The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Heather

 

 

Beguiled

Disclaimer: I don't own the Lancers and have made no profit from this story.
Warning: a sexually explicit scene and some swearing.
Well it is Johnny I am writing about!!…Snicker
References to some ideas in one or two of Kit's stories. Thanks Ma for everything you have done for me. The last two years have been the best so far and that's because I met you… Love ya…
Thanks also to Mary for taking the time to read this and tweak it as only she can… As always I am indebted to you for your support and help.

                       

 

It was midweek when he first saw her. He'd snuck off into town for a nice cool beer and some light entertainment something he had only managed with a bribe.

All the ranch hands knew about Johnny's covert trips in to town and actually made bets with one another as to what he would do in any given week. Sometimes the boy knuckled down and worked damn hard and all knew that when he put his mind to it Johnny was one of the hardest workers on the ranch. To the point where few could keep up with him but when his old man laid down the law, Johnny bucked and that was when he unusually skipped his work and rode to town.  

The hands were wondering when Murdoch Lancer would realize it and let the boy be. The more he tightened the reins the more Johnny fought them. He'd never been one to obey the rules at the best of times but Murdoch was intent on calling the damned tune and Johnny was just as intent on not dancing.

This time, his slinking off meant a trip into Morro Coyo because Green River was out of bounds. Val Crawford was sheriff of Green River and he knew Johnny well; to damned well as far as the boy was concerned. Johnny knew his old friend had eyes like an eagle when it came to seeking him out, especially when he was in town alone in direct violation of his probation, which Val rigidly enforced. It was as if the man had nothing better to do than watch out for him and damn it all to hell, Val Crawford could be as vindictive as his father when it came to dispensing liberal amounts of corporal punishment. The law man felt he had every right to since he'd once been his step daddy.  

Johnny recalled the first time, since he'd come home that Val had given him a sound blistering, it had happened after an all night tear not long after his probation order had been passed. He'd had an explosive row with his father and taken off riding like a mad man to Green River; his need for release from the frustration of being tethered like a wild stallion or made to heel like a damned dog, evident.   Murdoch had shown up later, grinning like a jackass to find him upended over a hitching post with Val beating his tail end. Murdoch delighted in telling the sheriff, “He'll be getting more of the same when I get him home!”

So this time he had covered his ass, literally, and had managed to bribe the crew, paying for their silence with money he had stolen from his wise ass older brother, who stupidly saved coins in a large bottle at the foot of his bed.

What the hell was all that about?

Saving money was an alien thing to the boy; he spent his money as he got it and Scott was always trying to get him to put some money away. But after several months he had all of five bucks in his bank account and twice he had gone to take that out. What was absolutely crazy as far as Johnny was concerned was Scott didn't even know how much he had in the bottle, so using his own brand of logic Johnny figured what he didn't know about, he wouldn't miss.

He'd been very careful not to remove too much at any given time, only taking what he required. Scott had mentioned once or twice in passing, that the bottle seemed so big the coins never seemed to get any higher. No one had noticed Johnny dipping his head to hide his shame, or rather the smirk. 

******

Johnny rode off as the crew merrily waved him away slapping one another with their hats while shouting, “Whooee!  Yeehaw! He's off again! Wonder what the hell trouble he's gonna find afore the days out?” The men loved the fact the boy bucked the traces and actually made bets as to whether this time he'd be found out. They didn't mind having extra money in their pockets before payday and Johnny knew it.  

Murdoch Lancer was on another part of the ranch, and no where near close enough to check on his younger son like he sometimes did, so they knew, as did he, he was home free, for the moment anyway. They got back to work as Johnny became a spot in the distance.

**********

Morro Coyo was further away than Green River, so he decided to get Barranca into a nice even lope. Barranca was young, fit and full of energy much like his rider and Johnny knew the animal would lope all day long if he asked him. He loved riding him almost as much as he loved the ladies in the local saloons he frequented regularly.

Gabe was the sheriff of Morro Coyo and although he knew about Johnny's probation, unlike Val, he didn't spend all his time constantly on the look out for him and he didn't have eyes in the back of his head either, nor a sixth sense that Johnny was in town. So if he was careful, he could get into town, have his drink, some fun and be gone without the man ever knowing he'd been there.

The saloon was on the edge of town, the opposite end from the jailhouse which made trips into Morro Coyo safer. It was part of the seedier district that so called decent citizens avoided and somewhere he liked to hang out.

Johnny had been brought up in places just like it and revelled in the saloon's buzz, which even for a week day was there.  He ordered his beer and walked out through the swinging doors to stand on the boardwalk, watching as the stage drove past. His eyes narrowed as he caught sight of red velvet and feathers and his natural curiosity was peaked.

Although the town was relatively small he'd heard of Sara Kennedy's passing but knew nothing about a new owner coming to take over her shop in the centre of town. Apparently a Miss Claire Stanton, a lady of some standing, had just bought Sara's old store and had great plans for its modernization.

“Yeah, Johnny,” the old timer chewed, tobacco dribbling down to his chin. “She's a right lady that Miss Claire Stanton and she ain't gonna give you the time of day, so ya can just stop lookin' boy.” He smirked, chuckling to himself as he watched the teenager gawk at the woman as she stepped off the stage. He spat out a glob of tobacco and just missed the toe of Johnny's boot.

“Hey!” Johnny jumped, frowning at the old man. “Watch it will ya!”

Laughter broke out again. “I'm just sayin' yer wastin' yer time Johnny boy, like I said she ain't gonna give you the time of day, no siree.” This time he held onto his belly.

Johnny's pride was smarting. “Yeah, well maybe she ain't gonna give you the time of day, old timer but me, well, we'll see huh?” Johnny smirked. “She sure is a looker?”

Bob grinned, his front teeth missing and the rest black with tobacco. “Yep sonny she sure nuff is.” He winked. “Better keep a hold of yerself there boy, and pay like the rest of us huh?” He then belly laughed out loud.

Johnny scowled, and ignoring his advice he gulped his beer down and made a beeline for the stagecoach, pulling off his hat as he strode in her direction. She was a vision of womanhood and he wanted to meet her.

“Ma'am, can I be of any assistance?”  He gave her his trademark charming smile, the one that commonly got him services rendered for free from the older whores who worked the local saloons.

She glanced up at him and he couldn't stop himself from letting out a gasp and feeling like a five year old he backed up a pace or two and stammered. It was as if he was seeing an angel walking on earth.

“Er... Ma'am…I…erm…” He felt his whole body come alive and instinctively his right hand dropped to his crotch. 

She didn't miss the move.

She had a tight waist; full round bosoms, dark hair and the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. “Ma'am,” he nodded in the direction of her case, “Can I take your case…please?” He had to smile since it seemed like he was begging but he figured he hadn't been the first man to have begged for her attention.

She smiled at him warmly, her lips full and inviting and he imagined ripe for the kissing. Her beauty was radiant and he couldn't deny it; Hell his body wasn't denying it either!

She was older than him that much he could tell but he figured no more than maybe say five years. It didn't matter, she was an angel pure and simple and he wanted her, well at least, he wanted to meet her!

“Why thank you kind sir, you're a charmer aren't you.” She smiled demurely.  

“Oh yeah, that's me a charmer all right,” he laughed, “That and much, much more,” he answered, his eyebrows arching.

She made to grab her case which was now on the boardwalk and he bent down moving in the same direction.

“Here let me take that for you.” He picked up her case and watched as she turned from him, knowing that he would follow.

“It's not too far,” she said. “I do hope it isn't too heavy for you.”

“Oh, no Ma'am, I may look wiry,” he laughed, “but I'm as strong as an ox.”  

“Well, it's right down here,” she said pointing down the boardwalk.

Johnny heaved the rather heavy case onto his shoulder, thoroughly shocked by its weight. Granted it was a big case but still, she hadn't been kidding when she said it would be heavy and at first he wasn't sure if he would make it. Sighing he was relieved when he heard her say, “Right here, Mr?”

“Lancer, the name's Johnny Lancer.”

She pulled out a key from her purse and opened the door. “I'm Miss Stanton, Miss Claire Stanton.”

Moving carefully, she stepped over the threshold. She wasn't sure what she would find but was pleasantly surprised that the shop remained quite full of stock and reasonably clean.

Johnny nodded and followed her, dumping the case in the middle of the floor.

“Pleased to meet'cha.” He held out his right hand and she took it and shook it.

The inventory was covered with dust blankets, which she began to remove one by one, not in the least bit intimidated that a strange young cowboy was standing in her establishment.

Johnny sneezed and she laughed. “Do you live around here?” she asked making conversation.

“Yeah, I live on a ranch with my father and brother about ten miles from here.” Well he figured it was better than saying he was a teenager who just happened to be Madrid. One look at her and he'd known Madrid wouldn't impress her one little bit.

Her right eyebrow rose. “You're a rancher are you?” she smiled. “Somehow I doubt that's all you are Mr Lancer.  So you live on your Daddy's ranch?”

He cleared his throat. “Actually I own a third of it.” He knew he was bragging because although he did own a third, he wouldn't have power or control until he reached his majority.

“Well, now that's quite a responsibility for one so young. You must be what all of sixteen, maybe seventeen?” She grinned at the scowl her question caused.

Johnny frowned at that. He knew he looked younger than his nineteen years, but seventeen was an insult!  “No, Ma'am, I'm nearly twenty three,” he lied, knowing full well she wouldn't be at all interested in him, if he told her his real age.   

Her eyes narrowed and then dilated as if she were looking at him for the first time. “My, my and here I was thinking you were just a boy.” Her sarcasm was evident and he squirmed. “I'm not sure you should even be in here with me…alone. I mean what would my neighbours think?” She grinned.

