Warnings/Spoilers: Modern AU.
Disclaimer: No, don't own Lancer.
Standing inside the workshop door, Theresa watched Murdoch pound his frustrations out on whatever it was he was making or fixing. She wouldn't have bet on the project's survival given the way the hammer was slamming down. “Murdoch, it'll be okay.”
He continued to work, not even looking up at her. “Sorry?”
She stepped inside. “Scott's grandfather visiting.”
Setting the tools down, Murdoch faced her. “I'm not worried about the visit.”
Snorting, she walked over to lean against the workbench. “That's probably true, but you are worried. It'll be hard to see the man who kept Scott from you.” A startled look was thrown her way. “You think I don't know if there was a way that you wouldn't have had Scott with you?”
Murdoch returned to his mangled project.
Theresa had questions – lots of them. She knew Scott and Johnny had some of their own. Maybe this afternoon, they would have some answers.
In spite of the questions and doubts that plagued him some nights, Scott looked forward to his grandfather's visit. And there was some guilt. He had done a better job of staying in touch with Harlan when he was in the service than he had since arriving at Lancer.
"You miss him?”
Scott turned to Johnny, who didn't look away from the heavy morning traffic. “Yes, I do.”
"But you have questions.”
And Scott needed the answers. “As do you.”
"I'm making a list. Starting off with Gabriel and then it's Murdoch's turn.”
"Mind if I share that approach?”
"Go ahead.” Johnny drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “We sharing what we find out?”
"I hadn't thought that far ahead.” Scott couldn't get past what Harlan's possible reasons were for not telling him about Johnny. “Yeah, I think I'd like to compare notes.” He couldn't help but wonder how different—or close—their situations really were.
Johnny had an idea in his head what Harlan Garrett would look like. With the label of grandfather, he associated white or gray hair, small stature, and a welcoming grin. But then the only grandfather he had ever known was Gabriel's father.
Scott pulled away from him and headed towards a tall man, almost as tall as Murdoch, who turned at the call. Johnny would never admit it, but his first impression of Harlan Garrett said this was a calculating, shrewd man.
"Scotty.” Harlan Garrett reached out a hand to shake his grandson's.
Scotty? That was prime teasing material even if the word did grate on Johnny's ears. And he couldn't imagine his abuelo letting him off with a simple handshake. The old man squeezed the stuffing out of him whenever he could, and Johnny loved it and him.
There was affection there, on both sides. Harlan looked Scott over. “You've been touched by the sun, I see.”
"There's a little more of it here than in Boston. I like it.”
"Yes, I assumed that since you failed to return home.”
Johnny wouldn't have noticed that slight tension in Scott a couple of months ago.
"It'll be awhile before I return to Boston. There's a lot for me to do here.”
And back was the calculating, shrewd man. “Well, we'll see.”
Scott turned towards Johnny as he walked up. “Johnny.”
"Well, this must be Scotty's half brother, Johnny Madrid.”
What the hell?
Johnny shook Harlan's hand. “I use Madrid for my professional name. For my personal life, Lancer.”
"Forgive me, of course.”
"Now, your mother, she was a foreigner, wasn't she?”
Old man knew what things to say to get him on edge. What had Scott told him?
"She was from Mexico.”
"Yes, I understand she was a very lovely woman.”
How had he come to that understanding? Scott wore an odd expression; one that Johnny liked to think meant that his brother didntt have any idea of where Garrett was coming up with Johnny's history.
"I think we better be going, sir. Where is your luggage coming in?”
"Yes, we should. However, I have more than luggage with me.”
Johnny couldn't wait to see what was next.
Scott's hands froze, body braced. Tilting his head, he tried to find the source of the sound. To weed it out from the echo of people and luggage. And now he heard laughter, female and seductive.
His eyes turned to service counter. Most of her body was obscured by the large security warning sign, but he knew what she looked like. Oh, did he remember. A pretty oval face, with an old-fashioned roses and cream complexion, a wide painted mouth, big brown eyes with just a hint of impatience and a swing of coffee-colored hair.
His gaze lowered, scanned, then lifted again. Julie. He expelled a hard breath. Feelings came tumbling back. And all of them wrapped around a five-six package of curves. That particular box had been shoved down so deep it was a mere afterthought these past few years. But maybe not deep enough.
An insistent tap on his elbow brought his thoughts around.
Johnny whispered into his ear. “Who is she?”
Scott shot a look to his grandfather.
'"Surprise, Scotty.” He wriggled his white eyebrows. “Aren't you going to say hello?”
He took two steps to the counter when she turned, her smile broad.
"Julie, I can't believe it's you.”
"Seeing you here, especially after…you didn't answer my calls.”
"I wanted to Scott, but…”
She raised a finger to his lips. “Shh, let's not talk about it here.” Then her lips replaced the finger.
"Hey. Hello. So, Scott, I'm taking it you know this lady?” Johnny rolled back on his heels, an idiot grin on his face.
He pulled back, but not before feeling her softness against his arm. She felt so good in his arms. Still so damn good.
"Since my brother seems to be—distracted—let me introduce myself. Johnny Lancer.”
The curiosity in Julie's eyes deepened. “You never told me you had a brother.”
"I didn't know.” Scott resisted the urge to look at Grandfather. “There's a lot of things…I didn't know.” And this time he sent a glance in the old man's direction.
"Johnny, this is Julie Dennison. A friend from Boston.”
Johnny's grin widened. “Yeah, I can see that.”
Scott decided then and there days of keeping secrets were over. “We were engaged to be married.”
"What? Wow.” Johnny recovered faster than Scott gave him credit for. “Now I know why Scott liked Boston so much. It couldn't just be the lousy baseball team.”
The feelings that surfaced soured his stomach. Once upon a time he and Julie had been engaged—back when he thought he knew what he wanted. What did he want now?
Harlan sat up front with Johnny – had insisted that Scott and Julie sit in the rear seat to reconnect. His grandfather added a word here and there, but seemed content to allow the time for Scott and Julie.
Scott remembered his grandfather was less than happy when he and Julie had announced their engagement, that they were too young. Maybe time had mellowed him.
They covered the safe topics of who was doing what, who was married, and what minor scandals mutual friends had gotten themselves into. No mention of why Julie was with Harlan. Scott would ask that when they had a moment to themselves.
Seeing where they were, Scott leaned towards the front seat. “Johnny, stop up at the curve.”
Johnny didn't ask and Scott figured he knew the why behind the request. He pulled off to the side. Scott was out of the car before the car was shut off.
Harlan stepped out of the car looked around at the open vista. “Lancer?”
Scott nodded as he came to stand between Harlan and Julie. “From here all the way to the mountains.”
"I've never seen it and yet I know it so well.” Harlan's face looked troubled. “It's where a naïve young girl searched for foolish dreams.”
Not for the first time, Scott's curiosity turned to Catherine Lancer, wondering what she must have been like. But he was sure of one thing. “She came out because she loved Murdoch and wanted to share her life with him.”
"Share in what? What drove him so hard that makes him put ambition above all else – even his family?”
That didn't make sense. From what he and Johnny had learned, Murdoch was making his way in business long before he was married. “Murdoch didn't have a family when he started out here.”
"He had to force himself to make the trade.”
"I raised you, Scott. Not Murdoch. I took care of you for over twenty years while he was carving out his little empire.”
As a boy, Scott had never forgotten it. Any time there were events for fathers and sons, he was forever reminded that he didn't have a father. “With all due respect, sir. I've tried to show my gratitude.”
Harlan's face hardened. “I don't want your gratitude.” He shook off the look. “Forgive me. I'm becoming maudlin in my old age. Shall we move on?”
The drive was quiet the rest of the way, but Julie reached out to clasp Scott's hand.
"Harlan, welcome to Lancer.” Murdoch used the same tone when meeting with a business acquaintance: polite, reserved, and professional. Johnny wasn't sure what he expected, but after that conversation in the car, anything was possible.
Harlan looked around the great room. “I find myself surprised to be here, Murdoch.”
"I imagine you do.” Murdoch turned to Scott and Julie.
Scott guided Julie closer to Murdoch. “Murdoch, this is Julie Dennison. Julie, this is my father, Murdoch Lancer.”
"Scotty's fiancé not so long ago.” That shrewd, calculating look was back.
Murdoch's glance to Harlan was sharp, but he smiled as he turned back. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Dennison.”
"Julie, please.” She shook his hand. “I'm excited to see what has kept Scott out in California. It's so beautiful, Mr. Lancer.”
"And it's Murdoch.” He nodded towards Scott. “I'm sure my son will be more than happy to show you around. Do you ride, Julie?”
"Yes, I do. It's how Scott and I met as children. We took lessons together.”
"I'd like to hear more about that.” Murdoch slipped Julie's hand into the crook of his arm in a move so smooth Johnny was awed. “It's a pleasant surprise to have you stay with us. Let me show you to your room and you can settle in before dinner.” Murdoch led the way with Scott following, toting Julie's luggage.
Walking behind Harlan with the old man's suitcases, Johnny felt he had just watched act one of a play. He couldn't wait to see how dinner would play out.
One thing that was easy to see: Scott still had feelings for Julie Dennison.
Ten minutes of mindless chatter about the preserve and, God help them, the weather, left Scott feeling antsy. He cocked an eyebrow at his father. Murdoch caught his look and smiled, making a paltry excuse to leave the room.
