The Trouble With Girls
by  Anne

 Disclaimer: These characters, apart from Jemimah Day, are not mine though, if they were, I would certainly show them more love, respect and gratitude than Fox do.
                       Scott is 27; Johnny is 22


"Stuck-up, snooty, prune-faced witch!"

Jemimah concentrated hard on her knitting and studiously avoided looking up at the girl getting back into the buggy. But her thoughts were in no way friendly.

"You'll tell Johnny I stopped by," the young woman's strident voice called across to Jemimah. It was an order, not a request and it rankled deeply. Jemimah felt her face flame and she finally dragged her eyes from the muffler she was making for Murdoch. Artfully, she managed to paste a pleasant smile over her scowl.

Annabel Johnson was undoubtedly Johnny's worst choice yet! She was vain, shrewish and inconsiderate, selfish to a fault. Mind you, Jemimah could hardly blame Johnny for finding her attractive she supposed. The girl had long honey-blonde hair and brown eyes; certainly not a hardship to look at. Plus which, she had a more than ample chest which she liked to show off in dresses that Jemimah uncharitably dubbed 'sucker-inner, pushem-outters'!

However, her personality was far from attractive but then she was no fool; she was careful to only allow Johnny to see her behaving all sweetness and light. He never got to see the way she snapped at the servants or anyone she felt was beneath her - Jemimah herself, being only Johnny's 'kid-sister', wasn't worth the time of day to the marvellous, Miss High an' Mighty Annabel Johnson!

"Oh, I'll be sure to tell him, Miss Annabel," Jemimah smiled prettily and put aside her yarn and needles to walk over to the buggy. "I expect you only came to tell Johnny what you think of him."

Annabel paused, frowning. "What do you mean?"

"You know... give him a piece of your mind? Tell him off? And I have to say I don't blame you, not one bit. I mean, I like Johnny - don't get me wrong, but... well, there's just some things that are stepping over the line in my book, don't you agree?"

Miss Johnson curled her lip unpleasantly as she listened to Jemimah's prattle. What on earth was the silly little brat rambling on about? She really had to be the most infuriating child and so... so cocky. Annabel always felt somewhat unsure of herself in the child's company; like the girl knew a secret that she did not. Truth be told, Annabel often felt that this kid could see right through her act and knew exactly what she was after from Johnny Lancer - and it made her feel downright unsettled, that's what!

"What are you talking about, you silly girl?" Annabel snapped rudely.

Jemimah's sea-green eyes narrowed minutely for a mere heartbeat then, feigning embarrassment, she gasped, her little hand fluttering to her mouth in surprise.

"Oh my! Oh dear me. You mean you don't know?" she gabbled. "Oh... me and my big mouth!"

"Know? Know what?"

Jemimah shook her head as if to indicate that she had already said far too much.

"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. After all, it's hardly my concern." Jemimah speedily returned to her chair on the veranda and made as if to resume her knitting, avoiding the older girl's eye in embarrassment.

A wicked green glint was hidden by her thick black lashes when Annabel waved her back again.

"Wait a minute! I insist you tell me right now what you're talking about!" she ordered petulantly. Miss Johnson was used to being obeyed. Her father was a rancher too and had a fairly substantial spread out beyond the Conway ranch. Annabel was an only child... and spoiled.  "You know something about Johnny? You just tell me and right this minute, d'you hear!"

Jemimah shifted uneasily and strolled back to the buggy. "We'ell, I dunno... I don't like to interfere. It puts me in a very awkward position here, don't you see?"

"I see that you'd better do as I say," Annabel sneered, her pretty face becoming sharp and calculating. "Or I'll simply have to tell Mr Lancer that I caught you sipping away at his whisky when I arrived."

"I most certainly was not!" Jemimah was momentarily startled. Lying bitch! "But you'd really tell him that, wouldn't you?"  I won't make the mistake of underestimating you again, you cow!

Annabel preened, knowing she'd won this round. "You'd better believe it, honey," she purred. "And whose word do you think he'll take - yours or mine? So, unless you want a whipping, I'd advise you to tell me everything."

