This story contains adult themes. It was written for fun and is not intended to be taken seriously.
"Damn!" Johnny yelped.
He suddenly found himself on the floor as the frame of the bed cracked away from the headboard. He and his companion unceremoniously tumbled off the mattress. At first, there was absolute silence then the girl, who was now lying on top of him, hitched a breath and began to scream.
At this rate she'd wake up the whole damn hotel. He reached out, trying to cover her mouth. "Everyone will hear you!" he whispered. Her screams echoed in his ears, making him wince away from the shrill cry.
As her screams rose in volume, he made frantic shushing sounds. He grabbed her shaking shoulders, trying to push her up off his chest, but pain shot down his right leg and he bit back an agonized yell. He tried to make sense of what had just happened. A moment ago he had been....pleasurably engaged... with the young woman screaming in his ear. Now he was on the floor, tangled in a riot of sheets and blankets.
Despite the pain and the embarrassment of the situation, he couldn't help the broad grin that spread across his face. She sure had been enthusiastic! Suddenly, someone began banging on the door leading to the sitting room. Only one more door separated him from total embarrassment.
"Mr. Lancer, are you alright? Mr. Lancer?"
Mercifully, the girl had shut up. Johnny heard the door leading to Scott's room open and close rather forcefully. Oh boy, his brother was not gonna be impressed with this mess. "Get in the closet," he hissed to his companion. "And keep quiet."
"It would be real embarrassing for us to be found like this," Johnny explained patiently. He tried again to move, quickly giving up the idea. "Please. I'll make it up to you. I promise."
"Ok...ok, but how long do I have to stay in there?"
"Not long." Johnny was getting desperate. "Look, I'll buy you a new hat or a pretty dress. My brother will kill me if he finds us like this."
She scrambled toward the wardrobe, clutching a sheet around herself.
"Too late," Scott's voice was filled with a mixture of annoyance and amusement at his brother's plight.
Someone still pounded on the outer door. The tail of the sheet stuck out from the wardrobe and Scott smiled knowingly. He opened the door just enough to stuff the sheet inside. "Planning to lie there all night, Brother?" he asked pleasantly.
"No, but I may have to. My back. It hurts like hell."
"It looks like you and - what was her name?"
"I didn't get a chance to ask," Johnny snapped.
"Helen..." a voice called from the wardrobe.
Scott smirked. "Looks like you and Helen got a little over enthusiastic."
Johnny’s answer was drowned out by the increasingly frantic hammering on the door.
"The manager's got a key, Johnny. He'll get in one way or the other."
An expression of pure panic settled on Johnny's face. "You've gotta keep them out, Scott."
With a final smirk, Scott strolled toward the door leading to the hallway. He opened it just enough to be able to see the red face of the rotund night manager.
"Is something the matter?" Scott asked innocently.
"We have had a report of a loud noise coming from this room. The gentleman downstairs was most concerned."
"My brother has had a slight accident. There is no need for you to worry."
"An accident?" The rotund man was quicker than he looked and was past Scott before he could stop him.
With a resigned sigh Scott followed him into Johnny's room. His brother was where he had left him, looking mad enough to shoot the next person to come through his door.
Johnny tried to pull the sheet around him, but it was apparent that every move brought pain to his back. He groaned and looked in desperate appeal at Scott, who was leaning against the wall, arms folded and a delighted grin on his face.
"What happened?" the hotel manager demanded.
"I would have thought that was perfectly obvious," Scott answered smoothly. "My brother was in bed," he hesitated a moment before resuming, "asleep, when the bed collapsed and he injured his back."
"That's impossible! Our beds are only of the highest quality."
"The evidence is there to be seen, Sir." Scott waved his hand in the direction of the wrecked bed and his mortified brother. "I suggest you call for a doctor to tend to my brother."
"No doctor." Johnny pleaded. "All I need is for you to stop grinning like an idiot and help me up."
It was just like being home. Johnny never thought he needed a doctor. Poor Sam had fought with him on more than one occasion. But this time there was no doubt in his mind that Johnny needed medical attention "Not a good idea, Johnny. You need a doctor to look at your back."
"Yes, Mr. Lancer, don't move a muscle. I will send for the doctor right away. And, of course, we will find you another room."
"Another suite of rooms," Scott amended. "I'm sure you wouldn't want my grandfather to find out about this unfortunate accident."
The hotel manager blanched. "Of course! The Presidential Suite is unoccupied. I will arrange to have your luggage moved at once."
Scott heard a thump from inside the wardrobe and remembered Helen hiding inside. "Perhaps you could arrange to have my brother moved into my room temporarily," he suggested hastily. "I’ll be there as soon as I have packed."
"Oh no, Sir, we will take care of that for you."
"I insist," Scott replied forcefully. "My brother doesn’t like strangers going through his things."
Scott heard another thump, and the wardrobe shifted. The manager looked at it suspiciously.
Scott cleared his throat. "I would like to get my brother settled as soon as possible. If you could send for the doctor?" Seeing that Johnny was about to protest, he dropped to his knees and whispered. "Don't fight me on this, Brother, or the whole hotel will know about Helen."
The manager snapped his fingers and three bellboys crowded into the room. "Fetch a stretcher," he ordered.
While they waited for the stretcher to arrive, Scott arranged the sheet so that it would preserve what little modesty Johnny had left. It didn't take long for the bellboy to return. Scott watched as Johnny was gently lifted and placed on the stretcher.
As his brother was carried past him, he found himself pinned by the icy glare of Madrid and knew that if looks could kill, he would be a dead man right now.
After ensuring that he was alone, he walked to the wardrobe and opened the door. "You can come out now, but please keep quiet."
Helen grabbed the sheet around herself, allowing the top to dip provocatively low over her breasts. "I thought you forgot about me," she cooed.
Scott looked at her appreciatively and ran a finger down her bare arm. "I don't think there's much danger of that."
He gave momentary thanks that his escort for the evening had left an hour before, claiming that her husband was expected home from a business trip in the morning. He'd only just been slipping into exhausted sleep, when the result of Johnny's nocturnal antics had startled him awake. He reluctantly tore his eyes away from Helen and began to pick up the covers. "Get your clothes and get dressed. We don't have much time before someone else comes in.”
She picked up her camisole and looked back at Scott. "Are you as...good...as your brother?" she asked.
Scott looked at her solemnly. "If we had the time, I'd be delighted to show you."
The sound of footsteps rushing down the hallway propelled Scott into action. He found the rest of her clothes and pushed her behind the screen to get dressed.
He found Johnny's clothes and piled them on a chair in the corner of the room. The gunbelt he slipped over his shoulder and took one last look around the room. There didn't seem to be any evidence of his brother's extra curricular activities. He looked at the ruined bed and shook his head in admiration. His brother certainly had an amazing amount of stamina.
Helen stepped out from behind the screen and his eyes ran up and down her small, but very well proportioned, figure. Johnny could sure pick them.
"I'll check to see if the way is clear."
"Do you think Johnny will be all right?"
"I'm sure he'll be fine. And, if he isn't well enough, I'd be happy to pick up where he left off."
"I'm sure we can make arrangements," she smiled.
Scott peaked outside and motioned for her to slip past him into the hallway. He couldn't help but watch her as she walked slowly down the hallway. "Boy oh boy, Brother, what a time to put out your back.”
Scott closed the door to the hallway and made his way back to his own room. Johnny was lying in the bed he had recently vacated, staring angrily at the ceiling. "Just relax, Brother," Scott advised, pulling over a chair and lounging in it comfortably. "I'm sure the doctor will be here soon."
"I’ve been thrown by a bronc, kicked by a mule-headed cow and even shot in the back...and a damn mattress and..."
"And what, Johnny? A tiny little lady....?”
"It ain’t funny."
Johnny looked so aggrieved that Scott couldn't help himself. The more he laughed, the more his brother glared at him. "You didn't see yourself, Brother."
Johnny squirmed, letting out a hiss of pain. Instantly, Scott sobered. "How bad is it? And I want the truth?"
"Feels like a hot poker down my leg every time I move."
"The doctor will be able to give you something for the pain."
"No, I don't like that stuff. It makes me feel like my head is under water. All I need is time to rest tonight. I'll be fine by morning.
"You don't have much choice.” Scott grinned at his brother. “Helen seemed like such a nice young lady. You wouldn't want to embarrass her by having the hotel staff finding out the truth? Then, of course, there's Murdoch and Teresa. Maybe I should let them know what happened and see if Teresa can come and look after you."
Johnny snapped his head and glared at his brother. "You wouldn't be that low!"
"I'm only looking after your best interests."
"It’s blackmail, and you know it.," Johnny growled.
Scott shook his head sadly. "What a poor opinion you have of me, Brother."
The sound of footsteps and a hesitant knock on the door heralded the arrival of the manager and the doctor. "It’s up to you, Johnny. I will stoop as low as I have to, to make sure you follow the doctor’s orders, whatever they are."
Ignoring the icy stare, Scott stood up to greet the new arrivals. "Good of you to come, Doctor. I'm sorry you had to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night."
The doctor, a short man with thinning hair and almost as many lines on his face as Sam, walked past him, waving his hand. "It's part of the job, my boy. At least it isn't a gunshot. Hate those...messy. Now, young man, suppose you tell me what happened."
Johnny turned his head away to look at the ceiling again. "I was sound asleep and the bed just broke."
Scott nearly choked on the lie, covering it with a cough.
"I understand that you have hurt your back. Tell me where it hurts. Is it a sharp or dull pain?"
"Sharp, down my leg," Johnny said begrudgingly.
“Do you think you could roll over onto your stomach so that I can examine you?"
Johnny lifted his arm, getting ready to lever himself up, when he gasped in pain. Scott saw his brother’s face pale and suddenly, there was nothing funny about the accident.
"I think I'd better give you something for the pain." The doctor rummaged in his bag, producing a syringe and a small bottle.
"No..."Johnny began, but Scott raised an eyebrow and held up his hand to indicate their tall father standing beside him. Johnny clamped his mouth shut and just nodded.
The needle slid into Johnny’s arm. Scott could see an almost immediate relaxation in the tight lines of pain that had been etched on his brother's face.
"Now," the doctor said, standing up. "I am going to turn you over. I don't want you to help at all." He looked back toward Scott. "If you would assist me, young man."
Even with the medication, it was clear to Scott that Johnny was in a lot of discomfort. His hands were clenched into fists and he had lost all the color from his face.
Carefully, Scott aided the doctor in turning Johnny over, making sure his legs turned with his torso. The fact that Johnny was as naked as a jay bird made it easier to examine him, but Scott knew his brother was livid at the thought. He felt the manager move in closer to watch the doctor's examination and whispered over his shoulder. "Would you give us some privacy, please? Just until the doctor has finished."
The doctor poked and prodded the base of Johnny's spine, finally eliciting a moan. "Ah, yes, I see what the problem is."
Scott waited, his hand resting gently on Johnny's shoulder for support.
"His symptoms suggest that he has damaged a nerve in his lower back. This generally causes pain in the leg rather than in the back itself. So long as the patient lies perfectly still there is no pain."
"What can you do for him?" Scott asked, already anticipating what the doctor would suggest.
"Complete bed rest."
Johnny raised his head, locking his eyes on Scott. "How long?" he asked, and Scott knew his brother was not going to like the doctor's answer.
"Difficult to say. No two patients respond in the same way. It could be a few days or a few weeks."
Scott looked at his brother in sincere sympathy. Even a day of bed rest was a prison sentence for Johnny.
"But,” the doctor continued, “I would guess a week would be more like it, considering the amount of pain you are in.”
"A week?" Johnny's shock was unmistakable. "I ain't staying in bed for a whole week. Scott - tell him."
"You are, Johnny. But," he turned to the doctor, "I know my brother all too well to expect him to follow your orders, and I have business I have to see to. I think I will need help to make sure he follows your orders."
"Scott!" Johnny bellowed in protest.
"Would you prefer me to send for Teresa?"
"No," Johnny said softly.
"I didn't think so." Scott called for the manager to rejoin them in the bedroom. "It appears that my brother will be confined to bed for up to a week and possibly longer. As you know, I am here on behalf of my grandfather and I have commitments that must be met. Can you suggest anyone who might be able to care for him when I’m out?"
"I'm not sure..."
"What about Rose?" the doctor asked.
"Oh, no! No, not Rose. She has the personality of a cactus," the manager replied.
Scott smiled. "She sounds perfect."
"You don't understand, Mr. Lancer," the manager explained, his face turning red. "Rose is - she is very stubborn. She won't take orders. The only reason I haven’t fired her is because she keeps the rest of the staff in line.
"And you don't understand what a handful my brother can be. She is exactly what we need. When can we meet her?"
“Her shift starts at eight in the morning. You can meet her then.”
Johnny looked so distressed that, for a moment, Scott was tempted to back down. Then he remembered how much pain his brother had been in before the doctor administered the morphine and knew that he was doing the right thing. Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind!
Johnny didn't know what was worse - the niggling pain, which wasn't quite suppressed by the morphine, or the embarrassment of his present predicament. He felt like he was floating as the stretcher was lifted and carried out of his room, and down the hallway. At this late hour, the sounds of the entourage of bellboys and manager brought inquisitive heads out of their rooms to look at him.
Johnny found himself being carried into a small room that seemed to sag under their weight. One of the bellboys reached up, pulling down an iron gate to trap them inside. Suddenly, the floor seemed to drop out from beneath him and the walls started to move. "What the hell...?"
"Take it easy, Johnny." Scott patted his shoulder. "It’s an elevator. You don’t want to be carried up four flights to the top floor, do you? Relax and enjoy the ride."
"Get me out of here." Johnny's head was swimming. He hated being in confined spaces. He closed his eyes, hoping the room would stop, but they kept rising. He gripped the sides of the stretcher and clamped his mouth shut to stifle the feeling of nausea. Then the room stopped moving and, with a final clunk of cable and pulleys, the doors opened and he was carried back onto solid ground.
"I'm gonna make you pay for this," he hissed at his brother as Scott stepped out of the elevator and joined him in the hallway. He heard one of the bellboys snickering at his reaction and felt his cheeks burning with embarrassment.
Scott smiled down at him. "You'll thank me for this..."
"Like hell I will, Brother."
"Here we are," the manager announced.
Johnny lifted his head just enough to see the rotund man produce a key to an expensively carved door. He didn't notice his brother's reaction. He just closed his eyes, wishing. He wished he were anywhere but here.
"This will be satisfactory," Scott said dryly.
Johnny wondered at his brother's tone of voice, but he dismissed the thought. He was in too much pain and too mad to worry about that now. He opened his eyes to find that he had been carried into a huge bedroom, with a four poster bed and a mattress, four hands high. The covers had been turned down for him and he was gently lifted from the stretcher to the bed. His teeth sank into his bottom lip as he stifled a moan. He hardly had time to protest, before the doctor stuck him with the needle again.
"That should ease the pain for you, Mr. Lancer."
He felt the covers being pulled up over his chest as a warm lethargy swept over him.
"I will leave you now," the doctor said. "We can go over your care later this morning. Meanwhile, I want you to try to get some sleep."
Johnny's head sank deeper into the plump soft pillows, his eyes closing. His last thought was that it was a shame Helen couldn't be cuddled up in this big bed with him.