She was toying with him but he didn't mind. He knew darn well and good she didn't give a damn about her neighbours. This was a woman who lived life to the fullest. It was obvious. He'd seen ladies like her before and knew without a shadow of doubt, she was very capable of looking after herself and he also imagined her to be an astute business woman. She acted like a lady but he knew, she would be able to handle herself if the need arose and she wasn't about to stand any nonsense from him. She was something unusual in these parts, since most decent women, needed or wanted looking after and he had to admit he had no interest in looking after anyone, at least not yet anyway.

“I wouldn't have thought this place was the kind of place a lady like you…,” a small frown marred his handsome face; he didn't want to insult her and was tongue tied for want of something appropriate to say. Yet somehow it was as if he'd known her all his life and it unnerved him.

“You bought this old place from Sara, huh?” he asked, genuinely interested. He'd liked Sara she'd always been nice to him. He grabbed one of the dust blankets and pulled it off following the woman's guide.

She turned, her eyes narrowing as she studied him.  This boy's wise beyond his years and its like he sees right through me. I wonder what makes him so insightful. He's certainly more than I first thought. She smirked. 

He frowned.

“People need fabric Mr Lancer. It's a good respectable trade with a good turn over. I've been making clothes to measure for years and I figured it would be nice to get paid for my work.” She smiled. “Besides I've always liked sewing.”

Johnny nodded. There it was that word ‘respectable' that gave so much away. “Yeah? I can see where that might come in handy. The girls in the saloons…,” he glanced at the woman to see her reaction, there was none. “Err... I mean the ladies of Morro Coyo are always goin' on about fabric and stuff like that, ya know?” He frowned trying hard to think of all the things women did with fabric, nothing more came to mind. “They're sure gonna be glad that you bought the old place and that it's openin' up again.”  He grinned.

Johnny knew the whores had been upset when Sara had died. He'd often witnessed for himself their compassion, they'd waited till midnight to visit her grave in order to pay their respects to a woman who'd openly welcomed them into her shop; a thing most people in town didn't do and they'd appreciated it. Sara had been well liked by everyone.   

“Yes, I figured as much, since there isn't another store like it in town.”

Her eyes twinkled at the thought and he knew in an instant what she was thinking. Money !

He was amazed by her, she seemed so self reliant, everything he admired in a woman.  If he was honest he felt slightly in awe of her, wary. Plucking up courage he decided just to go for it.  

“Ma'am, err…I don't suppose you'd consider having some lunch with me, would you?”

He worked hard to hide the fear he felt, feeling like a boy who was confessing some kind of mischief to his priest.  Strangely she made him feel like that and he didn't really know why. He figured it was because she was older and more mature than his usual conquests. Hell, who was he kidding; he'd had no real experience with older ladies at least not one like her.

His experience consisted of weekly trips to the saloon and visits with the younger saloon girls, whom he paid!  He'd once been with an older whore, she'd been his third lay and he'd been around thirteen at the time. He'd spent entire night learning from her and she'd taught him well. Hell she'd taught him many things!

Claire smiled demurely. “Well, now, kind sir, that would be real nice. I'd be honoured to join you for some lunch. I can't deny I've nothing in the parlour as yet.” She laughed her eyes shining. “And I am rather hungry.”

“Then it's settled.” He grinned, cupping her arm in his as he escorted her out of her store and down the street to the best hotel in town.

It wasn't his usual haunt but he could be chivalrous when the mood took him and besides his old man and older brother had spent quite some time teaching him etiquette and good manners; so he figured it was time to put all that education to good use.  

*******

Over an hour later and the two of them were still speaking over their table having had a wonderful meal and a few glasses of wine.  More than once he'd caught her peeking at him and he knew she liked him; the feeling was mutual. He made a remark about her eyes, she returned the compliment and told him he wasn't so bad to look at himself and by the end of their meal, the two of them were talking as if they'd known each other all their lives; comfortable in a way that shocked them both.

Their meal finished he followed her out onto the boardwalk and escorted her towards her store. He looked up at the sun, which was lower in the sky now, since it was well past noon but it was still a ways off from setting.  

“Would you care to join me for a walk, Ma'am? It's still a lovely day and I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind walking off some of this meal.” He patted his belly.

Her forehead wrinkled, as if she were deep in thought.  “You know Johnny that's not a bad idea.” She gave him her arm and he took it.

Together like an old married couple they strutted down the boardwalk; eliciting some raised eyebrows and hushed whispers from the town's gossips. They seemed to have nothing better to do than discuss what Johnny Lancer was up to now. He turned towards one of them and took off his hat as he passed by and cheekily greeted, “Ma'am.” Smirking.

He could've sworn the girl swooned as he passed, and he found himself laughing at her foolishness.  

“I think you're enjoying this, aren't you, Johnny?” she said teasing.

He dipped his head shyly, “Well, ya know what, Ma'am, I do believe I am,” he drawled, a wicked smile gracing his young handsome face.

“Yes I do believe you are,” she purred, like a satiated feline.

He was amazed she'd agreed to go with him and even more amazed he found talking with her enjoyable. Most women bored him senseless but not her. She was knowledgeable and she seemed well educated; she talked about things that interested him. It was as if she knew exactly what to say and when to say it.  

They ended up at the creek where he kissed her for the first time. It was a kiss that lit a fire in him, something he had not expected. It both scared him and excited him at the same time. Was this what love was like? he wondered as he escorted her back to her store.

Now standing in the alleyway in front of the door that led to the living rooms at the back of her store, she turned to face him. “Well Johnny I've had a very pleasant afternoon.”

She leaned forward for yet another kiss and he willingly obliged. Finally their lips parted and he was gasping like some snot nosed kid. He felt his face flush but she knew exactly what she was doing. “As they say, Johnny, my boy all good things have to come to an end,” she actually sighed.

“Yeah? That's what they say alright…erm  Ma'am ….Miss Stanton.” He shuffled his feet. “Eh, can we do this again, say maybe tomorrow?”

Shit he knew he sounded desperate but damn it, he was! He'd never had the attentions of a lady before and like a love starved kid, he wanted more.  

She smiled her eyes firing with desire, I haven't lost my touch and he's so cute . Her mouth turned up at the edge. She admired his audacity.

“Don't you have work to do tomorrow, you being a busy co-owner of a large ranch and all?” She was teasing him again, reminding him of the lie she believed, he'd told her.

He dipped his head, a little embarrassed at his previous bragging.  

She hadn't believed him, not for one moment but he'd been willing to pay for a lovely meal and she'd enjoyed his company despite his obvious youth. It had helped a great deal that he'd been nice to look at too. She'd figured him to be in his late teens, if he was a day and had almost laughed in his face when he'd told her he was nearly twenty three.

His bravado returned and he drawled, “Well now, Ma'am, that's one of the perks ya know of bein' boss. I can take a day, a week, or even a month off, whenever I wanna.” He grinned. “So how about it Miss Stanton?”

“Well, I am going to be rather busy here, you know with the shop, Johnny, but I guess I could use some help, you know cleaning up; getting the shop ready for…” Her words trailed off as she coyly curled a hair around her finger, but the implied request for help was there.

“I'd be right happy to help you,” he interrupted bowing.

She almost laughed, yep, lady, you still got it. “But it's woman's work, Johnny. You'd be willing to do woman's work just to be with little old me? Well, now I am flattered.” She grinned. “I'm going to be cleaning and scrubbing up to my elbows, Johnny?” she laughed. Draw him in it'd be handy to have his help and then…..  “I don't think you really want to spend the day cleaning the store with me?” She snickered, “Do you…?”  

He didn't give a damn if it was woman's work as long as he could be with her. “You bet I do. I don't mind, honest.”

He smiled shyly and he looked so cute she melted, laughing. “Alright then, if you really want to, but I'm going to be very busy, Johnny. I'm not sure….”

“No problem,” he interrupted again, “See ya tomorrow then.”

Before she could change her mind he stepped forward and this time kissed her hand gallantly, and then tried to skip away. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him close and wasting no time kissed him fully on the mouth once more.

Coughing, he dipped his head shyly. Johnny was a romantic at heart and he hadn't really had many opportunities to court a lady and he felt suddenly out of place and awkward.

She smiled knowingly and gently lifted his chin again, her green eyes meeting his blue. And for what seemed like an eternity they looked at one another. Then she kissed him again and his heart soared.  

It was as if he had been struck by lightning. This was no girl kiss but the kiss of an experienced mature woman who had loved before of that he had no doubt.  She was gifted in the art of pleasuring a man; her tongue reaching parts of his mouth, no one else had ever dared explore. It was a kiss that came with a promise and he knew it and he felt his whole body react. He prayed that she wouldn't notice but when she finally let him up for air, he felt as if he was going to explode. Embarrassed, he backed up a pace or two and used his hat to cover his embarrassment.

“Till tomorrow then, cowboy,” she smiled her green eyes knowing exactly what he was experiencing.  

“Yeah...I mean…yes Ma'am…ur…Miss Stanton, till tomorrow then. I'll be here bright and early,” he promised grinning like a jackass.

He didn't give a good Goddamn how he was going to pull it off with Murdoch. What the old man didn't know he wouldn't worry about.  

*********

It was getting late by the time Johnny walked towards Barranca and the hitching rail.  He knew he was going to be late for dinner and he also knew Murdoch was going to be a bear. Hell, the old man had told him often enough, breakfast was at six, lunch, if you were home, was at twelve noon and dinner was at six sharp, no matter what, but somehow the woman and the promise of things to come had made him cocky and for once he didn't care. He'd had the best time ever. At last he'd met a real woman in every sense of the word and no one, not even Murdoch was going to stop him from seeing her again. 

*********

He'd cut out at the crack ass of dawn before the others had even made it down for breakfast and before orders, a carnal sin he knew.  He'd packed his saddle bags since he had no intention of coming home that night either. He wanted nothing to spoil what promised to be a great day and perhaps night. He could only hope. His failure to take Barranca had surprised everyone at the ranch!