Oh, I will, you can be darn sure of that! Jemimah stared hard at the woman, straining to hide the utter disdain she felt. You asked for it, Miss up-your-own-arse Johnson!

"Tell me NOW!" Annabel stomped a dainty slipper on the floor of the buggy, making her plentiful bosom jiggle in its tight confined bodice.

"Well, alright. But, if he finds out it was me that told, Johnny will cut a switch and blister me for sure." Jemimah bowed her head sadly, the image of a very worried young lady.

"I won't say a word to him about you," Annabel lied. "Now, what is it?"

The little scamp bit back a smirk. Reeling in this dumb chest-on-legs was too easy!

"I wouldn't normally say anything but I just think what he's doing to you, Miss Annabel is the most low-down, sneaky, rotten..."


"Alright. Well, you know that Johnny is taking you to the Thanksgiving social on Saturday?" noticing the woman's increasing impatience, Jemimah made haste to carry on. "But, what you don't know is that he's been sweet-talking that Samantha Fry as well and he let on to Scott that he'd asked her to go with him instead an' the only reason he's takin' you is 'cos she's goin' with her folks to Sacramento on the Saturday morning to stay at her uncle's place."

Jemimah rather enjoyed the alarmed flash of self-doubt on Annabel's face; she had a grimace on her puss that could sour milk!

"No... no, that can't be... I mean, I knew she wasn't going to the social but..."

"Yep," the kid nodded emphatically. "And what's more, he's having her over here for a special dinner on Friday night to say goodbye before she goes. And last night..." She eyed her victim craftily and waited.

"Last night? What happened last night?" steam was fairly coming out of Annabel's ears.


"Out with it right now!" Miss Johnson shrieked, spittle flying in her rage. How dare Johnny Lancer try to use her and... Samantha Fry? Everyone knew she was more or less engaged to Rob Outram... wasn't she?

Jemimah sighed as though the information was being dragged from her most unwillingly.

"Alright (sigh), last night he was sitting on this very veranda with her and they was... holding hands and... kissing!" Alright, that was a bit of a stretch but Sam had dropped by with her parents and Johnny did hold her hand to help her into the buggy and he'd given her a peck on the cheek too, after all, they were good friends; Sam and Rob had dropped broad hints about asking him to be their Best Man when they finally picked a date for the wedding.

Annabel gasped loudly, her hand to her breast. "Kissing?" All the colour had drained from her face.

"I'm afraid so. We all saw it and I must say that Scott and Murdoch were none too pleased with Johnny." Whoops, that was a downright fib but... what the hell! "Said he was a real... now, what was the word?  Oh yes, that was it... Bluebeard!" Jemimah's innocent expression would have fooled all but her family who could recognise the mischief sparkling in her eyes. "Are you feeling quite well, Miss Annabel?"

The sneering girl glanced at the child before her, her face looked like she had just swallowed a lemon. Jemimah could barely restrain herself from cracking up laughing.

"Oh yes, I'm fine. But that Johnny Lancer won't be when I see him!"

She gripped her little whip so hard that her knuckles showed white then, cracking it smartly over the heads of the two horses, she bolted off like a shot from a gun, heading for town.

Jemimah leaned on the hitching post watching the buggy disappear in a cloud of dust. She chuckled to herself, not noticing a figure standing behind her.

"Jemimah, you look just like the cat who swallowed the cream," Scott observed.

Jemimah turned to look up at him. Had he heard what she'd said? "Do I?" she asked innocently, smiling to herself.

A gleam of suspicion lit his grey-blue eyes. "Wasn't that Annabel Johnson?" He jerked his head at the rapidly diminishing buggy.

"Hmm? Oh yes, she was looking for Johnny."

Scott was becoming increasingly uneasy. When this little minx acted so innocently, trouble was never far away.

"And what did you tell her?"

"Me? Oh, nothing really." The girl gave a nonchalant toss of her head, her long pony tail swishing, and skipped back to her chair on the porch.

Scott regarded her, hands on his lean hips. "Jemimah, what are you up to?"

She could not fail to catch the warning note in his voice and, despite herself, shivered slightly. However, her wide green eyes were untroubled when she stared fearlessly back at him.