Scott watched Johnny's breathing ease to a more normal rhythm before ushering the manager, and the rest of the gawkers, out of the room. Once he was alone, he turned to look at the suite they had acquired. He had seen his share of fine hotels in the company of his grandfather, but this was by far the most palatial he had ever seen. He walked slowly through the suite to the parlor. The room was almost as big as the great room at Lancer. Along one wall was a massive fireplace burning a huge log, its heat permeating the room. The longest wall consisted mainly of windows. The drapes were closed, but Scott could imagine the magnificence of the view he would see in the morning. To think that they were staying here because of Johnny’s unfortunate accident.
He stretched lazily and plopped down into one of the comfortable armchairs. It had been an interesting night and a hell of a wild ride. Mindy had been a lovely lady, most adept at making a man happy. If only she had not ruined it by saying she had to get back home to her husband. That had been an unwelcome development, although, he had the feeling that this wasn’t the first night she had spent away from her husband. He couldn't help smiling smugly. At least, he'd been able to finish what he started - unlike his brother.
Scott sighed deeply, considering whether he should check out the rest of the suite or just relax. Johnny was sleeping; tomorrow would be a rough day. His brother would not take to the doctor’s orders without a fight. He looked at the clock on the desk. It was after three and he was going to need some sleep, if he was going to be able to outwit his brother in the morning. And, he had an important meeting with one of his grandfather's clients. Feeling, suddenly, very weary, he stood and made his way to the comfort of his own bed.
Rose stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the eighth floor. On the few occasions that she had been to the top floor, she had taken the stairs as the staff weren’t allowed to use the lift. But today, she had a new assignment – nursing a cowboy. While she was grateful to the doctor for letting her work for him, it was nothing more than babysitting. Well, she would do her job, anything to make the money she needed to move on. She smoothed a crease out of her apron and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. This hadn't exactly turned out to be the grand adventure she had envisaged when she had left her home.
The pompous, self important manager and the doctor were both waiting for her as she stepped out of the elevator. "You're late," Mr. Butterfield snapped.
She looked at the watch she had pinned to her apron. "Sorry, Sorr. There were nowt I could do about it. Housekeeper had orders for me as well."
"Let the girl be," the doctor shushed the manager. “Rose is doing you a favor by helping the Lancers. You could be in for quite a lawsuit if they wished to take you to court. Now, My Dear, the main thing I would like you to do is make sure my patient stays in bed...flat on his back. I am told he is not a cooperative patient. I will give you a list of medications he needs and the times to administer them.”
"I'll do me best." Rose smiled at the doctor, who was one of the few people associated with the hotel to treat her decently.
"I know you will. I'm not sure how long you will be needed. It could be as little as a couple of days or as long as two weeks. I will have to see how he comes along. So, shall we meet the Lancers?"
“There’s more than one of ‘em?" she asked, confused.
"Two brothers." The manager supplied the information. "They are very important guests and you'll mind your manners."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "Always do, Sorr. To guests, that is." She put on her most demure look, fighting the urge to smile as the manager huffed irritably.
The doctor winked at her and led the way to the Presidential Suite.
The man who opened the door was tall, slender and blond. She eyed him appreciatively. He was fine-looking and she wondered if his brother was as handsome. He extended his hand and she took it. His hand was warm and firm around her smaller one, and she felt her knees dip. Oh my! She knew she was in trouble...
"You must be Rose."
His voice was deeper than she had expected and she felt a strong impulse to blush as she looked up into his blue-grey eyes.
"Yes, Sorr. Rose Hardacre.”
"Rose is from England," the manager said self-importantly. "So you'll have to forgive her strange accent."
“I'm a Yorkshire lass, Sorr,” Rose snapped, glaring at the manager, "and there's nowt wrong with me accent."
She saw the blond man suppressing a smile. "I'm Scott Lancer. Thank you for agreeing to help. I don't think Johnny should be left alone, and I have some business matters to attend to."
The manager squeezed past the dam of people at the door and stood in the middle of the parlor. "I hope everything is to your satisfaction, Mr. Lancer."
Much to her surprise, Scott winked at her before turning away. "The accommodation is acceptable, thank you."
The manager looked offended. "This is our best accommodation, Sir.
The doctor cleared his throat. "Shall we look in on your charge?" he asked, leading her toward one of the suite’s bedrooms.
"I'm afraid Johnny isn't in a very good mood," Scott warned. "In fact..." He was interrupted by a loud thump from the bedroom. He sighed with a look of resignation on his face. "It sounds like he's just found out the hard way that he isn't going to be able to get out of bed without help."
Rose followed. His reaction made her think he'd been expecting this to happen. She could hear a voice which, even angry and muted, made her feel weak at the knee. This was not going to be easy. Both brothers were having an effect on her.
"Do you understand Spanish?" Scott asked, catching her completely by surprise.
"But I knows foul language when I hears it. He ain’t happy, is he?"
"That would be an understatement."
Rose took a deep breath and waited as the door was opened. The words were clearer now, although no less intelligible. She looked around curiously as she followed Scott into the bedroom. The bed was unoccupied and she noticed that the sheets were trailing off to the far side.
"Damn it!" Scott shouted, and Rose watched the tall blond move into the room. “Johnny! Why can't I leave you alone for thirty seconds? The doctor warned you what would happen if you tried to move around. Do you want to do permanent damage to your back?"
As Rose peeked over the bed she found a dark-haired man lying in a heap of sheets. Pain was not the only expression on his face...
"Damn doctors don't know what they're talking about. Help me up. I'm getting real tired of lying around on the floor."
Rose looked toward the doctor, his face registering his disapproval. "Don't move him," he ordered.
Johnny reached out an arm for Scott to help him up.
"I said, don't move!" The doctor's angry voice froze the man on the floor. "Now, if you want to spend the rest of your life in constant back pain, go ahead and be stupid. I won't be a part of it. Rose, my bag is in the parlor, please bring it.”
"Yes, Sorr." Rose was glad to have an excuse to leave the room. She didn't want to be a part of the confrontation she could see looming between the brothers. This might not be the easiest job she’d ever had, although it did have its compensations. She found the doctor's bag on the coffee table and grabbed it. She had a moment's hesitation...it would be so easy to just walk out the door and go back to her housecleaning downstairs, but her curiosity got the better of her and she had to get to know these brothers better.
She could hear Scott yelling from the bedroom and suddenly felt sorry for her patient. Stepping back into the room, she saw the doctor and Scott Lancer carefully lifting Johnny onto the bed. It was obvious that he was in pain. His eyes were squeezed shut and his skin glistened with sweat.
Now that she could get a proper look at the man she was supposed to be taking care of, she was pleasantly surprised. Even though he was clearly in a lot of pain, she could see that he was just as handsome as his brother.
Johnny caught sight of the young woman and suddenly remembered he had nothing on beneath the sheet. He grabbed the bed clothes and pulled them up to his chin. "Dios, Scott! Get her out of here."
"Not a chance, Brother. You already proved you can't be trusted. Besides, we had a deal. Remember?"
Johnny glared at him. "I won't get out of bed, I promise."
"It isn't just a question of you staying in bed. You need someone to look after you, make sure you eat and help you..." Scott looked quickly at Rose before turning back to his brother. "Well, you get the idea."
Johnny's face went from white to red. "No..."
"You promise to behave, and I'll be around when you need...well...when you need extra help."
"That's real decent of you, Brother."
The doctor stepped forward. "Why don't I go over your care, Johnny? I'm sure we can all come to an agreement after you know what I expect."
"Don't have much choice, do I?" Johnny glowered fiercely over the doctor’s shoulder at his treacherous brother.
Scott grinned. "Not that I can see."
"You just wait. I'll find a way to pay you back for this if it's the last thing I ever do."
The doctor opened his bag and set several packets on the end table next to the bed. "Now, Rose, I want him to have one of these, mixed in water, every four hours. It will help with the pain. If it gets too bad, you can give him laudanum. Water and light foods, of course.” The doctor turned back to Johnny, demanding his attention. “I don't want you moving at all, Young Man, not even to turn over. I know I am asking a lot...but it is necessary.”
Johnny's heart sank as he listened to the doctor's instructions. Although he would rather cut out his tongue than admit it, he was in a great deal of pain. He nodded, turning his head away.
"Now you had better meet Rose," the doctor continued. "She has agreed to stay with you while your brother is out. She is a very capable young lady. Her father was a doctor and she spent a considerable amount of time helping him with his patients."
"Naked ones?" Johnny snapped.
"Sometimes," Rose replied sharply. "You're not first naked man I've ever sin."
Scott couldn't hide the snicker. With a glint in his eye, he asked innocently, "Don't you think Johnny could use a sponge bath, Doctor? It might make him feel more comfortable."
"Anyone," Johnny said clearly, "who lays a finger on me, will wish they'd never been born."
"Is that so, Sorr?" Rose seemed to suddenly grow three inches as she pushed back her shoulders and looked down at Johnny. "If doctor sez you need a sponge bath, then sponge bath ya’ll get. If he sez you need owt..."
"What the hell does that mean?" Johnny looked at her suspiciously.
"Owt - anything...don't you understand English?"
"I understand it just fine." Johnny looked appealingly at Scott. "It's bad enough you've stuck me with a nursemaid. Couldn't you at least find one that I could understand?"
Scott snorted. "Oh, you two should get along just fine."
"Well, Dr. Payne?" Rose stood glaring at Johnny with her hands on her hips. "Does he need a bath?"
"Yes, I think he will feel better after a sponge bath.”
"I feel just fine," Johnny protested
Scott moved to the side of the bed, bent down and whispered into his brother's ear. A truly murderous expression crossed Johnny's face.
Dr. Payne's eyebrow went up. Johnny wondered if he knew any more than the manager about the broken bed. The glint in his eyes told Johnny that he did. Dios! This was the worst trip of his life.
Scott straightened up, looking pleased with himself. "Well, I have to get ready for a meeting. I will leave you in good hands, Johnny." He patted Johnny on the shoulder. “Remember to behave yourself."
Mr. Butterfield pushed his way forward, elbowing Rose out of the way. "Let me know when you're ready to leave, Mr. Lancer and I will put a private carriage at your disposal." He turned to Rose. "Why are you standing there, girl? Go and fetch some warm water."
Dr. Payne turned on Mr. Butterfield. "Rose is my nurse now. You will treat her with respect. I have a lot of clients...I'm sure you would not want them knowing how you treat your staff."
The manager visibly deflated, glared at Rose, then turned his attention to Johnny. "Is everything to your satisfaction, Sir? Is there anything I can do to make your stay with us more comfortable?"
"Yeah," Johnny growled. "You can bring me my gun."
Johnny's hope that Rose had left for the rest of the day was dashed when he heard her humming as she walked back into the room. His eyes narrowed when he saw that she was carrying a large bowl filled with water. "What's that for?" he asked, suspiciously. "Thought I told everyone I didn't need no damn bath."
"Sorry Sorr, ain't what ya want that counts. Doctor has his orders."
She laid the bowl on a table beside the bed and lifted out a cloth, wringing out the excess moisture with capable hands. "Not ta worry. I'll give ya yer privacy."
Johnny clutched the sheet around his chest. "Get out of my room," he ordered, his voice cold as ice.
Rose grabbed the edge of the sheet and tried to pull it back, but Johnny held on tight. "Don't be a baby." She gave the sheet a sharp tug, exposing Johnny's bare chest.
"I'm not a baby and I don't need no bath. If the doc wants me clean then bring a tub in here so I can soak."
Rose's eyes had grown very wide as she stared at Johnny's muscular torso. "Believe me, I'd like ta oblige."
Johnny smiled a little as Rose released the sheet. Thinking that he was the victor, he was astounded to see the sheet whipped off him. And there he was - every inch of him.
"Having fun?" Scott's amused voice startled Johnny out of his feeling of acute embarrassment.
"Damn it, Scott. Get her out of here!"
"Don't be so ungrateful, Brother. I'd say she was doing an excellent job."
Rose grabbed the sheet from the floor and draped it over Johnny's hips, her face stained by a deep blush. "Sorry, Sorr," she said to Scott. ”Your brother’s a stubborn one."
"He certainly is," Scott agreed. "You just have to be firm with him."
Johnny closed his eyes. "That ain't exactly the problem..."
Scott choked at his brother's blatant audacity. "Remember how you got into this mess in the first place," he cautioned.
Johnny heard a snicker and opened one eye to see Rose covering her mouth.
"It's the talk of the staff..."
"What is?" Johnny asked, dreading the answer.
Rose had to turn her back and Johnny saw her shoulders shaking. "The bed, Sorr. And...and yer injury."
"Oh, great! It's all your fault, Scott. You were supposed to be keeping it quiet."
"I never said a word, Johnny. But, you have to admit it only takes a little imagination to know what happened. Good thing the intrepid Mr. Butterfield didn't put two and two together or we'd be in the dollar room downstairs."
A slow calculating smile spread across Johnny's face. "If everyone knows then I don't have to cooperate, do I? You just lost your leverage, Brother."
"Oh, I don't think so," Scott smirked. "Murdoch and Teresa don't know yet, and I could still send that telegram to Lancer."
Johnny's smile disappeared. "You’re a low down, sneaky, rotten snake in the grass. Anyone ever tell you that?"
"I believe you might have mentioned it a time or two. Now, I want you two children to play nicely while I go to my meeting."
"Don't worry, Sorr. I'll look after him. Him and me'll get on fine."
If looks could kill, Scott would have perished instantly. Johnny closed his eyes as he felt Rose gently rub his chest with the wet soapy sponge. He couldn't fight it, so he might as well enjoy it.
Scott was still chuckling to himself as he walked out to the parlor. He stopped in front of a large mirror to admire his reflection and straighten his tie. One day, he would regret this. Johnny would find a way to get back at him but, for now, he was just having too much fun.
Unfortunately, he now had serious business to take care of. His grandfather was hoping to reach a mutually beneficial accommodation with a company in San Francisco. Harlan Garrett had been intending to make the journey himself but, after his last disastrous visit out West, had decided to enlist the aid of his grandson instead.
The offer had been too good to resist - all expenses paid in the best hotel in town for him and his brother. His grandfather was certainly doing his best to make amends. And it was supposed to be a chance for him and Johnny to see the town. Now Johnny was seeing only the inside of his suite...and Rose. He began to wonder if his brother really was the unlucky one after all. Rose was an attractive girl with an interesting sense of humor.
One of the things Scott enjoyed about San Francisco was its vibrancy. The stores, the theaters, the restaurants...things he really did miss if he was truthful with himself. He was looking forward to the meeting. There was something comforting about the feel of the richly decorated boardrooms. He had been attending business meetings since before enlisting in the Army, and he enjoyed the verbal sparring, with each side trying to gain the advantage.
This was what his grandfather had hoped for him. Not the hard manual labor of a rancher. But Scott was happy in both worlds, something Harlan Garrett would never understand. And he was looking forward to proving to everyone that he hadn't lost his touch. He intended to strike a deal that would make his grandfather proud. After all, he still had an interest in the company - was the sole heir - so anything he could do to help the business now would benefit Lancer later.
He collected his suit jacket from the back of a chair, slipped it on and gave himself another admiring glance. He certainly looked the part, even if he did have a most unbusinesslike smirk on his face as he thought of his brother. He stepped quietly to the bedroom door and looked inside. Rose appeared engrossed in her task. Johnny was lying perfectly still with a silly grin on his face. Satisfied that his brother was in good hands, he left the suite and took the elevator to the lobby.
He was half-way to the front doors when he heard the manager calling his name. He groaned, stopped and turned.
"Is everything satisfactory, Mr. Lancer?"
