This was written for those of us who sometimes question Teresa O’Brien’s rightful place at Lancer. . .
The thin, sad-eyed girl sat in the chair by the window in her room and looked around at all that was hers.
Her room. . . .
It had been since she was eight years old, almost, but not quite, ten years ago. That was when her father and his best friend decided the little girl needed a home and a room of her own, where she could play, and think, and grow.
And so it was that Teresa Eileen O’Brien and her father, Paul, had moved out of the small but comfortable little house they shared on the Lancer ranch, where Paul was the foreman, and into the main hacienda. So not only did young Teresa gain a beautiful home in which to live and a room decorated by a San Francisco interior designer, but the attention of two men: her father, and her father’s employer, as well as best friend, Murdoch Lancer.
Since that time, the little girl’s life had been. . .Privileged. And although no one would ever admit to it, she had been a bit. . .spoiled as well. Oh, she was disciplined if she did wrong. But she had a way of twisting her father, as well as her ‘Uncle Murdoch,’ around her fingers. And usually, what she had done wrong was forgotten. . .or blamed on the actions of someone else.
The ranch hands doted on her, and she would take delight in marching up to the corral where they were working, and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that she was the boss. The senoras of the hacienda were entranced by her as well. .except for Maria, the ranch’s housekeeper, doctor, nurse, and mother. For Maria’s heart belonged to another child of Lancer. . . the one who should be living there, gaining Murdoch Lancer’s love, but for unfortunate circumstances, was not.
Life had gone smoothly for the little girl, but at the age of twelve, young Miss O’Brien learned an important lesson: just how vulnerable her life at Lancer really was. She learned that day that Lancer was not really hers; rather, it was a gift bestowed upon her due to the circumstances of her birth. For that day, her father and his boss had an argument. They had disagreed on the sale and purchase of some cattle, and the ranch foreman had gone against his employer’s wishes. Murdoch had reminded Paul that Lancer was his ranch, that he called the tune, and that Paul better remember it, and if he couldn’t accept that, he could leave. After all, foremen were a ‘dime a dozen.’
Teresa’s life was just about turned upside down: her belongings were packed, and she had bid her pony, Cinnamon, a tearful farewell. She imagined her life living with her father in a small, crowded shack on a poor, struggling ranch. But to their credit, the two men in her life had come to a truce and agreed to disagree. Paul apologized; he really did have the ranch’s best interest at heart, and Murdoch knew he did. Teresa’s way of life was spared, but she knew that it could end at any minute. . .and it would more than likely not be of her doing.
Teresa got up from the chair and walked over to the mirror, placing the frilly hat on her head and tying the pink ribbon underneath her chin. She had always enjoyed wearing this hat; to church on Sunday’s, to the town dance, to afternoon teas. But today, the ribbon from the hat choked her, and she angrily untied it and threw the hat on her bed.
For today, she was all dressed up, but she would not be attending a function as a member of the wealthy, prestigious Lancer family; rather, she would be wearing it to her trip to town to the stage, which would take her to the train. . .and away from Lancer.
For Teresa Eileen O’Brien had been asked to leave the only home she had ever known. And it was a unanimous decision of the members of the newly acquired Lancer family—Murdoch and his two sons. And it was obvious she did not belong. . . .
And this life of Privilege, at least as she knew it, was over. And it was all because of them. . . .well, mostly because of him.
Teresa had known of the existence of Scott and Johnny, Murdoch’s estranged sons, for as long as she could remember. She even fantasized about them when she was little, pretending they were her playmates. She knew Scott was quite a bit older than she, so he was always portrayed as the sensible big brother—a spoil sport, if you will, to the antics she would invent for her and Johnny. Johnny was closer to her age, and many a prank the two of them had pulled in the imagination of the young girl. She felt a closeness to Johnny, and as she grew older, she wondered just what he was like. She had seen pictures of his mother and knew of her breathtaking beauty. She had also heard tales of her fiery, violent temper, and she wondered if the person who was Johnny was as intriguing as she made him out to be.
