He watched the rider and the golden palomino riding away once again.
Five times, he’d failed his son.
Five times, he’d failed to put aside his own fears and doubts to give his son what he needed.
He didn’t understand his own behavior that first day, when the two of them came striding into the great room. The tall lanky blond, well dressed, and well mannered, the confidence of education and good breeding practically rolling off him.
He’d told him he had his mother’s eyes.
Then, there was this son. Smaller in stature, dark, dangerous, and deadly, so much hate and anger in his eyes. But there had also been longing there.
He had ignored it, telling the boy he had his mother’s temper, rejecting him.
He had failed to welcome him with open arms and the love he so desperately needed.
Johnny had taken a bullet in the back for his singlehanded attempt to draw Pardee and all of his men within striking distance to keep Lancer standing. He had watched him fall from the golden horse and while he agonized over what he thought was his death, he still hadn’t been certain of the boy’s intent in that situation.
He had failed to trust his son.
The incident with the Strykers, well, that was a royal mistake. He knew he’d been working the boy too hard, pushing him harder every day, waiting for that breaking point he knew would come. The moment came when Johnny had had enough of fencing and ran off to chase those damn horses. It was a costly mistake on both their parts.
Not only had he chewed the boy out in front of half the ranch and Teresa, he hadn’t even told him what a good job he’d done by capturing the stallion, an extremely nice animal. He’d even shot down the boy’s enthusiasm for breeding horses. How stupid that had been. The boy had expressed an interest in something that might have helped anchor him to Lancer, and he’d stepped on the idea like squashing a bug, and with about as much thought to what he was doing.
He had failed to encourage his boy.
When Johnny had tried to come home, the cold, harsh, angry words he’d said to his son to get him to leave, even though it was an attempt to save his life, well, they hadn’t been necessary. He’d hurt his son and he knew it from the flash of pain he had seen in his eyes before they turned cold and angry.
When the gun battle ended and Johnny stood there, a gun to the remaining Stryker boy’s head, despite it all, he obeyed his father and sent the Stryker boy and his father packing.
They hadn’t talked after that, just gone back into the house and attended to Scott. Johnny had let one of the hands take his horse, and brought his saddlebags inside. Later, he went upstairs to his room.
He came down to dinner and they continued as if the entire event hadn’t happened. Just picked up where they left off. Yeah, he’d gone out and they’d chased wild horses together and had a great time, but the wariness was still in those dark blue eyes afterwards and had remained there.
He’d failed to apologize and to explain to his son that he hadn’t meant those words.
He’d really put his foot in his mouth after the shootout resulting from the Warburton incident. The boy had just shot and killed someone he considered a friend, killed him to save his father’s life. When Johnny told him about the girl’s question as to who he was most, he had asked him to answer and he hadn’t. All he did then was squeeze the boy’s shoulder and call for some hands to remove the body.
Johnny had gone inside, taken a bottle of tequila from the cabinet, disappeared upstairs to his room, locked the door, and uncharacteristically gotten drunk. The next morning at breakfast, they had argued over how to handle the situation with the cattle and Johnny had stormed out, hung over, to Warburton’s camp.
He had failed to listen to his boy.
And then there was today.
He shouldn’t have sent Johnny to town today, the tension had been building between them again and Johnny had good reason in not wanting to go to town. But, like a Hereford Bull, he charged ahead and ordered the boy to go.
Four hours later, a rider came out to the ranch to tell him that Val had Johnny locked up in the jail and wanted him to come and take him home. He had been mortified at Johnny’s condition. His face was already turning black and blue from the beating he had taken. The other man was worse, lying unconscious in the other cell.
When they got home, he had sat his son down and talked with him. Apologized to him and listened to Johnny’s side of things. This time, he honored Johnny’s request for time off, sending him to the line shack near the big lake, with a promise that he would join him in two days for a weekend of fishing and talking. Just the two of them.
He would cherish the smile on his son’s black and purple face and even more so, the light he saw in those incredible dark blue eyes.
Yep, today he’d been a success, today he’d been a father to his son.