The Real Johnny Madrid

By Linda Borchers 


Chapter One

It was only ten a.m. and already the streets of Morro Coyo were sweltering with the heat of an unusually hot summer. It was more than four months since a drop of rain had touched the parched land. But this was mid September, and the promise of rain was only a few weeks away. By mid October the days would grow cooler and the blessed rain would return.

This time of year Morro Coyo and Green River bustled with activity early in the mornings, before the heat of the day settled in. Supplies were bought and loaded into buckboards, and business was transacted before the heat of the day hit in earnest.

Johnny loaded the last barrel of nails into the back of the buckboard and tied the load of supplies down securely while Teresa finished her shopping in Baldemero’s store.

Johnny stepped into the cool darkness of the mercantile. It would be as hot as outside come afternoon, but right now it was an oasis of comfort. “You almost done, querida? I wanna get back before nightfall.”

Teresa rolled her eyes at Senora Baldemero and giggled lightly as she slipped a small bag of candy into her satchel and paid Senora Baldemero. “If he was looking at horses we’d be here all day. I’ll see you in a fortnight, Senora Baldemero.”

“Si.” The diminutive Mexican shopkeeper smiled. “Don’t let Jaunito eat all that candy at once.”

“I won’t,” Teresa called over her shoulder as she stepped out of the cool darkness of the store into the bright sunshine and pretended to heft an extraordinarily heavy satchel.

Johnny grabbed for the satchel. “What ya got in there, the whole store?” He sniggered, surprised at how light the bag really was.

“If you behave, I may let you see.”

“And if I don’t,” he teased.

Teresa tugged at Johnny’s hat, slipping it down over his forehead. “You won’t get one of those peppermint sticks I bought.”

“Then.” He grinned. “I will be on my best behavior.”


“Look at that breed hanging all over that pretty little girl. Ain’t right,” Arlo Brand hissed, punching his fist into his meaty hand. “That boy needs to be taught a lesson.”

Clive Hanks nodded. “Only trouble is, who’s gonna teach ‘em? He can call himself a Lancer all he wants…but we all know that he’s Johnny Madrid. Can’t take the stain of a killer off a man by just changing his name.”

Arlo agreed. He and Clive had worked for Matt Clarkson for seven years on his small ranch outside Morro Coyo. Barely eking out a living, they made just enough money to throw back a few whiskeys and beers over a game of poker at the saloon on Saturday nights. Then Madrid showed up. Suddenly part owner of the biggest cattle ranch in the valley.

He knew the kid was trouble the first time he laid eyes on him. And it wasn’t just the fact that his pa was white and his ma was Mexican. It was the way he moved. He was so cock sure of everything he did. The women noticed it too. Those bright colored shirts and concho pants…like he was telling all the hens that he was the head rooster. He needed to be taken down a peg or two. And soon. There were some people in town who were starting to like him. Even with that gunbelt strapped on his hip, they were forgetting who he really was; Johnny Madrid, killer for hire.

Clive leaned against the barber’s pole outside the saloon. “I heard some of the ranchers were gonna pay Murdoch Lancer a call…try to talk some sense into him. No one is safe with the likes of Johnny Madrid hanging round. I can understand Murdoch wanting the boy here when Day Pardee and his gang was causing all that ruckus. But Pardee’s dead…ain’t no reason Madrid needs ta hang around anymore.”

“Hey.” Arlo elbowed Clive in the side. “Look who’s coming.” 

A nasty smile crept across Clive’s face as he recognized Hortence Shaffer walking down the boardwalk toward them. No one knew how old Hortence was, or when she first came to Morro Coyo. She just seemed to always be around, adding her two cents to every conversation she came within ten feet of.  Tall and thin, she wore her gray hair pulled into a strident bun atop her head, accenting her beak-like nose that shadowed her thin lips permanently locked into a frown. Her black dress with high starched white collar and cuffs added to the severity of her looks.

“Gentlemen,” Hortence nodded as she passed by, “a fine morning, isn’t it?”

Clive nodded. “Yes ‘em, it is. Well, it was…”

Hortence stopped and turned back, her frown deepening. “And why is that, Mr. Hanks?”

Arlo took Clive’s lead and pointed across the street. “It’s really none of my business…but it pains me to see a pretty little thing like Miss Teresa being in such close proximity to a half Mex gunslinger like Johnny Madrid.”

Hortence’s already rigid shoulders grew even stiffer as she spotted Teresa O’Brien standing outside Baldemero’s General Store in an animated conversation with Murdoch Lancer’s youngest son. The sound of her laughter floated across the dirt street as she reached up and pulled Johnny’s hat down over his face playfully.