The thing that would have given him the most satisfaction was punching the manager in his prim little mouth. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option, so he settled for some verbal baiting instead. "Everything is adequate."
"Anything you need, Sir, just let me know. I hope that girl isn't causing problems. I was against this idea from the start. She doesn't know her place."
"Rose is a charming young lady. She and my brother are...getting acquainted. In fact," Scott continued with a straight face, "I'd say she has my brother firmly in hand. Now, if you'll excuse me, I do have a meeting to attend."
Scott turned briskly on his heel and walked away, feeling the manager's eyes boring into his back. The concierge directed him to a private carriage and Scott could have sworn that the man was smirking at him. He wondered just how many people knew about Johnny's nocturnal activities.
The offices of The Daily News were situated at Fifth and Mission. The building wasn't particularly imposing and the front office was modest. However, the paper was growing and Scott could understand why his grandfather was so interested in forming this business alliance. He was quickly ushered into a large office and the man behind the desk stood up. Scott couldn't conceal his surprise. The man was large, muscular and looked as if he'd be more at home in a boxing ring than behind a desk.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Garrett." The man’s voice was as rough as he looked. He offered his hand. “Norman Peters."
"It's Lancer," Scott said automatically, caught off guard as Peter’s firm grip nearly crushed the bones of his hand.
Peter’s smiled, displaying uneven teeth. "Sorry. I'm new at this. Harlan said he was sending his grandson, so I guess I jumped to the wrong conclusion.”
Scott smiled back uneasily. "It used to happen all the time when I was in Boston."
"Do you think we could drop the formalities?" Norman ordered.
"Certainly," Scott replied, anxious to appease his intimidating host. "Please call me Scott."
Peters returned to his seat. "Good. Then, let’s get down to business, Scott.”
Johnny was bored. He hated being still and having to lie in bed was torture for him. Rose was bustling around the bedroom, tidying up, and her constant motion made him want to scream in frustration.
"Don't you have anything else to do?" he growled.
"I would have, if I weren’t looking after you," she snapped back.
"I don't need babysitting."
"And, if I leave you alone, you'll try ta get out o’ bed and I'll be discharged."
"Discharged? What the hell does that mean?"
She looked at him pityingly. "I'll lose me job. Manager's just itching to send me packing."
Johnny closed his eyes and sighed loudly. "¡Dios! Why me? Look, I promise I won't get out of bed. I won't even sit up. I’ll lay here quietly like a good boy. You can go do whatever you want to do. It'll be our secret."
When he risked a look in her direction, he found her standing by the bed with her arms folded. "Yer a bad liar, Mr. Lancer. I wuz told ta stay until yer brother got back, and that's what I’ll do."
"What time is it?"
She looked at her watch. "Almost noon. Time for some of the medicine Doctor left for you."
Johnny looked at her shocked. "Only noon?"
Rose picked up the small bottle and removed the cork. After pouring a small amount on a spoon, she held it out to Johnny. "Open yer mouth, like a good boy."
Johnny sealed his lips tightly.
"When I were a little girl," Rose said conversationally as she ironed the sheet across his chest and casually tucked the edges beneath the mattress, "me ma had a way to make me and me brothers take our medicine." She leaned over the bed and pinched Johnny's nose shut.
With his arms trapped Johnny could only hold his breath. He held out for as long as he could before he opened his mouth, gasping for air. The spoon snuck in and out before he could close his mouth again. He was so shocked that he swallowed the vile tasting liquid, blue eyes blazing in anger.
"There now," she smirked. "That wer easy."
The medicine caught him in the back of his throat and he began to cough. The movement immediately caused the pain in his back to flare up.
Suddenly concerned and a little guilty, she quickly poured a glass of water and tried to get him to take a sip
"Go away," he gasped. "You tryin' to kill me?"
"I am not! I were trying to help you. If you would cooperate, then this wouldn't a happened."
"Typical woman," Johnny muttered. "Never admits she's wrong. You're worse than Teresa."
"She's kinda my sister."
"Long story." Johnny breathed more easily as the pain subsided. "You said you have brothers. How many?"
"Seven," she replied. "My ma wanted a girl and kept trying ‘til she got one. What about you?" she asked. "Is Scott your only brother? You don't look much alike."
"Different mamas, same father."
“He’s very handsome.”
Johnny looked surprised. "Scott?"
"Who else would I be talking about?"
"If you think so." Johnny tried to tell himself that he wasn't jealous. After all, he had only just met the girl.
"Like salt and pepper," she smiled.” One so light and one dark."
"And which one do you prefer?" he asked before he could think better of it.
"Oh, I don't know. I guess it all depends on what kind of seasoning I want, huh?"
Johnny grinned. "Always preferred my food spicy."
Rose blushed and turned away, "I think I should see about yer lunch."
He settled himself more comfortably in the bed. The medicine she had given him was making him feel drowsy. "Just make sure it has some taste. No nasty broth."
"I'll speak to head chef. Then, after lunch, you can tell me more about yer brother." She gave him a mischievous look before leaving the room.
Johnny watched the door close, a belligerent look coming over his face. What gave her the right to tell him what to do? He'd make it downstairs in that moving room and get some fresh air. He knew how long the medication would last, and he would be back long before the pain got too bad again. He eased himself into a sitting position, gasping with the pain and effort, and looked around for his clothes.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" Scott's voice roared. “Where’s Rose?"
"Aw, hell," Johnny muttered and tried to lay back down, but his back seized on him and he found himself stuck, half in and half out of bed.
"What is wrong with you, Johnny? Why can't you follow the simplest orders? Lay there for a few days...what could be easier to understand?" Scott threw his jacket over a chair and carefully eased Johnny's legs back onto the bed. "Now, maybe you will follow doctor's orders."
"You try it," he snapped. "See how long it takes for you to feel as if the walls are closing in on you."
"I know you don't like it, and this certainly isn’t the way I wanted to spend the week in San Francisco...but you wouldn't be here if you hadn't gotten carried away."
"Oh, don't you pretend to be so all-fired innocent. D'you think I don't know what you were doin' last night?"
"At least I didn't break the bed!"
"Can't have been tryin' very hard then," Johnny smirked before hissing and making a grab for his thigh. "¡Dios!"
All the humor disappeared from Scott's face. "That's what we've been trying to warn you about. I don't care how difficult this is for you - you are going to stay in that bed."
"Oh no." Rose arrived back in the room, hurrying over to the bed. "What happened? I just left to check on lunch."
"He tried to get up. I told you to stay with him," Scott told her severely.
"He promised me."
"Don't you go yelling at her," Johnny gasped. "Wasn't her fault."
"I know that!" Scott turned on Johnny. "But we hired her to keep you in line."
"Ain't anybody managed that since I was ten."
"Well, you’re not ten anymore...but you’re sure acting like it."
Johnny sighed. "Scott, just leave me alone, I'm hurting."
"Whose fault is that?"
"Please, Sorr, let him be," Rose said as she mixed a packet of powder into a glass of water. "Doctor said to give him this if the pain got too bad."
Johnny's mouth set in a stubborn line and Rose waggled her finger at him. "You remember what happened last time?"
Scott's head snapped around. "What happened last time?
"Nothing." Johnny obediently opened his mouth.
Scott watched in amazement as Johnny took his medicine and settled back, his eyes closing. "How did you do that?" he asked her.
"Must be me charm, Sorr."
Scott chuckled. "I know my brother...and charm alone won't make him behave. But whatever it is, keep doing it."
Scott raised an eyebrow. What kind of pleasure did she have in mind?
Johnny felt like he was floating and it was a feeling he hated. Rose had mixed a healthy dose of the medication and he was both angry, and relieved. He’d never taken well to being drugged, but if he was out of it, he wouldn’t have to listen to his brother's lecture. Unfortunately that wasn't deterring Scott, who didn't look like he was going to stop talking anytime soon. Johnny sent a pleading stare in Rose's direction.
“Sorr, if ya would be so kind, I asked Cook to make Johnny somethin’ special, and he said your brother would like somethin’ called tamale soup. If ya could fetch it fer him. I don’t wanna leave him again since…”
Scott held up his hand. “A wise decision. I’ll have the cook send someone up with it. I need to go out for a while anyway. I have to find a suitable gift to bring to the dinner tonight.”
Johnny looked at Scott through half-closed eyelids. "You going out to dinner?"
"Yes. I've been invited to dine with Mr. Peters and his wife."
"Humph,” Johnny muttered sullenly. Not only was he stuck in this damn bed, but Scott was going off to have dinner with his new best friend.
"Now, Johnny, you know that this is very important to my grandfather. Besides, it's not as if I'm leaving you alone. Rose will be here to take care of you."
Johnny snorted. "Yeah. Just tell her I don't need no more sponge baths."
"It looked to me as if you were enjoying it."
"I only do what doctor orders. If he says ya needs another sponging down...then I sponge ya down."
Johnny reached out and grabbed Scott's sleeve. "You keep that doctor out of here. Understand? I'll do your chores for a month. I'll take Teresa to the next town dance. Anything," he said desperately. "Just don't let that doctor order another sponge bath."
Scott couldn't help laughing. "I'm sorry, Johnny, but the doctor is due in a few minutes. It won't be so bad, if you behave."
"I'll be good. You've no idea how good I can be when I try."
"You don't try very hard. What about that little stunt you just pulled, trying to get out of bed? I'm going to have to tell him...make sure you didn't do any more damage."
Johnny decided he didn't much like having an older brother. Life had been so much simpler when he could just intimidate people with his icy stare. Somehow, that had never worked on Scott. "Scott, por favor - he said if he had to, he'd stick that needle where the sun don't shine. I got ta keep my dignity."
As if it were prearranged, there was a knock at the bedroom door. Rose hurried to answer it, standing aside to let Dr. Payne enter.
"Thank you, Rose," he smiled as he stepped in. "How is our patient this afternoon?"
"He's right wilful, Sorr, but I'm sure he's learned his lesson."
Dr. Payne raised an eyebrow. "He hasn't behaved himself?"
"I've been a perfect angel," Johnny protested.
"Satan started out as an angel," Scott mumbled.
"I heard that." Johnny scowled at his brother.
"All right," the doctor said, opening his bag on the nightstand. "Let's have a look at you. Now, like before, let us do the work. Scott, if you would help me turn him over.”
"I'm fine. It's hardly hurting at all," Johnny protested around a lopsided grin.
"How much medication have you given him?" Payne looked back toward Rose.
"Had ta give him some laudanum and some of them powders you left."
"Hmm- that's more than I hoped you would have to use. I may have to stabilize his legs, keep him from moving. I was hoping not to do that."
"I think it was the fact that Johnny tried to get up while he was alone. I’m sure he learned his lesson,” Scott said
"He tried to get up?" Dr. Payne's voice rose in annoyance. "I thought between the two of you he was going to be watched."
"Sorry Sorr, I only stepped out for a moment. I wanted to see to his lunch. I never thought he'd be so foolish..."
"He clearly can't be trusted."
"Yes I can, Doc. You got my word.”
"Really? Well you'll have to excuse me if I don't take your word for it. I can read you like a book, young man. I can tell by those scars that most did not heal without some trauma, most likely, because you didn't listen to doctor's orders."
"I was young," Johnny said desperately. "I ain't gonna be stupid this time."
Silence settled over the room. The looks on the faces of those staring down on him were not convinced.
"Scott? Tell him," Johnny begged. "I do what Sam tells me at home. I ain't that bad a patient."
Scott nearly choked. "I'm sure Sam would not agree."
"I assume that Sam is your local doctor. Perhaps I should send him a wire," Dr Payne suggested.
"No!" Johnny tried to turn over, and gasped with the pain. "If you tell him, he'll tell Murdoch and Teresa. Scott, tell him, I'll behave..."
"Calm down, Johnny. Doctor, isn't there something more you can do to help control the pain?"
The doctor shook his head. "I had hoped to avoid giving him any more, but it is obvious it needs it," he said as he drew a hypodermic needle from his bag and set it on the nightstand. "Once I’ve examined you, I’ll give you another shot. It will make you sleepy, Johnny. But at least you will stay out of trouble."
"No. You ain't sticking that needle in me again."
Johnny grasped the sheet, glaring fiercely at the doctor and his brother. The pain prevented him from fighting against their hands as he was gently turned over onto his stomach. He felt the sheet being pulled off and the doctor muttering to himself as he poked and prodded. Gritting his teeth, he bore the indignity in silence, until he felt the doctor's thumb tapping a spot on his butt. "No!"
Scott leaned over and whispered in Johnny's ear. "You'll just have to grin and ~ bare ~ it, Brother."
Johnny was incensed. "Just a sharp prick," the doctor warned and Johnny felt like he was sinking into soft cotton.
He could hear the doctor speaking as if from a long way off. "That should keep him quiet."
Then he slipped away.
Scott walked into the bedroom, dressed in evening clothes and ready to leave. Johnny lay still, pretending to be asleep. Scott knew he was faking it as his brother was never still, even when in deep slumber. Rose was sitting in a straight backed chair by the bed, where she had remained for most of the afternoon. She was taking her job very seriously since Johnny’s last disastrous attempt to escape his confinement.
"I'd keep my eye on him, Rose," he said over loudly for Johnny's benefit. "You can never trust him.
"Don't you worry, Sorr. You enjoy your evening out."
Scott grinned. "It's been a long time since I've attended a formal dinner. I hope I haven't lost my touch." He saw one of Johnny's eyes opening a crack and his grin broadened. "It's only a pity I don't have a delightful young lady like you on my arm."
"Oh Sorr...." Rose blushed. "I wouldn't know how ta act at an important dinner like that."
"You would do just fine," he assured her, crossing to the bed and lifting one of her hands, bringing it to his lips. "All the men would be dazzled by you."
Rose blushed deeper. "You are a fresh one, Mr. Lancer." She grinned demurely.
Scott could have sworn that he heard Johnny gnashing his teeth. "What can I say? I enjoy female company." He continued to hold her hand for longer than was strictly necessary, waiting for the explosion from his brother.
"You’re gonna be late for that fancy dinner, Boston." Johnny's voice was soft and slurred, still affected by the drugs.
"Sorry, Johnny," Scott said without a trace of real regret. "I hope I didn't wake you up."
Rose jumped up, reaching for the sheet to tuck Johnny in tighter. "Do you need anything, Sorr?"
Several different expressions crossed Johnny's face before he colored almost as much as Rose. "I...ah...Scott!"
Recognizing his brother's difficulty, Scott could feel some sympathy. "Rose, why don't you go and fetch Johnny's supper? He and I will be fine until you get back."
A look of embarrassed comprehension came over Rose's face and she nodded. "I’ll be back in fifteen minutes."
"Help me up," Johnny said, beginning to push the sheet off him.
"Stay put," Scott ordered, grabbing for the chamber pot beneath the bed. "You're not to get out of bed, remember?"
Johnny's eyes narrowed in warning. "I ain't going in that."
"Then you can hold it," Scott said. "I don't have all day. I have a dinner engagement to go to. Now if you want Rose to help you, I will leave you in her hands. "
Johnny grabbed for the chamber pot. "Turn around. I don't need an audience."
Scott waited, both amused and sorry for his brother. Johnny of all people protected his privacy.
"And, you can stop flirting with her," Johnny's aggrieved voice continued, ending with a relieved sigh.
"Flirting?" Scott turned around. "What do you mean? With Rose? She's not really my type, Johnny."
"Anything in a skirt is your type, Brother."
