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Sacramento by Charlene

Word Count 6,921

Thanks to Sandy for the beta read. Lancer is owned by whoever owns them, I’m just playing with them.


Episode Tag for Shadow of a Dead Man.
The Gunman’s Woman Series #2

“Are we really riding a stagecoach?”

Johnny laughed.  The little boy was practically bouncing in his seat.  They had made a wise decision putting him between them on the wagon seat.  

“Yeah, Grady, we really are.  Riding a stage ain’t nuthin’ to get excited about.  It jostles a body’s insides right out.”

“Aww Johnny, you’re funnin’ me.”

“Nope.  Now, the real fun of this trip will start when we get on the train in Elk Grove.”

“We’re riding a train!  Really?  A train!  Ma, did’ja know we wuz ridin’ a train?”

Jessamie laughed, put her arm around the boy’s small shoulders, and squeezed him tight.  “Yes, Grady, I did.”

Grady smiled.  “This is gonna be the best trip ever, even if it is my first trip anywhere.”

“The first of many, Grady,” Johnny added.  He pulled the wagon up the livery in Lockeford and jumped down.  He patted Barranca as he walked around the wagon before calling out, “Anybody here?”

A burly man in a leather apron came out of the livery barn, horseshoes in his hand.  “Can I help ya, mister?”

Johnny grinned.  “Yep.  Need to stable the horses and keep the wagon here.  We’re goin’ to Sacramento.  Be back Monday after next.”

The blacksmith looked at the two wagon horses and the showy Palomino hitched to the back.  He scratched his chin.  “Well, reckon’ that’s about ten days total, keep and feed.”

Johnny nodded.  “I want them getting your best.  Oats and, at least, an apple a day.  Good currying too.”

The man seemed to be counting in his head.  “Lemme see, I make that to be about seven dollars and two bits for the horses and a dollar to put the wagon out back.  Seem fair?”

“Fair enough.” Johnny fished out a ten-dollar gold piece and handed it to the blacksmith.  “Keep the extra.  I’ll settle Barranca in your best stall myself.  Then, you be careful.  He can bite when he’s a mind to.”


The carriage stopped in front of the three-story high whitewashed building on Sacramento’s Second Street.  The Grand Hotel was a sight to behold.  The second and third stories contained balconies to watch over Sacramento’s main thoroughfare.  Johnny jumped down, turned, took hold of Jessamie by her waist, and deftly lifted her from the carriage.  Grady followed, jumping down and running to the back of the carriage where the driver was removing their luggage.

A boy who seemed to be in his late teens wearing a red and black uniform descended the stairs and went toward the luggage.  “I’ll tend to your luggage, Sir,” he said and started gathering the bags from the carriage driver.

Johnny nodded his head, walked over and grabbed Grady swinging the laughing child over his shoulder.  “Thanks.  I’ll take this sack of potatoes with me.”

Jessamie laughed and followed him into the lobby.  It was so grand.  Dark mahogany wood paneling, hunter green silk wallpaper, and brass wall sconces that were spit-polished shined.  She had never been in a place so grand.  It was intimidating.  She quickened her pace to catch up to Johnny and Grady.

Johnny sat Grady on the polished counter and leaned over the desk.  With a flourish, he popped the bell and watched the slim, bespectacled man come out of the office behind the desk.  The man glanced at the boy, who was giggling and swinging his legs, and looked at Johnny.  “May I help you, Sir?”

Johnny grinned at the man.  “Got a reservation for Lancer.”

The clerk’s eyebrows shot up.  He was expecting an older man for the reservation of the hotel’s finest suite.  The young man before him, in a dark green shirt and brown pants with some sort of silver conchos running down the side, was certainly not the cattleman he thought was coming.  “From the Lancer ranch?”

Johnny nodded.  “Yep, that’s the one.  Johnny, Jessamie and Grady.” Johnny winked at Grady.  “We’re here for the Cattlemen’s Association meeting.”

“Yes, sir, there are a lot of cattlemen coming in for the meeting.  You, however, reserved our best suite.”

Smiling, Johnny turned to Jessamie. “Nothing but the best for my lady.”

She slipped her arm in his with a slight squeeze and leaned her head on his arm.  She laughed when Grady expressed his displeasure with a “Yeech!”


The clerk pulled out the brass key from the slotted boxes behind him and handed it to Johnny.  “Sir, if you will sign the register, Jeremy, there will show you to your suite.  If there is anything at all that we can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.”

