Word Count 12,944
Thanks to Cat for the beta
The pain in his back was relentless. Razor-sharp agony sliced through his body, showing no mercy, and became worse as the bullet that lodged there pressed against nerves. No individual assaults coinciding with the beat of his heart; now, it was constant, debilitating.
And he drank to dull the pain. Light from the fire danced through the crystal glass he held and reflected tiny bright flashes on his hand. They went unnoticed; soon, the glass was empty as he stared into the flames. On most nights, those flames brought comfort, solace, but their flicker in the dark failed to wrap him in their familiar warmth. And on this night, he felt the fires of Hell burning into his soul.
The hell of his failures and past mistakes. The loss of his wives and lost time with his sons. All because of his mistakes, and now he was afraid. But he desperately needed help. And he knew he had no choice. Face up to the past; perhaps it would lead to a future. He had to do this.
Murdoch Lancer picked up the pen and began to scratch his words on the paper, authorizing the Pinkerton agents to make the offer.
Days and nights ran together in an endless stream of social engagements and shallow relationships. Enough drinking kept the mind numb from remembering and kept the heart and soul protected, shielding him in a mindless existence where he hoped to blind himself from his nightmares.
Frivolous relationships based on conquest rather than trust and love flowed with white-water speed, night after night. The Harvard-educated Bostonian sought out the hedonistic life to cover his futile wandering as he floundered in indecision. Was this the life he wanted for the rest of his days, meetings held in lavishly appointed offices, viciously seeking the property of others, property those others had sacrificed and bled for? Did he find greed fulfilling? Did he find the cutthroat business deals satisfying?
Savage business by day, wanton lust by night.
He didn’t want to die a cold, old man like his Grandfather. What good would his inheritance provide him if there was no one to share in his life? Share in everything… But he chose to occupy his free hours in the establishments where his money could buy anything he wanted, but he would never find anyone close to acceptable there. Money, power, prestige. That’s all that counted to most people. But Scott Garrett Lancer needed more. There had to be more for him on this Earth. But how would he find it?
In truth, he found himself caught in a living Hell, an empty, ruthless void with no way out.
The iron door slammed shut, the reverberation deafening in the still of the night. The keys rattled in the lock, signaling that escape was impossible and the end would come soon. He lay on the hard, cold floor, not daring to move, and listened to the guard’s evil laughs fade away down the long corridor, leaving him once more alone and miserable. Alone until the rats began the nightly visits as they sniffed out whatever crumb of food they could scavenge, sometimes taking a bite from the bare and bloodied flesh of the living.
The bruising was deep, and he wondered if there were broken ribs this time. That felt the case as his gasp hitched in his throat when he tried to control his harsh breathing. He lay unmoving and felt a warm, furry body crawl across his outstretched arm. A nip at his fingers triggered his reflexes; he grabbed the uninvited guest and threw it against the wall, eliciting a squeal that suddenly went quiet. He gasped as the pain flared anew from the movement. He waited for the explosion in his brain to settle and forced his heart to slow the hammer against the beaten and bruised ribs.
How many times in the last two weeks did this happen? The guards would wake him in the middle of the night and take him into that small room, the small room where they tied him to a chair or chained him to the wall and beat him, sometimes until he passed out. Then they would laugh as they threw a bucket of cold water over him, revived him, and started punching again.
He held out as long as he could, and he would smile. God only knew how he did it, but it served him well and irritated the guards. He let them know they could not break him, even though they tried their damnedest. And they beat him more.
He knew he would die anyway, so why not piss off the guards while he could. The Rurales were mean bastards, and Johnny Madrid wasn’t going to let any opportunity slip away. He was going to wear that infuriating, insolent, contemptuous smile as he looked his murderers in the eye when the bullets ripped his body to shreds and still be smiling when he got to Hell.
He’d sent the wires, the explicit instructions for the Pinkerton agents to issue his sons. And now, Murdoch could only wonder. Would they come? Would they come for one hour and the bribe of one thousand dollars? Or would they tell him to go to Hell? Were they angry at their father and not bother with a reply or would they come and face him? After more than twenty years with no contact, there had to be anger and questions, and he hoped they would give him a chance. He hadn’t done anything wrong… had he?
The early years after Catherine died were lean and lonely. When Harlan Garrett took Scott back to Boston, literally kidnapped him, Murdoch justified his actions. Harlan offered Scott what Murdoch himself could not. But Garrett’s threat to drag little Scott through the courts convinced him to leave the boy in Boston with his grandfather. Murdoch couldn’t, wouldn’t subject his firstborn to that. Did he do right by Scott?
And what about Johnny, taken in the middle of the night away from his home and the loving arms of his father? Stolen from his bed, out into the cold, away from his birthright, his father, and a stable environment in which to grow into manhood. The Pinkertons sent reports to Murdoch, and he read them, then afterward wished he hadn’t. The picture they painted was that of a bloodthirsty, cold, and hardened killer. Murdoch shuddered. Was there anything left of the precious little blue-eyed whirlwind, or was he gone forever?
“Am I that bad of a person to have both wives and sons taken away, to live out the rest of my days alone? Please, God, please let my boys come home…” he murmured into the dark. “Please give me a chance! Let them come home!”
He could only hope, and he was scared. Scared if they didn’t come and scared if they did. What would be his first words to them? Would they listen?
The warm bed beckoned him, and he couldn’t help but laugh. “The empty bed is the one that calls to me! That’s ironic, Scotty-Boy, isn’t it? The empty bed with no trap laid to snare the eligible Garrett bachelor! Ha!” Scott snorted, disgusted with himself, his thoughts, and his life. “There has to be something more, something… meaningful!” But his room could offer no answer. He was bored with his life; the shallow existence created out of greed. In truth, he had no desire to take over Garrett Enterprises and please his Grandfather. Destroying weaker men and taking everything they worked for was not what he wanted; there would be no pleasure in shredding a man to nothing. He knew that much, but beyond that, his life was a blank page. He felt empty, hollow. A shell.
Perhaps he should reenlist in the Army. The war was over now, but it was something to look into, especially if he could retain the rank of lieutenant. Yes! I’ll need to check into… “Oh, my God! Barbara! I’m to be at Barbara’s in twenty minutes!”
Scott’s enthusiasm for the Cavalry vanished as he raced to get ready… for another night with the lovely Barbara, even though he knew he was the object for her secure future. He would have to find a way out of her clutches somehow. But in the meantime, he would enjoy her irresistible charms.
It was relief that flooded through his veins as he jumped to the ground from the balcony of the lovely Barbara’s boudoir. He escaped the razor-sharp jaws of the trap laid ready to capture his body, his place in society, and his money. Though an exciting ending to the evening, it was nothing compared to the liberation he felt now that it was over. The whistle issued from the lips that just moments ago were pressed against that soft and sweet painted mouth now trilled a jaunty tune, attesting to the fact that his freedom was paramount.
Scott took a deep breath and sighed, and didn’t notice the man’s close proximity until too late. Startled, he recovered quickly.
“You’re Scott Lancer?” the man asked.
“And if I am…?”
“The son of Murdoch Lancer?”
Sparks set ablaze in Scott’s brain at the mention of that name… “So I’m told. I’ve never met the man.” It had to be a mistake, Scott thought. Why would that name come out of the blue?
“Lawby’s the name, Pinkerton Office,” the man briefly introduced himself. “ We find people.”
Did he want to hear any more? A well chosen sarcastic answer was in order, and Scott delivered. “Well, I haven’t lost any,” he said with intentions of ending the encounter. “So, as much as I’ve enjoyed our little conversation…” and Scott attempted to walk past.
