An Unplanned Life
By Kathy W.
Scott Lancer dug his heels into Charlemagne’s sides and attempted to spin his horse to the left. His lariat was taut in his hand and he wrapped it with some difficulty onto the horn of his saddle. The steer at the business end of his rope bawled piteously and, in the end, moved absolutely nowhere. “Damn,” he muttered to himself. He shifted his weight in the saddle and tried reversing direction. Finally, he felt some give on the rope as the recalcitrant animal began to scramble to get his legs back under him. Scott backed Charlemagne slowly, keeping an even tension on the rope as he guided the steer to firmer ground.
Not all that long ago, Scott would have been tempted to dismount in order to retrieve his lariat that was still firmly looped around the animal’s horns. It was one of the many mistakes he was made painfully aware of during his first days on the ranch. A true ‘cowboy’ never did anything on foot that could reasonably be attempted from horseback. It seemed to him at the time that were a ridiculous number of rules and customs he needed to become acquainted with if he were to survive in this new life. In this particular case, the rule was a valid one. His brother had tactfully drawn him aside from the grinning vaqueros and explained that this faux pas could be a fatal—a steer that was peacefully grazing one minute could turn on you in a heartbeat, and the razor-sharp horns were deadly at close distance.
He sidled Charlemagne up to the side of the steer, easing the animals towards one another until they stood side-by-side. The animal looked none the worse for wear. A couple of scratches were evident on its side, and it was still winded from the struggle out of the gully, but there was still solid flesh on the beast-- a good indication that it had not been stranded for an excessive length of time. Murdoch would be pleased. Scott fed the length of rope easily towards the loop of the lasso and gradually eased it off the steer’s horns.
His mission accomplished, Scott slid from his horse and rested his back against the single sorry excuse for a tree located in a ten mile radius. Lifting his hat from his head, he brushed his forearm across his brow in a vain attempt to head off the beads of sweat before they made their way into his eyes. It was hot. It was damned hot and he didn’t care what Johnny had to say on the subject. Scott’s beige shirt clung to him like a wet sheet and he had grit trapped in places he was once blissfully unaware that he possessed. Unscrewing the cap from his canteen, Scott took a long drink before trickling some of the cool liquid across the back of his neck. He’d need to be careful—he had brought just the one canteen and he’d be out of water before long at this rate. If there was one thing he had learned in the last three years, it was how vitally important water was out here in California.
And he did need to make it last. He still had a long way to go before he was even close to being finished for the day. His father had sent him out here today with instructions, make that orders, to check the fence around the south gully. What is was that attracted cows to the deep sand gully in this area was beyond his wildest imagination. Yet, unfailingly, the assignment to check this particular fence line always led to a wrestling match with at least one unruly animal. It had become something of a running joke between he and his brother—whichever of them seemed least in their father’s favor at the moment seemed to be the one assigned to this particular task. Largely, he had to acknowledge, that meant it had fallen to Johnny. Lately, though, this job seemed to be his almost exclusively.
Today, the task grated on him. He was currently dividing his time between the ranch and some business he was conducting in San Francisco. His father had agreed to arrangement—temporarily, and only on the condition that he keep up his end of the work here on Lancer. Scott snorted in spite of himself. Just how he was supposed to accomplish that feat was beyond him. He had come back to spend a few days at Lancer with some very specific things he wanted to attend to in mind. Hauling out some animal too stupid to avoid a hole in the ground was most certainly not what he had on his agenda. He could almost hear his grandfather’s voice echoing in his head—it was most certainly not what he had sent his ‘Scotty’ to Harvard for four years to do.
“The boss catches ya, you’ll be told to pick up ya pay.”
Scott’s eyes flew open at the sound of the soft drawl. He must have dozed off. The long trek between the ranch and San Francisco was taking its toll in more ways than one. “Very funny,” he responded, looking up into the bemused expression on his younger brother’s face. “Although just about now, that sounds pretty good to me.”
Johnny swung easily off of Barranca’s back. His eyes darted to Charlie grazing quietly fifty yards away, Scott’s rifle and gun belt still attached to the saddle. They might as well be back at the hacienda for all the good they’d do him over there. Johnny’s mouth tightened but he bit back a comment. He’d said it often enough. His brother had been out here long enough to make his own decisions about such things.
“I swear,” Scott gestured to the steer, now contentedly grazing a feet yards away, “that I have had the pleasure of hauling that same moronic animal out of that same ridiculous sand pit at least a hundred times before.”
“Only seems that way, Boston.” Johnny plopped down next to his brother. “Last year’s beeves have already been on somebody’s dinner table.”
Scott nodded in agreement, and then looked over at his brother. Johnny was propped on his left side in the sparse grass, his feet crossed at the ankles. He had pulled off his hat, his raven hair glistening in the sun. To the disinterested observer, Johnny’s actions seemed completely casual. Only someone who knew his brother well, very well, in fact, would guess that there was something on his mind. “What is it that brings you here, brother?” Scott asked “I thought Murdoch asked you to go into town this morning.”
“He did, and I did,” Johnny returned.
“And,” Scott prompted, rolling his eyes. Getting anything out of his little brother before he was ready to talk could be one of the most exasperating tasks on the ranch. “In case you hadn’t noticed, the south gully isn’t exactly between Lancer and Green River.”
Johnny grinned. “Depends on which way you go. I just thought you might like some company. You didn’t seem too happy when you headed out this mornin’.”
“Let’s just say that this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for today.”
“Old Man’s been pushin’ a bit.” It wasn’t a question as much as a statement and Johnny looked to his brother to see the response.
Scott’s jaw tightened. “Just a bit,” he acknowledged, somewhat reluctantly. Almost from the start, he and Murdoch Lancer had enjoyed a good relationship. It was remarkable, really, given the circumstances of his life, but he and his father had found out very quickly that they often thought alike, and when they didn’t, they were able to sort out their differences like two reasonable men. It was a marked contrast to the relationship that Murdoch and Johnny shared. Things were good between them now, but it had taken time and a great deal of effort from all three of them to reach that point.
Now, suddenly, he and Murdoch seemed to be frequently at odds. His father made it very plain that he resented the time Scott was spending away from the ranch. Not to mention the fact that the mere utterance of his grandfather’s name could send Murdoch into a mood that would last for days. Uncharacteristically, he found himself digging in his heels. He was a one-- third owner of Lancer, not some stray hired hand. Murdoch Lancer may still call the tune here on the ranch, but he was entitled to conduct his own affairs as he saw fit. If his father thought the best use of his time here on the ranch was pulling cows out of holes, it was Murdoch’s loss.
“I don’t know what it is, Johnny, it seems that lately everything I do is wrong as far as Murdoch is concerned.” Scott picked up a stone and tossed it across the pasture. “It’s like he can’t quite bring himself to count on me any longer.”
Johnny sure knew how that felt, but Scott had always been the fair-haired boy, and in more ways than one. When they had first come to Lancer, Murdoch had readily accepted Scott as an equal, at least in most of the ways that counted. Scott was everything that any man could possibly want in a son. It was enough to make a body jealous—if Scott didn’t also happen to be the most genuinely kind soul he’d ever met. No, to have his father and his brother at odds was something that would not do, not at all.
“Have you tried talking to him about it?”
Scott glanced at his brother. It sounded like something he would say if the situation had been reversed. The truth of the matter was they hadn’t talked, really talked for quite some time. He supposed he was as much to blame for that as Murdoch was. He just didn’t have the same enthusiasm for head on confrontation as his brash younger brother did. “No,” he admitted slowly. “I know it’s something we need to do.” Maybe after this next trip to San Francisco. Hopefully they would have quite a bit to talk about then, providing his plans came to fruition as he hoped they would.
“So when are ya going back?”
“Am I that obvious?” Apparently he was, at least to his brother. He did have to admit, at least to himself, that the majority of his energies these days were focused on his business in the city. He just hoped it would be all worth it in the end.
Johnny shrugged. “It’s been pretty obvious lately that your mind has been anywhere besides the ranch.” He held up a hand to ward of Scott’s denial. “I guess you’re entitled. I just hope she’s pretty.”
Scott laughed. “Oh, she is brother, don’t worry yourself about that. Her name’s Miranda, by the way,” he confided. He didn’t really know why he hadn’t said much to Johnny about her—or Murdoch and Teresa for that matter. He supposed he just wanted to feel a little more secure in the relationship himself before he sprang anything on them. “Hey, why don’t you come with me? That way you can decide for yourself. There’s more than enough room at the hotel for the both of us.”
Johnny laughed. “You tryin’ to do the Old Man in or something? I ‘spect I’ll pass, at least for now.” Johnny stood and offered his hand to his brother. “Just remember, when all this is over, Lancer is where you belong.”
Miranda Johnson stopped on the staircase just long enough to glance at her own reflection in the glass doors that led to the dinning room. She ran her hands down the length of her dress and sighed. Green wasn’t her best color, but she supposed it would do for this evening. She was twenty-one, an age where she could no longer rightfully be considered a girl, but she was determined to view that particular fact as an asset. Although she could scarcely consider herself a woman of the world, she knew she had a great deal to offer any man.
“Oh, Mother, do stop fussing!” Miranda rolled her eyes in frustration as she watched her mother hurry through the living room of their home, carefully adjusting each knick knack and decoration that adorned the spacious area. She moved across the room towards her mother and rested her hand lightly over the older woman’s. “Everything looks perfect, as usual. You’re doing too much. You should try and get some rest; I know that’s what the doctor recommended.”
“I want everything to be just right,” Ana Johnson defended herself to her daughter; surely there was no harm in that. It had taken years of dedicated effort for her and her husband to establish themselves in the social hierarchy of San Francisco, and she was all too well aware of just how fragile a position that could be. She had seen acquaintances suffer for some ridiculously minor transgressions and she had promised herself not to let the same thing happen to her.
Her face softened as she looked at her lovely daughter. It was all for her, the years of hard work, the uncertainty. “You look beautiful, honey. I just wish Scott could join us tonight. I know your father’s clients would love to get a chance to meet one of the Garretts of Boston.”
“It’s Lancer, Mother, please try and remember that.” Scott had been unbelievably sweet since they were introduced two months ago. The one time she had seen even the mildest display of temper was when a friend persisted in referring to him as Scott Garrett. She wasn’t quite sure why such a thing could possibly be a concern, but she wasn’t willing to press him on it either. “Besides, I told you, he’s not in the city and he won’t be back from that ranch of his father’s for at least another day.”
Lancer—Ana knew it certainly wasn’t a name to be scoffed at either, at least not in this part of California. Murdoch Lancer may not be a frequent visitor to San Francisco, but he was one of the most respected ranchers in the state. Most of their friends and business associates were relative newcomers to the area; it was not many who could date their time here from when California was still part of Mexico. The thought created a mild sense of unease in Ana’s mind and she fought in vain to push it away.