Her questions were answered when Murdoch brought his sons home—out of desperation. Paul was murdered and Murdoch seriously wounded by Day Pardee and his gang of ruffians, and as she sat by the gravely ill Murdoch, Teresa again felt her life of Privilege turned upside down. She had a fear she would have to leave Lancer; after all, her father was dead, and if Murdoch died, she would be, literally, a ward of the state. It was when Murdoch got well and informed Teresa his sons would be coming home that he told her she would be taken care of—he had it arranged so that a part of Lancer would always be hers, no matter what happened.
She was greatly relieved knowing she wouldn’t be out on the streets if Murdoch up and died on her, and she asked, quite seriously, if he would adopt her, “just to make sure.” Besides, Teresa Lancer sounded good to her. But Murdoch vetoed the idea. She was an O’Brien, and she had a right to be proud of that fact. And in a light moment, Murdoch joked if her last name was Lancer, people would wonder why a pretty young girl like her would be married to an old goat like him.
But she didn’t think that was such a bad idea. . . . . .
The day that Scott Lancer and Johnny Madrid arrived at Lancer changed everyone’s life forever. And from the very beginning, Teresa knew which son would consume Murdoch’s waking moments. While Scott, the blonde Bostonian, was obviously a son of which any father would be proud, it was the dark, moody, mysterious half-breed Mexican who made Murdoch’s blood boil. And from the moment Johnny was shot off his horse by Pardee in his effort to save Lancer, he became the focal point of Murdoch’s life—his hopes, fears, anger, and joy.
And both Scott and Johnny had something of Murdoch’s that had at one time been Teresa’s alone: they had his love.
A love she didn’t want to share.
Teresa walked over to the window and took one last look at the lush mountains, green from the spring rains, and she sighed heavily. Then she saw Jelly Hoskins driving the surrey over to the main door of the hacienda, and she realized he would be the one driving her into town.
She frowned. Another one of Johnny’s strays, she angrily thought. He was a bumbling old man who didn’t know Lancer existed until six months ago, when Johnny ‘found’ him and brought him and his boys to Lancer. He was a thief at that, stealing the pearls that Murdoch had given her that belonged to his late wife, Catherine. Yet, he would be living at Lancer, enjoying the perks that were rightfully hers, while she was being driven away.
And she thought about the unjustness of life. . . . . .
She again looked into the mirror and noticed the redness and puffiness in her usually big, sparkling brown eyes. But she had cried so much the past few days that she had no tears left. She vowed that when she left Lancer on this cold, damp March day, she would do it as a mature woman, and would not give them the satisfaction of seeing her cry. She would put on a brave face, but she knew her heart, and her life, were being ripped apart.
She knew that in the next few minutes, she would have to leave the safety and security of her room, and make her way downstairs. . for the last time. They would be standing there, she knew, looking very sorry for what was about to be. Murdoch, Scott, and Jelly. . .they would all be there, to bid her farewell and wish her luck. Yes, they would all be there. . .except him.
Except Johnny. . .the one she wanted there more than anybody.
Her feelings for Murdoch’s sons, particularly Johnny, were a mass of confusion. On the one hand, she was thrilled the man had finally found his sons; on the other, they were a deterrent to her presence at Lancer, as Murdoch focused all of his energies from her to his two sons.
She could never understand why he hadn’t sent for Scott earlier, since he had known his whereabouts all along. But she truly enjoyed Scott; his superior upbringing and education were a delightful change to the rough, uneducated males that she had spent her life around, plus his confidence in his role and his place at Lancer was not a threat to her own sense of belonging.
But Johnny was different. Teresa felt an anger and resentment toward him; jealously, in other words. From the moment he walked into the hacienda 11 months earlier, he took Murdoch’s focus off of her and brought it all to himself.
When Johnny was backshot by Pardee, the Old Man wouldn’t let anyone near him. He would take care of him, he said. And when Johnny began to get better, he and Murdoch began arguing, and she hated the sound of loud voices in the once quiet home. Things were finally returning to a bit of normalcy, and Murdoch had promised to take Teresa into town for lunch and shopping. She would finally have Murdoch to herself, after two long months. But Johnny interfered again. Instead of doing his work, like he should have been doing, he decided to catch a wild horse, which led to the deaths of two people, and for the next two days, Murdoch’s focus was on Johnny.