Johnny dipped the pen in the inkwell and looked at the register.  ‘Well, here we go,’ he told himself as he signed ‘Johnny, Jessamie and Grady Lancer.’  If any of Murdoch’s friends saw … and told Murdoch … well, that was something he would deal with then.  Despite Murdoch and Scott sometimes not acknowledging the fact, he was a grown man.  This was his future he was working towards.  They… him and Jessie … were working towards.  He turned, took her hand, and squeezed it gently.  “Let’s go.”

Jessamie’s eyes grew wide as they entered the suite, and her mouth dropped.  “Oh, Johnny, this is too much.” They had entered a large sitting room that had a red settee in the center, sitting before a fireplace with a marble mantle.  Toward the row of windows at the far side of the room sat a round table and four cushioned chairs.  A door in that wall of windows led to a balcony with wrought iron railings.  Everything was ornate and fancy.  Jessamie bit her bottom lip.  “Johnny,” she whispered.

“Ma’am,” the bellhop began.  “There’s a bedroom on either end of the suite.  The room on the right has two beds, and to the left, one larger bed.  Beside the room on the right is the water closet.”

“What’s that?” Grady asked as he wandered around the large space.

“Where you bathe,” the bellhop replied.

“I don’t wanna take no bath!  Ma, I took a bath before we left the house.  Do I have to take another one?”

“You most certainly do, Grady Lancer!” she replied, one hand going to her hip and a finger on her free hand wagging at him.

Johnny laughed.  He fished out a quarter and handed it to the uniformed boy.  “Thanks.”

The bellhop smiled.  “My name’s Jeremy.  If you need anything, just pull on the red rope and someone will come to the room.  Or you can find me, and I’ll be glad to help you with anything you need.”

Johnny nodded.  “Thanks again.  We’ll want dinner in the room tonight.”

“That can be arranged, Sir.”

Johnny closed the thick walnut door behind Jeremy and looked around.  “Well, I guess me and Grady will take the room to the right and Jess, you can have the room with the big bed.” He winked at her and grinned, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief.

Jessamie turned in a full circle.  “Johnny … this room … it must’ve cost a fortune.  It’s just,… I’ve never seen the like.  It’s … too much.”

He moved to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close.  “Not for you, Mrs. Lancer.” His mouth met hers in a warm kiss.

“Eww!” Grady espoused as he dramatically fell on the settee.  “Johnny, why ya gotta kiss Ma like that?”

Johnny moved over and ruffled Grady’s thick brown hair.  “I’ll explain it to you in about five years, Grady.”

“Well, I ain’t never gonna kiss no girl,” Grady said solemnly and started wandering around the room.

Johnny and Jessamie started laughing at the boy and Johnny replied, “Oh, you will Grady.  One day you will, and you’ll like it.”



Johnny debated for a moment sliding down the gleaming banister of the Grand Hotel’s grand staircase but thought better of it.  He was here representing Lancer, and someone might see.  Then there was Jessie and Grady to consider.  If he were to do this, Grady would surely hear and try to do the same and then Jessamie would pepper his backside with buckshot.  Yes, he did not want to rile his lady.  So, with a sigh, he decided against his antics as Murdoch called them and briskly descended the steps, his right hand sliding down that shiny, polished banister.  He whistled as he strode through the lobby and to the reception desk.  The bespectacled clerk who had checked them in earlier was standing there perusing the latest edition of the Sacramento Bee.  With a gleam in his eyes, he partook of a slight antic and animatedly rang the little silver bell sitting on the counter.

The clerk looked up unamused.  “May I help you, Sir?”

“Yep!  I want to arrange for dinner in our room tonight, and I need directions to that new Cattlemen’s Club.”

“Certainly, Sir,” the clerk sighed.

Plans made and directions taken, Johnny headed out.  Sacramento was growing.  The Cattlemen’s Association had purchased a building since the last time he and his family had been in the city.  Getting real up in the world, Jelly had said.  Reckon he was right too.  Johnny hated these meetings and had avoided them like an outbreak of influenza, but he recognized how important they were for the business side of ranching.  It also gave him an excuse to spend time with Jessamie and Grady.  Time away from their place, away from the problems that seemed to follow him there.  Time to just be the Lancers.  The three of them.

He wondered, not for the first time, what his family, the other Lancers, would think.  He thought that they would be happy for him if he was happy.  Yet, he knew there would be questions for which he hadn’t quite worked out the right answers.  Not yet.  It was complicated.  Yet, being with them was the easiest thing in the world.  It felt so right.

He stopped at the two-story red brick building and smiled as he read the sign.  White with red letters.  California Cattle Growers Association.  Who would’ve thought, three short years ago, that ol’ Johnny Madrid would be walking through those doors as a member, a businessman, as one of them?  Respected even, if only for his last name.  It was a proud name, and it was his.  It had taken a while to get used to it, to walk around in it.  Now it was as comfortable as his favorite shirt, if not quite as faded.  Part and parcel of him.  Johnny Lancer.  He liked how it rolled on his tongue.  It made him his father’s son, and that made him content.

