Rated NC-17 for sexual
and strong language.
His Chapter 1
She was in his eyes simply beautiful, perfect in every way and at eighteen ripe and ready to be taken, ready and willing for a man to lead her gently into womanhood. Johnny wanted to be that man. He wanted to be the first to see her naked, the first to taste her flesh, to touch and tease and probe and take, and more importantly, give. He wanted her naked beneath him, he wanted to enter her and feel the resistance and hear the moan of exquisite pain as he took her, as he claimed her virginity, and with his hands, mouth and his manhood brought her to an exhilarating climax.
She wanted him too, he could tell. He
knew by the way she looked at him, knew she was trying to imagine him naked,
wondering how it would be to have him take her, to feel his weight on her and
allow him to do what no other man had done, and what no other man would do to
her, not as long as he lived.
They had recently shared a host of stolen kisses, each one a little more passionate than the last, each subsequent one a little harder to pull away from, and each one driving him crazy with desire. Only the fact that they had been within the hearing of others had prevented those kisses from becoming something even more intimate.
//Damn// Teresa was his and he didn’t think he could wait much longer before he proved that to her and to himself.
He’d not had a woman in months, not
since he had felt the first stirrings of love for the girl who had once told him
to think of her as his sister. Sister! At first maybe, but not now, and not ever
Those stirrings, those very same feelings were mirrored in the dark brown eyes, and he knew the tiny brunette was the only one he wanted. He ached with need, need any one of the girls at the saloon could satisfy at a price, but the price now that he had lost his heart to Teresa was just too high. How could he leave a whore’s bed and look Miss O’Brien in the eye?
Just the thought of her made him hard, painfully hard, and knowing she was so near added to the torture. Her room was just down the hallway, mere feet away. He had thought about creeping into her room, knowing she would melt into his arms but he also knew it was wrong, or would be in his father’s eyes.
Teresa was Murdoch's ward, his responsibility and he had made it clear he wanted only the best for her. Marriage to an upstanding man of the community was what the patriarch had set his sights on. It was what Paul O’Brien would want, and Murdoch strove to nurture and guide his friend’s daughter like he would have done. Johnny was sure his father would run him off with a gun if he had any inkling of his true feelings for Teresa. He also knew he would fall far short of his father’s expectations of a husband for his ‘daughter’.
He didn’t blame the Old Man, he only
wanted her to be happy and loved and cherished, and as much as Johnny wanted to
be the one to make all that a reality he understood what his father’s
reservations would be. Johnny had a past. A past that could, at any time, turn
up on their doorstep bringing untold heartache, and even death, to Lancer.
Murdoch would only frown on a relationship between them. He would certainly not
approve of their union and that very belief was the source of all Johnny’s
present woes. He didn’t want to go against his father, he didn’t want to hurt or
lose him, and that would be the price of Teresa’s hand. Yet if that was what he
had to do to be with the woman he loved, then so be it.
As the hacienda settled around him, he heard the familiar creaks and groans of its aging timbers, he knew every sound, except for that one.
Someone else was awake, someone else was as restless as he and that someone was opening his bedroom door.
“Teresa!” Johnny whispered in alarm. God help her, and him, if Murdoch were to wake and find them meeting so clandestinely.
The very sound of her voice breathlessly whispering his name caused his heart to swell and his desire to increase tenfold. Throwing back his covers he welcomed her into his bed, seeking her tender and pliable lips and molding them to his own. Her thin cotton gown was all that separated them now but he forced down the urge to rip it from her. He didn’t want to frighten her; he wanted her first time to be something exquisite, something she would remember for all the right reasons. He would make sure she remembered for all time his gentle, desire-filled lovemaking, and not look back at tonight as her simply giving herself up to the lust-filled demands of a needy man.
As their kisses deepened, their tongues melding deliciously together, the heat between them grew and his hands wandered to her breasts. He felt them swell at his touch, the soft nipples hardening into the exotic fruit he wanted so desperately to devour. One hand moved provocatively down to her thigh and she gasped as he briefly stroked the flesh there before tugging at her gown, pulling it upwards to reveal the treasures hidden beneath.
For one heart stopping moment as she withdrew from his lips and his arms he believed her intention was to flee his bed but instead she had clawed at her gown, stripping it from her, like him, wanting nothing between them. His mouth had hungrily taken one beaded nipple into its core, punishing it with his teeth, to then sooth it with his tongue. Teresa had loudly moaned her pleasure and he had instantly sought to silence her with his mouth. They couldn’t be heard, they couldn’t be disturbed, not now, not now they were so close to becoming one.
“Sshh,” Johnny begged, his mouth again
trailing down to the rosy peak he had so often tasted in his dreams. Clamping
his mouth on his prize he felt Teresa quiver helplessly at his touch, her arms
wrapping around him, her legs entwining erotically with his. While his mouth was
occupied tormenting one nipple, his left hand tantalized the other breast, and
his free hand moved purposefully down to briefly rest against the flat stomach
he prayed would one day swell with his child. That thought ignited still further
desire and his hand moved further down, finding the so very sensitive, and
highly desired, area between Teresa’s legs. That very first contact drew another
moan of pleasure from his lover and as one finger gently invaded her she writhed
enticingly beside him.
Claiming her mouth again he sought to silence the increasingly impassioned noises passing her lips. She was almost ready, almost at the point she could take his first and not so gentle thrusts, almost ready to allow his thick, rigid length to enter into her moist and so far unexplored depths.
Gently at first but slowly increasing their pressure his fingers caressed and teased the tiny mound he would soon rasp wildly against with his manhood. Slowly he brought Teresa to a peak and then finally as he felt her ready to erupt he covered her, her legs opening still wider, allowing him the access he so craved. One hand firmly pinned Teresa in just the right place as he guided his throbbing mass into her. She moaned her pleasure as the very first thrust drove him into her very core. There had been no pain and her hips had risen to meet his next and increasingly violent thrusts, their bodies lost in an age-old dance of passion, to finally convulse together, his seed spilling deep inside her. Exhausted and sated they had lain together in silence, their thundering hearts and ragged breathing the only sounds to be heard, until the bedroom door flew open and lamplight spilled into the room, falling across their still entwined forms.
Teresa reached for the sheet, trying desperately to cover her nakedness as Johnny lunged from the bed hastily pulling on his pants to face his father with as much dignity as was possible.
“I love her Murdoch!” Johnny exclaimed as the older man thundered towards him. The first blow sent him reeling, Teresa’s screams drowning out the filthy names his father was calling him. Two huge hands dragged him to his feet only for the impact of the second blow to send him violently back to the floor. Struggling to catch his breath, pain and anger now vying for supremacy, Johnny blindly fought back. His left fist smashed into the bridge of his father's nose, temporarily halting the man's enraged onslaught. Scrambling for his boots, rig and clothing, Johnny crashed into the door jam before succeeding in racing through the now open door. With no thought for his destination Johnny plunged headlong down the hall, knocking his brother aside in his attempt to escape the man now following hotly on his heels.
Vaguely Johnny was aware of Maria's voice answering Jelly's gruff demand for explanation. The entire household was now converging on the scene of violence where once, although briefly, nothing but love had abounded. At the bottom of the stairs Johnny whirled around to face his pursuer. Scott closed the gap between brother and father, and now stood behind the Lancer patriarch, his face a mask of shock and confusion. Teresa's sobs drew ever nearer, her tremulous voice pleading with her guardian for an audience.
"What the hell is going on?" Scott exploded.
"I'll kill you with my bare hands, you bastard!" Murdoch raged, dangerously close to overwhelming any sensibilities the man had left.
The sound of the Colt being cocked brought the panic-stricken members of the Lancer household to a sudden, ear-splitting silence. The Colt had appeared as if by magic and now loomed steadily, menacingly in Murdoch Lancer's face.
"It doesn't have to be this way," Johnny Madrid coldly advised his sire. "We can still work this out."
"How dare you? Under my roof, with your sister!"
"She ain't my sister, Murdoch, she could be my wife!" Murdoch jerked backward as if struck, his jaw gaping.
"Would someone please tell me what is going on?" Once more Scott pleaded for understanding, a voice of calm, reason in the midst of the tempest that had once been his family.
"A minor difference of opinion, brother. Nothing more."
"It sure ain't what I heard." Jelly
”Get out!” Murdoch thundered “I don’t ever want to see you again!”
His Chapter 2
With no idea of where he was going he urged the stallion on, the mighty steed covering mile after endless mile with effortless ease. His intention was to put as much distance between himself and his old man as was physically possible, yet they were already further apart than they had ever been before.
Johnny had never seen his father so angry, and in all their heated and bitter arguments his father had never raised a hand to him, even though there had been occasions when he believed his verbal onslaughts had warranted such. Tonight his father had struck, punched him twice, and he had retaliated in kind, and that was something he now deeply regretted. Murdoch had had every right to be angry, to be disappointed in him; he had betrayed the older man's trust. Trust he had fought so hard to win, trust that had meant so very much to him, yet now that trust lay in tatters and he had only himself to blame. When Teresa had come to him willingly falling into his bed and into his arms, he hadn’t stopped to think about the consequences, his only thought to make love to her and to make her his. He’d wanted to make the experience unforgettable for Teresa and hadn’t he just! Murdoch walking in and finding them basking in the wake of passion, he and his father exchanging blows, and finally, him running off into the night leaving Teresa to face the fallout alone had conspired to make this a night she would never forget. It was a cowardly act in his own eyes but one he truly thought was for the best. Murdoch had been beyond reason and Johnny had had no intention of allowing the older man to release his wrath, whether physically or verbally on him, something he knew his father would one day regret. Or would he? Maybe Murdoch really believed beating him to within an inch of his life was just punishment for his crime; “How dare you, under my roof, with your sister?” But she wasn’t his sister. Not the blooded kind. And surely the older man didn’t really see them as such. They had met just over a year ago, the uneasy, tentative relationship of those first few days slowly but surely turning into a loving friendship he had cherished.
Teresa had made it all so easy, her warmth and her genuine kindness wrapping around him, drawing him in and smothering all his insecurities and fears. She had seen right through him, had seen beyond the cynical and scornful air he had arrived with, had teased and cajoled his true self out from behind its barriers. He had always felt so safe in her presence, or rather; he knew she would never hurt him emotionally.
When had that friendship turned into something deeper? He wasn’t quite sure; it had been a gradual thing, something he had tried to deny, to dismiss, until he could do neither without feeling a deep sense of loss. And just as he had learned to live with the pain that denial caused, he had seen the very same flame flickering in Teresa’s eyes. These last few months had passed quickly, their blossoming romance kept secret at first because their mutual feelings had surprised them both, and they had wanted to be sure that what they were feeling was the real thing. It hadn’t taken very long for them to realize that it was, that their love for each other was deepening every day, yet for Johnny that had proved their undoing. As much as he loved Teresa he didn’t believe he deserved her love. That doubt had grown, spreading out to encompass his family and how they would view their romance.
Scott would be surprised, he knew that, Johnny's only real confidant in life, and he had not given his brother the slightest hint that he and Teresa were, what was the phrase? 'Courting’ maybe if Scott hadn’t been so occupied romancing the lovely Rachel Bennett; he’d have found the right opportunity to broach the matter. But Scott had been spending most of his free time with Rachel, Johnny seeing less and less of his older brother. What Johnny had wanted, needed to hear was some reassurance that Murdoch wouldn’t dismiss their romance as unthinkable.
The longer the secret had continued the harder it had become to come clean, guilt then creeping into the equation. So, they had continued to do what he supposed was tantamount to sneaking around behind everyone’s back. How could he have gotten it so wrong?
But their love wasn’t wrong, perhaps their lovemaking was. Did he regret their lovemaking? No! How could he, it had been everything he could hope for. She had given herself to him totally and unreservedly, trusting and honoring him with her body’s most precious gift. What he did regret was their timing, and the fact it had taken place in his room in his father’s house, but mostly that it had happened without the sanctity and security of a wedding ring.
Teresa had been raised with strict
values, morals and principles. She was what he would call a ‘good girl’. He’d
known enough ‘bad girls’ in his time to know the difference. There was no doubt
in his mind that Teresa would never have crossed the boundary with anyone but
//What a mess! What a terrible, and so unnecessary, mess. If only he’d been able to control his desire. Why hadn’t he chased her out of his room, done the right thing, the decent thing? Why? Because the right thing at the time had been to hold her, to love her and for her to hold and love him. Now, of course, he realized that the right thing had a condition applied to it; it had to take place at the right time and that so called right time would have come eventually. Waiting would have perhaps made it all the more special, and that a ring on Teresa’s finger would have made their lovemaking no ones business but their own. No one would question his right to love her so intimately then.
He had to go back but not now, not when emotions were running so very high. First thing in the morning he would face his father and make his intentions toward Teresa clear. He wanted her for his wife. He would go about it the right way this time and ask his father for her hand in marriage.
Maria’s high pitched scolding permeated through Teresa’s bedroom door and drifted downstairs, leaving Scott in no doubt of the tongue lashing his little ‘sister’ was receiving. But Teresa was not so little, she had made that abundantly clear tonight. She was a woman, and had made a conscious decision to enter into an adult relationship with his brother. He could still hear her words echoing in his head, words that had stunned him and everyone present with her declaration of love for the man she had just willingly given herself too.
Maria had been the first to speak, ushering the girl upstairs, drowning out her hysterical sobs with her own angry tirade. Jelly had stared after the two women. Uncharacteristically lost for words he had made his way silently back to his room, normally he would have followed Johnny but not tonight. He wasn’t sure what he thought of the situation. Like everyone else it had come as a complete surprise to him, and like the boy’s father he didn’t approve of such goings on.
Realizing he was alone, Scott strode into the great room not at all surprised to see his father helping himself to a large whisky, swallowing it down in one gulp to then replenish his glass and repeat the exercise once more.
“That won’t help!” Scott snapped “We have to talk about this, not bury it at the bottom of a glass!”
“Talk about it! What is there to talk
about? Your brother just, just destroyed everything we had, everything!” Murdoch
stumbled over the words, emotions getting the better of him, and he dropped
heavily into his chair. Despair lay heavy on his shoulders. “I don’t understand.
How could he, how could he, she is just a child.”
”No!” Scott roared. “Teresa is not a child; you heard her, her words were that of a woman, and more to the point she expressed the sentiments of a woman in love. Teresa loves Johnny and he…”
Slamming his fist down onto his desk Murdoch bellowed back. “NO! He took advantage of a young girl's crush, he lured her into his bed, took her innocence. He doesn’t love her, he just used her!”
”You don’t believe that Murdoch. You know Johnny better than that. For God's sake think this out!”
“I thought I knew him. I thought I could
trust him but how could I be so wrong. I don’t know that boy at all and I don’t
want to know him!”
"Murdoch! You need to calm down. Don't make a mistake you will live to regret."
"Regret? I already did that. I should never have brought Johnny Madrid to my home."
"Madrid? Your home? Look, no matter what has happened we are still family. You can not turn your back on Johnny now. Teresa is by no means innocent in all this. She went to him!" Scott's anger, once a smoldering flame, now threatened to escape his tenuous hold. Struggling to maintain control of a situation that was anything but calm, he took a deep breath before plunging on.
"We all need to calm down, sleep on
this. Maybe in the morning it will look different."
"Scott, how can it look like anything but what it is? How can the dawn make it appear better? Your brother betrayed my trust. He hurt Teresa and I will not forgive that." Sorrow flowed freely through Murdoch's words; self inflicted agony tore his heart in two, as he determined to disown his younger son.
"No! He did not hurt her. He loved her! You are making a terrible mistake old man, one that is going to hurt all of us! They, I mean you; at least deserve a chance to talk this out. You have to give them that chance. Listen to them."
"I have done all my talking!" Murdoch roared.
"You lost your son once before. You will lose him again and perhaps Teresa, too. God help you Murdoch, God help us all."
As the door closed behind Maria, Teresa
flung herself onto her bed, burying her face in her pillow to stifle her sobs.
Her heart was breaking, her mind in an equal amount of pain. It wasn’t supposed
to be like this. Surely loving someone wasn’t supposed to hurt.
Night after night she had wrestled with her feelings, ignored the longings that demanded address but tonight her body had betrayed her, and in one moment of weakness she had jumped from her bed and made her way to Johnny’s. He hadn’t tried to send her away, wanting her as much as she had wanted him, taking her in the gentle love filled way she knew he would. It had felt so right, so good; leaving her the happiest she had ever been as she had cradled him in her arms, his manhood nestling inside of her. She ached where he had once been, was only now feeling the effects of his desire-fueled possession, but what discomfort there was, was welcome, a reminder of what they had shared.