The man was not to be put off. “Your father wants to see you, and he’s willing to pay for it. All expenses to California and one thousand dollars for one hour of your time.”
He expected his heart to be pounding this night, wrapped in sweaty lust, but instead, Scott Garrett Lancer’s heart slammed against his ribs in aggravation. The audacity of the man! After all this time, and now he wants to see me? Where was he when I was growing up? Why did he never come for me? Why were there no letters, no correspondence of any kind? I have half a notion of going out there, taking that thousand dollars, then tell him what he can do with it… And the idea burst into his head.
Was it the sign he’d been waiting for? If nothing else, it would get him out of Boston for a while, maybe enough to clear his head and figure things out. Yes, indeed, this just might work! And Scott began to make his plans.
The sun sneaked through the bars high on the wall and teased his senses. The guards did not come for him during the night, and Madrid wondered if this was ‘the day’. Part of him would feel relief to have the torture over. No more beatings… no more pain. He was only sorry to have gotten captured and imprisoned; the bastard Rurales would have one less revolutionary to make their lives miserable. And that was a regret. There was only one other regret that Madrid had, and that was he never got to make his father pay for what he did. Then Johnny laughed out loud.
Maybe I’ll just haunt the pendejo for the rest of his days, and I can shoot him when he gets ta Hell! That works, too! Then the brightness left his eyes as he thought of the people he fought for, the innocent families that were torn apart by the greedy regime now in power. Son-of-a-bitch! I’ll haunt all the Rurales!
His thoughts cut short as the jangle of keys alerted him to the guards that motioned him out of the cell, taking him, no doubt, to his death. Well, Madrid, ya had a helluva run! His audacious smile split his face as the guards jeered at his brazen attitude.
The forceful jabs from the barrels of their rifles would leave more bruises, but what the hell, he wouldn’t be around long to have to deal with the discomfort. In an hour, it would be over.
There were three of them scheduled to die today. Jammed together in the small cart, the prisoners took in their surroundings as they traveled to the field to face the firing squad. It would be the last time any of them would see the sun in the sky or breathe fresh air or hear the cry of the hawk as it soared on the thermals. It would be the last… of everything… forever.
Enrique was the first. Blindfolded, he stood silent, then screamed “Viva la revo…” and the bullets cut off the words, the words of the dedicated revolutionary, and his lifeless body rolled down a slight decline and lay still.
Rivera issued his orders to Madrid; Johnny Madrid was next; he was to stand for his execution.
But Madrid finished the word that Enrique could not. “… lución.” Viva la revolución! The words echoed in his head. He would finally die for the cause. He took his time getting to his feet. It was just too easy to piss off Rivera.
As he promised himself, Madrid took his place and smiled coldly as if he challenged his murderers and stared into their eyes. How long would they make him wait for the bullets to tear his body apart? The sooner they shot him, the sooner his next job of haunting would begin. There was still much work ahead for Johnny Madrid.
The rumble of wheels and the thunder of hooves on the hard, sunbaked ground suddenly broke the stillness.
“Hold up there! Wait up there!” They were gringo words. What gringo in his right mind is gonna be out here? Johnny couldn’t wait to hear this!
“I’m looking for a man named Madrid! Johnny Madrid! Your captain back at the village said he might be one of your prisoners.” He was a small man, chubby, and wearing a suit and stupid-looking hat. He scrambled off the wagon seat.
Johnny stepped forward. “I’m Madrid,” he said evenly.
“Well, I finally found you!” The man then turned to Rivera. “Señor, it ah, it’s muy importente you do not kill el señor Madrid! Savvy?” The man removed a thick wallet from his pocket and began to count out the dollars. “La vida of el señor Madrid is worth muy dinero, savvy?” He handed Rivera the money. “That oughta do it!”
“Con mucho gusto,” Rivera replied but kept that gringo’s fat wallet in his sight.
The short man went to Johnny and cut the ropes binding his arms behind his back.
As he kept a close eye on Rivera, knowing what the Rurale had on his mind, Johnny had to ask. “Why are you doin’ this?”
“I’m a Pinkerton agent. Your father wants to see you.”
Johnny’s heart skipped a beat.. or two. “Lancer?”
“He wants to give you a thousand dollars for one hour of your time!”
Johnny watched as the guards counted the money, then at a shout from Rivera, they aimed their guns at the agent. Johnny reached for the Pink’s pistol at his hip and knocked the man out of harm’s way. Throwing them both to the ground and together, they rolled down the decline as Johnny quickly dispatched two guards, giving them time to get back up the hill.
The Pinkerton agent, more agile now that bullets were flying, called out to Johnny, “Should I tell your father you’re coming?”
Johnny stopped and grabbed his fellow prisoner, still bound with ropes and threw him into the bed of the wagon, picked off another guard, then vaulted onto a horse belonging to one of the deceased Rurales.
Turning to the agent, he gave his answer. “For a thousand dollars, I’d even go ta Hell!” And Johnny Madrid kicked the horse into a gallop and never looked back. As he rode, he thought about what he’d said. For a thousand dollars, he’d even go to Hell. The laughter spilled from his lips! He had just escaped Hell! And, not bothering to check behind, Johnny Madrid rode away and wondered if he would soon be entering another Hell. The hell of a father who did not want his half-breed son.
Murdoch Lancer sat at his desk. His heart thumped in his chest, and his hands were sweaty. He’d not felt this nervous for a long, long time. Only twice in his life did he ever remember a case of nerves this bad.
The first was when he asked Catherine Garrett to be his wife. He posed the question, and filled with trepidation, waited for her answer. And she made him wait longer than he thought necessary. He could see it in her eyes; she made him sweat. He felt it run down his back, soaking the only good shirt he had to his name. His second thoughts running rampant as he thought she would say no. But she didn’t. He grabbed her; his large calloused hands left damp marks on her cape and pulled her close into his embrace.
The second time was while he waited for Johnny to be born. Maria labored for hours, in terrible pain. She screamed and cursed Murdoch, and he watched helplessly as the contractions continued their torture, brutal and agonizing, a savage assault, seeming not to end. Then finally, she pushed the infant out of her body, her cries ceased, Dr. Jenkins swatted the little behind, and the baby boy tested his lungs with a healthy bellow. And Murdoch was in love with the tiny bundle thrust into his arms, his sweaty hands, large and calloused, held the soft blanket wrapped around his newborn son and left damp marks on that mantle just as they had on Catherine’s cape.
And now he waited for the arrival of Scott, his firstborn, but as an adult. What would he say to the son he hadn’t seen in over twenty years? The only time he’d seen Scott was when the boy turned five. Harlan ‘allowed’ the meeting, his one moment of weakness, he told Murdoch but refused to tell little Scott the tall man before him was his father; he let the lad believe Murdoch was a friend.
And now, Scott was due to arrive here, at the estancia where he should have grown into manhood, along with his brother. Scott was on his way, but where was Johnny? Would Murdoch ever have his family together, to live as a family, together at Lancer?
It was hot, and the jarring of the wheels over the ruts in the road nearly tossed Scott onto the laps of the older couple that sat across from him. He raised his hand to settle his hat back on his head and wondered if they would ever get into Morro Coyo. He began to think not but was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Travel was primitive out here, and he would have to be satisfied with the circumstances as they were. He couldn’t do anything about it now except to wait.