Mexico. The very word sent a chill down Ana’s spine. Ever since the letter had arrived, she hadn’t felt a moment of peace. She hadn’t been sleeping well, nor eating either. Already her clothes were beginning to hang on her in a way which was less than becoming. She couldn’t quite believe this was happening now, of all times. Her daughter seemed poised on the brink of a relationship which might secure her position for life. A marriage connection to the Garrett family would open all sorts of doors for Miranda which might never otherwise be within her reach—a home in Boston, travel to Europe, a Harvard education for any children who might come along. It was more than any mother could wish for her child. The fact that her daughter seemed to have genuine feelings for the charming young man only added to the situation. Now it seemed everything might be threatened, and all because of her own mother’s unfortunate timing. Whatever else, Ana was determined not to see that happen.
Scott hesitated outside of the entrance to the great room. He knew his father was at his desk. He’d been there for hours, seemingly engrossed at whatever task he had at hand. Scott had hoped to catch him earlier, before he had settled into the ledgers. There was something about paperwork that invariably made his father more difficult to deal with.
“I just wanted to let you know I was leaving, Sir.”
Murdoch looked up at his elder son. He could see the stiff posture, the tight lines on his son’s face. It was so reminiscent of the Scott who had stepped off that stage three long years ago and the sight troubled him. Could they really have lost so much ground between them in such a short time?
“Any idea how long you’ll be gone?” Murdoch struggled to keep his voice even in spite of the tightness he felt building in his throat. Every time Scott walked out the door these days, he feared it would be for the last time. It was plain to see that the ranch had lost its allure for the young man standing in front of him.
“Not really, Sir,” Scott replied. It was as honest an answer as he could give the man seated before him. So many things depended on factors that were out of his control. “I know you’ll need me for the roundup the week after next. I will be sure and be back for that.”
“Very well. I suppose we can get along without you until then. Just try and let us know what your plans are.”
“I will, Sir. Is there anything else?”
Murdoch hesitated. There was so much he’d like to say—so much he’d wished he’d said before they had somehow come to this. “Did you say good-bye to your brother?”
“I did, Murdoch. I saw Johnny first thing this morning. I said good-bye to Teresa as well and I planned on speaking with Jelly on my way out.”
Murdoch merely nodded “Well, then. I guess there’s nothing else. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss your train.”
“No, Sir.” Scott turned and began walking towards the French doors. “Murdoch…”
His father looked up. “Yes, son?”
He knew his father had no idea of what was going on inside of him right now. The fact of the matter was, he wasn’t quite so sure himself. He loved it here, loved Lancer with a passion he would never have believed possible. But was it going to be enough ultimately? That he just wasn’t quite so sure of. “Nothing, Murdoch, nothing. I’ll be in touch.”
Murdoch slumped back into his seat. He somehow felt he had lost the war without a single shot ever being fired. Johnny had taken him to task once before for the very same thing, said he hadn’t tried hard enough to keep Scott from leaving. Maybe it was true then and maybe it was true again.
It was the smell of the ocean that drew Scott to the balcony. He had missed it, it seemed, without him ever really noticing. The sharp tang of salt water had been pervasive in Boston, as much a part of the city as its cobblestone streets and gas streetlamps. His time in San Francisco had awakened a number of memories, both good and bad. He had almost forgotten what it had felt like to be clean—not once a week for a trip into town, but as a matter of course. That and the look of an elegantly laid table set to perfection, a pleasant night at the theater, the pure delight of a finely tuned string ensemble. He even found himself enjoying business meetings again—the keen pleasure of matching his mind against another worthy opponent.
Scott felt a slim hand as it slid around his waist. He turned and faced the young woman who had joined him. This was something he had missed as well. Not that there was any lack of feminine companionship in the towns that surrounded Lancer, but the girls there were somehow different than the ones he had known in Boston. He hadn’t realized quite how much he had missed the subtle sophistication of a champagne supper and the fine nuance of a discreetly placed hand under the dinner table until he had met Miranda.
“Is there any thing wrong, Scott?” Miranda pressed her arm more closely to him, enjoying the warmth of his body against the night’s chill air. “You’ve been quiet all evening.”
Scott smiled warmly at the young woman and linked his arm in hers. Her soft dark hair rested against the hollow of his cheek. The scent of her was intoxicating, a faint trace of jasmine, mingled with something he couldn’t quite place. “No,” he finally responded. “Nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking.” His voice trailed off, not willing to give voice to his musings.
Miranda laughed lightly, her warm brown eyes sparkling by the light from inside. “Now I know I’m in trouble.” She tugged against his arm, willing her to come with him. “Come on. I know the Jeffersons are a bit dull, but we can’t really spend the entire evening out here or they’ll get suspicious.”
“Suspicious of what?” Scott queried with a raised eyebrow. He moved closer to Miranda, pressed his lips against her throat and was rewarded as the young woman let a faint moan escape her lips.
“Suspicious of that!” Miranda slapped Scott’s chest lightly and pulled back from him.
He did look incredibly elegant in evening clothes—a black cutaway jacket accentuated the firm line of his shoulders, a crisp white shirt and tie completed the picture--a very attractive picture in Miranda’s eyes. “Mr. Jefferson is an important client of my Father’s and he could be an asset to you as well. They were kind enough to invite us to this dinner party, the least we can do is be polite.”
Scott nodded in agreement, but held on to the tight smile that was on his lips. It wouldn’t do for Harlan Garrett’s grandson to be any less than the perfect dinner guest. It was the role he had been trained for his entire life, and just now, it didn’t seem like such a bad one either. If he were home at Lancer, he would have been asleep for hours already in preparation of another back--breaking day that began before the sun had even crested the horizon. As it was, he still had the remainder of a pleasant evening still ahead of him, with the prospect of a carriage ride home with Miranda to top the night off. The soft laughter of the other guests beckoned them through the partially opened balcony door. Scott reluctantly slid his hands from Miranda’s arms and escorted her into the room.
Johnny ambled through the veranda doors and moved across the great room floor to his father’s desk. Dropping his hat on the surface, he plopped into the waiting chair. Dark circles of sweat stood out prominently against the blue flowered material of his shirt. His father looked tired. The old man never did seem to know when to let up. “Trouble?”
Murdoch barely glanced up at Johnny as he took the seat in front of his desk. His face was set, concentrating intently on the ledgers in front of him. As much as he hated to admit it, he had come to depend more and more on Scott to keep up the accounting end of ranch business. Without his older son’s meticulous attention to detail, it wasn’t hard to fall behind in the paperwork. “Did you get those cows moved to the North pasture?” he questioned, his voice gruff.
“Nope,” Johnny responded, inwardly steeling himself for the reaction that was to come.
“No?” Murdoch looked up sharply. “Why not? I said I wanted that herd moved up there by today.”
Johnny sighed. Three years ago and a comment like that would have sent them off to the races. At one point it didn’t seem like they could have a single conversation without one of them getting his back up, and then the shouting would start. Things were better now—much better. Now he knew that if the old man barked, most often it meant that he was worried. He himself had been the source of much of that worry in the early days. Now, Johnny suspected, Murdoch had something—or someone—else on his mind. Unfortunately, it made the conversation that was to come all the more difficult.
“Bridge over the north creek is out. Nothing is going to get moved to that pasture until we can get it fixed,” Johnny replied making a conscious effort to keep his tone even.
“I told your brother to make sure that bridge was in good shape before he went off to San Francisco!” Murdoch threw his pen down onto the desk and stood abruptly. “Of all the irresponsible…doesn’t he know what a mistake like that could cost us?”
“I know Scott took a look at it before he left,” Johnny responded carefully. It grated on him that Murdoch was so quick to label Scott as irresponsible. Scott was the most responsible man that he knew. He’d certainly proved that time and again over the past few years. Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “The timber was rotted below the waterline. It was easy to miss and everyone’s entitled to a mistake now and then.”
“Still, I made it clear when I agreed to this arrangement with Harlan, the ranch still takes precedent. Any business conducted on Harlan’s behalf needs to take place on Scott’s own time. Your brother has spent far more time in San Francisco in the last six months than he’s spent here and it shows.”
“So you think having that old bastardo come out to California would have been a better idea, because I don’t. It would just give him another opportunity to try and get Scott to go back east. Besides,” he paused, “this is something Scott wanted too.”
Murdoch moved back behind the desk and eased himself into his chair. On top of everything else his back had started acting up again. It made him feel old and that was one thing he couldn’t tolerate. That and the nagging fear that somehow, once again, he had played right into Harlan Garrett’s hands.
Johnny saw the shadow cross his father’s face. “Or is that what you’re worried about? That Scott will get to like that life a little too much and that he’ll want to go back to it?”
Murdoch shot his younger son a look. That was exactly the thought which had begun to gnaw on him. “You don’t think I should be worried?” After all, Scott had tried to leave once because of his grandfather’s manipulations. At the time it seemed like Garrett had learned his lesson—learned that Scott truly did love Lancer and the family that went with it, but maybe the old shark was just biding his time, waiting for a chance to come at Scott from a different angle.
“Harlan’s never shown anything but contempt for California and the west in general. It makes me wonder why he’s so all fired interested in developing his business contacts out here now,” Murdoch ventured. “The only possible explanation is that he’s trying to lure Scott in.”
“Maybe so,” Johnny acknowledged. In reality, he hadn’t given Garrett’s role in this much thought. He just knew it was something that Scott wanted, needed almost, if the truth be told. There was also the girl to consider. Something he was willing to bet a week’s wages his father knew nothing about. Maybe it would ease Murdoch’s mind to know there was something else to this besides Garrett. “Then there’s that filly he’s been seeing up there too.”
“Scott has a young lady?” Murdoch responded, surprised. This was the first he had heard of anything along those lines.
Johnny frowned. Scott would not be happy. It wasn’t his place to tell their father about Scott’s personal business, but it would seem he’d already let the cat out of the bag. He’d have to get out of this with as little damage done as possible. “Miranda Johnson,” Johnny supplied. “Sounds like she’s some society girl or something, Scott’s been takin’ her to all them lah-di- dah parties they have up there.”
“Miranda Johnson,” Murdoch mused. “I wonder if her father is Aaron Johnson. He’s one of the most successful bankers in San Francisco.”
Johnny shrugged. If Scott had mentioned this girl’s father, it had gone right past him. What he did know was that there was still a whole heck of a lotta work that needed to get done before the sun went down. He placed his hands on his knees and levered himself to his feet. “Anything else?”
“You better get that herd moving to the east pasture, then. The graze is gone where they are now.”
Johnny offered his father one of his best smiles. “Already done. Cip’s moving them as we speak and I sent Frank into town to get supplies to fix that bridge.” All that was left now was to do the work. “I just figured you’d wanna know.”
Murdoch felt a little bit of the tension drain from his shoulders. This young man in front of him had turned into a fine rancher in the last three years. A fine rancher and a finer man. It was more than he had ever dreamed possible three years ago. Maybe it was too much to hope for to keep both his sons with him. They were grown men after all, and had been when he first met them. The last three years had been a gift, and one that he was eternally grateful for. If his elder son felt the need to move beyond the confines of the Lancer ranch, it was something he would need to deal with.
