledged knowingly.

Scott accepted the dubious accolade without comment as Jenkins returned.

“We found this inside the stage sir. Is it yours?”

Taking the undamaged bowler hat from his hand Scott nodded. “It most certainly is,” he said as he brushed a few specks of dust away. He placed it on his head and gave it a gentle pat down.

Suppressing a laugh at the unfamiliar head gear Johnny's eyes twinkled with amusement. “Now don't you look the elegant city gent?”

Accepting his teasing Scott smiled as he tapped a couple of fingers on the brim in a gracious salute.

Jenkins returned to his men for a second time and Johnny maneuvered his horse nearer to Scott, his expression suddenly changed.

“I…the thing is Boston , reckon I'll head off seeing as you're well cared for now. Like I once told you I've got business that needs sorting.”

Though knowing their parting was inevitable Scott still took the sudden news with a saddened expression. “I understand. You've been more than generous with your time,” he said, wanting to say so much more but the words jamming up in his throat.

He extended his arm and Johnny reached out without hesitation, gripping his hand tight and the look passed between them borne of mutual respect and camaraderie.

“Thanks for everything Johnny and take care.”

“You too Boston ,” Johnny replied, swallowing hard as he pulled away.

Scott opened his bag and began feeling around inside, quickly locating what he was looking for. It was a round gold case, similar to that of a pocket watch but when he flipped open the lid it revealed a small compass.

“This belonged to my great-grandfather on my mother's side,” he admitted. “I'd like you to have it.”

Johnny frowned with bewilderment. “I don't want anything...”

However the plea went unheard. “Please, I insist,” Scott interrupted as he thrust it in his hand. “It's little enough payment for all you've done for me. And if nothing else it might help you find a better route to go in life one day.”

Johnny just stared at the compass for a moment, genuinely moved. “You sure?” he asked, not able to stare Scott in the face.

“I'm sure…very sure friend.”

Johnny placed the compass in his pocket and too choked to reply just gave a nod of silent thanks as he gathered up the reins.

He turned his horse and went off in an easy canter down the road. But all the while he sensed a pair of blue eyes following his every move and forced himself to stare straight ahead, his vision blurred and refusing to look back, not for anything in the world.


***********


It was mid afternoon when Scott eventually arrived in Morro Coyo. At his request he was dropped off at the livery stable and Jenkins helped to unload his luggage. But as he returned to climb up to his seat Scott gripped hold of the man's elbow and his fingers tightened around it.

“About the compensation we agreed on during our drive here. It's to be given to Billy's widow.”

Scott paused, letting the words sink in before continuing with his bluff. “And if I find out she hasn't received every last cent within the month I'll be writing to Mr. Haight. Like I told you, Henry and I go back a long way. Understand?”

The sound of Scott's threatening undertone and the mention of the Governor's name was enough to convince Jenkins he meant what he said. “You have my word sir.”

Taking out his wallet Scott handed over several dollar bills. “And this is to be used to bury those men properly. I want them to have the best coffin available and a decent headstone. And have no fear I will check my instructions have been carried out to the letter.”

With his mouth agape Jenkins nodded. “Of course sir, but why are you doing this?”

As he noticed the look of astonishment on the flabby face Scott's lips tightened grimly. “Because there but for the grace of God go I Mr. Jenkins. Reason enough?”

Jenkins nodded and it suddenly struck him that he had no idea of this man's name. “And who shall I say paid for everything sir? I'm sure Billy's widow will want to thank you.”

Scott let his gaze travel to the two bodies once again and sighed as he rubbed his forehead. “Just say a lucky man, a very lucky man. Reckon that's all anyone needs to know.”


***********


Minutes later while watching the wagon carrying its two deceased passengers headed down the street, the stress and strain of the past couple of days finally caught up with Scott. He sagged against a wall feeling bone weary and realized Johnny had been right about doing too much too quickly as his body craved rest and sustenance.