He fiddled with the expensive luggage tag on Julie's bag. “So why are you here?”
"Can't I visit an old friend?”
His head snapped up. “I've been relegated to the 'old friend' category?”
"Rather cross, aren't we?”
"Anger seems to be warranted in this situation.”
Julie's full lips had formed into a pout. “Why?”
"You have got to be kidding. After what happened?”
She rounded on him and he took a step back, feeling the wall against his back. The edge of a picture frame dug into left shoulder blade. “And just what did happen, Scott? A marriage proposal from a man who wasn't home half the time?”
"You knew I had a commitment in the Army.”
"We both had other commitments. You of all people should know about such obligations.” She ran her hand down his chest, making the old scars under his shirt jump and twitch. "And after that horrible accident in Honduras…you knew I wasn't cut out to be a soldier's wife.”
He pushed her hand away. “You ran back to daddy's firm.”
She turned and gave a small wave. “Like I said…obligations.”
Her eyes closed and Scott thought she looked fragile, not at all like the woman who could elevate verbal sparring to an art. He waited.
"It was a mistake, you know. Giving you up.” Her smile was wan. “Because by the time I figured it all out, you were hooking up with other women – a lot of other women. Then gone completely—to here.”
Something shifted inside of him. “I would have taken you back, Julie.”
"My mantra always seems to be a day late and a dollar short.” She pinned him with a stare. “What if I said I'd like to rectify my mistake?”
He looked into her brown eyes, so full of shadows, and surprised them both by tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"I can make it up to you, Scott, if you'll let me.”
He bent his head and brushed his lips against hers, testing them both.
Act two thrilled and held as much tension as act one. Johnny wasn't the only one to notice it.
Placing her napkin down, Teresa stood up. “Have a wonderful evening everyone. I need to hit the books if I want to pass tomorrow's exam. Good-night.”
Johnny couldn't remember a time he felt jealousy over missing the chance to do homework. He was running into a lot of firsts today.
As Teresa passed by, he felt a comforting pat on his shoulder. She walked away to well-wishes and good-nights before the conversation turned back to reminisces of Boston, business, and sheer boredom.
He had to give Scott credit for trying to ease the conversation between Harlan and Murdoch, but a lot of unspoken old history fouled every attempt even if nothing overt was ever said.
Johnny skipped desert and headed to the workout barn, praying the entire way that Gabriel's upcoming visit would be a lot less agonizing. At the rate he was losing his appetite, he was going to starve.
The night was clear as crystal. One of the old-time lanterns Murdoch liked to keep around the back veranda was lit, throwing off a muted yellow glow. Scott caught up the handle and turned the wick down even lower.
"It's quiet out here.”
He turned and saw Julie, outlined by the light from inside the house. “It takes a while getting used to. At least it did for me.”
She had brought out their wine glasses, refilled with Lancer's best burgundy. Offering one to him she raised hers in a mock salute.
"Here's to old friends.”
Hesitating, he smiled. “Back to friends?”
She seemed in thought for a moment then sipped from her glass. “Why stay in the middle of nowhere, Scott?”
He checked out her view. The black-looking mountains looming in the distance, the long valley with its firefly lights bobbing to and fro, and the millions of stars winking in the clear sky. It was all good.
"I like it here.”
"You liked it in Boston—once.”
"I still do, but here is…different, somehow.”
He placed his wineglass down and pulled the glass from her hand.
She turned and her mouth opened to his, hungry. She angled and went deeper, one hand fisted in his hair. She molded to him and he was painfully aware of every curve she possessed.
A man could get lost in those curves—and he had, a long time ago.
Absence did not make the heart grow fonder. Murdoch held his tongue until he and Harlan were alone in the great room.
Opening one of the french doors to allow in some fresh air, Murdoch turned back to Harlan. “Let's not waste any more of each other's time, Harlan. What do you hope to accomplish by coming here?”
"That's not very hospitable, Murdoch. You invited me.”
"I'm not feeling very hospitable at the moment.”
"Surely we can manage a friendly conversation.”
"Why? Our last conversation wasn't like that…nor were any of the ones before.”
Harlan strolled around the room. “Perhaps you're right, but that was years ago. Any differences between us are finished and done with.”
"There's nothing to be gained by hostility, Murdoch. You have your two sons by your side, successful businesses, well, everything you want.” Harlan picked up a book, leafed through it before setting it down again. His attention remained on the other items on the table.
"That takes care of me. Now what about you – what do you want?”
Harlan's hand closed around a framed photo. One that Murdoch had spent hours looking at. “Dear Catherine. I don't remember this picture.”
"One of the mementos you left behind along with her luggage and—her.”
Harlan brushed his hand over the glass. “She was the only thing of real value in my life.”
Anger surged, unchecked. “The only thing? What about Scott - where does he register on that scale?”
"Catherine was my daughter.”
"She was my wife and the mother of my son!”
"I did what I thought was best. She was my responsibility.”
"To kill her?”
Harlan set down the photo. “You have no right to say that.”
"I have every right. At the first sign of her discomfort, you should have taken her to the hospital.”
"She was in danger.”
"No, she wasn't. That's why I asked you to meet her in Cartersville – to have her father with her. Not to drag her off to the airport to fly back to Boston. If she hadn't been moved.”
"Her pregnancy was difficult. She needed the expertise that a Boston physician could provide her.”
"She wasn't to fly and I know she told you that.”
"Doesn't matter, we didn't make the flight anyway.”
Old pain knifed hard in Murdoch's chest. “No, she didn't.”
"I only wanted what was best for Catherine.”
"You wanted what was best for you.”
"That's all in the past.”
"Not for me it isn't. It's here, right now. You kept my son away from me for twenty-four years!”
"And what could you have done for Scotty? You didn't have two pennies to rub together.”
"He was still my son.”
"The law disagreed. I'm the one who raised him. I'm the one he belongs to.”
Finally, they were getting down to it. Not that it came as any surprise to Murdoch. “Now it makes sense.”
"Yes, you want to take Scott back to Boston with you, don't you? The ex-fiancé – the memories – all very convincing arguments.”
"Scotty has a legacy waiting for him in Boston, an estate of considerable worth.”
"And he has that here.”
"To share with his half -Mexican brother!”
Murdoch crowded into Harlan's personal space. “You did not seriously just say that. Are you stuck in the 1900's?”
"Perhaps, but there's no comparison between what each of us can give Scotty. He belongs in he world he grew up in, with the right people…”
"You are stuck in the 1900's.”
"…Where he can make something worthwhile of his life.” Harlan stepped away.
No doubt under Harlan's ongoing guidance. “You're forgetting, Harlan. He's not a child anymore. He's a grown man with a will of his own who has spent much of his adult years away from you.”
"I believe he can be persuaded.”
"I doubt it. He's stubborn as they come and knows his own mind.”
"I'm sure, Murdoch, that you could sway Scotty to stay by revealing your own warped version of the past – unless you've already done so.”
"I've never thought I had to.”
Harlan looked relieved. “Then we can make a bargain. Whether Scotty returns to Boston or not must be his decision without any outside influence – not yours – not mine. Agreed, Murdoch?”
More of Harlan's bargains, but Murdoch didn't want to visit the painful past on his son. There was no point to it. “Agreed.”
Good? That was debatable.
"I believe I'll turn in. It's been a long day.” Harlan took one last glance at Catherine's photo as he left the room.
Murdoch slumped down into the sofa. Not even a day with Harlan Garrett and he was ready to send the man back to Boston.
Throwing her hair up into a ponytail, Teresa soft-footed it down the back stairs into the kitchen. She heard bedroom doors closing and the house fall into the quiet it does in the late evening. Hungry now in the way she hadn't been at dinner, she decided that the apple pie she turned down earlier would work fine in relieving that. Turned out she wasn't alone in that thought. Johnny was at the counter cutting out a liberal piece as she entered.
"Cut me one just as big.” Teresa headed for the freezer and pulled out the vanilla bean ice cream. “Ice cream?”
"Definitely.” Johnny pulled out another clean plate from the dishwasher along with spoons. “Couple of scoops at least.”
"At least.” She felt the warmth radiating from the pie and grinned. “Yum, warm pie. Good planning.”
He smiled over at her and took the scoop from her hand. “Grab some napkins? I'll finish this up.”
"You just want to lick the spoon.”
Teresa met him at the table and sighed when warm apple and cold ice cream melted in her mouth.
"Dinner really sucked.”
swallowed. “Yeah, it really did.”
Citing business, Harlan borrowed a car to make a trip into town early in the morning – before most had woken.
Approaching the front desk of the hotel, the receptionist met him with a canned smile. “My name is Garrett. Has anyone asked for me?”
"Oh, yes, Mr. Garrett.” He stepped out from behind the desk. “Two gentleman are waiting for you in the dining room. This way, please.” He pointed out a couple of men seated at a far table.
"Thank you.” Harlan watched the receptionist leave the almost empty dining room before making his way to the table. “Gentleman.”
Standing, the taller one held out his hand. “I'm Carl Degan.” He gestured to the man still seated, giving him a nudge. “This is my brother, Will.”
Will shook his hand. Harlan gestured for them to be seated again as he took a seat himself.
"We're here, as you asked. What now?”
"Nothing at the moment. Stay here until I need you. With any luck, you gentlemen will have a nice stay and that will be the end of it.”