He entered the building, still whistling and looking for someone he knew.  He didn’t have to look long.  Johnny heard his name being called from across the large foyer.  Smiling, he waved his hand and headed for the older man.  He was a little shorter than Johnny, round in the middle, and always had a smile.

“Mr. Phillips, good to see you again.”

“Johnny, call me Tim.  Where’s that old scalawag of a father of yours?”

Johnny laughed.  “Back at the ranch.  He and Scott thought it was time for me to come to one of these things and learn.  Besides that, I’ve got some … personal business here.”

Tim’s grey eyes twinkled.  “Personal business, huh?  Sounds like a lady.” He laughed, slapped Johnny on the back, and placed his arm around the younger man’s shoulders.  “Let me buy you a drink.”

“Yeah, sure,” Johnny replied.  He let the older man lead him through a large, cased opening into a large room that had been converted into a private saloon.  A polished walnut bar with a well-stocked row of bottles behind it sat on the far wall.  A three-pane gold gilt mirror graced the wall over the bar.  Johnny looked at the row of bottles and knew it was only the good stuff, no rot-gut or watered-down whiskey here.  “Do they have tequila?”

“Only the best, my boy, only the best.”

Johnny laughed.  “That figures.” Once ordered and delivered, he took a sip of the golden delight.  This was definitely not the mezcal he had so often partaken of in the seedy border towns of his past.  “This is good.” He and Tim Phillips engaged in small talk about their ranches and families, and he filled Johnny in on the ins and outs of the upcoming meetings.

“Well, hello again.”

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed at the sultry voice behind him.  It wasn’t one he’d expected to hear.  Johnny licked his lips, set his glass on the bar, and turned as coolly as if he was facing another gunman.  “Miss Mumford.”

Tim Phillips looked at the two of them.  Johnny’s blue eyes narrowed, his lips flat, while the tall blonde stood grinning at him.  “Well, I’ll see ya later, Johnny.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Johnny started when Tim patted him on the shoulder.

“I’ll see you at the meeting.”

Johnny watched the older man walk off and turned his attention back to the woman before him.  “Ma’am.”

“Can we sit and talk,” she asked breathlessly.

“No, ma’am, I don’t really see the need.”

“I know we got off on the wrong foot –”

“No, ma’am, we got off just fine.  It was the ending that was painful … for me.” He turned away and lifted his drink, sighed, and turned back.  She was still standing there.  He blew a breath, looked at the bartender and headed to a table near the door.

“Thank you,” she said as she followed him to the table.  She waited for him to hold a chair for her, but he didn’t.  Johnny Lancer took the seat with his back to the wall and looked up at her.  Sighing, she pulled out her own chair and sat.  “I am glad that I ran into you.  I want to apologize.  If I had known you were a Lancer, I would have handled things … differently.”

Johnny laughed softly.  “Oh.  Instead of how you handled them thinking I was just some saddle tramp.”

She smiled widely.  “Yes.”

Johnny leaned back in his chair, rested his hands on his middle and slowly smiled.  Tiffany Mumford was beautiful on the outside, but that was where it stopped.  She was spoiled, entitled and as devious as any man he’d ever met.  “Well, what now?  You still have my rifle and I heard tell from Murdoch that your father died three months ago.  You know who I am and where I live and you ain’t returned it, so … what do you really want?”

She watched him, studying his face.  She hadn’t noticed how handsome he was when they’d initially met.  She had felt he was beneath her, and she had been single-minded in obtaining that One of One Thousand Winchester.  “You can stop by, and pick it up, on your way back to Lancer.”

“No, ma’am.  I ain’t interested in going to your ranch.  You want to make amends, send the rifle to Lancer.  Now, if this is all …”

“I would like to start over.  I think we could become … friends,” she said seductively.  “And friends become business allies.  I think Lancer and the Mumford Ranch could do business together.  Beef prices have fallen because of the lack of rain.  The large ranches like ours can get to the market first, get the higher prices, and then pick up the small ranches for a song.  There’s a resolution being floated to hold mass round-ups, so everyone gets to the market at the same time.  That’s not good business.”

A sly smile grew.  “Ma’am, my father taught me that in this business, we gotta have a decent concern for our neighbor if we’re all going to survive.  The little ranches need our help, not us gobbling them up like a pack of wolves.”

“We don’t all need to survive, just the strongest.  Helping them hurts our business.  Surely you can see that.”