Common sense told him to book into a hotel for the night, take a bath and eat a meal. But instead he hired a buggy and after seeking directions was soon taking a ride towards the Lancer ranch.

With all thoughts on the long-awaited reunion soon to come Scott was hardly able to concentrate on the beautiful countryside, rolling hills, acres of green luscious pasture filled with bawling herds of cows as he passed them by.

He wondered what his father would make of him; a son with stained clothing, crumpled suit, three days growth of stubble on his chin. He also sniffed himself and realized with the combination of dried blood and sweat he didn't smell so sweet. Hardly the best first impression he'd once hoped to give.

But it couldn't be helped and Scott was past caring what he looked like, and with shoulder throbbing and head pounding he eventually arrived at his destination; a large and impressive looking Spanish style hacienda.

Straightaway he noticed a couple of armed men standing guard on the white painted flat roof and a short distance away the sound of a load of whooping and hollering as several Mexican vaqueros, all leaning on the rail of a large corral watched a man hard at work breaking in a fiery tempered horse.

Scott fought back a wave of dizziness and the sudden flight of butterflies in his empty stomach as he dismounted from the wagon. Why did he feel like he was just about to enter the lion's den? For heavens sake he was a decorated Union Cavalry officer! But for the briefest of moments he craved tequila and to have a gunfighter named Madrid at his side as he banged the knocker on the heavy oak front door and waited.

With a walking stick in his right hand a giant of a man even taller than Scott's six foot with broad shoulders and graying hair eventually appeared.

Straight away Scott wished he'd rehearsed a more suitable greeting for the man he'd grown to loathe. But his well-bred upbringing came instinctively to the fore instead as the words tumbled out. “Good day sir, Murdoch Lancer I presume? I…I've been told I'm your son.”

Suddenly there was a loud rush of blood between the ears, a spinning sensation and Scott's world turned an ominous shade of black. He collapsed slowly forward without a sound leaving his lips, his hat spilling to the floor and unaware of a tender whispering of his name over and over again as he was caught and held for the very first time in his life within his father's strong and outstretched hands.


***********


Scott came round a short while later, lying full length and feeling the comfort of a settee under his weight. As his eyes focused they fixed on the face of a young woman who gave him a reassuring smile. “You're going to be fine Scott. You just fainted, that's all.”

Feeling foolish Scott let out a sigh as he realized his father must have had to carry him in. Not a very auspicious start he thought as he slowly pushed up and swung his legs over to a sitting position. He rubbed a hand over his face and took a couple of deep breaths, grinning sheepishly. “It serves me right. Got shot yesterday during a stage ambush and was advised not to travel this morning but stupidly didn't heed the warning…”

There was a sharp intake of breath and a look of concern thrown his way from the pretty face.

“Don't worry. I'm on the mend now,” Scott quickly reassured then his brow furrowed in bemusement. “You seem to know me so may I ask who are you?”

“I'm Theresa, Mr. Lancer's ward. And I'm so glad you've turned up as well Scott. It's wonderful to have you both here though Murdoch was beginning to think you'd changed your mind about coming as we expected you days ago. Would you like some lemonade?”

Both? Scott nodded without questioning further and watched as Theresa poured out a glassful from a large jug and passed it over. He drained it quickly, appreciating its refreshing effect and handed the glass back. “Thank you. Lemonade has never tasted better.”

Theresa's face softened as she took in his unkempt appearance. “Well you certainly look like you could do with a hot bath and a change of clothes. I'll have your luggage sent up to your room and then get some fresh water heated up in the bath-house. Dinner won't be for at least an hour so you'll have plenty of time to freshen up.”

Scott gave an appreciative nod. “You must have read my mind Theresa. I hope I'm not putting you to too much trouble.”

“Nothing's too much trouble for one of Murdoch's sons,” she smiled warmly as she laid a hand fleetingly on his arm before disappearing towards the kitchen.

