The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Tina

 

Love, Pure and Simple
Chapters 11 - 15

Part 11 

Murdoch closed the door behind him and stood in the hallway with his head bowed much the same as Johnny often did when pondering thoughts and feelings that were hard for him to express.  A warm feeling of tenderness enveloped his soul and the hard shell that had up until now been wrapped around his heart seemed to suddenly break into thousands of tiny pieces crumbling forever at his feet.

Both his son’s had told him in their own way that they loved him.  For the first time since their arrival he felt like he was truly a father to both his boy’s.  Unfounded fears, dread and hopelessness vanished all in one night with just a few simple words. 

Looking back at the closed door he sighed and resisted the urge to go back in and sit beside his sleeping son.  Giving up on the thought he decided to leave well enough alone and join Scott back in the Great Room downstairs.

Scott had waited and was glad to see his father return looking better than when he had gone up to visit Johnny.  “I take it everything went well?”

Murdoch didn’t miss the hopeful tone of his question, “Yes son, everything went well.  He’s pretty tired though and fell back to sleep almost as soon as I got him into his nightshirt and back into bed.”

Scott watched Murdoch’s face carefully as he poured another drink and returned to the chair he vacated earlier.  Patiently he kept his thoughts to himself hoping that Murdoch would open up on his own.  He didn’t have long to wait. 

“He…he…told me that he loved me Scott.  I never thought I’d ever hear those words coming from him.”

“Why not?” Scott asked.

Murdoch held the glass up and looked at it thoughtfully for several seconds before taking a drink and responding, “I don’t know really.  It’s just so hard for me to talk to him most of the time and more often than not we argue.  I guess I just didn’t expect it from him even after the things you told me.”

Scott laughed and took a drink from his own glass. “You know what’s really amusing?”

“What?” his father asked.

“You.”

Murdoch narrowed his eyes and asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well for one, I can’t believe you’re so blind and two, I can’t believe how much alike you and Johnny really are.”

Murdoch shook his head at Scott not following what it was he was trying to tell him.  “Explain,” he said in a soft but demanding tone.

“Why else would we still be here if not because we love you.  You’re our father.  Like Johnny, is it so hard to believe that someone could come to love and care about you? That’s where this whole thing is so funny, really.  It’s where you’re both just alike.  Both of you have the hardest time letting anyone close to you or love you.  I guess it’s easier for me, Grandfather might have been wrong in keeping me away from you but at least I know he loved me and I loved him.  It’s the one factor I always had that you and Johnny didn’t. The love of family.”

Scott sat his glass down on the coffee table.  Making his way to the fireplace he stood before it, placing his right hand on the wall and twisted his head to look his father in the face.  “Johnny would have left after he got the money from you if he didn’t care.  In fact, I’d venture to say that he would have left once he was healed up from Pardee’s bullet if he didn’t care.  Or how about when he came back after Wes died.  The bottom line is, he came back time after time because of the love he feels for his family.  Only I don’t think any of us realized it and I don’t think Johnny did either for that matter.  How could he?  What’s he supposed to know about love when he’s never had it?  When he’s never had family.”

Murdoch thought about what his son said and saw the truth of his statements except for one small thing.  He rubbed the bottom of his nose with his finger and said aloud, “He had Maria.”

Scott harrumphed at that and repeated sarcastically, “He had Maria!”  He stormed back over to the sofa and sat down heavily.  Reaching behind him he brought the bottle of scotch from behind the sofa and refilled his glass setting the decanter down heavily on the table. Taking a large gulp he swallowed it quickly.  Glaring at his father he said, “Some kind of example she was!  She didn’t know what the meaning of love was or she wouldn’t have let Johnny live the way that they did.  She wouldn’t have become a… a…well you know.  She would have protected him instead of letting him get beat up and abused by all the different men she consorted with or be constantly ridiculed his entire life for something he had no control over. If she had loved him, truly loved him, cared about him even a little, she would have sent him back here to live with you. Instead she chose to let him live a miserable existence full of hatred and pain.  

Scott took a deep breath and let it out.  The scotch was really starting to go to his head even though he had eaten. Shaking his head he said quietly, “I’m so amazed.”

Murdoch poured another glass for himself, “Amazed?”

“Yes. Amazed.  Every day I look at him and I wonder how he was able to do it.  For God’s sake Murdoch, he was only ten years old.  He had no one to turn to.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to be ten years old and have to kill the man who just killed your mother, knowing that if you didn’t that you were going to be next?”  He paused, lost in his own thoughts, trying to visualize and feel the fear that must have terrorized his young brother that fateful night.  That one horrible night changed a young boy from a loving, carefree, generous soul into a hardened man-child fighting for his right to exist. It had given birth to Johnny Madrid. He tried to imagine his brother’s life but knew he would never be able to fully comprehend the loneliness and despair his brother must have lived through or the terror that filled his heart each night as he fell asleep.  It was no small wonder that Johnny still had the occasional nightmares.

Murdoch gasped and Scott looked up at him with dawning realization, “You didn’t know Sir?”

The older man shook his head and lowered his eyes to his hands that were shaking uncontrollably.

Scott jumped up from his seat unsteadily and took the glass from Murdoch’s hands setting it on the table behind him.  He turned back around and took his father’s hands in his own cupping them together. “I’m sorry Sir, I thought you knew.”

“It’s all right son. I’m ok.”  He took his hands out from Scott’s and wiped away a straggling tear that coursed down his cheek.  “Your brother never told me what happened, although I did suspect some of it from different things that he has said over the past year. I guess…I guess…I just never really asked.  I was afraid to.  I was afraid of the knowing.”

“Me too,” Scott whispered. He hesitated then revealed the truth to Murdoch; “He had a bad nightmare one night.  Months ago.  I went in to wake him up and he didn’t know who I was at first.  It took a long time to get him calmed down.  That’s when I asked him about it and he told me.  His dream had been about that night.  He wasn’t the Johnny that we usually see.  He was a scared little boy looking for someone to rescue him, someone he could talk to and someone he could tell his deepest darkest secrets to without condemnation or guilt.  He was so scared and frightened but I think that talking about it that night helped, at least I hope it did.”

Murdoch leaned forward and stroked the back of Scott’s silky blond hair and rested his forehead against his son’s.  “Thank you son.”

Scott lifted grief filled eyes to his father’s, “For what?”

“For telling me what I needed to know,” he said as he sat back and rested his head on the back of the chair and studied the ceiling while Scott resumed his seat on the sofa again.

Scott wasn’t sure what was going through his father’s mind at that moment but he feared that maybe he had said too much.  Johnny had never told him that he couldn’t tell Murdoch about his mother but it seemed to him that it was a given that he wouldn’t divulge any personal information without first getting his permission.  But at the moment he felt that the time had been right and the personal information brought to Murdoch’s attention could only benefit their relationship by helping Murdoch to understand his younger brother a little better.  At least that was his hope and desire and the only reason he had revealed so much.  It was only fair that their father knew the whole truth and not just little snippets creating possibly an even worse picture than the truth really was. 

Still he fretted over his loose tongue and said, “Sir, if you don’t mind, I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell Johnny that I told you anything.  I think it would be best if he told you himself.  Maybe now that you know you’ll be able to find a way to open up the subject and have him confide in you personally.”

Murdoch chuckled, “Worried about what he might do to you?”

Scott ducked his head abashed, “Yeah, a little,” then chuckled along with his father as they both envisioned an irate Johnny coming after them both.

Scott suddenly remembered to ask, “Did you tell him about my date with Sadie?”

Chuckling again Murdoch said, “No son I didn’t.  I figured I’d let you handle that all on your own.”

Scott frowned; he didn’t think the situation was all that funny knowing how mad everyone had been when he told them.  He was actually a little scared to ask Johnny how he felt about it. “Do you think Johnny is going to mind?”

“Truthfully?” his father asked.

“I would appreciate it,” Scott answered.

“No son, I don’t think Johnny is going to mind.  If anything he’ll want to go along just to make sure that you’re safe.”  Murdoch waited and watched for Scott’s reply and laughed out loud as he watched the different expressions cross his features one at a time. First relief, then bewilderment and then shock settled on his face causing his chin to drop open.

“Murdoch, he wouldn’t, would he?”

Murdoch laughed even harder and slapped his knee as he stomped his booted foot on the floor.  “He might, but I doubt it.”  Wiping away the tears from laughing so hard, Murdoch stood up and walked over to where his son sat, “I’d like to see you get this cleared up first thing tomorrow morning, if you don’t mind.”

“Why, what’s going on tomorrow?” Scott asked.

“Oh nothing much, It’s just that I don’t know about you but I would like to know that I won’t have to be doing my own cooking, if you know what I mean.”  His father looked down at him meaningfully. 

Scott understood his meaning and decided then and there he would get things cleared up with Maria bright and early. “I’ll speak with Teresa tonight before I go to bed.”  The last thing any one of the men wanted to do was get the ladies mad.  Getting them mad meant cooking your own meals and since none of them were very good at cooking he knew he would have to act quickly or suffer the consequences.

Murdoch squeezed his shoulder, “Goodnight son.  Don’t stay up too much longer it’s late and we have a lot to do tomorrow.  Especially now that your brother will be laid up for a while.”

Scott stood up, he didn’t know why he did it but he thought about it just before he fell asleep that night that it must have been the liquor.  He gave Murdoch a hug and stepped back just as quickly, “Goodnight Father.”  As quickly as he said it he disappeared past the formal dining table and into the hallway that led to Teresa’s bedroom door, hoping that she was still up.  He knew he had left his father staring after him dumbfounded but decided that he would dwell on it later when he went to bed.  The expression on his father’s face would have made him laugh out loud had he been inclined to do so.  Instead it thrilled him to know that he had left the older man in a state of shock and thought it might do him some good to have something to think about other than the dreary subject they had talked about earlier.

His commander in the cavalry had taught him that the best attack was a full on frontal assault.  Well that’s what his father got.  Now let him fight the battle.

Pushing aside these thought’s he knocked on Teresa’s door and waited for a reply.  When there wasn’t any Scott decided that the frontal assault would be just as good with his little sister so he gingerly opened the door and stepped inside her room feeling guilty as he did so.  It was one thing for her to bust in on him without knocking since he now had almost a full year to get used to it, but it was another thing for him to do it to her.  His proper Boston upbringing made the task difficult at best but he was determined to set things right with Teresa before they turned in for the night so ‘proper etiquette be damned’ he thought.

Teresa sat in an overstuffed flower-covered chair and looked up in astonishment as Scott entered her room.  Her jaw dropped and she flung the knitting she held in her lap on the floor and jumped to her feet in outrage, “Scott Lancer how dare you enter my room without being invited in!” she fairly screeched at him.

Scott’s eyes popped open wide as saucers, “How dare you say that to me after all the times you just barged into my room.  Besides, you can just think of me as your older brother.”  He stood there with his hands on his hips and watched her face turn bright red and had to laugh as she stomped her foot.

She mimicked his stance and said, “That’s not fair and you know it.  I’m a girl for cryin’ out loud.  Men aren’t supposed to do that to ladies.”

“Oh but it’s ok for you to do that to me and Johnny because we’re what, boy’s? Somehow I don’t think it’s any different sweetheart.”

“It is so different!” she said and stomped her foot again to emphasize her words.

Scott threw his hands up in the air and then ran long fingers across the back of his neck rolling his eyes at the audacity of her words.  He pointed at her and said calmly through his teeth, “And pray tell Miss Teresa, how is it different, cause this I’d like to hear.”

Angry at what she considered to be his obvious stupidity she said, “It just is!  I take care of all of you and there isn’t a part of any of you I haven’t seen before!  Johnny’s been shot, you were nearly sunburned to death and in case you have forgotten I was the one who tended to your father when he was shot by Pardee and nearly killed long before you ever got here mister!”

