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ZoeyT

 

 

Highland Blood

Deathfic so don't start this series if you don't want to go there.
I don't, of course, own the characters or any rights beyond the pleasure of sharing this story with other Lancer fans .

Fifth in the Guardian Series

It had been a bitterly cold winter as the San Joaquin Valley counted such things and the March night was clear and colder than usual, the sky a rich indigo around the full moon, shading to black on the horizon. Heavy frost sparkled in the moonlight, turning the countryside into a silvery fairyland. The white walls of the hacienda gleamed above the live oaks, its windows dark as were the surrounding buildings. The quiet of a winter night encompassed house and land; that hushed, crystalline silence so different from the warm busyness of summer darkness.

Inside the house, a man came abruptly awake. Startled from deep sleep, he bolted up, legs swinging over the side of the bed, his body alert and ready even before the cobwebs had cleared from his mind. Sleep-fuddled or not, the movements of his lean, muscular body were fluid and silent.

He listened intently, eyes sweeping the room, trying to determine what had awakened him. Soft light spilled through the windows, splashing in bright pools across the polished floor. All was quiet. Had he been dreaming? Had one of the children called?

The question had no more than formed when he knew that what had disturbed him was a sharp sound . . . sounds . . . like . . . a door slamming? . . . something breaking? But he could detect no sound; not even a rustle of movement. A glance told him that his wife, still slept soundly, exhausted by more than a week of fretting over a croupy, cranky children on top of recovering from the birth of their fourth child two weeks earlier.

For that matter, everyone at Lancer was exhausted. The unusually cold weather had spawned in a rash of colds and more than a few serious illnesses; nearly everyone on the estancia had been sick at some point in the past few months. Two elderly pensioners and one baby had died despite everything Dr. Jenkins could do. The losses were keenly felt in the tight-knit community. All of the Lancer children except the new baby were recovering from severe colds and Murdoch was still confined to the house. The feisty Scot's indignation when informed that he wasn't a young man and the cold could easily develop into pneumonia if he didn't heed his physician's orders was priceless. Nonetheless, Murdoch had restricted his activities; mostly because his son pointed out that the Patron's relapse – or worse – would place a further burden on already overworked people. It would also, Scott pointed out playing his ace-in-the-hole, worry Margaret nearly to death. That had done it. Not for hope of Heaven or fear of Hell would Murdoch Lancer do anything to distress his daughter-in-law.

Ignoring the cold floor beneath his bare feet, the now-alert man padded over to the cradle set along inside wall near the glowing embers of the fire. The closest possible source of a sound would be little Anson. There was enough light to easily find his way around, but not enough to really see into the cradle. Rubbing his hand briskly together, Scot Lancer gently touched the tiny cheek. Warm, but no fever. The baby was well covered and sleeping soundly. Not Anson then.

He next moved to one of the windows, taking position slightly to one side of the opening where he would not be silhouetted by the moonlight. He scanned the brightly lit landscape, searched the sharply defined shadows. Nothing moved. Not so much as a distant howl from the mountains disturbed the silence. He moved across to peer from the windows on the adjacent wall. Nothing.

Even as his mind absently registered the fact that it was a lovely night, he was turning back, scanning the room again. Still quiet.

Uneasiness swirled around him as cold and tangible as a deep river current. Something was wrong. Something had roused him. The long spate of frigid weather and being shorthanded because of various illnesses meant everyone was working long days, often in wet and bone-chilling conditions. By the end of each seemingly endless day of hard labor, dealing with a myriad of problems, and worrying about his family, Scott was past exhausted; drained, enervated, frazzled, dead-dog tired - yet he had awakened as suddenly and thoroughly as though someone had smacked the bedside table with an open palm. From experience, first in war and later honed in this often deadly land, Scott Lancer knew better than to ignore his instincts.

Thankful for the moonlight, he moved silently to retrieve pants and shirt from a chair. He slipped a pair of socks over his freezing feet, deciding to forgo boots in favor of silence. He briefly considered the gun he kept in the top drawer of the highboy, but decided against it. The former cavalry officer's mind was churning as he considered possibilities and options but it was highly unlikely that there was an intruder and extremely likely that one of the children – or Murdoch – was out of bed. Just thinking of the gun evoked the memory of a sardonic smile and a soft drawl dryly observing, “Gun hangin' in the entry hall doesn't do you much good in the middle of the night, Boston.” The blonde's eyes had followed the agile fingers as they spun the cylinder and snapped it home. He remembered so clearly that tilted head, sidelong glance, and cheeky grin. “Empty gun's not much use either.” Not the time, Scott. He shook his head, putting the memory aside.