"This is an expensive trip for us to do nothing.” Carl met Harlan's eyes. “We came on faith, Mr. Garrett.”
Harlan pulled out his wallet from his suit coat. “And I appreciate that.” He pulled out a few large bills, leaving more cash alone. He held it out to Carl. “This will cover your expenses.”
Will looked at the cash. “We were promised more than that.”
"I've just said that is for your expenses. You'll receive your payment when you've completed the job I hired you for.”
The younger brother had a perpetual scowl on his face. “Don't seem like much after coming all this way.”
Having expected this, Harlan was glad to have it out in the open. “The price was agreed upon. It remains as is.” Harlan stood up from the table.
Carl stood as well, slapping his hand down on the table. “Mr. Garrett, wouldn't want you to think we was greedy or anything, but testifying against a man on a murder charge ain't something you do everyday, you know.”
Harlan wasn't intimidated. Carl Degan had put on a show of civility to start, but showed his true colors. The Degans would do as he asked if they wanted to be paid at all. “Well, perhaps that won't be necessary. However, if I need you, I'll be in touch. Either way you will be well compensated for your time.”
As he left, he could hear them counting out the money. Sometimes the people he had to deal with were less than desirable.
Hurrying, he left the hotel. He needed to return to Lancer by breakfast.
Johnny rose early unable to sleep. He took his time getting set for the day, and was still ready to go earlier than usual. As he was walking down the hall, his brother's bedroom door swung open and Scott stopped short seeing him there.
Johnny raised his brows at the very relaxed, very content demeanor that his brother oozed. “I bet it is.”
Scott's smile grew and sniffed the air. “Breakfast? I am starving.”
"Yeah, I'm sure you are.”
"Don't be jealous.”
"I'll work on it,” Johnny said, laughing. “Where's Julie?”
"Sleeping in.” Scott glanced away, tension evident. “Which is good. I'd like to take grandfather out. We need some time to talk.”
"He'll probably like that.” But Johnny had to wonder given how the old man arranged it so Scott and Julie were together at every opportunity.
"Grandfather.” It was a soft ode to the elderly man picking about the knick-knacks on the great room shelf. “We need to talk.”
Harlan lifted his eyebrow, revealing a flicker of amusement. “About what, my dear boy?”
The look heralded the start of the game—and a role Scott felt entirely too comfortable in playing. Until now. He shook his head. “Not here. Let's go for a drive. Besides I want to show you Lancer.”
He was studied by clear grey eyes until it made him uncomfortable—Grandfather always had a way of getting under his skin.
"Yes, I believe I would like that, Scotty.”
He reached for the car keys on the table.
Murdoch watched as Scott and Harlan made their way to the Jeep. Scott's posture had that stiff, braced look like he was preparing for something. A number of times in the past couple of weeks, his son had looked distracted and troubled, something on his mind. Murdoch had wondered if the questions would start, but Scott had held back.
Now, he thought maybe Scott had waited for Harlan before asking those questions.
Harlan had answers, loads of them, but Murdoch had his doubts that much truth rested in them.
Parked on an overlook, the view opened up all the way to the mountains. Harlan listened to him describe the valley and preserve without interruption. Out of conversation, Scott took a deep breath to quiet the ever-increasing thrum located right above his belt buckle. He fidgeted with the steering column feeling the ridged edges at ten and two.
Harlan harrumphed and locked his gaze out the window. “Let's not go down that pathway.”
"Now, of all time, is the right time. You're here at Lancer because of him.”
"I could have just as easily stayed in town.”
"But you didn't.”
There was a faint sigh, barely heard over the birds, as Harlan studied his veined hands. “You took off so abruptly, there was no time to think.”
"You have my phone number.”
Harlan turned in his seat. “You didn't tell me because you didn't think it any of my concern. You didn't want me involved. This was a major decision...”
"I've been making my own choices for a while, first at Harvard then the Army.”
"You interrupted me. I was going to say that this was a major decision…in your life. Apparently the man who raised you for the last twenty-five years couldn't be involved.”
Scott bristled. Why was it so many of their conversations boiled down to this? “I needed time to work things out.”
Harlan shrugged. “Your life…not mine.”
"What's the real answer, Grandfather?”
"I wanted to see you. I…miss you.”
"I didn't think you'd understand.” Scott squirmed in his seat. That wasn't entirely true. He hopped on the plane from Boston to California that night because he just didn't want the drama involved in a confrontation. Would they be here now, if he had stopped to simply talk with his grandfather?
"Ah well, what's done is done, eh?”
"What is that supposed to mean?”
"We make out own future, Scotty. Including your father. Why do you think he sent for you? A failing business, two failed marriages, and a host of other questionable situations. And he's dragged you into it.”
Scott ignored the heavy-handed jibe. It was pointless to argue, that much he did know. But he needed a guarantee, if not for his sake for his father's. “You'll at least be civil?”
"I'm a smart businessman, Scotty, you should know I never give promises I can't keep.” Harlan relaxed back into the seat and closed his eyes. “I'm very tired now. I'd like to go back.”
And there went any chance of asking what Harlan had known about Johnny.
Relieved for the interruption to his spiraling thoughts, Murdoch opened the front door thinking it would be an employee, but a stranger stood there. A man around his age, with gray edging out the dark hair by his temples and forehead.
"My name is Gabriel Madrid.”
Murdoch's initial response was hysterical laughter. He choked it back only to see the puzzled expression on Gabriel Madrid's face. The second was the overwhelming urge to plant a fist dead center in that puzzled face, but once again a cooler head prevailed.
"Come inside, please.” Manners, Murdoch, remember your manners. What was it an Aunt once said? If people would always remain courteous there would be no more wars since there is nothing more discourteous than bombing another country.
She had a point.
And Murdoch had no doubt that Johnny loved the man he called Papa in front of him.
Closing the door, he ushered Madrid, who stood a little shorter than Johnny, into the great room. Madrid turned, meeting him eye to eye.
"Mr. Lancer, I'm sure my arrival is something of a shock.”
Murdoch nodded given he couldn't argue with that. “Johnny will be happy you are here.”
"You are most likely not and I apologize for that.”
"All right.” Murdoch didn't know what else to say. What could he say?
"Is Juanito here?”
"He's out in the workout barn.”
"If I may, I will see him first and then we will talk, yes?”
Oh, why the hell not?
"Certainly. It's the mid-sized building to the left.”
Murdoch pointed him in the right direction and watched as Madrid made his way out to the barn.
"We've been invaded.” Teresa came up beside him and folded her hand around as much of his as she could.
"It does feel that way.”
"Life just sucks sometimes.”
Well, it was a veritable vortex right now.
Johnny halted in his idle tapping of the Everlast bag at the unlikely sound of his stepfather's call. Gabriel here and now? Their timing couldn't be that bad, could it?
"Papa?” Johnny walked through the door and sure enough, there was Gabriel striding towards him.
Did you lie to me?
The force of that thought shook him to the point he grabbed on to the doorjamb to maintain his balance.
Not only was the timing very bad, but that anger Johnny had ignored was rising up with volcanic force and there was no stuffing it down this time.
Gabriel slowed until he stood some three feet away and the absence of their usual hug made Johnny feel the betrayal all the worse.
"I'm sorry, hijo.” Gabriel held his arms out from his sides. “If nothing else, at least know that.”
Dios, all this time, all those things he believed.
And just like that the anger was gone leaving the rawness of too much too soon. He sank down on the edge of bench. Gabriel joined him there bringing with him the familiar scent of his cologne and memories.
"Your mama, she loved you. More than anyone or anything.” Gabriel sighed. “I loved her, and you became my son no matter the lack of a blood tie.”
"Then just tell me the truth.”
"I will when I know it all myself, but there are questions that I need to ask Murdoch Lancer first. Can you wait?”
"Only if you tell me all of it. No more of this…” Johnny shook his head. “Just no more.”
"It is a promise.”
"Come on inside, I'll introduce you.” Johnny was grateful Murdoch and Teresa were waiting. Teresa was pleasant and smiled. Murdoch reserved, but offered Gabriel a room. He caught the eye roll Teresa gave Murdoch as she led Gabriel to where he would be staying and the genuine humor that lit Murdoch's eyes for that brief moment.
"I didn't know he was coming now.”
"No, I can see that.”
'Murdoch looked as harrowed out as he felt and Johnny had to wonder at it.
"I'm sorry, Johnny.”
"What? I don't think you've got anything to be sorry about.”
"We all have some thing we're sorry about.” Murdoch exhaled. “It will be good to have some answers, but I didn't want them to come at your expense.”
The front door opened before Johnny could even think of what to say to that. Scott ushered Harlan in. Both men had a certain grimness that closed off any greetings. Harlan nodded in their direction and headed upstairs. Scott eyes followed him up.
"Scott, is everything all right?”
At Murdoch's question, Scott joined then in the great room. “It could have gone better.”
It could have gone better. The Lancer mantra.
Scott gave them a quizzical look. “I could ask the same of you both.”
The sound of footfalls and Gabriel coming back through the doorway halted any answer and Johnny figured Scott wouldn't need one in a moment anyway.
"Scott, this is Gabriel Madrid, my - ” Johnny stumbled over his usual use of 'Papa' and glanced at Murdoch who's face remained impassive.
"I'm Johnny's stepfather.” Gabriel held out his hand. “Scott, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
Scott didn't bat an eye, taking the offered hand. “Welcome to Lancer, Mr. Madrid.”