This gave Scott pause for thought before he answered, “Ok so you got me on that but it still doesn’t matter.  You didn’t answer the door when I knocked and I wanted to talk to you.”

“What! So that gives you permission to just come on in?” she asked irritated.

“Yes it does, especially when I know that you’re mad at me and you’re sitting here all alone in this room and sulking.”

That did it. Now she was really angry and she reached over to the table that sat next to her chair and picked up a small vase that contained flowers from her garden and threw it at him.  “I was not sulking!”  She watched as the vase flew toward him and hit the wall just behind his head as he ducked to keep from getting hit. It shattered and fell to the floor with a resounding crash, breaking into hundreds of pieces.

Scott held out his hands in surrender and took several hesitant steps toward the angry girl as she turned to search for another item that she could throw in his direction. She picked up a glass and aimed it at Scott before he was able to take more than a few steps, “Scott Lancer if you take one more step toward me I’m gonna throw this glass at you and this time I won’t miss!”  She drew back her right arm hoping he knew that she meant business.  “You better take back what you said and take it back now!” 

“Aw come on Teresa, I didn’t mean anything by what I said and I’m truly sorry.”  He chuckled, “I didn’t come in here to fight with you in the first place, I came in here to apologize, so come on and put the glass down, Ok?”  He turned his left cheek toward her pointing at the bruised and slightly swollen jaw line where Milo had punched him.  “See, I’ve already been hit once today and I don’t particularly care to be hit again.  Especially not by my sweet, even-tempered, loving, giving and caring sister, who is absolutely right in all things and deserves a medal for all that she has done despite her unappreciative family.”

Scott watched Teresa carefully as her resolve to stay mad at him slowly dissipated and ventured the last few remaining steps to stand in front of her and gently take the lowered glass from her hand and put it back on the table, “Forgive me?” he asked as he took her by the shoulders and gave a loving squeeze.

Her bottom lip went up in a pout, “Yes.”

Scott cupped her chin and raised her face to his, “Are you sure?” 

The pout turned into a hesitant smile and she shook her head up and down to answer.

Taking her by the elbow he guided her back to her chair so that she could sit down.  He got down on his knees so that he would not be towering over her and took her hands in his and held them in her lap.  “Sweetheart, I really am sorry.”  This time he said it with all the sincerity that he felt and squeezed her hands to punctuate his words.

She lowered her head a little and said in a very contrite voice, “Me too Scott.  I…I…shouldn’t have thrown the vase at you.  That wasn’t very nice of me.”

His eyes closed briefly and he laughed softly saying, “Well, you were mad and I deserved it after teasing you the way I did.”

She shook her head, “No, it wasn’t just that, it was…well it was…”

“It was everything,” he finished for her.

She looked into his eyes, glad that he understood and wasn’t angry with her.  “Yeah.”

She stood up abruptly and paced the room.  Scott got up and took the seat she had sat in and watched her as she took the needed time to gather her thoughts enough to say what was on her mind.  “Scott, I feel like I need to apologize to you for my earlier behavior at the supper table.  I was…I was wrong for getting so upset about you asking that girl out.  I thought about what you said.”

“And?” he prompted.

“And you were right.”  She stopped her pacing and faced him.  “Once I had time to calm down and think about it a little more clearly I realized that my being upset was totally ridiculous and childish.  I understand that she wasn’t the one to blame and I guess we can’t really blame the brother either since he thought his sister was being attacked.”  She paused to think about what she wanted to say next without giving her feelings away to her very perceptive brother.

Scott waited patiently knowing that she needed him to just be silent and listen.

She continued, “When you told all of us that you had asked her out, all I could see in my mind was Johnny and how badly he was hurt.  I hated it, and without even knowing who they are I hated them as well.”  She rubbed her temples and looked at him helplessly, “Do you understand what I’m trying to say, because I’m not sure if I’m saying it right?”

Scott stood up and walked over to her and wrapped his arms around, “I understand more than you know sweetheart.” He laid his head on top of hers, “More than you know,” he whispered a second time and rocked her back and forth.  

The front of his shirt was getting wet from her tears and Scott held her away from him pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped them away from her cheeks.

“Teresa, I promise that if Johnny doesn’t agree with any of this I will back out of the whole thing without a backward glance.  All right?”

Sniffling, she shook her head again in silent agreement, grateful that he didn’t probe any further into her reasons for being so irrational and over protective where his brother was concerned.

“Will you be all right now?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m tired.  I think I’ll go to bed just as soon as I check on Johnny one last time.”

Suspecting how she felt, Scott didn’t bother to tell her that Johnny was sound asleep and probably wouldn’t even know that she was there.  He knew that this was something she was going to do no matter what, so telling her not to would be useless.  Instead he kissed the top of her head and said goodnight, leaving her to go to his own bed.

He climbed the stairs and walked down to his brother’s room and cracked the door open.  All was quiet and Johnny was still sleeping undisturbed.  Their father’s door was closed and he could hear his snores through the heavy door just a little further down the hallway.  Feeling suddenly exhausted and sore he went back down to his own room and quickly undressed, not bothering to put on a nightshirt and slipped into the big feather bed and relished the feel of soft cotton sheets against his bare skin.  He smiled to himself as he remembered the look on Murdoch’s face when he gave him a hug.  It must not have been too bad for him, he went to bed soon enough and by the snores that were coming from his room it hadn’t made him sleepless.

His next thoughts turned to Sadie and within moments his eyes drifted shut as visions of a lovely green-eyed goddess lured him to sleep dreaming of soft luscious lips and tempting curves just right for holding in his arms.  He hugged his extra pillow tight against his chest, the whisper of her name floating softly into the night.

When Teresa was sure that all was quiet and Scott and Murdoch were finally asleep she crept up the stairs to Johnny’s room and went inside.  There was still a faint glow from the lamp and Teresa was grateful to whoever had thought to leave it on.

She tiptoed over to Johnny and sat next to him being careful not to wake him.  Holding her hands to her heart she said a silent prayer of thanks that he was home, safe where he belonged.  She knew she probably shouldn’t do it but she could not stop herself even if she had wanted to.  Leaning over she smoothed away the wayward hair that fell across his brow and placed a feather light kiss on his forehead. She held her breath close to his face as he stirred beneath her loving gaze, when he did not awaken she brushed her lips against his own drinking in his familiar scent and shivered as the air he breathed out mingled with hers, meshing their souls as one.

She loved this man with all her heart and soul.  With fierce determination she pulled herself away from his side and turned the lamp out that sat on the dresser and made her way silently back to his door.  She listened for one last minute to his even breathing as she held onto the door jam, her head resting on her hands.  Reaching behind her she pulled the door closed and returned to her room, all the while hoping that Murdoch and Scott did not realize the depth of her feelings for the dark haired young man they called son and brother.

Someday she would tell them, someday they would know the truth, but until then it was her secret and she intended for it to stay that way.  In her heart she knew that Murdoch would not wholly approve, at least not yet.  He still thought of her as a little girl, his adopted daughter and his precious darling. Falling in love with any man was going to be difficult for Murdoch to accept as it was, but for her to fall in love with his son was an entirely different acceptance altogether. She thought Scott would approve, maybe he even suspected, especially after the fiasco over supper, but still in all she felt that deep down he would be happy with the idea.

She suspected that Johnny felt the same but was reluctant to say anything because of his tenuous relationship with Murdoch. Often times when they were alone she would catch Johnny looking at her with hungry eyes that reflected the same intense desires she felt within herself, but as quickly as she noticed it he would blink and turn away masking his emotions behind a somber façade. Then self-consciously he would tease her or make her giggle at one of his many jokes gifting her with one of his heart stopping smiles, temporarily extinguishing the fires that threatened to ignite their hidden passions for each other with infectious laughter.

Teresa had asked Maria about love and how a person knew when they were in love.  The older woman replied wisely, “Oh mi muchacha dulce, usted sabrá cuándo sucede.  Las mujeres, sabemos estas cosas.  Está aquí, en nuestros corazones y nunca sale.  Usted lo sabrá seguramente, apenas como usted sabe que el sol se levantará y fijará en un nuevo día.” (Spanish Translation: Oh my sweet girl, you will know when it happens. Women, we know these things. It is here, in our hearts and it never goes away. You will know it surely, just as you know that the sun will rise and set on a new day.)

It was at that moment that Teresa knew she had fallen in love with Johnny.  She knew it as sure as the sun rose and set on a new day just as Maria had told her.  Love had planted its seed the day Johnny had come galloping home leading the land pirates to their doom.  She just hoped with all her heart that Murdoch would come to understand and accept what she knew in her heart was her destiny and that was to one day be Mrs. John Lancer.

Retiring to her room and slipping under her covers she closed her eyes and dreamt of her future, the future she envisioned with Johnny, her husband, by her side and Lancer their home.

 

Part 12

Morning came early for the Lancer household.  While it was still dark out, Maria entered the kitchen and stoked the embers in the stove preparing to make the morning coffee.  Her mood was quiet and thoughtful as she worked, going over the words her husband had spoken the night before when they had returned to their own home.  He had told her that it was not her place to speak the way she had to the Jefe’s son and while he might agree with what she said he disagreed with voicing their opinion so openly in front of the patrón.

Maria had argued that it was their place considering Juanito was their nephew but agreed that she could have contained her displeasure with a bit more respectability than she had. Cipriano kissed his wife and held her in his strong arms easing her discomfort knowing that it was hard for his strong willed wife to concede where anything affecting Johnny was concerned.  She went to bed that night determined to make things right first thing in the morning starting with a big breakfast and another heartfelt apology issued to each man at the first opportunity.

Murdoch was the first to descend the stairs, following the aromatic aroma of freshly brewed coffee into the kitchen.  His morning ledger was placed next to his empty plate just as it always was and as he sat, Maria poured him his first steaming cup of black coffee. 

Murdoch looked up at her and smiled good morning glad to see that her mood was much improved from the previous night. 

Maria smiled back and set the coffee pot back on the stove and vigorously began cracking eggs into a bowl and whisking them into a frothy concoction while adding just a touch of cream to give them a little fluff as they cooked in the hot frying pan.

Glancing over to Murdoch she gathered up her courage and broke the silence by saying, “Senor, I hope that you have forgiven my out spoken words of last night.  I would like to say that I am sorry again and hold no disrespect for you or Senor Scott.”

“Thank you Maria, I know that you only have Johnny’s best interest at heart and I’m sure that Scott realizes that also.  We ah…talked quite a bit last night and I think things will be much better today.  Scott loves Johnny and he’d never do anything to intentionally hurt him.  In fact I expect that he’ll check in on him this morning and get the air cleared before coming down to breakfast if I know my son the way I think I do.”  With that said Murdoch returned to drinking his morning coffee, relieved that it was a new day and the tensions of the night before were over.  He opened his ledger and scanned the notes he had written the day before, determining the chores that needed to be done and who would be able to do them.

Maria, satisfied that all was well returned to making breakfast humming softly. 

Teresa bounded into the kitchen prepared to help Maria with the cooking, she stopped short when she saw Murdoch already sitting at the table.  He hadn’t looked up yet so she took the moment to gather her courage and sat at the table folding her arms across the tabletop and waited for him to look at her.  Waiting for what seemed like an interminably long time she cleared her throat to get his attention.

Taking his eyes away from the ledger Murdoch smiled at Teresa and said, “Good morning sweetheart.”  He squinted his eyes at her and said, “It is a good morning isn’t it?”

She smiled back, “Yes it is thank you.”

“Good, good,” he mumbled and returned to reading his ledger, marking notes in the margin with a pencil that he kept with the ledger for his morning ritual.