"Up to?" she was affronted by his suggestion. "Why, nothing at all, Scott! I'm just getting on with this Christmas present for Murdoch; sitting here enjoying the afternoon... that's all." She shrugged.

Scott, far from being reassured by her words, felt even more suspicious.

"Well, let's hope so. Remember what Murdoch said... any more of your shenanigans and you won't be sitting anywhere!"

Jemimah raised her chin, her pert little nose in the air, and sniffed derisively, smoothing her woollen cardigan down with the prim indignation of an old maid.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"For your sake, I hope not!"

Scott winked at her, shaking his finger in warning. That girl! It had taken one of Murdoch's ear-blistering lectures followed by a butt-blistering of equally epic proportions to reign her in but, since then, they'd all had to admit she had behaved herself. Her school work had been exemplary and two good reports had been delivered to their father from the young school master, Mr Quinn. Scott hoped this was not simply the calm before the storm.

"Don't stay out here too long, y'hear?" Scott covered his concern with a brusque warning. "The air's getting a little chilly now."

"Huh, you call this chilly?" Jemimah scoffed. "Back in England, we'd be wearing woollen underwear, thick coats and mittens by now. You namby-pamby Americans ain't never seen cold!"

Scott chuckled. "I think the people of Wisconsin, Nebraska and even New York would disagree with you there! Boston sees its share of snow too, believe me."

"Maybe," she allowed. "But not here eh? End of November an' all you really need is a woolly." She plucked at the sleeve of her knitted sweater in explanation.

Scott smiled and shook his head at her, mussing her hair fondly as he sauntered back inside.


Johnny shrugged himself deeper into his leather jacket, glad of the sandy coloured softness around him. Dios! It was getting cold. Not for the first time he missed Mexico and the heat of the sun which warmed your bones. He could not imagine living in Boston like his big brother where it actually snowed! There was nothing civilised about that!

He peered down at his blue shirt and fastened one more of the buttons. Roll on spring! There had hardly been a fall - they just seemed to have skipped right on to winter. Ever since that day of the big storm, when the kid had lit out on her own, the weather had dipped, the temperature dropping steadily. Why, he had even found ice on the water trough the other day!

He thought of Jemimah and grinned to himself. The cold never seemed to bother her. Always skipping and haring about the ranch, she had even gone skinny-dipping last month at the waterhole. Johnny's mouth, invariably set in a warm smile, firmed into a thin hard line at the memory. He hunkered down into his saddle. The thought of her swimming with that boy, both of them in the buff... made his blood boil every time! Then he smirked, shaking his head - no wonder the kid was never cold; her backside was always on fire from her latest whupping! She did beat all! He'd never known a young 'un so able to find trouble and mischief. Johnny dipped his head, aware that he was outright grinning now. That kid - she could be as ornery, wilful and bothersome as he was when he was a youth... but, despite that or maybe because of it, he loved her. They all did.

"Johnny, you ready?"

Murdoch hailed his son as he mounted his big bay horse and glanced across to the young man.

"Well, Murdoch," Johnny smiled good-naturedly. "Seein' as I been sittin' here, waitin' on you for the last half hour... yep, I'm ready!"

The big man smiled back. "Alright, son. I'm sorry to have kept you. How about a good stiff whisky by the fire when we get back?" Murdoch knew his youngest boy hated the winters and was susceptible to colds.

"Make it a double an' you're on!" Johnny grinned, his blue eyes sparkling in his tanned face.

Murdoch chuckled back boyishly and they nudged their mounts into a trot, taking the road which led out of Green River and on to the way home to Lancer.

As they passed the hotel a buggy came into view, moving smartly along the road towards them. Johnny narrowed his eyes then, calling to Murdoch to hold on a moment and passing him the reins, he slid down from his horse and waited.

In no time, the buggy had pulled up beside him. Johnny planted his left boot onto the step and leaned towards the young woman inside.

Annabel had swathed her shoulders in a thick shawl against the wind but, Johnny noticed with appreciation, it did nothing to completely conceal the fine bosom within. If anything, said bosom was puffed out and the young man could not help but drink in the sight admiringly.