Murdoch had been fit to burst. “What's gotten into that boy lately?” he bellowed to all that would listen. “First he's late back from work and now he gets up before any of us and sets out in our best rig! Johnny in a rig? What on earth Scott?!” It was as if he felt the need to shout the news to everyone.

Scott nodded. “I know Murdoch. It is unusual.”

“Unusual! It's downright weird!”

Scott nodded once again he found he couldn't argue with his father's logic. “You don't think Johnny might've met a lady, do you?”

Murdoch frowned. It hadn't occurred to him that his boy might've met someone….mainly because he wasn't in town often and when he was it was for the saloon on a Saturday night and Church on a Sunday morning. “How? He's not even been to town, Scott and besides who…?”

Scott interrupted his father. “You do know he's been slipping off into town on a regular basis, don't you, sir?” He felt a little bad about telling tales but he'd already spoken to Johnny about disobeying their father and going off into town, to no avail and maybe now was the time to tell his father what had been going on these last few weeks.

Murdoch scowled. “No, I did not! I can't…”

Scott rolled his eyes interrupting his father once more.  “Do you want me to go after him, sir? I will if you want me too.”

Murdoch was definite in his answer. He didn't have time for this foolishness because they had a ranch to run. “No, we have work to do, but when that boy comes home.” He left the rest unsaid but all knew what he was threatening and Scott cringed. 

“Yes, sir.” was Scott's curt reply briefly angered by his father's reaction. In the end he understood, however, he aimed to give his little brother a sound talking to when he came home…if he came home. 

************

Johnny had died and gone to heaven. He had managed to persuade her, or so he thought to go for a picnic after they had worked all morning in her shop. His chosen spot had been Bitter Creek, a favourite watering hole of his and one he often frequented after a long, sweaty and particularly dirty day of pushing beeves.

They'd had a pleasant time picnicking on coffee, sandwiches and fruit which Claire had dutifully packed.  She'd talked none stop about her plans for her store and Johnny amazed himself by listening attentively. Now both were beginning to feel uncomfortable in the mid-day heat, the sun beating down on them unmercifully.

Claire watched Johnny finishing up the last of the biscuits and smiled to herself. He was just a growing boy; his appetite damned fierce. He reminded her of her big brother. He'd been just the same…only he'd never been given the chance to finish growing. The Indians had killed everyone in her family except her. She'd been fifteen at the time and he'd been an old seventeen. She'd been forced to become a woman with the Indians as they'd used her for their own entertainment, time and time again. Then they'd left her to die, afoot and half naked in the desert. She'd figured that's when she'd done a whole lot of growing up.

But she hadn't died; miraculously she'd been saved by a passing hermit who'd carefully put her on his mule and walked her to the nearest town.

He'd taken her to the local doctor who was a kindly man. He took her in after hearing what had happened to her and his wife Mary had taken good care of her during her pregnancy. The resulting baby, a boy, was born eight months later and she'd hated him from the moment he'd drawn breath; his skin not even resembling hers. He was an Indian half-breed and he represented everyone, who'd taken her that fateful day! The baby was a painful reminder of her torture.

Mary had hoped she'd come around given some time, but just four days later, she left Mary and the kindly doc, taking her son with her. She went straight to the local Catholic mission and dumped her baby, wrapped in only a blanket at the back door. Then she'd disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.

Her life hadn't been easy but she'd used her womanly wiles and had come a long way since that fifteen year old girl that had been so badly abused. It seemed like a lifetime ago. She'd often wondered what had happened to him. He'd be thirteen now, she thought grimacing. Secretly she'd been disgusted by Johnny when she'd first met him, him being a half-breed too. But he'd been so beautiful it had been easy to forget he was. And there was a lot about him that said grown up for one so young. And she did know he was younger than he'd alluded to.

******

After he'd left her that evening, she'd spent time in the local mercantile buying some supplies and the proprietors had been only to happy to discuss one Johnny Lancer. It seemed the boy was well known in the area for being a bit of a hell raiser and they were more than willing to talk about their resident gunfighter!

She knew the reason he'd appeared older than his nineteen years; Madrid. She'd heard the name before but had never associated the name with a kid and Johnny, was still a kid. But there was one thing he hadn't lied about, he was indeed the younger son of Murdoch Lancer, the biggest land owner in these parts.

Lancer had one hundred thousand acres and counting. His inheritance, she was told with great glee was being held in trust till he reached his majority.

Apparently, he had an older brother, Scott Garrett Lancer; a Boston dandy no less and at first Claire thought she might set her sights on him until she'd learned he was six years older and that he'd commanded men in the Civil War. Older meant wiser and she was pulling a con. She needed vulnerability and Johnny suited her needs just perfectly.  

Claire was a very astute business woman, who wasn't averse to using her beauty to get what she wanted to get her hands on some of Lancer's money.

In reality, she was twenty eight years old, although she didn't look it. She was hiding from her husband, whom she'd stolen some money from before running off with a gambler. He was a very successful business man who owned a successful shipping business in San Francisco and his money had allowed her to buy the shop. She didn't think he was still looking for her and she didn't care having changed her name.  She was like a black widow; the only difference was she didn't eat her men, well not literally, anyway. She'd given up caring for others a lifetime ago, now her only concern was her happiness and pleasure.

**********

Smiling her eyes fired with an idea and looking decidedly uncomfortable, she squirmed and huffed and puffed.

Johnny was still chewing. “You alright, Claire?” he asked his mouth still partially full.

She smiled at his lack of good manners.  “I don't suppose you'd consider me a lady if I went in for a dip to cool off, would you, Johnny? But I am so…well I'm so hot!” She sighed fanning herself, her head slightly dipping. “I know it's not proper but…” she exclaimed, sighing once more. She knew exactly what she was about to do.  

If Johnny'd guessed what she was up to it didn't show.  “What naked?” He gasped! Shit, I'm actin' like a fuckin' kid, he thought feeling his face flush.

“Oh no, Johnny, that wouldn't do at all. I'd keep on my under garments and of course you'd avert your eyes…well until I'm immersed in the water.”

He nodded. “Oh yeah, I would.” He agreed; secretly wishing he could take a peek.

The next words out of her mouth had him almost panting.

“You could keep me company if you'd like but you must keep on your underwear, Johnny…it's …its only decent.” It almost appeared she was scolding him, or at least that's how she made him feel.

Regaining control and not wanting to look like a desperate kid, he lifted his head slowly; his next question only going to prove how young he actually was. “You mean you'd let me join ya?” he asked his eyes about popping out of his head.

She grinned, “Well of course, but only if you're willing to behave, Johnny.” She dipped her head shyly.

He nodded and it took him mere seconds to shuck his pants, socks and shirt.  She chuckled at his haste and then moved behind a thick bush and took off her dress. When she re-appeared she was clad only in her white bloomers that reached to her knees and her corset which only served to make her look even more, well endowed. She'd also removed her stockings; her white legs shining in the mid day sun.

He stared hard at her body which was perfect and pursed his lips, tempted to whistle.

“Now, Johnny, don't you be looking at me till I get into that water,” she admonished and he dipped his head like a school boy who'd been caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

“Ok,” he agreed. He heard the splash and her giggles as she swam. Obediently, he didn't look up until she told him he could.

“Your turn, Johnny, come on in. Oh it's lovely and cool.”  She closed her eyes enjoying the sensation of chilly water on her skin.

His entrance wasn't nearly so gentile. He ran at the water falling in face first; resurfacing mere inches from her face.  He splashed her and she frowned.  

“Ooops... sorry,” he declared, watching as she rubbed her eyes.

She worked hard to hold it together, finally managing a smile. “It's …it's alright.” She secretly seethed, annoyed with his foolishness. He could be brash and uncouth but she was willing to put up with anything; she'd had worse.

He sidled up to her reaching for her.

She was done wasting time and falling towards him she kissed him hard on the mouth, ending it by wrapping her long legs around his slim waist, a movement that sent shock waves through his entire body. She felt him harden against her and she grinned. Too easy, she thought.

He gasped as she pulled him to her. “Ma'am!”

She dropped her legs and stood before him. “What? Oh, Johnny, we're both adults. What's the harm? Look around, we're alone, aren't we?”   

He gazed about nervously and a little guiltily, wondering if his father or brother might at that moment come riding over the ridge; knowing full well they'd be madder than Hell with him. His feeling of guilt heightened by the lies he'd told the woman now holding him, intent on something he knew he wasn't going to reject.

His thoughts were interrupted by her once again.

“Oh, Johnny, I want you and I know you want me. Look,” she sighed. “I'm an independently wealthy woman and I am full grown, so are you…so what's the harm? I like to have fun from time to time.” She paused, when she saw his face flush. “I like you, Johnny.” She looked directly into his eyes, which were the most amazing shade of sky blue she had ever seen. “No one need know, Johnny, it can be our little secret. This place can be our secret place.”  She saw doubt in his eyes and went in for the kill.  “You do want me don't you Johnny?”

He smiled. Boy did he want her. His fears now gone, he replied shyly; dipping his head. “Yeah I do.”

With that she quickly shucked her bloomers and corset, throwing them onto the bank where they'd left their picnic. Now completely naked, she stood before him, her eyes lustful.

He got a good look of her ample breasts and felt as if he would explode right there and then, his hardness now in all its glory.

It took him mere seconds to shuck his drawers and to pull her close. Quickly his lips met hers and they kissed; then his lips moved lower as he kissed her breast, finally ending with her round hard nipple in his mouth as he sucked like a hungry toddler.

Claire tossed her head back and moaned as the fingers of his right hand went between her legs, manipulating her; penetrating her. Her breast still in his mouth he brought her to her first climax, her breaths coming in short pants; the breathy moans escaping, as his manipulation made her arch, twitch and pitch rhythmically.

It appeared despite his youth he knew exactly what he was doing.  

Now it was his turn. Her hand dropped to hold him and he flinched. He threw back his head and moaned; moving with her as she guided him to the shallows. Both now in water only up to their knees, she went down and took him in her mouth, her eyes closing as she took him fully. Then at the last moment she relaxed, teasingly. He let out another moan.