Maria brought a cup of coffee to the table for Teresa and set it down in front of her.  When she noticed that Teresa’s expression was one of frustration she motioned her eyes and tilted her head with a quick sideways nod in the direction of Murdoch urging her to say what was on her mind.

Feeling encouraged by the older woman’s prompt she said, “Scott and I cleared the air between us last night.  I’m sorry I flew off the handle like that.”

Setting his pencil down Murdoch looked over at her and smiled, taking her hand in his, “I’m glad you did darling.  Scott told me he was going to speak to you before he turned in for the night.  As for flying off at the handle, well I guess we all need to let off a little steam now and then, so no worries, Ok?”  He chucked her under the chin and grinned as he watched the light in her eyes sparkle at his response.

She stood up and wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

Surprised Murdoch asked, “What was that for young lady?”

“Oh, nothing much, just wanted you to know that I love you.”  She turned around oblivious to the shock on Murdoch’s face and began to gather the ingredients needed to start the biscuits.

Murdoch picked up the discarded pencil and tried to concentrate once again on the notes he had been writing but try as he might he just couldn’t.  For the third time in less than twenty-four hours another family member had told him that they loved him.

His heart swelled and a new lump began to form at the back of his throat.  He wondered if these feelings that were coursing through his body, causing him to feel light headed and dizzy were normal.  He remembered feeling similar to this when he had courted Catherine and again during his romance with Maria but he never imagined he could feel this way just because his children told him that they loved him.

He was heady with emotions and alternately felt like crying and laughing but knew he couldn’t do either because his family would think that he had lost his mind.  He wanted to yell from the rooftop, he wanted to gather them all together and hug them each and shout to the world that he was the luckiest man alive.  But he didn’t, instead he picked up his coffee cup and held it between his hands, silently thanking God once again for bringing his boys home to him and for having the most charming and beautiful ward he could ask for.  He knew what these feelings were; it was love, pure and simple.

Upstairs Scott was getting dressed for the day.  He knew he was running later than he had intended when his nose caught the scent of bacon as it wafted up the stairs and through his bedroom door.  He smiled into his mirror glad that one problem apparently resolved itself.  ‘At least we won’t be doing our own cooking,’ he thought to himself. Putting away his shaving kit and wiping off his face he threw his towel onto the dresser top and grabbed a soft gray shirt off his chair buttoning it up as he strode toward the door to his room.  By the time he got to Johnny’s door his shirt was tucked in and his belt was tightened. 

Figuring his brother was still asleep he opened the door without knocking and was surprised to see that not only was Johnny up but he had shaved and was dressed in a suede tan shirt and charcoal colored pants.  Not his typical style of dress but Scott assumed he dressed for pure comfort knowing his brother had to still be sore from yesterday’s fight.

Johnny was sitting on the bed and finishing the last of the shirt buttons when his brother entered his room, “Hey Scott,” he said good naturedly, “Come on in.”

Scott entered the room and sat in the chair by the window eyeing his brother closely as he watched him finish up his buttons with bruised hands.  “I thought you were going to stay in bed today little brother,” he said calmly.

Bewildered Johnny asked, “What made you think that?”

Scott shrugged, “Well Doc for one.”

Johnny closed his mouth and blew and exasperated breath through his nose while rolling his eyes heavenward.  “He said, take it easy, and no riding for a week.  And that’s only cause he wasn’t sure if my ribs were broke or not.  And as you can see big brother they ain’t broke.”

“So what are you going to do, go and break all the rules just to prove your point?” Scott asked with a hint of agitation in his voice.

“What rules, there ain’t no rules,” Johnny said back to his irritated brother.

Scott leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and looked directly into Johnny’s sapphire eyes, “Johnny, don’t push this.  You and I both know that you’re hurt and you should be taking it easy and that means resting and giving your body a chance to heal.”  He held out his hand toward Johnny’s chest, “You don’t even have the bandages wrapped around your ribs like Doc told you to do.”

“I know, I know.  Madre de Dios Scott, you’re worse than an old mother hen,” he replied tensing his jaw in anger. When Scott didn’t say anything Johnny looked over at him and was astonished at the hurt he saw in his brother’s eyes, so in a more contrite tone he added, “I was gonna have Teresa do it for me when I get downstairs. Sorry I got mad.”

Scott didn’t know how Johnny managed it but he had made him feel guilty in less than a minute.  He quickly recovered realizing that Johnny had a knack for making him feel that way all too easy and broke the spell by saying abruptly, “No you won’t. I’ll do it while we’re still up here.  Besides I want to talk to you about something and wrapping you up will give me the time to do it.”

“But…”

“No buts! You’ll do as you’re told,” Scott replied in his most stern voice.

Johnny’s head jerked up and he grinned form ear to ear, “Geez, Scott you sound just like the Old Man.”

Scott had crossed the room to the door and had his hand on the knob when Johnny’s remark hit him from behind.  Turning back to his brother he grinned wickedly, “Yeah I guess I do,” he said thoughtfully.  “Wait here and don’t move, I’ll be back in a minute, I’m going to go get the strips we need.”

Johnny held up his left hand and waved him off, “I’ll be right here when you get back.  Won’t move an inch.”

Johnny didn’t move after his brother left.  Truth is, he was very sore and getting his clothes changed had been more difficult than Scott knew or that he had let on.  He rubbed his hand back and forth across his chest and winced at the soreness.  His face was sore too and the right side of his upper lip was busted and swollen.  Shaving had been a chore and it had taken him twice as long to complete the task, but once he was cleaned and changed he had felt better.  The smells of breakfast cooking made his stomach rumble and he wished that Scott would have waited until after he ate to bandage him up.

Scott returned his arms laden with bandages and ointment; using the heel of his boot he closed the door behind him and said, “Thought you’d have that shirt off by the time I got back little brother.”

Johnny looked up at him and just shrugged his shoulders at the comment.  “Hard enough getting’ it all buttoned up.  Seems kind of a shame to have to undo them it all again.”

Setting the supplies down next to Johnny, Scott squatted in front of his brother clasping his hands together between his bent knees.  His face softened when he looked up into Johnny’s battered face, “Here let me help,” he said with sudden understanding and patience. 

Reaching up he undid the buttons that Johnny had only just painstakingly buttoned and helped his brother caringly get his arms out of the sleeves and off his back.  Sitting back on his haunches Scott surveyed the damage. “Whew, that looks like it hurts like Hell.”

Johnny looked down at himself, something he hadn’t done earlier, and examined the multitude of bruises that smattered his chest and ribs.  He touched one then another, pressing here and there to assess the extent of how hurt he was.  He winced painfully as he touched a particularly big bruise just over his right lower rib.  “This one hurts somethin’ fierce,” he said with a grimace.

“I think that’s the one that Doc thought might be cracked.  This one too,” he said poking at another large bruise on Johnny’s left side.

Johnny nearly jumped off the edge of the bed when he felt Scott’s finger touch him. 

Scott cringed when Johnny pulled away from him, “Sorry brother.  I didn’t think I was pushing that hard.”

“You weren’t.  Your hands are cold.”  Johnny hunched his shoulders and leaned forward, his hands grasping the edge of the bed between his knees and rocked back and forth with his eyes closed.

Worried Scott asked, “Johnny, you Ok?”

“Yeah, just give me a minute.  Think I moved too fast.  Kinda hard to breathe easy, ya know?”  Johnny took a couple of deep breaths and let them out slowly.  After a minute he nodded his head at Scott indicating that he was ready for him to start wrapping the strips of cloth around his chest. 

Holding up his arms while Scott reached around him Johnny asked, “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

Scott glanced up into questioning eyes and hesitated.

“Come on Scott, it ain’t gonna get no easier by lettin’ it sit.  Get it said.”

Scott pulled tight on the strip he brought around Johnny’s left side, “I don’t know how you ever became so good at gun fighting. You don’t have any patience at all little brother.”

“Yes I do,” Johnny admonished, “Just don’t have any when you’re mad at me.”

Tucking in the last of the bandage, Scott stood up to check out his handy work.  Putting his hands on his hips Scott stared back at his brother and asked incredulously, “Now why would you think I was mad at you?”

“Well, you said you wanted to talk to me about something. I figure it can’t be too good if you’re a wantin’ to do it in private.”  He lowered his head, the words trailing off to almost a whisper.

Scott reached under his brother’s chin and raised his face to his own.  “I’m not mad at you.  Got it?”

Relieved, Johnny sighed shrugging his shoulders again and asked, “So what did you want to talk to me about then?”

Scott sat down on the bed next to Johnny grabbing the tan shirt from the bed and handed it to his brother.  As Johnny began to put his arm through the right sleeve Scott reached around and pulled it across his back and helped him with the left side.  Johnny grasped the lapels and held on as his brother spoke staring at the toes of his boots.

Scott sighed heavily and began, “It’s about Sadie.”

Johnny turned his head to look at Scott, bewilderment on his face, “Sadie?”  Thinking for a second he then said, “I don’t know a Sadie.”

“Yes you do brother.  She’s the girl in town that I pushed you into and you knocked over as a result of my foolishness.”

Johnny grinned from ear to ear, “Oh so you know her name huh?”

Scott grinned back, “Yeah, I know her name.  And you should too.  Remember?  We all went to Val’s and sorted everything out or did you forget?”

Johnny bowed his head and laughter rumbled deep within his chest, “Guess I forgot.  Don’t remember much, by the time we got to Val’s all I could think of was getting’ back here. So anyways, what about her?”

Scott didn’t know how in the world Johnny couldn’t remember much of Sadie.  She was so beautiful that just the mere thought of her made him tingle which he didn’t suppose was a very manly thing to feel so he refrained from reminding his younger sibling just how beautiful she was and concentrated instead on the purpose of the conversation.

Scott stood up and paced the floor in front of Johnny, trying to work up the courage to ask him how he would feel if he courted the woman in question.

Johnny’s stomach rumbled and irritation once again surfaced as he watched Scott wear a path on his bedroom floor.  “For Christ sake Scott, spit it out, I’m hungry!”

Scott stopped his pacing and almost laughed at the angry man he now faced as he plopped himself down into the chair across the room. He blurted out, “I want to take Sadie out for a picnic this Saturday.”

Johnny’s shoulders lifted and he looked all around the room then back at Scott not realizing that Scott was asking him how he felt about it, “So are you asking me how to ask a girl on a picnic or what?”

Exasperated Scott replied, “No, I’m not asking you how to ask her.  I’m trying to find out if it will bother you.”

Johnny still looked bewildered, “I don’t understand Scott, why would it bother me.  It’s not like I’m in charge of your love life or anything, unless you want me to be.  Cause if you do, well then I have some ideas for you, starting with…”

Scott stood up and grabbed Johnny by the arm and pulled him up off the bed.

“Hey watch it Scott, I was only trying to help ya out.”

“I know.  Let’s get you buttoned up again so we can go down to breakfast.  I don’t know why in the world I let this whole family make me think that you would have a problem with me taking Sadie on a picnic.”

Johnny stood still while Scott buttoned up his shirt grinning from ear to ear at his brother’s consternation.  “So why did everyone think I would have a problem with you taking out Sadie?”

Scott shrugged his shoulders much the same as Johnny had earlier, “Oh I don’t know little brother, maybe it has something to do with you being absolutely spoiled rotten by the women in this household.  And yet you call me a mother hen and get angry when I’m just trying to help you.  Well I don’t give one hoot if any of them are mad about me taking Sadie out especially when you apparently think the whole thing is funny.”

“Aw now brother, don’t go gettin’ your feathers ruffled with me just cause the women folk gave you a hard time.”