Johnny even messed up the social she and Murdoch had planned as a thank you to the loyal vaqueros and hands who had stayed on to fight Pardee. Teresa was pleased when an old friend of Murdoch’s, Joe Barker, arrived and agreed to stay for the party. But Johnny’s past caught up with him, and he ended up accused of killing Mr. Barker’s prisoner.
Everyone, including Teresa, knew he was innocent, but if Johnny would have been at the party like he was supposed to be, instead of sulking, or whatever he was doing, he wouldn’t of gotten into trouble and ruined Teresa’s party.
And once again, Murdoch, Scott, and all of Lancer focused their attention on Johnny.
And it had been like that all along. And as the relationship between Murdoch and his younger son improved, Teresa found herself more and more in the background.
And she realized she didn’t like having ‘siblings’ at all. . . . .
But Teresa also had another set of emotions where Johnny was concerned. Yes, she resented his presence in her home; yes, she was jealous of him; yes, she even pitied him at times. But she found herself attracted to him as well. His beautiful blue eyes and boyish grin made her heart flutter, not to mention his muscled body, which she got an eyeful of the one time she was allowed to tend to him after he was shot, when Murdoch was ordered to get some rest. Then he had that soft drawl, and a childhood playfulness and innocence that complemented his tough-as-nails Madrid persona.
So while Murdoch had taken his two sons to San Francisco for a little vacation, of which she was not included, Teresa made plans on how she could once again be a member of the family, and how she could be a Lancer by name, cementing her place at the estancia.
A light knock at the door disturbed her reverie. The door slowly opened and it was Jelly, quietly announcing he was ready to pick up her luggage and take it to the surrey, and that they had to be leaving soon. She informed she would be down in a few minutes; she just needed a little more time.
She was traveling light; only two bags were going with her on her journey east, and they contained only her basic needs. Everything else she was leaving behind, for she now understood that everything she possessed at Lancer, everything she ever had, was not hers.
The Whitfield School for Girls in New York State was to be her home for the next five years, until she turned 21. Nestled in the mountains of the state, the school was highly recommended by Scott, and it had a superior reputation. Teresa knew she was being sent to the school as punishment for almost destroying the family that Murdoch had so desperately wanted. And again, it was his concern for his youngest son that was paramount to the Lancer patriarch, and when it came right down to bare facts, Teresa Eileen O’Brien knew the age-old expression was true: ‘blood is thicker than water.’
She had decided the only way to secure her place at Lancer was to become a Lancer, which meant marrying one of Murdoch’s sons. While she had considered Scott, she realized he was a bit too old, and stuffy, for her liking. And she did not have that kind of feelings toward him. So she decided to concentrate on Johnny. She would forget her petty jealousies toward him, and concentrate on making sure he noticed her. She had always been told she was pretty, and he had even told her that.
Teresa began to wear dresses, and became involved in social groups, keeping company with the older, respected women of the area. She had to grow up quick; she knew she wouldn’t be 16 forever, and she wanted to become Mrs. Johnny Lancer when she was 18. Johnny would be 23 by then, and in her mind that was the perfect age for the both of them to settle down.
But what she could never realize was that Johnny just wasn’t interested. He had a lot going on inside him; a whole swarm of emotions and feelings, and having a ‘steady girl’ just wasn’t in the cards for him at this particular time of his life. Besides, he never lacked for female company. He knew he could get it anytime he wanted it, with no strings attached.
And one thing he knew for sure: he would never get that from Teresa. He would never expect it of her, she just wasn’t that way.
But then he met Becky Pense, whose father, Matthew, accepted a position at the bank as a teller. Somehow their paths crossed, and Becky and Johnny became friends, but nothing more. They enjoyed each others company, they made each other laugh, and neither wanted a steady commitment.