Sweat began to trickle in an itchy trail down his back, and he fought the urge to scratch, even though everyone was either looking out the window or sat with their eyes closed. Could he chance an ungentlemanly move and chase that itch? But suddenly, the stage slowed, taking Scott’s attention from the itch to the window. He leaned out to see a young man, dusty, dirty, and carrying a saddle, step onto the road. No doubt an outlaw by the looks of him. I hope he doesn’t expect to get a ride! I wouldn’t trust him and know he’s up to no good! It can’t be! The driver is going to let him ride… with us! Scott Garrett Lancer was appalled!
Can’t be too much farther now. Jus’ keep walkin’ an’ don’t be thinkin’ about anything except puttin’ one foot in fronta the other. Keep walkin’. So, Johnny Madrid kept walking. He pushed aside the fact his throat was dry, pushed aside his sore feet, pushed aside the fact that his belly was grinding against his backbone. But he couldn’t push aside the fact that he was going to meet the man that made his life a living hell and that he, Johnny, would finally put a bullet between the old man’s eyes.
The saddle on his shoulder was getting too heavy to carry much further. There was a road up ahead, and maybe he could catch a ride into Morro Coyo on a passing wagon. But he was in luck. The rumble down the dusty, rut-filled road signaled the passage of the stage, and Johnny stepped out into the path to wait for the coach to stop.
Johnny watched as a man leaned out the window, appearing to size him up. Well, would ya look at that! If that ain’t the stupidest hat I ever saw! He oughtta be careful, or someone’ll shoot him just for wearing it! He thought that maybe it was some kind of plague; it was just like the one the Pinkerton agent wore. He met the man’s glare and couldn’t help the smirk that he didn’t bother to hide. The blue-gray glare under that stupid looking hat did not look away as if they issued a challenge.
But Madrid had the last laugh when he pulled the stage door opened and stepped into the coach. The driver slapped the lines on the backs of the team, they took off before Johnny got settled, and he fell against the neat, fancy suited dandy and mussed up his clothes. He offered a brief and flippant apology that was met with a stiffly replied, “Can’t be helped.”
Unknown to the other, the Eastern Dandy and the dusty ruffian sized up the situation— each with their dubious analogy based on the environments of their upbringing. A ruthless, uneducated outlaw versus a smarted up an’ snappy-dressed pretty-boy. Morro Coyo couldn’t come soon enough for either of them.
The stage jerked to a halt in the dusty little town of Morro Coyo. Johnny hopped out of the stage, retrieved his Colt and saddle, then immediately checked the revolver, never taking for granted it had not been tampered with while out of his sight. Sliding the piece smoothly into the holster, he took the time to look around for the livery where he would rent a horse and ride out to meet the Ol’ Man.
Scott Lancer stood wondering who was there to pick him up and take him to his father. The father that seemed to have forgotten him for the last twenty-five years. He huffed in disappointment taking in the dingy, dirty town and coming to the rapid decision he would not be staying here very long. Grandfather was right…
“Ah, Mr. Lancer?” The feminine voice called out.
“That’s me,” Scott said, but another response behind him made him pause and turn to look at the questionable young man that crowded their coach.
A young woman, neat and tidy with a bonnet that matched her dress, spoke up. “I’m sorry, which one of you said…”
A duet of “I did” greeted her. The two men once again eyed the other, Scott in irritated annoyance, but Johnny seemed amused and wore that little snigger that, unbeknownst to Scott, would become a large part of his new life in California.
The girl further explained. “You’re Johnny,” she said as she looked from one man to the other. “Then you’re Scott Lancer.”
Johnny took a step forward. “No, ma’am, he’s no Lancer. My mother only had one kid, an’ that was me.”
Scott turned a cold stare at the man claiming to be a Lancer. “Likewise.” The word was harsh and issued a challenge.
The young woman tried to smooth things over. She didn’t want any conflict, especially before they got to know one another. “Well, we didn’t expect you both at the same time, but actually, you’re right! It’s Mr. Lancer that had two.”
The Bostonian stepped forward. “Two what?” Disbelief… and indignation were boiling in his brain.
“Wives, and sons… you two…”
Scott knew there would be things he hadn’t been privy to, but this couldn’t be happening.
Johnny stood with a sarcastic half-smile. Nothing much surprised him, but he had to wonder how this would pan out.
Teresa O’Brien drove the wagon as she told the bare facts, leaving the details for Murdoch Lancer to fill in. She knew it was a shock for both Scott and Johnny, inundated with parts of their lives they knew nothing about, and to find they were brothers, had to be the biggest shock of all. She wondered how this was going to work. Neither of Mr. Lancer’s sons didn’t seem like the type of men that would back down, roll over and accept the situation as it was. She knew they were in for a rough time, a rough beginning that couldn’t have come at a worse time!
But she would do what she could to ease any misunderstandings and ease the tensions that would surely arise. She had a stake in this, too.
The questions would not stop. His head was swirling as he thought of what had just been revealed. A brother? Him? He’s… no better than a tramp! He can’t be my brother! Scott’s temper was getting the best of him, and he thought he’d better get it under control. Lt. Lancer stepped in to take charge.
He questioned Teresa about the ranch; then Johnny joined in when she told them her father had been murdered the same time Murdoch was shot.
The word ‘murder’ got Johnny’s attention. “Murdered by who?”
But she resisted, saying, “Mr. Lancer will tell you that. What he won’t tell you is how much it means to him that you both came here.” Then she pulled the wagon to a halt. They both looked out over the spectacular scene before them. “There it is, as far as the eye can see. The most beautiful place in the whole wide world— Lancer!” Her voice was thick with pride, and both wondered why they had never lived here, never rode the Lancer range or woke, breathing the fresh Lancer air. Why?
Scott was impressed, but he didn’t show it. It was more than he expected. From what his Grandfather described, he was expecting nothing more than a dry, dusty little place struggling to make a living. But that was not what greeted him, by any means!
Johnny stood up in the back of the wagon as he felt his emotions begin to war within him. There, below was green and blue heaven. This was where he was born. He should have grown up here instead of literally fighting for his life, scratching for food… The ol’ man didn’t want a Mexican wife an’ a half-breed son, so he tossed us out… Well, Ol’ Man, ya got it now. Ya gonna try an’ toss me out again or… Johnny closed his eyes and did his best to quell the battle that threatened to tear him apart.
Damn! Got a greenhorn dandy for a brother, an’ now I see the place where I shoulda grown up. The ol’ man’s got a lot of explainin’ ta do…
They were beautiful! Murdoch Lancer gazed at the two loves of his life. The small portraits captured them perfectly! One light, one dark. One the epitome of grace and kindness, elegance and charm, the other full of fire, exciting, and beautiful. Would his sons be like their mothers? He wondered but was roused from his thoughts at the cheering from outside. Scott! He was finally here… Wait! There’s someone in the back of the wagon! Could it be?
The minutes stretched into years, it seemed, as he waited for them to enter the great room. Murdoch did his best to control the thunder of his heart beating in his chest. The next few minutes would determine the outcome, the question of whether his sons would accept their birthright. The knock on the door was like cannon fire in the quiet of the hacienda; he tried to calm the tension racing through him.
And they stepped into the room, making him hold his breath as he faced his grown sons for the very first time.
So, this is my father… The man that left me in Boston to be raised by another… But Scott pushed those thoughts away… for now. There was no need to start on the wrong foot and decided to give Murdoch Lancer a chance and hear what the man had to say. Would Scott be disappointed, offended enough to leave and board the next stage bound for the east?