Scott stood back to survey the buttons on Johnny’s shirt, “Remind me to tell you sometime little brother just what kind of hard time those so called ‘women folk’ put me through, not to mention Jelly.”

Johnny started to laugh wrapping his arms around his middle to stifle the pain as his lungs expanded against his ribcage.  “Jelly too!  Oh God Scott, I’m sorry brother.  I know it’s bad enough with the women, but when you add Jelly to the mix that had to be one whopper of a show down.”

“Ha ha ha.  You won’t think it’s so funny when I leave you all alone to explain to them why it doesn’t bother you.  Every single one of them from Jelly, Maria and Teresa were ready to string me up last night because they thought I was being cruel to you and your feelings.”

Johnny walked up to Scott and back handed him in the stomach, “Won’t matter big brother, or don’t you get it?”

“Get what little brother?” Scott asked curiously as they both walked out of the room and down the hallway to the stairs.

“Just that.  I’m the little brother.  The baby.  They’re supposed to spoil me or didn’t you know that about little brothers?”  Johnny laughed again and ducked as Scott tried to take a swipe at the back of his head. 

Scott threw his arm around Johnny and together they descended the stairs, debating the issue of older brothers versus younger brothers and what those titles meant in the realm of family life.

By the time they both got to the kitchen Murdoch was on his third cup of coffee and the table was set for breakfast.  Johnny walked around the table and gave Teresa and Maria a hug from behind wishing them both a good morning before sitting down.  Scott took his seat to Murdoch’s right while Johnny sat down to his left.

Murdoch looked from one to the other, “Boys,” he said in the way of a good morning.

Johnny lowered his chin and said, “Pa,” quietly and mischievously raised his eyes to Scott who sat across from him smiling as if there was a secret between the two of them.

Scott sobered up and said, “Murdoch,” in the way of a good morning that matched the tone of his father.

“Johnny, I see you’re feeling much better this morning.” Murdoch commented.

“Uh, yes sir.”

Murdoch then turned his attention to Scott who sat ramrod straight in his chair. “Scott, did you manage to get things cleared up with your brother?”

Scott nodded his head in affirmation, “Yes sir, I did.  Everything is fine.”

Looking back and forth between the two he said, “Good, then I expect that we’ll have company soon.”

Both men asked in unison, “Company?”

Murdoch cleared his throat, “Yes, company.  I suspect that any girl that can be the cause of such behavior as my son’s have displayed in the past twenty-four hours should meet the father of said son’s. Don’t you agree?”

Preparing another pot of coffee Teresa said with excitement lacing her voice, “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

Maria also gave her opinion, “Sí, sí, es muy importante.”

Scott looked to Johnny for help, “No help here brother, I think the Old Man is right.”

Scott gave Johnny a look that would have quelled another man in his boots, but Johnny just dug into the food that sat on the table before them heaping his plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits his hunger over taking his desire to continue the conversation any further.

Nodding his head in acquiescence to Murdoch’s question he answered, “Guess you’ll be meeting her then.  I told her I would pick her up Saturday for a picnic. I suppose we could come here instead.”

“Fine, that’s it then.  Eat up; we have a lot of work ahead of us today.  Johnny, since you won’t be able to do much for the next few days I want you to work on the books.  Get them all caught up and then see if Jelly has any light work for you around the barn.  I don’t want you over doing it though.  We have round up in the next couple of weeks and I want both you boy’s healthy and physically able to do your share. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” they both said.

Scott then filled his plate and thought about Sadie and hoped she would agree to come by the house and meet his father.

Teresa sat down at the table opposite Murdoch and offered more coffee to the men.  Stuffing a bite of jam filled biscuit into his mouth, Johnny held out his cup to her and she filled it.  Scott then held his out to her giving her a warm knowing smile and winked at the mischief that crossed her features.  Neither one mentioned the incident from the night before but Scott knew that Teresa felt that he was getting his just punishment regardless of the fact that Johnny was obviously Ok with his decision to court Sadie.

“Scott, I want you to take a couple of men up to the north quarter section and get a count of the cattle that are there.  We’ll need to be moving them soon and I need you to be as accurate as you can.  I’ve got Jose and Pete taking a count down in the south.  Let Bill and Carl know that I want them over on the west side and we’ll finish up later this week to the east.  By next Thursday I want a full count of the entire ranch and then we’ll bring down the cattle we want for roundup.”  With that said Murdoch finished the last of his coffee closing the ledger with a loud thunk and turned his attention to his food.

Though Johnny’s stomach said he was hungry he found that after he had eaten just a few bites and drank his coffee he was full and pushed his plate away from him.  At the concerned look from both his father and brother he asked, “What?” as if it weren’t strange in the least that he wasn’t eating his normal portion of food. 

Murdoch pointed his fork at Johnny’s uneaten plate of food.  “Are you all right?  Normally you eat two helpings son.”

“I’m fine, just not as hungry as I thought, sides it hurts to chew,” he answered and rubbed his chin, touching his busted lip to feel how swollen it was.

Murdoch continued to stare at his younger son wondering if he should send for Doc Jenkins just in case Johnny was hurting more than he was letting on.

Johnny started to fidget under the scrutiny and with each passing second found himself getting irritated as his family didn’t seem the least inclined to let him just sit at the table and enjoy his morning without being the center of attention.

He picked up his coffee cup and pushed away from the table suddenly irritated, “I’m gonna start on those books.”  Walking around the table he thanked Maria for the nice breakfast and gave Teresa a kiss on the cheek for her part as well.  Just as he reached the doorway to the kitchen he stopped and said without turning around, “Would all of you stop starin’ at me.  I said I’m fine.  Been hurt a lot worse than this and you all know it.”

Silence filled the kitchen as Johnny departed.  Scott raised his eyebrows at Murdoch and he in turn turned a silent look upon Teresa, everyone keeping their thoughts to themselves for the time being and deciding that it was best to finish their own breakfasts, letting Johnny have his time to cool down.

As Murdoch ate his scrambled eggs he wondered where the Johnny, who had just told him last night that he loved him and who had playfully called him Pa this morning had gone.

Scott said a silent prayer of thanks that he wouldn’t be around Johnny for most of the day. When his little brother didn’t feel well he could be downright meaner than a rattler if he felt smothered.

Teresa ate her breakfast glad that Johnny would be home for the day and she would be able to keep and eye out on him and make sure that he ‘didn’t over do it’ as Murdoch had said.

Maria on the other hand started her clean up and thought about the dinner ahead, glad that things seemed to be back to normal. She decided that Chicken and Dumplings were on the menu because her mamacita had always told her ‘Soup was good for the soul.’

 

Part 13

It was Friday, only two days since the notorious accidental fight in town between Milo and the Lancer brothers. Just two days since her heart and soul had decided to betray her and turn to mush whenever she happened to think about the extremely handsome, tall, blonde hair, blue-eyed man she now knew as Scott Lancer.  She was looking forward to tomorrow afternoon but at the same time she felt a little awkward about the way in which they had met.

The whole confrontation had been blown completely out of proportion and gotten out of hand before she had time to gather her senses and realize that her brother had misunderstood that the incident had been an accident.

At the time she had been angry about her packages getting trampled on and kicked halfway across the street, otherwise she might have been able to diffuse the situation earlier in the afternoon, but by the time that they had all gotten to Dr. Jenkins office her temper had been red hot and no amount of apologies would have been acceptable after seeing her brother’s bloodied fist and face.

Once the afternoon progressed and Dr. Jenkins had assured her that her brother would be well and fine in a couple of days, she had time to reflect on the scene and the people involved, self doubt gnawing at her insides as her anger abated upon hearing the soft tones of Scott’s voice and the gentle caring nature she witnessed in the office as the tall blonde man dealt with each person in turn.

She hung clothes on the line and thought more about the man who would be at her door on the morrow to take her on a picnic.  His laughter had melted her heart and the smile on his boyish face turned her face pink with renewed delight. 

“Sadie, darlin’, ere you almost done there with the clothes?” a motherly voice asked from the back door of the little farmhouse.

Looking back over her shoulder Sadie answered, “Yes Ma, be done in a minute.”

“Good girl, be quick with ye now,” the woman said while vigorously shaking a rag rug up and down through the air. 

Sadie watched her mother return through the door glad to have a few more minutes to herself to contemplate further on a certain, tall, handsome blue eyed man who stole her thoughts and filled her mind with fanciful daydreams of arms wrapped tightly around her as they danced to the music in her head.  She was so deep in thought she didn’t hear her mother come back out the door, a bag filled with sandwiches, homemade oatmeal cookies and fresh picked apples carried in a nap sack, to stand behind her.

Fiona McIntyre brushed the back of her daughter’s hair lightly startling the young girl from her reverie.  Blushing hotly she said, “Sorry Ma, I didn’t hear you.”

“I can see that you didn’t lassie.  Don’t let your Da catch you daydreaming about that young man.  He’s not too happy just yet about him taking you out on a picnic, never having met the man.  You know as good as I do, that when he comes here to pick you up if your Da doesn’t like him, you won’t be going no where with him.  Understand?”  Fiona McIntyre smiled at her oldest daughter hoping to ease the doubt that suddenly appeared in Sadie’s eyes.  Handing the bag to her daughter, she cupped her face with her right hand and said, “Never fear my darlin’ daughter. Your Da is a fair man and he’ll give the young lad a fair opening.  I just hope that he’s as nice a young man as you’ve told us else he won’t stand a chance with him. You know how protective your father and your brother can be.”

Sadie nodded and gave her mother a hug. “I know Ma, I just hope Da likes him cause I do and I know you will too.  Just wait and see.”

Fiona threw her head back and laughed heartily at her daughter’s exuberant statement. “I’m sure I will lass, it’s not like you’ve given many men a chance as it is, so this one must be really special if he caught your eye and you agreed to let him court you.”

“Oh for Heaven’s sake Ma, I didn’t say he was coming to court me, we’re only going on a picnic.”

“Pooshaw, potatoes, potato’s, first a picnic then the next thing you know,” the older woman clapped her hands together, “poof, you’re courting.  Love waits for no one lass.  I should know.  Your father only thought he was taking me to a dance and look where that got us.”

Sadie brightened and for the first time since telling her father that Scott Lancer would be coming by to take her on a picnic, she felt there was some hope that her father would like him.  How could he not if her mother was on her side and she knew without a doubt that her mother would like Scott just as much as she did.  “Oh Ma, what would I do without you?” 

Sadie set down the sack and hugged her mother fiercely; glad to have her on her side. “Go on now with you girl.” She picked up the sack and returned it to Sadie’s hands, “Your Da and Milo will start to wonder that something is wrong if their food don’t get to them on time. Now off with ye.”

Fiona tucked a stray graying curl behind her ear as she watched her daughter run past the barn with a backward wave, hoping the excited girl didn’t crush the freshly made lunch she made for the two hungry men that waited for it.  Her hazel green eyes filled with joy and her heart twisted with loving dreams as she envisioned the future.  Somehow her heart and mind told her that her lovely Scottish daughter was facing a new and bright future filled with love and happiness.  She hadn’t met the man that had turned her daughter into a giddy schoolgirl but he must be special indeed.  She couldn’t remember the last time Sadie had smiled so much and for so long.   

Picking up the laundry basket she returned to the house through the back entrance and prayed silently that all would go well on the morrow. She thought back to that late afternoon just two days ago. 

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

Her husband Boyd had been furious with both his children when they had returned from town but quickly toned down his anger once Sadie and Milo had a chance to explain.  He hadn’t been completely satisfied but their explanations went a long way to soothing his temper and embarrassment over his children’s display in town. 