So when Johnny invited Becky, out of friendship, to dinner at Lancer one Sunday afternoon, Teresa was livid. How dare he bring this woman to intrude on her home, the home she had lived in almost her entire life. Didn’t anyone understand that she ruled over the running of the house? That she planned the parties, the dinners, and that she was the one that decorated the great room to be a homey, yet elegant place for the Lancers to gather? Teresa vowed then and there that no woman but her would reign over Lancer. No wife of Scott’s, and definitely no wife of Johnny’s.
That night, Teresa devised a plan to break up Becky and Johnny. A harmless white lie was all it was intended. The next day, she told the small white lie to her friend Sarah. Sarah and Becky were friends, and Teresa assumed Sarah would relay the lie to Becky, whereas Becky would be hurt and angered, and break up with Johnny.
End of relationship.
But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, Sarah told the small lie to her mother, the town gossip, who told her friend, who told another, and so forth. And in less than a week, the small white lie told by Teresa had festered into an ugly wound that had Becky taken advantage of by Johnny and expecting his child, and Murdoch and Becky’s father ready to come to blows.
When confronted by Murdoch, Johnny hung his head, saying he could never do such a thing. Murdoch gave him the benefit of the doubt, but told him if the young lady was indeed with child, she and the child would be taken care of.
‘Is that what you think of me?’ Johnny had dejectedly asked. The words hit Murdoch in his soul, echoing what his son had asked him just before the battle with Pardee. ‘You’ll find out this is all a horrible lie, Murdoch. But don’t worry. I’ll leave. I would never cause you or the Lancer name any disrespect.’
When Becky was declared by Dr. Jenkins as being ‘as pure as the day she was born,’ Murdoch and Matthew breathed a sigh of relief. And amazingly, Matthew was not angry. He and Murdoch had discussed the situation, and realized both their children had been the victims of some horrible lie, and Matthew had vowed to kill ‘the son of a bitch’ that started it.
Teresa was horrified. She couldn’t tell the truth; no one could know she had started the whole thing. She trusted her friend Sarah not to say anything, but when pressured, she broke down. To young Sarah’s credit, she did say the story had been ‘blown out of proportion’ from the way Teresa had relayed it to her, but the damage had been done.
Murdoch was nearly ill when he learned it was Teresa, the young woman he considered his daughter, who was the instigator behind the ugly rumor that hurt an innocent girl. . . . .and his son. He had told Johnny the whole story, although he could not answer Johnny’s question of ‘Why?’
Teresa realized it was time for her to go; she could stall no longer. She picked up the frilly hat she had thrown on the bed earlier, and again placed it on her head and tied it under her chin. It didn’t choke her as much this time, though, and she knew it was time for her to leave.
She walked to the door of her room, turned around, and took one last, long look. She silently said good-bye, and blew a kiss into the air. Then she turned around, softly closed the door, and walked away.
As she descended the staircase, she spied Murdoch and Scott standing at the bottom, looking very sad. Jelly stood by the front door, looking at the floor. For the life of her, Teresa couldn’t understand why they were so sad. They should be jumping for joy that they were getting her out of their house. . .and their lives.
After all, Murdoch told her the decision was unanimous. . . . .
It had taken several days, but Murdoch learned the details of the vicious rumor. He had confronted Teresa alone, asking her what the hell was she thinking of. For hours, she sat on the couch of the great room, enduring Murdoch’s rampage, and never answering the simple question he asked over and over: ‘Why?’
She felt sick; she was hot and she had to go to the bathroom. Her eyes hurt from the stinging tears and her throat was dry. Her head throbbed unmercifully. She tried not to listen as Murdoch went on about how he had given her, and her father, everything. He told her that if it wasn’t for her, Paul O’Brien would have been gone that day long ago when they had their disagreement. But Murdoch had loved Teresa so, and knew he could give her the kind of life Paul could never give her.
He was angry; he told Teresa his heart bled every time he thought of all that he had given her, while his son, his child, was left to the streets with nothing. No guidance, no food, no shelter, nothing. And that his Johnny had to pick up a gun just to survive.
And he talked about how Johnny was finally beginning to open up, to let his real self emerge, and how he was beginning to trust. And how she had betrayed the trust of his son.