"Gabriel, please, and thank you.”
Scott inclined his head in agreement. An awkward silence fell, but didn't stay when Teresa breezed through the room. “Gabriel has had only plane food this morning. I'll take him to the kitchen and show him around.” With a tug on his arm, Teresa led him out of the room.
For a moment, the three of them just looked at each other.
Scott broke the silence. “So that's a surprise.”
As understatements went, Johnny thought it was one of the better ones. “Yep.” He wanted to ask what had happened with Harlan, but that would wait until he and Scott were alone.
'Boys, I need to get a couple of work things done that can't wait. I'll see you later.”
They watched him head to his desk, closed off in a way they hadn't seen since that first meeting.
Scott sighed. “What he must be thinking.”
And that was part of the problem – neither of them had any idea what Murdoch was thinking.
Julie piled up her hair in an artsy array of tangled, wild curls. Then paid close attention to her eyes, outlining them in a sultry olive tone. There was one quick knock at the door before it opened.
Harlan Garrett strode in, a commanding presence in the small room. "He's waiting for you.”
"You want me to perform the charade well, don't you? In order to do that, I need to look my best. That's what's going to make it all work, isn't it?"
Harlan huffed out an indignant breath. "If I didn't know how spineless you were I'd say that sounded like defiance."
Julie turned to face him. "What makes you so sure I can bring him back?"
He grabbed her elbow, digging into her arm with his polished nails. "Because I know what you have at stake, my dear.”
Horseback riding with Julie was an excellent reason to leave the hacienda. Scott hadn't thought the tension could get any worse, but Gabriel Madrid arrived and took it to unforeseen heights.
He stopped in front of the mirror in the great room to smooth his hair into place and straighten his collar. Johnny strolled into the room and past, then backed up to lean against the wall, watching Scott, who in turn raised a questioning brow.
Scott stopped what he was doing and gave Johnny his undivided attention. “You okay?”
Johnny gave a minute shake and shrugged. “I'll get back to you on that.”
Scott let it drop. “How do I look?”
Johnny smiled. “Elegant.”
"I must agree.”
"Breathtaking. You. Are. Pretty.”
Scott stopped fussing and smiled. “You think so, huh?”
"Yeah.” Johnny fluttered his eyelashes.
Scott pointed at him. “Any more cute remarks from my little brother, I'll have to teach you some manners.”
Johnny backed up, holding up his hands. “You don't want to get all wrinkled, do you?”
"No.” Scott's attention drifted away from Johnny as his grandfather walked in with Julie, who was all welcoming smiles.
Johnny's eyes landed on her, too. “Morning, Julie.”
"Here she is. Splendid day for riding.”
"Indeed it is, Sir.” Scott reached out to take Julie's hand.
Johnny stood right behind Harlan. “Indeed.”
Winking at Johnny, Scott turned to Julie. “Indeed. I've a lot of things to show you.”
Behind him he heard his grandfather talking with Johnny. “You weren't going too were you?”
Johnny's retort was loud enough to reach them by the door.
"No way, I'm not dressed for the part!”
Scott grinned and turned the knob.
Scott kept Julie's hand in his as they made their way to the small cove beside the lake. “This is one my favorite spots at Lancer. At sunset, the rays glance off the water, making it look like diamonds are out there sparkling.”
He tilted his head towards the water. “It helps if you squint a little.”
She jerked when Scott put his hand on her shoulder. “You're nervous?”
"Who me?” She affected a poor imitation of Scarlett O'Hara. “Why, Mr. Lancer, I do declare, you just bring it out in me.”
"I like it.”
She gave his chest a push. “You would. I always knew there was a superior male chauvinistic attitude lingering just below the sur…”
He lowered his head and nipped at the corner of her lips, tasting peppermint. He wanted to move slowly, and savor.
Lips parting under his, her head fell back and he explored the fine pulse points of her neck and collarbone. “You're still trembling.”
"Are you sure it's not you?”
He brought his mouth back to hers and deepened the kiss. She sighed and murmured. He brought his hand up and placed it against her chest, feeling the quick thuds of a racing heart.
He drew her against him and nuzzled under her earlobe. “I don't want this to be quick, Julie.” He slid his hands down, a fleeting brush against her breasts, to span her midsection, then up again to undo the buttons at her throat.
She moaned out his name when he deliberately lingered at the task. “Scott…”
Fighting to keep his hands from shaking, he spread the material, entranced by the skimpy black lace underneath. He slid his fingers under the bra straps and pulled downwards, finding tanned, warm skin underneath.
She tugged at the hem of his shirt and hoisted it upwards over his head in surprising urgency. Cool air skimmed over his shoulders, while her warm hands danced across his ribs, diving lower to pull at his belt.
Scott groaned; he hadn't known a need like this in so very long. He lifted her arm around his neck and lowered them both to the wild grasses.
She lay sprawled on top of him and as he pressed his lips to the side of her shoulder, she stirred. Lifting the hair out her eyes she smiled at him.
"You look entirely too pleased, Mr. Lancer.”
"Hmm. Content, too.” He slid his hand under her jeans, cupping her backside, and squeezed. “The ambiance here is definitely better than your father's cabana.”
"How could I forget? Fumbling around in the dark, with that swimsuit you were half-wearing.”
"I'll have you know that bikini was a Luli Fama.”
"Whatever. All I remember were those little bitty straps driving me crazy. And your father barging in on us, at the most inopportune moment. He never invited me back, as I recall.”
"Can you blame him? You deflowered his little girl.”
"I thought it was more like you deflowered me.”
Julie sat up, putting her clothes to rights, then wrapped her arms around her knees. She looked towards the lake. "All this wilderness, it makes it easy to forget—what we once had.”
Scott pulled on his shirt. “Hey, what's this all about?”
"I thought we were finished when you refused my proposal. What was I supposed to think?”
"Scott, what do we have now?" Julie laid a hand on his arm, the warmth of it going straight to his core.
He looked away, one hand skimming through his hair. "I don't know.”
"Do you ever think about coming back to Boston?"
"Yeah, I've thought about it."
"Then why don't you?"
He smiled, dipping his head. "I just got to Lancer. Finding Murdoch after all these years…and Johnny. I have a home here.”
"What about your grandfather?"
He laughed. "My grandfather is quite capable of taking care of himself, you know that."
"Is that the only obligation you think there is in Boston?"
"If we'd have gotten married…”
"It would have been different, I know that…but Scott, I'm asking now. I want you to come back to Boston with me, make your grandfather happy."
"And who makes me happy?"
She beamed a smile—a direct hit. "I will, I promise. You've got to believe me."
"Julie, we can stay here. Marry me and we can live at Lancer."
His voice went soft as a hard ball formed in his belly. "Why?"
"My father is an old man. Scott, he's sick, and he needs me.”
"Those obligations coming into play again?”
Julie looked away.
He ran a finger the length of her arm. “We could bring him out here."
"There is no use talking about it, Scott. You just don't understand.” She raised her head to stare at him. “Or maybe you don't care."
"I do understand—because I have the same feeling about my father, and that's why I can't leave Lancer. We're just getting to know one another.”
She stood and buttoned her shirt, tucking it in. “It seems to me he could have gotten to know you when you were growing up."
He grabbed her arm and swung her around. "Julie, what's that supposed to mean?"
"I remember when we used to talk about it back in Boston. You hated your father then, you said he didn't care anything about you. It does make you wonder doesn't it? All those years he never came to see you."
Scott bit back a retort realizing she was right—he'd wondered about those lost years ever since coming to Lancer.
Murdoch swallowed down a couple of painkillers and sank down into his desk chair. He was glad for the sake of his sons that Harlan, Julie, and Gabriel were staying at the house, but he was thinking a hotel was looking better by the minute. For him. Maybe he should at least have Teresa stay with friends.
Johnny walked in through the french door with Gabriel following. “Scott back yet, Murdoch?”
"No, not yet.”
"Can't say I blame him out there spending the whole day with a woman like Julie.” He sat his hip down on the desk. “In fact, I don't know how you ever got him to leave Boston.”
The short answer: a ten thousand dollar bribe and a healthy dose of curiosity.
Johnny slid off the desk. “I'll make us that snack. I'm starved.” And he was out of the room and headed for the kitchen. Murdoch watched him go.
"There's something I need to ask you.” Gabriel settled into one of chairs by the desk like he planned to stay.
Murdoch held back a sigh that wouldn't help anything and nodded.
"I know it was hard for you to locate Johnny.”
"The name change made it difficult. Took time.”
"Yes, it did. What I don't understand and what held me back from contacting you was that you didn't have your older boy. You knew where he was, yes?”
"When I first met Maria and Johnny, she was wearing bruises. The little one was all quiet and big eyed. She was scared and running. From a man, who I thought was you.”
Murdoch felt sick. “No, that wasn't from me. I never laid a hand on Maria and certainly not Johnny.”
"But see, at the time, I didn't know this. All I saw was a man who didn't have his first born with him. Why was that? Why did you wait so long?”
"Gave it everything I had.” Murdoch didn't know why he was telling Gabriel this – something he never wanted to tell Scott. “Catherine, my first wife was pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy. She almost miscarried early on. Things were stressful around here at the time.” No need to go into the mess that was Haney. “I wanted her someplace quiet where she could rest. I even asked Harlan to stay with her.” Murdoch swiped a hand over his face. “She went into labor while Harlan was attempting to get them back to Boston, which he shouldn't have even tried. He got her to a hospital, she had Scott, and I don't know how he did it, but Harlan had her sign papers naming Harlan legal guardian of our son. She was in a bad way then and died an hour after Scott was born.