The only solution would be to listen to the man. After all, there were two sides to everything— a right and wrong to the situation. I wonder which he will claim?
Damn, he’s big! Bet it didn’t take much for him ta throw Mama out! And Johnny couldn’t help but wonder if the man had used force. Maria wasn’t a large woman by any means, but she was a handful, Johnny knew, regardless of her small stature. Murdoch would have dwarfed her. Well, ol’ man, it ain’t gonna be that easy with me. Why don’t ya try an’ explain it all?
They’re waiting. Waiting for me to say something, but I can’t tear my eyes away from their faces. My grown sons! Scott stands so tall, his time in the Military is evident; straight, shoulders back, and looking ready and wanting to hear what needs to be said. I turn to Johnny, the son taken from this house, the security and stability it had to offer. From my arms… What is it I see in those shocking blue eyes? A plea for acceptance? Or is he waiting for an explanation? What had Maria told him?
Their differences were many. Murdoch would call the tune, no doubt about that. Equal partners? Scott and Johnny agreed, but both wondered how that would pan out. They were three strangers, three strangers living under one roof. The blood of Lancer ran through their veins, but would they ever come together as a family? Could they work together and run this ranch and come to an understanding?
The fire bell sounded out another attack, and together, they did what they could, but in the end, the field was lost. They stood covered in soot, sweat stuck the shirts to their backs, and they breathed in the heavy smoke from the burned field. “Take a good look!” Murdoch had said, and they did but had already committed to the cause, they would stick around. And Murdoch felt the first twinge of hope.
Would they stay? Stay and fight for Lancer and their birthright? They must have thought me a bitter old man for the greeting I gave them, but there is no time to explain, to tell them the things they must want to know, and I need to know if they are serious about becoming a family, the family we should have been twenty-five years ago. But I cannot go through that grief again. If they are to go, go now. I would not survive losing my sons again after getting to know them. Let them see the worst of me, then decide to stay or not.
They worked well together putting out the fire and declared then they would defend Lancer. But, the battle has not yet reached its pinnacle, and I don’t know if they will stay as they said.
Murdoch’s thoughts careened in his head. He wasn’t about to let himself believe his boys would ultimately stay. Would this life be more than Scott could tolerate? Backbreaking, physical work with ungodly hours and ornery cows? And Johnny, would he handle the discipline required to run a ranch? The dedication needed to see chores through to completion? The what-ifs were too many. The hope was there, but hope doesn’t run a ranch. Men did; men willing to use their arms, legs, and guts; men ready to sacrifice, to put the ranch before anything else, and be ready to fight for the land and everything on it. And men ready to die for what they believed in. But only if the will was there would they succeed.Would the will be there?
Surprisingly, the bed was comfortable. Scott didn’t know what to expect as he settled in for his first night at Lancer. The lamp turned low, cast a warm buttery glow around his room; a room not as elegant as he had in Boston, but then, who needs elegance when they’re sleeping? But his mind wouldn’t slow enough for sleep to take hold. Lord knew he was tired, more than tired. Exhausted from traveling across the country, the stress of meeting a father that had left him in Boston, instead of raising him here on the ranch, then meeting a brother he hadn’t known existed and battled a blaze, should have promoted near unconsciousness… but it didn’t.
What lay ahead for him? For all of them? Would Murdoch Lancer answer his questions? Why hadn’t his father come to take him home? The idea stung as bad as the lash he suffered in Libby prison. How could any man abandon his son?
And what of Johnny? A gunfighter?The mere thought was incredible, not to mention ridiculous! I bet he can’t even read! Then, Well, he was able to read Murdoch’s proposal. I need to watch him and can only hope he decides ranching isn’t for him and he’ll leave…
The moonlight crawled across the floor and up over his body, stretched out on the bed. Johnny hadn’t closed the curtains; he chose instead to let the cool night flood into the room and, hopefully, wash away his apprehensions. Could he do it? Could he put a bullet in the ol’ man’s head? The past, raw and bitter, exploded once he got to Lancer, saw where he should have grown up, come into manhood to claim his birthright. It lay in front of him like a cruel joke, a cold knife cutting into his heart and soul. Did his father hate him so much that he thought nothing of pushing Johnny and his mother out of his life?
Johnny thought of the things Murdoch had told them earlier when talking over the threat to the ranch. Wonder where ol’ Day is? Knowin’ him, he’s gonna try an’ take this ranch. He’ll kill anyone standin’ in his way. And it came as a shock and filled him with apprehension that very soon, everyone on this ranch could be dead. Johnny Madrid couldn’t let that happen. Day Pardee was a murderer. That’s one of the reasons I don’t ride with him anymore. The man killed for the sake of killing. Hafta find him, find out what he’s plannin’ ta do…
Scott was truly beginning to hate that smirk! Was his new brother poking fun at the picture taken with General Phil Sheridan? Didn’t Johnny know it was an honor and privilege to… no, of course, he wouldn’t! What would Johnny, an uneducated, gunfighter know of… Suddenly he felt a pang of guilt; it wasn’t Johnny’s fault he’d grown up on the border. But a second later, that guilt faded as Johnny announced he didn’t give anybody too much credit, that it saved a lot of disappointment later.
Johnny kept wandering through Scott’s room, touching this, trying on a silly-looking hat… Hafta give him a hand pickin’ out a hat that won’t get him shot. And it was then that Johnny learned his brother photographed well. He thought Scott arrogant, and maybe he wouldn’t stay; after all, working on a ranch was hard, dirty work. Boston wasn’t going to make it…
Teresa barged into his room, minutes after Johnny, to announce that horses were waiting in the corral for them, but on her way out, she informed Scott that they would be buying him proper clothes to wear.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” he fumed, upset with the lack of privacy. And it was Johnny’s reply, along with that smirk that sent his temper soaring.
“If you’re plannin’ on stayin’ in these parts, plaid just ain’t the style…”
And the conversation deteriorated after Scott accused Johnny of making him feel left out. Scott would not let this ruffian bully him into leaving.
Johnny’s cocky smile left no question about his feelings, telling Scott he’d be better off left out of the deal he had in mind than in a ditch, with ants crawlin’ across his eyeballs, “that don’t photograph too well…”
Testing the waters. Scott was not impressed with Johnny, and he would put his younger brother in his place. He watched as Johnny broke the palomino, and in truth, was impressed but wasn’t going to tell him so. Instead, he climbed aboard the green-broken horse and put him through paces the horse should not have been commanded to do.
“In answer to your question earlier, it was a Cavalry Unit I was in,”he told Johnny, letting the sarcastic young man know that he was not dealing with an ignorant Easterner, that Scott could handle himself here as well as anyone.
Johnny was not about to let Mr. Egotist get away without taking him down a notch. “But that don’t make you ready for Day Pardee. You’re gonna end up with a bullet in your back.”
And Scott wasn’t going to let it slide. “Seems to be a lot of back shooting going on. What happened to the code of the West?”
“Well, see, that’s it. Ya gotta do it ta them before they do it to you.” And Johnny called the end to the pissing contest, left on the palomino, and headed to town.
Murdoch was there to witness the display of horsemanship from each of his sons, and he was impressed. They’d had trouble breaking that palomino, was, in fact, going to turn him back out to the range. But Johnny rode him as no one had, and now the horse was his.
Scott, too, demonstrated extraordinary riding skills, and, although recklessly, he sat the horse as if he’d been born there.
He watched his sons, sensing a rivalry between them, knowing they would have to come to terms on their own. They were grown men, not children, and would figure it out themselves… if they could. And Murdoch could only hope they would.