Finally, she turned and knelt down before him, arching her buttocks up into the air; her face at water level.

He knew exactly what to do and wasted no time, the invite obvious. Putting his hands on her hips he lifted, exposing her fully and sought her out with his mouth.

She gasped as he teased her. “Johnny …Johnny, please, I want you…I need you now,”  she moaned, now ready. 

He dropped to one knee and wasting no time, entering from behind, as he searched out her innermost depths. She exhaled as he plunged into her time and time again making her move in time with his steady rhythm.

“Oh... Johnny!” she groaned, and then screaming out loud.

He may only be a boy but he certainly has ample manly parts! She thought smiling to herself.

Finally, he turned her over and pulled her legs apart. She in turn wrapped them around his waist as he entered her once more with a downward thrust that had her shouting in ecstasy. The rhythmic thrusts that followed were long and hard, full of energy that had her moving beneath him rising to meet him as their bodies instinctively moved as one. 

It was blatantly obvious he knew what he was doing as he brought her to an earth shattering climax.  Slowly and deliberately he lifted her, walking with her toward the bank. Grinning, he held her as she gripped his body, her legs entwined about him. Then he lifted her and brought her down.

She let out a high pitched scream. “God!” 

Never before had anyone been so deeply inside her. Laughing, he jerked his hips to meet her as he lifted her then brought her down once more. She briefly wondered where he got his strength from.  

“Jesus... Johnny!” she exclaimed and he laughed.  He walked with her, stepping onto the warm grass and gently laid her down. His body moving in tune with hers as his thrusts became harder, eventually seeking the release he needed. The almost animalistic howl that followed, echoed around the creek and exhausted he lay on top of her, finally spent

He was still inside her when she kissed him, her tongue once again exploring. “Well that was a shock.” She laughed. “You've done that a time or two before haven't you?”

“Some,” he admitted with a shy smile. He kissed her again, he'd not even withdrawn from her when his kissing had him hardening inside her again, neither one wanted it to end.

That was the thing about youth, she found herself thinking as they made love a second time.  

They had spent the whole afternoon together before she finally declared they should go home, but Johnny wasn't ready for this to be over and he convinced her to go with him to the neighbouring line shack. He knew darn well his father, Val and Scott would go looking for him but he didn't think they would look for him in one of Henry's line shacks.

He didn't go home for the entire time he was with Claire and Murdoch and his family were worried sick but it had been for him the best four weeks of his young life and for the first time ever, he felt he was in love.

*********

When she declared she thought she might be carrying his child, he panicked, his gut clenching at the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that raced through him like a storm in a valley. She reassured him that she didn't expect anything, a lie but one that was well told. But as she knew he would, he told her he would marry her; that he wanted this baby and that he would be there for their son.

What was it about the male of the species that never thought they might have a girl? She had to hide the smile the tugged at the corners of her mouth because he was already convinced he was going to have a son and she knew in her heart she wasn't even pregnant. No. Pregnancy was the least of her worries.  The Indians had made sure of that. Then what with the prolonged delivery that had followed, damaging her insides, her womb had been destroyed forever. But she wasn't about to share that little piece of information with her husband to be.

**********

They were both sitting in the Lancer buggy headed for Lancer. He hadn't said a word because if he was honest, he was scared shitless but he knew he had to go back. He owed them that much. He had responsibilities now and wasn't Murdoch the one always going on about him facing up to his responsibilities? He had to approve. The Lancer patriarch was going to be pissed but no matter what, he was going to honour Claire with marriage. It was his duty and besides he loved her.

So together they tentatively made their way back to the ranch. He was dreading seeing his father and his brother. Murdoch had proved time and time again he wasn't disinclined to dragging his sorry ass to the woodshed if he felt the crime warranted an ass blistering and he wasn't sure what he would do when he found out about him and Claire. In the end, all that really mattered was Claire and the baby.

He had to admit the more he thought about the baby, the more he became quite content and it shocked him that he could feel like that. The prospect of being a father at nineteen didn't seem to faze him at all, although he knew damn well and good it was going to highly disturb his old man.

He sighed. At last I'm goin' to have somethin' to call my own. A son and a wife. It almost felt like a dream.

It seemed he was more like his father than he'd ever thought.  He'd done with Claire exactly what his old man had done to his mother. He secretly prayed it wouldn't turn out the same way and made himself a promise that it would not.

***********

The storm when they got to Lancer hit him with all the force of a tornado, the only difference being Murdoch tempered his reaction the instant he'd laid eyes on Claire. 

The normal pleasantries had then passed between them but deep down Johnny had known his father was seething. He'd kept his distance for that very reason, always remembering to keep Claire between him and his father. He didn't know what it was about his father and brother that always made him feel like a ten year old.

Now they were sitting down to dinner, Claire having been invited to stay. That's when Johnny hit them all with a couple of bomb shells of his own. It wasn't bad enough he'd stayed away to be with her for a whole month, oh no, now he was telling them he was going to marry her and that she was carrying his baby. He swallowed hard, his mouth now as dry as an old bone and he waited for the explosion. He didn't have to wait long!

“What! You want to marry?!! And you're going to be a father! But you're just a boy !” Murdoch bellowed. He turned to Claire. “You do know he's just nineteen, don't you?” His voice was almost accusing. He knew darn well she was older.

She pretended to be shocked, her hanky in her hand covering her mouth. She turned to face Johnny; hell they all did and in that moment he found himself staring hard at the floor praying for the hole to appear that would swallow him up!  “But you told me you were nearly twenty three, Johnny!” she accused.

Scott nearly choked on his bread when he heard his father's loud, “Bull!” It was so unusual for the tall Scot to say anything untoward when a ‘lady' was present and he briefly wondered if Murdoch felt the same way he did, concerning a certain Miss Claire Stanton.

But Johnny just looked angry as if it was quite perceivable that he could be twenty three, and then he looked terrible embarrassed.

He heaved in a large breath of air.  “I'm sorry, Claire but it don't change the way I feel and the fact that I love you. I still want you to be my wife,” he declared defiantly, staring hard at his old man.

Murdoch's face went a peculiar shade of purple and finally he bellowed. “I won't allow it.” He ended it with a harsh glare. “Children can't rear children!” he finished.

This got son number two mad. “ You can't stop me old man. I'll leave Lancer if that's what it takes but whatever happens I'm gonna marry Claire!” Johnny vowed stubbornly.

Murdoch heaved his large body up from his chair to loom over his younger son, his voice now a mere whisper. “Is this what this is all about John, teenage defiance? Because running from Lancer right now has got to be the stupidest idea you've had in a long while. And did it also escape your attention… boy … that you're still on probation, or had you forgotten about that,” his voice rose an octave. “Since you're Hell bent on doing your own thing anyway!” he finished, his mouth mere inches from Johnny's right ear.

Johnny cringed. He actually felt his father's spit hit his ear and he wiped it with his hand. He had, in fact temporarily forgotten about his so called probation.

Claire gasped. This was news to her and she feared it could change everything. “He's on probation... how... when?” she demanded, seeing her best laid plan disintegrating.

Johnny swallowed; this was getting way out of control. “It's alright, Claire, he thinks he can keep me here with this probation thing he's got hangin' ‘round ma neck, but if I really wanna leave, I will and damn him and the fucking consequences!” He seethed; his anger now primed.

Murdoch had turned away from him but upon hearing the oath, moved swiftly in his direction once more; his path finally blocked by Scott.

“Sir, may I suggest this is getting us nowhere. I think we should all calm down.” He gestured with his hand. “Please, sir, sit down,” he coaxed.

Murdoch knew his older son was right and so he nodded and took his seat at the head of the table.

Claire was annoyed with her self and knew she had to do something to salvage the situation. She had no intention of going anywhere with Johnny. No, that wasn't why she'd targeted the boy. The last thing she wanted was to leave the richness of Lancer and now she knew exactly what to do to get the approval of the Lancer patriarch.

“Johnny, you need to try to see this from Mr Lancer's point of view. Let's not be hasty. I'm going to have your baby,” she stated, ignoring Murdoch's grunt. “And the last thing we need to be doing is traipsing around the country with no where to live.”

She faced Murdoch and smiled. “Your father has every right to be angry with us, you know. I'm older. I am after all already twenty four,” she admitted with a sly smile, knowing full well they believed her. “It must be a terrible shock for your family. I mean you go away for a whole month without telling anyone, Johnny,” she looked at Murdoch “I knew nothing about that sir, and then we appear with you declaring were getting married and I'm going to have your baby.”

He had to agree with her, on that point. Murdoch, Scott, hell everyone had a right to be angry with him. It had been one of Murdoch's many rules to always let him know where he was and it had been the first rule he had broken. And after all these months he was still doing it.   

Her eyes softened and she turned to face the head of the family. “But the harsh reality, sir, is that I love your son and I know…we've been a tad foolish,” she exclaimed dipping her head shyly; pretending she was embarrassed as she absentmindedly rubbed her belly. “But they do say it takes two to make a baby and well we made a mistake that, I for one, don't regret.”

“Nor do I,” declared Johnny, defiance written all over his face.

She turned her attention on Johnny now. “But I am also rather angry with you, Johnny. You lied to me about your age. I thought you just looked young, now I find out you're actually nineteen years old!” she let out a long sigh and taking out her hanky again began to sob. “Johnny, how could you lie to me?” she wailed.

She wasn't about to tell him she'd also lied and that she was actually nine years his senior.

Oh you're good, thought Scott as he watched her performance and he knew darn well it was a performance.

She sniffed. “It must've come as a shock to find out your son was with a woman all this time,” she glanced at Johnny, “That was neither fair, nor mature, Johnny.”  She had the good grace to blush as she looked into Murdoch's eyes, searching for any give in the man. To her dismay there seemed to be none.