Sons? Thinking he must have misheard Scott rested his head back and almost immediately picked up the sound of a chair pushed away and heavy footsteps making towards him.

“You said you were shot. Are you sure you don't have need of the doctor?” a gruff voice asked.

Scott stared once again at the uncompromising and intimidating face and automatically straightened up in his seat as his father eased down onto the settee.

“That won't be necessary sir but thank you for asking,” he said, not sure what to call him so reverting to the well used formal title. “Luckily I had my own Good Samaritan and he did some fine doctoring and probably saved my life in the process.”

Realizing he was indebted to the unknown man Murdoch nodded as his gaze rested on Scott. His thoughts flashed back to his beloved Catherine; her face, that beautiful face, the one he still saw clearly in his mind, beaming happily as she awaited the birth of their son.

With a voice now strangely gentle Murdoch allowed the faintest of smiles to curve his mouth. “You've got your mother's eyes.”

Slightly taken aback by the tender disclosure Scott remained silent; not sure what to say as he bristled uncomfortably under his father's penetrating stare.

Murdoch couldn't begin to count the number of times he'd prayed for this moment; to have his eldest returned to the Lancer fold. How he wanted to move closer, hug him tight; tell him how he'd always loved him since the day he'd been born.

But Scott was a stranger to him, just as his youngest was, and the words stuck in his throat, were left unsaid again as they had been hours before.

Fighting to keep his composure Murdoch's hard mask of inflexibility suddenly returned and he stood up.

“I need a drink.” Walking with a slight limp he made towards a cabinet and poured out a whiskey. “Want one?”

“No thank you.”

Murdoch gulped the shot down then went to his desk. He undid a folder and returned with a sealed envelope. “Here's your payment as promised. Count it if you want.”

Scott took it from his grasp. “Thanks,” he said with a tight smile but ignoring the suggestion placed it into his inside jacket pocket.

He looked around the room, his eyes appreciating the well designed decor. Momentarily the thought this could, should have been his home came to mind. He swallowed back the resentment. “You have a fine place here sir. How old...”

Murdoch cut in, his face like granite. “I haven't paid out one thousand dollars to have you come here and talk chit-chat boy,” he scowled.

Seizing on the opportunity given to say what had been building up inside him for so very long Scott rose to his full height, his eyes narrowing and his voice shaking with emotion. “So why did you send for me? Considering you've had no desire to make contact for twenty four years I'd have thought any communication between us could have been satisfactorily covered on a postage stamp!”

There was a sudden tension in the room. Murdoch stiffened. This was the second time he'd been the butt of a heartfelt outburst of pent up anger and hostility thrown his way that day and without a word he turned on his heel and returned to pour out a second glass of whiskey.

Struggling with tightness in his throat, stinging in his eyes Scott consciously reined in his temper as he stared at his father's back. “I'm sorry sir. I didn't come all this way to fight with you. I just came for answers.”

A muscle in Murdoch's jaw twitched at the apology given. How different to his earlier altercation with his youngest. Then there was no sign of regret at harsh words spoken.

He knocked back the drink in one long swallow. “We'll clear the air as soon as he comes back in. Then you'll get all the answers you want, all the answers both of you want.”

“He? Both?” Scott released a sigh of irritation as he closed the distance between them. “Just who are you talking about?”

Murdoch's tone was curt. “Why, your brother of course, He arrived back this morning and...”

“What brother?” Scott interrupted. “Since when have I had a brother?”

Murdoch turned and couldn't help but notice the confusion clouding his son's eyes. “You mean to tell me after all this time Harlan never got around to telling you?”

Scott gazed at him, still bewildered. “Telling me what?”

Murdoch exhaled heavily as the heartbreaking realization dawned and a very old bitterness towards his father in law resurfaced within him. “Two years after your mother passed away I remarried and had another son. I wrote to Harlan…told him.”

Feeling as though the stuffing had been knocked out of him Scott thought his legs were going to buckle again at the news but he stayed straight-backed; fists clenched at his side.