It wasn’t a topic openly discussed but
she had known what to expect when her time came to be with a man. Maria had,
some years back, shyly filled her in on the basics and having lived on the ranch
all her life she had already, by that time, witnessed the most basic elements of
mating. But where there was no emotion in the copulating of cattle and horses,
the beasts simply answering the innate need to sustain their species. She was
fully aware of what a woman should feel for the man who took her maidenhood, and
that equal amounts of love and devotion would be the price of her surrender.
She hadn’t wanted to disappoint him, she knew she was not the first woman he had lain with and pleasured. So she had thrown herself into this, her very first encounter with the male form, deliberately stripping herself of her girlish fears and inhibitions in the same moment she had stripped off her gown. In doing so, she had been openly receptive and responsive to his touch, yielding, giving and sharing in his pleasure and almost drowning in her own.
But that beautiful moment when their
love had been consummated had been so very short lived, turning to horror as her
guardian had attacked his own son, verbally and physically. Johnny had been
forced to defend himself, lashing out at the father she knew he adored.
Never had she seen Murdoch so angry. She had been terrified for Johnny, the older man intent on inflicting his rage on his own flesh and blood. He hadn’t even looked at her, her pleas and subsequent demands all falling on deaf ears, that was until Johnny had left the hacienda, only then had the pale blue eyes sought hers. Hurt and betrayal had screamed out from them. Briefly she had expected to feel the back of his hand too, but he had seemingly gained some control by then and instead listened silently as she had, with the courage found from God knows where, announced her love for Johnny and that nothing, not even the mighty Murdoch Lancer would come between them.
As her tears continued to flow Teresa’s hand moved to her breast, aware she bore the marks of Johnny’s passion, but what else of his did she carry? It had been her very first time, was it possible to conceive so quickly? The thought instead of worrying her filled her with warmth. She wanted to have his child; she wanted the world to know she had lain with him. Her swollen belly would be proof of his love for her, the child she would bear him proof of her love for him. Placing both hands where Johnny had once so tenderly caressed her, she prayed her womb would ripen, that God would grant them a child to love.
His Chapter 3
The great house had slept, restlessly, painfully, its occupants collapsing under the weight of sheer exhaustion, their emotions and minds too numb to cope with even the effort of wakefulness. One by one members of the Lancer family awoke, hoping the night before had been but a dream, yet with the first light of day, harsh reality slammed into their minds with vivid clarity, jolting them again with the shock of the night's events. There had been no peace, no relief, and each awoke full of dread, uncertain how to face the other.
Teresa faced the open window, full of longing and worry. Where was he? Where had he run to? Was his heart breaking for her as hers was for him? Tears threatened once more and she rolled onto her stomach, burying her face in her pillows, her sobs muffled in the fine linen fabric. The pain was unbearable, unending, until they were together once more. But, when would they be together again? She knew he would come for her; he had committed himself to her in one act of love. She knew he was hers, as she was his. But when would he come? And how? Could they face Murdoch, make him understand. Questions tripped over questions in her mind, taunting, teasing, mocking her.
What had they done? What had she done? This whole sorry mess was of her own doing. Last night it had all seemed so right, but this morning she knew it had been so very wrong. She had not only let her family down but more importantly herself too. What must they think of her, what must Murdoch think of her now? Last night she hadn’t cared what they thought. Now, in the cold light of day it seemed she hadn’t been thinking at all, not when she had crept into Johnny’s room, nor when she had jumped so readily into his bed and certainly not during their lovemaking!
She had literally thrown herself at him, made it virtually impossible for him to turn her away. She had known how much he wanted her long before she had entered his room, but she also knew he would never have made the first move, that it wasn’t until she had offered herself up to him on a plate that he had weakened to desire. It hadn’t seemed that way at the time but now she realized that was how it looked.
The terrible truth
was she had willingly lain with a man out of wedlock, consummated their love
only for it to be discovered and decried by the very people they wanted the
approval of. Johnny had been the one punished, the one disowned, yet she was the
one rightly to blame. Thank God her father wasn’t here to see her behave so very
badly. What would he have thought of her? Would he have been able to forgive her
such an indiscretion? Would his anger and disgust have been turned on her rather
than Johnny or would they have both suffered his wrath? Murdoch had solely
blamed Johnny, enraged he had called his own son terrible things, his
accusations stopping just short of rape. She had stood up to her guardian making
it plain that she had been willing, more than willing. How disappointed and
disgusted with her he must be. Pain exploded once more and her sobs were
In the hallway,
Murdoch stopped outside the door to her room. Her muffled sobs reached through
the space between them, touching his heart with her anguish. His resolve
weakened as compassion flared in his heart. He had known such pain, not once but
twice; he understood the despair. He raised his hand to the door handle, the
urge to comfort his child paramount, only to hesitate when he realized she may
not want his words, his love.
Last night she had witnessed a side of him she couldn’t comprehend, a violent, unforgiving side, a side she had never witnessed before, one he himself hadn’t known existed. She had been terrified, terrified for Johnny, and most likely even for herself. Her screams had echoed around the room, her shrill pleas ignored he had hit his son for a second time, sending him crashing to the floor. Blind rage had robbed him of all reason. If Johnny hadn’t fought back God knows his fists would have continued to brutally punish the boy. Later, as Johnny had disappeared into the night she had turned her anger on him. Trembling, tears falling endlessly from her pain-filled eyes she had stared up at his towering form, assailing him with a torrent of accusations and assertions, her words registering but failing to have any impact at that time.
His hand fell away
from the door, his feet moved seemingly of their own accord, carrying him away
from the hurt and unhappiness she blamed him for. He was scared of her reaction
to his presence, terrified of making her hate him even more.
Scott watched his father linger undecidedly outside Teresa’s door. Holding his breath, he silently urged the older man to make the first move, to give just a little certain that was all it would take to open up the doors that had closed between them last night. But with shoulders slumped as if carrying the weight of the world upon them, Murdoch had made his way downstairs. Scott closed his eyes against the rush of despair, opening them just seconds later as he made the decision to speak to the girl himself.
The firm rap on the door startled Teresa and her head snapped up. Scott’s soft plea for entry drove her to her feet. She hastily wrapped her shawl around her shoulders before wiping at the tears that continued to fall.
“Come in, she called, uncomfortably
aware of the tremor in her voice. As the door opened she tensed, her resolve to
be strong crumbling the instant Scott entered the room. Her gaze fell to the
floor, tears blinding her as a sob escaped her lips and she wrapped her arms
around herself, never having felt so alone.
In two strides he had reached her, pulled her into his arms, hugging her gently desperate to ease her distress. Long minutes passed until finally her sobs ceased leaving only silent tears to course down her cheeks.
“Do you hate me?”
The question stunned Scott. How could she possibly think he could? Gripping Teresa’s shoulders Scott waited for the brown eyes to meet his.
“Nothing has changed, I love you. Will
always love you. Never doubt that.”
Drawing the trembling form back into his embrace one burning question escaped his lips.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
The dawn chill caused him to shiver as
he stepped out into the new day. Inhaling deeply he savored the scents of
morning, his eyes drinking in the beauty he called home. He loved this land, for
so many years it had been all he had to call his own. Two wives and two sons
beyond his reach, but his love for them had never wavered, not even for Maria,
not even after she had left him and taken their son. How many years had he
searched for them, praying they would be found? He had prayed for Johnny’s
safety, prayed the boy would be loved and cared for, begged on his knees for the
higher power to bring his son home. One prayer had at last been answered; Johnny
was back in his life, but along with what had at times seemed insurmountable
difficulties. But they had beaten down most of the barriers that separated them,
worked long and hard to form a relationship, a relationship he had hoped to be
an unbreakable bond.
At first the boy had seemed to go out of his way to antagonize his father. His sass, lack of respect, and downright orneriness challenging his father’s control on a seemingly daily basis. Murdoch had reacted at times, most times in fact, hiding his hurt and helplessness behind masks of anger and indifference. It had been a painfully slow process but some where along the line Johnny had accepted him, had acknowledged him as his father, and had begun to show him some respect. Eventually Murdoch had sensed Johnny’s feelings for him had turned to love. A lump formed in the patriarch’s throat. Knowing the boy had let go of his hate had been a momentous moment in Murdoch’s life, and one from what he thought there would be no turning back. Yet, there had been issues he knew needed tackling, facets of Johnny he hadn’t managed to reach. The insecure part of him, the worthlessness he tried to hide, his inability to trust. He hadn’t known how to deal with those, had hoped the raw wounds responsible would heal in time now that Johnny was part of a family and knew he was loved.
As Murdoch had lain awake, tossing and turning the endless hours away, he had struggled to understand why neither one of his children had come to him and talked their feelings for each other over with him. Was he really such an ogre? Was he so unapproachable? The answer to that had disturbed him. There had been occasions, many occasions when he had jumped down Johnny’s throat, had not given him the benefit of the doubt, had openly shown him some mistrust. So he had realized that he had, instead of quashing Johnny’s deepest fears, added to their intensity and that was what had to be behind their inexplicable need for secrecy.
Scanning the horizon as some niggling
instinct drew his attention there he narrowed his eyes as a rider rode into
view. Relief mingled with anxiety, unsure of what he must do to mend what had
been broken, to hold onto his loved ones. As Scott had said, he had lost the boy
once; he didn’t want to lose him again. //No matter what// he told himself //he
wouldn’t lose him now//
Heading back to the house Murdoch decided to wait for his son inside, where they would talk, and more importantly he would listen.
The sprawling hacienda loomed ahead, and as always Johnny felt the same sense of belonging on seeing it. The word home echoed in his head and a melancholy gripped him. He didn’t want to lose all this, he would fight to keep it, fight to hold onto to everything Lancer was, and at the heart of Lancer was his father.
Stern, cold and distant, that’s the impression he’d formed that very first day. The giant of a man had seemed such a daunting figure to him then, even Madrid had been wary of him. After Teresa had confronted him with the truth about his father, Johnny had decided to give the old grouch a chance, surprised and elated to find he actually liked the man. Like turned to respect and into what still confused Johnny, love. But no matter how their relationship had developed, no matter how certain he was of the older man's love for him, he had never been able to place complete trust in him! He wasn’t sure why exactly; although the fact that doing so would have left him open to all sorts of hurt and sorrow had to have been a major factor. It was his worst fear, losing it all, having it ripped from him, taken away because he didn’t really deserve it, and in his heart he didn’t believe he did deserve it. So he had remained on the defensive, taking any and all of his father’s outburst and slights to heart, bolstering his fear of eventual rejection.
How many times had he told himself to let go of that fear, of that belief, that it was unreasonable, that it was the only thing still coming between him and Murdoch. He hadn’t been able to and now it had exploded in his face.
But surely it wasn’t too late. Murdoch would be ready to listen to him now; he had to believe that, he had to put his faith in his father to the test. Why hadn’t he had the courage to do so before, it would have saved them all so much heartache?
Minutes later he was dismounting in the
courtyard, his every intention to seek his father out, the first words off his
lips an apology, the next a plea to be heard, but his eyes had fallen on her
immediately. His arms opened to enfold and hug her close.
Lips gently meeting, the fire again burned inside, turning the kiss to something more passionate, something meant for a discrete corner or even a darkened room.
Murdoch watched from the doorway, his temper quick to reach simmering point at what he considered to be a challenging display before him.
“Johnny!” The older man bellowed before storming back into the great room.
Reluctantly Johnny lifted his head from hers, his eyes reassuring her while his own doubts gained access to his heart once more. With a tremulous smile she released him, stepping back out of the way as he passed, her eyes lingering on his straight, but rigid back. Fearfully, she followed at a discreet distance, prepared to stand by him.
Johnny took a deep, cleansing breath, squared his shoulders and entered the great room. His father stood tall and imposing, his hands clasped behind his back. The air in the room seemed alive, crackling with an energy that surrounded both men, walking prickly fingers up and down their backs.
"Murdoch, I wanted to explain," Johnny began softly, determined to maintain the less than firm grip on his temper.
His father continued to regard Johnny silently, a muscle twitched in the older man's cheek as he struggled with his temper, then his eyes sought out the purple bruise on his son's jaw, the mark condemning him for his own lack of control the night before. How could he have struck his own son? Compassion flashed briefly across Murdoch's countenance, then the memory of Teresa beneath his son, naked, her legs entwined in Johnny's exploded before his mind's eye.
"What can you possibly say that will
explain anything?" He demanded.
Johnny fought down the anger rising in his throat. “I love Teresa, I…”
“Love!” Murdoch exploded. “Love isn’t
sneaking into each other’s beds; it isn’t some hurried fumble for fear of being
caught! You have love confused with lust!”
”It wasn’t like that,” Johnny snarled back, his father made it all sound so sordid.
“It was exactly like that! If you loved
Teresa you would have shown her some modicum of respect! Courted her openly,
kept your animal instincts in check!”
”You’ve got some nerve! Have you forgotten how you gave in to your ‘animal instincts’ and took my mother into your bed? Wasn’t she just a quick fumble, aren’t I the result of your lust?” Johnny raged striding to stand within inches of the older man. “I don’t like being compared to you, Old Man!”
Enraged Murdoch found himself again lashing out, determined to silence his son. Johnny stumbled backwards, his father’s open hand having made contact with his face, the stinging slap leaving an instant and vivid red mark on his cheek. Teresa gasped in horror and hurried to Johnny’s side.
”I swear if you lay another hand on me, I’ll kill you!” Johnny growled menacingly, as his father once more let his hand fly.
"Johnny!" But it was Scott who interrupted the rage that flowed in the room, swirling around its occupants, urging them to give in, surrender to its seductive strength. Johnny's head snapped in the direction of the voice, his attention momentarily distracted. A sharp slap resounded in the silence that had followed Scott's cry, then Teresa was crumpling at Johnny's feet, her hand on her cheeks, as tears coursed down her cheeks.
Stunned, Murdoch could only stand gaping as the realization he had struck the girl crashed into his consciousness. Horrified, the room and time frozen in place, no sound save that of a young woman's choked sob. Then the spell was broken, in a flurry of movement Johnny had reached for her, his hand finding her arm, lifting her to her feet, his body coming between her and the man he had called father. Protectively he thrust her behind him, his face twisted with barely contained fury.
"You have raised your hand to me, to us, for the last time, old man. Go to hell!" Johnny turned sharply on his heel, Teresa following closely. Briefly at the door, Johnny paused; he turned to face the woman he loved.
"I am coming with you," she declared.
"Johnny, Teresa, please!" Scott pleaded.
"No! I have talked enough. I am leaving, and Teresa is coming with me!"
His Chapter 4
”Get your things,” Johnny calmly instructed Teresa. The young woman quickly turned and headed for her room.
”Teresa! You are not going anywhere! I won’t allow it!” Murdoch moved towards the girl, who hesitated and looked to Johnny for reassurance.
“She’s coming with me one way or
another; don’t make this any uglier than it already is, Old Man!” Johnny
growled, anger dripping from his every word.
”Johnny, please, this isn’t the way,” Scott reasoned moving to stand between the two men as Teresa ran from the room.
“There is no other way Scott. Teresa and
I want to be together. If that is not acceptable here, then we will go someplace
”Where will you live? How you will support her?”
“Let me worry about that, brother. Teresa is my responsibility now.”
“Your responsibility! What do you know
about responsibility? Last night you proved just how irresponsible you are!”
Murdoch’s temper flared again. “I know just how you intend supporting her, and
that’s with your gun!
”Murdoch!” Scott erupted in disbelief, watching helplessly as the hurt flashed in his brother’s eyes.
“One thing I learned here is that a gun ain’t the only way to survive. That, along with what a hard-nosed, narrow-minded bastard you are!” The tremor in his voice betrayed Johnny’s turbulent emotions, but he didn’t care what his father thought of him, not any more.
The two men stared at each other, two sets of blue eyes unconsciously searching the other, looking for something, anything, that said there was something worth salvaging between them, but only anger stared back.
“Listen to me…” Scott pleaded, searching for words that would make both men see sense. “Before it’s too late…”
“It is too late!” Murdoch snapped moving to stand by his desk, his back turned on his younger son.
”You heard him, Scott!” Johnny looked past his brother toward Teresa, taking stock of the fact the young woman had changed into something more suitable for riding and was clutching a small carpetbag, obviously aware of the necessity to travel light.