"Why, if it isn't Johnny Lancer," Annabel breathed, smiling coquettishly. She beckoned him closer with her dainty gloved hand.

Johnny removed his hat. May as well sample a kiss if it's on offer! He leaned in closer... only to reel away in shock when her hand swung back and slapped his face - hard!

"Hey! What the..." Johnny rubbed his sore cheek, stars dancing before his eyes. He was now feeling far from amorous.

"Save your kisses for Samantha Fry!" the girl hissed.

Johnny blinked. What the hell was she talking about Sam for? "Samantha Fry? What are you..."

Annabel leaned forwards, her finger wagging furiously at Johnny who backed up in amazement from the spitting wildcat.

"Don't you try to deny it!" she steamed. "You're nothing but a two-timing... low-down... sneaky..."

Johnny was getting angry. When she swung out again to give him another whack, he hopped nimbly to one side and smiled with grim satisfaction when she almost fell out of the buggy. As it was, the double frontage he usually so admired was practically spilling over the lacy top of her bodice!

"Two-timing? Sneaky? Annabel...?" he didn't much take to being called names when he hadn't done anything wrong.

"Yes - two-timing! I know you're having dinner with her on Friday night. A special goodbye dinner!" Annabel's lip curled in a nasty mocking sneer. Johnny was reminded forcefully of a wounded cougar he had once come across and been forced to put out of its misery.

"Yes, that's right but..."

"See! You... you... Bluebeard!"

The girl was shrieking now and a small crowd had gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Johnny glanced around him uncomfortably, backing away from the scene. For two pins, if it weren't for the audience, he'd drag her off somewhere quiet and return that slap where it'd do the most good!

"Blue what?" he growled, thoroughly fed-up. "Annabel, just hold on there an' listen!"

"Oh sure," she flounced. "More of your lies!"

Johnny's eyes glinted with a dangerous blue fire. Lies? Now she was going too far.

"You just hush now an' listen to me!"

But Miss Johnson was in no mood to do any such thing. If she had only known how close Johnny was to losing his temper, she may have decided to revert to the sweet, soft, feminine creature she usually portrayed but, having written him off, she no longer needed to keep up the pretence.

"You're a cad, Johnny Lancer and I'm just thankful I found out the truth. At least there's one person at Lancer who has a little decency..."

"Oh, and who might that be?" Murdoch's stern voice rang out from behind his son.

Annabel stopped in surprise, warily taking in the big man's dark expression. She certainly had no time for the son any more but she realised instantly that she would be a fool to irk the father. Her own Papa would hear of it if she upset Murdoch Lancer. He was the biggest landowner in the state and Papa was always trying to get on his right side. Her father might indulge her every whim but he would be mad as a wet hen if she alienated Mr Lancer.

"Well, sir," she faltered, scooping up her shawl to cover her cleavage. "I was having a chat with the little girl, dear Jemimah."

"Jemimah? You been talkin' to Jemimah?" Johnny bit out.

"Yes I have!" Annabel's temper fired up again. "And thank goodness I did. She told me what's been going on behind my back!"

"She did? What exactly did she say?" Murdoch asked.

Annabel's dark eyes narrowed spitefully as she glared at Johnny. Her look was filled with scorn but, annoyingly, he seemed unperturbed, even slightly amused.

"Ask him - he knows!" she spat.

Grasping the reins, she cracked her little whip smartly over the heads of the two horses and the buggy bounced off.

Johnny stared after her a moment. The crowd, realising the fun was over, gave him a curious look then dispersed. Johnny took hold of Barranca's reins from his father and eased himself into the saddle.

"And do you know?" Murdoch asked quietly, watching his son.

Johnny chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. "Not yet, but I'm goin' to!"

The two men looked ahead at the trail to Lancer and urged their horses on the path home.


"Y'alright, Murdoch?"

The big man had just heaved a heavy sigh and was clearly deep in thought. Even now, Johnny had to nudge him to get an answer.

"Hmm? What's that?" his father was prodded out of his reverie. "Oh, yes, I'm fine Johnny. Shouldn't it be me asking you that though? You were the one she slapped."