“No, ma’am, I don’t see it that way.  I speak for Lancer, and Lancer don’t see it that way just so we’re clear.  You have a good day, Miss Mumford.”


“Did’ja know that the whole town flooded real bad and they just built up.  So, under all these buildings are the old buildings and the first floor used ta be the second floor?”

Johnny grinned at the boy’s excitement.  “Yeah, I heard about that, Grady.  Pretty smart of them to just build up.  My brother would come up with an idea like that.”

Grady looked at Johnny, smiled, closed one eye, and flicked his thumb into his new cat’s eye marble.  He watched it roll into the circle, hitting a cluster of smaller marbles.  Holding his breath, he watched the marbles roll outside the circle, one, two, three, four.  “I WIN!” he shouted as he jumped up and down in excitement.

Johnny laid over on the floor laughing before he propped up on his elbow and started collecting the marbles.  “Good game, Grady!  One of these days, you can tell folks that you outshot Johnny Madrid.”

“Did’ya see Ma?  I outshot Johnny!  I won the marbles.  It was that new cats eye Johnny got me that did it!”

“I see that,” she said with a smile.  She shook her head slightly.  “Help Johnny gather the marbles and then it’s time for bed.”

“Aww, Ma, do I haf’ta?” Grady whined as he scooped his new marbles into the bag.

“Yeah, Grady.  Remember, I’m taking you to a cattle auction tomorrow.  You need your rest.  Run on and get to bed.”

“You’ll be in later?” the boy asked.

Johnny rubbed his head, “Yeah, I’ll be in later.”

“Johnny, would you mind putting Grady to bed tonight?” Jessamie asked from her seat on the settee.  

His blue eyes met her brown ones.  He smiled and nodded as he pushed off the floor.  “Yeah, sure.  C’mon, Grady,” he said as he picked the boy up and tossed him over his shoulder.

Grady was giggling.  “G’night, Ma.”

She shook her head at their antics and smiled.  “Good night, Grady.”


Johnny walked back into the empty sitting area.  His eyes were drawn to Jessamie’s bedroom door.  He sighed and moved to the sideboard, his fingers tracing the rim of the ice bucket holding the champagne he’d ordered.  A smile grew as he thought how proud Scott would be of him, ordering champagne to impress his lady.  He did listen to his big brother … some of the time.

He opened the French doors that led to the balcony and walked outside, looking up at the nearly full moon.  The air was still warm, yet a tingle crossed his skin when he heard her bedroom door open.  He was a jangle of nerves, and he knew she was as well.  They’d talked about this, planned it, his Jessie and he, but now …

Shaking his head for feeling like a young fool.  He’d been here before, done this before.  Yet he was fully aware that none of those times in the past counted.  None were the here and the now and his last first time.  His only future.

He turned and gave her a full smile as he walked back into the room.  “You’re beautiful,” Johnny whispered to her.  She was.  She was a vision in a long white peignoir with soft pink lace covering a white gown.  Her long red hair cascaded over her shoulders like waves from a rolling waterfall.

Jessamie grinned back, her hand fingering the lace on the nightgown.  “The lady at the store said this would make me feel like a June bride again.  She didn’t know that I’ve never felt like a June bride before.”

Johnny took her hand, “You will.  Tonight.  If you still want to.”

She moved into him, and his arms enveloped her.  “I want to.  I’m nervous, but I want to.  I have thought about this for months, with every letter you sent, or I sent to you.  I never thought I would want to be with a man after … well … I do though.  I want to be with you, Johnny.  Only you.”

He looked down into her brown eyes and the trust he saw there nearly undid him.  He’d never hurt this woman intentionally.  His lips found hers and he took in the sweet taste of her.  When they broke apart, he took her by the hand and led her to the sideboard.  

“Champagne,” he asked, pulling the bottle and popping the cork.  It shot across the room, and they started giggling, looking guiltily toward Grady’s bedroom door.  “He’ll sleep through a stampede,” Johnny added.

“But not a thunderstorm,” she replied knowingly.

“Luckily for us the skies are clear.” He poured the champagne and handed her a glass letting their fingers brush against each other.

“I’ve never had champagne before.” Jessamie took a sip of the intoxicating liquid and laughed.  “It bubbles.”

He laughed with her, a deep, throaty laugh.  “It tickles your nose.  You got a cute nose.”


“Yeah. Here, let’s try these strawberries.” He picked a large, ripe one, stuck it into her mouth, and laughed.  “Good?”

“Sweet,” she replied.

He leaned down and kissed her.  “Yep, sweet.” She giggled.  His free hand took hers and led her to the sofa.  He took their champagne glasses and placed them on the table.  Sitting down, Johnny leaned her back against him, remembering a night in her home when he’d done the same.  Then he had hoped to calm her frazzled nerves.  Now, he was doing the same.  He knew this step they were taking would change their world.  “You okay?”