Okay, something is wrong, but what . . . and where? Think, Scott. You heard something . . . a thump or . . . something. The baby is fine; check on the others. Maybe it was Murdoch or Yesenia . . . good God, what if one of the boys fell down the stairs?

He moved silently into the sitting room and private study . . . only to utter a stifled yelp, hopping backward on one foot to the bedroom door. Moving more carefully now, he avoided whatever had assaulted his unprotected foot, making it to the desk where he lit the lamp by touch and turned to survey the room.

When they went to bed, everything had been in order. Now the contract he and Murdoch had been discussing was scattered all over the floor and the paperweight securing it (a first-sized chunk of quartz the boys had found and presented to him) rested only a few feet from the bedroom door where he had stepped on it. A few feet away, lay The Prince and the Pauper which Scott had been reading aloud and had left on the table beside his chair. Mark Twain's latest tale now lay haphazardly on the floor as though it had been hurled against the inner door. Everything else was just as they had left it; books neatly lining the shelves, Margaret's knitting and empty teacup on the table beside her chair, decanters and glasses on the sideboard.

Dismissing the mystery for the moment, Scott slipped into the hallway. On the opposite end of the hall, a low-trimmed nightlight dispelled the shadows. Nothing was out of order and quiet reigned over the house but his internal tocsin was insistent so he moved on.

In the first room, five-year-old Joshua was sprawled across the bed on his stomach, the tangled covers more off the child than on. Smiling despite the persistent feeling of something amiss, the father set the lamp aside long enough to straighten the bedding and tuck it gently around the sleeping boy. Josh stirred, snuggling deeper into the restored warmth, but did not waken. Scott thought he could detect lingering congestion in his son's breathing but not enough to cause concern.

Further down the hallway, he eased open the door to his eldest son's room. At first, Scott could make out nothing more than an amorphous heap of colorful quilts in the bed, but closer inspection revealed a patch of tousled blonde hair barely visible between the pillow and the quilts. Kneeling beside the bed, he could just make out the soft, regular breaths emanating from the pile of bedding. Nothing wrong with Garrett.

Murdoch's room was next. Scott didn't even open the door; he could hear his father's snores through the solid oak panel.

Across the hall was the door to the playroom. Moonlight streaming through a wall of large windows allowed him to navigate safely around the room's furnishings – full size and miniature – and a large rocking horse with a real mane and tail. As he crossed the room, the young man sent up silent thanks for Yesenia who saw to it that the toys and books were neatly stored on the shelves at the end of each day. No potential for further injury.

Directly opposite the playroom, across a back hall, two-year-old Catherine Elizabeth should be sleeping. For the past week, the sick toddler had kept the household in a ferment, battling her cough and fever and striving to comfort the fretful little girl.

Scott lifted the latch as gently as possible and swung the door open. The last thing he wanted was to wake the baby. Margaret would probably shoot him. The cascade of lunar radiance made it easy to see the still form in the small bed Murdoch had made the previous summer. Across the room, a dark rectangle told Scott that the connecting door to the nanny's room stood open. Ordinarily, if Beth had made a sound, Yesenia would have heard her and come running.

Standing in the doorway, the uneasy man had a brief, sharp argument with himself. Nothing appeared to be wrong. Beth was asleep; her nanny was asleep, as exhausted as the child's mother by her illness. The house was quiet. If he touched Beth and the little one woke, she might very well start crying and, in addition to Scott's reluctance to cause his daughter distress, was the recurring thought – Margaret will shoot you.

Having decided that, since he was up and the feeling of wrongness had not abated, he would check the rest of the house, Scott was pulling the door shut when a flicker of movement caught his eye.

Instantly, he swung the door fully open, eyes searching the patterns of light and shadow. There, highlighted against the windows beyond, was a shadow . . . it moved closer to the baby's bed . . . He must have made a noise that awaked the nanny. Scott took a step into the room, raising the lamp. “It's just me, Yesenia . . .”

Faster than the mental wisps could coalesce into coherent thought, they were overtaken by the icy awareness that the silhouette was not the flowing outline of a woman's nightdress but a man. There was a man standing next to his baby's bed!

Every sense screaming, Scott lunged into the room, adrenaline-fueled muscles braced to assault the intruder . . . and he . . . it . . . was gone. In the time it took to move those few yards, the nebulous form simply vanished. The angry, frustrated, and thoroughly confused father found himself at the foot of the bed, clutching a lamp, breathing hard, and confronting . . . nothing.