"You hurt me deeply, Brother."
"Yeah, the truth has a habit of hurtin' sometimes."
Scott glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room and made a show of settling his suit on his lean frame. "I’d better leave before I'm late. Rose will be here any minute. I can trust you for that long, can't I?"
"You could trust me a hell of a lot more if you gave me my gun back. You know I don't like being without it, 'specially when I'm stuck in this bed."
"Sorry, Johnny, but that would just be asking for trouble. Besides, you’re in the best suite in the premier hotel in San Francisco. Why on earth would you need your gun?"
"You don't know what kind of trouble could find me."
"Now you're just being ridiculous."
"Am I? Think about it."
"I have thought about it and you don't need your gun. I'll come and check on you later. Be good."
"Have a good dinner," Johnny sneered as Scott turned his back to walk out the door.
Scott gave the cab driver the address to Peters’ house and sat back. He was not looking forward to this dinner. He really didn't like Norman Peters. The house on Nob Hill was impressive. However Peters had made his money, it was clear that he had made a lot of it. The man who opened the door looked more like a bodyguard than a butler and Scott's unease intensified. Peters was not unlike some of his grandfather’s other business associates. They were the ones that hovered on the fringes of Boston’s so-called good society. He’d never felt comfortable with them, and he didn’t feel comfortable now. He began to wish that Johnny was with him. He even began to wish he'd brought his gun. He couldn't believe that his short time in California had made him so reliant on a weapon. But, there had been an undercurrent of aggression during the negotiations that morning. He hadn't so much been invited to dinner, as ordered to put in an appearance.
If he were not conducting business for his grandfather, he would not step foot in the house. But, this was part of the business negotiations, and he was committed to appear. He was shown into the dining room. Norman Peters was waiting to greet him, looking uncomfortable in his evening attire.
Stretching out his large hand, he shook Scott's squeezing harder than needed. "Glad to see you, Scott.”
It was an effort to keep smiling, but Scott did his best. "Good evening, Norman. This is an impressive house."
"I have my wife to thank for that. I'd be happy in a log cabin."
"Women are a civilizing influence, so I've been told." Scott had to wonder what Mrs. Peters was going to look like. If she was a match for her husband, she would be no great beauty. Still, he'd had plenty of time to practice his flattery during his years in Boston.
"Why don't we have a drink before dinner?”
"Will Mrs. Peters be joining us?" Scott asked as he was handed a generous measure of whiskey.
"No, she will be down later for dinner.”
As Scott sipped appreciatively at his drink he heard a discreet tap on the door. Peters called out an invitation to enter and a rough looking man, totally out of place in that house, poked his head around the door. "Could I have a word with you, Sir?"
"Sorry, Scott,” Peters said. “I won't be long. Pour yourself another drink if you run out before I get back."
Scott wandered around the room, admiring the furniture and decorations. As he neared the door, he could hear raised voices coming from the passageway.
"Who is he?" Peters growled.
Scott couldn't hear the answer, but he did hear Peters’ next words. "You and the boys teach him a lesson. If he comes sniffing round my wife again, I'll cut off his balls."
Scott backed away from the door. Whoever the poor bastard was, he was in for it. Maybe Mrs. Peters didn't look like the back end of a horse after all. He hurried back to his seat and dropped into it just as the door opened. "Everything alright?" he asked, noting the unhealthy flush now staining his host's neck and face.
"Yes. Just some business matters. My associates will take care of it. Now, I believe dinner is about ready. I hope you’re hungry. My cook has been slaving in the kitchen all day. When I told her you were from Boston, she decided to cook something special for you."
"I'm looking forward to it. It's just a shame my brother couldn't have joined us. I'm afraid he had an accident and is stuck in bed."
"Nothing serious, I hope?"
"It won't be if he follows doctor's orders." Scott turned to put his empty glass back on the tray on the sideboard. He heard the door open and the rustling of skirts.
He heard her voice before he saw her step into the room. His breath caught in his throat. That soft voice was unmistakable, only the last time he’d heard it was during pillow talk. He still had the marks on his back where her nails had raked his skin while they were...while they were...God, he felt sick. "Mindy," he breathed. Peters’ words in the hall came back to him.
"Scott, are you all right?" Peters’ hand was on his shoulder. "You look pale.”
"Why, Mr. Lancer, Norman is quite right. You look like you've seen a ghost."
Mindy swept into the room, her full lavender shirt gathered tightly around her small waist. The bodice of her dress was low enough for Scott to see deep cleavage. Cleavage, with which he was intimately acquainted. He groaned softly.
"I'm...I'm just a little tired, I guess," he stuttered. "I was up all night with my brother."
"Really?" Mindy's hazel eyes were sparkling with mischief.
Peters glared at his wife. It appeared it was not unusual for her to...flaunt...herself in front of her husband.
She took Scott's arm, guiding him to his place at the table. He could feel her body pressed against his and slid gratefully into his seat. At least, he could conceal the evidence of his attraction.
Mindy sat next to him, reaching under the tablecloth to put her hand on his leg. He could feel the sweat start to bead up on his forehead. He fixed a smile on his face, tried to ignore the tingling in his loins, and wished fervently that the evening was over.
Rose lit the lamps, trying her best not to notice just how good Johnny looked lying all alone in that big bed. She had tried her hardest to look at him just like another patient, but there was something about him that was so compelling...like the way his dark hair fell into his beautiful blue eyes, or how his lips parted, just a little, whenever he slept. She found herself imagining what it would be like to kiss them and felt herself blush with a guilty pleasure. ‘These were not the thoughts of a nurse’, she chastised herself. Straightening her skirt, she turned back toward the dresser. The wash basin sat there, reminding her that she needed to give him another sponge bath...doctor’s orders. Oh Lord have mercy, did the doctor really know what he was asking of her?
Sighing, she reminded herself that she was just a lowly maid and he was the son of a rich rancher. If they hadn't been thrown together by fate, he would never even have noticed her. Still, she could dream. It was her dreams of a better life that had led her to leave her family and travel across the ocean. "Does thee need anything?" she asked, hoping he would fall asleep again.
"Yeah. I need to get out of this damn bed," he replied irritably, slapping his hands against the mattress in frustration.
"You know thee can't. Not yet."
He gave her a smile that made her heart melt. "Aw, come on, Rose. What harm would it do to get up and sit in a chair for a while? It’s just a few steps."
"You heard doctor’s orders. I have never seen a patient as uncooperative as thee. No wonder your brother needed someone to look after thee. I have a mind to take his suggestion and tie thee ta tha’ bed."
"He said that?"
"Well," Rose admitted, "m’be not in so many words. But that is what he meant. And he would thank me for it too."
"Come sit down and talk to me?" Johnny patted the bed." Maybe if you take my mind off how boring it is to lie here, I'd behave…promise."
Rose hesitated. He was a sly one. She would have to watch her every move. "It would not be proper, Mr. Lancer."
Johnny sighed. "No, I guess not. I’m sorry. I was outta line."
She noticed the sweat beading up on his forehead and knew that the pain had resurfaced again. Grabbing a towel and wetting it in the basin, she sat on the edge of the bed to wipe his brow. "But, I can do this for thee," she said softly.
Johnny closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of having someone caring for him. The feeling surprised him. He should be unsettled by the fact that he was in an unfamiliar place, being looked after by a stranger. But, for all her spunk, she was a sweet girl and he had met so few like her in his lifetime. "Thank you," he said, opening his eyes to find her looking at him suspiciously. He felt ashamed as he realized this was probably the first time he hadn't taken his bad temper out on her.
"That accent," he said, trying to make her feel more comfortable. "I've never heard one quite like it."
"I were brought up in a village called Barmby Moor, outside York. Wasn't much to it, but me family have lived there for generations."
Johnny frowned. "New York?”
"Not New York! Surely you've heard of York," she replied amazed. "It's a big city in’t northeast of England. Been there for hundreds of years. Don't you know nowt?"
Johnny chuckled, grimacing at the pain it caused but refusing to let it ruin the moment. "I knew an Irishmen once, biggest story teller I ever heard, and he could drink me under the table faster than anyone I ever saw. And, I met a couple of Scott's friends from England...but they didn't sound nothing like you."
"I suppose they sounded all proper." She sounded offended. "Well, there's nowt wrong with me accent."
"I didn't say there was. In fact, I kind of like it. I don't exactly talk as proper as Scott does either."
"He's a real gentleman." She gave him a sly look.
"Yeah?" There was a strange note to his voice. "You think so?"
Rose took pity on him. "Can't say as I rightly feel at home with gentlemen, though."
A grin slowly made its way across Johnny’s face as his eyes slid closed. "I think I'll close my eyes for a few minutes."
Rose felt a sense of disappointment. "You need yer rest, Sorr."
Johnny nodded. But, his hand slipped off his chest to find hers and he fell asleep holding it..
Dinner was over - finally. Scott wasn't sure how he'd made it through without betraying himself. Mindy's hand had kept returning to rest on his leg, leaving him battling another throbbing pain to match the headache that had been steadily building. He moved her hand back into her own lap and forced a smile for his host. "Dinner was wonderful, Norman. Please compliment your cook."
"Thank you. Would you like an after-dinner drink? I have some excellent cognac."
"No, thank you. I really should get back to the hotel to check on Johnny. But, very kind of you to offer." Scott hesitated before standing up. His trousers still felt too damn tight!
"Must you go?” Mindy pouted.
"Yes," Scott said desperately, noticing Norman’s face suddenly flush. "Much as I hate to eat and run..."
He nearly tripped on his own feet trying to step away from the table. Where was the old Scott Garrett when he needed him? He'd escaped by the skin of his teeth on more than one occasion while in Boston, two steps ahead of a line of irate fathers and suspicious husbands. However, none had looked capable of tearing him apart with their bare hands.
"I'll send someone for my carriage. Can't have you wandering around by yourself at this time of night," Norman offered.
"No, no… I could use the fresh air.”
"I insist," Norman growled. "I won't be long."
"Yes darling," Mindy smiled. "You don't want to take a cold walking home at night. All alone in a strange city. Who would nurse you?"
Scott hastily averted his gaze from her cleavage, while giving in gracefully to Peters’ offer. "If you insist." He looked around for a place to stand that was far enough away from Mindy so he would not give himself away. Damn, but she was a beautiful woman.
As soon as her husband had left the room Mindy advanced on Scott, pinning him against the wall and smiling up at him. "I thought you were about to faint when I walked into the room," she laughed. "You should have seen your face."
"Are you trying to get me killed?” Scott hissed.
"No, my darling. Just having some fun. I get so bored here. But, with you around..."
"I won't be around much longer if your husband finds out what we did last night." Scott took hold of her shoulders, intending to push her away. Instead, he found himself running his fingers down her smooth creamy arms.
"Are you sure of that, Scott? I could come visit you again tonight," she purred.
"You're crazy!" Scott bent his head, giving in to the urge to kiss her luscious lips.
The sound of the door opening behind him was like a lightening bolt racing up his spine. He jumped back, his arm hitting a candle stand and toppling the lit candle. He quickly picked up a glass of water from the table, dousing the flame before it could do any damage. "I'm sorry," he stammered. "I'm not known for my clumsiness. I had better go before I can do any more damage."
Mindy took hold of his arm. "I'll walk with you to the carriage."
Norman stepped in front of her. "It is cold out there, my dear. Stay inside where it's warm. I'll see that our guest is well taken care of."
Scott broke out in a cold sweat. That was what he was afraid of. "Thank you both, but I can see my own way out. Thank you for a wonderful meal."
"Don't forget our meeting tomorrow morning," Norman reminded him. "I'll have my answer to your grandfather's proposal."
"Yes. I'll be looking forward to your answer." Even more, he was looking forward to being able to leave the city before he lost something that he was very attached to. Damn Johnny for getting himself laid-up. If it wasn't for that, he'd be tempted to pack up and leave tonight. Turning to leave he saw the two burly men he had seen when he first entered standing at the doorway.
“Buck and Wes will see you to the carriage. Good night, Scott."
"Good night, Scott," Mindy called. "Sweet dreams."
Rose heard the latch on the door turn and quickly removed her hand from Johnny's. She didn't know why she felt the need, there was nothing wrong with her wanting to comfort a patient, but it seemed an invasion of their privacy. She had been surprised, and a little embarrassed, when he had taken her hand. It had been such a trusting gesture, and she was starting to understand that Johnny wasn't a man who gave his trust easily. It had felt good to hold his warm, strong hand, and she hadn't been in any hurry to relinquish the contact.
Scott stepped into the room. No – he practically leaped in. Rose stared at him for a long moment. His face was flushed with an underlying green tinge.
"Is something matter, Sorr?" she asked, concerned by his appearance.
"NO! No, not at all. Just wanted to check on Johnny. How is he?"
"He's sleeping. If it's alright with thee, Sorr, I should be getting back to me own room. I can come back in’t morning if thy still need me." Rose hoped she didn't sound too eager.
"Alright." Scott seemed distracted and Rose walked slowly to the door. "You sure nothing is wrong, Sorr? I kin stay if ya needs me to."
"Everything's fine. Wait a minute. I have to get something. Stay here."
Scott hurried over to the ornate dresser in the corner and drew out Johnny's gun. "I want you to have this, just in case he needs it."
Rose looked at the gun in consternation. "Why would he need his gun?"
"Believe me, Johnny always needs his gun. Put it somewhere close to the bed, where he can reach it if he needs to. Just don't tell him it's there unless you have to."
Rose accepted it, checking the cylinder with a practiced hand before stowing it away. She looked back to see an astonished look on Scott's face. "A woman alone needs to protect herself. One of Dr. Payne's friends, a gambler, a fine man really, taught me how to handle a gun when I first came to work here."
As she closed the drawer she felt uneasy. There was something different about Scott. Whatever had happened at his dinner engagement had bothered him. But, it was not her place to pry. "Goodnight, then, Sorr. I’ll be back in the morning. I’ve written down the times of his medications and when he received his last ones."
"Thank you, Rose. You've been a great help."
"That’s what I’m here for. Goodnight." As she stepped out into the hallway she almost regretted having to leave the suite. She had never faulted her small room downstairs in the maids’ quarters, and it was not the lack of space that she was going to miss. She felt a tingle in her hand and wished she could have held onto Johnny's just a little longer.
Scott closed the door with a sigh of relief. All the way back to the hotel in Norman's carriage, he had wondered if the newspaperman knew of his relationship with Mindy. He was almost surprised to get back without someone trying to kill him, or...no, he wasn't going to think about the alternative. He cringed as he remembered what he had overheard earlier.
Making sure the door was locked, he checked on Johnny, satisfying himself that his brother was sleeping peacefully. He stripped off his dinner jacket and tie. Toeing off his shoes he settled into one of the overstuffed chairs in Johnny’s room and tried to relax. He knew, without a doubt, he would not be able to relax until he was safely back on Lancer land. How did he get himself into these kinds of situations? And, why was Mindy throwing herself at him, knowing what her husband was like? God, but she'd looked beautiful tonight.
Without knowing it, his eyelids slid shut until a discreet knock on the bedroom door brought him to his feet. Johnny must have heard it too, as he moaned once, then fell back to sleep. Scott started to turn the knob then thought better of it. "Who is it?" he called softly. The main door to the suite had been locked. Only a hotel employee would have a key.
"Hotel service. I have an urgent note for you, Mr. Lancer."