This went on for hours, and finally Murdoch asked Teresa what she had to say for herself. All she could choke out was, ‘I didn’t tell Sarah the same story that you heard. It wasn’t my fault somebody told it wrong. Besides, it’s not like I hurt anybody.’
Murdoch had enough. He bellowed that she did hurt somebody. . .one of the two most important people in his life had been hurt through her actions. And she had to be held accountable.
His words cut through her. . one of the two most important people in his life. Not one of the three, but one of the two. . .meaning Scott and Johnny. That is when she realized that no matter what the circumstances, blood was thicker than water.
But the words that Murdoch spoke next cut through the young woman’s heart and soul like nothing she had ever heard before: ‘Go. . .get out of my sight. You make me sick!!’
Teresa Eileen O’Brien knew her life was over. She ran up to her room and wanted to die.
She had not left her room for five days, except to take care of her needs. Rosa and Sophia brought her up her meals, but she hardly touched them. She knew something was going on, but she didn’t know what it was. The last several nights, she had heard Murdoch and Scott discussing something; she couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she knew it involved her.
Teresa also knew Murdoch and Scott had been visiting Johnny at the line shack he had retreated to. Rosa told her that Senor Johnny was feeling bad about things, and needed time to be alone. It was his decision, and his father and brother reluctantly abided by it.
Finally, she was beckoned downstairs to the great room. She was glad when she saw Scott there; she hoped his presence would prevent another horrible episode of five days earlier. Teresa noted that Murdoch was extremely calm, almost relieved. He said some decisions had been made, decisions that would effect her greatly.
And that he, and his sons, had agreed to these decisions.
Scott took the floor and advised Teresa she was being sent to the Whitfield School for Girls in upstate New York. He explained Whitfield offered their students the opportunity to excel in fields of their interest, such as art, history, and literature. Poor grades would not be tolerated. Scott informed her that Whitfield had rigid standards, and although social graces were part of the curriculum, emphasis was placed on learning discipline and responsibility. Scott informed that failure to adhere to the stringent rules of the school would result in the loss of any privileges earned by the students.
Scott further advised that in order for Whitfield Girls to receive a well-rounded picture of life, they would be expected to offer services to the community. Volunteering at hospitals and orphanages in the area and serving as tutors to the people of the impoverished mountain community would teach empathy in the young women, and often would require them to live for a time with the families they were serving.
After their graduation, Scott explained, Whitfield graduates would be well-versed in all aspects of life, and in turn, would become valuable members of their community.
Murdoch took over, informing Teresa that this decision was a long time in coming. He and her father had discussed sending her to school back east when she turned 16, as both he and Paul were aware of her bouts of selfishness. But then Pardee came into their lives, and Paul died. Murdoch had hoped that having two brothers in her life would help her to be less self-centered, but instead, their presence made her jealousies worse.
Murdoch informed his ward she would be leaving in two days and to take only what she needed, and that Mrs. Lawrence, from the Denver branch of Whitfield, would be escorting her. He asked her if she had any questions.
Teresa dejectedly shook her head no. After a moment, she asked if she had any say into this decision; after all, it was her life. Murdoch gruffly answered no, she did not, that she was his responsibility until she turned 21, and this would be her life until then. After another tension-filled moment, she asked if she would ever be allowed at Lancer again. She was told that a person could receive one week of leave from Whitfield after the first year, with two weeks thereafter; one in the summer and one at Christmas, and that all requests would be decided on the individual’s grades, behavior, and attitude. Murdoch informed her it was doubtful she would return Lancer during that five years due to the short length of time allowed for leave.
He further informed Teresa that when her time at Whitfield was complete, if all three Lancers were in agreement, she could return to Lancer if she desired. If she did return and wanted to stay, she would reside in the little house on the six acres she had lived in as a child with her father, and she would be expected to pay rent for its upkeep.
She made her way down the grand staircase of the mammoth hacienda, and brushed by Murdoch.
“Teresa. . . .” Murdoch softly said, but she just walked away. She stood next to Scott and could not look him in the eyes.