Once again, it seemed that Johnny had turned around and cut him off. As Scott watched Johnny ride away, and couldn’t help his temper as it flared. That damned grin! Sooner or later, he was going to wipe that smug grin off his little brother’s face. But it would have to wait. Teresa was dragging him to town to buy new clothes. So, clothes I’ll buy.
Johnny had to find Pardee. He had to know what the outlaw had in mind. What the hell do I care what happens? But Johnny had to admit he didn’t want Pardee to slaughter those at Lancer, and if anyone was going to kill Murdoch, it would be Johnny.
The gunshots ahead told of trouble. Johnny wandered in the direction of the shots and found an old Mexican man struggling to balance two buckets of water across the yoke on his shoulders. The water leaked from holes in one bucket, holes caused by the bullets fired from a gun from one of seven men lounging in front of the cantina. Mierda, a pack of dogs against one old man… Johnny Madrid paused to console the old man and take the bucket still intact from hunched shoulders, then it, too, suffered a blast.
Had Johnny found Pardee already? The confrontation with seven men in front of the cantina confirmed his suspicions when Pardee himself stood in the doorway.
“Long time, Johnny Madrid,” Pardee drawled.
“Yeah, long time.”
“Care for a drink?”
“Yeah, sure.” Johnny followed Day into the dark of the building but not before he gave his Madrid stare at Pardee’s men loitering on the boardwalk. The stare that had forced better men than these to keep their distance.
“Madrid, you lookin’ for me?” Day asked, hoping for another recruit. With Johnny Madrid in his gang, he couldn’t go wrong. He knew how Johnny worked and the things Madrid had pulled off in the past, well, it was a win-win situation.
Johnny shrugged and smiled as he glanced over his shoulder at Day’s men. “No, but I had a feelin’ I’d find ya.”
Had he painted himself in a corner? Over a glass of tequila, Day invited Johnny to ride with him as he and his men would soon take over.
Hell, I don’t want any part of ridin’ with him. How’m I gonna keep an eye on him an’ Lancer, too? If Scott ain’t careful, he’s gonna get his head blown off an’ won’t even see it comin’.
“You let me think about it.” Damn, I gotta stall him… but he overheard the man, Coley, tell Pardee that ‘that girl from Lancer just came to town an’ she’s got a fancy dan with her, too.”
“Go lean on him, find out who he is,” Day said.
Looks like Boston’s in for his first lesson. Wonder if he’ll make it home in one piece?
Well, Scott came to town to buy some clothes. But what he didn’t count on was the three men in Baldamero’s store that seemed to take exception that Scott was looking at the same hats they seemed to be. But, as he told them, or partially told them, he handled things differently where he came from, and he threw the first punch.
Teresa screamed for them to stop fighting, but joined the fray, picked up the nearest object, and launched it at the three offenders. Teresa and Scott had seen the horse Johnny was riding tied outside; Johnny couldn’t be far, he would help his brother! And she ran outside to find Johnny sitting in a chair on the boardwalk outside the cantina.
“Johnny, it’s Scott!” she frantically cried.
“That figures,” he said noncommittally, sarcastically.
“Well, aren’t you going to help him?”
End of conversation. Teresa couldn’t believe her ears, and Johnny couldn’t let it be known he was fighting for Lancer. Wait a minute! I’m not fighting for either side yet.
The crashing and breakage from the brawling inside the store ceased, and Johnny watched as Scott rolled into the street. Pardee’s men sauntered out of Baldamero’s, strutting like banty roosters, although favoring a few bruises themselves, proud they’d roughed up the young Lancer.
As Teresa helped Scott to his feet, he saw his brother in front of the cantina, watching, watching, and doing nothing to help. So, this is how he wants it to be… Well, let me tell you, brother, two can play this game! Scott’s stubborn streak engaged; it held him like a dog with a bone. He wasn’t about to back down, give up or turn tail and run. They were all about to see the man Scott Garrett Lancer was, and they’d better get used to it because he wasn’t going anywhere.
Day Pardee bided his time. But, after Coley came back to camp, with a face that had been stepped on and prompted a chuckled from Day, he found out the dandy from town was none other than Murdoch Lancer’s kid. Well, this changed things. They would just have to speed things along; it was a good thing Madrid would be riding with them soon. He would need Johnny’s talents to take Lancer. He called to his men, and they rode out of camp.
It was bound to happen, and it did. The Lancer brothers clashed after meeting by the river. Scott couldn’t find it in his heart to accept the fact that Johnny had not come to his aid and let three men pound the stuffing out of him. His brother had not lifted a finger to help. And once again, Scott Garrett Lancer threw the first punch. He’d had enough of Johnny Madrid and was going to let the ruffian know just who was the tougher man.
But what he didn’t count on was the defensive punch thrown back at him. He felt as if he’d been kicked by a mule. It was Teresa’s interference that brought Scott to his senses and shed a bit of clarity through the fog of temper. Where Johnny did not lend a hand in town, Johnny was still his brother, and he knew he had to push aside their differences and get along. Lancer’s future depended on it. But he’d pushed Johnny too far, and Scott could only hope he hadn’t ruined their chance and caused Johnny to turn away.
Johnny admitted coming for the thousand dollars Murdoch offered them, not loyalty or love for the man himself. After all, Murdoch had thrown his wife and two-year-old child out of the house. What kind of man does that?
What the hell did Teresa just say? Mama left with a gambler? Mama left because Murdoch threw us out! And as quick as that thought pierced through him, another seared its way into his heart. Johnny remembered a man, it was long ago, but there was a man, and he wasn’t good to Mama… Did she lie to me all those years? The questions were stampeding through his head. Which one lied or was lying? The thought of coming here to put a bullet in Murdoch Lancer was tempting, but now? And the confusing avalanche crashed through him and crushed any reason to pieces. What was real and what wasn’t? All Johnny had were questions, and the only person that could answer those questions was the man himself. And now the question was, would Murdoch tell the truth? Johnny had no way of knowing, and trusting him wasn’t something Johnny was going to do. Not yet, anyway.
But the shouts from across the meadow captured their attention. There was more trouble.
The small farm was smoldering when they rode into the yard. A man, Gaspar, was hanging by his feet from the ridge beam. Murdoch called for Maria, Gaspar’s wife. He made his way to the front door, calling the woman’s name but stopped, sickened at what he saw lying on the cabin floor. She was dead, like her husband, only she’d been raped and butchered.
Scott’s blood ran cold. He’d not seen anything like this since the war, and, indeed, this was war, but born out of savageness. What kind of demons were they fighting? And he could feel all the old emotions well inside. Rage over the brutality and cruelty, the murders of innocents careened in his brain, leaving him dizzy, gasping for air, and wanting to vomit. How can this be possible?
Johnny had seen it before but had never got so far as to thirst for the fierce and feral disregard for human life. It wasn’t in him to rape and murder. And suddenly Teresa came to his mind. He had to do something and be fast about it. But what?
He walked to the porch of the small house and saw the woman lying in a puddle of blood… then he knew what he had to do.
“Don’t you think we oughtta talk about this?” Johnny asked his brother.
“We can talk on the way while we’re after them.” Lt. Lancer had taken over, and there wasn’t any chance of swaying him. Neither Scott nor Murdoch were open to another option, and Johnny knew it could be a mistake for Scott to take the men up to the pass Cipriano told them about. They would be walking into a trap if they left without enough men remaining at Lancer to mount a proper defense.