Jessamie nodded.  “Yes.  I … I don’t know what to do.”

His arm wrapped around her, leaned his head down to hers, and kissed her softly on the cheek.  “I’ll show you.”

“Is this right, Johnny?”

He nuzzled her.  “It’s the rightest thing in the world.”

“We aren’t married.”

“Mrs. Lancer, we’ll get there.  We just do things backwards.  You had my Grady before I met you.  Now, we’re … well … we’ll get there.  We’re getting there.”

She laughed.  He made her feel good, safe, and whole.  “Grady’s yours, is he?” she asked with a laugh in her voice.

“Mmm, yep.  Mine.  Just like his Ma.”

“I’m yours?”

“Yep.” His arm draped across her shoulder and chest protectively.  “You know that you are.”

“Yes, I think I do,” she replied.  She let herself breathe in time with him as she rested against his strong chest.  She took in the heady scent of him and smiled.  Oh, how she loved this man.  This love had started as a seed and had grown larger and larger until it encompassed her whole being.  Yet could she let go of her fear?

“Love ain’t something that I’ve been real lucky at, Jess,” he started quietly.  “Oh, I’ve thought I had it before, only to have it run through my fingers like rainwater.  It won’t real, but this is real.  This is true.  But you have to feel that too.  I’ll never force anything on you, Jessamie.  I just want to share my forever with you.”

Jessamie let the rhythm of his chest and the sweetness of his words quiet her mind and allowed herself to release her inhibitions.  Johnny never forced her and she more than loved him for it.  She respected him.  Finally, she whispered, “I’m ready.”

He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to nest in her hair.  He took in the sweet scent of her, and he kissed her head.  Then, Johnny Lancer stood, sweeping Jessamie into his arms, and carried her into the room with the one big bed.


“Good morning, Mrs. Lancer,” he crooned softly as she stirred in his arms.

Jessamie sighed.  “I could get used to this.”

Johnny laughed.  “Yeah?  I sure hope so.  I already am.” He stretched out like a cat and smiled, wrapping his leg around hers.  He felt like a very satisfied cat.  Contentedly, he sighed.  Looking toward the window, he saw the pinks and yellows starting to kiss the horizon.  “I gotta get up, I don’t want to, but I gotta.”

“No,” she replied sleepily, her head on his chest, her arm draped around him possessively.

He looked at her, the tousled red hair, the smoky sleepiness in her doe like eyes.  She was beautiful.  He didn’t want to lose the moment but knew he had to.  “Yeah, I better.  I need to get in Grady’s room before he wakes up.”

“Grady,” she sighed.  “I’ve made such a mess of things.  What am I going to tell Grady?  How am I going to explain?”

Johnny nuzzled her, taking in the scent of lavender, and smiled.  “Maybe we make it easy.  Just tell him my real name and –”

She lifted her head off his chest and stared at him.  “Let him think that you’re his father?”

He grinned.  He loved Jessie in the morning, propping on his chest, staring at him with those brown eyes of hers.  Gold and green streaked through them like lightning bolts this morning.  Who would have thought fire could be green and gold?

“I’m gonna be, and I already am the way it counts.  The way I feel and the way I think he feels about me.”

“And what do you tell him for why you haven’t been around?  He’ll think you just didn’t want him.  Johnny, you know more than anyone how that feels.”

He dropped his head back on the pillow with a loud sigh.  “Yeah.” He tossed his right arm over his head.  “Yeah, I do.  But we can’t tell him the truth.  He ain’t old enough to understand that.” 

She wrapped her arms tighter around his chest.  “I never wanted him to know that, ever!  What am I going to do?”

“What are we going to do, Jessie?  We!  Not just you, not anymore.  We’ll figure it out.” His mouth found hers in a kiss.  Johnny knew he ought to get up, make Grady think they’d shared his room, yet Jessamie needed, they both needed, him to stay right here in this big bed.  “We got time.”


Johnny was whistling as he ambled down the hotel stairs.  It was a very good morning in what had become a very good life.  Turning toward the hotel dining room his good mood was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Good morning.  It seems we’re patronizing the same hotel again.”

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed.  Turning, he touched his finger to his hat brim, “Miss Mumford.”

She stalked closer to him.  “Maybe we can share the same tub again.”

“Brazen.  Yep, that’s the word my big brother would use.  Brazen.  Have a nice day, ma’am.” He turned away from her and headed into the dining room.  Spying a corner table by a window, Johnny beelined toward it with a smile.  Grady would like to look out the window.  He might even eat if he could stop talking about what he saw long enough.  Taking the chair that put his back toward the wall, Johnny Lancer sat where he could watch the arched entryway.

