It had been raining for two days, two long liquid days and all Johnny wanted was to be home at Lancer, warm and dry. He grunted, swaying slightly in the saddle as he swiped at the rain in his face with a sodden leather glove, no way was he stopping in some town for the night no matter how tempting it seemed. He kept riding knowing he was getting closer with every step. A sigh of relief came when he saw the blurred outline of the Lancer arch through the veil of steady falling precipitation. He headed Barranca straight for the barn and shelter.
One of the hands met Johnny at the opening, “Leave the horse with me and get inside. I’ll take good care of him for you.”
Johnny nodded, too tired to argue and moved towards the house. Making a detour he went around to the kitchen. Maria was cooking and the kitchen was warm and inviting; his nose twitched at the delicious aromas. Johnny smiled at her as she shook her finger at him.
Maria’s eyes inspected his shivering form, “Ah, Niño, look at you. Get upstairs and change before you catch your death. I am making stew and will bring some to you. Now go.”
Johnny bent and kissed her on the cheek which was toasty warm from standing over the stove. “Gracias, Mamacita.” He turned and headed up the stairs to his room. As soon as he entered the room he stopped short dropping his saddlebags. There was a tub in the center of his room about half full of water. He walked to it and trailed his fingers in the water; it was cool to the touch. He smiled and unbuckled his gun belt. He heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw Murdoch and Scott walk in carrying buckets of steaming water.
Scott grinned at him, “Better get out of those wet clothes, brother.”
Murdoch was smiling also. “Get to it, Johnny. I’ll be back in a minute with something guaranteed to warm you up.” He turned and left the room.
Confusion contorted Johnny’s face as confronted his brother, “How did you know I’d be back tonight?”
Emptying the bucket into the tub, Scott snorted as he jokingly declared, “We knew you didn’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain, little brother.” Setting the first bucket down and picking up the second, he added, “Murdoch has been expecting you all day.”
Having already taken off his gun belt, Johnny was shrugging out of his jacket and shirt as he looked at the tub Scott was filling for him. He sighed and said, “I was just tired of sleeping in hotels and wanted to get back. I figured it would be better to get back than to spend another night in some town.” He toed off his boots, dropped his pants and stepped out of them, his socks coming off as his feet pulled through the legs, and then climbed into the tub. He sighed in delight as the warmth leeched into his chilled feet. The water felt good as he sat down and he groaned in pleasure as he started to lean back.
Scott laughed and handed him a rolled up towel, “Put that behind your head brother and don’t fall asleep. Maria will have my head if she cooked for you and you didn’t eat anything.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow at that statement, “Your head?”
“Yes, little brother, mine if I don’t keep you awake long enough to eat.” Scott ruffled his hair; laughing at the scowl the action produced.
Murdoch returned carrying a bottle and glasses. “Here son, this should help warm you up.” Johnny’s smile lit up his face as he reached out a hand to take a tumbler. Murdoch set the other glasses down and poured a generous amount of the whiskey for him, and then poured whiskey into the other two glasses and handed one to Scott.
Johnny looked from one to the other, frowning, “You gonna watch me take a bath? Can’t I get a little privacy?”
Murdoch chuckled, “No, son, no privacy. Maria has issued orders to keep you awake long enough to eat some stew. She should be bringing it up shortly.” With that he lowered himself into the chair near the window.
Johnny’s eyebrows arched and his eyes widened in concern at that statement. “She’s bringing it up?” He put the glass down on the small table next to the tub and started soaping up, his gaze trained on the door.
“Only to the door son,” Murdoch laughed, “and she did promise to knock.”
Scott had put his glass down and was turning down the sheets on Johnny’s bed. “Hurry up, Johnny. We need to get you into bed before you get a chill.” Once he was done he sat on the edge of the bed.
Johnny sighed and shook his head. It was obvious no one was leaving and he had to wonder about that, sometimes his family was definitely overprotective. He finished washing and rinsing and started to stand up. Murdoch got up and brought him a towel. Scott had laid a pair of long johns on the bed along with a night shirt. Johnny glared at him; Scott knew he hated the long cumbersome sleepwear. There was a tap at the door and Murdoch strode over to open it.
Johnny finished drying in a hurry and rushed to the bed, grabbing the long john bottoms he pulled them on. A taunting smile teased Scott’s lips as he handed him the night shirt. Johnny growled; grabbing it and shrugging into it.
“Scott, close the door while I get this set up,” Murdoch requested as he moved to the table under the window carrying a tray with three bowls of stew and a plate of bread.
Crawling into his bed, Johnny propped pillows up against the head board to lean on. He was shivering slightly as he positioned himself against them and pulled the covers up. He was looking sleepier by the minute.
Murdoch carried a bowl of the stew to him smiling, “Eat up, Johnny, you don’t want us to get in trouble with Maria do you? You know she will be checking to see how much you ate.”
The stew was good, thick and spicy, just the way he liked it. Murdoch handed him another serving of whiskey to go with it, an indulgent look gracing the happy father’s face. The more he relaxed into the warmth of the bed the sleepier he got and Johnny started nodding off.
“Son?” Murdoch whispered. He turned and smiled at Scott. “Well, he did eat some. Maybe he needs sleep more than food right now.” He carefully took the bowl and spoon from Johnny and handed them to Scott. He pulled some of the pillows out from behind Johnny helping him turn on his side as he slept. Murdoch smiled down at his sleeping son and turned the lamp down low, and then he and Scott quietly left the room taking the tray with them.