Johnny’s warning held no importance, and Murdoch and Scott gave it no heed. And Johnny was left with the only thing he could do. And they would think him a traitor. But he had no other choice open to him.
His words with Murdoch affected him more than he thought possible. He told Murdoch to fort up and wait in the hacienda until he found Pardee. Murdoch’s response was, “Maybe you found him already. What were you doing in Morro Coyo?”
What was that sensation that ripped through his heart at Murdoch’s words? The accusation hurt; the fact that Murdoch implied Johnny had already found Pardee and was suspicious of his actions ripped through him like hot lead. What did he care what Murdoch thought of him? But the truth was, he did care, apparently, a great deal, and the thought surprised him.
“Is that what you think of me?” Johnny asked, hoping for some sign he’d been wrong about his father, some sign that Murdoch trusted him enough to do things his way. Scott hadn’t been willing to listen and instead let Murdoch make the call. This was something Johnny dealt with all his life— they didn’t trust him enough to talk it over. He knew at that moment, he would have to do this alone. And if he didn’t make it through the next twenty-four hours, at least maybe the family would. How about that? Johnny Madrid dyin’ for his father… He almost felt like laughing.
Johnny’s declaration, “I was never much good at takin’ orders,” would be the last thing he said to his old man. Turmoil began to boil to the surface. What the hell’s wrong with me? Why’m I feelin’ like this? Johnny Madrid always had control over his emotions, and these uncertain feelings were foreign and left him battling internally. He needed to get this settled without getting anyone killed, and to do that, he had to get his feelings under control, then confront Day Pardee. But before he left the house, there was one thing he needed to do.
Teresa was in the kitchen, keeping herself busy, knowing that soon there would be a fight. Whether it would be here at Lancer or up in that pass, she didn’t know but, there was something she was sure of, and that was, there were going to be men wounded… or worse. She had to be ready for them, to help wherever she could.
Teresa worked, readying the things she would need, but suddenly felt a presence beside her. She hadn’t heard his approach, just felt him there.
“T’resa, I need ta talk ta you.” When Johnny had her attention, he reached behind him to the hideaway gun he kept tucked out of sight. “Whatever happens, I want you ta make me a promise.”
“What is it, Johnny?” She was scared; the look in his eyes filled her with dread. The dark blue locked on her and held her captive as if in a desperate plea. Fear began to override any prior notions of everything would be alright; before her stood danger in the form of a man. Murdoch Lancer’s son and she felt the cold prickle of trepidation crawl up her spine.
“I want you ta take this,” and he handed her the pistol. “T’resa, I know these men. Whatever happens, promise me you’ll save the last bullet for yourself.”
Her stomach turned cold, and her eyes welled. The tremble of her lip made Johnny want to take her in his arms and comfort her, hold her until she was able to speak without her voice breaking. “Promise me?” he whispered.
With tears clinging to her lashes, she nodded her head and took the gun. Then Johnny was gone.
The crackle of the flames as they consumed the logs in the fireplace did nothing to quell the apprehensions that fought to tear his heart to shreds. Murdoch succeeded in bringing his sons home, back to Lancer, to fight for their birthright lest it be stolen by high riders. He was impressed at Scott’s willingness to take over and, with Cipriano’s help and a little luck, confront the raiders in the mountains before they could launch an attack on the ranch itself. The military training was obvious in his actions as he organized the men and led them away from the estancia.
But there was still a distance between them. Murdoch knew they were, as yet, strangers, quite literally, but would Scott settle in as the son of the Patrón?
And Johnny— what was he to think of his youngest son? Yes, he had his mother’s temper and maybe more traits from her that were detrimental. How would he convince Johnny that things were not as he was told? And where was Johnny at this moment? He’d ridden out, not letting Murdoch know where he was going or if he would be back. A huge unknown for Murdoch; the variants too great to contemplate. But he did know he had to be ready for whatever would happen and that they could come out of this and be a family… all of them.
Teresa settled the laprobe over his legs and did her best to assure Murdoch his sons truly wanted to love him, but he wasn’t convinced, telling her he ought to get himself a dog, they didn’t answer back. And she chuckled.
When she finished straightening the blanket over him, Teresa sat next to his chair and rested her head on the overstuffed arm, as if a favorite place to be, a tiny smile of contentment crossed her face, her need for the closeness filled her with a bit of peace, for the moment.
Murdoch set his hand on her soft hair and could only imagine what was going through her mind. He knew the grief over the loss of her father still held her in its clutches.
“You miss your daddy, don’t you?” he asked softly. Funny, he couldn’t seem to act the father for his own sons, yet, here was this girl, not of his blood, and the need to be there for her, to comfort and protect was as strong as any emotion he’d ever felt.
“Yes, but I’ve got you.”
Those five words wrapped around his heart, bittersweet as the thoughts of his sons and this young woman clashed through his brain. Would Scott and Johnny ever feel for me the same as Teresa just admitted?
And his mind swirled with questions. Was Scott alright? Would he ever see Johnny again? Would they ever think of him without bitterness?
Satisfied the deception worked, Scott led the Lancer hands back to the ranch. He had to get everyone in position before Pardee, and his men attacked. And now, he wondered about his brother. Did Johnny feel the battle wasn’t worth the trouble? The fact that Johnny did not ride with them and did not agree that this was the right way to go about the fight filled him with a notion this partnership wasn’t going to work out. But, in all honesty, Scott realized he hadn’t given Johnny any opportunity to discuss things.
Johnny was open to it, saying, “Don’t you think we oughtta talk about this?” And what had Scott done, but to say they could talk about it on the way. Johnny’s explanation of “the sun’s goin’ down with a couple of cowhands and a tin soldier up in the pass blowin’ each other’s heads off” was not enough to deter Scott. He hadn’t given his brother a chance but turned to Murdoch to say, “You call the tune.”
And now regrets began to squirm their way into his mind with sharp accusations. You didn’t have the courtesy to listen. This is his world, and you are the outsider. And that thought began to sear Scott, like salt on a wound. Murdoch sided with him, and that was the way it would be. Johnny’s opinion was shoved away as unimportant. Scott shrugged, wondering if this family would ever find common ground.
Scott thought back to that first meeting in the great room. He was so bold and arrogant and announced that it was a simple military problem here. “One, find the enemy, two, engage them, three, destroy them.” And he remembered that Johnny laughed at his blatant attitude that it would be a cut and dried operation, that perhaps the high riders no better than bumbling fools who couldn’t get out of their own way. But Scott was used to taking the bull by the proverbial horns and making decisions. And he did so now.
Perhaps he would talk over with Johnny what the next move would be if it weren’t too late. The raiders could be on their way to the ranch now, and if they were, Scott would have Lancer ready, with or without his brother. There was no time to think about it any more.
He knew he wouldn’t be coming out of this alive. Johnny Madrid couldn’t count the number of times his life had hung by a thread, seconds away from taking his last breath. There were more than he could remember, the last, only a few weeks ago when he faced the firing squad in Mexico, and ironically, it was Murdoch that saved him. He would have died for their cause, but the revolution was bound to fail from the very start. And now, he was fighting for another cause, and he would again sacrifice himself so that innocents would live. Teresa came to mind; if Pardee made it into the hacienda, he knew the girl’s fate would be worse than death. And she would die anyway. Johnny Madrid was not going to Hell with that on his conscience.
When Pardee rode into Morro Coyo asking Madrid if he’d made up his mind about riding with him and his men, Johnny lied, letting Day think he would be there alongside them, and Day was satisfied. “We’ll get breakfast at the Lancer ranch.”