Tiffany Mumford stood stock still in the entry, hands on her hips, glaring at him.  She stalked over to his table, trying to hide her annoyance with this man.  “May I join you?”

Johnny looked up at her.  “Nope.”

“Now, there’s no need to be rude.”

Johnny looked up at her as his slow smirk grew.  It was that knowing smile that irritated many a now dead gunslinger down around the Mexican border.  “Nope, no need to be rude at all.  So, you can stop anytime.  Ya’ know, it’s rude to interrupt a man like you been doing.  Chasing after a man like you been doing.”

She started to give him a fiery retort when she saw a genuine smile erupt on his face.  She could not help but smile back and turn in the direction he was staring.  That was when Tiffany Mumford saw her.  Tiffany’s blue eyes narrowed as she looked at the young woman with red hair pulled into soft curls on her head standing in the restaurant’s entryway.  The young woman holding the hand of a small little boy.

Johnny stood and waved at them.  “Jessie, Grady, over here.” He started to go around and looked at Tiffany again, “Ma’am.”

Grady ran over, hugged Johnny and started rattling off questions about the cattle auction he was so excited to attend.  Jessamie walked more slowly, assessing the blonde woman standing near her table.  Stopping, she looked at Tiffany and smiled.  “Good morning.”

“Do we haf’ta eat?  I’m ready to go to the auction!  Are we gonna drive a herd back to the ranch?  Are we gonna –”

“Grady, hush,” Jessamie scolded as she turned her eyes to Johnny.

He pulled Grady in and then gently shoved him toward a chair.  “Jessamie Lancer, this is Tiffany Mumford.  She owns a ranch in Mumford’s Crossing.  She’s been trying to get me to see my way clear to vote on an idea she has for the Association.  I’m just afraid we don’t see eye to eye.”

Tiffany looked from Johnny to Jessamie before her eyes rested on Grady.  “Well, I think I see things more clearly now.  Good day, Mrs. Lancer.”

Johnny held a chair out for Jessamie.  She sat and looked at him.  “That’s a beautiful woman.”

“You think she’s beautiful?”

Jessamie tilted her head at him.  “Don’t you?”

Johnny sat, reached over, flipped Grady’s napkin open, and tucked it in the boy’s collar.

“When I first met her, I did.  Then I got to know her and now … nope.  I don’t think she’s beautiful at all.” He reached over and took her hand.  “You, however, are the most beautiful woman I know.  Right Grady?”

Grady tilted his head and looked at them.  “Yeah, I reckon Ma’s pretty … for a girl.”


“Lookit!  Lookit, them horns!” Grady was practically bouncing as he pointed out the Longhorn steers mulling in the auction corral.

“They’re from Texas.  We’re looking for some Herefords.”


“They ain’t as onery as longhorns.”

“Oh!” Grady replied, his mouth making a perfect circle as he nodded his little head.  He watched the cattle with their massive horns mill around the corral.  He felt Johnny’s hand on his shoulder as the man moved the boy through the crowd.

“Those are what we’re looking for,” Johnny said as he pointed toward the dark red cattle peacefully chewing on sod in another holding pen.  “That’s a good bunch.” They moved closer to the fence as the auctioneer was extolling the virtues of this particular group.  Johnny smiled as he looked them over.  Then he saw him – the bull.  Murdoch would be happy breeding that animal to his Lancer beeves.

The bull was next up on the auction block.

“One-hundred!” was called out from the other side of the pen.  

“One-hundred, we have one-hundred, will anyone give one-ten?” the auctioneer cried out.

“Say it Grady,” Johnny whispered and laughed when the child yelled out.  “One-ten!”

“Should I bid more, Johnny?” Grady asked.

“Let’s see what happens,” Johnny said as he lifted the boy up to stand on the corral fence.  He held Grady tight so he wouldn’t fall, and looked behind him to see Jessamie watching them from the spectator’s stand.  He smiled at her hearing someone bid one hundred and twenty.  “Bid One-fifty and say Lancer bids.”

Grady threw his arms over his head.  “Lancer bids one-fifty!”

“One-fifty!” started the auctioneer.  “Is anyone going to bid against Lancer’s one-fifty?  No, One-fifty going once, going twice, sold to Lancer for one hundred and fifty dollars!”

Grady squealed with delight.  “We did it!  We bought the bull.” He turned and fell into Johnny’s arms, wrapping his little arms tight around his neck.  “We did it!”

“Yep, we sure did, Grady.  You did good.  I’ve got to pay for it and arrange for it to be shipped to the ranch.”