“No sir, he never told me. It must have slipped his mind,” he said and managed a tight, mirthless smile as he pondered his grandfather's deceit, deliberate or otherwise.

“About that drink, I'll have it now,” Scott said and made his way to the cabinet, hands shaking slightly as he poured himself a whiskey.

As he sipped Scott speculated if that was the reason he'd never been claimed. Had his father decided his presence would have only caused conflict; an unwanted step-son the constant reminder to the new bride of a much loved first wife and so never to be welcomed into the family home.

“So when do I get to meet the second Mrs. Lancer?”

Scott's request though quiet was laced with disdain.

There was a slight pause before Murdoch answered. “I haven't seen Maria since she left me over twenty years ago. I was told today she's been dead for quite a while.”

Straightaway Scott inwardly regretted his unjust assumption. Yet in a way it made things worse. For now there seemed no reasonable reason to be abandoned in Boston, unless it came down to what he'd always assumed – his father blaming him for his wife's death when she gave birth to him.

Scott couldn't pretend the thought didn't hurt. But that discussion would have to wait for another time.

“And what about my brother?” Scott almost spat out the word so unfamiliar and alien to him. “You said he'd returned. Does that mean you had to hire a Pinkerton agent to locate him as well?”

Murdoch looked out through a large French window and his eyes momentarily misted over with remembrance. “Yes. I lost all contact after Maria walked out and took him with her when he was barely two years old. It wasn't the first time I'd used the agency for that purpose, but at least this time they were successful.”

Scott's lip curled into the faintest of sneers. “Would seem to me sir losing both your sons over time was a mite careless on your part to say the least,” he observed in a voice sharp with sarcasm.

His words struck Murdoch with the impact of a slap across the face. He wheeled round. “Don't be flippant with me boy!” he yelled. “What's happened in the past is done, it's gone. No point dredging it up; the here and now is all that counts, is all that matters.”

Scott stood his ground as he answered. “Maybe for you…not for me.”

Their eyes locked for several seconds then to Murdoch's surprise Scott gave a heartfelt sigh and slumped down on the arm of a chair, the fight in him gone as he grimaced slightly and placed a hand on his heated shoulder. “So where is this newly acquired brother of mine?”

At the sound of his tired voice Murdoch experienced a shot of guilt as he studied his son again with a close scrutiny. Scott looked exhausted, his face pale and strained and he wondered if the injury had been more serious than he'd let on.

How he longed to reach out and lay a father's comforting arm around him but Murdoch held back though when he responded his voice was softer and more controlled. “Your brother and I had words, much like I've had with you, so he went to check out our palomino herd and give himself…give us both time to cool down.”

“Wise move,” Scott agreed somberly. Then a thought came. “Did he know about me?”

“No not until today. But I didn't go into detail. There didn't seem much point unless you showed up.”

Scott nodded, considering thoughtfully for a few moments. “And what was his reaction when he found out he had a brother?”

Leaning on his stick Murdoch's face showed little emotion. “He didn't say anything. It would seem your brother is a hard man to get to know and an even harder one to read.”

Silence settled heavy and uncomfortable as Murdoch returned to sit behind his desk. He leaned back, his chair creaking under his heavy bulk. “I'm sorry Scott. I realize all this must have come as a big shock to you.”

The faintest of smiles fleetingly touched Scott's mouth. “Sir, I think that's somewhat of an understatement,” he replied quietly as the slamming of the front door echoed in the room.

“Well old man, I've must admit you've got some good stock out there,” a voice reluctantly conceded. “That horse Cipriano cut out for me is a fine animal.”

It was at this point Murdoch noticed Scott had stood up, his expression one of incredulity as he stared over at the man wearing a clean white shirt and with his hat hanging down his back.

“Johnny?”

Johnny turned towards the sound of the familiar voice, his own face showing identical astonishment. “ Boston ? What the hell are you doing here?”