Johnny smirked and ruefully rubbed his face. "Nah, I'm fine. Didn't cotton to her choosin' to do it in the middle of the street though; woulda' thought Annabel would have more... what was that word Scott used the other day?"


"No, that ain't it... finesse! That's it - finesse," Johnny seized on the unusual word and rolled it around his tongue. "Yep, woulda' thought she'd show a bit more finesse than that."

Murdoch coughed and muttered, "About time Seth Johnson taught his daughter a few manners if you ask me! She's a spoiled brat!" He suddenly glanced at Johnny and sheepishly apologised. "Sorry, son, I know you're... fond of her."

Johnny stared straight ahead, a slight smile playing about his lips.

"Well, she sure has a couple of mighty fine qualities."

He grinned at Murdoch who, realising exactly to what his boy was referring, struggled to maintain his serious expression. He cleared his throat.

"I just can't fathom that girl."

Johnny scrutinised his old man. It was obvious he was no longer referring to Annabel. He looked... what was that other word Scott told him... yes - despondent; kinda downhearted.

"If she's been up to her nonsense again... if she's caused all this bother," Murdoch ground his teeth. "Well, she'll wish she hadn't, that's all."

Johnny said nothing but regarded his father anxiously. He knew Murdoch no more relished the thought of whomping Jemimah than he did.

Murdoch was speaking again. "After the last time, I thought she'd changed her ways; she's been an absolute angel since then..." Johnny hid a smirk. Angel was hardly a word he would use in the same sentence as Jemimah. "She's knuckled down at school, toed the line at home and helped out around the kitchen. Winning the spelling bee last week... I thought at last she was starting to settle down."

"Murdoch, she's settled just fine," Johnny affirmed gently. "This is just the way she is - she don't misbehave 'cos she's unhappy; she just can't help it! That kid loves mischief an' she could find it in a convent full of nuns!"

Murdoch snorted with laughter, nodding his head in agreement. That child was a real handful and no mistake... but he would no more have changed her than he would have flown to the moon.

"Nonetheless, I'll get to the bottom of all this for you, Johnny," he announced. "And, when I do, Miss Jemimah is going to be one sorry young lady."

"No, Murdoch," the older man looked up in surprise when Johnny spoke. "If you don't mind, I'll deal with this. There's something I need to say to that kid."

Johnny was the injured party, it was true. Murdoch raised an eyebrow and tilted his head considering it. A feeling suspiciously like relief washed over him and he straightened in the saddle.

"If you feel that strongly about it, Johnny, of course."


Teresa wiped her hands on the dishcloth, admiring the handsome length of neat blackberry stitch knitting in Jemimah's nimble little fingers.

"You'll have to teach me that stitch, Jemimah," she smiled down at her. "Though I'm not much of a knitter; I prefer to sew and embroider."

"Well, that's more than I can do then. At least you can make your own dresses... and shirts for Johnny and Scott. I hate sewing; it all takes too long and I run out of patience but knitting I can do without having to think too hard. It means I can drift off and daydream. Then, when I look down, I find the knitting's grown without me realising it."

Teresa smiled then she shifted to the wall, peering down the road.

"Oh, I think it's Murdoch and Johnny back from Green River," she called over her shoulder. "Oops, Murdoch looks grim. Maybe his back's bothering him again in this chill."

Jemimah pricked up her ears. She carefully pushed her knitting well onto the needles so it wouldn't slip then stood, placing it onto her chair. Standing by Teresa, she also craned her neck to see down the lane. It was Murdoch and Johnny and the older girl was correct; Murdoch looked very stern. Then again, so did Johnny; his usual smile was nowhere to be seen.

Both men spotted the little girl and, if anything, their expressions darkened. Jemimah was no fool; she wasn't waiting to find out what had got them riled this time. She about-faced and sped into the house just as Murdoch and Johnny stopped by the hitching rail.

Johnny tossed his reins to his father once more then, sweeping his right leg over Barranca's neck, he jumped lightly down and took off running after the girl.