Scott almost gagged, there was something about the woman that didn't figure and he aimed to find out just what it was. She wanted more than Johnny, he knew that for sure but he also knew damn well and good Johnny would not listen to anything either he or Murdoch said. They had to be very careful in their handling of this situation or Johnny would carry out his threat to leave. He briefly wondered how long the relationship would last if they allowed him to do just that but shook the thought away because he knew Johnny's pride would make him stay away anyway.   His thoughts were rudely interrupted by Claire's incessant mouth.

“I find out you're not only nineteen, Johnny but you're a nineteen year old on probation.” She gasped but moved on, hoping for some kind of sympathy and getting none.  “Please believe me when I say this, sir, if I'd known his true age, I would've never started anything with your son.” It was a lie obviously but one she delivered with a lot of passion.

She turned back to Johnny, her face the picture of confusion. “I'm sorry, Johnny, but I just don't know what to do. I mean, I know I love you, very much,” she took a peek at Murdoch, “but you're five years younger than me for goodness sake.” She sighed as if she were thinking of leaving.

Scott took the opportunity to speak. “Yes, Miss Stanton, he is a whole lot younger than you.” He sighed as if deep in thought. “I wonder would a regular amount of cash, paid directly into your bank account, monthly of course, help you in anyway? Maybe we could help set you up in business, say in San Francisco for instance.  I'm sure my father would agree when I say we don't think Johnny is ready for marriage or parenthood.”  Scott eyes were as cold as ice as he engaged the woman. He'd not been fooled and she knew it. He knew full well what she really wanted and it wasn't his little brother. 

Suddenly Johnny got up and took a round house swing at his older brother.  “You fucking bastard!” he screamed. “There ain't nothin' to discuss, you hear me, Scott!”

Scott was now holding Johnny wrists; keeping the boy at bay but barely, for as little as he was in comparison Johnny was a wiry little cuss.

“Claire is carryin' my kid and I ain't goin' to turn my back on her, like some people I know,” he spat with venom, trying to hurt and winning.  

Scott reaction to the hurtful words he'd just spoken was to slap his brother hard on the face; enough to have his head spinning.

Johnny returned the blow with a punch of his own and the fight was on.

Instantly, the head of the family was on his feet. He barraged his way into the fray, pulling both his sons to their feet by their collars; declaring loud and clear the fight was over.

Johnny breathing hard was still struggling to take another swing at his older brother when his father swiftly let go of Scott and swatted his rear end just once. It was enough to end his struggling.  

Mortified he screamed, “Were gettin' married and I don't give a fuck whether you approve or not, ya hear!”  He glared; his accusation clear.

Murdoch was just about to punish him like the child he felt he really was when he heard Claire speak.

“Johnny... language,” she admonished.

Murdoch shook his head, he still had Johnny by the scruff and a good handful of hair; he took the opportunity to shake him none to gently.  “A clear example of a ‘ boy ' not ready for marriage, or fatherhood, I think.” He huffed, finally letting his younger son go.

Silence filled the room as all grew uncomfortable with what had just happened.  Scott took his seat as did his father and finally his little brother.

He listened as his brother's breathing began to slow down and resumed eating as it returned to normal.  Johnny finally calmed down enough to roll his eyes cheekily, expressing his exasperation at the whole thing. He knew the situation wasn't ideal but he felt he loved Claire and all he really wanted was his family to like her also.

Was that really too much to ask?   He thought sighing.

“I'm sorry, Claire, I know I shouldn't a cussed but I got frustrated.” He sighed, turning to his father. “Look I know I'm young, Murdoch but I can do this and do this well, I know I can.” He looked convinced as he turned back to look once again at Claire; his eyes becoming moist blue pits. I love you Claire, ain't that enough?”

She did pity him, if only for a brief moment. “I know you do, Johnny, but is it enough?” She sighed looking perplexed.

Scott shook his head. “No, I don't believe it is. Love wanes but a child is forever. Have you thought about that, did you once consider that, either of you? Johnny has an excuse being that he is so ‘young',” he smiled coldly but….” He left the rest unsaid but his meaning was very clear, she should and did know better.

She was beginning to hate this blond haired man.   

Johnny got mad again. “Shut up, Scott, it wasn't planned. You're always goin' on at me about settlin' down and bein' responsible. Well, now I've got me a reason but you don't want me to settle down and be responsible after all. You gotta make up yer mind ‘brother' .” He said the word as if it was dirty.

Scott chose to ignore him. He knew his kid brother was infatuated with her and that he needed much more to convince Johnny she was no good for him.

“I want this baby, Claire…I want our baby.” Johnny was almost pleading now and it upset Murdoch.

Scott felt for him also but he was also determined to find out a whole lot more about Miss Claire Stanton before he opened his arms in welcome.  

She smiled this was beginning to work. “I want our baby too, Johnny,” she said not feeling one ounce of guilt that she wasn't pregnant at all and indeed she never would be again. She looked directly at Murdoch. “I'm sorry for all this Mr Lancer but I do love your son and despite the age difference, I am willing to try to make this work. When I fell for him, I thought he was older, it's true but I can't deny my feelings for him now. I'd be lying to myself and I'm not willing to do that, sir, sorry.” Tears welled in her eyes and began to flow freely and Johnny moved to take her in his arms.  

Teresa had been sitting through it all and felt suddenly very sorry for Claire, her compassion igniting for the lady. Walking around the table she put her arm around her brother and looked at the now sobbing woman.

“Of course you do,” she laughed, “who doesn't?” she proceeded to poke her brother in the ribs and giggled as he swatted her hand away.

“T'resa!” he yelped as she skipped away.  

That broke the tension enough to make them all smile. Choosing to eat dinner they ended the present conversation. Maria had made one of Johnny's favourite dishes…chicken dumplings and for dessert chocolate cake, a perfect combination as far as he was concerned.

**********

Reluctantly but knowing he should, Murdoch turned to Claire and said, “Please call me Murdoch, after all we are going to be family.” He declared, finally getting a warm smile from his younger son.

He knew if he didn't want to lose him he had no choice but to accept Claire, for the moment at least.

Oh, I could try to corral Johnny but in all honesty if the boy really wanted to leave there wouldn't be any way I could stop him . That much he now knew; Johnny was a wily little cuss and if things got too tough, his answer had  always been to flea, and he wanted to stop that at all cost.

Scott smiled graciously, throughout the entire meal, fooling his little brother, his sister and indeed Claire into believing he'd finally accepted the situation, He'd been the perfect gentleman all evening and Johnny had visible relaxed, but he hadn't fooled his father.

Murdoch watched Scott closely, aware that something was going on in that blond head of his. He hides his inner feelings well, almost as much as Johnny does. He thought.

Murdoch wasn't convinced and he would admit later, he felt the same way.

Scott grinned dipping his head much the same way his younger brother would, when it became obvious Maria, their housekeeper, felt the same way. After delivering the chocolate cake to the patron she harrumphed back into her kitchen, mumbling words in Spanish; words that all except Claire understood.

Johnny's face, however, was a picture of pure guilt as he grinned sheepishly at his wife to be.

Murdoch pled Maria's case. “You must excuse our housekeeper, Miss Stanton; she looks upon Johnny as one of her own and I don't think she would approve of anyone stealing her niño from her,” he grinned. “She assisted at his birth.”

Johnny squirmed in his seat.

“And was one of the first to hold him,” he said the words as if that should explain it all.

Claire smiled graciously. “It's perfectly alright, Murdoch, I understand. Sometime these housemaids take upon themselves too much. Its normal and I've seen it time and time again…they rise above there station and…..”

Johnny frowned a little, he loved Maria. He gently rubbed the back of Claire's hand, something that moved his father to his very core. It was something he used to do to Johnny's mother when she spoke out of turn; a regular occurrence. 

”Claire, Maria ain't like that, she's… well she's family… she's Mamacita,” he said the word as if that should explain everything.

Scott wasn't looking too pleased himself but he found himself grinning as it occurred to him what Maria would do if she heard Claire now.   Ooops , don't let the mighty Maria hear you saying that, she's damned handy with that wooden spoon and she wouldn't stop at beating your pretty ass either!   He suppressed a snicker, delighted by the mere thought; however, his mirth was stilled as he heard,

“Murdoch, please call me, Claire.”

*********

They'd been deep in conversation when she'd let slip a name, Samuel Smyth Jr.

“Samuel Smyth…you know Samuel?” Scott had instantly recognised the name. The Smyth's were a family that had once lived in Boston but they'd moved to San Francisco years ago. His Grandfather had business links with them in San Francisco and had for years. He wanted to make sure they were the same so he asked her some questions, being very careful so as not to arouse suspicion.

“Do you also know Samuel Smyth Sr., Miss Stanton and of course his lovely wife Ruth?” He'd already made up his mind he was leaving for San Francisco that very night to investigate further. Maybe Samuel Smyth could shed some light on Miss Claire Stanton.

She didn't panic or react in any shape or form but could've kicked herself for revealing just one name from her shaky past.

Calm as a cucumber this one, Scott thought.

She smiled shyly. “Why yes, Scott, can I call you, Scott?”

“Well it is my name,” he returned her insincere smile but his eyes were saying something entirely different.

Johnny sat up in his seat and gave his brother a shitty look.  

Scott ignored him. “You were saying, Miss Stanton,” he said his face expressionless.

“Yes…Yes, I do but not so well you understand.” She smirked, she new his game.

“Well, you must know Peter, Sam's younger brother?” he asked not taking his eyes off of the cake in front of him.

Johnny had been briefly distracted by the large helping of cake Maria had just served him. Nothing came between Johnny and chocolate cake not even the beautiful and beguiling Miss Stanton. That much Scott knew!

“Oh well... um yes of course,” she stammered, “I've met him but only once or twice.” She grinned, worry making her lips tremble slightly. It was time to get the subject off of San Francisco. “I don't like to think about San Francisco, it was such an unlucky place for me.” She sighed wistfully.