There was nothing worse in Boyd McIntyre’s mind than being the butt of jokes or local gossip when it came to his name and his reputation.  He guarded his family’s name and honor as fiercely as any chieftain protecting his clan in the old country.  A smile formed on her lips as she remembered the way his face flamed an angry red when Milo had entered the house moaning and complaining about the bumps in the road that finally caused him to stop the buggy in its tracks so he could jump down and spill the contents of his stomach onto the side of the road.

Jumping up from his seat at the kitchen table, Boyd stomped heavily up to his son, grabbing his arms with two meaty fists and demanded gruffly, “What in all that’s holy got a hold of ye boy?  Ye look like ye been dragged behind a horse and then throttled half to death.”

“Aye, and I feel like it Da,” Milo answered back slipping into the Scottish brogue whenever faced with his father’s ire.  The two men stood toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye, until Milo finally pulled away from his father’s strong grip and sat down at the table.

Boyd watched his son sit down heavily at the table, then turned his attention to Sadie squinting his eyes with irritation, as he looked her up and down taking in every minute detail of her disheveled appearance.  He clenched his fist and stormed back to the table plopping himself back into his chair, then pounded his fist hard on the tabletop causing Sadie and her mother to wince at the loud booming sound.

Picking up a mug of beer before him, Boyd took a long swig replacing the drink back on the table with a loud thump. He wiped his whiskered mouth with the back of his sleeve and said, “Sadie lass, come over here to the table and sit down.  I want you and yer brother to explain the meanin’ of your appearance.”

Sadie wasn’t scared of her father in the least and did as she was told. Her father was gruff and loud but both her and her brother knew that the older man’s bark was much worse than his bite.  She didn’t think her father knew how to do anything quiet, he was just plainly a very loud, opinionated and fiercely protective man, but he was reasonable once he calmed down and was prone to listening when the time for listening was needed.

Milo held his head in the palms of his hands, his elbows firmly planted on the tabletop as Sadie explained what had transpired in town. Fiona poured hot coffee from the stove for everyone seated except her husband Boyd, who slowly drank his beer as he listened, occasionally stroking his beard and drumming his thick fingers against his mug.

When Sadie got to the part where they were leaving the sheriff’s office Milo spoke up through swollen lips, “It’s mostly my fault Da.  I should have stopped and asked Sadie what happened before I went and barreled into Scott and Johnny Lancer but I just didn’t think.  She was standin’ there looking like someone had trampled all over her and I lost my head thinkin’ that them boys had done harm to her.”  He lifted his coffee mug to his lips and glanced across the table at Sadie a crooked smile and devilish twinkle in his eyes. He gave her a conspiratorial wink with his good right eye and sipped his hot coffee loudly before setting it back on the table.

Boyd McIntyre eyed them both thoughtfully before speaking then said, “I suppose the whole town watched ye fightin’ am I right son?”

Sadie and Milo both exclaimed at the same time, “No!”

Milo held up his hand as his little sister started to speak, “No Da, there weren’t that many people out and about that saw what happened and the sheriff broke it up pretty quick like.”

Boyd looked at his son speculatively with steely blue green eyes, then slammed his fist down on the table again startling everyone, “Don’t lie to me boy, I can see by the looks of ye that it weren’t a quick thing.  I’ve never known ye to be bested in a fight and by the looks of ye I’d say that it went on for some time!”

This time Sadie spoke up, “Calm down Da, it’s over and done with.”

“Baugh! Over and done with.  How am I to hold me head up in a town where my son gets beaten have to death I ask ye?” their father wanted to know. “And how big was that Lancer fellow you were fighting with?”

Before Milo could reply Sadie said in a rush, “He was big Da. Big as a mountain and faster than a wild horse.  But Milo fought hard and held his own, Johnny Lancer went home looking ten times worse than Milo.  But that don’t matter Da, it was all a mistake and everyone apologized afterward for the whole thing.  It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

Sadie and Milo both watched their father as he contemplated her remarks.  He raised his beer from the table and swallowed another long drink setting it down more quietly than before. Leaning back in his chair he stoked his beard and said, “Ten times worse ye say?”

They both shook their heads up and down.

“As big as a mountain ye say?”

Heads bobbed up and down again.

“Faster than a wild horse ye say?”

Bobbing heads nodded again then both brother and sister picked up their coffee mugs eyeing each other over the rims and silently prayed that their father would be pacified and let the matter drop.

When he said nothing else Sadie decided that the time was right to let him know that Scott Lancer, the older brother was going to take her on a picnic Saturday.

With trepidation she said to her father, “Scott Lancer will be coming by on Saturday afternoon to take me on a picnic.”

If she thought that her father was going to take the news calmly then Sadie was wrong, her father once again slammed his fist down on the table demanding, “What in blue blazes for lass?”

Sadie fought back the tears that threatened to fill her eyes and said, “Because he’s nice Da, and I like him. The whole thing was a big mistake and I realized that they were really nice people once we got to talking things over and found out that it was all an accident.”

“You like him, you don’t even know him!” her father shouted.

“And I never will if we don’t get a chance to see one another!” she shouted back, angry that her father might try and stop her from seeing Scott.

“And what will you do if I find that he comes from a bad family lass. I’ll tell ye right now I won’t have it!  Look at ye brother sitting there across from ye, beaten and bloodied.  Do ye think that’s the kind of people that I want me daughter associating with?”

Fiona interrupted, “Now Boyd, we don’t know a thing about the Lancer’s. He could be a very kind and decent man.  So far from everything that the children have told us, there’s really no reason not to at least give the young man an opportunity to meet us and for us to meet him.  Don’t you think that it would be better to hold off making judgments before we’ve had a chance to invite him into our home?”

Boyd McIntyre softened his temper before responding, rubbing his large calloused hand across his face, “I suppose ye could be right my darling.” He sighed heavily and looked directly at his daughter, “I’m telling ye now lassie, if I don’t like him, he’s not to come around. Do ye understand?”

Sadie jumped up and threw her arms around her father’s large neck kissing him on the cheek, “Yes Da, I understand, but you won’t have to worry about that.  Scott is really wonderful and both you and Ma will like him, I promise.”

The big man kissed his daughter back and said, “Go get yerself cleaned up lass.  And just remember what I told ye.  That young man has to sit with us before he can go carting off any daughter of mine.”

Sadie kissed him again letting go of his neck and fairly ran from the kitchen for fear her father would change his mind.

Boyd looked at his son who still sat at the table.  He nudged his son with the toe of his boot under the table and brought his son’s attention to himself.  “And what do you have to say to yer sister going on a picnic with the brother of the man ye fought with?”

Milo wasn’t sure what to say, he just hoped that his father didn’t find out anytime soon that the man he fought with was a full head shorter and fifty pounds lighter than him. He simply responded and shrugged his shoulders at the same time; “It’s fine with me Da.  He’s seems nice enough. I’m just glad it’s him and not that other one.”

Milo’s father squinted one eye as he lifted his mug to finish off his beer, “And why is that lad?”

Milo yawned before answering, “Cause that Johnny Lancer has a real bad temper.  Scott though, he seems all right enough.  He’s the one that broke us up, so I guess that’s got to be a good thing.  Don’t ya think?”

“We’ll see lad, we’ll see.  I’m not so sure that I like any of this yet.  Guess I’ll know once I get a chance to talk to the lad meself.”

Milo got up stiffly from the table and said, “I’m goin’ to go get cleaned up and turn in early.”  He rubbed his hand across his stomach and turned to leave but before he could get away from the room his father stopped him at the doorway with a stern voice.

“Milo McIntyre!” Turning around Milo waited for his father to say whatever was on his mind.  “There’ll be no more fightin’ in town.  Understand?”

Milo shrugged and said, “Yeah Da, I understand?  It won’t happen again.” He waited to see if his father had anything else to say, when he didn’t he shuffled his large frame from the kitchen and left his father and mother sitting alone.  He wondered if Johnny Lancer felt as bad as he did at that moment, cause he sure hurt like hell and inwardly hoped the dark haired man did too. ‘Serves him right for being a little punk,’ Milo thought feeling the agitation course through him once again as he remembered each and every punch the smaller man had thrown at him.  

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

Fiona McIntyre punched the dough on the counter and began to knead the bread while humming a soft tune and hoping fervently that tomorrow’s visit went well.  She was anxious to meet this Scott Lancer who had put a smile on her daughter’s face and a skip in her step.  She just hoped that her husband wasn’t too hard on the lad and that he was able to hold his own with the indomitable Boyd McIntyre.

 

Part 14

Scott came in through the front door slapping his dusty hat onto the stand next to the entrance pulling his work gloves off as he entered the great room and headed for the desk where Johnny sat in their father’s big leather chair.  Scott smiled at the sight and was a little surprised that Johnny hadn’t woke up upon his entrance.  He knew he had been loud enough, but the fact that Johnny slept with his head on the ledgers, arms laying off to the sides of his dark head, while his right hand still held a pencil between his fingers, confirmed his suspicions that his little brother was still physically worn out from the skirmish in town two days ago.  He knew Johnny would never have let them know just how bad he felt or how tired he really was and must have felt confident that no one was returning to have let himself fall asleep so deeply while working at Murdoch’s desk.  He stopped at the table just behind the sofa and poured himself a drink, clinking the decanter and the glass just enough to rouse his brother and not startle him. 

Without turning in Johnny’s direction he asked, “So how are you feeling little brother?”  Scott didn’t have to turn and look in Johnny’s direction to know that he was half awake and sitting upright as soon as he had touched the crystal to the glass.

Johnny’s mood hadn’t improved much since yesterday morning.  He was actually worse today than he had been the day of the fight and yesterday.  “Fine,” was his clipped but groggy answer.

Scott turned his head sideways to gauge his brother’s countenance.  ‘Hmm’, he thought, ‘poker face.  Not going to show me a thing.’ “Want one?” he held up his drink.

Johnny thought for half a second then smiled readily, the yellow, blue and purple bruises standing out on his face like a rainbow, “Sure,” he replied.  Johnny got up stiffly and joined his brother at the table as Scott handed him a glass half filled with whiskey. 

Scott took his drink and sat down heavily in the chair by the fireplace, while Johnny took his and sat on the sofa, crossing his legs at the ankles and quietly waited for his brother to speak.

Scott sighed gratefully after taking a couple of drinks relishing the burning feel of the liquor after putting in a long morning and afternoon in the saddle roaming the country side, counting cattle and sweating in the heat of the hot California sun.  After several minutes had passed he finally said, “Well brother, I’ll certainly be glad when this job is over.”

Johnny grinned over at him, “Why? When counting cows is over then you got roundup, branding, and then drivin’.  One’s just as bad as the other or did you forget?”

Scott shook his head in the negative, “No Johnny, I didn’t forget.  For right now I’m just pretending that this is the only job we’ll have to do and there is no roundup, branding or driving a herd of beef across the state.  In my little world all I have to do is sit on my horse all day and count cows.”

Johnny laughed out loud at his brother’s absurd thinking.  “Just cause you’re thinkin’ that way don’t make the other go away.”

“I know, I know, but I can dream can’t I?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  Just hope you don’t wake up from that dream of yours and think you’re livin’ in a nightmare,” Johnny said thoughtfully.

Scott shook his blond head and laughed softly, “You got me there little brother.”

They both sat and drank their drinks in companionable silence.  Scott was the first to break the quiet, “How’s the bookwork going?” 

Johnny looked at him and smiled his hand automatically touching the side of his mouth where his lip was still slightly swollen and bruised, “Fine.  I’m finished.  I told Murdoch earlier I felt well enough to help out with the counts, but he’s not havin’ it.” 