Scott peered into the mirror and made a minute adjustment of his tie. He wanted to look his best this morning and the late night out with the Jeffersons and Miranda hadn’t helped his cause any. What he saw didn’t please him entirely. A few weeks away from the ranch and already his skin had lost that golden, lightly tanned look that he had become accustomed to. He was thinner as well. It wasn’t until he had moved to California and Lancer that he had finally begun to lose the gauntness that had haunted him since his time in Libby. Now, away from Theresa and Maria’s cooking, compounded with an increased nightly alcohol intake, he had begun to lose weight again.
After months of negotiations, he had finally gotten down to the fine details which made up the backbone of the contracts he had been working on. It was something he prided himself on, the intricate play of words that could make a deal a successful one, or one that would haunt him for years to come. The piece that involved the shipping interests of Garrett Enterprises had been simple enough. His grandfather’s name opened an amazing number of doors, even three thousand miles from Boston. Now came the tricky part—enlisting the support of a variety of business leaders in a number of different fields. He was experienced enough in business to know that there would be no buy- in from the parties until each and every one of them was confident that it was in his own best interests.
He glanced about the suite of rooms that he had let in San Francisco. The rooms his grandfather had let, he corrected himself. Harlan Garret had spared no expense in setting him up at this suite in the Excelsior—the finest hotel San Francisco had to offer. The rooms were lavish; an elegant chandelier highlighted the central sitting area with two large bedrooms branching off on either side. Situated between the two bedrooms was Scott’s personal favorite—a luxurious bath, complete with porcelain tub and as much hot running water as any one man could use in a lifetime. Scott sighed. That was one luxury he was unlikely to ever be able to indulge in at Lancer. He just wished Johnny had agreed to join him, even for a couple of days. Johnny had missed so much growing up, and he really enjoyed having the opportunity to share such things with his brother.
Scott drew his pocket watch from his vest and checked the time. He should get going. If he left now he could still walk to Market St. and be in plenty of time for his first meeting. He just hoped that he would be able to conclude things in enough time to have that picnic he had planned with Miranda this afternoon. She’d be so disappointed if he had to cancel, and he had already learned that it was not good to disappoint Miranda.
“Now explain to me, Scott Lancer, why it is exactly that we are going on a picnic?” She slid her arm into his and pressed against his side. He had done a beautiful job with it, she had to admit—a heavy linen cloth lay on the ground, apparently deemed to be adequate protection from the elements. The crystal and china service he had somehow obtained for this little expedition were exquisite. He had even secured the services of one of the staff from the Excelsior to serve them. Scott Lancer was truly a man who knew how to get things done.
“I thought it would be fun,” Scott replied, a hint of mischief in his eyes. “And I know how you like your fun.”
Miranda attempted to adjust her dress as she shifted position on the ground. “I’m just not entirely sure this falls under that category.” At least he had chosen a lovely spot in the shade with just a glimpse of the harbor visible through the trees.
“Come on now, it’s a beautiful day. What could be better than to be outside, enjoying the great outdoors?” The cool breeze from San Francisco bay was just enough to keep the temperature pleasant—a delightful change of pace from the ranch.
“Let me see,” Miranda returned, easing herself closer to Scott, “being inside?” She laughed. It was amusing to see the expression on Scott’s face. “I’m only joking, darling. This is marvelous, really. Thank you for going to so much trouble.”
“For you, it was no trouble at all.” Scott took another sip from his glass and gazed at the woman sitting next to him. She was beautiful, of that there was no doubt. Her warm brown eyes matched her hair almost perfectly, both nicely complimenting her lightly golden skin. His eyes roamed down to the swell of her breasts. Miranda had a delightful figure as well. Scott sighed. Their encounters to date had been very satisfying. Not so far as to create a potentially untenable situation, but far enough to keep a man happy. It was a pleasure to once again be in the company of a woman who was not completely inexperienced in matters of the heart. In the towns surrounding the ranch, one had to be satisfied with a chaste peck on the cheek at the end of a church social, or enlist the services of one of the professional women in the saloon. Neither was an acceptable option, at least as far as he was concerned.
Miranda was…different. In addition to her more obvious charms, she had a quick mind and a keen interest in the world around her. A native of California, Miranda’s parents had seen to it that she had received the best education that money could buy—at least for a young woman. She had enjoyed her time at finishing school in Philadelphia and Scott couldn’t help but wonder if their paths would have crossed earlier in life if she had gone to school in Boston instead. Scott shook his head. There was no use in speculating. They were together now, and that was the important thing.
For the first time in a long time, Scott found himself wondering if this could be the woman he might want to spend the rest of his life with. He had thought he had found that woman once in Julie Dennison, but she ended up hurting him not just once, but twice. He thought back to Julie’s ill-conceived visit the year before. The whole painful episode needed to be laid on his grandfather’s doorstep to be sure, but there was no denying that Julie had broken his heart once again. Maybe, just maybe Miranda could help him put the past where it belonged, in the past.
“Come with me,” he suddenly announced.
“What are you talking about, Scott? We just got here, now you want to leave?”
“Sorry,” Scott had to smile at his sudden declaration. It was not as though she should be expected to read his mind or anything. Dios, the sparkle from her eyes nearly took his breath away! He reached up and lightly touched her cheek. “I didn’t mean now. I want you to come with me to Lancer when I go back. It’s long past time you met Mur…my father and my brother, Johnny.” Scott smiled. Introducing people to Johnny was always an adventure in itself.
Miranda felt a flush come to her cheeks. She had been waiting for this, hoping for it for some time, actually. Now that he had broached the topic of meeting his family, she wasn’t quite sure how she felt. She was also very sure that her mother would need her support in the weeks to come. Now really wasn’t the best time for this—for any of this. “I don’t know, Scott,” she hesitated. “You know I want to…”
“Then what’s the problem? With any luck at all, I hope to wrap up my business here in the next few days anyway.”
“You know I have the opening of Carmen at the Opera House, and that charity gala is the week after next. I spent a fortune on a dress just for that and I don’t think Daddy would appreciate his money going to waste.”
“I suppose not,” Scott conceded. He knew how much that sort of thing meant to Miranda, to all of the Johnsons, in fact. It was hard for him to criticize. Those things once seemed important to him as well. It was all part of a life that had been carefully planned for him. He supposed it was all a matter of perspective. His perspective had been irretrievably altered with the war and his time in Libby. Then his world had shifted once again upon coming to California and learning for the first time what it meant to truly have a family, to care about something larger than himself.
Expecting Miranda to experience the world in the same way as he did was naïve. She had led a sheltered life, although he knew she would most certainly not appreciate that particular perception. She probably had no idea that in this very city there were people who were treated as sub-human, children who ate out of garbage dumps and still went to sleep at night without enough food in their bellies, children who had never even seen the inside of a schoolroom.
“What is the gala about, anyway? I’ve been meaning to ask.”
Miranda giggled and took another sip from her glass. “I’m not really sure. You know how those things are. To be honest, it’s just another excuse to get dressed up and have a good time.”
Scott frowned. “I’d like to think there was a bit more to it than that. When I think of all the money that gets wasted on these things, money that could be much better spent if it went directly to the charities themselves, I…”
“Now, Scott,” Miranda interrupted, her finger on his lips. “You mean to tell me that everyone at all those parties you went to in Boston and New York were dressed in sack cloth and ashes, and that they were all being held for the greater good of mankind?”
“Of course not,” Scott sighed. How could he explain this to her? Maybe it wasn’t even fair of him to try. He’d had his fun, it was only right that she have hers as well, at least until it was time to settle down. “You enjoy yourself. I wouldn’t want it any other way. There’ll be time enough for other things once the season is over.”
Miranda leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Thank you, sweetheart. I just knew you’d see it my way. Now you are still coming to dinner Saturday night, aren’t you? I know how much Mother and Father are looking forward to it.”
Scott pulled her close, pressing her lips against his more firmly. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Scott felt a thrill run through him as he approached the imposing oak doorway. It wasn’t as if this was the first time he had been here. He had spent quite a number of pleasurable evenings here since handing Aaron Johnson his grandfather’s letter of introduction a few short months ago. The man was certainly not what he had expected of a San Francisco bank president. Johnson was a large man, maybe not quite as large as Murdoch, but an imposing figure nonetheless.
What made him stand out was not his size, however, but the most impressive thatch of red hair Scott had ever seen. That and the man’s unfailing good humor. He had that innate ability to put anyone and everyone he met at ease in a moment’s time. It was so unlike what Scott was used to dealing with in Boston that he had to restrain himself from laughing most of the time that they were together. The fact that the man was a forty-niner probably had something to do with it, Scott speculated. One of those hardy souls who had chucked everything aside to gamble on finding gold. Miranda’s father had been successful in his venture but quickly realized that helping others to manage their money was far more profitable and quite a bit safer.
The door was opened almost before he had finished knocking.
“Whom may I say is calling, sir?”
Scott could scarcely keep himself from rolling his eyes. This false formality was one thing he would never miss about Boston. And, in spite of the very impressive mansion in the most desirable neighborhood in San Francisco, it was something that did not suit Aaron Johnson at all. “Mr. Scott Lancer,” he answered with just the required amount of starch, “to see Miss Miranda Johnson.”
“Scott, my boy, good to see you!” The booming voice could belong to no one but the master of the house. He jostled the butler aside and grabbed Scott by the hand. “Ridiculous nonsense, this,” Aaron claimed, nodding at the man at the door. “But Ana insists, so what’s a man to do?”
“It’s good to see you again as well, sir.”
“Now, there’ll be none of that ‘sir’ stuff. I told you that before. We’re all friends here, isn’t that right. I want you to call me Aaron and I won’t take no for an answer.” Johnson pulled Scott into the large living area and quickly pressed a drink into his hand.
“As I see it, we have quite a bit to celebrate.” He spotted his wife and daughter descending the staircase and gestured for them to join him. “Ana, Miranda, come in here. Phillips, get them something to drink. I want to propose a toast.”
“A toast, dear? Whatever for?” Ana questioned.
“I want to propose a toast to Scott Garrett Lancer. The architect of one of the cleverest business dealings to hit this city since gold was discovered!”
Scott blushed furiously to the roots of his blond hair. “I think you may have overstated that just a bit, Aaron.”
“Nonsense! If anything, I haven’t given you enough credit. Why, in one fell swoop, you’ve managed to solve any number of problems plaguing California. And you did it with a minimum amount of mess. That’s what I call a real achievement!”
“I’ve hardly solved the problems of the world, Aaron. What I’ve managed to do, hopefully, is just a small start. It was easy to see that one of the chief problems that will face this state in the future is lack of a consistent supply of water for agriculture, particularly in the central and southern parts of the state. When my Grandfather expressed a desire to establish his business interests here in California, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to put some ideas I had into practice.”
Miranda slid her arm around Scott’s waist and pressed into his side. “Scott, I’m so proud of you! I had no idea all this was going on.”
“I’m sorry I kept you in the dark, darling.” Scott brought his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “For the longest time I wasn’t sure how this was all going to turn out.”
“That’s marvelous, Scott,” Ana Johnson interjected. “You must be very pleased.”
“Well, it’s certainly an accomplishment I couldn’t have managed on my own; your husband had a great deal to do with it as well. Without his vote of confidence and his financial expertise, I wouldn’t gotten anywhere with this.”