Aware of his ward's presence Murdoch turned to face her. “If you leave now, don’t you ever come back!”
Teresa’s gaze fell to the floor as her guardian's words tore at her heart. Tears once more threatened, but she told herself not to give in to them and stepped quickly to Johnny’s side. Their hands entwined they walked out through the front door without looking back.
“For God’s sake go after them! Ask them, beg them to stay!” Scott demanded as he rounded angrily on his father.
“They have made their decision,” Murdoch replied coldly.
“It was made for them! They didn’t want
to go! YOU pushed them out of that door! Go after them Murdoch. Swallow your
damn pride for once and stop this stupidity before it really is too late!"
Ignoring his son’s impassioned plea Murdoch sat down at his desk; picking up a piece of paper he began to read.
“Johnny was right, you really are hard-nosed! What a cold unfeeling bastard you are!” Scott’s scathing attack received no reaction from his father and he turned on his heels to hurry out after his brother and Teresa.
Alone Murdoch lay down the paper. He placed his elbows on his desk, then rested his head in his hands, despair falling around him like a cloak. Minutes passed, long excruciating moments filled with loss, until he realized he was no longer alone. His head snapped up, to meet Jelly’s questioning gaze.
“Come to have your say? Well spit it out before it chokes you!” Murdoch snarled.
seem much point; you ain’t wearin your listenin ears today!”
Murdoch sighed, finding himself unable to do anything, but accept Jelly’s point.
“Fact is Boss; you rarely do where that boy is concerned!”
Murdoch hung his head; he hadn’t given
Johnny a chance. For all his good intentions he’d ridden roughshod over his son
Scott hugged Teresa tightly, and as she pulled away he gripped her firmly by the shoulders, staring intently into her eyes.
“He didn’t mean it! You know what he’s like!”
Teresa nodded offering some comfort to the older man, before accepting his hand to help her up onto her hastily saddled mare.
Turning to his brother Johnny held out
his hand only to find himself pulled into a hug. He responded in kind, the
embrace lingering and emotion-filled, as unspoken words passed between them.
”I’ll be seeing you!” Scott finally found the words with which to let his brother go.
”Yeah!” Johnny grinned jumping up onto Barranca’s back, to then take one last look around the only place he had ever called home.
Scott watched until the two figures faded into the distance, finally turning back toward the hacienda, striding determinedly back to the great room.
Jelly loomed in front of him and Scott realized the older man was waiting for him.
“Not now, Jelly!”
“Shoutin and yellin at each other ain’t
gonna to bring them younguns home!”
”Then tell me what will? How do I get through to him?”
“Ain’t no need. He knows what he’s done, knows what he’s lost, and pretty soon he’ll figure out what he has to do to put it right!”
Scott watched the grizzled old man amble toward the barn. Inhaling deeply he then turned and walked at a more sedate pace in through the great oak door, entering the great room just as Maria scurried into the kitchen. The elder Lancer son knew their housekeeper had been in tears. He was quite certain she had just given his father a piece of her mind, and with the sharp edge of her tongue. She was now seeking out a quiet corner in which to regain her composure. He would let her and later search her out, let Maria know that he, at least, was determined to unite the family. Maybe Maria would have some sage words of advice to offer him. God knows he was in need of some.
“They’ve gone,” Scott quietly addressed
his father; the older man simply nodded and continued to study an open ledger.
”Murdoch!” Scott’s voice soared, demanding some response.
“Did they say where they were going?”
The pale blue eyes met Scott’s.
”No!” Scott shook his head; they were just wanting to…to…”
“To get away from me,” Murdoch stated quietly, the truth a bitter taste on his tongue.
Deciding that statement needed no
confirmation from him Scott asked, “What are you going to do?”
They had ridden along in silence,
reassuring glances the only thing to pass between them as the miles passed
beneath them. Finally, as they reached the point where they both knew the
hacienda was no longer visible their eyes had met, only this time there were
tears in Teresa’s eyes. Johnny leapt from Barranca, then helped the now sobbing
young woman down from her horse. He held her as violent sobs shook her small
“I…I’m sorry,” Teresa choked out. “This is…all…all my fault!”
“No Teresa! None of this is your fault, do you hear me?” Johnny insisted “You wanted to tell Murdoch, but I persuaded you not to, that was wrong. I was wrong keeping it from them, from Murdoch. It was the worst thing we could have done, I realize that now. I betrayed his trust. It’s me he’s angry with, not you!”
“But it should be me, last night I…”
“Last night happened because we love each other, because we wanted each other like people in love do, but Murdoch was right. I should have showed you more respect, I should have waited…”
“I came to you…”
”And I should have sent you away. Murdoch believes I let him down and I did. It shows how much trust he actually did have in me, and how little trust I had in him. He has every right to be angry with me."
“But not to hit you!” Teresa exclaimed.
Johnny shrugged. “He loves you, he
thought I’d hurt you.”
”And this morning?”
“I was mouthing off, using my mother against him. I knew that would hurt him.”
“You’re making excuses for him now.”
”No! I’m just trying to see his side, understand why he did what he did, said what he did.”
“We hurt him, didn’t we,” Teresa stated through her tears.
“Yeah, and he ain’t ready to forgive us.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We have to leave Lancer behind us and make a new life, just you and me.”
He had avoided his father all day, desperate to avoid more cross words. He hoped the older man had thought things through a little more and decided to go after the runaways. As Scott entered the great room he found his father staring into the fire. The older man’s thoughts were miles away and Scott knew with whom.
Jolted out of his reverie the patriarch’s eyes met his older son, surprised by the respect once again shown him. Scott had been lacking in that today and he knew he had not been deserving of such.
“Maria kept you some supper.”
“Did you eat?”
“No,” Murdoch stated awkwardly. His food
was probably still on the table, unwanted and forgotten about.
”Table seemed a little empty and quiet no doubt!”
“Scott!!” Murdoch warned.
“Well! Just how long are you prepared to let this foolishness go on?”
“As long as it takes them both to see
”How much time, Murdoch? They will not come home of their own accord; you are going to have to make the first move. Riding out after them is the only way. Johnny is as stubborn as you, but the main thing now is that he doesn’t believe he’s wanted here. That's not a new belief for him is it?” Scott searched his father’s face, the realization there his answer. “Yesterday you confirmed that belief and again this morning. As for Teresa, as much as she loves you Johnny is the man she is in love with, and she will stand by him no matter what. Face it, Murdoch. You have lost them.”
His Chapter 5
“Ben!” Murdoch greeted the older man in surprise; he couldn’t remember the last time his aging friend had ridden out to the ranch. “What brings you out here? Is something wrong?” Murdoch questioned ushering the small, rotund Banker though the great oak door, and then into the great room.
“Johnny,” Benjamin Clark replied calmly.
”It is, I know, none of my business and by right a matter of confidentiality between the bank and a customer, but I just wanted to be sure you were aware of the situation.”
“Ben, I don’t…” Murdoch began in bewilderment.
“I thought not. He emptied his account yesterday. Wished me well, sounding for the entire world like he was leaving these parts.”
“I see,” Murdoch said simply. “Thank you, Ben. I appreciate you doing this.”
“So, he has gone. Why may I ask? And WHY aren’t you out there hauling his scrawny butt back?”
“It’s his decision.”
Ben snorted scornfully “That boy didn’t
look none too happy about his decision yesterday. He looked like he was having
to do something, rather than wanting to!”
”He didn’t have to!” Murdoch snapped.
“Lesser of two evils, was it.” Ben stated pointedly staring the taller man down. “Look Murdoch, I’m here because I know how much you love that boy and how very hard it has been for you to let him know that. That boy was hurting yesterday, needing his father and believing he didn’t have one. How on earth did you let things get so out of hand?”
“Teresa! He and Teresa…behind my back!” Murdoch bellowed.
Stunned, the small man simply had to
question the revelation. “Teresa? Are you sure?”
”She left with him,” Murdoch replied quietly, sinking down onto the couch as his legs threatened to give way beneath him.
Sighing wearily, Ben eased his heavy frame along side Murdoch. “You know I did wonder…”
“You knew about them?” The patriarch’s voice rose in disbelief.
“No! No, not about them, but I had an
inkling something was afoot. Johnny’s been putting money into a separate account
for months, saving for something important he told me, and he had a twinkle in
his eye as he did so.”
Murdoch ran a weary hand through his hair. “I didn’t know. They couldn’t tell me, Ben!”
”Couldn’t! Well, at least it wasn’t a case of wouldn’t tell you.”
difference?” Murdoch beseeched his old friend.
”I don’t know the facts and I don’t want to, but I’ve known Teresa and Johnny long enough to believe that neither one of them would hurt you intentionally, and I’ve known you long enough to know you gave neither one of them a chance to explain. Am I right?”
”I hit him,” Murdoch admitted, shame and regret unmistakable in his tone.
Again stunned by the younger man's words
Ben Clark studied the troubled countenance before him. “But that isn’t why they
”No. I told him to go!”
”I was so angry with him, so disappointed.”
”What does Scott say about this?”
”That I go after them.”
“Damn right you do! So why haven’t you?”
”I think they need some time, time to…”
“Time to what? Realize they are wrong for each other?”
”Is that what this is really all about? You not being able to accept them as a couple?”
“No! Yes! I…I don’t know. It’s just come as such a shock. I had no idea they had feelings for each other. And Teresa is so young…Johnny so…so wild. I want them to be happy, of course I do, but could they be happy together? I just don’t know.”
Tired and simply overwrought by the day’s events they had made camp. Their hearts too heavy to even eat they had in silence curled up together beneath a blanket, Teresa almost instantly falling into a troubled sleep. She had slept in his arms, her sweet smell filling his senses, her soft and tender form driving him almost insane with desire. He’d wanted her, wanted her so very desperately, but had somehow contained the hunger that burned inside, eventually descending into a fitful sleep of his own.
Awaking with the dawn he had pulled her closer, his hand brushing against her breast and in doing so he had become painfully aroused. He’d almost woken her in his haste to escape the effect her body had on him. Lurching to his feet he’d stumbled toward the dying fire, hurriedly stoking it back to life. Busying himself with camp chores he strove to quash his need for her, determined to show her the respect he now believed himself so lacking in.
Teresa yawned sleepily, rubbing her eyes as she struggled out of the inky darkness of sleep. The enticing aroma of coffee wafted on the cool breeze, teasing her senses. Fully alert now, she raised up on one elbow and studied the dark-haired, young man bent over the fire. His shirt stretched taunt across his back as he poured the coffee into two matching mugs.
As she breathed in the smell of the warm brew, her eyes drank in the sight of him, so handsome, muscles rippling, and she felt a familiar stirring deep in her loins. With an abrupt shake of her head, she forced the thought of his embrace away from her; instead speaking softly to the man she loved. "How long have you been awake?"
"I thought you were going to sleep all day, querida."
"What time is it?"
"Well, a little before noon. You must have been exhausted." With that he rose and approached her, his arm extended as he offered her a steaming cup of the coffee.
"I didn't know you could even boil water," she laughed as she accepted the cup.
Her cheeks flushed as he answered her with a wide smile. Kneeling beside her he gently stroked her cheek, his hand drifting down to her creamy throat, pausing just above her breasts. Her heart pounded in anticipation of his touch. She leaned into his hand, wanting him, needing him, silently urging him to go further. Hungrily she waited, and then breathed out her disappointment as he abruptly rose and returned to his place by the fire.
"I'm sorry, Teresa. I shouldn't have done that," he whispered.
"Why not? We have all ready done far more. Don't you want me?"
"Of course I do! But I want it to be right this time. I want to make love to my wife."
"But I am your wife, at least in the way that counts."
"No, Teresa. You aren't, not yet," he
murmured as he returned to her side. "But you will be." His mouth lowered to
meet her lips as she strained upward, eagerly wrapping her arms around his neck
to pull him closer. His hand caressed her full bosom, as they melted together on
the blanket beneath her.
It had been so very different the first time. Cloaked in darkness and in the privacy of Johnny’s room she had felt strangely uninhibited, had been able to force down her shyness, and her inexperience hadn’t seemed to matter. But the sun shone down on them now, a silent witness to their quest for pleasure and fulfillment. Teresa trembled nervously as Johnny's eager hands stripped her of her clothes, blushing a little at the intense hunger that burned in his eyes.
She held her breath as he stood over
her, tearing at the buttons of his shirt to reveal his tanned, well-muscled
chest and washboard stomach. His hands moved to his gun belt, discarding it
unceremoniously onto the ground and she gasped as the long slender fingers began
to open the buttons of his pants. As Johnny eased the material down over his
narrow hips Teresa closed her eyes, suddenly embarrassed, but the rustle of
clothing and an overpowering curiosity forced them open just as her lover kicked
off the last remaining barrier between them.
Realizing Johnny was aware of her eyes upon him Teresa blushed furiously and he smiled down at her, the smile turning from a knowing one to one of pure devilment.
Need chased away her coyness and she held out her hand grasping his to then firmly pull him down beside her where for the first time she let her hands and mouth explore his flesh.
Her mouth teased its way over his throat down to the thatch of dark hair and the tiny nubs of his nipples nestling there. Her tongue swept around them before moving back to his mouth and his deep demanding kisses. Her hand inched downwards obeying some silent request to stroke and caress his thigh, to then slowly move upwards to rest against the hardness of his abdomen, his muscles taught beneath her restless fingers.
Daringly, her courage fueled by the passion of his kisses she let her hand wander lower brushing against his manhood to caress his inner thigh. She felt him shudder, heard the low guttural moan escape his lips and knew instantly what it was he really wanted. Slowly, timidly at first, she let her hand caress his rigid length, his moans of pure pleasure telling her she was doing something right.
He lay lost in the exquisiteness of her touch, sensation after exhilarating sensation searing through him as her lips trailed gentle kisses over him, her mouth tasting him while her hands caressed and explored him.
There was something overtly thrilling about making love in the open, lying entwined and cocooned amidst nature’s endless lullaby, the sun's warmth upon bare flesh, the trickling of a stream in the background, intermittent birdsong flavoring the fragile stillness. There was no fear of being seen, either, not that his choice of campsite had been made with lovemaking in mind. No, it was simply a necessary requisite as far as the Madrid part of him was concerned.
Another moan escaped his throat and he
tensed dramatically. Teresa was doing all the right things, doing them too well,
driving him wild, delighting his senses, bringing him to the brink of ecstasy,
but he wanted to pleasure her, too. He wanted to show her how very much he loved
her, how much he cherished her body and the gift it would again bestow upon him.
Gently, but firmly, he clasped both her wrists, rolling her onto her back and
pushing her arms up and away from her body. His tongue teased hers, his mouth
assaulting hers before finding her breast to suck and brutally punish her hard
yet so delicate nipple. She quivered beneath him, writhing as his fingers
slipped inside her. She was moist and swollen, ready for him, just as ready as
he was for her. Covering her he entered her slowly, wanting the elation of his
entry to last as long as possible, but his body rebelled forcing him to thrust
hard and harder still as her hips undulated provocatively beneath him. Exploding
inside her he let her tightness milk him dry, until exhausted they collapsed
together, panting in each other's arms.
Ben Clark’s buggy pulled away and Murdoch strode aimlessly into the great room, not knowing where to turn or what to do.
Daylight had ended another sleepless
night, worry and shame robbing him of all vestiges of mental or physical rest.
He loved his son, and his ward, yet he’d driven them away, knowing just how
vulnerable they both were.
He knew what it was to love, to be in love, to physically share such love.
Catherine had been his first love, not his first woman, but his first true love; their courtship had been scrutinized and censored to the point that their every kiss had to be stolen. It hadn’t been until their wedding night that he had taken her, their lovemaking the gentle and sensual kind. Scott had been conceived sometime during their second month together as man and wife much to their delight. Then he had lost her and their son and his grief had been insurmountable, that was until he met Maria, wild willful Maria.
Maria had simply bewitched him, her smile, her radiance and her barely concealed charms left him weak at the knees. He had wanted her so badly he had physically ached to know her. He had tried to resist, wanting to court her like he had Catherine but there were no chaperones, nothing, no one to cause him to contain or quell his ardor. Within a week they were lovers, their lovemaking wild and exhilarating and he couldn’t get enough. He’d been elated when she’d told him of the child she was carrying. It didn’t matter to him that the child had been conceived out of wedlock because he or she had been conceived in love. He would have married Maria, child or not. Their intense love had been mutual, but for her at least not the lasting kind and that fact worried him. Johnny might love, be in love with Teresa now, but would it last? Could it survive the tribulations and tests of time, or would their love succumb after the first few hurdles.