“Shameful. Utterly shameful,” she seethed in righteous indignation. “I have never witnessed such scurrilous behavior. It is high time someone talked to that child about deporting herself in public. Heaven knows what happens behind closed doors.”

Clive bit down on the smile that threatened to spread across his face. “We was just talking about that, Miss Hortence. We don’t see why Murdoch Lancer just doesn’t send the boy packin’. He don’t need him no more…and he don’t belong around here, mingling with good, honest folk.”

Hortence sighed. “Murdoch Lancer has always been a hard man to understand. Heaven knows I’ve tried. When Mrs. O’Brien died, Teresa was barely three years old. I tried to tell Murdoch and Paul then, that it wasn’t right for a young girl to be raised by two men alone. I told him I would gladly take the child in, and raise her as my own. She could see them, of course, but she would be raised in a good Christian home, with values and manners. But they thought they knew everything. And look what happened.”

Hortence watched as Johnny lifted Teresa onto the seat of their buckboard, his hands clamped around her tiny waist a moment too long.

“And when Paul O’Brien was killed by those dreadful high riders, and Murdoch was laid up from that bullet wound in his back, I again tried to persuade him that it was best for Teresa to come live with me. It was only him and that Mexican housekeeper…the woman can barely speak English. And again he refused.”

“I hear tell it’s all legal,” Arlo said. “Paul O’Brien made Murdoch the girl’s ward if anything was to happen to him.”

“That was before his sons came home. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing bad to say about his oldest boy, Scott. A fine man. Polite and college educated. He was even a lieutenant in the cavalry. He would make any of the young ladies a fine husband. But that one.” Her dark black eyes seemed to sink deeper into her eye sockets as she stared at Johnny Madrid. Clive thought he never saw another human look more like an old barn owl.

“I heard he killed his first man when he was ten years old,” Arlo offered, his eyes glued to the buckboard as Johnny snapped the reins and the horses pulled away from the boardwalk. “He was a bad seed from the very start.”

“Too bad something can’t be done for that poor girl legally,” Clive said. “I mean, it sure would be nice if she was being raised by a fine lady like yourself, instead of in a house with a known killer sleeping in the room next to hers. If that’s where she sleeps,” he added under his breath.

“My hearing is quite acute, Mr. Brand, and I insist that you keep comments like that to yourself. However, I am in agreement. That child does not belong in that house.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Clive asked.

“What I should have done three months ago. I am going to write the governor and ask that Murdoch Lancer’s status as Teresa O’Brien’s ward be terminated. I’m sure the governor will agree with me when I explain to him the kind of life that child is leading now.”

“You think that will work?” Arlo followed the buckboard as it finally took the last turn out of town. “Teresa is already sixteen, ain’t she?”

“Yes, but she won’t be of age for another two years. I think I still have time to retrain her in the ways of a proper lady. The thought of her staying in that house with that killer another day brings me to tears. Teresa may not understand now…but she will thank me in time. Now, if you will excuse me gentlemen, I have a letter to write.”

As Hortence turned to walk away she suddenly stopped. “It comes to my attention that you know quite a bit about Johnny Madrid, gentlemen.”

Clive nodded. “He’s got a reputation from here to Mexico. One side calls him a hero, the other side calls him what he is…a born killer. I know just about everything there is to know about the boy.”

“Then you are exactly the man I need. Would you and Mr. Brand like to join me for lunch at my house? I want to hear all about Johnny Madrid, as unpleasant as that may be, before I write my letter to the governor. I want him to understand just how dangerous Johnny Madrid Lancer truly is.”

“We’d be happy to, Miss Hortence. We wanna save that pretty young girl just as much as you do.”

“Fine, it is settled. I will see you both at my house at one o’clock sharp.”


Scott saw the trail of dust moving closer to the Lancer arch and waited in the courtyard to see who was coming. It was too early in the day for one of the hands to be returning, unless there was trouble.

As the figure on horseback drew closer he recognized Val Crawford. It wasn’t often that the sheriff made it all the way out to Lancer, but occasionally he dropped by to see Johnny. It was a strange friendship…a sheriff and an ex-gunslinger. But they trusted each other, perhaps because they knew each other so well. Scott would never know the side of Johnny that Val did. Johnny would never allow it.

“Johnny around?” Val asked, as the dirt settled back down around the horse. It seemed that Val had picked up almost every speck of dust in the state of California and wore it proudly on his clothes.

“Sorry, he’s gone for a couple of days. He and Cipriano are up at the north pasture mending fences. They’re going to stay at the line shack up there.”