Telling himself to stop being paranoid, he opened the door to find one of the bellboys standing there, holding out an envelope. Scott quickly pulled out a dollar coin and handed it to the bellboy. A note this late at night? He was almost afraid to open it. He turned the envelope over to study the writing. It wasn't familiar, but the delicate scent rising from the paper was.
"Damn it!" he hissed. He wouldn’t put it past Mindy to have sent him an invitation to meet her for lunch. But, why have it delivered at this hour? Just to show she could? Opening it carefully, as if its contents could jump out and bite him, he pulled the letter out and read it. His eyes widened in amazement. Apparently, lunch was not on her menu....he was. "Meet me in room 606 in one hour. Be there or else.”
An hour later, Scott peeked into Johnny's room to ensure that his brother was still asleep. He didn't like leaving him, and hoped Johnny wouldn't wake up and do anything stupid while he was gone. Of course, he was on the verge of doing something incredibly stupid himself. He should just ignore Mindy's note and hope for the best. But the threat couldn't be ignored.
The anger Scott felt as he made his way down the back staircase and then the empty hallway, to room 606 could not completely outweigh that feeling he used to have when he was flirting with disaster in Boston. There was something undeniably exciting about spending time with a woman who should be regarded as out of bounds.
He reached the door and knocked softly three times. He heard, "Come in," softly spoken from inside and stepped in. The room was bathed in the light from numerous candles. He approached the bed, feeling a stirring of the lust he had experienced the previous night.
"I knew you were as smart as you are handsome, Mr. Lancer."
Mindy was lying in the bed covered only by a thin sheet. The material clung to her desirable curves.
Taking a deep breath he said, "That note bordered on blackmail. I don't appreciate being blackmailed."
"You'll appreciate it even less if I tell Norman that you forced me into your bed."
Now all the desire was gone. Anger was all Scott felt. "There are two sides to the story, Mindy. If I tell your husband that you came to my bed...twice..."
"He won't believe you. He has his reputation to think of and he isn't going to admit, even in private, that I could do such a thing. Now, I'm lonely. Get undressed and come to bed."
Scott's fists clenched in rage. "Go to hell, Mindy. I'll take my chances with your husband."
"The last man who said that was found the next day floating in the bay. I'd hate for that to happen to you...or your brother."
Scott was on the bed gripping Mindy's shoulders before he realized what he was doing. "My brother has nothing to do with us. If you bring him into this, you will regret it dearly. Remember, your husband is a powerful man, but so is my grandfather. He can turn your husband into a pauper with one word."
Mindy smiled up at him. "I do like powerful men. Would it really be so bad to spend a few hours with me? We had fun last night. I promise you won't be disappointed. Just one more night and then I'll leave you alone. Please, Scott."
Scott stood up slowly. "You are pathetic. I wouldn't spend one more minute with you."
Her smile disappeared. "You are going to regret this."
"I already do. Good night, Mindy." And he closed the door on her.
Johnny awoke slowly. He opened one eye, expecting to find Rose hovering over him, ready to slip him something to make him sleep again. He couldn't figure that woman out. She had been well named. Sometimes she was as prickly as a thorn bush. Other times she was as soft as a rose petal. Realizing that he was alone in his room, he decided to try to get out of bed. He'd spent an entire day and night lying down and he was tired of it.
He could never make anyone understand that he had lived alone most of his life. He knew when his body needed rest, and he knew when it was time to push himself. Lying in bed was only making him weaker. Cautiously, he pushed himself upright, gritting his teeth against the surge of pain in his back and down his leg. He gripped the bedclothes, preparing to untangle them from his legs.
"What the hell do you think you’re doing?" Scott's voice cut through the buzzing noise in Johnny's ears. Dios! He was slow these days.
He turned an innocent look on his brother. "Nothing."
"Don't give me that, Brother." Scott marched across the room, lifting Johnny's legs and settling him back on the bed. He didn't say another word until he had the covers pulled tightly over Johnny again.
"Oh, come on, Scott. What harm can it do? I'm going crazy lying in this bed with nothing to do."
"You want to ride Barranca again? You keep pushing to get out of this bed and you'll be riding Murdoch's desk the rest of your life."
"That's a load of bull," Johnny groused. "I always found the best way to get a sore muscle to heal is to use it."
Scott set his hands on his hip in frustration. "It's your back, Johnny, not a pulled muscle in your leg."
"Same thing. Don't think that fancy doctor knows what he's talking about."
Scott's mouth dropped open. "Are you just stubborn, or are you really that stupid?" Scott threw his hands up. "You do what you want. You know what’s best for you. Just don't come to me to pick up the pieces."
"I managed just fine on my own," Johnny snapped. "I don't need a big brother telling me what to do." He threw the bedclothes back in frustration, swung his legs to the side of the bed, ignoring the fierce agony that the movement provoked, and tried to stand.
If not for Scott's strong arms he would have found himself face down on the floor. Frustration and humiliation surged through him as Scott lifted him back into bed.
"Ready to concede defeat yet?" Scott asked, with a smirk.
Johnny glared at him, then his mouth twitched. He could not keep the smile from spreading across his mouth. "No, but I'll let you think you won. For now."
A relieved smile appeared on Scott's face. "I guess that's better than nothing."
Johnny nodded. "It's all you’re gonna get, Boston." He looked out the window, noticing the sun was shining full into the room. "Don't you have some kind of meeting you’re supposed to be at this morning?"
"I...ah...I've decided that it isn't in the best interests of Garrett Enterprises to pursue this particular contract." He broke eye contact with his brother, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"Problems?" Johnny asked.
"No, no problems. I just feel that Norman Peters isn't the sort of man we want to be associated with. In fact, I should go and send a telegram to my grandfather to let him know. I wonder where Rose is. She should be here any minute."
Johnny felt his face flush and turned away. "I'm not sure she'll want the job anymore. "’Sides, I can take care of myself."
"Problems?" Scott echoed Johnny's earlier question. "She seems very capable."
Johnny kept his face averted. "She's capable. But I can still take care of myself. You go on and send that telegram. I'll stay right here."
"There's no rush. I'll wait until she gets here."
"Damn it, Scott. I said I was fine. I don't need a babysitter. Now go.”
As the brothers stared at each other, each refusing to give an inch, the door opened.
"Morning, Sorr. Sorry I'm late."
Johnny groaned and Scott grinned. "You're just in time, Rose. I was going out. Be back later this morning."
"No rush, Sorr." She laid down the tray she was carrying and uncovered the plate. "I asked Cook to make you something tasty for your breakfast," she told Johnny. “Something me Ma used ta cook when I was a bairn. It's full of things that'll make ya strong."
Rose uncovered the plate and Johnny looked at it suspiciously. "What is it?"
"It be called Bubble and Squeak. Ain't ya never had it before?'
Scott wandered over to look. "I've never heard of it. What are those grey things on the side of the plate?"
"Fried kidneys, Sorr. They be very good for an ailing man.”
Johnny felt his stomach turning over. "I'm not hungry."
"I don't believe that for a second," Scott laughed. "You are never not hungry. Besides, I’ve seen you eat rattlesnake...."
"That was different."
Rose whipped out a napkin and draped it over Johnny's chest. "I bet you'll love it, Sorr. Just give it a go..."
Johnny picked up the fork and poked at the food. "What's in it?"
"Lot's a things - fried leftovers, mainly potatoes, carrots and cabbage. The cook be from the old country. She knows how ta fix a breakfast."
"Wonderful," Johnny said without enthusiasm. He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. "Not bad," he eventually conceded. "But, I ain't eating kidneys."
Scott grinned as he grabbed his jacket. "I wish I had time to find out who wins this battle."
"Where did you say you were going?" Johnny enquired around a mouthful of Bubble and Squeak.
"I have some business to take care of."
Johnny looked up sharply. Something didn't feel right but, before he could say anything more, Scott had walked out of the room. Johnny stared at the door for a moment, then returned to his not-so-bad breakfast.
Scott stepped out into the hallway and looked surreptitiously around. He didn't trust Mindy, not for a minute. And her husband! He felt a shiver run down his back. The sooner they got out of ‘Dodge’ the better. He headed for the elevator, breathing a sigh of relief once he was safely inside.
He would send his grandfather a note telling him that Norm Peters was not the kind of partner he thought he would be, then get Johnny well enough to get on the train and head home. Lancer had never seemed more inviting, or further away.
He quickly arrived at the hotel foyer, noting with some surprise that there were two police officers standing by the front desk talking with the manager. When he saw the manager nod toward him he had a sudden urge to run. But, he had done nothing wrong. If they were here for him, it would just be a matter of a misunderstanding. He continued to walk at an even pace toward the large glass doors leading out onto the street. The manager called his name and his footsteps faltered. With a resigned sigh, he turned back.
The two officers discreetly walked up, each leaning a shoulder against his. "This is a nice hotel, Mr. Lancer. I wouldn't want to upset the guests with a scene. If you would come quietly with us, we would appreciate it."
"What is this about, Officer? I can assure you that I have done nothing wrong, and I have no intention of leaving here without an explanation."
"If you've done nothing wrong than you won't mind coming to the station and straightening it out. There's been a serious complaint lodged against you. We will use force to remove you."
Scott felt the muzzle of a gun dig into his side. "What complaint? This is outrageous."
"I'd cooperate if I was you, Mister. San Francisco is a big city, a man could get lost in it real easy.”
"That sounds suspiciously like a threat." Scott stared hard at the man, noticing for the first time that he was unshaven and that the uniform didn't quite look right.
"Take it for what it is. You can disappear either way."
"I'm not leaving here without seeing an arrest warrant." Scott looked around desperately for an escape route. He had a bad feeling that these two men weren't what they appeared to be.
"We'll show you the warrant at the station. Now, are you going to come quietly or do you want to make a scene?"
"As a law-abiding citizen, I am quite prepared to make a scene," Scott snapped. "You have no right to threaten me. Now, get that gun out of my side or I can assure you, you won't enjoy the consequences."
Suddenly, Scott felt his feet being kicked out from under him and he landed hard on his back. "You asked for it, Lancer," one of the officers hissed in his ear.
Scott swung his fist hard at the officer's face. His satisfaction lasted only seconds before he felt a blow to the side of his head which caused his vision to dim. He felt himself being rolled over, his arms being wrenched behind his back and handcuffs being locked around his wrists.
He was dragged up to his feet. Everyone stood statue still watching him. This trip couldn't get any worse. Then, it did as one of the men leaned over to whisper, "Try anything else and my friend here will go and pay your brother a visit. Understand?"
Scott stopped fighting. He tried to get the bellmen's attention, but everyone seemed to want to look away from his embarrassment. "All right. Leave Johnny out of this."
"That's better. Now come along quietly. Someone wants a word with you."
Scott's mouth went dry with fear. Peters! He allowed himself to be walked out the door and helped into a waiting buggy. Who would have thought that a tryst in the wilds of the west would be the end of him? The ladies back in Boston would never believe it!
Johnny watched Rose pour steaming water into a wash basin and knew he was about to have another sponge bath. Oddly, it did not sound so bad anymore. In fact he realized as he watched her every move that she was prettier than he had first thought. That red hair caught the light coming in from the window. He had to hand it to his brother. Scott had found him an attractive jailer. He'd had a hell of a lot worse over the years.
"Don't you miss your family?" he asked as she carried the bowl over and set it on the nightstand.
"Ah, sure I do. But I made up me mind. I wanted ta make a life fer myself in the new world. Never thought it would be this hard...or I'd meet such..."she blushed, her face nearly as red as her hair. "I mean...you and yer brother...I mean...."
Johnny laughed at her embarrassment. "I guess this wasn't what you were expecting when you came to work at this fancy hotel."
"I do as I'm told, Sorr. And, it ain’t such a bad life."
She wrung the hot water from towel and gently scrubbed his skin. He watched as her fingers tangled in the dark ringlets of hair on his chest. He wanted to close his eyes to enjoy the moment, but he could not look away from her face.
"It isn't easy making a new life for yourself," he said softly.
Her hand stopped and she looked at him. "You do know, don't yer? But how...a big landowner like you and thy brother...?"
"I wasn't always a rancher. I grew up running wild down on the border."
Rose's hand moved lower and Johnny suppressed a groan. "Why would yer parents let you do that?" she asked.
Johnny closed his eyes..."I...I didn't grow up at Lancer....but that don't matter now...."
Rose put the cloth back in the water as Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. If she had kept doing that much longer he wasn't sure that he was going to be able to control his reaction.
But, she was back again, and she was leaning over the bed, her chest just inches from his throat as she stretched to wash his right shoulder. The wet towel brushed against her dress and the material darkened with the wetness, clinging to her firm breasts. Johnny raised his hand and brushed a stray curl off her forehead. His fingers moved to her cheek and he caressed her smooth skin. She had become completely still, her green eyes staring at him and her lips slightly parted.
He combed his fingers through her hair, releasing the hairpin and letting the long strands fall across his chest. She let him pull her closer, until their lips touched and he melted into her warm breath. Johnny knew that this was wrong. Rose wasn't some cheap saloon girl selling her body for a few coins. She was a decent hardworking young woman, who didn't deserve to be led down this path.
Johnny pushed her gently away. "I'm sorry."
"You are truly a wonder, Johnny Lancer. A true gentleman."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that." But Johnny couldn't stop himself from smiling in delight.
She leaned down and kissed him lightly on the lips again. "I would..."
"Well, well, well...what have we got here?" A voice sneered from the doorway.
"What the hell...?" Johnny pushed Rose away, rolling onto his side so that he could see who was talking. When his vision cleared again, he saw that two large men had entered the bedroom and that both of them were armed. "What do you want?" he demanded. "If this is a robbery you won't find much."
Rose stood up slowly, the bodice of her damp dress clinging to her breasts. Johnny tried to reach her hand, to pull her back out of harm's way. The two men were watching her with undisguised interest and he didn't like the look on their faces. “I asked you what you wanted," Johnny repeated, his voice deadly soft.
"Shut up," the larger man told him, taking a step toward Rose. "Check the other rooms," he said over his shoulder to his companion.
Rose sank to her knees, her head on Johnny's arm and whispered. "Scott left ya gun in the nightstand. I'll try to get it to thee."
"No!" The last thing Johnny wanted was for gunplay to break out while she was right in the line of fire. "Do as they say for now," he hissed. "Let’s find out what they want."
They waited until the other man returned, shaking his head to indicate that there was no one else in the suite.
The taller goon smiled. "It seems we’re alone. And your brother won't be around for a while. Looks like we can have some fun."
"Scott'll be back in a few minutes. And, I don't know what kind of fun you have in mind, but you ain't gonna use that gun in a crowded hotel."
The shorter goon snickered. "We don't need a gun to take care of the likes of you. Now, Missy, if you do what we say, no one has to get hurt, especially your boyfriend there."
Rose stood up. Although Johnny could see that she was shaking, he had to admire her guts. "Don't know what yer talking about. He ain’t me boyfriend. I just work here."
Johnny saw the lecherous smile spreading across Big Goon’s face and his stomach roiled. He knew that look. Rose was in trouble, unless he could get out of this bed and help her. He tested his legs, the pain shot up his back, but he couldn't allow that to stop him. "You boys in the habit of taking what's not yours? I had a good thing going here." He saw the look of shock on Rose's face as she turned to look at him. "How about I pay you boys off and you go find your own fun?" he suggested.
"We all ready got paid, and we aren't stupid enough to back out on that deal. No, I think we'll just have a little fun here while we wait. Missy, get something to tie your boyfriend’s hands. We wouldn't want him hurting himself by playing hero."