Fear and doubt assailed him once more, but his love for his children was all consuming, all powerful, and it rose higher than any doubt. He knew what he had to do. He had to find them, bring them back and if need be, he had to accept their relationship. One way or another, he determined he would reunite his family. Purposefully, he stalked to foyer, to stand staring up the staircase.
His Chapter 6
Wearily Scott and Murdoch Lancer handed the reins of their horses to Jelly, Scott answering the older man’s silent question with a shake of his head. The last couple of weeks had seen father and son scouring the surrounding territory, the outlying towns and settlements, but they had found no trace of Teresa and Johnny, and no one, it seemed, had seen them
Entering the hacienda the two men were met by Maria, hope shining in her eyes only for it to die quickly when she saw their pained expressions. Murdoch watched his housekeeper bow her head and leave the room, her heartache compounding his own.
“Perhaps they don’t want to be found,” Murdoch stated quietly.
“I don’t believe that and neither do
you!” Scott snapped.
”Maybe Johnny feared I would send someone after Teresa, force her to come back, alone.”
Scott sighed and shook his head. “He knows you better than that.”
“He thought he did. I shattered some of
his beliefs when I hit him, when I told him to get out; when I told him I didn’t
want to ever see him again.” Murdoch sank down into his chair, his arms
outstretched leaning over his desk, despair weighing heavy on his shoulders.
Scott didn’t want to entertain that line of thought, but had to admit that recent events could have made his brother wary of such an eventuality. He poured two glasses of brandy, pressing one into his father’s hand, knowing the older man, like he, was in need of some inner warmth.
“They could be anywhere! And that is too large an area for the two of us to cover with any real hope of success. We need help, Murdoch.”
“The Pinkerton’s?” Murdoch gazed up at his elder son, the light of renewed hope burning bright in his eyes, but just like hope had died in Maria’s eyes, it faded from his too when he remembered their earlier search for Johnny. He stared unseeingly into his glass. “It took them twenty years to find him last time.”
"Yes, well last time, you didn't know his name. And he wasn't riding with a beautiful woman. They will not have as easy a time hiding from us as Johnny's mother had."
Murdoch's head snapped up, the mere mention of Maria drawing anger, and fear, firmly to the forefront of his thoughts. Maria. He had searched so hard for so long, the cost to him emotionally, and financially, devastating, but despair had driven him. Rage at his wife's selfish action had motivated him in the early days, pushed him to the brink, later to be replaced with an anguish he had never felt again, until now. Now his heart was with his son and ward, the empty place in his soul where he had hid them gaping wide, as pain flowed forth from the fissure. His prayers were now twofold, that he found the runaways, and that somehow the rift between them could be mended. How could they put it together when so much damage had been done? One thoughtless, careless deed had led to another until inevitably it had torn his happy home asunder.
"You're right, son. We have to hire the Pinkerton’s, and pray they have better success this time."
With a sigh of relief, Scott nodded in agreement. In their hearts, hope refused to die. She clung steadfastly like a cloak, masking the ugly truth that the missing members of the family might never be found, or choose to return to Lancer. It was a truth Scott and Murdoch Lancer refused to subscribe to. More determined than ever, the two men drank their brandy.
The quiet streets were familiar, the memories still within his reach.
//This hadn’t been a bad place// Johnny decided. The people had on the whole been fairly tolerant of him, the whore’s half-breed kid! He knew it was due mainly to the compassion of one man.
The Padre had been good to him, had been the first man to ever show him any real kindness, and in the few short months the ten year old Johnny had lived there the man of God had become his friend.
He had been running from yet another of his mother’s men friends. Dazed and blinded by tears he had run right into Padre Gonzalez’ arms. He had struggled against them, the effort causing him to black out and those same strong arms had carried his bruised and bleeding body into the Church. Caring hands had gently tended the angry welts on his back and from that moment the Church had become his refuge, and Johnny had spent many a night sheltered there from abuse. He’d not had chance to say goodbye to his friend, his mama suddenly desperate to leave, someone had apparently been looking for her. Johnny swallowed hard realizing that the man she was hiding from had in all probability been his father, that the ‘tall gringo’ had been desperately searching for him. So close, so very close, but never close enough.
The Church was just up ahead now. It looked much the same, but would Padre Gonzalez still be there and would he remember him after all those years? Johnny decided to find out!
Sensing the two young strangers walking toward him, the kneeling figure climbed stiffly to his feet, reverently making the sign of the cross and bowing to the alter before greeting them with a welcoming smile.
The ebony hair was now sprinkled with gray, the handsome face heavily creased by time, but the brown eyes that had long ago looked so compassionately on Johnny still shone with the same great warmth and understanding. Sadly there was no recognition, but just feet away the older man's expression changed, eyes widening in obvious delight.
“Juanito? Is it you?”
Before Johnny had time to reply he found himself drawn into an unexpected and fervent embrace, then holding him at arm's length, the Padre looked the taller man up and down.
“Not so little anymore!” His gaze turned to Teresa and he added knowingly. “And not so alone!”
The priest motioned to the young people to sit down. “Please, we have much to talk about I think?”
Johnny smiled, but the smile faded quickly when the older man stated, “I have often wondered what became of you. You know a little after you left a man came looking for you, a good man. Did he find you?”
Mouth suddenly very dry Johnny had to force his reply out. “Si, eventually!”
Mistaking the pain in
the young man's eyes for grief the priest asked, “You have lost him?”
”Yeah.” To all intents and purposes his father was dead to him now and Johnny quelled the guilt he felt at misleading the older man, determined not to dwell on the past and to concentrate only on the future, the future he had with Teresa.
Scott had come to almost dread meal times. The constant sombre mood at the table had become so wearying and one he wished he could escape from time to time. But he felt obligated to share such times with his father, knowing it was, what he would deem the ‘shared family times’ that Murdoch had the hardest time dealing with. Not that his father had mentioned the fact, he didn’t have to. Scott understood, he too missed Teresa’s endless chatter and Johnny’s laughter. Both had been in plentiful supply as they had sat down together as a family to eat.
In the two or more months since Teresa and Johnny’s departure the atmosphere at the hacienda had steadily declined into one of maudlin and despair. Each day that passed without word of them or their whereabouts heightened the sense of loss.
Scott was still angry with his father, but knew releasing that anger would serve no purpose, and chose to channel it into work, burning it off with honest toil. It meant there was never any light moments, moments when he could really loose himself and forget the emptiness that surrounded them. Unfortunately too, there was no longer any feminine comfort to be found. Well, not the kind he could openly take refuge in. Rachel had made it clear she didn’t like playing second fiddle to his family woes, and then haughtily distanced herself from him and Lancer when the ‘scandal’ came to light.
He viewed the ending of their relationship with nothing more than disappointment. He had come to realize that Rachel had not been what he believed her to be. She was not unselfish and charitable, not that he couldn’t see it from her point of view, but sadly he now saw her as lacking in certain things he believed essential in a relationship, loyalty and unerring support. He didn’t have to look far to see the strength of the same such ties.
The rap on the door startled both men, the hour although not late was not one when guests would normally descend, and Scott hurried to the door expecting to hear of some problem from one of the hands.
On opening the door a telegram was placed in his hand, the telegraph operator glancing at the envelope with knowing eyes. “I hope it’s what you’ve been waiting for.”
Scott mumbled his thanks. His heart racing he tore the envelope open as he strode towards his father, the older man on his feet anxious to hear the words the envelope contained.
In these quiet moments her mind would wander the miles back to Lancer, to the place where she had been born. And to the people she loved, the people she couldn’t ever imagine not loving, even though she couldn’t think of them now without pangs of anger and disappointment. Teresa missed them all terribly, but what hurt the most was knowing how much Johnny missed them, much more than she, not that he would admit to feeling their loss now. He pretended to have accepted the situation, putting on a convincing act of indifference, but she knew him too well. She recognized it for the sham it was, choosing to let it continue simply because it made it bearable for him, and in his eyes, more bearable for her.
It couldn’t go on, yet she was powerless to put it right. All she could do was hope, pray for something to happen, someone to give to bend just a little, and that someone had to be Murdoch Lancer.
She knew Johnny regretted his actions, wished he had handled the situation differently, but they couldn't change the past. What was done, was done, and they now had to make their own way, choose their own path. She only wished somehow that path could take them home. But she was home; even as she mourned Lancer, she knew her place was with Johnny, now and forever. She could never abandon her vows to him, her promises, nor could she ever regret them. She loved the man. God help her, he was her very breath, the essence of life itself. And to that end she would stand beside him, wherever their road led them. Still, she knew the estrangement of father and son was a burden Johnny would never escape. With a sigh, she patted her stomach. Soon she would have news for him that would ease the pain, the memories. Soon she would tell him that which a man longed to hear, but it would not be this day.
Silently, she crept back to bed, and slid under the covers. Even in sleep he knew she was there, his arms reached for her and pulled her close as his lips sought hers. Suddenly awake, he fondled her breasts, his hand then traveling down to the secret place between her thighs. He slipped two fingers into her, exploring her intimate recesses, probing as his tongue probed her mouth. Moaning softly she spread her legs wider allowing him more access, offering him total surrender. All thoughts of Murdoch Lancer and the home they had left were forgotten as the man she loved and would die for, took all her body's gifts and gave her his in return.
He lay watching her sleep, something he did every morning now. Contentedly he drank in her beauty and allowed himself the luxury of wallowing in the knowledge that she was truly his. Sometime during the night he’d taken her, their bodies melding into one. Their love making had been heated and as always left them exhausted, and they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms. He couldn’t imagine a night without her beside him now, couldn’t stand the thought of her not being in his bed.
In so many ways he was happier and more fulfilled than he’d ever been before, and yet part of him ached for what he’d left behind at Lancer. He’d thought forgetting them an easy requirement to achieve, but denying his feelings had proved impossible. He’d had to resort to masking them, shrouding his heartache even from the woman he loved. Teresa knew, of course she did, but she let him keep up the pretence knowing that for now it was how it had to be. Just months after leaving Lancer it was no longer spoken about. It was always there in the background, but their love was too strong, too real for it to ever come between them.
So life went on. And life was going pretty well right now.
His Chapter 7
The first telegram had said a couple matching Teresa and Johnny’s description had crossed the border into Mexico. It was not good news as far as Murdoch was concerned. He knew from bitter experience how the border towns swallowed up any traveler not wanting to be found. The second telegram to arrive just weeks later confirmed his suspicions; the trail had quickly grown cold. The third telegram had offered fresh hope, the couple had apparently crossed back into California, and the Pinkerton’s now had high hopes of determining their exact location. It was just a matter of time according to them, but for those waiting for news the time involved seemed endless.
Four months had now passed since the ugly scenes in the great room, and Murdoch knew the longer the estrangement the more difficult it would be to make things right, the harder it would be for Johnny to listen, to believe his words of apology and of regret. They wouldn’t be easy to say, not for him. Not to this son but why? Why was this son so hard to talk to? He loved the boy, but at the same time was much too quick to react to his words, his ways, too quick to judge him and to shout him down.
It had, Murdoch had come to realize, a lot to do with Maria. Johnny reminded him so much of his mother, yet there was nothing of Maria in him, all likenesses were skin deep. Johnny was wild, reckless at times, but not reckless with other people’s feelings like Maria had been. He cared deeply, passionately, where Maria had been, as he had found to his cost, so very shallow. For her, love was just a passing thing, a whim; a candle that had burned so bright, but too soon had flickered and failed. It had not been that way for him, and neither would it be that way for Johnny. He was now quite certain of that.
The very first thing out of his son's mouth the night he had found him and Teresa together had been a vehement declaration of love, but he had ignored the sincerity in his son's words. The truth had blazed in the blue eyes, eyes that had also pleaded for his understanding, and above all else his approval.
had wanted from him was his approval, his blessing and from what Teresa had told
Scott the young man had believed neither would be forthcoming. He had believed
himself unworthy of her, and feared his father would, too.
Murdoch knew his actions that night and the following morning had confirmed that belief, and each day that passed without him making contact, without him making it clear how much he wanted them both home, just served to widen the abyss between them.
If only he was given the chance, granted the opportunity, he would find the right words, say the right thing and mean it.
They hadn’t expected it to be so rundown, so ramshackle in appearance, but they had overcome their initial disappointment and had taken a long and very thorough look around the property. Thankfully, it had looked a lot worse than it was. It was certainly in need of a great many repairs, but structurally the property was sound, the soil rich, the grazing good, and water in plentiful supply.
The down payment had taken a sizable chunk out of the money they had, but still it had been a lot less than they had expected. The bank had been relieved; it seemed, to have found someone willing to take it on. ‘The Old Dawson place’ as it was known had stood empty and neglected for about five years, no one seeing it for the great opportunity it was, until Teresa and Johnny had set eyes on it.
Johnny had instantly seen its potential, his enthusiasm selling the place to an uncertain Teresa. Both were fully aware of the amount of time and toil it would take to get the small ranch back on its feet, but both were equally aware of the good life it promised. Now, just a few months after moving in the place was looking better than it ever had.
Johnny had worked long and hard, leaving with the dawn, returning long after sunset, tending the fields and the small herd of cattle he had purchased from a nearby rancher. Joyfully, like a boy with his first piece of candy, he had driven the small herd home a month ago, pushing them into the field below the cozy cabin. Teresa had come out to meet them, her smile as big as his as she had watched his flashing blue eyes and the eager way he sat Barranca as he drove the herd. He had leaped from the saddle then, running to meet her. Drawing Teresa into a passionate embrace, they had stood watching the cattle, their cattle, grazing in the lower pasture. Not many head, he had said, but enough to make a start. Pride had swelled in Teresa's breast as she snuggled deeper into his arms. He was a good man, and for only a brief moment she had wished Murdoch Lancer could see his son now.
For Teresa the days were long and full. Slowly, under her creative hand the cabin became home. Beautiful and warm, it was a home she could be proud of. Johnny's reaction to her labors was reward enough as she took in the fire burning in his eyes, eyes that swept over the main room before settling on her. Without a word she knew he was pleased, happy, content in the knowledge she was the woman he would spend his life coming home to. He opened his arms, inviting her into his circle of love. She melted into the safety of him, her lips rising to meet his, her hands encircling his neck. Johnny swept her up, carrying her to the thick rug in front of the fireplace, his hands gently raising her skirts. He took her then, in the warmth and glow of the fire, tenderly bringing her to a climax before lowering himself on top of her, bringing her again as his own need was answered.
"Any regrets, Teresa," he breathed, his mouth close to her ear. In wonder his hand cupped her breast, his fingers tickling her raised nub.
"Oh no, Johnny. None at all," her own throaty voice sounded strange to her, the burn beginning again as his lips touched her neck.
"I love you, querida."
Happily she stroked his hair, gasping as his mouth claimed the intimate place between her thighs. "I love you, too," she sighed.
Teresa’s birthday had come and gone, the anniversary of her father’s death also passing without her presence. For some reason, Murdoch had thought, hoped they would return if only to acknowledge the day by placing fresh flowers on Paul O’Brien’s resting place. A foolish notion, Teresa knew he would mark the day. Whatever she now thought of him, she recognized the fact Murdoch had loved and respected her father.
Murdoch had duly spent an hour or more at the graveside, the tranquillity comforting, the solitude welcome, and he had found himself silently sharing his grief and his regrets with the one man who had truly understood him. How he needed his old friend's wisdom, his straight to the point, no nonsense approach to life and all the trials it threw at a man. Paul would have never let it get this far. He would never have forced his child into leaving. His Segundo would have approved of Johnny, Murdoch was certain of that. Not of the way the couple had behaved of course, but if Paul had been alive there would have been no need for secrets.
He’d opened his monologue with an apology, and had closed it with one too. He had let Paul down and more importantly the young woman he had left in his care. But on riding away from the peaceful spot Murdoch had been filled with a sense of calm. Paul would watch over them until he could take back his role of father.
“Where’s yours?” Johnny asked as Teresa set his heaping plateful of eggs down onto the table before him.
“I’ll have it later.” Teresa forced a smile, but as she poured him his first coffee of the day she suddenly paled and rushed to the door, hurrying outside to gulp in mouthfuls of air.
“Teresa!” His voice was heavy with concern, his arms sweeping around her to steady and guide her toward the chair on the porch. “What is it? Are you ill?”