Murdoch eyed them both in turn, equally confused. “You two know each other?”

Scott spoke first. “This is my Good Samaritan from yesterday.”

Murdoch stood up and made towards the front of his desk, feeling a sudden surge of heartfelt respect and gratitude towards his youngest. “You never mentioned going to someone's aid?”

Johnny shrugged. “Why should I? Besides, knowing what you think of me I didn't expect you'd believe me capable of such an worthy act,” he said, his look just short of murderous as he stared at his father then turned his attention back to Scott.

“So just what are you doing here Boston ? Don't tell me you've got lost because you're missing that compass of yours already?”

Scott shook his head, a slow knowing smile touching his mouth. There was something in his tone now, a sort of quiet resignation that fate had dealt him a winning hand. “I might have known it would be you.”

Johnny gave him a long-suffering look. “Sorry Boston , you've lost me.”

But then slowly, very slowly, his expression changed as the penny dropped.

“You don't mean you…you're…” Johnny paused for a moment, for once shocked into silence. “But you said your name was Garrett.”

Scott gave a wry grin. “I must have been too busy bleeding to death to manage the Lancer part,” he admitted. “And you told me your name was Madrid .”

“Only since my mother took me from here.” Johnny looked over at his father for a brief moment. “I was born Lancer.”

Suddenly Scott felt unsteady again and began to sway dangerously and in an instant Johnny was there as support and gently eased him down onto the settee. “Told you to take it slow, didn't I?”

Scott nodded at the quiet reprimand. “You sure did…brother.”

Johnny stared at him for a long moment and it was impossible to judge what Johnny Madrid, gunfighter, loner, hired gun was thinking as the realization Scott was his elder sibling began to sink in.

He stepped towards the cabinet, glancing pointedly towards Murdoch with a dark expression as he poured out a whiskey, savoring it carefully as it went down.

His face remained impassive while fingering the glass, his head tilted slightly and chewing thoughtfully on his lower lip as his gaze remained fixed towards the figure on the settee.

After several seconds he broke the silence in the room. “I tell you Boston , if I'd seen the devil himself standing there when I came in I couldn't have been more surprised. But it all makes more sense now. There was something about you I couldn't quite put my finger on...”

Scott nodded. “Likewise.”

Johnny refilled his shot glass and there was another long pause as he sipped at his drink. He grinned suddenly. “Brother.”

It was the first time he'd said the word out loud. “Kind of got a nice ring to it, don't you think Boston ?”

Scott groped for the right response and came up with the first thing that came to his head as his weary face cracked into a smile. “It has now.”

Murdoch had been watching them, different in temperament and upbringing as chalk and cheese, one fair haired, one dark but seemingly having already established a close bond of friendship.

He mulled over the past months since Theresa's father had been murdered when he'd felt as though the weight of the world had fallen on his shoulders as he tried to hold on to his ranch alone against so called land pirates.

But suddenly Murdoch felt a glimmer of hope. As long as he could persuade them to stay with these two men at his side he was sure he'd have a fighting chance of hanging onto Lancer and even more importantly hanging onto his sons.

He cleared his throat for attention.

Two heads turned, Johnny's expression still one of murderous intent as he placed his glass down. “You got something to say old man? Say it.”

Scott also found the strength to push up and stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother as though keen to show where his loyalties lie.

Two against one; Murdoch inwardly smiled at the odds.

He'd once thought he loved his ranch more than anything God ever created. But as Scott and Johnny stared towards him Murdoch inwardly conceded he'd been a fool to think they'd ever mean less.

“Reckon it's time you knew why I wanted you to return to Lancer.”

Murdoch held his breath and to his relief there was no sound of dissent. It would seem an uneasy truce was now in place.

He turned to look once again out of the French window, careful to hide the faintest of thankful smiles that touched his mouth. “It all started last fall when somebody made off with one of our horses...”


And so the story continued...

 

 

~ end ~

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