Disclaimer: Usual blah, blah, blah.
Johnny peered around the open door to the Great Room, hoping against hope that his brother was there, and his father was not. So far, so good, he thought, seeing that both of his father’s chairs -- the one behind the desk, and the one next to the fireplace -- were empty. He leaned forward a bit, craning his neck to take a good look at the couch. Scott had an annoying habit of sprawling out on the large sofa, usually with a book propped against his slim thighs. “Pssst,” he hissed. Nothing. He tried again, a bit louder. “PSSST!” Still nothing.
“Looking for something, brother?”
The deep baritone came from behind him, and Johnny fairly jumped right out of his skin. “Jesus, Scott. How many times do I gotta tell you? Don’t do that!” He turned and aimed a punch at his brother’s arm; immediately turning the attempted poke into a gentler brushing off.
Suspicious, Scott eyed his baby brother; gingerly lifting the boy’s hand away from his arm. “So what do you want?” he asked.
Johnny smiled. But then, remembering why he had been looking for his brother, the grin faded. “Need to talk,” he said. “Where’s Murdoch?”
Scott waved towards the interior of the Great Room. Johnny, he knew, had been judiciously avoiding their father ever since being called to task for mercilessly teasing their sister earlier that very evening. “He rode over to Aggie’s. She’s cooking dinner for him tonight.” He led the way into the room, turning slightly to grin at his brother. “It is Valentine’s Day, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” Johnny muttered. “T’resa’s been goin’ on about it for days. Mateo took her in to that fandango the Pritchard’s are tossin’.”
The blond had eased himself into Murdoch’s chair beside the fireplace. He promptly put his feet up on the black leather ottoman and made himself comfortable. “And you weren’t invited?” he teased.
Johnny had dropped down onto the couch. He shot his brother a dark look. “Like that had a chance in Hell of happenin’.” Teresa was still angry with him because he had teased her about the Valentine cards she had made and passed out to everyone, it seemed, it two counties. “Where’s it wrote down a man’s ‘sposed to buy all them fancy cards on Holidays,” he groused. “Accordin’ to T’resa, I’m ‘sposed to get her cards for Thanksgivin’, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s…” he was ticking off the days as he counted them, “Valentine’s Day, Easter…”
“You forgot December 19th,” Scott interrupted, straight-faced.
The brunet frowned, his eyes narrowing. This time he did punch his brother. “That’s your birthday!” he groused.
Scott gave a wave of his hand. “You’re telling me you don’t think I’m worthy of a card on my birthday?” he asked. “Or perhaps a national Holiday?”
“Fuck you!” the younger man snorted. Then, remembering why he wanted to talk to his brother, he immediately apologized. “Sorry.”
“Of course you are,” Scott laughed. “Now, what do you want?” It was the second time he’d asked the question.
Johnny inhaled. “Need to borrow some money,” he announced.
“Why?” Scott was having a difficult time keeping a straight face.
The youth’s head snapped up. His brother knew damned good and well the Old Man was making him pay for the leaded crystal decanter -- just filled with Taliskers -- he had knocked off the drink table when Murdoch had caught him sneaking a shot of tequila. It took him a minute to think of a good lie. “Need to buy T’resa somethin’ to make up for not gettin’ her a stupid card,” he answered, putting on his best puppy dog face.
Scott was nodding his head. He had just come forward in the chair and was about to stand up. “Of course,” he murmured. And then, straightening. “Nope.” Without looking back, he headed for the hallway.
“What!?” Johnny jumped up to join his brother.
Scott had paused at the mirror that hung next to the hat rack. “I said ‘nope’,” Scott answered, smoothing his hair in place. He grinned at his brother’s reflection. “It’s the middle of the month, little brother. Another two weeks before we get paid.” Which is exactly how long it had been since his baby brother had been off the ranch. “And I have a few Valentine’s I want to deliver myself. In town.”
It was then that the younger Lancer son noticed his brother had actually cleaned up and was looking pretty damned spiffy. “You’re gonna go see Rachel Fairchild,” he accused.
“Amongst others,” Scott beamed. He reached out, taking his Stetson from the hat rack.
Johnny felt like he had been abandoned to the wolves. Even Jelly had left earlier to visit a lady friend in Green River. And the Old Man. Hell, by now, Murdoch and Aggie were probably canoodlin’ like a couple of jackrabbits. “C’mon, Scott,” he begged. “Quit jokin’ around.”
Scott was already heading across the threshold. “Who’s joking?” he retorted.
The brunet was now staring at the closed front door. His brother was long gone. “Son…of…a…bitch!” he swore. Behind him, in the Great Room, the ticking of the Grandfather clock mocked him.
Dejected, Johnny headed for the kitchen and the comfort of food. At least Maria’s still here, he thought; his spirit lifting, but not that much. “Hey, Mamácita,” he called.
The kitchen was empty. Disbelieving, he went to the back door and opened it; just in time to see Maria walking arm and arm with Carlos Baptista, the new farrier Murdoch had just hired.
And there weren’t even any leftovers in the pie pantry. “Happy fuckin’ Valentine’s Day,” he muttered.
Slowly, Johnny climbed the back stairs leading up from the kitchen. He couldn’t believe it; he was all alone, the house was empty, and -- thanks to his stingy, lousy stinkin’ brother -- he was broke.
He opened the door to his bedroom, sighing a bit as he crossed the floor. He wandered about the room, his fingers skimming the surface of his dresser, the bedside table; the brass bed stead. Finally giving up, he flopped down onto the bed, his arms lifting above his head to bunch the pillows. And then he felt it. Something poking him in the back of his neck, just behind his right ear.
Sitting up, Johnny reached out, picking up the square-shaped envelope. Curious, he slipped the tip of his little finger in the upper corner, prying the edges loose.
He recognized the red paper as the same stuff Teresa had been snipping, gluing and cutting for the past two days. Only the handwriting was different. He eased the paper out of the envelope, reading aloud the Happy Valentine’s Day, Brother! Two twenty dollar gold pieces tumbled into his lap.
Scrambling to his feet, he took off like a shot. He was down the stairs and across the courtyard in less time than he could clean his plate. Stepping into the darkness of the barn, he hesitated a bit to let his eyes adjust to the dimly lit interior. Barranca’s stall was empty. “Damn it!” he muttered, puzzled.
Just then, Scott stepped out of the darkness at the end of the long corridor. He was leading Barranca and Cheval. “What took you so long, brother?” he laughed.