But Scott wasn't about to let up, “Indeed, how so Ma'am?”

“Scott, the lady said she didn't wanna talk ‘bout San Francisco,” the warning in Johnny's voice was very clear as he twirled his fork like a weapon.

Scott didn't miss his little brother's habitual reach for a pistol that was no longer there. He knew it was instinctual but still, it bothered him. “Do you want to shoot me Johnny?” he asked politely, a smile tugging at his lip.

“Maybe,” Johnny snapped, his anger now primed.

“Boys that's enough…no one's shooting anyone. You know you don't mean that, Johnny, so behave!”  Murdoch admonished. It was like a pacifying six year olds dealing with their pissing contests and he'd had enough.

As for Miss Stanton, she glared directly into her opponent's eyes, and she was now sure he was her opponent. She began her attack on Scott, addressing first Johnny but not for one moment taking her eyes off of Scott. “Darling it's alright,” she soothed. “However, Johnny is right, Scott, I thought I made it perfectly clear, I did not want to talk about San Francisco, so if you wouldn't mind can we please change the subject?” She expertly pulled her silk hanky from her small hand bag and sniffed at it once again.

“As you wish, Ma'am,” Scott capitulated with aplomb.

**********

Coincidentally, Harlan had done business with the Smyth's for many years. Scott had in fact played with Peter, as a young boy, them being around the same age. In fact, for a few years they'd been inseparable and they still kept in contact via letter, at least twice a year.

Scott figured it was maybe time for a visit to San Francisco after all. He'd been planning on a trip for a while anyway. Peter and Sam had been asking him to visit since his arrival at Lancer. Maybe there was a way out of this after all . He mused, wanting nothing more than to stop his impetuous little brother from making the mistake of a lifetime.

He was utterly convinced the woman had beguiled Johnny. It wasn't as if Johnny has a lot of experience with that type of woman. Scott knew they could reel a man in and spit him out snivelling. And he had to admit she was a very beautiful and vivacious woman.  He figured when he'd been nineteen she might've beguiled him too, but at twenty five, he now knew better. He could smell a con a mile away.  And Miss Stanton, if that was even her name he mused, was one of the best he'd seen; as smooth as a baby's backside.

********

With dinner over, they all retired to the Great room for drinks.  Murdoch couldn't help but grin at his younger son's antics. Johnny for once, was behaving like a perfect gentleman and if the situation hadn't been so dire it would have amused him beyond measure, but as it was, he found the whole situation almost intolerable.

Even Teresa noticed and she teased him, just a little. “My, Johnny you are the little gentleman tonight.” She grinned. “Pulling out chairs, falling over yourself…and the rest…my oh my.”

“T'resa!” Johnny warned with a frown, tweaking the girl on the nose. 

Murdoch was busy lighting his pipe, pulling at it to sustain the fire. He knew the woman was pulling a fast one but he didn't have a clue as to how he was going to make Johnny listen. Johnny was a naturally rebellious teenager and he knew, trying to get him to listen without hard facts would be difficult. It was an impossible situation to be in and he briefly thought of sending for Val, because if there was one person Johnny would listen to it was Val.

He looked up as Scott bid them all a good night, gesturing to his father for a private word. Murdoch stood up excusing himself also.

Out in the hallway, Scott told his father he was going to be away for the next few days and when Murdoch enquired as to where he was going, he just smiled and said, you'll find out as soon as I know something and then he winked.

Pleased that Scott felt the same way about Claire, Murdoch's smile widened and he nodded his approval.  “Go, Scott, be safe and bring back some good news, please!”  

Scott nodded. “I will, Father, of that I'm certain.” He gave his shoulder a squeeze as he passed him to mount the stairs leading to his room.  He began packing immediately upon entering.

Even Maria was in on it as she prepared food for Scott to take on his trip. “Go with God, niño,” she said crossing herself.

It seemed there was nothing Maria didn't know!  He kissed her lightly on the cheek. ”Mucho Gracious, Mamacita,” he said smiling, and then he was gone; saddlebag over his shoulder.

**********

Claire had already retired with Teresa, telling everyone she was rather tired and besides she still had to unpack her things.

Teresa escorted her to her allocated room, in the guest wing; the two of them gossiping like old chums.

Women! Murdoch sighed, he wasn't sure if he would ever understand them and he wasn't even sure if he wanted to anymore. 

He was sitting on the couch in front of the fire in the Great room with Johnny, having left the ladies to their gossiping. He looked at his son and watched as he stared at the fire, his face lit by the flickering fames. Just a baby he thought as he stared; his skin so smooth.

Once Johnny had tried to grow a moustache and it hadn't gone to well. Scott had teased him mercilessly as had Jelly and he'd huffed around the house in a bad mood for days; finally giving up when he couldn't get the left side to come in as thick as the right. He'd never attempted it since.

Hell, he doesn't even look nineteen never mind twenty three? Murdoch scoffed. Twenty three, indeed. He almost snorted out loud.  

Johnny was pouting because he knew his father had more to say. He tried to change the subject. “Where's he goin'?” he asked sullenly, when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye as Scott made his way to the barn.

“He's going away on some ranch business, Johnny.”

“This late?”  Johnny scoffed, suspicion rearing.

“It's a bit of an emergency. But don't let that concern you…you've enough to worry about right now.”

Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

Suddenly his whole demeanour changed, his face all boy.

“Jeez, Murdoch, who'd a guessed it, huh, me a daddy. Hey, I just realised I'll be twenty when the baby's born. Claire told me its nine months till they come, is that right, Papi?”

Murdoch smiled; lightening the mood.  Upon seeing this, Johnny curled up beside him and tentatively laid his head on his fathers lap.

Murdoch closed his eyes as his heart pounded in his chest. He loved these moments now but felt scared, he wasn't ready to lose Johnny to anyone…not yet. Hell he'd just found him again. He began to gently rub Johnny's neck.  

It was something he'd done very recently when Johnny had been half asleep; his head in the same position, resting on his father lap as they relaxed on the couch. There was no doubting the boy liked it. He watched as his youngest closed his eyes comfortable now with his father's touch.  

It hadn't always been like that and Murdoch closed his eyes, his thoughts turning to the problem in hand, A father? He's not ready. Hell he's just beginning to release the boy so long suppressed. Scott, God speed. He silently prayed.

He suddenly remembered the question his son had asked and answered it. “Sorry, Johnny, yes a mother carries a baby for approximately nine months.” Good God, he doesn't even know how long his wife will be pregnant. He wasn't happy and it showed.

“This is exactly what I'm worried about, Johnny. Hell, Scott recently explained to you about a woman's monthly curse. You knew nothing about it, Johnny. You're far too young for this and deep inside you know it too, in fact, I'll wager your scared shitless, boy!”

Johnny gasped rarely did his father cuss and when he did you sat up and listened, so he did.  

Murdoch had tried to keep his tone neutral but as always with Johnny he had become suddenly frustrated and slightly angry. He knew how volatile his younger son could be however, so he grabbed his neck gently and pulled him down over his lap once more. He then began massaging the back of his neck, to ease the tension, both now felt. 

“You've a lot of growing still to do, John and as I've said before, children don't rear children.” He sighed.

“Murdoch, I ain't a ‘child'. Jesus I've been taking care….”

“John, I know …so please don't tell me again. But there's a world of difference between taking care of your self and being responsible for another human being son.”

Johnny thought about that for a moment or two. “You ever thought this might be what I need, Murdoch, to calm me down. I mean if I got me some responsibility, I can't go off on an all night tear in Morro Coyo, now can I?” he sighed using his own form of logic.

Despite what he felt Murdoch had to agree. “No, son, I guess you can't.” But still he went in for the kill.  “Have you stopped to consider what Val's going to say about all of this?”

Johnny didn't hesitate, his eyes going wide. “He's gonna tear a strip off of ma hide that's what!” he gulped. “Jesus, Murdoch, no, he's gonna kill me, pr'obly!”

Murdoch chuckled despite himself. “Well, my son having you over my lap right now is giving me ideas too…” he chuckled again, “Why is it when it comes to Val you fold and get all worried but when it's me….”

Johnny grinned. “Someday I'll tell ya Murdoch but not today.”  He squirmed to get comfy his eyes closing as his father continued to gently massage his neck.

********

Accepting a drink from Maria, who'd come into the Great room to bid the family good night, Murdoch indicated she get Johnny a Tequila. The woman smiled and did as she was told, tempted to kiss Johnny on the cheek.

It was unusual for Murdoch to give Johnny alcohol, so when Maria nudged him awake, drink in hand, she knew the situation had to be bad.

“Tequila…mmmm… mucho gracious, Mamacita.”  Johnny smiled and she couldn't resist. She bent to kiss him on the forehead.

He knew better than to pull away.  

He was sitting next to his father now, his shoulder resting against his father's as he twirled the glass in his right hand; the golden liquid swirling as he did so. 

“I thought for sure you'd never bring it out again when I got a little worse ….,” he stopped when he saw his father's right eyebrow rise. “Murdoch?”

“Yes, Johnny.” Murdoch covered his mouth.

“I'm sorry for what I said before, I was out of line.” Shit that wasn't to hard to say. He'd said it and it'd been easy!  

Murdoch sighed. “It's alright, son, I know you're under some strain.  We'll figure this out as a family but know this, Johnny, you're not going anywhere, understood?”

Johnny dipped his head. “Yeah,” and then knowing he should be more respectful and that his father would be expecting it, especially now, he added, “Yes, sir, I understand.” He peeked at his father, his long eye lashes fluttering.  

“Murdoch, you do know that I don't wanna leave Lancer, don't'cha?.”

Murdoch saluted him with his scotch. “Yes, son, I think I do but sometimes your stubborn pride gets in the way of common sense and then…..” He left the rest unsaid.

Johnny nodded he knew exactly what his old man was getting at…his temper. It could sometimes be volatile and he knew it; trouble was he didn't always know how to stop it. 