“You’ll see, Teresa, that this is for the best,” Scott said. Then he asked her, “Is there anything you want me to tell Johnny for you?”
“Tell him. . .No. . .I have nothing to say to him.” Her voice was cold.
She walked toward the door, and Jelly was ready to let her by, when she turned around and faced Murdoch. “Would you do one thing for me? Well, for my father, really?”
“What is it?” Murdoch asked glumly.
“Please take care of his. . .resting place. Keep it maintained. Make sure it has flowers for his birthday, and Christmas. And the anniversary of his. . .death. You owe him, Old Man. There’s a lot of him in Lancer, too,” she curtly advised the patriarch.
Murdoch was taken aback by her reference of Old Man, but he was too tired to be angry. “I will, Teresa. Paul will never be forgotten. .. .” he sadly said. Then he added, “Take care of yourself. You. . .will never be forgotten, either,” his voice laden with emotion.
Teresa glared at the man and did not respond. She just turned around and walked out of the house, leaving her life behind.
She knew she could never return. . . . . .
As the surrey made its way toward the Lancer arch, Teresa wept. The arch had always been a beacon and she had passed under it so many times, knowing it would be there on her return “home.” But she knew that this would be the last time she would pass under it, and never again would it be the shining light welcoming her return.
She wanted to look back, to take one last look at the beautiful hacienda that had once been her home, but she couldn’t. She would have to rely on her memory to remind her of its beauty, its majestic stature. And she had hoped against hope that Murdoch and Scott would come to their senses, and realize the mistake they were making in banishing her from her home; that she would turn around and see them galloping toward the surrey, begging for her forgiveness and asking her to come back.
But that wasn’t going to happen. . . .
The surrey had finally passed under the arch, and she was no longer on Lancer land. She looked over at Jelly as he stared straight ahead, not saying a word. She was glad the old man was keeping his mouth shut; she wouldn’t be able to bear his idle, annoying chatter.
She was alone with her thoughts, and they went back to when she asked if she could see Johnny one last time. To say good-bye. But she had been informed that Johnny didn’t want to see her. He would stay at the line shack until she left; he didn’t want to face the girl he had loved like a sister, but who had betrayed him. He told his father and brother he could deal with the hurt she caused to him, but to hurt Becky and her father, as well as Murdoch and Scott, was unforgivable.
She was told that although all three had agreed to send her to Whitfield, Johnny had been reluctant. He had gotten it into his head that she was being sent to some women’s prison back east. It was only after Scott had told him it was his recommendation that Whitfield was the best place for her, that he relented. Scott assured him that Whitfield was not a prison; rather, ‘a school where young women of privileged backgrounds find their inner-selves and become better individuals.’ Or, as Murdoch clarified for his younger son, ‘To teach Teresa not to be so self-centered and selfish.’ At that simple state of fact, Johnny readily agreed.
What stunned her the most, though, was that Johnny had been the one to make any return by her to Lancer practically impossible. The three had discussed the situation, and at Johnny’s request, Murdoch had the agreement changed that the six acres of land he had given to Teresa at the time of Paul’s death be split between the three of them. She also learned that three-fourths of the trust fund that had been set up for her would pay for her schooling; Murdoch would pay the rest. There would be sufficient funds left in the trust for her to begin her life anew after her graduation from Whitfield.
And if it was agreed she could return to Lancer if she so desired, those funds would be considered payment for her rent, until the time she found additional funding. And if no other monies became available, she would have to leave Lancer.
They sure screwed me royal, she silently bitched.
And the sudden realization that she had a very uncertain future hit her straight in her heart.
But the other realization was the one that tore apart her soul. For she finally realized that she would never have the one thing she wanted all of her life; the one thing that she had lived for, strived for, the one thing that meant more to her than anything or anybody in the world. . . . .
For Teresa Eileen O’Brien knew she would never, ever, be the Mistress of Lancer. . . .
And the thing she feared the most her entire young life came true: that her being a part of the “most beautiful place in the whole wide world” was only a fragile gift that was destroyed.
And it was all because of him. . . . . . .