"I didn't know where they were until the police showed up at my door letting me know that my wife had died. By then, Harlan had Scott in Boston. Harlan had a lot of money and plenty of lawyers. I was broke, grieving, and lost my chance.”
"I tried again when Scott was five and had better lawyers and the means.”
"Confronted Harlan during Scott's fifth birthday party. Harlan trotted out a beautiful, happy boy and introduced me as a friend. Scott went back to the party while Harlan threatened that he would drag out a custody battle for years and make sure Scott was part of every minute of it.”
"You hate this man.”
"Catherine wouldn't have wanted that, but it wasn't about Garrett, it was about Scott.”
"What about me?” Scott walked in through the open door.
Gabriel stood up, gesturing to the kitchen. “I will join Johnny for that snack.”
Murdoch didn't pay him any attention. Scott wore a troubled, preoccupied look. “Have a pleasant ride?”
"Mostly.” Scott pulled off his gloves and cap, setting them on the desk as he sat back on it. “Murdoch, I think you and I are overdue for a little talk.”
"About?” Getting out of the chair, Murdoch walked around to stand in front of Scott.
"There's something…I've been wanting to ask you.” Scott looked down at his feet, one foot making invisible patterns in the floor.
Murdoch couldn't ignore his sons discomfort even if he suspected where this was going. “Go on and ask it.”
Scott sighed and folded his arms. “Well…it's the past, I guess. It doesn't die that easy.”
"It will if you let it. No reason to dredge it up.”
Scott's face closed down.
"What we've got is here and now. That has to be all that counts. You can understand that, don't you, son?”
Scott nodded. “Yes, I understand that – it means don't ask questions. Especially why you never wanted me.”
"No! I wanted you with me. There just wasn't any way.”
"But you're my father.” The plaintive tone cut right through Murdoch.
"Nobody knows that better than I do, and I'm grateful.” So very grateful.
Grateful for what?” Scott stood, frustrated. “You let somebody else raise your son!”
Murdoch gripped Scott by the shoulders, so much he wanted to say – and couldn't. “Listen, Scott, all I ask is one thing—if you have decisions to make, don't make them out of anger.”
Scott pulled away, picked up his gear, and walked away without looking back. Murdoch felt as if he had lost him already.
Not the food, but the company left a lot to be desired.
That Murdoch and Scott had had some sort of disagreement was obvious. That Harlan knew and took advantage of it was just as obvious. Teresa wanted to flip a spoonful of potato right into his smug face.
That Gabriel Madrid might know something of what was happening wasn't so obvious, but the speculative looks he gave those around the table made her wonder just what he did know.
Julie was off in another plane of existence. Any time she was addressed it had to be repeated. When Scott voiced his concern, she said she was tired.
Johnny was shooting looks Murdoch's way, but at least he knew his father well enough not to go down that road at dinner. Seeing him push around his food, she would bet she would meet him in the kitchen later.
Murdoch just looked unhappy. Teresa hated it. And for a brief, very brief moment she longed for those days when it was just the two of them at the table.
Julie wadded up her clothes and shoved them into her bag. The feelings that Scott had stirred in her were dangerous. Ones she couldn't afford to have at this point.
She looked up as Harlan Garrett entered her room. Of course, he didn't knock.
"May I come in?"
In answer, she snagged a favorite shirt, rolled it into a tight ball and rammed it into the luggage case.
His voice was solicitous. “Regrets my dear? When I advised you of what your function would be you assured me that under the circumstances there would be no regrets.”
She stood and faced him, looking up. God he was tall for an old man. "That was before I realized how ugly it would be."
"Ugly? It hasn't begun to get ugly. But yes, I suppose I should have thought of that reaction. Did your father ever tell you what I did for a living? That I am a master accountant? Accounting for every dollar—every reaction every emotion—then one day I came to realize that those sixty scrupulous years had brought me nothing but money, power and position. Sounds envious, eh? So I can imagine if I tell you those once cherished goals have come to mean nothing, you wouldn't understand. It turns out I'm just a lonely, hollow old man who could hunger for something more.”
"We all want something, Harlan. But Scott? He has everything here—and he knows it. You'll never get him back. Never.”
"That remains to be seen, my dear. It wouldn't be wise to underestimate me.”
Julie snapped the buckles on her luggage closed and hoisted a bag in each hand, bumping into Harlan on her way out the door.
Not eating at dinner took its toll. Johnny was slicing cheese when Gabriel entered the kitchen, expression pensive. His stomach dipped in that way it does before going down the first big hill of a rollercoaster. He dropped the sandwich preparations and waited.
Gabriel took a deep breath and motioned to the table. Appetite gone once more, Johnny abandoned the food and took a chair across from Gabriel.
"When I met your mama, she was running from a man who abused her. I believed it was Murdoch.” Gabriel ran his palms over the smooth table. “I never asked, nor did she tell me differently. I should have since I know now Murdoch is not such a man, but by then I fell for Maria and you, and the questions didn't matter any more.”
"Did they ever?”
"Yes, but not right away. When Maria was diagnosed with cancer she started telling me some of it and then I began to question what I believed.”
"Six years ago? How long have you known that Murdoch wanted me?” At Gabriel's look, Johnny's heart started pounding hard and closed his eyes. “Papa…”
Gabriel's cold hand gripped his. “Your mama was scared and so was I. It was after the surgery and they said they hadn't been able to get it all.”
Johnny remembered. Remembered the uncomfortable waiting room that was too hot and the wait too long. Remembered Gabriel's stricken face when he came out to share the news.
"She didn't tell me everything right away, but as her health became worse she confessed – that is what she called it – more and more. She wanted to tell you, but was too frightened and selfish she said to risk losing you at that point. She wanted her last days with you to be a son who loved and trusted his mama.”
"And after she died?”
"Ah, Juan, what cowards we can all be. I didn't want to tell you when our grief was so fresh and then it just became so much harder the longer I didn't say anything.”
"She lied to me.”
"You've lied to me.”
Gabriel inhaled. “Yes.”
Johnny pulled his hand away and stood up. “How could –” He choked on the rest of it. “Dios, how can I believe anything at this point?”
He swung around at Murdoch's voice. “Have you been hearing this?”
"Some of it.” He entered the kitchen, and there was this look on his face that pulled Johnny out of his own messed up head. “Johnny, just listen and take time to think. Don't say things you'll regret later.”
"How do I do that?” He looked from his biological father to his papa. “Every where I step in this there is a landmine. My name - Madrid or Lancer. We know it wasn't legally changed. Or how about my social security numbers? Where did that extra one come in?”
Gabriel grimaced. “Maria and I never married, nor was your name legally changed, but it became Madrid when you entered school. I never knew where she got the social security cards and in those early days I thought she was running from an abusive relationship so I never asked.”
Johnny froze at a memory of large hands, a louder voice, Maria screaming. That was something he hadn't thought of in years. “Milo.”
"Milo?” Murdoch looked startled. “Milo…Gertz?”
"This is the man Maria was running from?” Gideon rose from his chair.
"Johnny, what do you remember?”
He shook his head. “Just someone big, loud. He made Mama cry. And then it was just the two of us for a while. Can't remember much else.”
"Milo Gertz was the man Maria was rumored to have last been seen with. There was no proof and you had disappeared. A few years later the private investigator that I hired tracked him to a Dallas, Texas hospital emergency room where he died of blood alcohol poisoning. There were warrants out for his arrest for assault and battery.”
"Maria's fear was real. She wanted to remain hidden. I wanted to protect you both.”
Johnny absorbed that, taking it in like a boxer that had been hit one too many times. He should be asking details, but in the scheme of things did they really matter?
"She told me you didn't want us. Told me my name was Johnny Madrid, because Gabriel was my father now.” Johnny watched Murdoch's face tighten. “I'm sorry.”
"No.” Murdoch laid a hand on his shoulder. “The apologies are not yours to give and not needed. What you need to understand is that I am grateful.”
"Grateful?” Now that shook loose some of the numbness. “How?”
"At least I know now you were taken care of. That Maria was taken care of. My biggest fear is that you were in a bad situation and knowing Milo's history there was every reason to believe you were. He had a reputation. But Maria got out and you were both safe. It's enough.”
"Has to be.” Murdoch's eyes fixed on his. “This is what we have now and what we work from.”
Johnny looked over at Gabriel, who nodded. “Your mama, she would've wanted this. She knew she had done wrong, but it was too late for her to fix it and I was too scared to. You'll always be my boy, Juanito. Too late to change that now and I don't want to, but you are Johnny Lancer.”
Murdoch gave a half smile. “But you are also Johnny Madrid, photojournalist and much more. There are no choices that have to be made here if you want it all.”
"I think…I need some time.”
After a glance to both men Johnny bolted from the kitchen.
"You are a very generous man, Lancer.” Gabriel dropped back into the chair, his legs far past the point of supporting him.
Murdoch laughed without any humor. “Madrid, to be anything else would put Johnny in the middle.”
"You have my sincerest apologies.” Gabriel ran his hands over his face and through his hair. “I let my fear of losing Johnny, deny him a relationship with you.”