Turning in a slow circle, he peered into every corner of the room. Nothing . . . no intruder, no family member, no sound . . . nothing. But the adrenaline was still surging and the persistent feeling of wrongness vibrated through mind and body. Was it just a shadow; a trick of the moonlight? No . . . yes . . . maybe . . . Scott, be logical , he murmured. There's no one here. The young rancher shook his head in frustration. There was something wrong. He could feel it like a frigid draft around him.

He moved to the bedside and knelt to gaze down at his sleeping daughter, needing to assure himself that the little one was unharmed. The child stirred slightly and a muffled cough chuffed past the thumb firmly planted in the little mouth.

Scott smiled and, unable to resist, reached down with feather-light fingertips to brush dark curls away from the little girl's forehead.

In the next instant, he had the baby in his arms, hand pressed more firmly to the tiny face. “Yesenia! Margaret!” His panicked shouts roused the child in his arms, the small body squirming, whimpers wheezing into a raspy cough.

The soft patter of bare feet heralded the arrival of the nanny. “Señor Scott, qué pasa?”

“She's burning up, Yesenia ! “Here, take her!” the young woman was already reaching for the child as Scott thrust the baby into her arms. He skidded out into the hall, scrambling when socked feet failed to find traction. Just short of the master bedroom, he nearly collided with his wife as she rushed out.

“Scott, what's going on? What's . . . ? The words cut off abruptly as Scott grasped his wife's shoulders, gently shifting her out of his way. “Beth is worse! I'm going for the doctor!” he was gone with the words.

“What? But . . .” Margaret hurried down the hall, avoiding another near-collision, this time with her father-in-law as he charged out the playroom door. Strong hands steadied her.

“What's wrong?”

“Scott says Beth is sick again. He's gone for the doctor.” Even as she spoke, the young woman entered the room, Murdoch following close behind. The sight of her coughing, fussing, fever-flushed daughter sent her scurrying. A moment later, concern turned to alarm when the anxious mother made contact with the too-warm child.

“I will get the croup kettle.” Yesenia said hurrying back to her own room for robe and slippers.

Very large, very gentle hands enfolded mother and child. Margaret found herself in the rocking chair made by Murdoch himself when he first learned he was to be a grandfather. The rancher handed her the blanket made by Margaret's own mother and watched her wrap the little girl snuggly. “Try not to worry, my dear. Let's try to get her cooled down .” He poured water from a delicately painted porcelain pitcher into a matching basin and picked up a cloth.

Softly singing, as much to give herself courage as to comfort Beth, Margaret held the baby close and prayed; for her critically ill child and for her husband riding hell-bent through the night.

~ L  ~ L  ~ L  ~ L  ~

Dr. Samuel Jenkins straightened, hand going to the small of his back in an effort to soothe aging muscles and joints, aching from bending over his small patient.

Close behind him, the anxious parents hovered, Margaret sheltered in her husband's arms. The rhythmic motion of the chair by the window paused as the child's grandfather turned a hopeful look toward the doctor. Yesenia bent to add a few more wood chips to the pot that kept a kettle of eucalyptus and camphor sending its pungent steam over the crib's sleeping occupant.

“She'll be alright now,” the doctor declared. The fever has dropped and she's breathing more easily. Just keep her warm and keep up the treatment for the next few days. I'll stop by again in a day or two, but I expect to find her bouncing around, driving everyone crazy.” His smile was both tired and satisfied. This was one of the good times . . . the times when being a doctor was rewarding . . . when he battled death and won.

Murdoch said nothing, but lowered his head and closed his eyes in silent thanksgiving. Margaret buried her head in Scott's chest, sobbing with relief. The young rancher shifted his wife to one arm, reaching out to offer the doctor his hand. “Thank you.”

The medical man nodded, meeting the father's eyes as he clasped the offered hand. “Believe, me, Scott, it's my pleasure.”

“Lancer is in your debt again, Sam.”

The doctor turned to acknowledge the Lancer patriarch, who had risen and moved silently to the little bed to examine his granddaughter. “I'm just glad I got here in time, Murdoch. It's a good thing you were keeping a close eye on her. I would have sworn she was past the worst, but things like this have a way of sneaking back, especially with children. Fevers can rise very quickly.” His deep sigh revealed both exhaustion and immense relief. “I'm glad I got here in time,” he repeated.