“No little brother I guess he wouldn’t.  Don’t think he’s going to either until Sam says it’s alright.”  Scott watched his little brother’s shoulders sag, knowing that just sitting around the house and doing light chores and endless bookkeeping was the most difficult thing for him to do.  His brother always had to be doing something that required him to be active, especially if it meant he had a chance to be on his horse and riding the countryside.  Scott almost felt sorry for him. He had spent much of his life doing paper work and such when he had gone to school and later while working off and on for his Grandfather before and after the war.

Exasperated Johnny replied, “I hate all this sitting around.  When do you think the Old Man and Sam are gonna let me start back to some real work?  My ribs are a little sore and bruised but I definitely know that they’re not broken.”

Scott thought about this for a moment before answering knowing that he needed to come to his brother’s rescue for the sake of all their peace of minds.  Johnny was not known for his patience when it came to his health and if they weren’t careful and gave him something to look forward to they would find that Johnny would take it upon himself to deem whether or not he was fit to get back in the saddle and be out and about without a word to anyone. 

“Murdoch and I are going into town as soon as he gets home, which by my calculations should be any time.  I’ll talk to Sam and see if he’ll come out and give you a clean bill of health.  In the meantime little brother I wouldn’t push things too hard.  You may feel much better, but even I can see that you’re still tiring out easily and holding your side more than you think.”

Johnny held up his glass in salute to Scott, “Thanks brother. Remind me later that I owe you one.”

Scott grinned and held his glass up in the air, “Don’t thank me yet little brother.  You still have to get Sam to agree that you’re healed enough to get back to work.”

They both drank the rest of their whiskey each hoping for their own reasons that Sam gave Johnny the ok to return to work. Just as they finished their drinks, Murdoch came through the front door calling for his oldest son.

“In here Murdoch,” Scott shouted from his seat.

“Good you’re here.”  He walked up to the table behind the sofa and poured a shot for himself saying, “Jelly’s got the buggy ready, are you ready to leave?”

“Yes Sir.  Just finished my own drink.”

“Good, good.  Johnny how are you feeling?”

Johnny turned around on the sofa, “Fine.  Scott says he’s gonna send Doc back so he can check me out and get me back to work.  Boy I can’t wait to get back on Barranca again.”

Murdoch swallowed his drink down in one gulp eyeing his youngest son, noting the excitement that radiated from him as he spoke about his horse.  Smiling indulgently, he set his glass down on the table and asked without responding to Johnny’s declaration, “Did you get those columns done in the ledgers I left for you to work on?”

Johnny noticed his father didn’t react to the announcement about Doc coming out to the ranch and he was a little disappointed by the fact that his only concern seemed to be whether or not the stupid books had gotten done.  “Yeah, they’re done,” he said quietly. 

“Good.  Scott we’re leaving in five minutes, I’m going to let Teresa know that we’re leaving and see if she needs anything while we’re in town.  Johnny, put the books away and help Jelly in the barn the rest of the day, and Son, stay out of trouble while we’re gone. I don’t want to come back and find that you’ve re-injured yourself, understood?”

Johnny turned back around and studied the glass held in his hands, his body tensed and his sapphire eyes smoldered with red hot anger at the cold tone his father used with him.

Murdoch waited for an answer, when none came he asked, “Johnny did you hear me?”

Johnny took two deep breaths before answering, “Yeah I heard ya Old Man.”  He got up from his seat, setting the glass down heavily on the coffee table and stormed off toward the desk.

Murdoch didn’t know what had come over his son but decided he was best left alone for now and proceeded to the kitchen after giving Scott one last look.

Johnny slammed the books closed and placed them back in the drawer where his father kept them.  As he stood there staring down at the mahogany desktop his hands on his hips, Scott came up to stand beside him laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.  He shrugged off the gesture and walked away leaving his brother standing there alone.  He left the house grabbing his gun belt from the rack and closed the door silently behind him.

Scott wondered why, when everything seemed to be going so well, their father could so quickly revert back to the same thoughtless man he had been only days earlier.  Where had the more caring, thoughtful and loving man gone, who promised to be more sensitive to the way he treated Johnny.  No wonder those two had trouble getting along.  Johnny must feel like his soul was being split in two with all the up and down emotions the man caused him to feel from day to day.  Scott just shook his head in exasperation wondering if it would do any good to say anything to their father.

There were times when he wished that the two of them could at least go one full week without him coming into the middle of things and playing referee.  Looks like this was going to be another one of those times but decided that he would save his lecture for the ride into town.  He wanted to find out what was going through his father’s mind first, hoping to get some answers as to why Murdoch was being so hot and cold where Johnny was concerned.

Scott walked across the floor to the front door, Murdoch and Teresa soon joined him in the foyer, her arm laced through the crook of Murdoch’s arm smiling up at him adoringly and listing off the few items she had forgotten to write down on her supplies list.

Walking out the front door, the three of them stood by the side of the buggy and Scott noticed that Murdoch was looking around as if he had lost something, “What is it Sir? Did you forget something?”

Taking one last final look around Murdoch replied, “Where’s your brother?”

Scott looked at Murdoch as if he just grown two heads and said, “I expect that he’s following your orders.”

Murdoch faced Scott, confusion plainly written on his face, “Orders? What do you mean? I didn’t give him any orders.”

Exasperated Scott raised his hands to mid air and slapped them down on his thighs in pure frustration.

Teresa backed off a step her hands going to her hips, “Scott, I don’t understand what’s going on?  Is there some kind of problem?”

“Problem? No there’s no problem, only that just a few minutes ago, you,” and he pointed right into Murdoch’s face, “didn’t listen to one word Johnny said to you.  You just told him to put the books away and go help Jelly in the barn, and talked to him like a child, telling him to stay out of trouble like some kind of ten year old who needs scolding and can’t be trusted while his father is away.” 

Scott waited for his father to reply and acknowledge his behavior towards Johnny but what he got in reply surprised him after their conversation just two nights ago.

“Scott I did not issue orders to Johnny, I simply told him what I wanted him to do while we were gone.  This is a working ranch son and right now with all there is to do I don’t have time to coddle the boy and I don’t have time for him to go getting himself hurt again before the cattle drive.  So if he took the things I said in the wrong light then that’s too bad.  It still doesn’t change the fact that he needs to be careful and stay out of trouble. I don’t want him getting hurt before the trip, it’s going to be a rough drive and I need every single man on this ranch in top condition and that includes your brother.  So if I’m a little hard on him I want you to know that it’s for Johnny’s own good.”

Scott sighed; he knew that Murdoch was right.  They did need every hand on the ranch for the drive, he just wished that Murdoch would take the time to explain things to Johnny so that his brother didn’t think that their father was some kind of cold hearted sergeant issuing orders to him as if he were merely one of the ranch hands.  It was an issue he thought that Murdoch had come to understand the night that they had come home from town busted and bruised up, but apparently his father was one of those kind of people that had to have constant reminders since he was still fairly new at being a full time parent to two grown men he was still getting to know.

Murdoch’s tone softened as he walked up to stand in front of Scott.  “Son, if it makes you feel better, I’ll have a talk with Johnny later tonight and clear the air.  I didn’t mean for him to take offense to the things that I asked of him and if I seemed uncaring in how I said it then I apologize.  It’s a busy time of the year son and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. So if I seem like I’m preoccupied or uncaring it’s because I have a lot on my mind.  It’s not because you or Johnny have done or said anything wrong.  Do you understand?”  Murdoch clapped his hands onto Scott’s shoulders and gave a little shove and a smile while holding him in a tight grip.

Scott smiled back and said, “Yes Sir. I just hope Johnny does.  I…I don’t recall you getting this wound up on the first cattle drive we went on.”

Murdoch laughed out loud and turned back to Teresa who had stood silently through the entire exchange between Father and Son.  Teresa laughed too and gave Murdoch a hug around the waist and said, “That’s because it was a short cattle drive Scott. You men are taking twice the amount cows this time and much further than before.”

Murdoch chuckled and after giving Teresa a final hug, turned toward the buggy and climbed up onto the seat gathering the reins in his hands.

Scott stood there momentarily in shock at Teresa’s statement.  He remembered vividly the last cattle drive they had taken not long after he and Johnny had arrived.  It had been his first and he had never seen anything like it in his entire life.  He had been living on the ranch for barely three months when Murdoch informed him that they would be going on their first cattle drive within a month.  Johnny and the Vaquero’s had worked diligently preparing Scott for his first drive by teaching him the basics of working with a cow pony, rounding up strays, cutting cows from the herd, branding, and a hundred other jobs that had firmed up Scott’s body and gave him an appreciation for all the hard work that went into running a cattle ranch.

The trip to Modesto driving five hundred head of ornery cows had been an experience that Scott would never forget.  It being his first trip the men had tricked and teased him at every opportunity until Murdoch had eventually put a stop to it. He had been thrown from his horse at least three times that he could remember, caused a minor stampede when he shot at a coyote in the dead of night and nearly drowned when his horse lost his footing in a river crossing.  The thought of herding twice the amount of cows seemed like a daunting task and made Scott shiver at the thought.

He turned to his father and climbed up next to him on the seat.  “You said we took five hundred head if I recall right.  Are you both telling me that we’re to drive a thousand head this time all the way to Stockton?”

Teresa giggled and placed her hand on his thigh, “That’s right.  A thousand head of the orneriest and dumbest cows this side of the San Benito’s Mountains.  But you’ll do fine.  Murdoch and Johnny said you did great on the last one. Didn’t you Murdoch?”

Murdoch leaned past Scott’s shoulder and gave Teresa wink, “That’s right honey.”  Leaning back he laughed softly at the stricken look on Scott’s face, clicking the reins to get the horses moving and headed down the lane under the white arch that graced the entrance to the Lancer ranch.

Teresa waved goodbye as she watched them drive down the lane.  Glancing over at the barn she noticed that Johnny stood outside and watched them also, his stance was stiff and unyielding until his father and brother disappeared from sight.  She watched him walk over to the corral and cross his arms over the top rail his head bending till his forehead rested on them.  Her heart ached for him knowing that Murdoch had once again hurt him in some way by his words and actions.  She knew that Murdoch didn’t mean too, but just like Scott, she wished that Murdoch were more sensitive to Johnny’s needs and emotions in the same manner in which he was aware of Scott’s.  They were so much alike and yet neither one of them knew how to communicate with one another because of that very likeness in their natures.

Shaking her head she walked over to him, making enough noise to make him aware of her presence.  The last thing she wanted was for him to draw on her thinking that someone was sneaking up on him with a gun. Although those fears were unfounded at the moment, she was always cautious.  He lifted his head still staring off into the distance, a single word on his lips as he heard her approach, “Teresa,” he whispered brokenly. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and laid her cheek on his back locking her hands in front of him.

He put his hands over hers and they stood there silently, both lost in thought for several minutes.  With her head still lying on his back she said tenderly, “You know he doesn’t mean to treat you badly Johnny.  He’s just so busy right now and this time of the year always causes him to be a little short with people.”

It seemed that an eternity passed before he whispered back hardly loud enough for her to hear, “I know.”

Taking her head off his back she took his arms in her hands and turned him around to face her.  “Really Johnny?  Do you?” she asked somberly.

He swallowed hard and took a deep breath, shaking his head up down, “Yeah, I do.  Sometimes it’s hard though.”

Teresa nodded her head in agreement as Johnny wrapped his arms around her and brought her up close to his chest.  Their eyes locked and compassionate understanding passed between them.  He pulled her even closer and hugged her to him whispering in her ear as he closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet scent of honeysuckle on her neck, “I won’t give up though.  I have too much to lose right here in my arms.”