As he crouched down beside her she met his eyes. The roiling in her stomach momentarily quelled, she smiled back at him.
“No, not ill.” Gently she took his hand and placed it low on her abdomen.
Johnny stared down at their hands in confusion, taking several seconds for her words to raise his suspicions.
“You mean…” Wonder settled on his face and he waited for confirmation, hardly daring to believe it was true.
"Murdoch, Murdoch!" Scott called excitedly, as he ran to meet his father. Murdoch halted the gelding at the hitching rail in front of the hacienda, watching anxiously as his son waved the telegram in the air.
"Murdoch, the Pinks found them. They found them!"
Murdoch took the long awaited telegram from his son, rapidly scanning the typed words he had longed to hear.
Found them. stop. Nevada border. stop. Married. stop.....Murdoch's eyes misted over, the print blurring.
"We have to bring them home. Teresa's pregnant," he whispered.
His Chapter 8
Gently, Teresa held her hands against her swollen stomach, smiling contentedly as life stirred beneath her fingers. He, and she was so sure it would be a boy, was so very active this morning making it difficult to concentrate on anything else but the new life growing inside of her. She couldn’t wait to hold him and to see Johnny holding their son in his arms, to feel his arms around them both.
As each day passed she felt a little nearer to the day she would push him out into the world, but at the same time she also felt a little more apprehensive. She was quite simply scared. Not that she would admit it to anyone, not even Johnny. She knew that when her time came there would be pain, a lot of pain, pain that could last for hours if not days, and she didn’t know if she could bear it. What she needed was another woman to talk to, and not just any woman, she needed someone she could trust, someone who had already gone through the experience of giving birth, someone to tell her she was being silly, that everything would be alright.
Town was a fair distance away, but she had come to know some of the women folk there quite well. In truth she couldn’t bring herself to call any one of them good or close friends. Several had offered to come over when the day finally arrived and Teresa had gratefully accepted their offers, but there was only one woman she would ever truly feel safe with and that was Maria.
Maria knew just when to fuss and pamper, and when to encourage and if need be scold. Teresa longed to see her, to talk to her and to feel her arms around her as she offered words of wisdom and reassurance. A tear slipped down her cheek and Teresa quickly wiped it away, annoyed at her weakness //Whatever is the matter with me?// She was so prone to tears just lately. The least thing would upset her, and it didn’t help that she’d been thinking more and more about Lancer this last week or so.
At times her heart ached to see them all, but then she would scold herself. She had Johnny, she didn’t need anyone else. Yet, it was alright to miss them, wasn’t it? And she missed them all so very much.
She couldn’t help, but wonder what they were doing at that moment. Maria would be baking; she always did on a Monday morning. Scott, and Murdoch, could be doing one of a multitude of tasks ranching involved, but would their minds be solely on the job in hand or would they be thinking of them? Where they missing them?
He wiped the sweat from his brow, then reached in his pocket and pulled out the timepiece. In doing so he was instantly swamped with images of his father. Usually he would check the time then quickly push the object back out of sight, but not today. For some reason he stared a little more closely at it as he leaned against the fence he was mending.
His father had said it was old and Johnny had later learned it was his grandfather’s. According to Murdoch the watch had become his on his father's passing. As tradition decreed, him being the eldest son, it had gone to him. But Johnny wasn’t the eldest son and had questioned the reason it had been given to him and not to Scott. His father had simply stated, “Because I think your grandfather would have liked you to have it.” There was a hidden meaning there and Johnny had never been quite sure what it was, but he’d treasured the timepiece ever since.
Soon he would have a son. Johnny smiled to himself; Teresa was so sure it was a boy. Not that he minded what the baby turned out to be; as long as the child was healthy it didn’t matter, boy or girl they would be loved. Although, he would have liked to carry on the tradition with the timepiece, he just wished his father was there to see //No! Don’t go there// He told himself. Hadn’t he had enough time to get used to the idea by now? His father was no longer in his life, their life, and wouldn’t be ever again. Well, it was his loss not theirs, they didn’t need him…he didn’t need him.
Yet it would have been nice for their child to have a grandfather and an uncle, and Scott would make the best sort of uncle. But it wasn’t to be, and what they didn’t know they wouldn’t miss. Not like he missed his brother, his brother who was also his best friend, the first man he had ever come to trust.
“No!” Johnny spoke out loud. He wasn’t going to let himself dwell on Scott either, it hurt too damn much. Picking up his hammer, he turned back to the job in hand determined not to let his thoughts stray the hundred miles or more to Lancer.
They were he estimated just a couple more hours ride away from their destination, hours that would no doubt pass as slowly as the others they had spent in the saddle the last week.
They were so close now and Murdoch was filled with a mix of anticipation and apprehension, his main fear being of rejection. How would their sudden and unexpected visit be received? Would there be any sort of welcome or would the door be simply shut in their face…his face? They would, he was certain, be happy to see Scott. Still he wasn’t going to leave until they had heard him out. He was determined to have his say, determined they would listen and then it would be up to them. He couldn’t force them to come home, it would be their decision and one he hoped with all his heart they would make.
Every mile slipped slowly, painfully by, each hour that passed bringing them ever closer to their goal. Scott watched as his father withdrew deeper and deeper into his own private hell. The doubts and fears he knew his father was experiencing served as a stark reminder of his own inner turmoil. They had embarked on this journey full of hope and expectation, but as their destination grew nearer, they each realized they had to face the very real possibility that disappointment could be their only reward.
Scott had clung stubbornly to the hope that his family would be reunited. Stoically, he had stood by his father's side, his earlier anger now turned to an empty hollow in the very innermost reaches of his tired heart. Anger had drained him, the energy required to sustain his fury sapping him of strength. He hadn't slept nor eaten well since his brother had fled. Now, desperation drove him on, pushed him to his limits of physical endurance. Yes, it was desperation. He wanted his brother to return to Lancer more than he had ever wanted anything.
As the initial shock of Johnny's departure had been replaced by rage, the rage had now submitted to excruciating loneliness. The ranch's company was at full capacity, but in spite of the presence of his father and the many hands, he had never felt more alone. His brother's face haunted him at every turn. And he knew his father was feeling the same emptiness, as well as a guilt that would devour him as time went by. Already, Scott saw only a shadow of the formidable man his father had once been.
The arrival of the Pinkerton report indicating the runaways had been found, had been welcomed with a mixture of emotions. Relief had warred with fear, joy with sorrow. They had been found, but would the prodigals return home? In spite of the conflicting emotions, father and son had quickly set about making travel plans. There had been no argument over who was to make the journey, instead they had silently acknowledged the other and made the preparations to leave Lancer to go in search of the missing family members.
Immediately, Murdoch had left instructions with Jelly for the management of the ranch. He had then prepared for the long trek to the small ranch on the border of Nevada. No conversation had been forthcoming, they traveled and made camp in silent accord, each understanding the weight of the doubts that the other carried.
As they made camp each night, they ate a meager meal then fell exhausted into the pretense of sleep. Tonight he hoped would be different; it all depended on Johnny, on what his brother’s reaction to their father's words would be. Could he forgive his father? Did he even want to? Well, they were about to find out. Having reached the top of a rise, their eyes swept over the valley that fell away before them and revealed the small ranch house nestled in its midst.
“That has to
be it,” Murdoch stated, his eyes fixed on the tidy and welcoming looking abode.
“Murdoch.” Scott suddenly had an overpowering need to caution his father.
“You don’t need to tell me son. Believe me, I know.” Murdoch met his elder son’s anxious blue eyes. “This all hinges on me, on me saying what Johnny needs to hear.”
“Then make sure you do. Don’t let his anger distract you; don’t let what happened that day at Lancer happen again here. It’s your last chance Murdoch, this family’s very last chance.”
His Chapter 9
//Riders// Teresa squinted against the glare of the sun. They were still too far off for her to have any hope of recognizing them. All she could be sure of at this distance was that there were two of them. She felt a little anxious; they weren't expecting anyone and she couldn't think who could be calling on them now. Pulling the last of the washing off the line she walked quickly back inside, closing the door behind her.
Johnny had told her that if she ever felt scared or threatened, or simply needed him, she was to fire three rounds into the air and he would come straight away. She knew where he was working today. He wasn't that far away and she decided to wait until the men were a little closer before she signaled for him to come home.
The riders looked so familiar, sitting so tall and straight in the saddle and for a minute she thought it was…but it couldn't be. As they drew still closer Teresa’s hand flew to her mouth stifling a sob. She could see them clearly now and her heart began to beat frantically in her chest. Gripping a chair for support she stared out through the window, scared to take her eyes off the two men in case they should disappear, in case they weren't really there. So scared was she that her mind was just playing some cruel joke on her.
She wasn't sure what to do, and her heart and her head warred briefly. Her heart the victor, she stumbled to the door. Throwing it open she ran outside, tears now streaming down her face.
They seemed a little stunned at first, staring at her as if they couldn't believe it was her, but the shock soon drained from their faces to be replaced with what she recognized as pure and utter joy, and her heart swelled.
seconds Scott had leapt from his horse. He ran toward her, threw his arms around
her and hugged her like he would never let her go. She could hear herself
talking, but she knew she wasn't making any sense and neither for once was he.
The quiet voice brought more tears to her eyes, and as she turned towards it she felt Scott’s arms fall away from her. The pale blue eyes searched hers and as her guardian’s arms reached out to her she stepped into his embrace, weeping happy tears.
“I’m sorry Teresa, so very sorry!”
Teresa wasn't expecting him home for lunch but the fence repairs hadn't taken as long as expected. Suddenly, he’d been overwhelmed with the need to see her, to hold her, to remind himself of just how lucky he was and of everything he had, and to help drive all thoughts from his mind of what he'd so recently lost.
His heart missed a beat when he spotted the two horses in the corral; he recognized them instantly and brought Barranca to an abrupt halt. A tidal wave of emotions crashed over him, their intensity threatening to drown him. Several minutes passed as he fought for control, he had to be ready for…for whatever the old man said.
Resisting the urge to have Barranca gallop the rest of the way he let the horse take its own sweet time. He needed that extra bit of time to think.
//Why had they come? How had they known where to find them? What were they saying to Teresa right now? Had Murdoch come to take her back? No he wouldn’t. He couldn’t anyway. They were married and she was carrying his child. There was no way he could come between them now. Did he still want to?// His head ached under the merciless assault, a million and one thoughts and questions all demanding to be heard.
Jumping down from Barranca he made his way toward the door, his pace unusually slow and hesitant. He could hear their voices now, the atmosphere inside seemingly calm and dignified and for a brief moment he considered not entering. He did not want to shatter the spell.
Inhaling deeply, he began to push open the door, but someone was pulling it from the other side and in their mutual haste the two men almost collided.
Both a little taken a back, they stood staring at each other, each drinking in the sight of his much missed brother.
Scott found his voice first. “Johnny! I was just coming to look…”
The taller man's voice trailed off, emotions getting the better of him, but he wasn't about to let them stop him from saying what he wanted so much to say. “It’s so good to see you, brother!”
“It’s good to see you, Scott, real good,” Johnny replied, aware the tremor in his voice matched that of his brother’s. “I missed you.” The words were out before he knew it and were met by a broad grin, the older man reaching out to grip him firmly by the shoulders as he whispered, “Not as much as I missed you.”
The scraping of a chair drew both their attention and Johnny’s eyes settled on his father. The older man stared intently at him.
Johnny simply stared back, words refusing to come. Teresa was beside him instantly and he wrapped his arms around her protectively.
“Your father’s come all this way. Please, please listen to what he has to say.”
Meeting the pleading brown eyes Johnny simply nodded.
“We’ll be…taking a walk.” Teresa smiled reassuringly up at him before taking Scott’s hand and leading him outside.
Scott shot his father a warning look before closing the door behind him.
Despite his best intentions, Johnny found himself snapping at his father.
“You got something to say, Old Man?”
It failed to get the rise he'd expected; instead his father pointed to the chair he'd just vacated “Do you mind?”
“Of course not!” Johnny heard himself snapping again.
“Sit with me, please,” Murdoch requested quietly.
“I can hear you just as well from here.”
Murdoch leaned back in his chair studying the young man before him, not quite able to believe he'd actually found him. The boy glared back, obviously still angry with him and Murdoch knew he had every right to be. So how was he to get through that anger and reach his son?
“I haven’t come all this way to argue Johnny. I'm here to try and make amends. Please. Let me try.”
Johnny felt his anger ebb a little then, the sincerity in his father’s voice somehow soothing the turmoil that raged inside. Suddenly, he wanted to hear what the older man had to say. Silently, he pulled out a chair and sat at the opposite end of the table from his father.
It was the opening Murdoch had hoped for and he was determined not to waste it.
“I'm sorry. I was wrong to say what I did and do the things I did. I deeply regret everything, the names I called you, the things I accused you of, for hitting you, for telling you to leave, for forcing you to do what neither of you wanted to do. It was unforgivable I know, but still, I'm asking you to forgive me, if you can.”
For one long moment, the two men stared at each other, the words hanging over them, echoing in the very room around them, finally piercing the thick fabric of Johnny's anger. As the anger washed away, carried on the flood of his father's words, Johnny felt the pain of months of separation. Loneliness and hurt exploded with intensity that the long months of anger had shielded him from. Now, exposed and laid bare, his need for his father, and his family, shone brightly in the deep blue eyes as the tears swelled there.
Without hesitation Murdoch was around the table, gripping his son's shoulders, dragging him to his feet, his arms encircling his boy. For one brief moment his effort to hold his son was met by a wall of resistance, before pride crumbled and Johnny relaxed into the embrace. With the collapse of anger, and pain, came surrender and release. For long moments the two stood, arms around each other, savoring the closeness, cherishing the bond of father and son.
Reluctantly, Johnny eased away from his father, stepping quietly toward the fireplace, pensive and puzzled.
"How did you find us?" he whispered. "No, don't answer. I know how. You hired the Pinkertons, didn't you?"
"Son, I had to know you were alright. I had to be sure you and Teresa were happy. The, the not knowing was making me mad. I wasn't fit to live with."
"I know, Murdoch. I missed you and Scott so much. But there was no way I could come home. I didn't even know if you wanted me too." Johnny swallowed, aware of a lump in his throat that now threatened to choke him.
"John, I do want you home. Son, I was wrong to drive you away. I was just so, so angry. I have never felt that way before, seeing you two together. I should have listened, but I couldn't accept my 'children' had grown up."
"We never meant to disappoint you or hurt you. I thought you wouldn't think I was worthy of Teresa. That night," Johnny hesitated; waiting for the anger to rise once more at the mention of that night, but no anger was forthcoming. Peace held, her grip on the occupants in the room firm, and he plunged ahead. "It just happened, it wasn't planned. I, I wanted to come to you, tell you how I felt. I didn't know how."
"I know that now, John.” Murdoch held his sons gaze. “Do you think we can find a way to put it behind us? To move on?"
“We have to!” Johnny stated vehemently. “It ain’t just us we have to consider. Teresa, Scott, they were caught in the middle and now there’s…there’s to be a baby…” Johnny stared into his father’s eyes searching for any flicker of disapproval, but the older man’s face lit up with a genuine smile of delight.
“I know. I know you got married, too. I know you've done an excellent job of taking care of Teresa, of making a new life for you both and I'm proud of what you've achieved here.”
Gripping his son’s shoulders, Murdoch squeezed gently trying to add credence to his next words. “I’m very proud of YOU, Johnny.”
Embarrassed by the unexpected praise Johnny shrugged. “This place sort of fell into our laps, we got lucky…”
“No! From what Teresa tells me it took a great deal of hard work and determination to get it into shape. Be proud of what you’ve done, John. For once let yourself see and acknowledge your own worth!”
”I got big plans for this place,” Johnny quickly changed the subject, striding excitedly toward the window pointing out at some distant point. “See there, that…that…” The sudden sadness in his father’s eyes brought him up short.
“It’s alright, son. I don't expect you to leave everything you have here; I don't expect you to give it all up now. I just ask that we keep in touch, that you visit, that I get to see my grandchild, that I get to see you.”
It wasn't what Murdoch wanted, but it was all he could ask of his son. He'd hoped Teresa and Johnny would return with him but they had their own home now, their own dreams, and sadly it seemed those dreams no longer included Lancer. Resignedly he silently admitted he had lost them //but thank God, not completely.//
His Chapter 10
“I can't hear any shouting.” Scott anxiously glanced over his shoulder at the house. Teresa’s hand was still nestled in his and he felt the young woman’s grip tighten reassuringly.