“Dinner is served, sir.” Phillips stated.
The foursome made their way into the formal dining area. It was as lovely a table as he had ever seen at any dinner party in Boston. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson made their way to the respective ends of the table as Scott pulled Miranda’s seat out for her.
“Well, Scott, it would seem that being a visionary must run in your family. I was just reading something the other day about your father’s ranch and some new type of cattle he’s breeding.”
Scott smiled, remembering what a stir the Brahma had caused when Jelly had first purchased the animal. To his credit, Murdoch had supported Jelly one hundred percent. “I’m afraid the credit there doesn’t belong entirely to my father, Aaron. It was actually one our hands who purchased the animal. Although Murdoch was the one to see the animal’s potential.”
“Fascinating stuff, breeding cattle and all. I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t go into the ranching business, I can’t claim to understand a thing about it.”
“Miranda tells me that your ranch is near Morro Coyo, Scott. I have to wonder what led your parents to settle there, of all places.” Ana Johnson queried.
Murdoch would probably kill him for revealing this particular story. It was something he hadn’t gotten around to mentioning to him and Johnny for quite some time. He took another sip of the excellent wine. “I’m afraid it was a bit of good fortune for my father there as well. You see, when he set out from Boston with my mother for the trip around the horn, things were pretty chaotic politically. He didn’t realize that California wasn’t a part of the United States, but instead belonged to Mexico.”
“Really,” Miranda laughed. “That must have come a quite a surprise.”
“Quite,” Scott agreed. “He had done as much reading as possible about the soil conditions and the climate, but it seemed the country California actually belonged to somehow managed to escape his notice. I suppose he felt that since he was an immigrant anyway, it didn’t really make that much of a difference. Fortunately, he met two gentlemen from Mexico City who were traveling on the same ship out of New York. They took a liking to Murdoch and my mother and gave them some leads on property which proved very useful. By the time they disembarked at in Yerba Buena, my father had managed to learn enough Spanish to get by. That was late in ’44. Of course a few years later the war changed everything, but my father made some friends in those early years that he still has to this day.”
“What a delightful story!” Aaron Johnson could scarcely contain himself. “I’m sure things were quite a bit different from when I arrived early in 1850. This place was a madhouse, let me tell you!”
“I’m sure it was, sir…I mean Aaron,” Scott corrected with a smile.
“Your mention of Mexico City puts me in mind of something…”
“Daddy, don’t,” Miranda commanded sharply.
“Don’t be ridiculous, dear,” her father responded. “Scott’s practically family already. What possible harm could come of it?”
Scott shifted in his seat, decidedly uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. He’d never heard that tone from Miranda before, certainly not directed at her father. The look she had shot at him left no doubt as to the seriousness of her comment. At the far end of the table, Ana Johnson had gone pale, her lips drawn tightly together. Her knuckles were white as she tightly clasped the glass in front of her.
“Aaron, please,” she uttered, her voice barely audible. “I don’t think this is the time.”
“I think this is exactly the time.” Aaron slapped his open hand against the table. “I really don’t know how you ladies think this is going to remain a secret.” He shifted his weight, giving his full attention to Scott Lancer. “The fact of the matter is, we’re expecting Ana’s mother to arrive from Mexico City any day now.”
“Really,” Scott cleared his throat, mystified by the events that seem to be transpiring in front of him. “Has she been visiting there? I’ve heard it’s quite interesting.”
“No, Mr. Lancer,” Ana responded tightly. “She has not been visiting there. She lives there; in fact it has been her home for a good part of her life.”
“I see,” replied Scott carefully, not quite sure he did understand the situation at all. Slowly it dawned on him. He studied Ana carefully—her hair was dark, very dark as a matter of fact. The shade didn’t quite rival the color of Johnny’s hair, but it was close. Now that he looked, really looked, Ana’s skin was a lovely shade of caramel. So this was the big secret. “No, me tienes que explicar la importancia de la familia.”
In reality, Scott was surprised; shocked might even be a better word. He’d been to this house any number of times during his stay in San Francisco. There was not one item in it that had given him any sense that the family might be of Mexican descent. He had not heard a syllable of Spanish in his many visits, nor had there been any food that might indicate ties to Mexico. It was so different from Lancer. He remembered being stunned by the heavy Mexican influence when he first arrived at the ranch. He had wondered momentarily if they were even still in the United States. Now the atmosphere was as a second nature to him. In fact, he had found himself missing it quite a bit during the time he was in San Francisco.
“Scott?” Miranda was peering at him carefully.
“Sorry, I guess you caught me off guard there.” He smiled sheepishly.
Ana Johnson threw her napkin on the table and stood abruptly, displacing her chair backwards before either of the men could rise. “I hope you’re happy, Aaron. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have developed a pounding headache.” With that, she turned and walked purposefully from the room.
“Ana, please,” Johnson implored, “there’s no need for this.”
“See what you’ve done now, Daddy!” Miranda flung the words at him. “You know what the doctor said. You know she’s not supposed to get upset. I told you not to say anything!” Miranda came to her feet as well. She inclined her head in Scott’s direction. “Scott, I’m so sorry for this. If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to see to Mother.”
Scott rose to his feet. “Of course, Miranda. Whatever you feel you need to do. Will I see you tomorrow?”
“I…I’m afraid I’m not sure about anything right now, Scott. I’m sorry.” With that, Miranda turned and walked from the room.
Aaron Johnson sighed and slumped back in his chair. “My apologies, Scott. I’m sorry you had to be a witness to that.”
Scott leaned forward, his eyes trained on his host. “Nothing to apologize for, Aaron. Every family has its moments.” In fact, this little scene was rather tame compared to what he had become accustomed to since coming to Lancer. “I just hope I didn’t do or say anything to contribute to your wife’s distress, she did seem rather upset with me.”
“Nonsense,” Aaron shook his head. “I’m sure it’s nothing you said. I don’t know what’s gotten into Ana. She wasn’t always like this. She’s become so protective where Miranda is concerned and this visit of her mother’s has Ana in a bit of a state. My wife has convinced herself that being of mixed descent is tantamount to social suicide in this town—for both her and Miranda. She’s obsessed with the idea and there doesn’t seem to be a thing I can do to convince her otherwise.”
“I’m sorry to hear it, Aaron,” Scott responded sympathetically. He was keenly aware of how issues of race could impact a family. The sound of the women’s raised voices drifted down the stairwell. “Perhaps I should go.”
Aaron Johnson exhaled slowly. He’d give anything not to be left alone with the two irate women, but it seemed that was his burden to bear. After all, it had been his decision to invite his mother-in-law to move north after the death of her sister. Apparently no good deed would go unpunished. “That may be for the best,” he responded reluctantly.
*Usted no necesita explicar a mí la importancia de la familia---You don’t need to explain to me about the importance of family.
Scott slid down in his seat and watched the landscape as it rolled by. Despite the length of time that he’d been here in California, he found himself endlessly fascinated by the panorama that was displayed before him. He had only managed to catch a glimpse of the Pacific as the train had pulled out of San Francisco, now he was faced with the seemingly endless golden rolling hills that graced the central part of the state. Still, the countryside had a unique beauty all its own and he blessed the day he made the decision to accept his father’s offer to come to California.
He was happy to be going home. As much as he had enjoyed his sojourn in San Francisco and the rekindled memories of his life in Boston, it felt good to be heading back to the ranch. He had forgotten what it was like—the endless rounds of pretentious parties, virtual strangers fawning over the Garrett name and position. Scott was disgusted by it all. Men and women, who had no time for Scott Lancer a few short months ago, were suddenly tripping over themselves to be seen in the company of Scott Garrett Lancer. No, at the end of the day, he much preferred to be judged by what he had accomplished, not by whom he was related to.
His only regret was Miranda. In spite of his best intentions, a number of days had elapsed before he was able to try and contact Miranda after the rather memorable dinner at the Johnson home. On two separate occasions he had arrived at the house, only to be told that the family was ‘not at home’ a polite, but fairly transparent deception. Likewise, a number of notes he had dispatched to Miranda herself had been returned, unopened. If he had more time to spare, he would have lingered until she was ready to see him.
Unfortunately he had promised Murdoch he would be home in time for roundup and that was one promise he was not prepared to break. No, it was time to go home to Lancer and begin to rebuild some of the trust which had been lost due his rather extended absence. Johnny’s support would be unwavering, that he knew. He wished he could be as sure of his father’s response. He could only hope that Miranda and her parents were able to sort out their conflicted emotions before any serious harm was done.
The train slowed noticeably as it neared the small town of Cross Creek. Scott pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat and checked the time. They were only twenty minutes behind schedule, something of a record for the railroad. Not that he was expecting a reception committee. The telegram announcing his return was vague at best. He had still held out some hope of a last- minute rendezvous with Miranda even as he packed the last of his things in the hotel.
Still it was not a complete surprise to see a familiar figure lounging against the railing as his train pulled into the station. The brightly colored salmon shirt, the calzoneras, and the low slung gun belt separated his brother quite effectively from the surrounding crowd and Scott couldn’t help but notice the wide berth most of the other passengers cut his brother. Johnny’s hat was pulled low over his eyes, a device he commonly employed when he was not completely comfortable in his surroundings. Whether it was designed to help create an air of nonchalance, or to prevent his brother from being recognized, Scott was never quite sure. He was also never so happy to see anyone in his life.
“You took quite a chance coming today; I don’t believe I specified exactly which train I was going to be taking.”
“Don’t matter,” Johnny shrugged, finally lifting his eyes to meet his brother’s. Damn, it was good to see Scott. “If you hadn’t gotten off, I was gettin’ on. Ain’t no way I’m going back to that estancia without you in tow.”
Scott sighed. He had hoped for some brief period of peace before diving headlong into a confrontation with his father. Apparently, it was not meant to be. “Murdoch?” he asked without any real doubt as to the answer. “It’s that bad?”
“Yep. He’s being a bear to everyone. I think Cipriano’s about ready to quit. Old man’s even yellin’ at T’resa.”
That was a first, at least to Scott’s knowledge, and more than a little alarming. Cipriano had been with his father since the very beginning. Although neither man was given to overt displays of affection, he knew there was a deep friendship between the two. And to think of his father actually raising his voice to Theresa--that was almost impossible to believe. “Any idea what the problem is?”
“Well, this sure didn’t help.” Johnny slid the newspaper out from under his arm and held it out to his brother. “There, below the fold.”
Scott scanned the printed words until his eyes rested on the headline in question.
‘Scott Garrett Lancer Takes San Francisco Business Community by Storm!’
“Seems I have a famous brother! It’s all anyone can talk about.”
Scott looked at his brother. Johnny’s smile lit up his face in a way that simply had to be seen to be believed. He could see the merriment in his brother’s eyes, but there was something else there as well—pride, pride in his brother’s accomplishment. “Well, enjoy it while it lasts, little brother. Take it from me; having a famous brother isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!”
Johnny laughed with pure delight and slapped his brother on the back. “I’ll have to take your word on that, Boston, though I ‘spect there’s a world of difference between being famous and being infamous.”