"Paid by who? What the hell do you want?" Knowing that his gun was close at hand was torture for Johnny, as he also knew that he'd never be able to reach it in time. Maybe if he could keep them talking, Scott would come back and provide the distraction he needed.
Big Goon took a step closer to Rose. "Tie him up now...or I'll do it. And I won't be gentle," he threatened.
"I don't have nowt," she said helplessly.
"Those drape ties will work just fine."
"Do as he says," Johnny said. He watched her walk over to the window and unhook the tiebacks that kept the drapes open. When she turned back, her face was filled with fear and he knew that he would have to do something. Ignoring the agony in his back he lunged for the heavy lamp on the bedside table. "Run!" he yelled, as he threw it at the larger of their two assailants.
The big goon sidestepped and the porcelain shade shattered on the floor. But it gave Rose the chance to leap toward the door. Johnny held his breath, praying that she would make it safely out into the hallway. But, there was the heavy thud of a knife sinking into the door, just above the handle, and Rose turned helplessly back to look at Johnny.
"That was real stupid," the large man snarled. "Get back over there, Missy, and get him tied up good and tight."
Tears filled Rose's eyes, just for a moment, before she straightened her shoulders and walked toward Johnny with the ties. As she walked hesitantly toward him he held his hands out in front of him, wrists loosely crossed. He hoped that she wouldn't tie him too tightly and that their captors wouldn't think to check the security of his bonds.
"I don't think so, Missy," Big Goon laughed. "Tie his hands to the headboard behind him. And make sure they're tight. I don't want to have to do the job over."
Johnny gritted his teeth in frustration, but didn't resist as Rose gently lifted his right arm and secured it to the rail. As she leaned over to tie his other arm, her breasts brushed against his chest and he heard the two men laughing. It took every ounce of self control he possessed to remain still as she immobilized him. The ties were loose enough for him to have room to move his wrists and he thanked her silently for keeping her head. But, Short Goon was standing over him the next minute and whatever chance he had to loosen the ties was gone. Lying so awkwardly was putting a severe strain on Johnny's back. Every movement was agony for him. Terrified for Rose, he tried to keep his emotions under control. "Now what?" he asked.
"We wait," Big Goon said. Looking at his friend he grinned. "That's not to say that we can't have some fun while he wait." Very slowly he drew his gun and pointed it at Johnny. "Now, Missy, if you want your boyfriend to see another sunrise, you'll do as we say."
The ice cold fury on Johnny’s face stunned Rose. She had seen his temper, which had been hot and passionate, but never this controlled anger. For the first time she understood that he could be a truly dangerous man.
“You touch her,” he said softly, “and you won’t have to worry about the law finding you.”
The implied threat was never going to be enough to give their captors more than a moment’s pause, although Rose saw a hint of unease in both men’s expressions. Pride made her straighten her back, even though her legs were shaking so badly that she could barely stand.
“What d’ya want?” She was surprised that she had managed to push the words past the lump of fear in her throat.
“Strip.” The larger man licked his lips in anticipation as he stared at her.
“Hijo de puta,” Johnny hissed, straining against the ties holding him to the bed.
“That didn’t sound very polite, boy.” The man laughed. “We’re just finishing what you started.”
Rose raised a trembling hand to her hair which was loose around her shoulders. She blushed furiously as she realized the impression these men had of what she and Johnny had been doing. The blush deepened as she remembered the gentleness of his touch and the fire it had ignited inside her.
“They hang a man convicted of rape,” Johnny growled. “That’d be quick compared to what I’ll do to you.”
“You shut your mouth.” The man moved forward menacingly. “Unless you want me to shut it for you.”
Rose forced herself to move. “Leave him alone.” Her hands were reluctant to cooperate as she reached round to untie her apron.
She turned back to look into his deep blue eyes and placed a finger on his lips. “Hush. There’s nowt yer can do so don’t yer be provoking them.”
Johnny shook his head. "You can't do this." He looked past her and set his cold eyes on the two men. "They’re nothing but animals."
"Johnny, please don't make ‘em angry," she pleaded.
"That's right, Johnny," one of the goons laughed. "Don't make us angry."
Johnny's expression changed as he smirked at the men. "Why not? You ain't nothing but a pair of cowards."
The taller of the two attackers grabbed Rose by the arm and flung her away from the bed. "You got a big mouth," he snarled, punching Johnny in the stomach. "You best keep it shut."
Rose steadied herself by grabbing one of the bedposts. Johnny had gone very pale and she thought for a moment that he was going to be sick.
"Please!" she cried. "Don't hurt him. I’ll do as yer ask."
"No," Johnny gasped. "Not to save me. Not worth it." He bucked against the bed, trying to free himself from the ropes.
Rose almost cried as she saw how much pain he was in. "Please don't hurt him," she cried. "His back. Please...".
Buck grinned down at Johnny. "A bad back, huh?"
Rose nearly screamed at what she had let slip.
Johnny had regained his breath. "What's it to you?" he challenged.
In desperation, Rose grabbed hold of Buck's arm. "I've already said I'll do what yer want. Leave him alone."
Johnny tried to lash out with his foot, and Rose could see how much the sudden movement hurt him. But, Buck caught his leg and twisted it, yanking Johnny halfway off the bed.
"Your girlfriend's being a damn sight more cooperative than you are, Boy. You should just lie quietly and enjoy the show."
Johnny could barely breathe through the pain, but his only thought was for Rose. She didn't understand what animals like that could do to a woman. The two men didn't stop Rose as she rushed to his side and helped to settle him back on the mattress. "Don't give in to them," he gasped.
"I know what I'm doing," she whispered harshly. "Trust me."
"You 'bout done taking care of your friend there?" Wes asked. "Cause if you're not, we can take care of him for ya."
"He won't give yer any trouble," Rose said as she stepped away from the bed.
With trembling fingers she unbuttoned her blouse, slowly opening it to reveal a white camisole.
"Like hell I won't," Johnny shouted. "You lay one finger on her and I'll make sure you die slowly and painfully."
"Shut him up!" yelled Buck.
Wes looked around, chuckling as he caught sight of the napkin on the breakfast tray. "This should do," he said, forcing it into Johnny's mouth.
"No, please," Rose pleaded again. "I'll do anything yer want. Just leave him alone."
Wes finished tying the gag in place. "That's right, Missy. You'll do anything we want."
Buck nodded. "Let's see what's under that pretty white thing yer wearing there. Want ta see boy?" he grinned at Johnny.
Rose raised a hand to unfasten her camisole when a sudden knock at the door startled everyone. Rose's eyes flew to the door, her heart pounding. It wouldn't be Scott. He would never knock, unless he thought she and Johnny needed their privacy. More likely it was the manager. As much as she hated him, she loved him right now.
Their two captors exchanged worried glances. "Don't answer it," Buck growled.
"Can't do that. Whoever it is will think summats wrong in here."
Drawing his gun, Wes laid it against the side of Johnny's head and hissed at Rose. "Get rid of him, whoever it is, or your boyfriend here dies."
Johnny didn't flinch or show any fear although his blue eyes blazed furiously.
Rose looked from Johnny to the two men holding them hostage. She had no doubt that they would kill Johnny if things went bad, then turn the gun on her and whoever was on the other side of the door. She hastily did up her bodice, leaving the last two buttons undone before leaving the bedroom and approached the main door to the suite. Opening it just wide enough to give her a view into the hallway she saw that it was, as expected, the manager. "What kin I do for ya, Surr?"
The manager's face was red and bad-tempered. "Open this door at once, Girl. I have important news for Mr. Lancer and I don't appreciate being made to stand in the hallway."
"Mr. Lancer's asleep," she said firmly, keeping her grip on the door handle. "He's not to be disturbed."
"I said, this is important. I'm sure he would want to be awoken to hear it. Now, out of my way. This is, after all, my hotel."
"I can give him the message when he wakes up." Rose stood her ground even though she was shaking so badly that she could barely stand. She could see the man's face turning a scarlet color. Soon his collar would start to strangle the idiot. "I was hired by Dr. Payne to take care of Mr. Lancer, that’s what I intend to do. Now, if you want him to get the message, please give it to me, or leave it down at the desk and I’ll retrieve it when Scott Lancer returns."
"You'll be finding yourself another job if you don't get out of my way." The manager’s eyes widened as he clearly caught a glimpse of her disheveled appearance.
Rose hurried on before he could comment. "Not ta worry, Surr, I don't plan on staying on here anyway."
"You insolent girl. Very well. I have better things to do than stand here and argue with a hussy like you. Tell Mr. Lancer that his brother has been arrested."
Rose colored at the insult and then the manager’s words drove all thought of her own danger out of her mind. "Arrested! For what?"
"That is none of your business. Let me know when Mr. Lancer wakes up. I will come back and speak to him then."
Rose didn't know what to say. Their hope had been that Scott would return and help them. Now they were completely, and utterly, on their own. What was she going to do? As the manager turned away, she had to stifle the impulse to call out and tell him the truth. Only the threat to Johnny kept her silent. She closed and locked the door, returning slowly to the bedroom.
"You handled him, Girlie," Buck said, his lips drawing back from his yellow crooked teeth.
Rose didn't think she had ever seen anything so vile, then she looked over at Johnny and her heart dropped. His eyes were closed; there was a gash on the side of his head and a thin trickle of blood running down his cheek.
"What have yer done?" she cried. "I did as yer asked. Ya didn't have ta hurt him!"
"He was trying to attract attention. Some people are just too stupid to know when they're beaten."
Rose ran over to the bed, carefully kneeling next to the mattress. Johnny's eyes were still closed, but she saw his fingers wiggling just a little. She badly wanted to untie his wrists, but she knew their kidnappers would never allow it and she couldn't chance them hurting him any more. She patted his cheek, telling him that she understood that he was just playing at being unconscious. Picking up the wash cloth she dabbed at the cut. She could hear the two men talking behind her.
"What the hell do we do now?" Wes demanded. "If Lancer's been arrested it could be days before he gets back here. We can't hold these two forever."
Rose felt Johnny jerk against his bonds as he heard the man's words.
"You better go and find out what to do with these two. I ain't babysitting them for no two or three days."
Rose turned her head as Wes nodded. Maybe, if they were left with only one guard, they might stand a chance of escaping. Johnny's gun was in the drawer by the bed. All she needed was a distraction to give her time to reach it. She waited and listened, praying that one of them would leave. She got her wish when Wes grabbed his hat and strode out of the room. She felt Buck’s leering eyes study her carefully. If there was one thing Rose Hardacre was, it was resourceful. She would use what she had.
Scott was becoming more uneasy by the minute. The carriage was traveling through an area of town that he recognized. Soon, there could be no doubt as to their destination. He was being taken to Norman Peters’ house. The "constables" who had arrested him had seemed rather suspect. Now he had the feeling that there was nothing legal about this arrest. But, it left him in a worse position. These men were wild cards. They may not have any rules that they had to follow.
"Where are we going?" he asked, trying to keep his voice level. "You do know that a judge would send you to prison for a long time for kidnapping."
"Shut up. I'd just as soon deliver you on a slab but, we've got our orders. The thing about orders is they can always get changed."
"I'm sure we can come to some arrangement." Scott tried again. "Let me go and I'll forget this ever happened."
"You're not being very smart for a smart man, Lancer. Now, do yourself a favor and shut up."
Scott tried to find a more comfortable position, which was hard with his arms pinned behind his back. "I'm only trying to stop you from making a bad mistake."
One of his captors snorted. "You’re all heart, Lancer."
The carriage they were riding in traveled to the back of Norman Peter's house, into the barn and was then pulled to a stop. Scott looked round hurriedly to see if there was anyone around who might help him. There was not a soul in sight. He was roughly led from the carriage into the house and down the stairs to the wine cellar.
Someone had been expecting him. A chain and cuffs hung from a support beam and he was shoved backwards and forced to sit on the bare ground. He knew he had little chance of fighting his way past his captors and had no other option but to let them release his wrists from the handcuffs, and attach them to the chain hanging from the beam.
"That'll hold you," one of the men said with satisfaction. "Don't bother shouting for help. No one'll hear you."
"Can I ask what this is about?"
Light footsteps sounded on the wooden stairs. "This is about teaching you a lesson, my dear," Mindy said.
Scott couldn't say he was surprised. "Mindy. Is this how you treat all your husband’s guests?"
"Only the ones who refuse an invitation into my bed."
Scott watched for a reaction from the men who had arrested him, it appeared they were not in the least bit surprised. It didn't bode well for him.
"What happens when your husband gets home?"
"Nothing. My men here are discreet. Don't for one minute think that I don't know about my husband’s affairs. He has his own dalliances...why shouldn't I have mine?”
Scott's shoulders slumped. "What happens now?"
"That is simple, my love. You give me what I want and promise to be a gentleman about not gossiping, and you can go." She walked closer, until her skirt billowed over his boots. "Is that too much of a price to pay for your freedom, and your brother’s?"
"My brother?" Scott twisted against the chain holding him prisoner. "What about him?"
"It really is delightful. My husband, thinking that he can get to you through you brother, is at this moment, holding him hostage in his hotel room until you return so he can teach you a lesson. Little does he know that I again will have the last laugh."
"You have to let me go. Johnny's in no fit state to defend himself." He thought furiously. "Release me and I promise I'll meet you later."
"You would do that for your brother?" Mindy crouched down so that her face was level with Scott's. "I've gone to far too much trouble to let you walk out of here now. Perhaps, if you are nice to me, I might change my mind. I'm sure your brother is perfectly safe - for now."
Scott tried to pull back but the beam stopped him. Her fingers walked up his chest to his chin and then she gripped it painfully. Scott's mouth was dry as he looked at her. "I'm not exactly in any position to be nice to you." He rattled the chain as emphasis.
"I know what I want when I see it. You, my dear Scott, are exactly what I want." She looked back up at her men. "You know what to do. I'll be back this evening. Make sure he’s ready."
As Mindy walked back toward the stairs, Scott watched the men pulling a wine rack to one side to reveal a hidden doorway. Did she really think she would get away with this? What was worse, Johnny was in trouble too. Worry for his brother, more than fear for himself, made him fight them as they unchained his wrists and dragged him across the room.
"I'll be back," she promised as Scott was dragged through the door into a room that looked like a high class brothel. Scott blinked, not believing his eyes. Plush red velour draped the walls. The room was dominated by a huge four poster bed. To his dismay, he saw sturdy ropes already tied to each of the posts. Candles burned on a shelf, giving the room a soft glow, but there was nothing soft about the ropes that bit into his wrists and ankles.
The men said nothing, just laughed as they made sure he was secure before slamming the door behind them. Scott heard a key turning in the lock as he was left alone and helpless.
Rose watched Wes close the door behind him. She would never, as long as she lived, forget the names of those two men. Wes and Buck. Now Buck stood between her and the door, his smile suggesting exactly what he wanted.
“I guess it’s just us, little lady.” He gave her an evil grin.
She looked back at Johnny. His eyes were closed, his breathing soft and regular. He was still playing possum. Rose managed to summon up a smile. "Yes, just us." She felt sick and hoped that it didn't show on her face.
Buck crossed the room, reaching out to caress her long red hair. She shivered at his touch.
"Ya didn't say why yer here." She took a half step back out of his reach.
"Don't matter now," he drawled. "More important things to talk about. Ya know, I've had me a redhead or two over the years. They can sure be mean...but worth every minute. You worth it, Missy?"
