A flash of trim ankle was the
first part of her to be exposed to the small town of Morro Coyo, yet those
few square inches of flesh were not merely noticed but center stage in the
eyes of the Lancer brothers for the fleeting moment they were exposed. It
was enough of a revelation to freeze them in their tracks from up the
Marco the stage driver, the professional expression he fought to maintain threatening to crumble as his eyes inexorably roamed from her face to bust, held her hand in a strong grip as the woman stepped surely from coach to street. Marco's hand floated in the air after her release as if he'd forgotten it was there. He visibly twitched from his stupor at the sound of her voice.
"Thank you, sir."
The woman's sultry voice and dazzling smile jerked Marco's eyes from their wandering and his leathery, sunburned cheeks glowed a bit more darkly. "Yes ma'm," he stuttered in response, looking momentarily at his hand as if it had betrayed him somehow. He pulled it back, embarrassed, and wiped in on his dusty vest.
"It's Miss," she said with a light tone. Turning her penetrating yet glowing gaze from his, it was clear he'd just been dismissed and Marco stumbled back a step before turning his attention to unloading the coach, his concentration on that simple task spotty at best before he climbed up in the driver's seat once again.
Not a day over 25, the woman was elegantly yet appropriately dressed for travel in the West. Her pale green bodice, snug against a trim waist and firm, high-swollen breasts which were subtly yet obviously displayed by an extremely flattering cut of neckline, was adorned with practical yet feminine lace. Gloved hands adjusted the wrinkle free skirt that draped most easily over a smooth and shapely profile. The edge of the skirt, clean of any dust and perfectly even at every turn, brushed the top of delicately booted feet. Gloriously shiny hair ashine with red and yellow highlights was turned into a flawless French roll that traced the very curve of her lovely neck and was topped with the latest style of hat that matched perfectly the green hue of her dress.
"My goodness," Scott breathed softly from the boardwalk, unable to tear his eyes away from the woman as she smoothed the skirt across her abdomen and swept a step across the dusty street toward the boardwalk steps. He swallowed hard.
"You took the words right out of my mouth, brother," Johnny replied dazedly. He reached up and tugged on the rim of his hat, dipping his eyes into shadow to cover his stare. Giving up any pretence of anything else, he crossed his arms across his broad chest and leaned into the hitch rail as he boldly studied her.
Something in his movement must have caught her eye, because as the lady gathered her skirt to step upon the boardwalk her head swiveled in his direction. Unabashed, she held Johnny's stare with one of her own for a moment before dazzling him with a confidant smile and returning her attention to the stairs before her.
Scott narrowed his eyes instantly and glared at his brother. "Do you know her?" he asked suspiciously.
Johnny broke a cocky, lopsided grin. "Not yet," he replied cheekily without taking his eyes from her.
Scott broke his glare and looked back at the woman as she indicated her bags with an elegant nod of head and graceful sweep of finger. A small collection of young men and boys gamboled at her feet to obey. "Are you going to talk to her?"
Johnny straightened up and hooked his thumbs on his gun belt. "When the time is right, brother. When the time is right." His appreciating gaze was broken by the sound of a snort from beside him. The mesmerizing spell broken, Johnny glowered at Scott. "What's so funny?" he demanded.
Straightening his jacket as he stood, Scott chuckled. "Well, the time may never be right, then," he said slowly, adjusting his cuff. "Because I'm afraid it's too late." The words were barely out of his mouth before the lean blond was halfway across the distance separating them from her, dodging the puffs of dust that trailed the stage as it departed.
"Hey!" Johnny snapped, falling in behind and mentally cursing his brother's long legged stride.
Scott stepped up on the boardwalk next to the lady and gave her a most brilliant smile, gallantly pulling his hat from his head as he put all his Boston-bred manners to work. "Good morning," he greeted, causing her to pause and turn toward him. "Welcome to Morro Coyo. My name is Scott Lancer."
She cocked her head, an amused smile sparking her green eyes into an emerald glow. "Well, hello Mr. Lancer." She offered a delicate, gloved hand.
Scott took the proffered fingers and brought them to his lips. He could see Johnny's eye roll in his mind's eye and his smile grew. "What brings you to Morro Coyo?"
"I'm here to meet with Dr. Sam Jenkins," she replied with a graceful nod of her head to Scott.
"Sam, you old dog." Johnny's comment made both Scott and the lady turn to him. Scott winced inwardly. "He's been holdin' out on us."
"My brother, Johnny Lancer," Scott ground out in a polite voice.
The lady's eyes focused on Johnny and sparked dangerously. Johnny held her look and smiled. Scott cleared his throat
"Are you family?" Scott inquired, getting her attention back to him.
"No, I'm here to talk about surgery," she said lightly, clearly enjoying the rivalry between the boys.
"You're sick, then?" Johnny asked as Scott gave him a horrified glance.
"Johnny!" Scott warned, the words edged in a nervous laugh.