The two made their way slowly through the crowd and approached the dusty street which made up the main thoroughfare of the town. Barranca was standing quietly at the hitching post, and Scott found himself inordinately pleased to see Charlemagne’s solid form standing beside the palomino. The buckboard would have been a far more practical mode of transportation, particularly in light of the new suit he was wearing and the amount of luggage he had being unloaded from the train, but right now he wanted nothing more than a good gallop beside his brother.
“So the article has Murdoch upset I gather?” The news came as a bit of a blow. He certainly wasn’t looking for any public notoriety, but he was hoping his father would be pleased. His project had the potential to improve the lives of countless others, including those who needed help the most. And dammit, he’d worked his ass off making it all come together!
“I think it’s the Garrett part that has him all in a pucker,” Johnny replied. He could see the hurt in Scott’s eyes and suspected the reason behind it. “You don’t get this, do you Scott? Murdoch’s convinced himself that this is what you want.” Johnny tugged on the lapel of the impeccable suit his brother was wearing. “He thinks you’re leaving, that you’re all done playing cowboy and that you’re just itchin’ to go back to life ya had before.”
Scott grabbed his brother’s forearm tightly, disturbed by his choice of words. “And is that what you think too? That this was all some sort of game to me?”
Johnny’s eyes locked onto his brother’s. He could see the conflict there. There was some truth to what he had said, but no, Scott wasn’t ready to give up what they had here, at least not yet. “No, Scott, I don’t think that, not at all.”
Scott felt the tension ease from him. The degree of the younger man’s faith in him was disconcerting at times, particularly since he knew how little faith Johnny had in anyone or anything. “Good, because I’m not going anywhere, little brother.”
“Now you just have to convince Murdoch of that. And you know how he can be. If he thinks you’re gonna to leave, he’ll be pushin’ you away with both hands.”
It had taken the brothers a while to see through their father’s brusque façade, but they had come to realize that Murdoch Lancer had plenty of demons of his own to wrestle with. The losses in his life had been nearly insurmountable and he somehow felt that the only way to protect himself was to push those he loved away before they got a chance to abandon him. It had led to a few near disasters with Johnny in that first tumultuous year. They had all learned some hard lessons, but perhaps there was more work yet to do.
The pair mounted in tandem and headed slowly out of town.
Murdoch Lancer stood before the imposing window and watched his two sons gallop through the arch. His two sons—he’d never tire of those words, even if he lived for another thirty years. He had stood here once and told them that this land was all that meant anything to him. How quickly he had come to regret those words. He’d take them all back in an instant if it meant he’d have his family together for just a little while longer.
Murdoch looked down at his desk and felt a churning in the pit of his stomach. Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle sat there, the story of his son’s achievement highlighted for all to see. He allowed himself a small degree of pride. By all accounts, Scott had done an outstanding job negotiating a series of difficult obstacles on behalf of Garrett Enterprises. The end result would hopefully mean a system of cisterns and aqueducts that would provide a stable water supply to parts of the state that had always been dependent on the vagaries of the seasonal rains. By any measure, it was quite an accomplishment. Harlan Garrett had done a magnificent job raising his son; it only stood to reason that he should reap the rewards.
Scott stepped slowly through the doors of the great room, unwilling to disturb his father’s thoughts. He had considered putting this off—a quick dash up the back steps might give him several hours of peace, but he had never been one to delay the inevitable.
Murdoch looked up at the sound of his son’s footfalls and cleared his throat. “You’re cutting it a bit close. Round up is scheduled to start tomorrow. I was afraid we’d have to go ahead without you.”
Scott resisted the urge to bite back. He forced his tone to remain even. “It’s good to see you too, Murdoch.”
“I suppose congratulations are in order,” Murdoch returned, his eyes flicked to the paper on the desk. “That was quite an accomplishment. Harlan must be thrilled.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Murdoch,” Scott said, softly.
“Yes, well, I would imagine this sort of thing requires a great deal of oversight—dispersal of funds, contracts, that sort of thing. I’m sure your grandfather has plans for you. This type of operation doesn’t run itself.”
Scott inhaled deeply and walked the desk until his stood face to face with his father. Was it just his imagination, or was the older man’s height not as imposing as it once was? “I’m not going anywhere, Murdoch,” he reiterated. “This sort of operation does require an entire organization behind it. That was part of what I was doing in San Francisco all this time. I made it clear to Grandfather that I had no intention of becoming the west coast division of Garrett Enterprises, and I meant it.”
Murdoch dropped his head. He understood the words, he just wasn’t sure his son would be able to hold to it. Garrett would never let anything stand in the way of what he wanted, and Murdoch knew what he wanted had nothing to do with shipping contracts and everything to do with his son. “I guess I don’t understand why you didn’t say something, anything about this, Scott. I just assumed…” Murdoch hesitated, reluctant that the words would make his deepest fears become reality.
“After Grandfather left here last year, he didn’t go right back to Boston. He spent some time touring the state and he realized for the first time just how much potential this region has. When he contacted me at the beginning of the year with a business proposition, I refused him outright. After the things that he pulled here—to you, to me, I wanted as little as possible to do with him. I may look the fool, Murdoch, but I have very few illusions left about what Harlan Garrett is capable of.”
Murdoch could feel the pain in his son’s voice. Harlan’s actions had devastated Scott. For a while, he wasn’t sure he’d ever see his son’s trusting nature again. “So what changed your mind?”
“I sat down and took a good look at what was on the table. Grandfather had put together a consortium of investors, all willing to spend an enormous amount of money to get a foothold in California. I realized I was in a unique position to decide just how that money was spent,” he continued. “Grandfather was going to get his business going, one way or the other, only I had the capability of salvaging some good from it.”
“So that’s what this has been all about—the trips to San Francisco, the secrecy.”
“I was afraid that if certain parties got wind of what I was up to, the little people, the people who really deserved a chance would get cut out of the deal. I wasn’t prepared to let that happen. Fortunately, I had some good men behind me, men like Aaron Johnson, who really do care about this state and the people in it—all the people.” Scott moved in front of the window and soaked in the view. It never failed to take his breath away.
“Hopefully things will run as planned,” Scott continued. “The investors will still get a reasonable return on their investments but the small farmers and ranchers will get their water at a good price, and the Chinese laborers will earn a decent wage for a change.”
“The paper didn’t say anything about that,” Murdoch commented.
“They wouldn’t.” Scott clenched his jaw. It was one of the key facets of the agreement for him, and yet it went unnoticed by virtually everyone—but perhaps that was for the best. “Anti-Chinese sentiment is running too high right now. The paper was afraid they might incite a riot if they printed anything. Those people are treated like animals, Murdoch, less than animals, especially now that the railroad is essentially finished. I want to do everything in my power to change that. I want to help give people a chance for a decent life—doesn’t everyone deserve that?”
The Chinese, as well as the Mexicans and the Negroes would still only earn seven-eighths of what the white workers would—a fact that galled him to no end, but Scott had pushed long and hard to get even that. There would also be schools set up that specifically included the children of non-white workers. It wasn’t everything, but at least it was a start.
“This is really important to you, isn’t it son?” How could he have been so quick to assume that Scott was being seduced back to a life of ease and luxury, all with no evidence at all? He couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
Some of the things Scott had seen during his time in San Francisco had shaken him to the core. Children, scrambling just to survive in the underbelly of the city--fighting for scraps behind the fashionable clubs and restaurants. Scott slammed his fist on the desk with a vehemence that surprised both the men. “It’s so unfair, it’s so damned unfair!” Scott felt his voice rising, but he was powerless to stop it. “I’ve been given so much, too much—the money, the position, the education--all due to an accident of birth and I don’t deserve any of it, not one damned thing!”
Murdoch hesitated, then reached out and rested a hand on his elder son’s shoulder. He knew Scott had been plagued by the disparity in his own upbringing and that of his younger brother, but he had no idea that the guilt still weighed so heavily upon him. “I don’t think you’re being entirely fair to yourself, son. You had no control of the advantages you were given, any more than Johnny had control over what he didn’t have.”
“How could I have been so blind, Murdoch?” There was debilitating poverty in every major city on the East Coast. How was it that he never really noticed? Would he have brushed past his own brother without a backward glance?
Murdoch didn’t believe it for a minute. He had seen too much of this son’s caring nature to believe he could ever be indifferent to the suffering of others. “You have been fortunate,” he acknowledged. “But what’s important is what you’ve done with those advantages.”
“And just what have I done to date, Murdoch? Let’s see, I bedded more women in the city of Boston than could be even remotely be considered appropriate. Somehow I don’t think that qualifies as a good deed!”
“You could have paid a substitute to take your place in the Army, many men in privileged positions did exactly that, yet you chose to fight.” And against his grandfather’s wishes, he added silently. Standing up to Harlan Garrett at age 18 couldn’t have been easy.
Scott nodded his head. He had gone to war full of noble intentions --that he had to acknowledge. That nobility hadn’t lasted too long once he got to Libby. He wondered what his father would think of him if he knew just how low he had sunk. Even his survival after the escape attempt wore on him. Why should he have lived when so many around him did not? Still wallowing in this was not what he intended. What he needed to do was make his father understand.
“I know that, Murdoch, really I do. What I need from you is an understanding that I need to give back what I’ve been given. As much as I love my life here at Lancer, there may be other things that come up.”
“Like this business deal with Harlan.”
“Yes, like the deal with Harlan.” Although Scott suspected that once his Grandfather reviewed some of the details of the business arrangement, he might never speak to Scott again. “That, and there maybe some business before the legislature. I’m just not sure what direction this is going to take ultimately, Murdoch. I’m just hoping that you can support me in this.”
Murdoch awkwardly put his arm around Scott’s shoulders. How he’d love to wrap the younger man in an embrace, but he feared Scott would not permit it. His older son was very resistant to displays of physical affection—another legacy of Harlan’s he supposed. The only one who seemed able to breach that particular wall was his exuberant younger brother. Murdoch nodded his head. “Of course, Scott, whatever you need. I’m so…., well, I’m so proud of you, son, I want you to understand that.”
“I do, Sir…Murdoch,” Scott responded. “I do understand that…It’s just that…”
Murdoch took a step back from his elder son. “It’s just what, son?”
Scott straightened and faced his father directly. Murdoch’s behavior had been troubling to him since this whole thing began. “I used to think that Johnny’s lack of faith in his fellow man was due to circumstance, but now I’m beginning to wonder if he came to it honestly.”
“Sorry, Scott, I’m not sure I’m following you.”
“How could you have so little faith in me?” Scott struggled to keep his voice even. Getting into a shouting match would do neither one of them any good. “How could you think I’d just walk away from everything we’ve built here without so much as a word?”
“It’s not a matter of not having faith in you, Scott. It was never that.” Murdoch looked at his son; the soft grey suit fit Scott’s trim form perfectly, his dark blond hair was neatly trimmed. God he wished he had known this young man as he grew. “I just want you to be happy.”
Scott sighed. “And you don’t think that I’m happy here? That I can be happy here?”