Johnny felt his belly turn over. The thought of Pardee and the rest at Lancer was blasphemous. And where Johnny didn’t hold much with the church, blasphemy was exactly what it would be should Lancer fall to the land pirates. Where did these sudden feelings for his family and Lancer come from? He didn’t know, but they were there, and they were strong, and Johnny was going to do everything he could to stop Pardee.
Scott’s heart fell to his feet at Murdoch’s declaration. “Where’s Johnny?” he asked.
Murdoch covered his disappointment, shoved it away. It was too painful to think about, so he pretended a lack of concern. “Gone.”
And Scott wanted to know. “Where?” He was filled with a cold loss.
Murdoch imitated disinterest; that it hadn’t mattered, but he knew he was lying to himself and wondered if Scott knew it as well. Then he left the room before Scott could question him further, knowing that to carry on with conversation would not be possible, not until he could pull himself together. He left Scott contemplating the loss that suddenly flooded through his veins.
Questions answered with more questions. It was an unknown. And both men felt as though they had been cheated in a most vile way. One of a son, the other of a brother.
Murdoch felt the familiar emptiness, the icy razor that sliced his heart to pieces in the past was back with a vengeance. He couldn’t survive it again.
And though Scott never knew this ache, never felt that special bond brothers share, his brain erupted in a fiery rage, knowing he might not ever see Johnny alive again. Had he lost his brother before he had the chance to know him?
Soon. It would be soon, and Johnny didn’t have a plan. They stood on the ridge above Lancer, and Day commanded his men, dividing them to attack all sides of the hacienda. And if that happened, Lancer would lose. It had to be now…
Had the situation not been as dire as it was, Johnny would have openly laughed in Day Pardee’s face when he told the leader of the high riders, “This is my land an’ I wantcha ta get off.”
Confusion joined surprise and was compounded by disbelief, resulting in a face scrunched on one side, one eye closed as if squinting in the sun, mouth open, and brain scrambling to make heads or tales of the incredible revelation. “Your land? You’re not a Lancer…”
Coley came rushing forward, and Johnny was able to get off a killing shot. Well, ya did it now, Johnny-Boy! Ya better come up with somethin’, cuz ol’ Day’s gonna put a bullet in your brain! With a hasty aim, Johnny got off another shot, wounding Day as the high riders’ leader screamed for the remaining men to go after the imposter. And the race to the hacienda was on. Johnny could only hope those at Lancer were ready because there was no time to warn them what was about to happen.
His plan now would be to bring the outlaws within range of the rifles that guarded Lancer, and Johnny would be in the crossfire. But if that was what it took to protect them, so be it. He’d fought for worse causes, under worse circumstances… and won. He would gladly take this chance.
The sound of gunshots alerted them to the approaching danger. Scott flung the curtains open with a careless toss. The raiders were coming; the fight was a full-blown battle with no chance of stopping now. The outlaws streamed down the hillsides around the ranch, looking like swarms of ants, and Scott knew they had seconds to get into position.
Murdoch watched as fear and dread blanketed him, choking him as bile rose in his throat. He shed blood for this land; he lost both wives and sons to this land. He didn’t want to lose any more, but, in truth, he wondered if there were enough at Lancer to hold off this attack. He began to have serious doubts.
Anger flooded through him as Scott felt fear crawl down his back. Fear of losing something he’d never had before. Anger of losing what was just beyond his grasp. Family, his father anyway. But where was Johnny? Once confronted with the possibility of having a brother, Scott did not want to give up this soon. But this feeling was new; only since he found Johnny was gone, and now he knew he wanted, he needed this chance to know his brother. Perhaps he wouldn’t get it…
Then he gave the order to hold their fire; the land pirates were too far away. Time stood still except for the brutal horde that was rapidly approaching. And finally, it was time.
“Here comes the first one!” Scott announced, and they all aimed as the golden horse raced toward them and cleared the first fence that separated them.
Until Murdoch shouted out, “Wait! It’s Johnny!”
My God! Johnny has to be out of his mind putting himself in that danger! But Scott acknowledged the bravery and what it took for his brother to pull off this incredible feat. He’s using himself as bait to bring the raiders closer, into our guns! And Scott held his breath as he willed his brother to the safety of their cover.
But that anticipation was short-lived as they watched in horror as Johnny fell from the saddle with Pardee’s bullet in his back. Grief washed over Murdoch, his body turned cold, and his heart shattered as Johnny slammed to the ground and lay still. Murdoch had lost his son for the second time in twenty-four hours, but this time, with a bullet to his back.
What had Johnny tried to do? He felt himself going into the shock of a father that just witnessed his son’s death.
But it was Teresa’s words, or maybe her tears, that pierced through to his heart. “He was coming back to us!”
Almost there! Last fence… Go, boy! Johnny urged the horse on, and the palomino cleared the rails in a flawless leap, landing solidly on the ground, then picked up more speed, taking Johnny to safety. But, a blast to his back knocked him from the saddle. The ground rose to meet him with a jarring thud as he crashed into the grass. The searing pain was replaced by numbness, but it wouldn’t last for long, he knew; he would feel it before it was time to cash in his chips. If this bullet didn’t claim him, it was a matter of time before another would as he lay in the open and vulnerable to the fighting around him. Could he make it out of this one? He had serious doubts, but he was awake and aware, and he would make the best of what time he had left.
Shots fired from every angle, and he lay as if dead. Pardee’s men would forget about him, and it would give him time to take a few of them out. A man jumped over his prone body, and Johnny shot him dead, then turned and added two more to his tally.
Lt. Lancer wasn’t going to stand back and let the raiders take over the ranch; they’d just shot his brother and… His thoughts were interrupted at his father’s call. “Look, it’s your brother!” Johnny! He was moving!
Scott ran through the gunsmoke and amidst the bullets as he, with the help of a Lancer vaquero, dragged Johnny to cover behind a tree. If there was a chance for Johnny to live, Scott would make sure his brother had that chance, if it was the last thing he ever did in this life.
The effects of the bullet, falling to the ground, and blood loss began to take their toll, and Johnny could only watch Scott as he took down one after another of Pardee’s men, then the moment came as Johnny saw the outlaw himself draw a bead on Scott.
And Scott leveled his rifle and pulled the trigger; then Day Pardee fell dead. But Scott didn’t stop there. He broke cover and ran into the fray, firing his rifle with deadly accuracy, taking out Pardee’s men.
Determination and stubborn Lancer pride filled Scott with a surge of aggression as he forged on, wiping out the opposition. They’re not going to win! And they started to run! The outlaws were leaving! Pardee was dead, but would they regroup, choose another leader and try for Lancer again? He couldn’t say but vowed they would never win.
Scott looked around at the dead and dying. The faithful Lancer vaqueros would be cared for, the dead, buried with honor. This victory came at a high cost, but things that were worth fighting for usually did. Then Scott turned and walked to his brother… his brother! And he felt a warmth wash over him, something he’d never experienced before. Brother! It was the warmth of family, and he knew, given time, everything would be alright.
Johnny leaned against the tree, hurting like hell, but it wasn’t fatal. He watched as Scott exploded into action, taking out those who would murder and steal, and he was impressed. Ol’ Boston knew what he was doin’, alright! Would it be so bad to have him as a brother? He’s got guts! I’ll give him that! But Johnny knew the real question was, could he stay and be a part of this family, a part of Lancer?