"No, no," the woman said, emitting an enchanting laugh and placing a hand warmly on Johnny's shoulder. "We are going to discuss technique. I'm attending a symposium in San Francisco and he asked if I would visit beforehand. We've been corresponding by letter. He's a dear, isn't he?"
"Sam?" Scott clarified.
"A `dear'?" Johnny echoed.
"For practicing in such a rural setting, Dr. Jenkins is very up to date on the latest techniques. I was very impressed and wanted to meet him. Although I don't see him needing to know much of my specialty. . ."
"Your specialty?" Scott repeated, feeling like an idiot.
The lady paused. "Yes. I'm a surgeon that specializes in the area of the brain. A brain surgeon."
"A brain surgeon, huh? I guess my brother Scott here won't ever need your services, then, will he?" Johnny said with a wicked grin. Just when he was sure he had a chance at this classy woman, she turned back to Scott with that same, enchanting smile.
Scott straightened and didn't bother to grace his brother with a reply. Instead he offered his elbow. "I am afraid I did not catch your name, Miss . . . ?"
Her introduction was immediately interrupted by gunshots and a scream. Johnny moved on instinct before the sound even finished and scooped the lady's elbows into his hands. He bodily moved her against the wall.
More gunshots were followed by running footsteps and yelling. Two men burst from the bank doors adjacent to them. One of them clutched a bank bag under his elbow and began untying two horses while the other man, a six-shooter in each fist, fired shots to discourage any interference.
Scott dropped and scrambled behind a horse trough as Johnny shielded the lady from the robbers with his body. Everyone else in the street scattered from sight with startled screams. The first man quickly mounted his horse and pulled his gun to cover the second man as he mounted.
Suddenly, the lady in green twisted easily from Johnny's grip and stood in the center of the boardwalk, her eyes aflame with anger and her gloved hands clenched into fists at her side. She tilted her chin up defiantly. "How dare you!" she shouted in a firm voice.
Johnny reached over to snare her with is right hand when the first robber paused to rake the woman with his eyes. He held his dancing horse's head and snarled a smile. Then he began to raise his gun.
In a flash, the woman turned, snatched Johnny's gun from his holster and beat the man to the draw. One shot, and the robber fell dead from his horse, his shirt erupting crimson.
"Hey!!" Johnny yelped as he grabbed his gun from her grip.
The second man, now firmly seated, glanced down at his dead partner and turned his horse to run. The lady coolly stepped away from Johnny toward a horse tied by the water trough. She easily pulled a Winchester from the saddle scabbard, leveled it, and shot once. The robber fell into the dirt as his horse ran off.
Stunned, Johnny stared at the lady in green with a mouth open in shock. Scott slowly rose from the dust as the woman slid the borrowed rifle back into the scabbard and touched her hair to check that it was in place. Slowly, people started to emerge from their hiding places in surprised silence. The Sheriff ran across the street, his gun dangling in his grip.
"We are all right, Sheriff, but you should check inside the bank," she said calmly, facing him before he spoke and adjusting her still pristine glove. "But you'll need to send for the undertaker for those two hooligans. I will be in the hotel if you need my statement."
The Sheriff nodded mutely, mumbled a "Yes, ma'm," and meekly took off for the bank. Johnny still hadn't moved. Scott, now on his feet, dusted off his pants.
"I'm sorry you had to see that," the Bostonian said shakily, trying to collect himself. Inwardly, he cursed both is brother's and the woman's outer calm. "Morro Coyo is usually very quiet."
"It's all right," the lady replied, touching her hat briefly to make sure it was still properly placed. "We all need a little excitement in our lives, don't you think?"
"My feelin's exactly," Johnny replied instantly, his grin broadened to newfound widths as he slipped his gun away. Green eyes met steely blue in an electric gaze and sparks flew in near palatable chemistry. Continuing to hold the woman's eyes, Johnny adroitly bent his knees and grabbed the small yet tasteful suitcase by the woman's feet. "Let me take your bag."
This made the lady's eyes sparkle even more. "That's very kind of you," she acknowledged.
"Yessir, that's me. I'm just wonderful!" Johnny said with a sunny bright smile.
Scott rolled his eyes skyward at that comment but didn't fold in the face of his adversary. Instead, he stepped up and offered the lady his elbow. "While he's taking care of your luggage, let me escort you to your hotel." The flash of annoyance in his little brother's eyes was not missed.
The woman, an enticingly feminine smile still tilting her delicate mouth, turned to the blond brother and bowed her head once in acceptance. She took his arm while Scott winked slyly at Johnny. His mood, however, was instantly brought back to earth when the woman turned and took Johnny's elbow with her other hand.
Scott's smiled disappeared as he regained his composure. He reintroduced a very polite smile and made the effort to regain her attention. "I'm sorry," he said conversationally as they started toward the single hotel in town. "You have our names, but I don't believe I ever caught yours."
Perfect white teeth were framed by petal-like lips which formed a soft smile as the lady broke her gaze with Johnny and faced him. "You are correct, Mr. Lancer," she said nearly purred. "It seems I never had the chance. It's Mary Sue. Mary Sue Burfield."