"And that is the one thing I can understand.”
Scott came around the back of the hacienda in time to see Johnny's exit from the kitchen. Seeing the strain on his brother's face brought him up short. The agitation was revealed in the unruly hair sticking up on end and the faraway look in his eyes.
"Johnny.” It took longer than it should have, but Johnny focused on him.
"Hey, what are you doing?”
"Looking for Julie.” Scott stepped closer. “Are you all right?”
He took time to think about it. “Later maybe.”
"The big fucking reveal is what happened.” He snorted. “I'm telling you, Scott, any assumptions you've made, anything you believed, question it. Question everything, 'cause it might not have any relation to the truth.”
Scott winced and recalled the conversation that wasn't with Murdoch.
"Yes and no.” Johnny shook his head. “Shit, I can't even wrap my head around it yet.”
"Need some time?”
"Yeah.” He gave a faint smile. “I'm serious, Scott. Question it all.”
"I will.” Scott's mouth quirked. “Compare notes later?”
"Can't wait. We'll paint our nails too.”
"I've got pink polish.”
Johnny stared at him with dawning horror. “Pink? That's so last year!”
Swinging and missing at Johnny's head, Scott continued on his search, content that his brother would recover his equilibrium.
But Johnny's warning of question everything unsettled him.
Johnny paced around the courtyard coming to a stop when he spotted Teresa watching him from her perch on the adobe wall, legs swinging.
"Little bit of drama.” A flash of teeth was all he saw of her face in the shadows.
"What are you doing out here?”
"Hiding and I didn't feel like doing it up in my room.” Teresa leaned forward, elbows on knees, bringing her face into the light. “And pink polish is timeless, philistine.”
"Come on, there's gotta be better colors.”
"There are, but pink is a forever color. Deal.”
"What about red?”
"Iconic. Are we really going to talk about nail polish?”
"I don't feel like talking about anything else.”
Johnny stopped short more at the bluntness, than the statement itself. Feeling like he was maneuvering land mines again, he absorbed what she said.
"Until I was fourteen, I thought my mother was dead until she thought to come back to fight for equal custody.” The very flatness of her voice told Johnny more than her words. “What she really wanted was money. No one wanted to tell me that, but it wasn't all that hard to figure out. But my dad let me believe she was dead. Didn't want me to know my own mother didn't want me. He thought he was doing the right thing.”
A shrug. “Kids are a little tougher than a parent thinks, but Dad always did the best he could even if he didn't get what to do with a daughter, he loved me.” Teresa slid off the wall to land in front of him. “And if I have a kid, I'll probably even understand some of it more. But what it really all comes down to, is how pissed off are you going to be about it and does it really serve any purpose?”
"It's not quite that simple.”
"No, it really is, because tomorrow those fathers of yours might be gone. Poof, like that.” She snapped her fingers. “And none of it will matter at all then.”
As the voice of experience smacked him in the face, more tension drained away. “Did you forgive him?”
"Not right away.” She grinned up at him. “I had to get a triple scoop, fudge brownie special out of him first.”
Johnny laughed and slung an arm around her shoulders. “You know, that sounds pretty good right now.”
Her arm snaked around his waist and she gave him a squeeze. “I think Gabriel will understand why you changed your name back.”
A hard thump and his heart settled down. “You think so?”
"Yeah, I think so.” She peered up at him. “Legally, I get that it was yours, but Murdoch was over the moon when you accepted it.”
"Kind of awkward to be in this place.”
"And they know that. Fact is they're in the great room right now looking kind of wrecked.”
"You like Gabriel?”
"He's kind of hard not to like.”
The very simplicity of her statement removed some of the heaviness he was carrying, because as strange as the situation was, he did want his family to like his papa.
"This is so weird.”
Teresa giggled. “I dub thee king of understatement.” She gave him a tug. “Come on, I made hot fudge and brownies and there's a brand new quart of organic vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer. This calls for sugar therapy.”
"I thought girls worried about how much of that stuff they ate.”
"Right now I am blessed with a very kind metabolism. I'm milking it for all it's worth now and times a wasting.”
Julie reached the end of the back veranda and looked off into the gloom.
"You forgot to say goodbye.” Scott was leaning against the side of the porch strut. He motioned to the bags with wave. “What's this all about?”
Her shoulders dropped. “It's no use, Scott. I can't go through with it.”
"Go through with what?”
She flinched at the hardness in his voice. “This goddamned make-believe game I'm supposed to play.” She dropped her bags to the ground and rubbed her temple. “Your grandfather forced me to come here. I was a trick to get you to come back to Boston."
He stared at her. “You thought a quick lay would entice me to go back to Boston?”
"There was nothing else for me to do. He said he'd bankrupt my father's company if I didn't cooperate. Scott, my father is a sick old man. I don't want to see my father destroyed. What would you have done?"
Scott turned and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know. But at least I'm grateful to know the truth.”
Harlan scraped open the door. "That was an unfortunate mistake, Julie. Very unfortunate. I had counted on your discretion."
"Grandfather, I think the mistake was all yours."
The quiet resignation in Scott's voice almost unnerved her.
"I think not boy. You will return with me to Boston, if not for Julie for other more convincing reasons. A number of years ago when you were a child your father presented something of a threat to me. As a cautious man I took steps to protect myself. I had the agency investigate him. If nothing else, you'll listen to my story. Something you will want to hear—about your father.”
Scott dug into his pants pocket and brought out a set of keys. He tossed them to her. “Take the Jeep and leave it at the airport. I assume you know the way. There's no need for you to hear this.”
He was slipping away from her. “Scott…”
"Don't. Not ever again, Julie.”
His warning was stern—and final. She clenched the keys in her hand and it wasn't until she reached for the luggage handles she realized her hands were shaking.
Murdoch just wanted to kick back. The day had been full of one emotional scene after the next. He had progress report he needed to read and printed it out before settling in on the sofa.
Johnny and Gabriel were playing a game of chess – or would be if Johnny hadn't fallen asleep draped over the ottoman. His son was worn out. Not from hard work, but finding out the truth, or as close to it that they could get, had taken a toll.
Then again, it could be a sugar-induced coma.
Teresa was reading a homework assignment by the fireplace, the partial remains of the triple scoop, hot fudge brownie special perched on the small table beside her. She had warned Johnny to pace himself and gave a wicked grin when he looked a little green after wolfing it down.
Murdoch didn't know what had passed between the two, but he was very grateful when they had burst into the great room loaded with dessert. It was almost painful to watch Gabriel agree to play a game of chess with Johnny, like he couldn't believe his good fortune. But soon, the awkwardness between the two men passed into familiarity. Murdoch had looked to Teresa, who merely licked hot fudge off her spoon and mouthed 'later'.
Later was good. He had to come to terms with what Gabriel had revealed. He would probably never understand Maria. But he had a good understanding of Gabriel Madrid.
Murdoch enjoyed the relative peace, but his hackles rose the moment Harlan walked in with Scott by his side. Scott looked off – pale and – just off. Harlan looked pleased and that never boded well.
Murdoch let the papers drop to his lap. “Something wrong, Scott?”
"Somebody wake Johnny. He might as well hear this too since we're all together.”
Using her foot, Teresa nudged Johnny's side. He picked up his head, looked around for second, then collapsed back on the ottoman.
Gabriel grinned. “It's your move.”
No, it was Scott's move as far as Murdoch was concerned. “Go on.”
Scott swallowed. “I've decided to return to Boston with my grandfather.”
Johnny shot up from the ottoman to look at his brother. Teresa dropped her book. And Murdoch wanted to find the right thing to say to stop Scott from leaving. Nothing came.
Harlan smiled, wrapping an arm around Scott's shoulders. “It was a surprise for me, too. I must say a pleasant surprise.”
Scott didn't look at any of them. “Excuse me.” He turned leaving the room.
Johnny wasted no time following him except to slow down as he went by Harlan. The look he gave the old man showed his distrust. The smile Harlan showed Murdoch told him everything he needed to know.
Johnny didn't bother knocking before storming into the bedroom finding Scott sitting on his bed. “What the hell, Scott?”
Standing, Scott slid out of his jacket, letting it drop on the bed. “Let it go, Johnny.”
"What happened to comparing notes?”
Scott didn't look at him as he went to the closet and pulled out his luggage. “I don't know anymore now than I did before.” He arranged the cases on the bed, opening them all.
Now that wasn't quite the truth. “Scott, come on. Why the sudden change?”
'It's just time I headed back.” The chest of drawers was hit first.
Why wouldn't Scott look at him? Sure, packing his clothes kept him moving and occupied, but why did he need the distraction?
"Is it Julie? Where is she?”
Scott stilled as he placed some t-shirts into case. Johnny could see the tension in his back muscles.
"She's headed back to Boston.”
"And you're following her?”
Packing resumed. “Yes…I want to see if I can work things out with her.”
"Did you fight?”
"No, she had to return.” Scott glanced at his as he pulled out socks. “Her father isn't doing well.”
"I can understand that, but she just left? Who took her to the airport?”
"She took the Jeep.”
"Anyone of us would have taken her to the airport.” Johnny narrowed his eyes, trying to see what was there. “You would have taken her.”
"She wanted time to herself.”
"Scott this isn't making sense. Are you going back for good?”
Scott stopped what he was doing, meeting his eyes for the first time. “Yes.”
"And not planning to come back for visits now and then?”