Margaret's quiet sobbing had subsided and she pulled away to look up at her husband. “We would never have known she was sick again if Scott hadn't checked on her. My baby . . .”

Scott hugged her close again. “You and Yesenia are both exhausted, Love. I did check on her and Sam's here and everything will be alright.” Over his wife's head, Scott met his father's eyes with an expression that gave the older man a start. Clearly, there was something Scott wanted to say, but not in front of the others.

Taking his cue from his son, Murdoch placed a comforting hand on his daughter-in-laws's back. “Scott's right, my dear. Everything is going to be fine. Yesenia can stay with Beth and you need to get some rest. To bed, young lady, and no arguments. I'll look after Garrett and Josh this morning.”

But Margaret was pulling away from her husband, attempting to brush past her father-in-law. “No . . . I have to be with her.”

Gently, Murdoch returned Margaret to Scott's supporting arms. “What you need is to rest. Yesenia will take good care of Beth and I'm not so feeble I can't get the boys dressed and feed them and keep them entertained for a few hours.” An inclination of the head directed Scott to see to his wife.

With an answering nod, the younger Lancer steered the distraught mother out of the room.

Murdoch glanced out the window at the brightening day before turning back to the doctor. “Sam, we both need some breakfast and you need some sleep. Why don't we go down and take advantage of the quiet before the storm? I'm quite sure Maria has breakfast ready.”

The doctor smiled wearily as he gathered up his equipment. “That's the best offer I've had since Scott pounded on my door.” The physician paused to give his old friend a stern look. “I don't suppose, I should suggest that you need more rest as well?”

“I will rest later. I promise. Needs must, Sam and my family needs me. Now let's go get that breakfast. I'm starving.”

Before following his friend and family physician, Murdoch turned back to the young woman now ensconced in the rocking chair, her attention firmly fixed on her charge. “Thank you, too, Yesenia. I'll have some breakfast sent up for you. If either of the boys wakes, call me. I want you to get some rest too. I'll ask Maria to see if one of the other women can come and help.”

Yesenia shook her head. “Gracias, Patron, but I will stay with mi corderita .”

Murdoch fixed the nanny with his best ‘Patron' stare. “That was an order, young woman. Scott was right; you and Margaret are both worn out. One of the other women can watch Beth for a few hours. ¿Entiendes?”

Rocking gently, the woman returned her employer's smile. “Si, Patron.”

~ L  ~ L  ~ L  ~ L  ~

“What's bothering you, son?” Murdoch's voice was soft and husky; almost hesitant to intrude on the younger man's reverie.

Scott's head lifted from his intent study of the crackling fire, to look sidelong at his father before shifting his eyes to the coffee cup in his hands. He opened his mouth and closed it again, clearing his throat nervously.

Perplexed and vaguely uneasy about Scott's uncharacteristic behavior, Murdoch waited patiently, fingering his own cup of coffee.

Dr. Jenkins was asleep, as were Margaret and Yesenia. Señora Vasquez was watching Beth – and keeping an eye on the Señora and Anson – while her 13-year-old daughter, Julieta, was keeping Josh entertained and reasonably quiet in the playroom. Garrett was at the Lancer schoolhouse. Cipriano had assigned the day's work and the men had scattered to their labors. Jelly had departed for town with one of the hands to pick up badly needed supplies and mail. Over the past few years, they had succeeded in gradually shifting the heavier work to younger men but Jelly still put in a full day. An attempt to retire the irascible jack-of-all-trades a few years earlier had met with blustering outrage followed by several days of offended silence. The old man had been seriously ill just a month earlier but had insisted on making the trip to town. Rather than risk his ire, Murdoch had given in. Jelly's only concession to Maria's fussing had been wrapping up in a thick wool blanket in addition to a heavy coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.

At the moment, father and son were alone and Murdoch had not forgotten that peculiar look Scott had given him over Margaret's head earlier in the day. Fear? Confusion? Anger? Whatever it was, Scott needed to talk about it and clearly that was proving difficult – which made the rancher increasingly concerned as he watched his son grope for the words that usually came so easily to the educated young man.

Scott was still looking at his cup and, when he finally spoke, Murdoch had to strain to hear the voice. “Last night . . . I didn't just happen to check on Beth. I was sleeping like the dead and . . .” The blonde abruptly stopped speaking and turned back to the fire.

Murdoch waited in perfect stillness for his normally self-assured son to gather himself.