“You can’t deny that you’ve missed that life. I’ve seen it, son. I know you’ve missed the things that Boston has to offer. I know that even San Francisco is a rough upstart in comparison to the life you had in Boston and New York. ”
Scott nodded. There was some truth in what his father said. As much as he tried to hide it, there was a hole in his life where certain things had once held a prominent place. “I have to admit that my social calendar hasn’t been quite the same since I came to California.”
“I’m not talking about that, Scott.” Murdoch’s voice was kindly. “I think you need to give yourself a little more credit.” Scott’s academic record was one thing that Harlan had been happy to share. It was even more impressive now that he realized the hell that Scott had been through during the war. He knew there were any number doors open to his son—he could just as easily teach at a University, or write. It didn’t have to be all about Garrett Enterprises. “I know there was more to your life in Boston than parties and women.”
“To be awake is to be alive but I have never yet met a man who was quite awake*,” Scott said softly. “Or something to that affect.”
“I suppose it’s safe to say that Thoreau never met your brother then,” Murdoch observed.
“I feel fairly confident in that as well.” Scott grinned broadly and met his father’s eye. “I guess that was his loss.”
“Not having you here, son, that’s been my loss.” Murdoch swallowed, his throat tight. “Whatever you decide, Scott, now or in the future, I just want you to be sure it’s for the right reasons.” Murdoch paused; the urge to reach out and grab the young man in front of him was almost overwhelming. “I want you here, God knows how much I want you here, but it has to be for you--because you’re happy here, not out of any sense of obligation to me—to me or to anyone else.”
Scott closed his eyes. His father wanted him. How many years had he spent waiting to hear those words? At times it still didn’t seem real. And what about Johnny? His brother had become the most important person in the world to him. Scott nodded his head, not quite trusting his voice. He had walked into this room determined to convince his father of his plan to stay at Lancer. Now he found he was the one with some thinking to do. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice in order to get something more important in return.”
Murdoch nodded. No one understood that better than he did. He had made the wrong decision twenty years ago when given the choice; he just didn’t want his son to feel the same way twenty years from now. “That’s true, son. I guess you just have to decide where your heart really lies.”
*Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854 The entire quote is as follows: “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”
Johnny breezed through the veranda doors and headed for the dinner table, quickly divesting himself of his hat and gunbelt as he moved through the room. He supposed he should really go and wash up, but he carded his fingers through his thick hair and then brushed off the worst of the dust from his pants. He was late—not too late to eat, fortunately, but late enough that his arrival would not go unnoted. Johnny slid into his accustomed seat next to Theresa and reached for the serving platter.
“Hola Maria!” Johnny shouted. “Ya llegue a casa. Puedo tener un vaso de leche por favor?”
He gave Theresa a quick smile along with a nod of the head to both Murdoch and Scott. “Sorry I’m late,” he began. “Barranca threw a shoe on the way back from town.”
“Is he okay?” Murdoch questioned. Johnny’s horse was one of the best cow ponies on the ranch, and although the roundup was just about complete, he’d hate to have him out of circulation for long. Not to mention the way his younger son felt about the animal.
Maria stepped into the room and placed the glass down next to Johnny, slapping him lightly as she passed. The way he shouted was not entirely polite, but she could not deny this niño anything.
“Gracias,” he offered in return, along with a smile. “He lost a bit of sidewall,” Johnny acknowledged. “He may need a day or so.”
“I don’t suppose you remembered to check and see if there was any mail while you were in town, brother?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Johnny announced proudly. “It’s on the desk. There’s a letter for T’resa,” he smiled broadly at his little sister. “And there’s one for you from your Grandfather too.”
“Nothing else?” Scott pressed.
“Nothin’ except some bills for Murdoch. Face it, brother, it’s been two weeks. It’s not coming.”
Murdoch looked up from his plate. “What is it that’s not coming?”
“Scott’s been hoping for a letter from Miranda,” Theresa explained. “But there’s been nothing since he got back from San Francisco.”
“Oh,” Murdoch nodded. Maybe that would explain why his son had been such a bear lately. “Sorry, son.”
“I’m glad this is of such interest to all of you,” Scott said tightly. “Perhaps we should get Jelly in here and ask his opinion, too.” He knew they meant well, but this prolonged silence from Miranda was something he’d just as soon not discuss. It reminded him all too vividly of the myriad of letters he’d sent to Julie Dennison, all unanswered as well.
“Maybe you should talk about it, son. It might help.”
Scott sighed and relaxed his shoulders in defeat. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt. After all, he couldn’t seem to figure out what went wrong. “We started seeing one another about two months ago. Things were going well, very well in fact. I was starting to think about…” Scott let that thought drop unfinished. “I was at their home on one of the last nights I was in the city. We were having dinner, a celebration of sorts for my success in the negotiations.” He thought back, trying to remember exactly how it had unfolded. “Somehow the subject of Mexico came up, and Aaron announced rather abruptly that his mother-in-law, Ana’s mother, was coming from Mexico City to live with them for a while.”
“From Mexico as in she’s Mexican?” Johnny questioned.
Scott shrugged. “That’s how I took it. I was a little surprised since Miranda had never mentioned it. I know I said something about welcoming family in Spanish, and then Mrs. Johnson got all upset and left the room. I haven’t heard from Miranda since.”
Johnny coughed sharply, sending a fine spray of milk across the table.
“Oh, Scott, you didn’t,” Theresa said sympathetically. Her eyes were like saucers. “You didn’t actually say something in Spanish.”
“What’s wrong with my Spanish?” Scott countered indignantly. There was nothing wrong with his Spanish and he damn well knew it. At least since he stopped taking lessons from his beloved younger brother. He still didn’t know how they got out of that cantina alive after Johnny set him up in front of that burly vaquero.
“It’s not so much what you say sometimes, Boston; it’s how you say it.” Johnny paused and total silence descended in the room. “Maybe you called her a name,” he speculated, “Maybe you called her a ha…”
Johnny closed his mouth abruptly. There was no getting around his father when he used that tone.
Scott was livid. He could see the laughter in his brother’s eyes. He knew he was being baited—he just didn’t see what was so damned funny about any of this. In fact, he’d had just about all that he was going to take. “I most certainly did not call anyone, any names,” he stated emphatically, “Intentionally or otherwise. I’m glad you find this all so entertaining. But, I’m afraid if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll turn in.”
“Scott,” Johnny called to him, “Come back. I didn’t mean anything.”
“That was less than helpful, John,” Murdoch declared.
“Oh, come on, I was just kidding, and he knew it.”
“Still, your brother has had a difficult few months and it’s rather obvious he’s taken with this Miranda. I don’t really see what the need was to provoke him.”
Johnny sighed. Perhaps he had gone a bit overboard. It was just that Scott made it so damn easy some times. “I’ll talk to him, make it square.”
“See that you do, young man. See that you do.”
“Hola Maria! Ya llegue a casa. Puedo tener un vaso de leche por favor?” ===Hello, Maria. I’m home. May I have some milk to drink, please?”
It seemed like a good idea at the time. He thought his greatest concern was who would shoot him first—Murdoch for his missing a day and a half of work, or Scott for meddling in his affairs. Now, looking at the very impressive home in front of him, he suddenly wasn’t so sure. It sure was fancy. And big. It was the kind of home he imagined his big brother had grown up in, all spit and polished with lace curtains in the windows and everything.
Johnny made another vain attempt to brush the dust from his calzoneras and straightened his hat. Perhaps catching the mail freight up to San Francisco to talk with Scott’s girl was just about the worst idea he’d ever had. Still, he had the niggling fear that the old abuela might just be at the heart of this after all, and maybe, just maybe he could do something to help his brother out with that. Besides, Johnny Madrid had never run from a fight in his life, and he wasn’t about to start on account of no lace curtains.
The door opened before he had even finished knocking. He found himself being examined rather closely by a tall fella with a grim look on his face.
“Is there something I may help you with…sir?”
The hesitation did not go unnoticed and Johnny fought to control his irritation. “I’m looking for a Miss Johnson, a Miss Miranda Johnson. I believe she lives here.”
“The family is not at home. Perhaps if you’d like to leave your card?”
“My card,” Johnny echoed, not at all sure what this man was talking about. “Look, I’ve come a long way. Maybe I could wait.”
“I’m afraid that would be quite impossible. Good day.”
Johnny slid his boot forward and caught the door before it closed. There was no way he was getting the brush off, certainly not from this character. He looked into the hallway beyond the butler. “I thought you said that the family was not at home.”
He could see her there, hovering in the background. She was a small woman, all dressed in black except for a cameo broach at her throat. A black lace mantilla covered the back of her head and cascaded down to her shoulders. A liberal sprinkling of grey dotted her otherwise dark hair and Johnny noted that her skin was several shades darker than his own. The abuela, it had to be.
“Disculpe Señora.” Johnny called to her, “Puedo tener un momento de su tiempo?”
The sight of the handsome young pistolero startled her. He looked as out of place in this stone prison as she did. She pushed past the arrogant gringo who guarded the door so closely at her daughter’s command. “Por su puesto joven. Adelante por favor.”
Johnny stepped into the doorway and addressed the older woman directly. “Siento molestarle, pero creo que tenemos que hablar.”
Phillips tensed at the intrusion. “I’m afraid this is quite irregular. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Ask away,” Johnny replied, grinning. “Just don’t expect to get the answer you’re lookin’ for. ¿Entienda?”
Johnny held out his arm to the older woman and gracefully led her into the parlor.
“I’m sorry, sir. There was nothing I could do. He forced his way in here.”
“Phillips, get a hold of yourself, man! What are you talking about?”
Johnny heard the commotion out in the front hallway and forced himself to his feet. He had spent a lovely afternoon with Senora Calderone. But unfortunately, it was bound to come to an end sooner or later. He turned to face the four people who were now crowding the entrance to the parlor.
“Him,” Phillips replied simply.
Johnny felt a quirky smile grace his lips. He just couldn’t resist. “Buenos dias, Mr. Johnson.” He inclined his head towards the ladies in a clipped bow. “Senora, senorita.”
Scott was right, she sure was a looker. He stepped forward, his hand extended to Aaron Johnson. “I’m Johnny Lancer, Scott’s brother. I do apologize for any trouble I may have caused.”
Johnson’s frown turned quickly into a grin. He seized the proffered hand with some enthusiasm and pumped vigorously. “Of course, Mr. Lancer, Scott’s told me so much about you.”
“Has he, now? In that case, I guess you should know it’s Johnny.”
“Johnny, of course.” Johnson finally released the firm hold he had on Johnny’s hand. “There’s nothing wrong, I hope. Scott’s all right, isn’t he?”
“Scott’s fine. Well, he’s a mite saddle-sore from roundup, but he’ll survive.”
“Glad to hear it! I’m afraid we’ve missed him around here since he went back to the ranch. But I’m forgetting my manners—Johnny, this is my wife, Ana, and my daughter, Miranda. And it would seem you’ve already met Rosa.”
“Yes,” Johnny agreed, nodding pleasantly at the older woman. “We’ve had a real nice chat.”
“How fortunate you’re fluent in Spanish, Mr. Lancer,” Miranda Johnson stepped forward and spoke for the first time. “I’m afraid my grandmother’s had a rather difficult time of it since she’s arrived.”