Johnny hadn't noticed Scott had a nervous twitch with his fingers before. Something they shared.
And he was avoiding answering the questions. Johnny interrogating Scott wasn't getting them anywhere. Whatever was hanging over Scott's head, he wasn't going to share it.
"You do that.” Johnny turned to leave.
Johnny stopped, waited.
"Yeah. Me too.” Johnny closed the door behind him, stood in front of it frustrated and worried.
He needed to think.
Murdoch’s sleep – what there was of it – was disturbed and restless. Dreaming about losing Scott over and over again. Sometimes it was Johnny he lost.
Now watching Scott put luggage in the trunk, he didn't know what to say. Scott had made his choice.
"What's the rush?” Johnny's anger came through in spite of his obvious effort to keep it under control.
Scott glanced at him, but continued arranging the luggage. “Grandfather has business—we have business that needs our immediate attention.”
"Just seems sudden.”
"I want to know why, Murdoch, that's all.”
Scott shifted around the bags. “I'm just not cut out for this.”
"Cut out for what?” Johnny's frustration boiled over.
"You got along fine without me before. You'll do just fine from now on.” Scott closed the trunk, still avoiding eye contact.
That sounded so final to Murdoch, like Scott planned on cutting all ties.
"I'm sure Scotty feels a deep regret. But after all, Boston has been his home for most of his life.”
The glare Johnny shot Harlan's way left no doubt to what he thought of that.
Teresa caught Scott by the arm. “Scott, we don't want you to go.”
"There's no reason why you can't come to Boston to visit me.” He looked to Murdoch. Was that an invitation? Would they be welcome?
They hadn't talked after that last difficult conversation in the great room. Scott didn't look angry – more regretful than anything. Testing the waters, Murdoch walked up to him. “Taking an afternoon flight?”
Scott nodded. “Grandfather needs to make a stop in town first at the hotel. Then we'll head to the airport.”
Murdoch reached out his hand. “Son.” Scott gripped his hand, but looked away from him. “Take care of yourself. If you ever feel that you…”
"Scotty, we better be on our way.”
Scott eased his grip, but Murdoch held on for a moment longer. Only letting go when Scott squeezed back one last time before hurrying to the driver's seat.
Murdoch watched them leave the drive.
"Seems to me, Murdoch, you could have tried a little harder. You could have put up a fight.”
"He's a man, Johnny. He's not a little boy. It's his decision.” Fighting for Scott hadn't worked out in the past. Scott had to stay by choice.
"Yeah, that may be good enough for you, but it's not for me.” Johnny stormed off into the house.
"Johnny, you haven't said a word since you asked me to go into town with you. What do you hope to find?”
Johnny glanced at Gabriel, grateful that he hadn't asked a lot of questions before now. “I don't know. But something wasn't right with Scott.”
"Maybe he was sad to leave.”
"I get that. But why the rush and what business needed both of them when Scott has been out here for the last four months. Why now?” He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. "Why the rental car instead of one of us taking them to the airport?”
"Harlan didn't want to be an inconvenience.”
"Harlan could care less if he inconvenienced anyone. No, there was a reason why Scott acted the way he did.”
"Johnny, you don't know your brother very well.”
"And whose fault is that?” Johnny regretted the words, but it was a valid question.
"I am sorry, Johnny.”
"I know you mean it. I do.” Johnny reached over to grip Gabriel's forearm. “I didn't mean it like that and I still have questions I expect answers for.”
"You will get them.”
"I'll hold you to it, but that's only part of it. Scott's the other. The two of us, we didn't get on at first. Two different and two much alike, you know. Got through that. We've had some challenges that sort of sped that along. Scott's a stubborn man, and I don't see him leaving Lancer without his answers.”
"Johnny, your father should be the one to tell you and Scott about the past…”
"I will say this: Mr. Garrett, from what I gathered will do anything to have his way.”
"And that's who I'm starting with.”
"Hey, Johnny!” Tommy looked past him.
"Sorry, Tommy, Teresa isn't with me today.”
The crushed expression was brief. Poor boy had it bad. “What can I do for you?” He leaned against the counter.
Johnny waved to Gabriel. “This is Gabriel. We're looking for Mr. Garrett. Do you know him?”
"I've seen him around.”
"Did he leave anything here to pick up?”
"No. All he did was talk with the Degans.”
"Brothers. Taller one is Carl, the shorter one is Will. They must work for him or something. He paid their way.” Tommy frowned. “They've been drinking most of that away since they checked in. Mr. Garrett was just in here and handed over some cash. And you'd swear they had to get rid of it as quick as possible.”
"Thanks, Tommy. Think we'll go have a chat with them.”
"Tell Teresa I said 'hi', will you?”
Johnny grinned. “Sure, you know I will.” There was nothing like seeing Teresa's exasperated, but coming around to fond expression whenever Tommy's name came up.
Gabriel held Johnny back before entering the bar. “How do you want to do this, Johnny?”
"See what we can shake out of them. You stay in the background.” Johnny walked in, seeing two men at the bar. This early in the day, they weren't hard to find.
"Hey, boys.” Johnny came up between them and rested a hand on each of their shoulders. “Did Mr. Garrett already leave?”
"Who are you?”
"Carl, I'm Johnny. I was hoping to catch Mr. Garrett before he left.”
Will swallowed down half his beer. “He's gone. Left this morning.”
"Did you get the job done?”
"Sure, not much to do.” Will's words slurred. “From what Mr. Garrett said, he handled it himself.”
Carl reached over to grip Will's arm. “Shut up!”
"No, don't worry, Carl.” Johnny patted him on the back. “We're all friends here. Mr. Garrett is a rich man and can afford to spread it around a little.”
Will gave a sloppy nod. “Mr. Garrett, can buy as many friends as he wants.”
"You got that right. I was here just as back-up. What did he have you doing?”
"Not much.” Carl kept took a swallow, but was watching Johnny.
Will weaved a little and bumped up against Johnny's arm. “We've been a long standing insurance policy against Lancer.”
Johnny stepped back. Carl wasn't about to let Will let anymore slip. “Well, you boys enjoy your day.” He walked away leaving them to their drinks.
Gabriel caught up with Johnny once they left the bar. “What do you think?”
"I think we need to know what the Degans mean to Murdoch.”
Carl shoved Will, who almost toppled. “Why'd you say all that?”
"What? I didn't say much.”
"We don't know who he was.”
"Don't matter. Was our dad got murdered. Not like we done anything wrong.”
Carl calmed down. “True, but maybe we should change that.”
"What'da you mean?”
"You seen Garrett's wallet?”
"Yeah, he was loaded.”
"He's headed for the airport. Maybe we should lighten his load before he gets there.”
Will grinned. “Roads are twisty around here. We take back roads, bet we catch up.”
Murdoch took a sip of his coffee, lost in thought. “Degan?”
"Yes, brothers, Carl and Will Degan. Guessing somewhere in their thirties. They knew Garrett – he was paying them. They knew you. Or at least I'm guessing the Lancer they were considered an insurance policy against is you.”
Murdoch set down the coffee cup, rolling it in his palms. “Degan – I ran into him – long time ago.”
"Years ago, Catherine was pregnant. I was in Sacramento trying to work out that Haney business.” He saw Gabriel's puzzled look. “Another long story for another time.”
"I was walking back to the hotel – rundown area of the city. A man came at me with a knife. He sliced me in the arm. Still have the scar. I remember thinking I had to get back to Catherine. We fought and I'm not sure how it happened, but crashed into a wall. He had the knife out to gut me, but it got himself instead.”
"Not right away. He was alive when the ambulance and police got there. Someone had called and reported the fight. I thought he had been alone, but found out he had a family. A couple boys came out of alley and tried to get to him.
"They saw their father die. I remember throwing up and an officer telling me that Degan had a history of assault. Had just been released from prison. I asked about the boys and were told they would go into Child Protective Services.”
"Murdoch, I am assuming that this was considered self-defense.” Gabriel's concern washed over him. “This wasn't your fault.”
Still, it was hard to think about after all these years.
"Took a bit, but I was cleared and thought that was the end of it. I guess other people had different ideas.”
Johnny rested a hand on his arm. “Murdoch, it's lot easier sharing this with someone.”
"There are some things in this world a man tries to forget, Johnny. Killing a man is one of them.”
"Old Garrett found and out and used it to blackmail Scott?”
"That's my guess. Scott went along with it because he thought he was protecting me from a murder charge.” Murdoch stood up from the table. “Come on, Johnny. Let's catch a flight.”
"Can't we at least talk, Scotty? It's going to be a long trip.”
Very long. “I think we've said just about everything that has to be said.”
"Is it possible that we could lose so easily what we had for so many years?”
"We didn't lose it. You threw it away.”
"Well, there's plenty of time for mending. You'll see. Scotty, once we are back in Boston.”
"Is that the answer? Boston will fix everything?” At least it would get Harlan away from Lancer and gain Scott time to plan his next move.
"And time for you to settle back in. I know you see my methods as extreme, but this is for your own protection.”
Scott shot a glance at Harlan. “What happens the next time I do something you don't agree with?”
"Scotty, don't be unreasonable. I've only ever had your best interests at heart.”
"No, you're only thinking of yourself.”
"I'm your grandfather. I raised you and know what's best for you.” The sad thing was, Harlan believed that.