Together, father and son watched the fire slowly die as they relaxed against each other in the soft glow of the flame and the single lamp that was still burning. Murdoch felt Johnny snuggle closer and knew in his heart his boy was scared.

But if there was one person Murdoch knew he could rely on it was Scott. He had proved himself worthy time and time again of his trust and Murdoch knew without a shadow of doubt Scott loved Johnny like the air he breathed.

If there was a way out of this mess he trusted his son would find it, and then he was going to have a very long discussion with his younger son about responsibility. 

**********

Scott had ridden hard for four hours and he was tired. He knew he had to rest, if not for himself for his horse. He chose a spot by a small stream to let his horse drink and sat down on the grassy bank beside him.

His eyes warmed as he thought of the last few months at Lancer with his new brother, sister and father. It wasn't boring that was for sure, not anymore. He had to laugh at that since back in Boston he'd been positively desperate for any form of excitement.

Johnny made life exciting; every day was an adventure. It was how he lived, grabbing every second of the day to do something, anything to feel alive. And Johnny was the most alive person he had ever met.

Johnny was so different from him, wild, where he was tame, angry where he was calm, rude whilst he was well mannered, in fact opposites in nearly every way, even in looks. But he had to admit both of them had inherited their father's stubbornness. He could be a stubborn son-of-a-bitch when he wanted to be, as Johnny was finding out. But all in all they got along just fine, well for the most part they did. Maybe it was true what they said opposites do attract . He snickered out loud. 

It was Johnny's behaviour towards their father that Scott was having a hard time dealing with. Even though he now knew the truth, Johnny still threw his rough up-bringing in his father's face, as if it was his fault and he was throwing down a gauntlet.

If his behaviour caused Murdoch to chastise him in any way and it often did, he would sometimes toss out a 'well, hey old man', something that Scott hated, 'I wouldn'ta been like this iffen ya coulda' held onto Mama' …or words to that affect. He seemed oblivious to the hurt he caused when he did it too…something Scott was determined to change. It was the one thing that really riled him and he aimed to talk to Johnny about it soon. Being an older brother could sometimes be a right royal pain in the ass especially with a brother like Johnny!

Scott figured Murdoch had been hurt enough by the bitch that was Johnny's mother, because in his opinion that's exactly what she had been; both to Murdoch and to Johnny. But still the boy wouldn't hear a bad word said about her.

Scott knew that Johnny knew the truth, but he had harboured so much hatred for his father it was hard for him to let it go but it was happening, slowly.

Johnny was arrogant and disrespectful and he felt it was his duty as the elder brother to steer Johnny in another direction. He endeavoured to teach him manners and respect, since he seemed to have little for anyone, young or old.  He'd been working on it for a few months now and he'd seen improvements so it wasn't a total waste of breath!

Scott also believed Johnny was seeking his father attention and he got it a plenty when he was in trouble. He figured his brother was really insecure and Murdoch actually agreed. Val had once said the same thing.

He'd responded to Scott suggestion, by actually choosing to work with Johnny. That had worked for shit , Scott grinned using one of his brother's many terms. 

The two of them had come home, mud up to their ears, bruised and cut, with Murdoch bellowing like one of his damn cows and Johnny hunkering down on his saddle, trying hard to be invisible.

He still didn't know entirely what had happened, his father saying he didn't wish to talk about it… eventually ending his tirade with a ‘look' that Scott and Johnny had come to know meant ‘shut the hell up', so he had.

All he'd known in the end was, apparently Johnny had made a very unwise decision!

He briefly wondered what it would've been like growing up with Johnny and smiled to himself at the thought. It warmed his very soul. But when he really thought about it he didn't think it would be a whole lot different from now.  

He decided to get his bedroll and ground hitched his horse. He was going to sleep for a few hours and then get an early start once the sun was up.

*********

The trip to San Francisco hadn't been as bad as he thought. He hadn't managed to contact his friend and thought it rude to just appear on his doorstep so he checked into a hotel and got someone to take his horse to the livery out back.

He then carefully worded a telegram to his friend telling him of his impromptu visit; asking if they could meet up.

*******

It was sheer bliss when he sank his body into the bath, to wash the dirt and dust from his body and he almost didn't hear the knock on his door.

“Sir, there's a telegram for you.”

“Leave it at reception,” Scott shouted. “I'll get to it later.”

He listened to the footsteps as they made there way back down the hall and happy that Peter had responded he began to wash in earnest.

It didn't take him long before he was reading the telegram.

Scott Garret ‘Lancer' is it? –stop- Great to hear you're in San Francisco my friend –stop- would be delighted if you would stay with us –stop-and insulted if you didn't-stop- Come tomorrow morning my friend-stop- and stay as long as you like- stop-looking forward to seeing you again Scott its been too long-stop-

He ate a hearty dinner and retired early that night anticipating his stay at Peter Smyth's house.

**********

Things were still strained back at Lancer but Johnny and Claire had kept themselves busy. He'd spent time driving her around Lancer obviously proud of the land and the hacienda. It'd made Murdoch happy to see his son relaxed and he had no doubt Johnny loved her like any young blooded male loved a beautiful woman, who was more than willing to give him attention, and as for Claire, he had many doubts.

Four days had passed since Scott had left but he had wired him to let him know he had arrived safely. He could always rely on Scott to be practical and considerate.

Johnny on the other hand didn't seem to consider how others could be worried. He didn't even realize anyone cared enough to bother. But it wasn't true and he was slowly learning.

Scott Lancer's military background had helped shape him into the tall self-assured man he was. He'd always been practical and independent but the discipline in the Calvary had made all the difference. Scott now did nothing without giving it his studious attention.  

“Murdoch, when's Scott comin' home?” Johnny asked; his mouth full as usual. He was missing his older brother but he'd never admit it.

Murdoch frowned at his lack of manners glancing at Claire briefly to see if she'd noticed.  “He won't be long now, Johnny. It'll probably be about another week or so.”

“A week! Jeez where's he gone the moon?” He grinned at his own joke.

“No he's gone to see family and friends.”

Johnny put down his fork. “It ain't that ol' bastard Harlan Garret again is it!” he growled.

Murdoch looked primed for bear; he turned apologetically to Claire, “I'm sorry.” He said now embarrassed at his younger son's lack of manners.

 “Boy, so help me God, I don't care if you do deem yourself old enough to marry and have children if you don't stop cussing at this table you and I will be taking a walk to the woodshed. Is that clear?” he bellowed. “You will apologize to the ladies present... now!”

Johnny's face flushed and he dipped his head. His father could still make him feel like a damned five year old and it pissed him off. “Sorry…” he said petulantly, adding, “Murdoch I was just askin'….”

Murdoch stilled him with a single ‘look'. “I don't care; you will mind your mouth in future is that understood, John?” Murdoch interrupted. 

He felt like fleeing the scene but knew he couldn't. “Yes, sir, understood.”

Murdoch nodded his head. “It's not Harlan Garret, Johnny. If you must know, it's a man he knew when he was just a boy. It's private; I don't wish to discuss your brother's business at the table.  If you don't mind can we change the subject please?”

Johnny frowned and shrugged. “Ok.”

He was happy as long as it wasn't Scott's grandfather. He'd caused a lot of trouble when he'd last visited and he didn't ever want to see the old coot again.

********

Scott was now riding back to Lancer accompanied by Sam and his younger brother, Peter. They'd joined him along with private law enforcers hired by the Smyths.

It seemed, as he'd suspected all along, that they both knew Miss Claire Stanton, only they knew her as Mrs Claire Smyth! She apparently emptied the house safe and took precious jewels that had been handed down from generation to generation. Her deception had almost crippled the man but the worst was she'd removed almost all their life's savings.

Somehow she'd talked him into adding her name to the personal account.

He'd since found out that she was wanted in Texas under the name of Mary Sue Belington a Mrs. no less! Apparently she was very good at what she did and she was an experienced grifter, known down south. In short, there was a hefty price on her pretty little head to the tune of one thousand dollars for her capture and return.

Apparently she had decided to lay low for while, after taking most of Sam's fortune and had bought the business in Morro Coyo, under yet another name, Stanton.

But when she'd run into Johnny, a young, rich boy, the temptation to con had been too hard to pass up. Her greed, it seemed, was going to be her undoing.

There was another piece of news that Scott knew his little brother was going to be particularly upset about, apparently she couldn't have children. Scott was furious.

He was dreading telling Johnny because he knew Johnny was looking forward to having a son. It made no sense because Scott knew he wasn't ready for fatherhood in any way shape or form but still he knew the news he was carrying was going to hurt his little brother in ways he had yet to fathom.

Quite simply Johnny had never had anything to call his very own and childishly he saw the baby as something that could be truly his, something tangible to hold onto.

It saddened Scott that he was going to be the bearer of some really bad news.

**********

Murdoch heard the horses coming into the yard first and walked through the French doors to meet his son and the visitors he'd brought with him. It wasn't until he was outside that he saw the badge.

“Scott?”

Scott leapt from his horse and rushed to embrace his father. “Murdoch, it's so good to see you. Where's Johnny?” He was really concerned now. 

Murdoch frowned and looked suddenly worried. “He's gone with Cip and some men to work on the fence line, why?”

Scott was instantly relieved. He didn't really want his little brother to see the mayhem he was about to unleash.

“Murdoch, may I introduce Marshal John Blevins, and his deputy, Benjamin Simms. They're from Texas.”

Murdoch extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you Marshal, deputy,” he greeted with a nod.

“This is my old friend Peter Smyth and Samuel, his older brother, sir.”

Murdoch eyes went wide. Suddenly it all made sense. He recognised the name. ”Not the same Smyth, Claire just happened to mention briefly on our first dinner together, Scott?”

Scott winked. “The very same, sir.”  