“Last night . . .” The voice trailed off and Scott took a sip of coffee. Okay, Lancer, here we go. The voice was still low but firm, the words tumbling out as though they had to escape before something blocked the flow. “Last night, I was sound asleep and . . . I heard noises . . . thumps . . . bangs . . . That was what woke me. And, when I went into the sitting room, someone had knocked the paperweight off my desk and scattered the contracts on the floor. The paperweight and the book I was reading last night were on the floor right outside the bedroom door.” He turned to face his father, still sitting quietly in his favorite chair beside the fire. “It appears that what woke me was the rock and the book hitting the door.”

Murdoch flinched at the distress in the young face. The older man considered a moment before responding. “Was anything else disturbed? Was anything missing?”

“No,” came the clipped reply.

The big rancher sighed heavily, pushing aside his own uneasiness. “Scott, it doesn't matter what woke you. It could have been a dream. Maybe a dog barked. What's important is that you did wake up and you did check on Beth and she's going to be fine.”

Scott was shaking his head before his father finished speaking. Refusing to look into the older man's eyes, Scott pressed on. “You may be right, sir. But that doesn't explain the sitting room. And then in the nursery . . . I didn't touch her at first. She was obviously asleep and I was afraid of waking her.” An almost imperceptible smile touched his lips. “I remember thinking that, if I woke her and she started to cry, Margaret would shoot me.”

There was a pause while the young rancher took a fortifying breath before plunging on. “I was heading out . . . I was already closing the door . . . I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and I went back in. There was someone in that room, Murdoch! The young voice slowed to a determined cadence as though each word was being forced out. “There . . . . was . . . a . . . man . . . in the room; right beside Beth's bed.”

Murdoch rocked back and Scott rose abruptly from the ottoman to pace a few steps. “A man? There was someone in the house? Why didn't you say something last night?”

Looking directly at his father, Scott replied. “Because there couldn't have been anyone there. In the time it took me to swing the door open and take three steps into the room, he . . . it . . . whatever I saw . . . was gone.”

Murdoch relaxed at this information. “Scott, you were half-awake and already off-balance because of everything that's been going on; Margaret giving birth, Anson's not sleeping through the night yet, the children being sick, the hard winter, being shorthanded . . . You're worn out physically and emotionally. It was a shadow – a trick of the moonlight.”

Scott was perfectly still. “And the book and the rock?”

The silence stretched out as Murdoch pondered his answer. When he spoke, his voice was flat; noncommittal. “I don't know, son.” Another long silence ensued and the older man sensed that there was something more. Finally he decided to just take the bull by the horns. “What else happened?”

The blonde refused to meet his father's eyes. Murdoch saw the deep breath lift the squared shoulders. “Nothing else happened but . . . I was so frightened at the moment – panicked for Beth – that it didn't consciously register. Then, later, I started to think . . . that shadow . . . that . . . silhouette . . . his stance . . . It was there all the time in the back of my mind. For that one instant I thought he had come back.”

The big rancher drew in a startled breath as the realization of what his son was saying slammed into him like a runaway team. Rising, the elder Lancer made his way to the big window and stood gazing out, mind and emotions churning. Could it really be? Do I believe that or do I want to believe? Does it matter? Warm as a down blanket came the memory of how real Catherine's presence at the wedding had been. Other events crowded forward, demanding acknowledgement; events from his childhood; a summer night in the garden when he knew – knew absolutely – that he heard the jingle of spurs along the portico. How else can a man define faith but believing in a power he can't see because of what he can see . . . or hear . . . or feel, if only in his heart? Isn't what we know in our hearts more important than what we ‘know' through our mortal senses?

When he retraced his steps to stand behind the silent young man staring blindly at the fire, the Scot was certain of what he needed to say if not how to say it. This was a heritage to be passed from generation to generation like Lancer itself. Lancer. The son of a hundred generations of Celts wondered how his staunchly analytical son was going to accept the notion that Lancer the land and Lancer the family were intertwined; inseparable; each nurturing and drawing strength from the other. The bonds between the land and the family – and between members of a family – were at once intangible and as solid as An Lia Fàil . Those bonds raised power; a power that transcended generations and . . . sometimes . . . the veil between worlds. Murdoch's dogged persistence through all the years of fruitless search for Johnny, had been nourished by that power; by the certain knowledge that his son was alive somewhere.

Murdoch Lancer understood; it was bred into his very bones. But Scott? He didn't grow up in the Highlands. He feels it – I know he does - but he doesn't understand. He'll think his old man has taken leave of his senses. But Scott Garrett Lancer was a Lancer and the words needed to be spoken.