"As far as I'm concerned, you've lost that right. I'll give you that you are the man who raised me - and I have a feeling it's only through the same methods you are using against me now – but as for the grandfather part – you've lost…”
Metal screeched against metal and the car lurched out of control.
"Shit!” Carl pounded the hood of his stalled Chevy. Ramming the other car stalled out their own. He and Will watched as Garrett's car limped down the road on three wheels.
"It won't be goin' far, though.” He lifted out his rifle and took aim.
An explosion of glass ripped through the air. Pain knifed through Scott's head and slammed him hard against the seat belt, squeezing the air out of his lungs.
Hands pushed at him…pulled at him…then he was moving. Teeth chattering, his head spurted fire while the rest of him seemed locked in ice.
"Hide, Scotty. You were always good at that as a boy. Don't move. I've called for help.”
His head lolled on his shoulder as something was pressed into his hand. Scott stared blindly at his blood-smeared fingers until even that became too difficult.
"They went over the embankment!”
Carl followed his brother down the road. Take a couple of minutes to catch up. If they were lucky, Garrett would be out or dead and they could pick up the cash and any other valuables.
"The old man's running away!”
Harlan hadn't run in years – no need. But the Degans had followed him and left Scotty behind. He shook off the memory of the pale, blood covered face. Help would be there soon. They were out in the middle of nowhere, which was likely why the Degans had rammed the car when they did. But the 911 call was twenty minutes ago.
Help would be there soon.
He used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his face.
Harlan just had to hide until then and keep them away from Scotty.
Gabriel leaned forward in the passenger seat. “They park cars in the middle road now?”
Murdoch slowed the car. “Looks like an accident.” He maneuvered the SUV around the stalled vehicle and accelerated.
"Murdoch, stop the car!”
Murdoch slammed on the brakes, but Johnny dove out of the backseat before it stopped and was running down the embankment. Now he could see what Johnny had seen: A wrecked car – Harlan's rental - and Scott struggling to stand.
Johnny caught his brother as he pitched forward. Murdoch didn't remember putting the SUV in park or even leaving it.
Blood covered Scott's face, his disorientation aggravated by his distress. “Grandfather… something hit us…” He pushed at Johnny. “I've got to help.”
"Don't move, Scott.” With little effort, Johnny held him still.
A rifle shot sang close by causing them all to jump.
"Stay with him, Johnny.” Murdoch headed for the sound and called over his shoulder. “Call for help.”
"I'll go with him, Johnny. Stay with your brother.”
"Gabriel!” Johnny watched as both men he considered fathers run in the direction of a rifle. Unarmed. “Damn it!”
Johnny eased Scott back to the ground, pulling off his own jacket off to tuck under his brother's head. “Murdoch and Gabriel are looking for Harlan. Don't worry.”
He kept a gentle hold on Scott to keep him in place while pulling out his phone. He saw the cell phone by Scott and heard the sirens before he finished pressing in the second '1'. He called anyway to verify that help was on its way.
"Relax, Scott.” Johnny used his sleeve to swipe away some of the blood from Scott's eyes.
Scott scrunched up his face before blinking his eyes open to slit. “What happened?”
"Not sure, but I have a feeling the Degans are involved.”
"Degans? Here?” Scott shifted, agitated.
"Maybe. Relax, Scott.” Johnny moved around until he could shade Scott from the sun. “We know about the Degans.”
"Didn't do anything wrong. He didn't murder anyone.”
"How did…” Scott swallowed, tried again. “Grandfather?”
His brother wasn't tracking like he should. Talking was hard, but if Johnny was in his place, he would want to know too. “Think Harlan wrangled the truth to fit his needs. Enough money can buy a witness or two.”
Scott shivered – shock was setting in. “I thought Grandfather used that to…to keep Murdoch away from me.”
"I don't know what he used, but it wasn't that.” Johnny rubbed Scott's hand between his own to bring some warmth to them.
"Ambulance is coming now. So are the police.”
"He'll be ok, Scott.”
Harlan panted behind a large boulder, every now and again a shot ricocheted off the stone.
"We're gonna scare you to death, Old Man!”
The Degans, of course. They shouted and taunted, sounding drunk. Money well spent. He thought of Scotty, and all the blood. He hadn't been moving when he left him behind.
He was so occupied by the Degans, he almost fainted when Murdoch came in behind him. “Murdoch…Scotty, I think he's…”
"Don't make one your momentous conclusions too soon. Scott's alive.” Murdoch stared him down. “Hurt, but alive.” They both heard the sirens. “Gabriel is waiting to lead the police here.”
"The Degans, they tried to kill me.” Harlan's voice shook. “If you'd let them, your troubles would have been over. Why didn't you, Murdoch?”
"I've no troubles, Harlan. Not anymore.”
A hand came down on Johnny's jittery leg, and its warmth soaked into his thigh. He welcomed the familiar comfort and the lack of platitudes that could have come with it.
The emergency waiting room wasn't busy, so it was just Johnny and Gabriel occupying a couple of the chairs. Statements given to the police, all that was left was the waiting.
And this newfound awkwardness between himself and Gabriel that Johnny knew couldn't remain, but it was up to him to change. He demanded the truth. Honesty was all he could give from here on out.
Johnny, elbows on knees, slanted a look at Gabriel. “Can't help wishing you had told me. I hated Murdoch for a long time for something he wasn't guilty of.”
Gabriel sighed. “What I did or didn't do in this case, is not an easy thing to live with. Your father is a good man.”
"Yeah, he is.” Johnny leaned back. “You are too.”
The grip on his thigh grew stronger, then released. “Thank you.”
"Papa, my name - ”
"I'm keeping Madrid for my work.”
Gabriel swallowed hard, and nodded. “Perhaps when things are settled, you can show me Lancer? I'd like to see it through a camera.”
Johnny grinned. “Yeah, it is something to see.”
Pain jiggled Scott awake: Persistent, unyielding and unnecessary. Scott wasn't sure where that thought came from, but knew it was true and pain could have been avoided. He felt a hand wrapped around his wrist, large enough to encompass it – Murdoch. The sounds, smells, and feeling all shouted 'hospital'.
Turning his head – and taking his time about it – Scott met Murdoch's concerned face. His father looked tired, worn down.
"Are you with me?”
Now there was a question.
Swallowing, Scott licked his lips and gave talking a shot. “More than I thought I was.”
Murdoch smiled, some of that worn out look dropping away. He tilted his head, no doubt wondering what Scott meant and looked about to ask.
"A couple of men, Carl and Will Degan…”
The bad taste in his mouth worsened. “I know of them.” That sickening, trapped feeling welled up.
"Scott, look at me.” Scott opened his eyes. Murdoch squeezed Scott's arm. “It's true I killed their father a long time ago. He attacked me with a knife, a mugging. The knife got him instead. I was cleared. There is no chance of me being arrested for murder.”
Breathing became easier. “Then why…?”
"From what we now know, the brothers followed in their father's footsteps.”
"Not much of a family business.”
"No, it isn't. They needed money.”
"Grandfather gave them some, didn't he?”
"Yes, but it wasn't enough and they thought to take more. They were drunk, stupid, and looks like they thought to run you off the road.”
"They managed that.”
"True.” Murdoch's jaw tightened in a way that Scott now recognized was his father's way of holding in worry tainted with anger. “Harlan called for help before leading them away from you. How they expected to get away, I have no idea. Neither your rental or their car was in running order.”
"Where are Johnny and Grandfather?”
"Johnny's giving his statement to the police. Harlan is getting checked out. He's fine, Scott. He's just had more activity than he's had in awhile. Now we're waiting for you to get a CT scan.”
"The fact that you're asking is reason enough.” Murdoch moved his hand to Scott's hair, running his fingers through it. "It bled quite a bit. We'll get it this washed, either here if you have to stay or once we get home.”
"I don't want to stay.”
Scott figured he wouldn't get anywhere with that conversation. Besides, Murdoch had a faraway look on his face.
"You have your mother's hair. Did Harlan ever tell you that?”
"What? No.” Scott knew he wasn't firing on all cylinders, but he hadn't expected that.
"One of the first things I noticed about her was her hair. She had it long when we first met. Although, she'd have it pulled up or tied back most of the time.” Murdoch looked lost in his memories, dreamy. “We had the worst fight when she came home one day and it was cut short. I couldn't believe it. And I so missed it when we had…”
No way, Murdoch was not going to.
"No, don't say it.” Scott brought Murdoch's attention back to him.
Murdoch grinned. “Sorry, Scott. Hard to believe that you are a result of make-up sex?”
Scott closed his eyes. “How did I go from one of those kids without parents to a son trying not to have a mental picture of his parents doing it? Aren't there rules about that somewhere?” He opened his eyes to see Murdoch once again serious and concerned.
"I always wanted you, Scott. Don't ever doubt that. I fought for you, but lost.”
There was a lot packed behind those words, but it could be summed up with one.
"Now's not the place to talk about this. For one thing, I want to make sure you remember the conversation. For another, it should happen at home.” Murdoch crouched in closer to him, getting into his face. “You are coming back home. I've already had your things returned to your room. Boston is for visits when you're up to it. Wherever you go from here on out, Lancer is home. Got it?”
With the pounding in his skull, it wasn't within Scott to bristle at the gruff orders. The fact of the matter was he'd already made up his mind, but some part of him still needed to hear it—from his father. Tension drained out of him and he settled back against the pillow.