Murdoch stepped forward. “Pleased to meet you, Peter,” he nodded at Sam, “Samuel, welcome to Lancer. I'm sorry we've had to meet under such circumstances.”  

“I think you'll find you're guests name is Mrs Claire Smyth,” Samuel boldly stated, his eyes firing with rage.

“Easy, Sam,” Scott cautioned, holding onto his friend.    

The marshal stepped forward. This was all very nice but he had a job to do. “Mr Lancer, I've a warrant for the arrest of Mrs. Mary Sue Belington. I think she might be living in your home, sir.”

Murdoch closed his eyes he was getting confused with all the names being heralded his way. “We have a Miss Claire Stanton living here but….”

“That would be her,” the Marshal replied convinced she was one in the same lady.  “May I see her, please?”

*********

Claire was out back blissfully unaware of the fate she was about to meet, peeling potatoes with Teresa in preparation for the evening meal. She was interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps coming in their direction.

Teresa looked up, frowning. “I wonder who that could be? We aren't expecting guests, as far as I know.” Then her eyes lit up excitedly. “Oh maybe it's Scott returning home, wouldn't that be great Claire?”

“Yes, wouldn't it,” Claire said not in the least bit pleased that he may be returning. She knew he didn't like her.

Six men walked purposefully in her direction and her face visibly paled when she saw Samuel Smyth.

“Why, hello, Claire, long time... no see,” he sneered, instantly grabbing her by the wrist.

“Unhand me, sir!” she yelled. She appealed to Murdoch as if he would be inclined to help. But Murdoch was a bear when it came to anyone hurting his sons and he wasn't inclined to help.   

“Murdoch, tell him to let me go.” She struggled. After a few short seconds she finally gave up and sank back into her chair, defeated.  

Murdoch remained silent. He was too angry to even contemplate talking to her. In fact, he couldn't even look at her. There was one thing he was very sure of and that was he wanted to wring her pretty little neck.  

She nearly fell off her chair when she realised one of the men was a Marshal.

*********

Murdoch soon knew every sordid little detail, including the fact that she was not pregnant, a physical impossibility, he was assured. Her deception had been complete. She'd lied about who she was, what she was, her age, her pregnancy and he was absolutely furious. But most of all he was worried about how this was going to affect his younger son. He'd be home soon and he was dreading telling him.

Marshal Blevins put her in irons and took her to gather her things. She was leaving that night he told her.

Murdoch was only too happy to lend the man one of their rigs so that the Marshal could take her into Green River. Claire was headed for a long spell in prison, he told them at the very least; hell, he'd said she might even hang!

This wasn't the first time she'd pulled this trick.  Johnny and Samuel had been lucky, her first husband had died suspiciously and his widow had disappeared!

By the time the work crew returned in the evening she was already packed and ready to leave with the two Lawmen. Peter and Samuel were staying for a few days.

Johnny saw his brother's horse and came barrelling into the Great room where they were all assembled.

“Hey, Scott, you're home…” he paused then frowned as the oppressive atmosphere in the room made the hair on his neck rise. “What's goin' on?”

It was then that he saw Claire in irons and his face paled and then went red as his anger grew. “What the fuck, Murdoch? Claire? Will someone tell me what the hell's goin' on?” he yelled, his frustration evident. “And could someone also tell me why Claire's in irons?”

Scott put his hand on Johnny's shoulder, “Johnny we need to talk.”

“No, Scott, I need to talk to my son,” Murdoch interrupted. “Johnny, follow me to my study.”

Shit. Johnny knew what that normally meant! It was where he normally went when he was in deep shit and under the circumstances his first instinct was to plead his innocence. “Look I ain't done nuthin',” he declared. “Well …erm…apart from you know…gettin' the lady in trouble but I didn't break no laws or nuthin'…so what's he doin' here and why...”  

When his father gave him his now trademark ‘look', Johnny meekly and obediently followed him to his study.  

*********

A good hour passed before Murdoch came out of his study and when he did finally come out he was alone.   

“Is he alright, sir?” Scott asked more than a little concerned.

“He's upset, Scott and he's embarrassed. I think we should leave him alone for a while.”

Scott wasn't sure he agreed with his father but he followed the big man into the Great Room never the less. Peter and Sam were there equally concerned for the youth they had still to meet.  

They shared some drinks but remained for the most part quiet.

“I wish there was something I could do, Mr Lancer. She duped me and I'm a hell of a lot older than Johnny. She's really very good at what she does. Do you think it would help if I told him that, sir?” Samuel looked truly troubled for Johnny.

Scott patted his back.

Murdoch smiled at the young man. He liked Sam and Peter they appeared to be nice young men. “I think it might but not right now, Samuel. He's feeling a might raw and he wants to be left alone. I think it's best we leave him. Johnny's quite a private boy. He needs to be the one to talk first alright?”

Samuel nodded. “I understand sir.”

*********

Scott cursed when he saw Barranca storm from the barn at full bore. They didn't realise Johnny had slipped out.

“Damn!”

Murdoch was on his feet in seconds barking out orders. “Frank, get my horse!” he commanded. “That boy's going nowhere,” he ground out, fearing the worst. He stormed in the direction of the barn and grabbed for his gun belt; Scott following suit.

They caught up with him in less than an hour.

********

He was bent over a stream, playing with stones; Barranca at his side.  “You took yer time,” he laughed. “Murdoch, I just needed to ride; you didn't need to come. I ain't good company right now…hell who am I kiddin', Murdoch, I feel like shootin' someone.”

He stood up and bounced a single stone five times before it finally plunked into the water with a plop. 

Murdoch wasn't mad…well not completely. When he'd seen his younger son ride out, he'd been ripped by a sudden feeling of panic as Val's words came back to haunt him. ‘When things get too much for the kid, he runs, Murdoch. That's what he's always done'.

Scott tried to lighten the mood. “Well, it's a darn good job Murdoch's got your gun all locked up then, isn't it, little brother?” He laughed but only with his mouth. His eyes were filled with sadness for his brother.

Gone was that cocky boy they were only getting to know; replaced by a look of deflation, hurt and betrayal.

“Murdoch, I could've taken the deceit. Hell, I kinda knew she was lying to me. I could've even lived with the fact she didn't love me.” He rubbed his hands together. “Shit had me the best month ever,” his eyes lit with mischief, “Ain't the first time someone's told me they love me when they didn't,” he said, a sheepish grin forming. Hell, whores at the Silver Dollar tell me that all the time…but…it was the…” The lump in his throat prevented him from finishing.

Murdoch coughed this was way too much information but he knew what he was going to say. “The baby? I know son. But you have a whole lifetime ahead of you to meet a nice young lady, the same age, who will really fall in love with you and who will want to bear your children. It will happen, one day, Johnny, you'll see….But not yet, eh? You know in your heart you're not ready, I know you do. Hell, boy it wasn't all that long ago I was blistering your backside for your foolishness.” He laughed. “Remember?”

Johnny dipped his head. Boy did he remember , he rubbed his ass unconsciously. 

Murdoch didn't miss the move and smiled. “You've got a lot of growing still to do, Johnny, and nineteen is no age for getting married.”

Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I know but I'd kinda got used to the idea of havin' a kid…and….well…”

“You wanted something to call your own, son.”

Johnny looked up, his eyes now moist. “Well yeah…I know it sounds kinda dumb, Murdoch, but…”

It isn't dumb, Johnny. It shows that you're willing to shoulder the responsibility for your actions. You've come a long way since returning home, son. And you've grown up a little,” he added.

Scott interrupted, grinning, “You could always get a dog, Johnny.” He made his point by smacking him on the rump eliciting a grunt and a yelp.

“Hey!” Johnny frowned. That hurts, ya know!!

Scott started laughing and so did Johnny.  It sounded good. 

“Come on, boys, let's go home,” he turned to Johnny, “There's enough work on the ranch to take your mind off of things. Don't you worry, I'll give you enough chores to make your eyes spin.”

Johnny looked perturbed. “Let me get this straight, you're punishin' me for being responsible and for fallin' in love? That ain't exactly fair old man.”

“No, son, I'm punishing you for not being responsible in the first place. Your brother has spoken to you about condoms I gather….”

Johnny frowned and quickly interrupted his father. “Yeah and I told ‘im, I'd rather fuck a sheep than wear one,” he griped. He was thrown forwards by the force of a slap to the back of his head. “Ow!”

“You were lucky this time, John, very lucky. What you experienced with Claire wasn't love but lust. When you do fall in love you will know, believe me, son, you will know.”

He cuffed him on the ear a second time.

“Be thankful that's all you're getting boy.” He pulled him into a fierce hug as if he never wanted to let him go. “I'm going to make sure you're kept busy over the next few days and you're going to be working with your uncle.

“Aww... Murdoch not Cip, he'll rag on at me all fuc…day.”  He dipped his head, stopping himself just in time. “Sorry Papi but please, can't I work with Scott,” he whined, pleading.

Yep things were getting back to normal. “What are you sorry for, John?” he knew darn well.

“Nuthin',” he lied. “Look, Murdoch, please let me work with Scott?”

“You will work with Cip, Johnny.” When he saw the argument forming he expounded. “I want him to keep an eye on you. I know all about your covert trips to town, John and it's not happening again. So it's Cip, or the woodshed and even more chores, you choose.” Murdoch laughed at the sudden forlorn expression on his younger son's face.

“Ok…er…Murdoch…, can I get a dog?” Johnny was a master at changing the subject when the subject got a little to uncomfortable.

“NO!” the two older Lancers shouted in unison.

“You'd probably forget to feed the poor animal,” Scott said as he checked his horse.

Johnny was pouting now. “No, I wouldn't. I like dogs.” He turned to his father who was now tightening his cinch. “Can I?”

Murdoch ignored him. “Let's go home, Boys,” he put his foot in the stirrup and mounted and as he rode in the direction of home he could still hear Johnny's pleas as he followed.

”Can I…Pa…Can I?”

                                     

 

~ end ~

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