“Our ranch?”

Johnny sat the child back on the ground and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Not your farm, Grady, my father’s ranch.”

“Oh,” Grady said, looking down and kicking at rocks.  “That’s where you live when you’re not with us.  I wish you could stay with us all the time.”

Johnny squatted down to be eyeball to eyeball with Grady and tilted the boy’s chin.  “I know you do, Grady.  I want to be with you and your Ma all the time too.  I want y’all to move to my ranch.”

Grady shook his head.  “I don’t think Ma’ll move.  Remember her with that mean ol’ Mr. Lewis.”

“Yeah, I do.  She’s stubborn.  We just gotta give your Ma reason to move.  Your Ma, she don’t make up her mind about these things as quickly as we do.  We have to let the idea settle on her.”

Grady looked toward Jessamie, who waved at him and then back at Johnny.  “Yeah.  Well, we can work on her.” He grinned when Johnny ruffled his hair.

“Lancer!  Johnny Lancer!”

Johnny and Grady turned in the direction of the man calling out.  Johnny waved as he saw Tim Phillips heading toward them.

Grady laughed.  “He called you Lancer!”

“Yeah, he did.  Grady, go on over to your Ma and tell her how you bought that bull.” He gave Grady a soft shove and watched the boy run, all knees and elbows.  He turned back toward his father’s friend and extended his hand.  “Tim.”

Tim pumped his hand as his eyes followed Grady to Jessamie.  He laughed and looked at Johnny.  “Your personal business?”

Johnny laughed.  “Yeah.”

Tim laughed.  “Here, I thought it was Tiffany Mumford.”

Johnny laughed.  “Nope.  No, no, no.  Hey, look, I appreciate it if you don’t mention this to Murdoch.  I want to tell him myself when the time’s right.”

 “He won’t hear it from me.  It’s your personal business, after all,” Tim said with a laugh.  “I’m happy for you.”

Johnny smiled.  “Thanks.  They sure do make me happy.”


“It should be right up here,” Johnny said as he led the way down Capital Street.  He smiled when he saw the sign that read ‘PHOTOGRAPHER’.  “There it is,” he pointed.  “A friend of mine had a photograph of his niece made here.” He smiled as he remembered Alice.  “Grady and her would like each other.  Probably get in a lot of trouble together.” Yep, once they moved to the ranch, he would have to see if Florida would let Alice come for a visit.

Jessamie laughed.  “So we’re going to have a photograph made.”


Grady squealed with delight.  “I can’t wait to have our photograph taken.  I ain’t never had one done before.  Have you had a photograph done, Ma?”

She looked at Johnny, remembering the picture he had taken from Harner’s saddle bags.  “Yes, Grady.  Before you were born.  When I was a girl.”

Johnny remembered the photograph too.  Harner had it in his saddlebags.  She had been so young, just about the same age Teresa was when he’d first come to Lancer, her hair in ribbons and curls.  It had been taken before Curtis Hobart stole her innocence.  He thought of his own childhood and how quickly it could be stolen by one act of evil.  Well, Grady had seen evil already in his short life, but he still had his innocence.  Johnny knew that he and Jessamie would do everything they could to keep life from stealing Grady’s innocence as long as they could.

A bell jingled over the door as they went inside.  A man looked up from his desk with a grin.  “May I help you?”

“Yeah, we want to take a photograph,” Johnny replied.

Grady wandered over and examined the camera equipment set up at the back of the room.  He turned and grinned at them when Jessamie admonished him not to touch anything.  “I won’t Ma!  I’m just excited!  It’s gonna be so much fun!”

The photographer laughed at the boy.  “You’ll have to sit perfectly still. Can you do that?”

Jessamie shook her head, “Never in his life.”

Johnny remembered Guthrie talking about the mechanical device that held Alice’s head still.  He didn’t want to do that to Grady.  Johnny shook his head, “I’ll hold him still.”


Jessamie stood on the back verandah of the Grand Hotel and laughed as she watched Johnny and Grady playing in the hotel’s garden.  They were attempting the new croquet game and she was positive they were not following the rules.  Running around chasing each other with the mallets could not be part of the rules, but they did not care and she loved watching them play.

“Mrs. … Lancer.”

Jessamie turned and saw Tiffany Mumford heading toward her.  “Miss Mumford,” she greeted and turned back to watch the croquet chase game.

“I’m glad I caught you alone.  I wanted to talk to you,” Tiffany began.

“About what?” Jessamie asked, turning to face the well-dressed blonde.  Jessamie could not help but notice the haughty way Tiffany held herself.  The way contempt seemed to roll from the woman’s blue eyes.