“I don't think we will. Murdoch is so determined to make things right between them and I know Johnny wants that just as much.”
“They are too alike. Both twenty shades of stubborn.” Scott smiled, beginning to relax a little.
“And you're not, stubborn I mean?” Teresa teased, her brown eyes gazing with absolute delight on the man she looked upon and loved as her big brother.
“To a point, but I know when to give, when to bend.” Turning serious, Scott gazed down at Teresa. “They push it to the breaking point and beyond as they have found out to their cost these last months.”
Tears welled in the brown eyes. “I, I was beginning to lose hope; I knew Johnny wouldn't make the first move. He’s so insecure where Murdoch’s concerned. As much as he wanted to go home he couldn't chance rejection. I knew Murdoch would regret his actions. I know how much he loves Johnny. I just wasn't sure he could swallow his pride, that he would come after us and I knew that was the only way he could prove to Johnny how sorry he was and just how very much he meant to him.”
Wrapping his arms around the dark haired girl, Scott sighed deeply. “It’s been a hard lesson for both of them and hopefully a harsh enough one for neither one to forget.”
It was their first chance to be alone and he had so much to say to her, so much he wanted to share, so much he wanted her thoughts on.
It was late, much later than they normally retired, but no one had wanted the evening to end. Each one of them had delighted in and savored the company of their loved ones. But there had also been an underlying sadness, each aware that there lives would continue to take a separate and very distant path. With Murdoch and Scott finally ensconced in their one small, but comfortable guestroom Teresa and Johnny had made their way to their room.
Stripping off completely as he usually did Johnny crawled between the sheets, watching his wife as she changed into her nightgown before sitting down at her dresser to brush her long hair. He smiled at the ritual that had at times seen him impatiently snatch the brush from her hand and carry her to their bed where her laughter had soon been replaced by the sounds of their lovemaking.
He wanted her now, ached for her, but knew he couldn't give himself entirely, not until he had cleared his head, unburdened himself to her. As always she would help him make sense of the things he couldn't quite get straight in his mind.
As she stood and walked towards him his eyes fell on her breasts, the distended nipples puckering the fabric of her gown. His gaze fell then to her rounded belly, the cotton taught across the cocoon that nurtured and cradled their child.
He hated this gown and every other nightgown she possessed. As thin and as flimsy as it was it still managed to separate their flesh, but then as Teresa kept reminding him, he loved removing it.
Opening his arms, she snuggled into his embrace, her breath warm on his chest.
“He said he was proud of me.” The words finally tumbled out.
Teresa smiled but remained silent, knowing to interrupt now would throw Johnny a little and she didn't want to make the expression of his thoughts any more difficult than it already was for him.
“Proud of what I'd achieved. He said that I should be proud of what I'd done and give myself some credit."
She nestled closer encouraging him on, aware of the emotions churning inside him, of his heartbeat quickening beneath her ear.
“We can't give all this up Teresa. As much as Lancer is a part of us, this is part of what we are, too. If we give this up, then we will have achieved nothing. And maybe it’s the only way? We're just too alike, him and me. We'd end up arguing over something every day. I don't want that, neither does he. At least this way we couldn't fall out so often, just a couple of times a year. I just wish Lancer wasn't so far away.”
“Johnny, the miles don't matter, not as long as nothing else is between you, and nothing is now.”
Sighing, Johnny smiled. “No, not no more. He’s accepted us, that’s something I never thought he would do.”
“He’s excited about the baby.” Teresa breathed happily.
“That was something I was wanting to talk to you about.”
“Yeah, Murdoch suggested it. You're gonna need a woman around when, well you know, when the baby comes and Maria she, it’s breaking her heart that she can't be with you so Murdoch thought…”
“Maria could come here?”
“No. He thought that seeing as we were both born there it would be nice for our baby to be…”
“You mean we go back to have the baby?” Teresa’s voice rose in excitement.
“Yeah, I'd be happier if it were Maria who…”
“Oh me too, I'm so scared, Johnny,” Teresa finally confessed, burying her head in her husband’s chest as the tears fell.
“I know.” He hugged her closer. “I am too, but I don't think we would be there, not with Maria clucking over us.”
Tilting her chin upwards he kissed away the tears, his mouth then finding hers he gently nibbled on her lower lip. As her lips parted his tongue sought hers, and as they tasted each other his hands found the neckline of her gown, slowly and deliberately ripping it open to expose her breasts.
Tearing her mouth from his Teresa breathlessly protested. “I'm not going to have any gowns left.”
“I know,” he whispered wickedly, his mouth clamping hungrily over one nipple, his hand gently cupping her other breast. The changes in them fascinated him. The veins had become more prominent and the nipples and the area around them had darkened in color, but the thing he liked best, the thing that excited him the most was just how sensitive they were now. He could bring her to climax just by sucking and caressing them, but not tonight, tonight he wanted to be inside her when he brought her to completion.
As his mouth returned to ravage hers his hand moved downwards, restless fingers lingering to trace ever decreasing circles of pleasure over her belly before sweeping gently downwards, slipping between her feminine folds to tease and tantalize the sensitive mound there. His mouth stifled her moans of pleasure until finally he could wait no longer and he covered her writhing form, her legs spreading still wider in her eagerness to take his swollen length inside of her. Entering her slowly, gently, he found her wet and oh so ready for him, shuddering as her muscles tightened around his throbbing mass. Hands either side of her now supporting his weight, he thrust a little harder, deepening his penetration before slowly easing out a little to thrust a little harder and a little faster each time. Her hands were clamped on his hips now, and as she drew him down her hips rose to meet his, urging him on, welcoming his violent invasion. Her body hungrily demanded more from him, and as he answered her body’s pleas she convulsed beneath him, her rhythmic throes emptying him deep inside her core.
Exhausted, they remained wrapped in each other's arms, their fulfillment in each other complete. She sighed, her eyes fixed on his as she stroked his hair. Returning her smile, he made no move to separate himself from his place inside her. Instead, he remained on top of her, his manhood resting inside her while he supported his weight on his elbows. He sought her mouth once more, dropping feather soft kisses on her full lips before trailing down to her breasts. He loved her breasts, their soft fullness even more swollen now that she was with child. He raised his head to stare in awe at the beauty of her bosom, captivated by the wonder of womanhood. Soon, a child would suckle there, gaining love and nourishment, but not any child, his child. His hand caressed the mound that was growing alarmingly fast, a warm smile curving his mouth as the child kicked beneath him. Her time was near, very near and he knew he could not delay.
"Querida, we should make arrangements to return to Lancer. I want you safely there in Maria's care before the baby comes," he whispered.
Once more claiming her nipple in his mouth, he gently explored the tender nub with his teeth. She moaned softly, her body aching with renewed need. Never had she imagined love could be like this, that she could feel the ecstasy that caused her body to ache and convulse beneath this man. She marveled that her flesh could respond so, burning with such hunger that it robbed her of the very ability to think. She could only gasp, her breath stolen by her passion.
Panting, she thrust upward, pressing her breast deeper into his mouth, her body pleading for him. "Yes, we....we should go to Lancer," she panted, desire exploding in her.
He withdrew his pulsing length, his lips moving lower to kiss her swollen stomach. Lower and ever lower, his mouth burning her, the fever of her need matched by his. She writhed as he nibbled her inner thigh, his hands spreading her legs. As his mouth closed on her womanhood she came again, her back arching under his skillful touch.
Sated, she lay completely still, sighing in utter contentment when his lips trailed a host of tender kisses across her distended belly.
"God, how are we ever going to get through the period after the baby is born without making love?"
Johnny let his blue eyes wander wantonly over the curves and charms of the woman beneath him before he finally whispered, “I’ll find a way.”
Stretching out beside him she snuggled into his arms. Possessively, he wrapped his arms around her, drawing her closer, his hand cupping her breast, their position the same each night. So it was they fell into the deep, contented slumber of lovers.
“Morning, Johnny greeted his father. The older man was all ready up and sitting at the table sipping on a mug of steaming hot coffee. “Sleep well?”
“The best night I’ve had in months.”
Johnny smiled before offering a meaningful, “Me too.”
“Scott’s taking a walk; I'm sure he wouldn't mind some company.”
Johnny glanced briefly toward the door
before stating, “Teresa will be through in a minute, she’s got something to tell
“Yeah, best let her tell you.” Johnny
grinned before opening the door and stepping outside in search of his brother.
Murdoch smiled to himself, content with the knowledge his grandchild would be born at Lancer, if not raised there.
Catching sight of his brother’s blond head Johnny hurried in his direction, eager to spend some time alone with him, eager and a little apprehensive to hear his real thoughts on the decisions that had been made. Scott hadn't said much the day before, calmly accepting what had been said, quietly acknowledging the way things were to be. He was disappointed just like their father, hurting like they all were and hiding it behind a smile that said, “If you're happy brother then so am I.”
Scott was happy for them. Johnny knew that, but still being happy for them didn't mean he was happy in himself and Scott wasn't. That’s why he'd taken off on an early morning walk, wanting to feel a fresh breeze on his face as he put everything into perspective.
“You walking up an appetite?”
“Don't need to.” Scott rubbed his
stomach enthusiastically. “After a week of trail food my stomach is begging for
one of Teresa’s ham and egg specials.”
”Missed her cooking, huh?” Johnny teased.
“Missed her laughter, missed her chatter, missed her and you both,” Scott replied all humor drained from his voice. He turned away, and sadly stared off into the distance.
“Scott…” Johnny began, sensing his brother’s anger. It was long overdue and he wasn't sure how to best to appease the older man. “I'm sorry…” Scott’s gaze returned to his and Johnny fell silent under the accusing eye of his brother.
“Why didn't you tell me, Johnny? Why couldn't you share with me what was obviously so important to you? What did you think I would do? I thought you trusted me. I considered us close, best friends, yet you couldn't tell me you were in love with Teresa.”
“I wanted to.”
“So, what stopped you?”
“I knew what you'd say!”
“What would I have said?” Scott’s voice rose irritably.
“You would have told me to tell Murdoch and I couldn't! I just couldn't. I didn't believe he'd think me good enough for Teresa. I didn't want to lose him and I couldn't bear to lose her!”
Scott watched the misery settle on his brother’s face before the dark head bowed, agonizing proof of the torment the young man had gone through. He hated the fact Johnny couldn't bring himself to tell him, but sadly when he considered everything that made Johnny who and what he was, he could understood it.
Johnny's earlier good humor had deserted him in the face of the unknown as his declaration hung in the air between them. He turned away, his head bowed as he struggled to hold back angry tears, firmly maintaining his fragile grip on his composure. Breathing heavily, he forced back emotion to a safe place where control was possible. He squared his shoulders, pushing away the ache, painfully aware that Scott's forgiveness was long in coming. So Johnny waited, scarcely daring to breath, his very ability to do so sucked out of him in an odd vacuum. Suddenly the air was not as crisp, the sun was not as bright, its glory dimmed by the expectancy of rejection. The very breeze seemed to blow with accusation, its once gentle caress now stinging his face with needle like fingers as echoes of guilt demanded attention. Johnny turned towards his brother, his heart pausing in mid beat. The words he longed to hear seemed beyond reach, so close he could imagine they called to him yet so silent.
The soft voice screamed for understanding louder than any shout, anger fled before them, and Scott sighed, the tension leaving his shoulders as he stated pointedly, “You made a pig’s ear out of things, yet somehow you managed not to lose either of them.”
Hope raised Johnny's head, turned his eyes to meet the gaze of his brother. With a hesitant smile, Johnny breathed again, the barely concealed voice of forgiveness threading through his sibling's words.
“How about you, Scott? Have I lost you?” Johnny asked earnestly.
“Do I look lost?” Scott grinned. "I've missed you brother, you know that, right?"
"I hoped. But I thought you would be furious with me like Murdoch was. I just kept seeing his face, you know? All angry and hurt like. I imagined you felt the same way deep down." Johnny sighed heavily as memories of that fateful night flooded back.
"I was terrified, watching the family I had dreamed of falling apart. I even imagined you would pull the trigger that night. Then when you came back I hoped things were going to work out. I couldn't do anything, Johnny. All I could do was stand by and watch my world, all of us destroyed, and I was angry. Yes I was. With Murdoch and you, and Teresa, but I couldn't stay angry. Now that I see Teresa and you and this place, I understand how right you two are together. I think Murdoch sees it too."
A faint smile touched Johnny’s lips before he bowed his head, once more battling his emotions as relief overwhelmed him. All was not lost, peace settled on him and all was right once more with the world. The sun shone brightly, suddenly as if escaping the cover of clouds. Murdoch and Scott had forgiven him, accepted his love for Teresa and his child was to be born at Lancer. He had been given a chance and he determined to do right by his wife and child, and his family.
"I think so,
Boston. At least I hope so."
"So, little brother, you aren't coming home, are you?" Scott still clung to the flimsiest of hopes.
"This is home now. How do we leave here? Look at what we've done." Johnny waved his arm indicating the expanse of green around them, the cattle dotting the fields.
"I had to ask."
"I know." The two Lancers stood staring at each other before Johnny broke the uneasy silence with, “We are going to miss breakfast."
Arm in arm the two brothers turned to the small cabin.....
His Chapter 11
Johnny brought the wagon to a halt. Wrapping his arm around the young woman beside him he drew her close and together they stared down at the sprawling hacienda, sitting in contented silence savoring the view.
“It doesn’t look any different.” Teresa finally broke the spell, tears filling her eyes.
“No, it doesn't.” Johnny smiled, his mind returning to the day when Teresa had brought the wagon to a halt in the exact same spot. That day seemed so long ago now. Then, he had gazed at the splendor with concealed awe, unable to believe he was the son of the man who owned not only the grand house, but all the land surrounding it. He had been impressed but equally as bitter, angry at what he had been denied and angrier still at the man who had denied him.
Lancer looked the same as it had then, but some things had indeed changed since that first momentous day. The dark-haired girl who had met him and Scott off the stage had meant nothing to him then, now she was his everything, his world, the woman he loved, his wife and she was carrying his child. The property below them was a place he had come to love just like he had come to love its owner.
Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, Johnny realized for the first time what coming here had meant. He had arrived with nothing except a reputation, and had found a home and family, and love in its purest form. It felt so good to be back here, so right. Yes. It was good to be home, but wasn't home the place they had left behind just a week ago?
Confused and unable to separate his emotions, he picked up the reins. Snapping them lightly the team moved away, the remaining distance between the knoll and the gleaming hacienda passing quickly. The closer they got, the tighter Teresa squeezed his arm and as they passed under the Lancer arch he realized she was crying, and for the first time he knew just how very much she too had missed Lancer.
“I know they will pleased,” Scott assured his father, looking appreciatively around Johnny’s bedroom, or rather at what had been Johnny’s bedroom. It had now been transformed into a something more suitable for a couple and the adjoining room turned into a nursery.
“I hope so. I want them to feel welcome…at home,” Murdoch said a little sadly.
“Murdoch, Lancer is ‘home’ to both of them. It’s the only home either one of them has ever had. The reason they are coming here to have their baby is because it means so much to them, because you mean so much to them.”
Shifting uncomfortably, Murdoch nodded. “I just hope I manage to not say the wrong thing.”
Scott sighed. “I’m sure Johnny is as wary as you. You are both going to have to learn to relax around each other, just be yourself, enjoy the time you have together."
“That’s just it. I want them to enjoy
their stay, to want to come back again, to perhaps want to even…” Shrugging away
his last thought Murdoch fell silent.
”You are hoping they will decide to stay?”
Murdoch nodded. “Selfish I know, and a futile hope, knowing how settled they are, but they are just too far away for my liking. I want them where I can…well, where I can keep an eye on them, where I can be of some help to them if they ever need it. Things are going well for them now, Scott but that’s not to say they won't hit a rough patch somewhere along the line. Johnny’s not likely to holler for me if things do get tough. I just want to…to be there for them if they ever need anything.”
“You're the first person they would turn to,” Scott stated confidently
“I’m not so sure Johnny knows he can.”
”He does Murdoch, and he will should he ever need to.”
The patriarch nodded, feeling a little more assured, his face relaxing into a broad smile. “This time Monday they will be here.”
Scott moved closer to the window, lifting the lace to get a better look at the approaching wagon. “I don't think you are going to have to wait that long, Sir.”
“What?” Puzzled, Murdoch strode to the window, his eyes widening in delight. “They're three days early.”