“She mentioned that.” Johnny’s voice was flat.
“I’m sure Scott must think the worst things about me,” Miranda continued nervously. “I’m afraid I haven’t been in touch. It’s just that we’ve been so, well, we’ve all been so busy.”
“Well, Scott’s a pretty forgiving man. At least that’s been my experience.” Johnny smiled. “I certainly hope he’s in a forgivin’ mood, otherwise he’s like to kill me for coming up here.”
Johnny could feel Ana staring at him, taking him in—the clothes, the ebony hair, the startling blue of his eyes. Those eyes that were the bane of his existence for so many years. “Is there a problem…ma’am?”
“No,” Ana responded. “Of course not.” She felt her face go warm. This was just not what she expected, not what she expected at all. “It’s just that you don’t resemble your brother very much, Mr. Lancer.”
“Really!” Johnny responded, feigning surprise. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it. You don’t think, maybe in the profile?” Johnny made an exaggerated turn to the left. How he hated dragging out the family pedigree like this was a damn horse auction. But this was for Scott, and he’d gone into it willing this time, with his eyes wide open.
He turned back and faced Ana Johnson. “My mother was Murdoch Lancer’s second wife. She was Mexican,” he added, just in case they needed any clarification. “I spent most of my life there.”
“While Scott was growing up in Boston,” Aaron Johnson exclaimed. “What a fascinating story!”
“I s’pose you could say that.” Johnny grinned. Too bad Scott couldn’t marry the father—he was certainly the best of the lot. “Anyway, Scott was a mite concerned that he’d said something to offend you, Mrs. Johnson, and I took it in my head to come clear things up.”
Ana’s lips tightened. No doubt her mother had had quite a bit to say to this, this… mestizo. “And are things clearer now, Mr. Lancer?”
“Crystal,” Johnny responded, his voice sharp. “I think we understand one another perfectly, Senora Johnson.”
“Disculpe Señora puedo tener un momento de su tiempo?” === “Pardon me, may I have a minute of your time?”
“Por su puesto joven. Adelante por favor.”=== “Of course, come this way.”
“Siento molestarle, pero creo que tenemos que hablar.” ===“I’m sorry to bother you, but I think we have something to talk about.”
“What does it say, Scott?” Theresa couldn’t help herself. Like the rest of the family, she had long given up any hope that Scott would hear from this mysterious woman. She glanced up at Murdoch who was similarly curious about the contents of the telegram.
“Miranda’s coming for a visit.” Scott scanned the message quickly, greedy for more information. “Along with her father and grandmother, it would seem. She mentions my ‘kind invitation’.” Funny, he hadn’t remembered issuing any invitations in his letters, at least not specifically.
“I invited her,” Johnny drawled. He lounged against the doorway. “The abuela, at least. I guess the others decided to come along on their own.”
Scott looked up from the telegram and stared intently at his younger brother. “What are you talking about, Johnny? You don’t mean to tell me…you mean you actually wrote to her, invited her here to the ranch?” He couldn’t possibly mean that. He wouldn’t have.
Johnny sighed and stood upright, crossing his arms over his chest. There was just no way around this. “Nope,” he answered. “I did it in person. Went up there to San Francisco and met the whole family. It was a real eye opener.”
“You what!?” Scott exploded. He couldn’t begin to believe the words that were coming out of Johnny’s mouth. He’d seen his brother do some pretty outlandish things in the last three years, but this was beyond comprehension. “And just when did you manage to do this?” Scott forced through clenched teeth. His head felt like it was about to blow off. He crossed the room in rapid strides until they were standing inches apart.
“Last week.” Johnny shot a guilty look towards his father. “When I was supposed to be up at the line shack. Look, Scott,” Johnny reached his hand out and grasped his brother‘s forearm. “I’m sorry. I was just tryin’ to help.”
“Help?” Scott shrugged the hand off. He could feel the muscles in his right hand begin to tighten. He never wanted to hit his brother so much in his life. “What possible right do you think you had to meddle in my affairs?”
Murdoch moved across the room and positioned himself between his two sons. Johnny’s actions were ill-conceived, but there was no point in letting this escalate any further than it had already. “Scott, as misguided as your brother’s actions were, I’m sure he meant well.”
He meant well? What kind of pathetic excuse was that? Scott stared up into his father’s face. “How can you defend him?”
“I’m not defending him, Scott. Listen to me.” Murdoch placed his hands lightly on his older son’s shoulders. “You don’t want to do anything here that you’ll regret—maybe for a long time to come.”
Scott turned and moved a few steps away from his father and brother, breathing deeply. He knew Murdoch was right. Johnny would never intentionally do anything to hurt him, although what in God’s name possessed him to stick his nose into this, he had no idea. “So,” he finally managed, his voice wavering with the effort to remain even. “You said you met the whole family. What happened?”
“I met Miranda’s grandmother, Scott.” Johnny took a deep breath of his own. This was not going to be easy. “She’s a nice old lady. She’s also cold, she’s hungry and they’re keeping her hidden away in that house of theirs, like they’re embarrassed to have her seen by anybody.”
Scott snorted. “Surely you’re exaggerating. I’m quite certain they are not starving her to death.”
“They’re not feeding her anything she wants to eat—same difference. And she don’t speak enough English anymore to say anything about it.”
“I’ve met Aaron Johnson,” Murdoch injected. “He’s a good man. I find it hard to believe he’d be a party to anything like this.”
“He is a good man,” Johnny agreed. “I liked him a lot. I don’t put any of this on him. And that Miranda, well, Scott, I have to hand it to you. She sure is a beauty.” He also thought that she was cut from the same cloth as her mother, but that was for Scott to discover.
“And what about Mrs. Johnson?” Scott was certain he knew the answer before he had ever asked the question. He had never warmed to Ana Johnson and the events of the past couple of weeks only reinforced his feelings.
“Now that one, she wears a hat on her head, even when she’s inside. Hell, they probably live in San Francisco just for the fog!”
Scott looked puzzled. “Now you’ve lost me.”
Johnny sighed. “She avoids the sun because she don’t want to get no darker than she already is. She hates herself, Scott. She hates being mixed and she’s bound and determined to take it out on her mother.”
Scott struggled not to flinch at his brother’s words. “So that makes it your business?”
“Yeah,” Johnny answered. He placed his hands on his hips and marched over to face his brother once again, his eyes locked intently into Scott’s. “Maybe this wasn’t my business to start, but yeah, that makes it my business. I’m not going to stand by and let that perra bully some old woman ‘cause she can’t stand to look in the mirror!”
Scott thought of the lovely house on the hill and the pleasant evenings he had spent there. It had become almost like second home to him. He had doubts about Miranda’s maturity in the past, but if she were complicit in this… He met his brother’s gaze evenly. “You’re sure about this?”
Johnny dropped his head. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
Scott didn’t even want to give voice to the question. “What about Miranda?”
Johnny looked up to face Scott once again. He shook his head. “I don’t know, Scott. You’re gonna to have to talk to her.”
His brother’s words said one thing, but those ever- expressive eyes said another. Johnny had never been particularly good at hiding things—at least not from him. It would seem that Miranda held at least some degree of responsibility in all of this. He felt a sinking sensation in the center of his chest.
Johnny continued to scan his brother’s face, searching for some sense of what his sibling was thinking. “I just couldn’t leave it be, Scott. For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”
Scott reached out and rested his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, brother.”
Johnny leaned into the contact. “I know that, Scott. I know.”
Scott stepped back, letting his hand fall to his side. “So that’s why you invited her come to Lancer.”
“She wanted me to bring her back to Mexico. What I did was talk to Aaron Johnson—set him straight on a few things. Then I offered to let Senora Calderone come to Lancer for a visit. It’s a hell of a lot warmer here than it is in San Francisco, Maria’s cooking will fix her up just fine and she’ll have plenty of folks to talk to. If they still can’t work things out, well, there’ll be time enough to bring her home to Mexico City after that.”
“When are they coming?” Theresa asked.
Scott glanced at the telegram again. “They should be arriving sometime on Friday,” he informed her. “Short notice, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Not a problem,” she responded. “Maria and I will have things ready in no time. At least we have time to plan some meals.”
Scott groaned audibly. This visit did not bode well for his digestive tract among other things.
Murdoch moved towards the pair. “At least that’s settled. Senora Calderone is welcome to stay at Lancer as long as she likes. You,” he pointed at Johnny, “will not be going to Mexico City. If she still wants to go home, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Aaron Johnson stepped out of the carriage, and then turned to assist his daughter and mother-in-law. Of all the possible reasons for coming to the Lancer ranch, this had never occurred to him, not in his wildest dreams. He took a moment to view the impressive building before him. The adobe structure with its graceful angles and archways spoke of the distinctive Spanish influence in the surrounding area.
If anything, it persuaded him that perhaps this was the right decision. He had fought it, tooth and nail. Once his eyes had been opened to the tension within his own household, he had tried his best to bring the two angry women together. Unfortunately by then the divisions had proven to be too deep. He had vastly underestimated his own wife’s abhorrence of her mixed heritage as well as her determination to maintain her position among the city’s elite.
As for Rosa Calderone, well to the elderly Mexican woman familia was everything. Family and the expectation of the respect due her in recognition of her age. To have her own daughter treat her with such callous disregard went against everything she held dear. To be considered an embarrassment by her own family, her own daughter and granddaughter, was more than she bear. For her, it was far better to accept the kind offer of the young pistolero than it was to remain in her daughter’s home.
Now he had to turn to the good graces of a family he barely knew to assist him with a very painful situation. He found himself sorely disappointed in the behavior of his own daughter, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Scott Lancer had any idea what he might be getting himself into.
Murdoch Lancer stepped from the front entry of the hacienda and greeted his guests. Aaron Johnson he knew, having made the acquaintance of the successful banker at a Cattlemen’s’ meeting in San Francisco. He held out his hand and shook it firmly. The daughter was every bit as lovely as both Scott and Johnny had described. She had offered a demure greeting before allowing herself to be led upstairs by Theresa.
“Señora Calderone,” Murdoch offered the older woman his hand. “Me alegro que usted pudo venir a quedar con nosotros por un tiempo. Mi hijo, John va a estar muy contento.
“Yo soy la que esta agradecida Señor Lancer. Agradezco mucho su bondad.”
Murdoch soon learned that the older woman’s petite form was deceptive. She held him to a lively pace as he showed them around the estancia, all the while showing a decided interest in the workings of Lancer. It would seem she held some rather strong opinions on any number of subjects. The señora’s stay would not be a dull one if the morning had been any indication. It was with mixed relief and trepidation he settled her with Maria before adjourning to his study with Aaron Johnson.
"This is a beautiful home you have here, Mr. Lancer.”
“It’s Murdoch, please.” Murdoch grabbed two glasses and poured the Scotch generously into both. “I know it’s early…”
Aaron accepted the drink gratefully and sank into the overstuffed chair. “I’m afraid I can’t begin to thank you for this, Murdoch. I can’t imagine what you must think of us.”
“Nonsense,” Murdoch responded. “Johnny explained the situation. I know how difficult these things can be. I’m just happy we’re able to help.”