“The Association vote.  It’s tonight, and I want Lancer to vote against the mass round-ups.”

“Miss Mumford, I really don’t know about the cattle growers business.  That’s Johnny’s business, and you should talk to him.”

“I already have.  He wasn’t very cooperative.  I thought you could be more … persuasive.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I saw you at the auction.  I spoke with Tim Phillips after the auction.  He doesn’t seem to know that Johnny Lancer is married.  That wouldn’t be because he isn’t, would it, Mrs. … Lancer?”

“What’s between Johnny and me isn’t any of your business,” Jessamie snapped.  She moved closer to her adversary.  “I will tell you this, not that it is any of your business, but my name’s been Lancer for nine years.  My son was born Grady Lancer.  I’m not ashamed of anything, especially Johnny and Grady.  Now you, on the other hand, may want to think about your behavior.  Johnny’s told me how you’ve been throwing yourself at him like a strumpet!”

Tiffany struck out, slapping Jessamie in the face.  She was shocked when Jessamie slapped her right back.

“Johnny told me how you had him beat up and slapped him.”  Temper flaring, Jessamie pushed Tiffany Mumford back into the wall.  “Well, Miss Mumford, Johnny won’t hit you back, but I can and will.  Every time.  I don’t think you really want to try me anymore.  Lancer ain’t gonna be voting your way today or any day.”

“Jessie,” Johnny’s soft voice called.

“Have a nice day, Miss Mumford,” she said before turning and moving to Johnny.  

Johnny looked at the expression on Tiffany’s face before turning back to Jessamie.  “Is that something I should be worried about?”

Jessamie wrapped her arm around his, glanced one last time at Tiffany Mumford, and gave the woman a faint smile.  “No.  I took care of it.”  Smiling down at Grady, she pulled the boy to her and kissed his head.  “Let’s go.”


Jessamie tucked the covers around Grady, pushed the hair off his forehead and planted a feather light kiss there.  Turning, she saw Johnny leaning in the doorjamb, watching her.  Moving over, she whispered, “He was exhausted.  He had so much fun today; he was asleep when his head hit the pillow.  Is the meeting over already?”

“Yeah,” Johnny answered, “for me.” He took her hand and led her into the sitting room, quietly closing the door behind them.  “Except for the drinking, the poker playing, and the swapping of stories.  I wasn’t really interested in all that.”

“How did Miss Mumford’s vote go?”

 “She only got about eight people to vote with her.  Most of the cattlemen are good folks.  We agreed for the next two years to hold community round-ups.  We entered contracts with the buyers, so she can try to go it alone, but she’ll have to drive her herd out of state or get a lower price than what we negotiated tonight.”

“Good.” Jessamie wrapped her arms around him and leaned into his chest.

Johnny laughed softly.  “Boy, you sure were something slapping the mess out of her.”

“She hit me first. I’m not one to take that.”

“No, ma’am, you are not.  You’re just perfect.”

She laughed and looked up at him.  “Hardly.”

“For me.”

“Johnny.” She sighed.  “We still have to figure out how … Tiffany Mumford was right in what she said about us not being married.”

“We can fix that.  We can fix that tomor— ”

She placed her hand on his mouth.  “Shh. Don’t.  Not like this.  We need to think about what we want to tell Grady.  Besides, this is nice,” she said, pulling away from him and waving her arms around the suite.  “It’s grand.  Too grand.  When you ask, I want it to be more … us.”

“Bullets flying?”

“Johnny Lancer!” she admonished.

He laughed and moved to her, taking her in his arms.  “Okay, Mrs. Lancer, we’ll wait for blueberries and biscuits.” He tipped her head up, and their lips met.

“Blueberries and biscuits,” she whispered, “I like the sound of that.”

January 2023


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Charlene directly.


14 thoughts on “Sacramento by Charlene

  1. I really enjoyed this. Jessamie has stuck it lucky with Johnny. It was great when she slapped Tiffany back! They’ve made an enemy there though. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.


    1. Thanks Sam. I’m glad you liked it. Never know when that Tiffany will show up again but I think Jessamie can handle her.


  2. I love this series. Johnny, Jessamie and Grady are just perfect together. Can’t wait to see how you get them married and introduce Jessamie and Grady to Murdoch, Scott and Teresa.


  3. “Well, Miss Mumford, Johnny won’t hit you back, but I can and will. Every time. ” Oh, this was great! Char, I wanted to cheer when Jessamie stood up to Miss Mumford! Tiffany was a witch! That was a terrific scene!


  4. You write these characters so well. This series capture the essence of their characters so well. So looking forward to next installment and how Johnny and all tell Scott and Murdoch. Should make for some great reading.


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