Their arrival was much heralded, Scott, Murdoch, and Jelly awaited them as they pulled to a halt in the yard. Hesitantly, Johnny greeted the men, conscious of the sense of belonging that invaded his being. He stepped down from the wagon, offering a hand to Murdoch, but presenting no resistance when the older man flung his arms around him. Murdoch's arms lingered around him before reluctantly releasing him to Scott. Johnny and Scott fell into each other's arms, patting each other on the back, their joy at being reunited clearly evident in the embrace they shared.
Sobbing loudly, Maria rushed out of the hacienda, the great oak door slamming shut behind her with a resounding thud. Johnny barely maintained his balance as Maria flung herself into his arms. His arms encircled her waist, as her tears streamed down her cheeks and onto his shoulder. Spitting a stream of Spanish at him, she hugged him tightly, only backing away as she became aware of Teresa's swollen belly. Laughing, Johnny turned to his wife, offering his hand to aid her in stepping down from the wagon. Teresa and Maria hugged each other enthusiastically, Teresa's tears now rivaling those of the robust housekeeper. As the women reluctantly parted, Teresa moved to greet the men she regarded as her father and brother.
Jelly had stood quietly to the side, content to bide his time, but now impatient to welcome the couple home. "Don't jus' stand there gawkin', youngun. Give me a hug." His voice, though gruff, conveyed his own joy as he, too, wrapped Johnny in a tight hug.
The reunion over, the group moved into the hacienda, the women walking arm in arm as the men followed. As the women moved toward the back of the house, the men entered the great room. Scott and Jelly quickly excused themselves to haul the young couple’s luggage up the stairs leaving father and son alone.
Johnny’s eyes eagerly wandered over the
familiar contents. Everything was exactly how he remembered it, and despite the
events that had taken place there that last day, and the vicious words hurled
between father and son, he stood in the center of the room and felt only great
Murdoch watched the array of emotions flicker across his younger son's face and immediately felt pangs of guilt and regret. He would never forgive himself for forcing Johnny’s hand, for driving the boy from his own home. Still, now was not the time to dwell on those things. Johnny was back under his roof and he was determined to let his son know how happy that made him.
”Welcome home, John.”
Johnny smiled shyly, a little overwhelmed by the depth of feeling in his father’s voice. “It’s good to be home.”
Grasping the chance he knew he might not have again Murdoch gripped his son’s shoulders and quietly offered, “Thank you for giving me another chance. God knows I don't deserve it. Not after what I said, after what I did”
“I wasn't blameless in all this, Murdoch, and come to think about it I never apologized to you, did I? Well I am, apologizing I mean. I'm sorry for what I said, for what I did, for not trusting you, for not…”
“No, John. I over reacted. I should never have…”
“Are we arguing already, Old Man?” Johnny grinned.
Murdoch chuckled, but quickly grew serious and as he tightened his grip on Johnny’s shoulders, stated quietly, “That is something I'm determined not to do.”
As a silent understanding passed between the two men, Teresa and Maria entered the room, their excited chatter shattering the silence. Seconds later Maria was wagging an admonishing finger at both men as she steered a protesting Teresa towards the stairs, insisting the young woman was in need of some rest.
The small group made their way upstairs, and as the young couple entered their room they instantly fell silent as they took in the changes that had been made. Murdoch hovered anxiously by the door. Nervously clearing his dry throat, he began to speak. “I took the liberty of doing some refurbishment, through there…” Murdoch pointed to the open door of the adjoining room, “is…well, I thought it could be the baby’s room. I brought a few things down from the attic, cleaned them up. Of course if you'd prefer to buy new then…”
Teresa hurried into the nursery. “Oh, it’s beautiful!”
Vivid blue eyes fell on the delicately carved crib Teresa was enthusing over.
“Johnny! Your father made this! You used to sleep in here.”
Silently, Johnny moved toward his wife, his fingers reverently exploring the small wooden structure, emotions surging through him as he touched something else from his past he had no recollection of. Eyes locked on what had once been his, he whispered, “You made this.”
Murdoch studied the bowed head and was
immediately assailed with images of a dark haired infant. “Yes, it took me a
while. I'm no carpenter, but it was something I loved doing. Something I put my
heart and soul into making. It was a…” Pausing when he realized how
uncharacteristically open he was being, Murdoch had to force his next words out.
“It was a labor of love." Suddenly desperate to escape the emotions in the room,
Murdoch excused himself and made his way downstairs.
His Chapter 12
Teresa sat alone at the kitchen table, humming quietly to herself as she prepared the vegetables for the family’s evening meal. It was one of the few chores Maria would still allow her to do. She had protested at the ever increasing number of restrictions imposed upon her, knowing how unnecessary most of them were. After all, women had babies all the time, but Maria was adamant, and the men folk had not dared question the older woman’s decisions. So, feeling shamefully pampered and spoilt the young Mrs Lancers’ days had been long, the inactivity at times hard to bear. There was only so much knitting and needle point she could do before boredom and restlessness set in.
At least everything was ready for the baby. She had managed to get everything she wanted and the way she wanted it. Now it was just a case of waiting, and it seemed everyone including Johnny was doing a better job of waiting than she was. But then, everyone else had a hundred and one things to keep them occupied. Yes, everyone was busy except her and she felt so guilty, guilty and so very, very big. Like a barrel.
Johnny had laughed at the tearful comparison she had made in frustration the day before, whispering endearments and hugging her close or as close as he could do these days. She had laughed then too; as always he knew just what to say and do to make her feel special.
The knife she had been holding suddenly clattered onto the table as she flinched; biting her lip she tried to stifle the gasp that threatened to escape her mouth. There it was again, only much stronger this time; it took her breath away with its intensity. All morning the pains had plagued her, but there had been no regularity to them, and with the baby not due for another couple of weeks she had purposefully shrugged off the discomfort and kept their presence to herself. But what had started off as a tightening sensation across her abdomen could no longer be described as discomfort, and both her heart and her mind had to accept what her body had been trying to tell her since daybreak. The baby was coming, she was about to become a mother.
Excitement was soon replaced with apprehension; the two had warred on and off for months now, but coming to Lancer had helped quash some of her fears. Still right at that moment she wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or cry, only that she wanted it all to be over. Silently scolding herself she pushed herself to her feet, the hours ahead may not prove easy, but they would certainly prove rewarding. Soon she would be holding her and Johnny’s child in her arms.
As Maria bustled into the kitchen, a basket of washing held in her arms, Teresa opened her mouth to speak. But one look at the flushed face told Maria all she needed to know, “It is time!”
Teresa smiled. “Yes it is time.”
The grandfather clock chimed the passing of yet another endless hour. Johnny had stared at it in disbelief, it was five in the morning and still the baby hadn't come. Teresa had been up there laboring since lunch time yesterday, surely that wasn't right? It shouldn't take this long, should it? His mind was wracked with such questions and fears, and his father and Maria, and even Dr Sam Jenkins, had tried to reassure him. He'd tried to heed their words, honed he knew out of experience, but nothing had helped ease his concerns. Dr Jenkins hadn't stayed very long; other more urgent matters needed his attention. After a thorough examination, he had confidently left the mother-to-be in Maria’s care, telling Johnny the baby was simply being as stubborn as his father had been and no doubt his grandfather before him. Scott had loved that comment; the older man had laughed and playfully slapped Johnny on the back as he had insisted that the baby would indeed be a boy, just like Teresa kept telling everyone it would be.
He had been allowed to see his wife several times, brief and hurried visits in which she had assured him of her well being. She had tried to hide her pain from him but he had seen it in the flushed face and in the overly bright dark eyes. He couldn't put into words how much he had loved her right then or how much he wanted to take the pain from her, but she had known just as she always did exactly what he was thinking and how he was feeling. She had smiled up at him and told him not to worry, that his son would be born soon. Then she had let Maria chase him from the room, and he had been forced to leave her to deal with her agony without him.
Chess, coffee and idle chat along with the inevitable agitated floor walking had helped pass some hours but with the dawn he had drifted outside, watching the sun as it had peaked over the towering knoll. A new day and soon a new life but if it didn't happen soon he was sure he would go out of his mind with worry. His father and brother had never left his side, and he knew he couldn't have made it through the night without their steadying presence. Outwardly calm, he knew they were as anxious as he but they were not prepared to show it. He needed their strength right now and that was exactly what he was getting.
It was, he knew, something that happened to most women and something they endured time and time again, but he was also painfully aware that things could go wrong. His own father, and his brother were proof of that. He had tried to push all thoughts of Catherine Lancer’s death to the back of his mind, but it was always there a constant nagging reminder of how fragile life was.
As the hand on the huge clock face lurched to half past the hour Johnny turned away, his troubled gaze seeking something, anything, to take his mind off what was happening upstairs. Blue eyes settled on the fire, the flames danced intoxicatingly, holding his attention, and he knew he could lose himself in their midst if he could only let himself. But just then he heard Teresa call out, her strangled guttural moans tearing at his heart and he had made for the stairs. His father and brother forcibly held him back. Murdoch’s commanding voice smothered his desperate pleas to go to her, the older man insisted she was all right, and that it wouldn't be much longer now.
Just minutes later, he was listening in awe as a pair of tiny lungs loudly proclaimed their arrival into his world. Jelly like legs carried him upstairs, unbearable longing drawing him closer to the door behind which lay his wife and child. His hands shook as he opened the door, his eyes immediately finding the bed, and the woman who lay so pale against the pillows and the dark haired bundle that squirmed in her arms.
Brown eyes met his, tears of joy glistening there and all his fears melted away. He was aware of Maria kissing him on his cheek before leaving the room, and he whispered a heartfelt thank you before the same wobbly legs carried him toward the bed. He stood gazing down at her and his child, his heart overwhelmed with love for this woman who shared his life and had now blessed him with a child.
For long moments he neither moved nor spoke, as he struggled to understand the whirlwind of emotions that carried him away. His family lay on the bed before him, his wife and his son and suddenly Johnny Lancer knew the love that could drive a man to build, to protect, to die. He had spent months loving Teresa, living for her but now he knew he would give his life willingly for this woman and their child.
“Teresa,” he breathed her name. No other
words would come and as he sat down beside her he leaned in gently and kissed
her, a lingering kiss that told her everything he didn't know how to say.
Liquid, tear-filled eyes gazed back, telling him she understood and returned his
love. Johnny tenderly touched her cheek, capturing the single tear as it
trickled into his waiting fingers.
”Here, hold your son.” Teresa eased the yawning infant into Johnny’s arms. Gingerly, Johnny accepted the small bundle, wonder and awe filling him as he stared at the tiny child, the very epitome of love that surpassed any force on earth.
Tiny fingers wrapped around Johnny’s and he stared in wonder at the perfection in his arms. “He’s beautiful, just like you,” he breathed.
Teresa smiled, blissfully happy and wanting to share her happiness with the world. “Why don't you introduce him to his Grandfather and Uncle.”
Again his lips found hers, "I'll be right back, querida." A small smile curved her full lips, and she settled back into the pillows, exhaustion finally claiming her. She watched him leave the room before heavy eyelids lid shut.
Cautiously, slowly, Johnny made his way down the stairs. Stairs that had once seemed so familiar now appeared long and treacherous, as endlessly they stretched before him. He held his son tightly in one arm, the other arm clinging to the wall. With a sigh of relief he reached the ground floor, pausing momentarily to hug his child even closer. Tiny, brilliant sapphire eyes stared trustingly into his own, and joy exploded throughout his being once more.
Murdoch and Scott were on their feet, waiting expectantly as the footsteps moved steadily closer. Johnny entered the room, his father and brother gliding instantly to his side to stand peering into the mass of blankets.
"It’s a boy," he murmured, his voice trembling with emotion. Unable to say more he searched their faces, the joy on his countenance mirrored in theirs. Flanking him, they led him to the sofa, the three men sitting side by side, peering intently at the newest Lancer.
"Congratulations, son," Murdoch choked out through the lump in his throat. "He's beautiful."
"Like his mother. Murdoch? Was it like this for you?"
"Yes son, exactly like this."
His Chapter 13
He had not slept well. He had tossed and turned, and even found himself pacing the wooden floor of his bedroom numerous times during the night. Now as he shaved and prepared himself both physically and mentally for the day ahead, he realized that most, if not all, of his upcoming nights would be spent in the exact same way.
While they had been under his roof he had been content and at ease, but when they left today he would know only worry. It was he supposed irrational, all offspring fled the nest at some point. Wasn't he the perfect example of the rule? Only he had not been satisfied with putting a hundred miles between himself and the small croft in which he had been raised. No, he had put an ocean, a continent, between him and his father. Never to go back. Never to see the heather-clad hills or the snow-capped mountains again, and never again to gaze down into the dark, mysterious depths of the lochs. The Highlands had a different kind of beauty. The rugged splendor wove a magic all its own, but life there was harsh and brutal, the winters seemingly endless and cruel. He'd not wanted to work his fingers to the bone the way his father had, honing a pittance from livestock and vegetables. It was endless toil that barely kept his family fed, and saw the larger share of his meager income line the pockets of the laird.
Murdoch had wanted more, a better life for the children he planned on raising, and he was determined to pay no man rent for something that could cost his very heart and soul. No, he would become a laird in his own right. A grand dream, an impossible dream for the son of a crofter, but the new world was a land where such dreams came true and just a month short of his twenty-first birthday he had stood on a creaking deck and said a silent goodbye to all he was leaving behind. The familiar landmarks growing smaller, more distant, fading into what was very soon to become his past. He could still remember the sense of loss, of fear, but those feelings had been no match for his thirst for adventure, his need to grow, to become someone, to build something out of nothing, to be the man he wanted to be.
Fate had been both cruel and kind, and he had succeeded in building his empire. He had somehow managed to hold onto that dream while losing the true blessings in his life. But it was Lancer that had kept him going, when all seemed lost, when he had indeed lost everything. It had forced him on, it had been his anchor, his haven and eventually, just like the harbor lights guided the weary sailor home, Lancer had called to his sons, bringing them home to him.
He'd hoped Lancer would have the same hold over his boys that it had over him, that hell nor high water could drive them away, but sadly it had taken a lot less than plague or pestilence to drive his younger son away. It had only needed...what was it Johnny had called him that day? A hard-nosed, narrow-minded bastard. Yes he was what had driven Johnny to pastures new, to build his own dream, to look back at Lancer and see only the past.
Staring in the mirror he barely recognized the old man that stared back and this morning in particular he didn't like what he saw. He looked much older than he was; hard work and heartache engrained on what had once been a fairly handsome face. A lot of that heartache had been of his own doing of course, his stubborn pride overruling his heart, and he had lost so much time with his youngest son because of it. Today would see the consequences of such unyielding pride as he waved farewell to Teresa and Johnny, his first grandchild nestled in his dearly loved daughter-in-laws arms. His loss multiplied, his punishment was now even harder to bear.
Dabbing at the blood that seeped determinedly from a nick on his cheek, the patriarch realized he'd let his mind wander, and that losing himself in such reverie would only serve to deepen his melancholy.
As he finished dressing Murdoch heard the distinctive cries of a hungry infant. The wee boy had his father's appetite. He had probably inherited a lot of his father's qualities. Teresa's promised letters would fill him in on how much Paul took after his father, on his first words, his first steps. He had missed almost all of Johnny's youth, and now he was to miss a large portion of his grandsons too. That knowledge just about broke his heart.
Stepping through the bedroom door, he heard Johnny's door opening and forced a smile on his face. He greeted his son with a cheerful good morning, though it was for him anything but good. He would not make the day any harder to get through than it already promised to be.
Johnny had rested fitfully, his deepest slumber interrupted by dreams and images. As he buried his head under the pillows, faces danced behind his tightly closed lids. Mocking, gesturing, the images taunted him. Pictures of his childhood, his mother, his step father floated through his mind's eye in an endless parade of memories, each one more painful and disturbing than the one before. In his dreams he raged, screaming for peace, for an end to the pain. But no one listened, no one cared.
He was running, his body throbbing, his heart beating rapidly in his chest. Fear lent his bare feet wings, granting him speed to stay just out of reach of the groping hand. The thick leather belt licked at his heels, stinging him on to a greater effort. But his legs were becoming leaden, they were heavier with each step and the hand holding the belt gained ground, closer and closer until he could feel the leather biting deep into his shoulders. Screaming in anguish and terror, he struggled to escape. Finally, resigned to his fate he turned to face his pursuer. Shock widened his eyes, stole his breath. His step father leered at him and as Johnny watched the image shifted, changed to become Murdoch...