The shooting died away, and Johnny tried to get his feet under him as Scott approached. Without the tree behind him for support, he would have fallen in the dirt, and he struggled to his knees in hopes of pulling himself to full height, not wanting to look up into Scott’s eyes, but he couldn’t do it. He watched the smile break out on his brother’s face, and Johnny wondered what was going through Scott’s mind. He soon had his answer.
Their stare lasted a few seconds, and Johnny tested the waters. ‘’’S good shootin’.” Did Scott’s smile twitch and grow a little?
“Thanks, brother. We just about gave up on you, boy.” Scott couldn’t resist the brotherly ‘boy’ he added to his statement. The tension, the rivalry began to crumble.
Johnny had a different plan. And it damn near got him killed! We should have talked it through, but hopefully, it won’t happen again. And Scott fervently hoped it wouldn’t.
Johnny began to move; he had to get up, had to walk. He felt himself getting weaker by the second, and if he didn’t move, they would have to carry him into the house. And he didn’t want to show that weakness. C’mon, Madrid! Move! Forcing his body to cooperate, he stood only to feel Scott’s hand on his arm, support from his brother.
“Take your time, take your time,” but Scott felt his hand brushed away as Murdoch and Teresa looked on, knowing that Johnny needed to feel in control of himself.
Meeting Scott’s questioning stare, he murmured, “I can make it.” But how long could he stay on his feet without falling? He began to walk, faltered after five tentative steps, then staggered another three; his sight grayed, then went black as his eyes rolled back in his head.
Scott saw the unsteady steps, born of the stubborn will that forced his brother onward. It was only a minute, though, before he would catch his brother and carry him into the house. And Johnny swayed as Scott lowered his shoulder, caught him, and felt privileged to help. I have a brother! This has to work out; it has to.
Scott had never worked so hard in his life… and liked it. The sweat, the stink of cows, and their orneriness were all part of a day’s work. Long hours in the saddle had him bone-tired when he came in from the range at night, and he never wanted it to change. Scott Garrett Lancer found his place, and it wasn’t in a boardroom with his overbearing Grandfather trying to cheat another out of his life savings. If Pardee hadn’t been a murderer, there wasn’t much difference between the two, except that now, Pardee was dead. At least Scott hoped that was a difference.
He looked forward to the time when Johnny was released from the doctor’s care, so they could work together and become close and share brother things, bold stories from their pasts, a drink on Saturday night, maybe a few personal thoughts, as well. Scott spent many nights sitting with Johnny, talking, playing checkers or chess, and finding Johnny was quite accomplished at both. Why he was surprised, Scott didn’t know. He discovered his younger, rowdy brother intelligent and quite well-spoken considering his past; no longer was Scott amazed, as he was at their beginning, regarding the strength of Johnny’s character. Things were changing… for the good.
Scott was also finding his father a bit of a surprise in that there had been no attempt to sway Scott’s mind regarding his Grandfather, as his Grandfather surely had no problem in slandering Murdoch. Scott’s preconceived notions of his father were hardly flattering, and he considered that to be a lesson well learned. Correction, two lessons well learned. One was that people deserved the benefit of the doubt, and secondly, he learned that Grandfather was more the scoundrel than previously thought. How much more did he not know about the man?
But it was over. He was no longer in Boston, and where Scott was sure that his grandfather would resort to just about anything to get him to return there, Scott knew his heart belonged here, at Lancer. And he never wanted to leave this most beautiful place in the whole wide world!
All this… for one hour of my time!
The dreams wouldn’t stop. They assaulted his sleep, even his waking hours. How could that be? Johnny jerked awake, sending his back into blazing shards of pain that ran across his shoulders and down his back. The stitches pulled, and they itched; he was in misery. But he couldn’t let them know without them wanting to ply him with laudanum or some such poison. He could make do without it.
Johnny feigned sleep when anyone came into his room. He wasn’t sure this family thing was going to work. Well, he had time to think it through while he recovered in this big comfortable bed. Never had he called a bed like this his own. Sure was nice! But then, so was the food, and the quiet suited him just fine. And having his clothes cared for, and the company at night and… Whoa, there, Johnny-Boy! You’re gonna talk yourself into staying without givin’ it enough thought. Yeah, it’s nice here, but what about takin’ them orders from the ol’ man? An’ what’re ya gonna do when someone comes ta call ya out? Ya know it’ll happen, sooner or later. You willin’ ta put Lancer an’ all that goes with it in danger?
It was no wonder the nightmares were plaguing him. If it wasn’t the men he’d killed looking for revenge, it was Maria, his mother, interrupting his sleep, filling his head with lies. Why had she lied to him? Why couldn’t she have left him here instead of dragging him from one border town to another, and why had she died, leaving Johnny to fend for himself and learn the way of the gun? Was it to keep him from knowing what was waiting for him? To appreciate it now after he’d lived a life scrounging to eat? The questions were too many, too maddening, and none of them had answers.
A shrill whinny from the corral drew Johnny’s attention, and he knew it was Barranca. The golden horse he tamed. No, Johnny didn’t tame him. The horse tolerated the man on his back, and there was a connection between man and beast, but Johnny never wanted to tame that spirit! Then he relaxed on the bed. He had a good horse, the best he ever owned; and, he found a brother, a brother who was a good man. So, Johnny took stock. Good horse, good brother. That’s a fine start, but what about the ol’ man?
It was there in the back of his mind. The man they met that first day wasn’t the Murdoch Lancer that Johnny was getting to know. This man that sat with him while recovering from Pardee’s bullet had gentle hands, and, Johnny remembered as the fever raged through him, the man spoke gently and told him stories of when he, Johnny, was a baby here at the ranch, here in this very room. And Johnny remembered hearing him cry when telling of his discovery that his baby boy had been taken away.
Murdoch Lancer did not lie, he never threw us out. It was Mama that lied. But it was done and over. Johnny looked around him, thinking he would give this family thing a try. It was all he could do. He would make no promises, but he would try… with all his heart. And he smiled.
For one hour of my time…
The night was chilly as Murdoch Lancer sat before the fire, soaking up the warmth. He was the happiest man on the face of the Earth. Today he and his sons signed the agreement, making them equal partners of the one hundred thousand acres that was Lancer. And, the unexpected happened as he watched Johnny sign his given name: John Lancer. Murdoch’s dreams were coming true!
Although it had taken these many years, both Scott and Johnny were home. He couldn’t call any of that lost time back, couldn’t change what was, but this was a new beginning for all of them and a chance to be a family.
And as he sat in reflection, dear Catherine came to mind. He was enchanted with the elegant aristocratic debutant from the first moment he’d seen her. Where had he found the courage to talk with her? To confide his hopes and dreams, to ask her to be his wife? And she bore his child, Scott, but he lost her, trying to keep her safe, and he lost Scott, both taken from his loving arms! He was a broken man that would never heal.
Until he met Maria, and she lit a fire in him, a fire he thought long burned out when Catherine died, and Scott was stolen before he had a chance to hold his newborn for the first time. But the young woman brought him to life, taught him to love and live as lovers should. She healed his wounds and… gave him a son. Johnny.
Had Catherine lived, Johnny wouldn’t have been born. Could he justify the swap? He didn’t know, but what he did know was, without a doubt, he loved them all, even as they left him with painful memories and blistering scars.
Scars. They had shaped much of Murdoch Lancer’s life. He’d felt tortured and defeated; he existed but had not lived. He loved the ranch but hadn’t loved. Murdoch Lancer burned to ashes but now rose like the legendary phoenix to live again… with his sons.
For one hour of their time…
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