Teresa’s heart somersaulted in her chest.  Johnny as much as told her that he had feelings for her and she thought she might just pass out with the pleasure of the moment if he hadn’t been holding her close.  Instead she whispered back into his ear, “I’m glad Johnny.  I don’t want to ever lose you.”  She fingered the hair at the back of his neck, closing her own eyes as she breathed in his scent as well.  She loved the way he smelled of the outdoors, clean, musky, like leather and soap.  She pushed away from him then remembering where they were and that any one of the ranch hands might be close by and could see them.

Smiling up brightly at him she said, “Murdoch says that Doc’s going to come out here today and have a look at you.”

Johnny looked perplexed for a second then asked, “He said that?”

“Yeah, why?” she asked.

Johnny’s eyebrows raised as his hands went to his hips. He lowered his head and considered the tips of his boots, “Just wondered is all. Didn’t think the Old Man heard me earlier.”

Having more of an idea now of what had taken place between father and son she said seriously, “Give him time Johnny.  He can’t change overnight.  He’s still new at this and well…and well, he’s trying.  You just have to be patient.”

“I am,” he said back, but at the doubtful look on her face he repeated more earnestly, “I will.”

At that statement she smiled up at him and the love he saw reflected there when he hit on the right words made him smile also and he gave her another quick hug to let her know that he understood what it was she was looking for.  He made a commitment not only to patience but to his father and to their future as well.

 

Part 15

Murdoch and Scott pulled into Green River having spent most of the trip to town discussing the size and destination of the drive they would be leading in just a few weeks.  Scott hadn’t felt in a long time, since coming to Lancer, like such a greenhorn, but when he had heard the news concerning how many cows they were going to drive and that the drive was going to take days longer than he had originally anticipated he felt his stomach roll at the thought.  He had assumed that they would be driving the same size heard to the same location. Upon hindsight, if there was one thing that he had learned since coming to live at Lancer with his family, it was that things never went the same way twice.  It had been nearly a year since he had come to live at the ranch and today’s revelation made him realize that he still had a lot to learn.

He found out from Murdoch that every year the ranch had a standing contract to deliver a thousand head of beef to Stockton by the end of July, that would then be shipped out by train to many of the larger cities in the east.  The man in charge of seeing to the shipment once the cattle arrived was Maxwell Taylor, a more prominent citizen of Stockton. He owned many of the local businesses, two hotels, one blacksmith shop, and a saloon, which boasted the finest restaurant and entertainment money could buy. He also retained a large share of the contracts through his personal lawyers that dealt with cattle shipments and horse deliveries to army forts throughout the state and across the country. Some of the larger cities like Chicago got their beef through shrewd business dealings with men like Maxwell Taylor, who always kept the local ranchers best interest at heart as well as his own profits pouring in by negotiating tough contracts that benefited not only the rancher but himself as well.  The man stood to make a tidy profit just by getting the Lancer beef from Stockton to Chicago on the train.  He was a fair man and was an old friend of Murdoch’s from the early days when they had both started their ranches with nothing in their pockets but the desire to make a name for themselves in the cattle business.

Pulling up in front of Mr. Hanson’s dry good’s store, Murdoch and Scott got down from the buggy, each with an agenda in mind. Taking out his list of items written down by Teresa he said to Scott, “I think two hours should be enough time, sound good to you?”

Scott nodded his head in approval and said, “Sounds good, want to get a drink when we’re done?”

Murdoch chuckled and slapped his large hand on Scott’s shoulder, “That sounds even better.” They parted company, Murdoch entering Mr. Hanson’s hardware and dry goods store and Scott heading off in the direction of Grace Richards hat shop.

As Murdoch entered the store Will Hanson looked up and greeted him with a smile. “Murdoch Lancer, what brings you into town today, I thought those boy’s of yours stocked up on everything the other day when they were here?”

“Hello Will.  They did but there were a few little things that Teresa and I forgot to put on the list.  Think you could take care of this for me?  I’ve got a few other errands to run and I can stop back by a little later on and pick them up.”  He handed Will the list.

Pushing his spectacles up the bridge of his nose, Mr. Hanson perused the list and nodded his head, “Sure thing Murdoch.  Say how are Johnny and Scott doing?  That fight the other day was something else.  Had the whole town talking for the past couple of days.  We haven’t seen anything that exciting since Tom Rutherford’s bull cut loose down through the middle of town chasing him and anyone else that got in his way. Of course it didn’t help any that Tom was waving that red bandana around swattin’ at flies. Guess he learned his lesson after that though, haven’t even seen him with a red bandana since.”

Murdoch chuckled at the memory, he had been in town that day and it had been exciting but dangerous until several of the local men had managed to corral the mighty beast within the stockyard next to the blacksmith shop.  He remembered Val getting red faced with anger as he chastised Tom over and over for his ‘blamed stupidity’ in waving a red object in front of bull that wasn’t pleased in the first place at being led by a rope down through the middle of town.

“They’re fine Will.  In fact Scott’s in town with me today.  Johnny’s still a little sore so he’s taking it easy for a few days.”

“That’s good to hear Murdoch.  I like Johnny and Scott both.  Good boy’s you got there.  I still can’t believe that Johnny was able to hold his own with that McIntyre lad.  He’s a big one,” Mr. Hanson mused aloud.

Murdoch’s eyes raised a notch, “Oh?” he said.

“Yeah, didn’t the boy’s tell you?  Milo McIntyre must be six-five, two hundred and fifty pounds at least.  Thought for sure Johnny was going to come out on the wrong end of that fight.  Never saw a man fight as hard as your Johnny though when it comes to protecting his brother.”

Murdoch rubbed the side of his nose and tipped his hat back slightly, “You don’t say.”

Nodding Will said, “Yep, that Milo McIntyre walked right up to Johnny and sucker punched him right between the eyes when he turned around to face him. Then he picked Scott up like he didn’t weigh anything at all and threw him through the air like a sack of potatoes right on top of Johnny while the boy was still down on the ground. When Milo yanked Scott up by his shirt and was going to punch him in the face, well, that’s when everything went all crazy.  Johnny got to his feet and yelled at him, while blood poured out of nose and told him nobody hits his brother and gets away with it. Next thing you know Johnny’s plowing into the man and they both went to brawling like there’s no tomorrow.”

Will Hanson turned from Murdoch with the list in his hand and started searching for the items that were requested, “Yep, fine boys Murdoch, fine boys.  That Scott, he’s smart.  Knows when he’s outmatched.  Can’t say the same for Johnny though, but like I said, he held his own.”  The shopkeeper was now in the farthest part of the store behind a table laden with bolts of colorful calicos and gingham, his voice muffled, preventing Murdoch from being able to hear anything else the wiry little man had to say. 

Murdoch cupped a hand to his mouth, “I’ll be back later Will.  Got some other business to tend to.”

Mr. Hanson must have heard him because Murdoch heard the words ‘see ya in a little while’ but no face to go with them.

He left the store heading over to the bank to speak with Terrance Littleton, the owner. 

In the meantime Scott had ventured over to the hat shop.  He stopped just before entering feeling awkward about going into an establishment meant for ladies.  His confidence waning even more he decided to peek in through the window and see if he could tell if there were other patrons in the store.  He leaned in toward the glass and cupped his hands beside his eyes to shield the sun for a better look but it didn’t help.  His hat was getting in the way and the only thing left to do was take it off.

Looking around carefully to make sure no one was watching him he doffed his hat and peered once again into the window this time with his face pressed against the glass his right hand held up to one side of his face while he held his hat up to the other side.

“Scott Lancer, What in the world are you doing boy!” a booming feminine voice shouted directly from behind him causing him to jump and stumble ungracefully into the plate glass window, banging his head in the process.  He knew that voice and he turned several shades of red at having been caught spying into a ladies establishment.

“Land’s sakes alive, every time I see one of you boy’s I catch ya doin’ somethin’ that you ought not to be doin’.”  Mildred Kramer’s voice seemed to get louder with each sentence.

Scott turned to face the formidable older woman smiling sheepishly.  “Oh, Hello Mrs. Kramer, I ah…I ah.”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud, how many times do I have to tell ya, call me Mildred?  And what’s the matter with ya?  Do you want to go in or what? Taint no reason to fear goin’ in there child.  Them women ain’t gonna hurt ya.”  Mildred Kramer’s chest puffed up and when she saw that Scott was tongue-tied she grabbed him by the arm pulling him in the direction of the door. “Come on, I’ll go in with ya so you don’t feel conspicuous.”

Scott cringed at the way she called him child and spoke loud enough in his opinion to wake the dead in the bright light of day.  The older woman had a strong grip on his arm and Scott decided it was best to follow her lead, at least being indoors there would be less of a chance of anyone watching them, ready to make a joke at his expense.

They entered the store and Mildred called out, “Hey Grace, ya got another customer!”

There were two young women standing near the back corner of the store trying on hats.  When they heard Mildred call out they both turned around and spied Scott standing next to Mrs. Kramer, her hand still firmly gripping Scott’s left arm.  When Scott found them staring at him from the corners of their eyes his embarrassment soared to new heights.

 He recognized Robin and Ashley Day from the Double D ranch near Spanish Wells.  They were both blond and blue eyed, the apple of their father’s eye.  Teresa was a friend with both young girls; they had come to the ranch at Teresa’s invite for afternoon tea and lunch whenever she was in the mood to entertain or needed help planning functions to raise money for the orphanage in Morro Coyo.

He also knew from Teresa that both girls had hopes of catching his eye one day in the future so he usually made himself scarce during those times when he knew they were in his home.  They were both pretty but way too young for him to consider any real relationship with.  Robin was a mere fifteen and Ashley had just turned fourteen only a few months ago.  Nearly ten years younger than him and very beautiful, the idea was preposterous because of their age differences.

They giggled softly in the corner and started whispering to one another; occasionally darting mischievous glances in his direction while covering their hushed conversation behind dainty hands raised to shield their words.

Mildred let go of Scott’s arm and stomped over to where the two girls abruptly silenced their conversation upon her arrival at their side, “Now you two girls stop that endless giggling and tell me this very instant where Grace has gone off to.”

Simultaneously both girls leaned, one to the right and the other to the left to peer around the robust older woman to get another look at Scott before answering.

Mildred spread her arms off to her sides and took each girl by the arm and pushed them back together to stand before her, a scowl lining her features at their childish antics.  “I asked you girls a question and I expect an answer pronto, and for Heaven’s sake quit ogling that Lancer boy before I decide to let your mama know what you two have been up to.”

Her booming voice and the threat of having Mrs. Kramer speak to their mother about their behavior was enough to sober them up.  Robin pointed her finger in the air toward the ceiling, “She’s upstairs Mrs. Kramer.  Mama ordered a special hat and she went up there to get it.”

Ashley nodded her head and pointed her finger toward the ceiling in the same fashion as her sister and added, “She said she would be a while because the hat was packed in the mailing parcel and she wanted to get it out and put it in a real fancy hat box so it would look nice and pretty for our mother.”

Robin looked up into Mildred Kramer’s face and smiled her most angelic smile and said, “She said you were to come up and join her if you came back in.”  Turning to her sister she inquired innocently and with gleaming mischief beaming from her eyes, “Didn’t she sister?”

Ashley tilted her head and fingered her chin thoughtfully, “Yes, I do believe she did sister.”  Together they both smiled up at Mildred with the most angelic expressions and masks of pure innocence and charm, hiding the fact that they were working together to get Mildred from the room.

Having raised three boys, Mildred never suspected their behavior was anything less than proper manners and genuine respect for their elder’s.

Mildred gathered up her skirts on the sides and turned toward the staircase that led to the upper floor.  As she climbed the steep steps she called over her shoulder to Scott, “Scott Lancer you stay right there until I get Grace to come downstairs and between the two of us I’m sure we can help you out.”

Scott took a deep sigh and with his hands firmly planted on his hips turned around to face the wall, he hoped with all his might that some how some way he could disappear without having to speak to the two girls left standing alone in the shop with him.