Then he felt no more, the sun kissed his face, the gentle breeze caught his tears. No longer a child, he felt invigorated, renewed; there was no pain, no fear. And she was before him, warm and welcoming, her silent promise filling him with hope and love. Her arms encircled him pulling his head to her until it rested on her full bosom. She hummed softly, her hand tracing delicate circles across his back. Sighing contentedly, he surrendered to her embrace, accepting her comfort, allowing the protection of her to erase the nightmare that had stalked him.
He rolled over to find her beside him, his hands pulled her close. He could smell her hair, feel her breathing, and as the dawn broke he slept at last.
Breakfast had passed in a blur, a sea of brave faces all feigning appetites. And for the first time since Teresa's and Johnny's return the conversation had been stilted and uneasy, inexplicably the only way it would flow. All too soon the meal was over and the family moved on to the next step to separation.
It seemed to Johnny they were leaving with a darn sight more than they had come with. Half the ranch seemed to be packed into the back of their wagon and it didn't all belong to the new arrival. Teresa had been encouraged by both Maria and Murdoch to help herself to whatever she thought might be of use to her and Johnny. Their kitchen was not as well equipped, nor was their house, and although a little reluctant at first, her cache of requisites had grown daily. Johnny knew most of the items were purely keepsakes, treasured mementos of Lancer, something tangible to pick up and hold close when the inevitable pangs of homesickness hit her. They would hit him too. He accepted that. Lancer had been his first real home, though sadly he couldn't remember his early years there, he would never forget the year in which he had become Johnny Lancer. The hacienda and its cherished inhabitants would always be home but not in the same sense the small ranch was home to him and Teresa now. They had spread their wings and built their own nest. They, or rather he, had gone about it all wrong. He'd done it the hard way, the only way he knew how it seemed but it had made him stronger. It had made them all appreciate what they had a lot more and they all realized just how easy it was to lose those you loved. But never again, the estrangement had been hard, painful but it had proved a valuable lesson, one no one would allow happen again.
They had planned on leaving midmorning and the hour was almost upon them. Everything was ready; all that was left now were the goodbyes. But Teresa's empty arms and his father's absence drew him upstairs, to stand just outside the nursery door. It was, he knew, a very private conversation between a grandfather and his grandson but it was one Johnny couldn't walk away from.
Had his father shared those same thoughts with him? Had he sat in that very same rocking chair holding and loving him?
It hurt to know he had. It hurt even more knowing he couldn't remember being so safe and loved. But watching his son held so securely in Murdoch's arms he was at least able to see how it had been between him and his father once. When the older man fell silent, Johnny stepped into the room pretending not to know the bowed head was hiding moist and emotion filled eyes.
"We're about ready, Murdoch."
"I'll be right down."
"Sure." Johnny moved hesitantly to the door. There was something he wanted to say, something he wouldn't be able to say downstairs, not with everyone around them, but it was proving just as difficult to say it here, with just the two, three of them.
"What is it, son?"
Johnny smiled, his father knew him a little too well at times.
"I just wanted to say something I ain't never said before. Something that's a little over due."
"Oh?" Murdoch's puzzled gaze met his son's.
Kneeling beside the older man Johnny leaned in close, one hand gently caressing his son's face. "You know his grandfathers a fine man, a good honest man, a man I admire, he's a little intimidating but I've learned his bark is far worse than his bite. I know I've given him plenty to worry over, took a few years off his life and it's only now when I look at my own son that I understand why. He's stubborn and he's hard to figure at times but one thing I know for sure is that he loves me. What I ain't so certain of is that he knows I love him."
Johnny watched his father closely; waiting for the reaction he prayed would come. As he observed the older man, a tear broke through Murdoch's self-control and rolled slowly down his cheek. Quickly the first tear was followed by a second, the aged eyes brimming now. The deep lines that defined the hardened rancher's face softened, the years of pain and anger peeled away and revealed the tender man inside. Shaking, the older man extended his hand, and found his son's shoulder. Firmly he squeezed, the touch conveying as much as the tears now coursing down the aged cheeks.
"Do you understand how much I love you? How proud I am of you?" Softly the words fell off the older man's tongue, laced with love and memory. "I couldn't want more in my son. I only wish I had told you so long ago."
Mindful of the baby, Murdoch drew his son into an embrace. Three generations molded into one, two full of peace and hope, the third safe and content in the older men's love.
His Chapter 14
Scott smiled to himself; his gaze remaining on the book held in his hands. He didn't need to look at his father to know what the older man was doing. The familiar rustle of paper, the contented sigh followed by a quiet chuckle told him Murdoch was once more lost in the magic Teresa had woven with her words. His sister-in-law had poured a great deal of feeling and love into the missive, drawing their two worlds a little closer. Page after page, each one conjuring up images of a contented family and their prospering ranch. Johnny hadn't written anything himself but with Teresa’s frequent, “Johnny says to tell you...” Scott could just imagine his brother’s eagerness to share their life. Johnny was eager to let their father, in particular, know how well things were going for them, how Paul was thriving, hoping to ease the older man’s parental concerns.
In the months since the young family had returned to their own home, life had settled into some sort of normality at Lancer. Their absence had left a huge gap but not the emptiness their earlier flight had caused. This time Teresa and Johnny’s whereabouts and circumstances were known and more importantly there was no animosity between them, only miles.
The hacienda was quiet, too quiet at times but it was at peace and that was something Scott had once feared might never happen. He missed his brother, his ‘sister’ and his nephew greatly, but he had accepted the way things were, thankfully his father had too, and life went on. Lancer continued to expand, with several new ventures increasing the profits. All was well in the world and Scott was beginning to look to his future.
He had not been looking for romance, but it seemed it had been lying in wait for him, and although it was still in the early days of their relationship, Scott knew in his heart that Hannah was the one for him. Murdoch had been delighted that the niece of his old friend Doctor Sam Jenkins had caught his elder son’s eye. The young lady in question had been visiting with her recently bereaved mother and after being invited to Lancer for dinner Hannah Beck had suddenly become very important in his son's life.
Now that his mind had strayed to the
flaxen haired beauty Scott could no longer concentrate on his book and he
snapped it shut. He set it down beside him on the couch before standing and
moving to look out through the window into the moonlit night.
”Something on your mind, son?”
The concerned tone brought an appreciative smile to Scott’s face. “No sir, just a little restless.”
“I see.” Murdoch grinned. “Sunday
seeming a long way off?”
A little taken aback by his father’s intuitiveness Scott simply stared at him. Sunday did indeed seem a long way off; the picnic he and Hannah had planned was eagerly anticipated. Finally, realizing his father knew him a little too well, Scott admitted. “Yes sir.”
Slipping Teresa’s letter back into its envelope and into a drawer in his desk, Murdoch sat back in his chair contemplating his elder son.
“Is she the one son?”
The question took him a little by
surprise, but he answered it immediately. “Yes sir, I truly believe she is.”
Teresa sat down heavily at the kitchen table. She was exhausted, happy but exhausted. Laundry and a busy baby had kept her running since Johnny had left after breakfast. The child was just like his father, busy and curious. Only six months old and little Paul was crawling out of his crib and wandering to his little heart's content. Teresa had found no way to restrain the wandering child so she spent a great deal of her time chasing along behind.
Hanging the laundry was always a worrisome task. She couldn't afford to take her eyes off the child, and she could not hold him as she hung the clean clothes on the line. She alternated between hanging clothing and holding the child. Somehow she was determined to coordinate nap time with laundry time. Unfortunately, little Paul's sense of time was not in tune with the rest of the family's. He chose his own hours to rest usually in direct opposition to his mother and father.
Sighing, she rested her chin in her hands. Yes, Paul kept them busy but the child was loving and good. He seldom gave them cause to discipline him, seeming content to please his parents, with the exception of refusing to sit still. Dark-haired, blue-eyed, the tot resembled his handsome father more each day and he was displaying the signs of his father's nervous energy.
Rested, Teresa rose and moved to the kitchen. Johnny was due home within the next hour or so and she wanted his meal hot and fresh. She was looking forward to a hot meal with her husband followed by a night of cuddling and more. . . if little Paul would sleep that is. She giggled softly at the thought. Her husband, even after more than a year, still had the ability to drive her mad with passion. One look from his smoldering eyes, one gentle touch set her heart to racing, stole her breath. Even now, as she cooked his dinner, she could feel the flames building in her belly, a familiar ache taking hold. Perhaps, they would eat afterwards. She giggled again; the thought of offering Johnny something other than steak for dinner was extremely appealing. Nodding thoughtfully, she turned the stove lower, and headed for her room.
As she passed the small room where Paul slept, she stuck her head in the door, "Well, little man, if you won't sleep through it later, then we can just adjust our timing," she whispered.
Footsteps on the porch a half an hour later told her, her prince had come. With a shudder of excitement, she entered the main room and waited.
Johnny paused outside the door. As was his habit he had stabled Barranca and then paid a visit to the bath house. The savory aroma of Teresa's stew wafted out the open door; his stomach growled in anticipation. Eagerly he threw open the door to the cabin, coming to an abrupt halt as his gaze fell on his wife.
She was standing in the middle of the room wearing nothing but her smile. Her silky dark hair cascaded loosely to her waist; her eyes were dark and inviting. Her flat stomach moved rapidly in and out in tempo with her accelerated breathing.
"Good afternoon, cowboy. Are you hungry?" she taunted.
"Starvin' ma'am," he breathed. He crossed the room in two strides, his hands finding her breasts as his lips claimed hers. Then half carrying her, he drove her back until the back of her thighs struck the table. Reaching around her with one arm while the other maintained its hold on her waist, he swept the tablecloth to the floor. Johnny lifted her onto the table, lowering his head, his mouth grasping her swollen nipple. One hand eased underneath her buttocks massaging it roughly, as his other hand struggled feverishly with the buttons on his pants, finally pushing the garment down and away. Urgently sliding Teresa’s writhing form towards him he eased her legs apart lifting them up and over his shoulders allowing full access to the area his hard manhood now strained to enter. As her hips rolled upwards to meet his he savagely invaded her, driving deeper into her moist depths with each increasingly violent thrust until as she convulsed beneath him he shuddered to an exhilarating climax emptying his seed deep inside the woman he loved.
As usual Johnny had eaten a hearty breakfast, and as he'd kissed her goodbye he had made a mischievous reference to the dish served up to him the night before. Teresa had blushed and chased him out the door, laughing as he feigned fear. She had watched him until he and Barranca had disappeared over the hill then turned and headed back inside the kitchen. Her gaze lingered on the table and some pleasurable memories before scolding herself for her shamelessness and making a start on her chores.
With Paul still asleep she could let her mind wander and it instantly returned to Lancer. They were hoping to make the journey there next month; all being well and neither one of them could wait. They were both anxious to see Murdoch and Scott, and eager to meet Scott’s fiancée. Murdoch had sung her praises in his last letter and Scott had written with obvious love and pride about his intended. She was so happy for him. Johnny was too and both of them wanted to see Miss Hannah Beck for themselves. They wanted to get to know her a little before they returned for the couple's wedding in the spring. Sighing contentedly, Teresa sent up a silent prayer, grateful her dearly loved brother-in-law had found the happiness she and Johnny shared.
It was hard to be sure from that distance but it certainly looked like Sam’s buggy trundling towards the ranch at a faster than usual pace. The doctor wasn't alone either, someone was seated beside him. It wasn't Hannah, she had returned home to prepare for the wedding. Murdoch narrowed his eyes, trying to discern who it was calling upon them.
//Teresa?// It couldn't be. They weren't coming for another month// Murdoch’s brain refused to believe what his eyes were telling him; instead he strolled toward the hacienda, deciding to greet his unexpected guests there.
“Teresa.” The name tumbled anxiously from his lips. It was her, and she looked so pale, so very drawn.
As the buggy lurched to a halt, Murdoch, although more than a little stunned, automatically raised his hands to take his sleeping grandson into his arms. Lovingly he studied the child before looking up at the obviously distraught young woman.
Sam jumped down from the buggy and
hastened to the other side, taking the girl's hand he helped her down.
”Teresa? What is it? Where’s Johnny?” Murdoch finally found his voice.
A sob escaped the trembling lips and instantly Sam intervened, wrapping a supportive arm around Teresa’s shoulders and ushering her inside. Turning to his old friend Sam attempted to give some explanation
“She was getting off the stage. I went over to meet her and found her like this. She hasn't said a word Murdoch, not one word!”
Dreads icy fingers curled around Murdoch’s heart and as he entered the great room, Scott entered in from the kitchen. The younger man’s expression turned swiftly from joy to concern.
With Teresa seated on the couch, Murdoch placed his grandson in the doctor's arms and eased himself down beside his daughter-in-law. Taking her hand in his, he squeezed gently. “Is Johnny hurt?”
“No.” Teresa shook her head and swallowed hard.
Feeling some modicum of relief, Murdoch glanced quickly towards his elder son, aware some of the tension had lifted from his shoulders, too.
“Is he in some sort of trouble?”
His mind now reeling with possibilities, Murdoch clung to the most unlikely. Not daring to acknowledge the unacceptable, he asked, “Has he left you?”
Another sob echoed around the great room.
“Is there another woman, Teresa?”
“Then what is it, for God's sake honey, tell me. Where is Johnny?”
"A man came to talk to him," she sobbed. "He looked friendly so I pointed the way to him. I heard shots and when I got there I saw Barranca. He was down, covered in blood and there were two, two..." Teresa broke down, her sobs now wails of anguish.
Murdoch exchanged a sharp look with Scott, then swept his eyes around the room. Cipriano, Jelly and Maria, hearing the sobbing young woman, had come into the room. Horror was mirrored on each face as they awaited more facts.
Steadying his nerves with a shuddering intake of breath, Murdoch continued, "Honey, calm down now. We aren't following you. Barranca was down? And there were two men?"
Teresa gasped, as if she had withdrawn to a safe haven in the storm. Quieter, calmer, she searched each face. "I had to go back for Paul. I had left him in his crib. I sent one of the men Johnny just hired to town."
Scott wrapped a blanket around the slender shoulders, then sought out Sam. "Sam? Is she ok?"
"She's going into shock, Scott. I can give her something once we get the rest of the story."
Teresa was speaking again, her voice soft and detached. "The sheriff had to put Barranca down. He said he was too badly hurt to be saved. Johnny will be so broken-hearted. He loved that horse, you know." She placed one small hand on Murdoch's cheek, nodding to him for agreement.
"You did what had to be done. Now, honey where is Johnny?" he softly urged.
"Sheriff said the rifle took his face off. He wouldn't let me see him."
"Teresa, you are scaring us. What are you saying? Did Johnny kill that man?"
Teresa stood then, paced slowly away, then turned to survey her family. "He’s dead.”
Black didn't become her. It made her all ready ashen cheeks even more colorless somehow. Murdoch couldn't look at Teresa without his heart breaking for her loss, for their loss. He turned away from the haunting face, unable to bear the sorrow etched there, and instead looked down at the promise held in his arms.
When he looked at Paul he could see his dead son. Holding the boy, hugging him close, helped ease his pain. In Paul, at least some part of his son lived on and he was eternally grateful he had his grandson to love and cherish.
Barely a month had passed, yet they were all slowly coming to terms with their loss. The patriarch had always feared losing Johnny in such a way and the inevitable had happened. They had traveled to the graveside, said their farewells, and there he had held his surviving son as the young man finally gave way to his grief. The journey home, had been silent, the pain unbearable, but they owed it to Johnny to carry on, to move on. His wife, and his child needed them, would always need them, and they would not let him or them down.
She had known almost immediately, even before she had realized she was late. She hadn't wanted to believe it at first, wasn't ready to feel anything but pain and loss. But the life that grew inside of her deserved more from her than that.
Johnny had left her, and she was determined she would make him proud of her, and of his children. In the short time they had been together they had loved a lifetime and now the final gift to her was the child she carried. She had been gifted with his love and now the last gift was his.
"Ya lookin a mite better today. Ya got some color in ya cheeks, boy."
Dazed blue eyes looked up into a bewhiskered face, a kind but unknown face that seemed to be constantly at his side. Fever had gripped him, nightmares had torn into his soul, but he could make no sense of the images. Nothing made sense. The world around him was unfamiliar, yet he knew no other.
"Ya got a name, son?" Mutely, blue eyes stared back at the old man.
Nodding his white head, the old man, whispered, "No? Ok, I'll just call ya Sam."
Lacy & Seren