“I think you’re being exceedingly gracious, Murdoch.” Aaron shook his head. His own wife’s behavior had him baffled and dismayed. “I just didn’t know what else to do. Once I realized just how unhappy Rosa was, well, I tried to make it up to her, but by then it was too late, I’m afraid.”
“I take it your wife and her mother aren’t close?”
“They’ve been apart for some years,” Johnson explained. “Rosa moved to Mexico City to be with her sister ten years ago, after Ana’s father passed away. Ana and her father were very close—she doted on him. I knew the women had had their problems in the past, but I never dreamed anything like this would happen.”
“Well, Senora Calderone is here now. Perhaps some different surroundings will put a new perspective on things.”
Aaron doubted that anything could make a difference at this point. Still, Lancer appeared to be a marvelous blending of both cultures. He had heard as much Spanish as English on their trip up the long entryway. Maybe if anyone could make this right, the man sitting in front of him could. “Where are your boys, by the way? I did so want to thank Johnny for all he’s done, and I’m sure that Miranda is eager to see Scott.”
Murdoch stood and moved to refill his glass. Although there had been no repeats of the confrontation in the great room, Johnny and Scott were both clearly struggling with the situation. “Johnny’s gone to one of the line shacks, I’m afraid. He does send his regards. Scott is out on the range, I’m sure he’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“Oh dear,” Johnson responded. “They are two such fine young men. I do hope we haven’t been the cause of any difficulty. That’s the last thing any one of us would want.”
Murdoch hated anything that threatened to drive a wedge between his sons, and there was no doubt that Scott was quite angry over his brother’s actions. Still, he had heard the murmur of voices coming from Scott’s room late into the night. His two sons had overcome an amazing number of obstacles to forge their relationship; he had every confidence in their ability to resolve this as well. “Don’t worry about Johnny and Scott,” he reassured the man. “They’ll be just fine.”
Miranda stepped carefully into the garden, uncertain of her welcome. Scott had been polite--polite, but distant ever since her arrival. He had avoided her gaze during dinner, carrying on a quiet conversation with her father for most of the meal. She had come to Lancer hoping that all was not lost, that just maybe they could begin to rekindle what they had shared in San Francisco.
She felt a thrill run through her body as she saw him standing there, only his silhouette visible in the encroaching darkness. He was everything she had ever wanted, handsome, well-mannered, and intelligent. How she had managed to ruin things quite so effectively she would never understand.
“Scott?” she called softly.
Scott sighed. “I’m here,” he responded. He had spent the better part of three weeks wanting nothing more than to see her again. Now he wanted nothing more than for her to be gone. Once again he had been lulled into the promise of something that was never really there.
“It’s lovely here,” she commented. Miranda walked over to Scott and stood quietly next to him. She wanted so much to reach and wrap her arms around him, but she could just feel the tension radiating from him.
“It is,” he acknowledged. He had come to believe there was no prettier place on earth.
“I’m starting to feel a little foolish being here, Scott. Aren’t you at least going to talk to me?”
“I guess I don’t know what to say, Miranda.” Scott turned and finally faced her directly. “Maybe you can explain to me what it is you hoped to accomplish by avoiding me all this time. Because I can’t begin to fathom what it is you were thinking.”
Miranda bit her lower lip. “I guess I was hoping this would all just go away, that things could go back to the way they were. I didn’t know what to think, you seemed so…shocked that night.” Miranda hesitated, “Mother thought…well, she thought you were concerned with the Garrett family name. That maybe if my grandmother just left…” Miranda dropped her head. “I guess I shouldn’t have listened.”
There is was again. When would anyone ever be able to see him for what he was and not some idealized myth? “Damn the Garrett name,” he said tightly. “I was surprised,” he admitted. “Surprised and thrilled. I was trying to figure out just how our two families might come together, and there you were, handing me the answer on a silver platter. But you never even gave me a chance.”
“How was I supposed to know?” Miranda pleaded.
He was stunned that this young woman could have so little faith in him after almost three months acquaintance, but his concern ran even more deeply than that. “What disturbs me the most is not how little you thought of me, but how little you think of yourself.” Scott continued. “You are a beautiful, intelligent young woman with so much to offer. How can you let what other people might think mean so much to you? How could you let some misguided need for social position determine how you treat another human being—your own grandmother, for God’s sake!”
“That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it Mr. Scott Lancer? Sitting there on your lofty pedestal.” Miranda could feel her anger beginning to rise. “You never have to worry about doors being closed in your face, do you? And now that I think about it, you weren’t all that forthcoming yourself, were you? Seems to me that you rather conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention much about that brother of yours while you were busy gallivanting around San Francisco!”
Scott smiled. She still didn’t know the half of it, and most likely she never would. “Having Johnny for a brother is the best thing that ever happened to me. If I didn’t have much to say about him, it’s because you weren’t interested in hearing anything about Lancer, or my life here. All you ever wanted to talk about was Boston, or the most recent social invitation you had received.”
“So where does this leave us? Miranda questioned. “I can’t believe you’re willing to put everything we had aside over a simple misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding! I think this goes a bit beyond misunderstanding, Miranda. I’d like to think that you’re just young, that the implications of what’s happened here will make more sense to you in a few years.”
“But that’s not what you really think.”
“Even if we could find some way to put this business with your grandmother behind us, can you honestly tell me that you’d be happy here, on this ranch?” Scott looked at her closely. “Where the biggest social event is a church dance or a barbeque after round-up?”
“Are you, Scott Lancer? Can you stand there and tell me that this is all you want out of life?”
In truth it was the same question he’d been asking himself recently. Coming to Lancer three years ago had presented him with a number of enormous challenges, and he had confronted each one with an eagerness that surprised even him. Although he was an experienced horseman and skilled with a rifle, life on the ranch had given him a whole new set of skills to master. He felt confident now that he could handle virtually any situation this unruly land could throw at him. Lately, though, the tasks had become mundane, boring even, and he found himself wondering if he could truly be content in this life.
Learning to navigate the treacherous waters of his new found family had proven even more daunting. Meeting his father for the first time in twenty-five years would have been difficult enough for any man, but learning about a brother he never even knew he had topped everything he had experienced in his life so far.
For endless months, it seemed that the fate of the newly formed family rested squarely on his shoulders. Murdoch Lancer could be a demanding and obstinate taskmaster, especially when it came to his ranch. And the conflicted feelings he had for Maria Lancer spilled out all too often onto her son. He was terrified of losing Johnny—either to his old life or some new enemy, but he could no more put that into words than he could stop the sun from rising.
Johnny was no less difficult. His volatile younger sibling could try the patience of a saint. The self-reliance which had kept him alive through a catastrophic childhood and adolescence did not lend itself to a tranquil family life. It had taken a great deal of patience on all their parts to convince Johnny that he was worthy of simply being loved.
Things were better between them now, much better. Somewhere along the way, his father and his brother had made peace with their respective pasts and laid the specter of Maria Lancer to rest. In fact, there seemed to be an emotional closeness between the two now which sometimes left him feeling as though he were the odd man out. Perhaps it was time he did something about that.
Despite the difficulties of life here—the long back-breaking days, the ungodly hour at which they were obligated to rise, the stupid cows that persisted in infuriating him at every turn, there was a vigor to this life which he had never known before. There was a raw honesty about its people which the Eastern intelligentsia could only dream about.
Scott was aware that Miranda was still waiting for a response. “Yes,” he finally managed, the realization coming to him. “This may be about the last place I ever planned to spend my life, but somehow it’s exactly the place I want to be.”
“Senora Calderone,” Murdoch offered the older woman his hand. “I’m so glad you were able to come and stay with us for awhile. My son John will be very pleased.”
“I am the one who is grateful, Mr. Lancer. Your kindness is much appreciated.”
Barranca tucked his haunches underneath and dug into the soft sand beneath him. Aboard the palomino, Johnny tightened the lariat around his saddle horn and eased the steer on to firmer ground, his arms singing with the effort. He had been at this for hours now and he was just about done in. “You could have helped me, you know!” he finally launched at Scott.
“No, dear brother, I couldn’t. Murdoch’s orders, remember?”
Johnny clambered down from the animal and flopped to the ground. “Murdoch said nothing about me dyin’ out here while you sit under that foolish tree!”
“Ah, but he did very specifically say that this was to be your job. That I do remember. Let’s see, something about a saloon, a bottle of tequila, and a plate glass window if I recall.”
“All right, all right. You don’t have to remind me.” He’d heard enough about it from the good people of Green River already. Not to mention what Val had to say to him about it. “Besides, Murdoch ain’t here.”
“But he is here in spirit, little brother.” Scott shot a look at Johnny. “How far do you suppose they’ve gone?”
He considered the question. “Depends. It’s been almost two weeks. I’m sure they’re across the border by now. Tijuana or maybe Mexicali.” The old man better have taken his advice and skirted Nogales. Johnny stretched out in the grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face.
The family had enjoyed the extended visit of the matriarch. Rosa Calderone had lived much of her life in California, and her tales of life on the grand Mexican estancias in the early part of the century had them all enthralled. Murdoch in particular had a newfound curiosity about the origins of the hacienda they all now called home. Scott suspected it was one of the reasons Murdoch insisted on escorting Senora Calderone home to Mexico City himself. It was a long shot that any of the records from that period still survived, but Murdoch seemed interested in searching.
And although he tried to hide it, Johnny seemed fascinated by the romantic story of her long and happy marriage to Ana’s father. Sam Reynolds had been one of the first Anglos to make his home this far west and Scott felt it did his brother good to hear of a mixed marriage that didn’t end in disaster.
“You headin’ to Sacramento in the morning?” Johnny spared a quick glance at his brother. He had been quiet, too quiet since Miranda Johnson’s abrupt departure from the ranch. He had no doubt that Scott was well rid of the girl, but he had conflicting feelings about his own role in the breakup of their relationship.
Scott nodded affirmatively. It seemed that there were forces in the state capitol who were none too happy with some of the details of his business venture. Well, that was just too bad for them. His plan stood to improve the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people and he intended to stick by it. “If you’re sure you can manage without me.”
“Manage? Without you or Murdoch? Brother, it’s like a dream come true—sleeping in every morning, tamales for supper every night. Sounds like heaven to me!”
Scott grinned. “Well, just don’t get too used to it. My business shouldn’t take that long. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You gonna give those lawmakers what for?” It would almost be worth the long trip to Sacramento to see his brother at work. There weren’t many who could match him when it came to arguin’, especially about something he believed in so strongly.
Scott shook his head. “Well, that’s the idea. I don’t know though…”
“You don’t know what?
“It’s a dirty business, politics. No one ever says what they really mean, at least to your face. They might act like they support you…” Scott grimaced. “Never mind, you wouldn’t …”
“I wouldn’t what, brother?”
Scott gave him a tight smile, chagrined at his own words. “I was about to say you wouldn’t understand,” he admitted. “Sorry.” The truth was his brother saw things with a clarity that escaped most others. Johnny also knew this state and its people with a perspective which was radically different from his own. It could be just the advantage he’d been looking for. “Let me tell you what I have planned.”