His hopes were dashed as he heard them approach him from behind, each one circling around his side giggling like two little schoolgirls.

Robin was the first to speak, “Why Scott Lancer, if I didn’t know you any better I’d swear you were embarrassed about being in here with all these fine hats and frilly ladies things.  Why don’t you let me help you pick out something nice?”  She walked over to a table near the left corner of the room and picked up a brightly colored silk scarf.  Holding it up to her face she rubbed the silky material along the side of her face, a dreamy look coming to her eyes.

Ashley followed her sister’s example and walked over to the table also and picked up another scarf with tiny flowers embroidered around the edges.  She put the scarf to her nose and inhaled deeply closing her eyes and pretending she might swoon at the imaginary scent, raising her chin she puckered her lips as if waiting for a kiss.

Scott’s eyes narrowed at their teasing, “You two think you’re real funny don’t you?”

Both sets of cornflower eyes opened wide, then they both began to laugh hysterically. “Scott Lancer, you just wait till we tell Teresa about this,” Robin said to him holding her sides to stifle the stitch she was getting there from laughing so hard.

“Laugh all you want girls, but if you tell Teresa one thing about this afternoon, I’ll tell her not to have you out at the ranch anymore,” he said with all seriousness.

Both girls lips pouted as they thought about his threat, “No you won’t, cause if you do we’ll tell Charlotte Banks about it too,” Robin threatened back.

“Yeah, and I might decide to tell Mary Rutherford,” Ashley added with good measure laced in her voice.

“You wouldn’t!” Scott declared.

“We would,” both young ladies said in unison.

Scott had to think hard about these threats. Charlotte and Mary had their sights set on Scott and made no bones about it every time he saw them.  The thing that made matter’s worse was the fact that the mothers of both girls tried to corral him or Murdoch into long conversations after church, hoping to get an invitation to the ranch so that they could show off their daughters and brag about the qualities that each possessed. Some Sundays it would take an hour or more just to get away from either one of them.

A thought suddenly came to him and he said, “I’ll tell you what ladies, if you promise not to tell anyone that I was in here today I’ll take you both out for lunch…”

Both girls jumped up with excitement but calmed down as Scott held out the palms of his hands to quite their squeals of delight, he held his finger to his mouth shushing them, “together, when I get back from the cattle drive,” he finished.

Both girls turned their heads to one another and bright grins spread across their face.  They both nodded their heads in agreement and turned back to Scott, “Is that a promise Scott, honest?” Robin asked barely suppressing her excitement.

Scott looked down at his boots and then back up into their smiling expectant faces, “Honest. We got a deal?”

Robin cast her eyes at her sister for one quick second then back to Scott’s, “Deal!” they both said.

Scott took deep breath and held his hand out to Robin signifying that a handshake was needed to seal the deal.  She placed her tiny hand in his and Scott gave it a good couple of shakes before letting go and took Ashley’s hand in his and did the same.

The deal was made and just in time as far as Scott was concerned when he heard Mildred Kramer and Grace Richards descend the staircase, a large flower covered hatbox with a bright pink bow wrapped around it and tied neatly on the top, carried reverently between Grace’s delicate porcelain hands.

Grace Richards was a very beautiful woman who was old enough to be Scott’s mother yet carried on through life as if she were still sixteen.  Everyone loved her and she had a smile for every person that crossed her path.  Young or old, rich or poor, Grace Richards was a friend to all.  She was a widow, same as Mildred and there had been many times when he had wondered at the unique friendship the two older women had with each other.  One was so loud and at times overbearing while the other was gentle to a fault and laughed at all the things that life brought her way whether it was good or bad.

White hair piled on top of Grace’s head with tiny ringlets adorning each side of her face by her ears.  Her lips were just a shade darker than pink, hinting that help had been given to add color. Of course no one would ever dream of saying so and so no one ever did.  When you were in the presence of Grace, you were in the presence of goodness and so the towns’ people kept their thoughts to themselves.  Grace wasn’t a bible thumper but if you got on her bad side she could quote the bible till the cows came home, and being a rancher Scott knew that was an awful long time.

She smiled wide at Scott showing white even teeth, “Well howdy there Scott, Mildred told me you were down here.  Now you just give me a minute and I’ll take real good care of you.”

Scott smiled back and admired the tiny and curvaceous woman from Tennessee. Her voice was like music, melodious and sweet sounding with a very southern accent. When he had been in the Calvary he had met many a man from Tennessee but he didn’t recall any of their accents sounding as sweet and smooth to him as hers did.

He waited patiently as Grace gave the ornate decorated box to Robin and said her goodbyes to both the girls.

“Now girls, you take real good care of this package and you tell your mama that if she don’t like the hat to come back and see me.”  She put her arms around the shoulders of both girls leading them to the door.  She stepped outside with them and said, “Now yall come back and see me real soon.  Both you women need to order your new hats, so I expect to see you both before the end of the month if you want me to design somethin’ before the fall dance at the Patterson’s place.”  She laughed and hugged each girl with pure affection.

“We will Mrs. Richards.”  They waved as they started to leave but turned back toward the front entrance one last time as Grace disappeared into the shop.  Ashley opened the door and Robin stuck her head in and said, “Bye Mrs. Kramer, bye Scott.”

Mildred Kramer called out goodbye to both girls.  Scott walked the few steps to the door and leaned in closer to Robin and said, “Goodbye Robin, goodbye Ashley, don’t forget what we talked about.”

Ashley said quickly, “Oh we won’t Scott.”

Robin confirmed the same answer with a wide smile, “We won’t.  It’s a promise.”

With that said, Scott closed the door hoping to finally get the task over with that he had come to see Grace Richards about.

Grace walked up to him and slipped her arm through his and asked, “Now Scott Lancer, how are you doin’ and how is that good looking brother and father of yours doin’?  I heard tall tales goin’ around town that you two were in a fight just the other day.  Is that right?”

Looking down sheepishly Scott answered, “Yes ma’am but it’s not what you think.  We didn’t start anything and the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, which is why I’m here today.”

Grace squeezed his arm gently with long tapered fingers saying, “Well go on, you just tell me and ole Millie here what you need and I think that between us we’ll be able to help you out.”  She nodded over in Mildred’s direction her eyes asking her friend for support. 

Scott grinned as Mildred walked over to his left side taking his other arm in a firm grip that mimicked the hold that Grace had on his other arm.  Tilting his head and turning to her he said, “Millie?”

“Yep, that’s what she calls me and I call her Gracie.  Kinda cute don’t you think?” she said laughing at the astonished look on his face.

Smirking, Scott thought it was indeed very cute as Mildred put it.  He just couldn’t picture calling Mildred Kramer, Millie.  Or maybe he could, he rethought as he remembered how easy it had been for Johnny to charm this very loud boisterous woman with a few sweet words and a romantic gesture turning her into a blushing schoolgirl in seconds.

Scott explained that he needed to buy a new hat for Sadie McIntyre since the one she had purchased a few days ago had been run over by a wagon the day he had met her and had tried to rescue it from the street where Johnny had kicked it.

“Oh I remember that hat,” Grace said her rosy lips parting into a wide smile.  “That was one of my best creations if I do say so myself.  You remember the hat I made for that new little gal Sadie, don’t you Millie?”

Mildred Kramer nodded her head, “Oh yes, I remember it quite clearly.  You put some kind of fancy feather on it didn’t you?  Oh heck, what kind was that Gracie?”

As both women mused over the hat that Grace had created, they led Scott to a chair at the back of the room and had him sit down.  While each woman talked, they ventured to various tables and picked up several hats each.  Scott was amused at the choices that each woman brought to him for inspection.  The hats that Mildred chose were very subdued and plain while the hats that Grace chose had color and vibrancy written all over them, each reflecting their differing personalities.

Scott finally chose a dark green creation that sported a wide band around the crown and had a simple yet colorful feather adorning the left side; similar to the one he remembered popping out of the box when he was speaking to Sadie.

“Very good choice Scott.  I would have picked that one myself.  It’ll match her eyes perfectly,” Grace said.

“I like it too Scott.  It’s not too plain and has just enough style to compliment her beauty without steppin’ all over it.”  Mildred held the hat up for inspection one last time nodding her head in approval of his choice.

Grace took the hat from Mildred’s hands and said to Scott, “I’ll be right back, me and Millie here are gonna take this hat upstairs and give it a proper box to rest in and I’ll fix it up so it’s nice and pretty.”

“Yes ma’am,” Scott said.  He waited patiently as both women went upstairs spending his time alone thinking about how surprised Sadie would be when he gave her the new hat in return for the one that he had inadvertently destroyed by accident.

Fifteen minutes later both ladies returned downstairs and presented him with a beautifully decorated box with a fancy emerald green bow adorning the lid. ‘Much better than the plain brown cardboard box Sadie had her original hat in, he thought.

Taking the box and setting it down on a nearby table, Scott pulled out his wallet and said, “It’s beautiful ladies.  Sadie will love it.  How much do I owe you?”

Mildred Kramer’s eyes went wide at the question and she rolled her eyes to the ceiling and clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from spilling Grace’s surprise.

Grace stepped to Mildred’s side and held her big arm in her hands and answered Scott, “I’ll take one smile and a promise that you’ll have me over to the ranch for lunch, providing that your father is there to have lunch with us.”

Scott raised his eyes in surprise at the request and then gave her his biggest, most handsome smile.  “Mrs. Richards, it would be my honor and delight to have you come to the ranch for dinner instead of lunch.  I’ll speak to Murdoch and get back with you on a date.” 

Grace held out her hand to Scott knowing that he realized what her intentions were concerning his father.  Scott took it between his and gave it a gentle squeeze, assuring her that they had a deal and his support.

Picking up the hatbox, he tipped his hat to both ladies, “Ladies.”

They followed him to the door and watched as he walked away admiring his long stride, straight back and firm backside.

Though both ladies were older, they were still young enough to appreciate a handsome man such as Scott Lancer.

Mildred elbowed her friend standing next to her, “You know, that Sadie McIntyre is one lucky lady.  It ain’t everyday that a man goes and buys a woman a new hat even if he does owe her one.”

“Oh Millie, if you don’t stop I’m gonna think you went and got all-soft on me,” Grace said with pure affection for her best friend.

Mildred shook her head, “No sweet heart, I haven’t gone all soft on ya, I just know a good man when I see one.  And that Scott Lancer is a real fine dandy iffen I do say so myself.”

Grace sighed as they watched Scott disappear into the saloon after carefully stowing the hatbox in the Lancer rig.

Mildred turned slightly to look at Grace, “Nice job wrangling yourself into a dinner with Murdoch Lancer.”

Grace smiled big and her giggle sounded like a little girl, “Yeah I thought I did good on that too.  Thanks for helping me come up with it Millie.  I’ve done everything else I can think of to catch that man’s eye and nothing has worked short of trying to hog tie that rancher.”

Mildred snorted, “That man has a one track mind and now that his sons are home he’s even more wrapped up in that ranch of his.  So to my way of thinking there ain’t any harm in helpin’ love along just a bit.  Besides, them boys need a new mama.  All them men have been on their own for way too long if you ask me.”

Grace laughed at that thought, shaking her head she said, “Well I don’t think they need a mama but I do think that Murdoch Lancer needs a good woman and Lord knows I been tryin’ to get him to notice me. He’s about as stubborn as they come.”

“Well he ain’t gonna be able to ignore you once you’re sittin’ at his table and havin’ supper with him,” Mildred said voicing her wisdom on the subject.

They both laughed again, turning back into the shop and closing the door behind them ready to discuss in much further detail the ways in which women went out of their way to try and attract a man.

To Chapters 16 - 20

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