"I could be...for right price." She thought of all the saloon girls she'd seen since her arrival in San Francisco. How could they sell their bodies, night after night, to men like this?
Johnny heard her words, burning like fire in the pit of his stomach. He had to help her, but his back burned as hot as his gut. He eased one eyelid open. Rose had her back to him and he could see Buck leering at her. He watched her take another step and then another, leading Buck away from the bed. She was doing this for him. Why? Why would she take a chance with scum like that? They hardly knew each other.
He knew that he had to do something to distract the man. He wrenched at the ties holding him to the bed. His anguished cry was muffled by the cloth in his mouth, but enough sound must have escaped to draw Buck's attention back to him.
"You watching cowboy?" Buck cackled. "Am I stepping in on your gal? Just her good luck. Not much a man with a bad back can do for a lady. But ole Buck here...I can sure show her some things."
Johnny swore silently as he saw Rose taking hold of the front of the man's shirt.
"Don't ye mind him," she coaxed. "We’ve better things to do."
"Rose, no," he pleaded, his voice distorted by the gag. He couldn't let her do this. Not this...not for him.
There was no sign that Rose had heard his plea. "Are yer sure yer boss won't turn up and interrupt us?" She began to unbutton Buck's shirt.
"Nope. He's got that little wife of his to deal with. Boy, is she something else." He leaned forward and Johnny saw Rose try not to cringe. "He don't know it yet...but his wife is having fun right now with your cowboy's brother." He suddenly giggled.
"Scott? Manager said he'd been arrested."
"Arrested alright, but my guess it wasn't the constables. I bet it was the Missus's men. Wouldn't be the first time either." Johnny saw him look over Rose's shoulder and grin. "Want ta see how it's really done, cowboy?"
Johnny couldn't just lie there and watch. Heedless of the pain he pulled and twisted against his bindings. A soft hand touched his arm.
"Stop, Johnny, please." Rose had returned to stand by the bed and her eyes were full of concern for him.
Buck caught her arm and pulled her back against him. "Leave him alone." His hands began to roam over her body.
"Doctor left me some morphine in case his back got too painful. How about I use it to make him sleep? It ain't easy to enjoy myself knowing he's watching."
Johnny saw the hesitation, but Buck couldn't pass up the offer. "You just make sure he's out for a good long time."
"It's in drawer in nightstand." Rose began to walk back toward the bed. "How d'ya know where Scott is? He seemed like such a gentleman. Can't imagine him with some other man's wife."
Rose winked at Johnny as she opened the drawer. His gun was there. Could she handle a six gun? He hoped to hell for both of their sakes that she could. Especially for hers.
"Mrs. Peters ain't exactly particular who she shares her bed with," Buck replied. "But, she don't like it if they walk out on her. The word is that Lancer refused to sleep with her again once he found out she was married."
"She took Scott to her house?" Rose asked. Johnny would have asked the same question, if he could. Instead, he had to wait and watch. Rose took a syringe and vial of clear liquid from the drawer. A shiver went down his spine. Was she too afraid of the gun to use it? Would she really give him the morphine? She filled the syringe and turned to him. "I'm sorry, Johnny, but this is the only way.” She pricked his skin with the needle, then let it slip just a little and the liquid dribbled down his arm.
"Yeah," Buck continued, oblivious to Rose's trick. "She's got this room in the cellar. Looks just like a whore's bedroom. I'd bet she's got Lancer all tied up to that fancy bed she has down there."
It took all of Johnny's strength not to move at the piece of information. But he let his eyes slide closed and his breathing slow. Rose lifted his hand and he let it fall limply back onto the mattress.
He heard Rose moving around close to the bed and then he heard the distinctive click as his gun was cocked. He heard the gasp of surprise from Buck before he opened his eyes to see his gun trained on the man. It stood steady in Rose's hands. There was no doubt that she knew how to use it.
"You ain't gonna use that, missy," Buck blustered. "Lay it down and come over here. If I have to take it from you, I ain't gonna be gentle."
Rose lowered the gun, but only so that she could point it at Buck's groin. "Where I come from, we have a way of dealing with rapists."
Buck backed up, his hands moving toward his front. "I was just havin' a little fun, missy.”
"And now it's my turn. Sit down and don't move, or I'll make ya walk with a limp for the rest of yer life."
As Buck started to sit down Rose followed his movements with the gun. Johnny watched Buck's eyes waiting for him to try to make a move. "And sit on yer hands," she ordered.
Once Buck was settled, Rose edged over to the bed, using one hand to tug at the knots holding Johnny's right hand to the headboard. Johnny felt the rope loosen and pulled his hand free, the pain stabbing down his back. But, he fought past it and worked quickly to untie his left hand. As soon as he was free, he eased the gag out of his mouth and gave Rose an encouraging smile.
Johnny held out his arm for Rose to pull him up into a sitting position. The pain made his head spin, but Scott was in trouble and the answer to his brother's location sat just across the room. "Give me my gun," he ordered Rose brusquely. For a minute, he thought she was going to argue, but then she handed it over. His fingers closed around the handle and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Now," he said as calmly as he could "if you’ll get my clothes, Buck and I are going to have a little talk.” He waited until Rose had walked over to the closet before turning his attention to Buck. “My brother, exactly where is he?" Although he was giving Buck his best intimidating stare, he was very much aware of Rose moving around collecting his clothes. He hurriedly pulled his attention back to his captive. He couldn't allow himself to get distracted, despite how alluring she looked now that her hair was loose and her bodice was partly unbuttoned.
Collecting his thoughts, he handed Rose his gun back. "If he moves, shoot him," he ordered and took the clothes. The look in her eye told him that she would not hesitate. Slowly and painfully he pulled his shirt on but realized he would need help with his pants. Damn, how did he always end up in messes like this?
Buck was looking at him with a murderous expression and it was clear that the big man would try something if he could. "I think you'd better go and fetch the manager," Johnny said. "I'm gonna need some help."
"Are you sure, Johnny? He’ll want to bring in constable. I don't think Scott’ll like a stranger finding him in an - an uncomfortable position..."
"Yeah, well, I know how that feels." Johnny glared at Buck again, taking some satisfaction from the fear that he saw on the man's face. He grabbed a pillow and handed it to Rose, at the same time retrieving his gun. “Take the pillow out and put the case over our friend’s head. I don’t need an audience.”
It would have given him a great deal of pleasure if Buck had tried something. He would happily have shot the man for what he'd tried to do to Rose. Unfortunately, Buck made no protest as Rose shoved the pillow case at him.
Johnny waited while Buck pulled the pillow case over his head and shoulders. "Good, now, sit on your hands again. That's it. Now, I want an address. Where is Scott being held?" The noises that emerged certainly weren't polite. Johnny grinned. "Where should I put the first bullet?" he asked conversationally.
"Alright! Alright! I'll tell you." Buck quickly rattled off a series of directions, in addition to the name of a street that Johnny didn't recognize.
Rose moved in close to Johnny, letting him support his arms on her shoulders as she placed his pants in front of him. As he worked to lift his leg up, he couldn't help but take in her open blouse. It didn't help that she was staring down at him with undisguised appreciation. He felt himself blush. Boy oh boy - this lady was real trouble, he thought. If only Scott wasn't in such a mess and his back wasn't hurting him so badly, he would be very tempted to cuddle up with her and get to know her a whole lot better.
After buttoning up the last button of his fly he leaned down closer, letting his lips caress her shoulder. "Under different circumstances...." he breathed.
"I thought you were a gentleman," she teased.
"I am, Querida. I am...."
He took a firm grip on her arm and hobbled over to Buck. "This is a hell of a lot less than you deserve," he snarled, bringing the gun down on the top of Buck's head.
"Is there a back way out of here?" he asked Rose.
"There's staff entrance and back staircase, but yer shouldn't be walking so far. What would doctor say if he knew yer were out of bed?"
"He won't know. At least not right away. Let's go. But, slowly," he grimaced and grinned at the same time.
Scott had shouted himself hoarse. Despite being told to keep quiet he wasn't just going to lie there and wait for...well, for whatever Mindy had in mind for him. The door opened and Mindy walked into the room, carrying a satin bag which she set carefully down on the floor. Scott swallowed hard when he saw her beautiful body barely concealed by a very flimsy red negligee held closed by black ribbons.
"Hello, darling...Did you miss me?"
"I...uh..." Scott couldn't take his eyes off her and was finding it very hard to breathe.
The flickering candle light on the walls also warmed the room and he felt himself start to sweat.
Mindy glided over to the bed. "It looks like you missed me," she purred.
Embarrassed, he couldn't help but look. He closed his eyes and prayed for the strength to resist her charms.
As he tried to pretend that this wasn't happening to him, he felt her untying the rope around his left ankle. As soon as she had removed his boot and dropped it on the floor she replaced the restraint. The same thing happened with his right boot. Next she turned her attention to the buttons on his shirt, taking her time undoing each one. She pulled the open shirt away from his chest and ran a fingernail down his skin.
Her perfume was sweet, light and very expensive. Her breath was warm as she leaned down and kissed his chest, taking little nibbles at his skin. He groaned and gripped the rope pinning him to the bed. "This would be much more fun if you untied me," he managed to say.
"Not for me," she purred, and kissed his chest again, moving toward his stomach, her breath now hot on his skin.
Her fingers now moved to his belt, unbuckling it before she turned her attention to the buttons on his trousers.
"This isn't the way to do it," he groaned. "If you want a real man to show you, untie me."
Mindy stopped what she was doing and pouted. "If I untie you, you'll leave me."
"Then leave my left hand tied. I only need one hand," he said, his voice deep and husky.
She looked at him speculatively, before shaking her head and returning her attention to his trousers.
"You don't trust me?" he asked with a pout of his own.
"Men lie. Besides, you rejected me. You have to earn my trust."
Scott sighed heavily, then jumped as Mindy finished unbuttoning his trousers. Despite his highly embarrassing situation, he was finding it almost impossible not to respond to her.
"You know," she said silkily, as her hand slipped into his pants..."I wish you could have seen your face when you saw me walk into the room.”
Scott closed his eyes, biting back a groan of pleasure. "I wish you would let me show you how I feel about you."
Smiling, she leaned down to kiss his belly button. "You are, love. You are."
She straightened up and slowly began to untie the ribbons holding her negligee shut. Scott's gaze was riveted to her cleavage.
Mindy watched his eyes with satisfaction. "This is nothing you haven't seen before," she cooed. "But this time, I am in control." Turning to look at a satin cloth bag she had brought in with her, she moved away, letting the gown open to reveal her body. "I brought something for the both of us."
She pulled two glasses and a bottle of expensive champagne from the bag. "Good champagne and good love go hand in hand, don't you think, my darling?"
Scott took a deep breath. "Yes, but I can't enjoy the champagne if I'm tied down like this."
The cork popped and champagne foamed over the top. She poured two glasses and sat on the bed next to Scott. "You don’t need your hands." And she tipped the glass toward his mouth.
Scott considered refusing to drink, but his best chance of freedom was to convince her that he was attracted to her. And, much to his embarrassment, he wasn't finding this as uncomfortable as he had expected.
The champagne was indeed expensive. Mindy first gave him a sip then took one herself. Before he knew it, his glass was empty and she was pouring him another. At least the cool liquid was removing some of the fire from his blood, but he knew that wouldn't last. He thought back to one of his last evenings in Boston and to Barbara. That thought made him flush again as he felt himself responding to the beautiful woman sitting beside him.
"You know," he said, realizing his voice was slightly slurred. "I could show you a much better time with my hands untied. I promise you won't regret it."
"And I can give you a much better time if you stay right where you are." Her hand trailed down his bare chest, coming to rest on his stomach.
Scott closed his eyes and tried to think of something else. The thought of leaving Johnny behind with Rose....A Rose...She was a beautiful woman. He wondered if Johnny had noticed the way she was looking at him. Oh, God, this wasn't helping. He had to think of something else. Norman Peters! Now, that was a name to quell any lustful thoughts. The glass touched his lips and he took another drink. The champagne was going straight to his head, along with the allure of this very dangerous woman.
Mindy's hand kept walking, her fingers touching his skin lightly...he couldn't help himself...his body responded to her and she sighed with deep satisfaction. The ache in his groin was becoming very difficult to ignore. All he wanted was to take her in his arms and bury himself in her warm inviting body.
She put the champagne glass down and shifted herself around until she was straddling him. "Does this bring back memories?" She leaned forward and kissed him deep, her tongue slipping inside his mouth.
Scott strained against the ropes pinning him to the bed as he lost himself in the kiss. He didn't hear the sound of scuffling on the other side of the secret door, or the door flying open.
"We interrupting something, Boston?"
Mindy sat bolt upright, a look of pure hatred on her face.
Scott groaned as he saw the look on Johnny's face. He was never going to live this down. But, his frown turned to horror as he saw someone race through the wine cellar beyond the secret door and leap toward his brother's back.
Rose saw Scott's reaction and whirled to see Buck, blood flowing down the side of his face, racing toward them. She shoved Johnny aside and threw her arm out, the heel of her hand connecting with Buck's nose. "Now," she said turning to Mindy. "You feel brave enough to take me on?"
"You bitch," Mindy hissed, and flung herself off the bed. Johnny had landed at the side of it, clinging to the mattress to keep from falling to his knees. Mindy snatched the gun from Johnny's holster, pointing it first at Rose and then turning to Scott. "Make them go away," she ordered.
Johnny tried to grab for her, but his back seized up on him and he couldn't move. He watched in horror as Mindy drew back the hammer.
"Mindy..." Scott said just before she pulled the trigger.
Johnny saw Scott jerk and stared at Mindy in disbelief as blood began dripping down his brother’s shoulder.
Before he could move he saw Mindy lowering the gun, a look of shock and horror on her face.
"No!” Rose screamed, leaping across Buck who was lying on the floor, groaning, and landing on Mindy. Both women went down, Rose straddling Mindy as she pounded her fists into the woman's face.
The gun clattered to the ground as Mindy raised her arms to defend herself. Moving slowly and painfully, Johnny crossed the room to retrieve it before turning his attention to his brother. Scott's face was pale and, as he pulled against the ropes tying him to the bed, the blood flow from his wound increased.
"Take it easy, Boston," Johnny cautioned. He grabbed an edge of the satin sheet and made a compress to stop the blood. He pressed as hard as he could against the wound, but he couldn't raise his other arm up above his head to get to the ropes holding Scott to the bed. "Don't move," Johnny advised him.
"Untie me," Scott begged through gritted teeth.
"I'm trying," Johnny grunted, raising himself painfully to his knees. Suddenly, his right leg was ripped out from beneath him and he was pulled away from the bed.
Buck stood over him, blood streaming from his nose. Realizing that he still had hold of his gun, Johnny raised it, only for Buck to knock it spinning out of his hand. Johnny lay helplessly as Buck loomed over him. The two girls had finally made it to their feet and, in a tangle of arms and legs, barged into Buck, knocking him backwards. The big man’s head hit the wall with a crack and he slid down to lie motionless on the floor.
Johnny grabbed the hem of the blanket covering the bed and pulled himself up to his knees again. Scott needed attention, but his back would barely let him move. For the moment, the best he could do was to apply pressure to the wound. He couldn't do anything to free his brother, and he had no idea how they would get out of this if Rose didn't win the battle with Mindy.