"Jemimah! Jemimah!" Johnny's voice called out as he shrugged out of his jacket and deposited it, with his hat and gun belt, on the stand by the foot of the stairs.

He strode into the great room, scanning the living area by the fireside and Murdoch's huge desk near the windows. He couldn't see her but knew she had to be there; he'd seen her race in only seconds before him.

"Jemimah, get your tail out here!" Johnny wandered uncertainly over to the French windows. "I want to know exactly what you've been saying to Annabel."

He softened his footsteps so that his fancy spurs did not ring out to alert her. Smiling, he grasped the heavy red curtain and, quick as a flash, swept it to one side.

"Maldita sea!" he cursed. He'd thought for sure she was hiding behind the curtain. "Kid, come out here right now!"

He tiptoed over to Murdoch's desk and swiftly bent to peer into the foot well. No Jemimah.

"Come on, kid!" Yeah right! She wasn't going to put in an appearance just because he was shouting his head off; that would keep her hidden!

Johnny gazed about him as if expecting her to suddenly materialise out of thin air. He ducked his head, hands on his trim hips, and sighed. Well, no point standing around; he may as well go get some hot coffee. Johnny crossed the room, making no effort to be quiet this time, and headed to the kitchen.

As he passed the long dining table, there was the slight scrape of a chair and his sharp eyes caught a tiny movement. He paused, his blue eyes lighting up, and spun around. Slowly, he made his way back to the table where he paused behind his usual chair.

"Alright, kid," he called softly. "Out you come!"

There was a small pause then he heard a heavy sigh and a dark head emerged from under the table by his leg. He watched her scrabble out from her hiding place and stand, smoothing down her red tartan skirt and grey cardigan. Her eyes were wary, trying to gauge his mood.

"Well?" Johnny kept a stern countenance but his eyes twinkled.

"Well what?" Jemimah was truculent, her bottom lip drooping sullenly.

"You must have an idea, chica. Why else are you hiding under the table?"

"Hiding? Me? Why would I do that?"

"You saw me ride in and you scooted away like a rabbit with a pack of coyotes on its tail. Now... why?"

Jemimah folded her arms tightly around herself and stubbornly stared at the rug. She muttered something.

Johnny leaned closer. "What?"

"I said you sounded cross."

"Did I now?" Johnny's soft voice asked. "What would I have to be cross about?"

"Dunno," the girl scowled, green eyes fiercely shooting daggers at the poor carpet.

"What's going on here?" Scott strolled in from the kitchen with a cup of steaming coffee. As he approached them, Johnny lifted the brew niftily from his hand and raised it in a salute.

"Thanks, brother!" he grinned.

Scott arched an eyebrow. "Don't mention it."

"Now, suppose you tell me what you said to Annabel," Johnny insisted.

Scott's ears perked up. "Annabel Johnson? You were talking to Annabel earlier you said."

Both brothers regarded Jemimah intently and she squirmed under their scrutiny.

"Care to tell me why she slapped my face?" Johnny pushed, sipping at his coffee.

This was news to Scott and Jemimah.

"She slapped you? When?" Scott asked in surprise.

Johnny did not fail to notice that Jemimah, far from appearing shocked or upset by this, was actually biting back a smirk.

"Just now in town," he replied. "She said she was glad there was at least one decent person here at Lancer."

Scott's face asked the question and Johnny answered by gesturing with his cup to the little girl who stood before them.

"Jemimah?" Scott gaped. "Annabel Johnson always struck me as a reasonably intelligent girl but... Jemimah?"

The kid's expression was stony. "Ha, ha, very funny," she intoned.

But Scott was not laughing. "Just what did you tell her to make you seem such a paragon of virtue?"


Scott folded his arms impatiently and the girl gulped then shrugged, her scowl disappearing to be replaced with her best sorrowful little-girl-lost look.

"All I did was happen to mention that Samantha Fry was coming here to dinner on Friday, that's all."

Scott nodded in understanding, playing out the whole scenario in his head. "I see. And did you also happen to mention that her parents will be coming too and that it's a dinner arranged by our father for the whole family before they leave for Sacramento for a month?"