“Son, I have lived long enough to conclude that there are a great many things in this world we have to take on faith . . . and that there is very little that is impossible. Who's to say that our spirits can't reach out to those we love? And maybe some of us are more . . . attuned to such things.”

The younger man's head came up and bewildered blue eyes fixed on his father.

Murdoch went on. “You're a Lancer, Scott; the son and grandson and many-times great-grandson of a land steeped in tradition and lore; of a people with magic in their blood.” The older man did not move, but his gaze slipped from Scott to fix on the fire – and the past. “Gran – my father's mother – always insisted that her Graeme, my grandfather, was watching over us. One evening when I was about ten, we were sitting by the fire and she suddenly looked up from her sewing and announced that something had happened to Caelon; he was badly hurt. Caelon was my father's youngest brother; he lived in another town about twenty miles away. Two days later we received word that a tree he was felling came down on Caelon. He had several broken bones and would take a long time to heal, but he was alive. I asked my mother about it and she told me . . .” He smiled. “I can hear her voice; She sees, bairn. Tis a gift, an' na' ta be spoken of nor questioned, d'ya hear?

Murdoch's whispered words hung for an interminable moment between the men. They seemed to drift across the short space like a puff of smoke to settle into the tumult of Scott's mind; seeping into his unconscious; weaving their way into his being. On some level, understanding came, working its way upward into awareness to come smack up against Harvard-honed logic.

Abruptly, Scott swung around, turning his back on his father and all the implications of what had just been said . . . and not said.

“No!” Scott's hands planted themselves on the mantle, gripping it as though it was the only thing holding him to reality. “Murdoch, I mean no disrespect to you or my ancestors, but I don't . . . I can't believe in magic and ‘seeing' or mystical links between human beings. It goes against all common sense. This is 1883, for Heaven's sake!” The young man relaxed slightly, but did not relinquish, his grip on the mantle. Staring up at the Lancer L ', he continued succinctly. “It was a dream. And a shadow in the moonlight. Margaret said it was a gift from God. That, I can accept. The things in the floor . . . who knows? Maybe I sleepwalk. Maybe I knocked those things off myself.”

The grey-blue eyes once again focused on the man who was – in this singular instant – his hard-headed, pragmatic father and a total stranger nattering on about ghosts and soothsayers and superstitions reaching back beyond the Roman Empire to the dark gods of the ancient past. “After the war and . . . Libby . . . I was fairly certain there is no God. Being here changed that. You, Johnny, Teresa, Margaret, the children . . . there is a God and He smiled on me that day on a dusty back road.” Scott turned back to the L . “He smiled on us again last night,” he finished quietly.

Murdoch moved to stand behind his first-born. He reached to grasp Scott's shoulders, then thought better of it; shoved his hands into his pockets. “Son, I'm not . . .” After a moment, the father tried again. “There are things we have to take on faith. And that includes faith in ourselves and in those we love. Whether it was a shadow or . . . you sleepwalking or . . . something else . . . have faith in yourself.”

A slow smile spread across Murdoch's face and he did reach out to grasp Scott's shoulder. “Maybe it's something that happens when we get older, but I find it comforting to believe that someone - whether you call it guardian angels or fair folk or . . . loving spirits – is watching over us. If I can believe in angels, saints, and sidhe – and I most certainly do – a ‘mystical link' between brothers doesn't even need consideration.”

Slowly, Scott turned to look at his father. The only name Murdoch could put to the look on his son's face was wonder. “You believe it was him, don't you?” The young man's voice was little more than a whisper. “You believe that somehow . . .”

With one more squeeze to Scott's arms, Murdoch turned away, heading for his desk. “What I believe, son, is that we have a ranch to run and a family to look after and I'll accept all the help I can get.”

Seating himself in the big chair, the rancher turned a stern look – made less convincing by his twitching lips - on his befuddled son as he picked up his pen. “You, young man, were up half the night, worried out of your mind about Beth – and Margaret for that matter. And you've been driving yourself past exhaustion for weeks trying to keep this place running. Everything is well in hand. Go, check on your daughter; get a few hours of sleep. Be with your wife. That's an order.”

A smile finally inched its way across Scott's drawn face. “Yes, sir. And might I suggest you follow your own advice?”

Murdoch didn't look up from the ledger he was perusing. “I will; promise. I just want to get some idea of how far behind I am. Half-an-hour.”

Scott started away, then stopped without turning back. “Thank you.” With that, the son of Lancer headed for the stairs and his bed.

 

 

~ end ~

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