The two women continued to fight. Mindy was tossed across the room, landing on her backside, her negligee thrown open. Rose leaped through the air and landed on her opponent, grabbing for her hair and pounding her head against the floor. Johnny couldn't understand what Rose was saying, but he didn't need to. If the situation had not been so dire, he would have enjoyed the spectacle.
"Johnny," Scott said, his voice strained. "What's happening? Get these ropes off me."
"Hang in there, Boston. I can't get to you just yet. But, I think Rose will have her hands free pretty soon."
"I don't understand. How did you find me? Mindy said her husband's men were holding you hostage. How did you get away? What about your back?"
The questions came in rapid succession, each one weaker than the last. Johnny looked at Scott in concern. His brother was clearly in a bad way. "They were, but Rose took care of them." Looking over at Rose leveling Mindy with a huge round-house punch, he grinned. "Looks like she did it again."
Mindy slid to the ground, her eyes glazing over. Johnny looked at her appreciatively. "I'll say this for you, Brother. You have an interesting taste in women."
Scott had the good graces to blush despite his pallor.
Gasping for breath, Rose turned to the bed, staring unashamedly at Scott whose blush deepened. Johnny bit back his laughter. "Scott could use your help," he said.
"I can see that."
Johnny almost choked at her double meaning. "The ropes," he reminded her.
She leaned over Scott to reach the ropes and Johnny watched her. Her hair was tangled and scratch marks stood out on her light skin but, at the moment, he couldn't remember seeing anyone prettier.
Scott eased his arms down, grimacing at the pull on his injured shoulder. Once Rose had untied his feet, he struggled to sit up, swaying unsteadily as he did so.
"No, you just stay put," Johnny warned.
Rose looked from Scott to Johnny and she raised an eyebrow. "And I'll say the same to you, Johnny Lancer. Stay put."
"We have to get out of here. What if her husband comes back? He'll kill us." There was a clear edge of panic in Scott’s voice.
Johnny looked over the bed to see Mindy, sprawled on the floor, her hair covering her face and the tatters of her negligee covering very little. She was a beautiful woman, but mean as a grizzly. "Help me to get up," he said to Rose. "He's right, and I sure don't want to be here when her husband turns up."
"I don't want thee on ya feet, Johnny." Picking the gun up off the floor she handed it to him. "Thy can handle him with this. Now, I'm going for help."
"What the hell is going on?" All eyes turned toward the doorway and the furious face of the man who had just entered.
Johnny saw him take in the scene. What could he have thought - his wife laying half naked on the floor, Scott bleeding on the bed, the ropes still dangling from the bedpost, Rose gasping to get her breath back and a gun pointed straight for his heart? "Just in time to join the party," Johnny said flippantly.
"Mindy!" Ignoring the threat of Johnny's gun, Peters crossed the room, knelt by his wife and picked her up to cradle her in his arms.
"I can explain," Scott said weakly, before lapsing into an embarrassed silence.
"When your wife wakes up she can tell you all about it. Meanwhile," Johnny pointed toward a chair by the far wall, "sit yourself down and stay quiet."
"I won't be ordered around in my own home," Peters replied aggressively.
Johnny pulled back the hammer and the click froze Peters. "I'd think twice about it."
Mindy began to stir and her husband tightened his grip. Johnny saw the fear in her eyes as she realized who was holding her. "Oh my God," she whimpered. "I thought you would never get here. These people...Oh Norman, I was so scared."
"What?" Scott asked in disbelief. "You're the one who had your men kidnap me and bring me here."
Her mouth dropped open in astonishment. "That's a lie. How could you...." When Peter's hand released her, she hit the ground hard. She looked back up at him and there was nothing but disgust on his face. Her expression hardened. "Well, what was I supposed to do? You hardly ever come home, never give me the attention I deserve and don't try to tell me that you don't have women friends stashed all over the city. I just wanted a bit of fun."
"You bitch! You can't keep your hands off anything that wears pants. Don't think I didn't know about this room. But, you were stupid enough to take a Lancer. Then I had to take his brother. Don’t you realize this could ruin us?"
"At least he was capable of satisfying me. Everything would have been fine if he hadn't left me when he found out I was married."
The sound of people running down the stairs and into the wine cellar brought everyone's attention to the doorway again. Johnny smiled as he saw the doctor and manager standing, mouths wide open.
"Hey, Doc," Johnny said brightly. "Good to see you. My brother could use your help."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "I can see that.” Turning to the manager he nodded toward Johnny. "Move him carefully to the floor, and don't let him move."
"I'm fine," Johnny protested. "My back's hardly hurting at all. Besides, I need to keep an eye on them." He stared hard at Peters and his wife, who were too busy glaring at each other to notice.
"Humor me. Besides, I need to get in there to tend to your brother. Now do as you're told. And," he looked back at Mindy and Norman and addressed himself to the furious newspaperman, "I'd get some clothes on your wife before the constable gets here."
Rose smirked. "I'll take her upstairs and look after her," she offered.
"Oh no you don’t," Mindy growled. "I'll have you arrested for breaking and entering. Norman! Get them out of here. All of them."
Rose moved purposefully toward Mindy. "Yer lucky I don't belt ye in that pretty face again." She took hold of Mindy's arm. "Yer coming with me, lady, and yer gonna be on yer best behavior."
Johnny chuckled until the manager grabbed him under the armpits and started dragging him away from the bed. "Let go of me!" he protested. "You'll be sorry for this..."
"Do as yer told, Johnny Lancer," Rose said fiercely. "Scott needs doctoring and yer too stubborn to know what's good for ye."
"And you say I have an interesting taste in women," Scott mumbled.
Dr. Payne laughed then began the serious job of checking Scott's wound. "The bullet is still in there. Mr. Butterfield, would you make arrangements for two stretchers to be brought down here?"
"I don't need..." Johnny's voice trailed off as he caught sight of Rose's disapproving look. He groaned loudly. "This is all your fault, Scott!"
"My fault?" Scott asked, weakly. "You're the one who broke the bed while you were..."
"While you were what?" the manager asked suspiciously.
"While I was…putting my boots under the bed. You sure do have poor beds for a fancy hotel like yours."
"I thought you said it collapsed while you were sleeping?"
"I was..." Johnny looked at Rose, then gasped like a vaudeville actor. "I'm in pain. Can't talk any more."
"I will get to the bottom of this," the manager warned.
"You have plenty of time to do that," Dr. Payne snapped. "Get me those stretchers."
The manager puffed his chest out irritably, but did as instructed. Rose led a protesting Mindy out of the room, while Norman sat on a chair looking stunned.
"How did you know where to find us?" Johnny asked, trying to crane his neck to see what the doctor was doing to Scott.
"I was on my way to check on you when I ran into Mr. Butterfield in the lobby. Apparently, one of the bellboys saw you and Rose sneaking out the staff entrance and heard you give directions to the cab driver."
"Thought we were sneaking out on the bill?" Johnny sneered.
"Most likely. Mr. Butterfield is a very narrow-minded man."
"Why'd you follow us?" Johnny tried to ease himself into a more comfortable position on the hard floor.
"I pride myself in not being narrow-minded. I knew there must have been a reason for you to risk more injury by getting out of bed. It seems I was right."
"Yeah, well Scott was in trouble. How's he doin'?"
"We need to get him to the hospital. That bullet is in there deep. How are you?"
The thought of the hospital sent chills through Johnny. "I'll be fine. Just need some rest, is all."
"I'm sure that can be arranged," the doctor replied, turning from the bed to stare down at Johnny. "I've given Scott a shot of morphine to keep him quiet until I can get that bullet out of his shoulder."
Johnny relaxed back onto the floor. He would visit Scott as soon as he felt a little better. Poor Scott. Hospitals made you feel worse on the pretense of making you feel better. He heard the sound of a chair scraping across the floor and tightened his grip on his gun. "Where d'you think you're going?" he asked.
Peters froze. "Please," he pleaded, "I can't be found like this. It will ruin my reputation. And, no one can know about Mindy. The scandal will finish us in this town. We would be driven out of San Francisco on a rail."
Dr. Payne turned his head toward Peters. "I'll pay for the ticket."
Peters sat down again, looking miserable. Johnny might have felt sorry for him except for what his men had tried to do to Rose.
The sound of more footsteps sounded on the stairs and Rose rushed in, followed by a half a dozen men in uniform. They carried two stretchers and blankets.
"Ah, good," Dr. Payne said, straightening up. "Both these young men are to be taken to the hospital."
"What?" Johnny tried to sit up, but Rose was by his side again holding him down. "We had a deal, Doc. I was gonna go back to the hotel. I don't need no hospital. Tell him, Rose. You can take care of me."
"As I recall, Johnny, we also had a deal that you would stay in bed. Sadly, it is quite clear to me that you can't be trusted."
"I can! Tell him, Rose. This wasn't my fault. It was his." Johnny pointed to Norman Peters as he was hauled up and escorted toward the door between two policemen.
"I don't mind caring for him, Doctor." Rose smiled down at Johnny and he gave her a grateful look.
Dr. Payne shook his head. "No, child. He will most likely need traction for a week."
"What the hell's 'traction'." Johnny renewed his efforts to lever himself up from the ground.
"Oh hell!" Dr. Payne grabbed the vial of morphine and drew a dose into a new syringe. "You know how to give a shot?" he asked Rose. When Rose nodded he handed her the needle. "Well give this to him before he makes matters worse. I've seen stubborn patients...but this boy takes the cake."
Johnny opened his mouth to protest as one of the uniformed men grabbed his right arm, holding it still. Rose leaned over and her lips met his. "You be a good boy and get well," she whispered as she pulled back. As he stared into her eyes, he felt the needle pierce his skin. His eyes closed.
After a week spent tied to a hospital bed in 'traction' Johnny was ready to shoot someone. Of course, that would have been a lot easier if they'd let him keep his gun. Unfortunately, they had lots of stupid rules, including one about patients not being armed. He looked over at the other bed in the room and saw Scott staring at him with a look of pure hatred on his face. His brother’s time spent here had not been as...comforting...as his was. It did seem to be fair payback for all the wise cracks Scott had been throwing around, and all the trouble his nocturnal activities had caused.
Johnny gave him an innocent smile. It wasn't his fault that Scott had been assigned the biggest, ugliest nurse in the place - or that she had decided that her special patient required regular sponge baths to fend off the fever that had been coming and going ever since he'd been shot.
Scott didn't appreciate his attempt at good will and, instead, harrumphed loudly and turned his head away, just in time to hear the off key humming of his nurse walking down the hall.
Johnny giggled in spite of himself. "Looks like your lady friend’s comin’ visiting again."
"I don't know how you did it, but I know you're responsible for this," Scott growled.
"Me? I'm the one who did nothing wrong here. I didn't sneak around with a married woman...."
"I didn't know she was married until...until afterwards. How often do I have to tell you that?" Footsteps could now be heard outside the door and Scott cringed.
Johnny tried his best not to laugh, but it all came out in one huge whoosh and he fell into a hopeless fit of laughter.
The door crashed back on its hinges and Nurse Bertha walked in, carrying a large bowl of water. "How are we feeling today?" she asked cheerily.
"I," Scott emphasized, "am feeling lousy. And I don't need another sponge bath. My skin is about to fall off with all the water. Why don't you give Johnny one? He stinks."
"Now, now," she said soothingly as she carefully placed the bowl on the nightstand. "The doctor will be coming round soon and we wouldn't want to be in a bad mood when he gets here, would we?"
"Damn it, woman! My name is Scott, not ‘We’!"
Nurse Bertha turned to Johnny. "Your brother is tetchy today. Perhaps the news that your father is due to arrive soon will cheer him up."
Johnny and Scott both looked at her in disbelief. "No," Johnny shook his head. "Who told him we were here? Everyone promised they wouldn't send for him."
"I believe it was that manager from the hotel. It appears he found out what really caused that bed to break." She smirked at Johnny before turning back to wring out a wash cloth.
It was Scott's turn to laugh. "Too bad you're stuck in that bed, Brother. I have a feeling Murdoch will have plenty to say to you."
"Just wait ‘til he finds out you were shot while you were tied up in a tart's bed." Johnny tried to lever himself into a more upright position. He sure as hell didn't want to face his father without being able to move.
Nurse Bertha turned toward Johnny. "You are supposed to be lying flat on you back. I will call the doctor if you don't behave. Look at your brother, he is the perfect patient." Bertha gently wiped Scott's forehead. "I wish all my patients were as sweet as he is."
Johnny ignored her as he scrabbled to reach the buckle securing the strap around his waist.
"Oh no you don't", Nurse Bertha warned. "I'll sedate you if you don't behave."
Johnny looked up at her. She must have weighed close to two hundred pounds. Her hands were bigger than Murdoch's. He swallowed hard and lay back.
"That's a good boy." She beamed at him. "Now, you just lie there quietly while I give your brother a nice wash. We wouldn't want that nasty fever to come back."
Scott growled under his breath and gave his brother one more steely glare. It was still Johnny’s fault, all of it. Then to add to his misery, Rose walked into the room. How come Johnny was getting fussed over by a beautiful woman and he had to contend with a dragon?
"Good afternoon." Rose smiled at Scott as Nurse Bertha gave her a hard look and pulled a screen between the beds.
Johnny's heartfelt, "Hi, good to see you." goaded Scott even more.
Rose walked over to the chair by Johnny's bed. Once seated, she took hold of his hand, but he noticed that she wasn't looking him in the eye.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"I've...I've come to say goodbye.”
“Goodbye? Where are you going?"
"You know I was dismissed from me job at the hotel - so I thought, maybe, it was time for me to go home."
Johnny reached for her, damning the traction that kept him strapped to the bed. "I thought...I mean....well, you could come to Moro Coyo. Sam, the doctor there, could use a good nurse." He knew that he had said the wrong thing as soon as he saw the look on Rose's face. "I mean..." he stammered. "What I mean is that I'd like to show you my home."
Rose gently brushed the hair from Johnny's forehead. "I know what ya meant, and I'm flattered. But, I think I've had my adventure and it's time I were going home. I miss my family."
Johnny nodded. "I’ll miss you too. Ya know, I'm not much for writin', but if you send me a letter, I'll send one back. And if I need help, ole Scott over there knows lots of fancy words."
"I thought he weren’t talking to you?" Rose looked at the screen behind which Nurse Bertha could be heard humming tunelessly.
Johnny snickered. "Maybe not for awhile."
"I should go." Rose brushed a tear from her cheek. "I'm glad to have met you, Johnny Lancer."
Johnny reached for her hand, clasping it gently. "Oh boy, am I ever happy I met you. I'll miss you, Rose."
Rose stood up and then bent over the bed, brushing Johnny's lips with hers. "You keep out of trouble, you hear me?"
"Yes Ma'am. And you too."
Johnny kept a smile plastered on his face as Rose left the room, but inside it was hurting him to watch her leave. He would miss her.
The sound of footsteps heading down the hallway toward their room suddenly sounded familiar. As the door swung open again he knew that their trouble was only just beginning.
The partition between him and Scott was moved and he saw Scott look toward the door, his mouth opening in surprise.
"Well, Brother," Johnny said with a resigned sigh. "I don't think our old man is looking real happy right now."
"You think he knows everything?" Scott asked.
Murdoch walked into the room, his severe glare going from one son to the other. "Let's just say, I have a long list of unpleasant chores waiting for you two when you get home."
Both men answered in unison. "Yes, Sir.”
Murdoch moved into the room, grabbing a chair and setting it between the two beds. "Which one of you wants to start?”
Linda & Caroline