Jemimah scuffed the toe of her boot silently along the floor. "Erm... well, I may have forgotten that particular part of the arrangements... maybe... perhaps."

Johnny sighed, his eyes closed. Boy, that kid! Mischief - just like he told Murdoch! He shook his head in wonder at her.

"Perhaps, huh?" he repeated. "And did you perhaps let Annabel come to the notion that I was more than friendly with Samantha?"

The girl's expression registered complete surprise. "Now, come to think of it... she did get all huffy when I told her about the dinner. I mean, I couldn't understand it at the time but... well, do you suppose she could've been... jealous?"

"Oh, I think she may well have been a little jealous, yes," Johnny's tone was just a tad sarcastic.

Jemimah smiled sweetly and clasped her hands neatly in front of her. "Well then," she said perkily. "Perhaps it's just as well you've found out now what a shallow, mean-spirited sort of a girl she is. I mean, jealousy is a most unattractive quality in a person, don't you think?"

Johnny put down his empty cup carefully. Then he unbuttoned his cuffs and unhurriedly began to roll up his shirt sleeves - all the time fixing the kid with his steady blue gaze. His movements were neither angry nor fierce but Jemimah's stomach swooped and, rather like a mouse facing the hypnotic sway of a cobra, she found she could not look away.

Scott watched too then he cleared his throat.

"Er... I think I'll go and find Murdoch." That said, he made his way out of the room and Jemimah flinched to hear the door close with a thud.

Johnny had done turning up his sleeves; his leanly muscled forearms now displayed. He hitched up his calzoneras, readjusting his silver-studded belt then, eyes still on the girl, he strolled over to the sofa and lowered himself onto the cushions. He was still watching her when he crooked a single finger and beckoned her over.

Jemimah's shoulders slumped dejectedly. Time to pay that pissing piper again! Her vivid green eyes narrowed in a surly scowl and she stomped sulkily over to him. He wasn't sitting right though. Damn it! If he was going to whomp her he ought to know how to sit - he'd done it often enough! She'd fall through the gap if he stayed like that!

With an exasperated sigh, she reached down to his legs and shoved them so his knees were closer together. Then she awkwardly sprawled herself over them so that she was bottom-up in readiness. She glared at his left spur. He'd just have to sort out what he wanted to do with her skirts; she wasn't going to do that for him as well!

It took a few moments for her to realise that she was shaking or rather Johnny was shaking! She opened her eyes which she had screwed up in readiness and tried to twist round to see what was going on literally behind her back. She couldn't make it out and had to roll onto her side.

It was unbelieveable! Johnny was... laughing! Fit to bust! He took one look at her mystified expression and cracked up again, clapping his hands together playfully.

"What you doing?" She was bewildered.

Johnny could barely reply for laughing. "W...what you doin, kid?"

"I'm..." she gestured to the fact that she was lying prone across his knee. "Aren't you goin' to spank me?"

Johnny leaned his head back against the cushions and whooped with laughter again. "Nope!"

Jemimah rolled some more and sat up so that just her legs were lying over his lap. A tiny smile was daring to show on her lips.

"Kid, you've done me a favour," Johnny revealed, wiping his eyes and grinning at her. He gave her ponytail a playful tug.

"I have?"

"Oh man, have you ever!" he shook his head in relief. "I'd been buildin' up to breakin' things off with Annabel and you saved me the trouble."

"You were? I did?"

"Yep, she's been getting way too clingy; talkin' about orange blossom an' wedding gowns," he shivered. "She wasn't bad but I sure didn't see us playin' house together permanent."

Jemimah nodded wisely. "No, you can't marry someone just because they've got a nice pair of t..."

"Jemimah!" Johnny reached over to plant his finger on her lips. "That's enough, missy!" Her eyes shone because she knew he wasn't angry; in fact, he was trying not to smile. When he removed his finger, she grinned.

"Not only that but think of your children - they'd all be balloon-chested, snooty, horse-faced..."

She got no further. Johnny grabbed her by the waist, scooping her towards him so that he could administer the punishment he felt she deserved - a darn good tickling!



Anne Haslam  March 2013






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