“The boy feeling a little penned in?” Val grinned, taking off his hat and wiping the sweat from his brow with his arm before settling the hat back on his head.

“I think so. Anything I can help you with?”

“To tell you the truth,” Val said as he dismounted. “I was hoping Johnny wouldn’t be around. You and me and your old man have a problem.”


“Who else?”


Murdoch raised an eyebrow as Scott led Val into the great room. The look on both their faces told him whatever they had to say, he was not going to like it.

“Val, what brings you out here in this heat? Care for a drink?” Murdoch asked, walking over to the sideboard where he kept his bourbon and Johnny’s tequila.

“Better make it a double.” Val nodded. “In fact, ya better make it a double…all around.”

“All right, Sheriff.” Murdoch sighed. “Out with it. What has Johnny done this time?”

Scott glared at is father. “That’s unfair, Sir. We don’t know that Johnny has done anything wrong yet. No wonder Johnny gets so angry. You’re always jumping to conclusions.”

“It’s not hard with the track record your brother has,” Murdoch snapped. “So Val...”

“Well, it ain’t Johnny’s doing…this time.” Val tossed back his drink in one gulp and handed Murdoch his glass. “I’ll take one more for the road, if ya don’t mind.”

Murdoch raised an eyebrow but refilled the sheriff’s glass. “All right, Val, what’s this about?” he asked gruffly.

“Hortence Shaffer,” Val said simply, pulling an envelope from inside his vest pocket. The once pristine white envelope was now smudged with dirty fingerprints. “She gave me this, said it was a copy of a letter she sent to the governor.”

Murdoch took the envelope, confusion written on his face, and slowly pulled out the neatly folded letter. It was apparent that Val had been especially careful handling the missive. He looked at the small crisp handwriting…as severe and inflexible as the woman herself. Hortence Shaffer had been a thorn in his side for as long as he could remember. To be more accurate, she was a thorn in everyone’s side. Opinionated, and tough as nails, she would not back down from a fight, no matter how long it took. And more often than not she won. Not because she was right, but because she wore her opponent down with her implacable steadfastness. If it took years for her to make her point, she would wait. Such a war had brewed between her and Murdoch for thirteen years. The very day Anna O’Brien was reported dead, she was at the Lancer doorstep, demanding that Teresa be turned over to her to be raised properly.

Scott watched as Murdoch’s hand began to tremble, a look of absolute hatred darkening his face as he finally looked up at Val. “Did she send this to the governor already?”

Val nodded. “ ‘Fraid so. Went out on the morning stage.”

Scott held out his hand. “May I, sir?”

Rage burned in his father’s eyes as Scott eased the letter from his hand. His own hands began to tremble as he began to read. Silence filled the great room, only the ticking of the old grandfather clock in the corner broke the stillness. Murdoch and Val both watched as Scott read fact after fact, outlining the life of Johnny Madrid in horrific detail.

At last Scott looked up, his face pale, his eyes haunted. “I knew Johnny was a gunfighter…but this can’t be true.”

Val sniffed. “There are facts, then there’s the truth. Not always the same animal.”

Murdoch took the letter back, rereading it. “There is more here than the Pinkertons gave me in their reports, where did Hortence get all this?”

“Best I can figure, she talked to Arlo and Clive. Not the two most upstanding citizens in Morro Coyo.”

“I don’t understand, Sir. Why would she question your ability to be Teresa’s guardian? Surely she can see that Teresa is happy. That she is educated and well cared for.”

“This has been going on since the day Paul’s wife died. She has always wanted to raise Teresa. Now I believe she has finally found a weapon to use against me.”

“Johnny?” Val looked at Murdoch incredulously. “You don’t think this letter here could get the governor ta change his mind and take Teresa away from you, do you?”

“If I read this letter,” Scott ground out, “and believed even half of it, I couldn’t see how I could, in good conscious, allow a young woman to stay in the same house with Johnny Madrid.”

“What are we gonna to do?”

The question wasn’t lost on either Murdoch or Scott. Val had said “we”.

“Somehow we’ve got to get the governor to know the real Johnny Lancer,” Murdoch said thoughtfully.

“How do you propose to do that?” Scott asked.

“Victoria Barkley and her son, Jarrod, know the governor well. They attend parties at the Governor’s Mansion every year, he even visits the Barkley ranch on occasion. I think we should ask Victoria to invite him here for a visit.”

“Ta Lancer?” Val asked, surprised.

“I see no other way. We could talk until we were blue in the face about how Johnny has changed. But the governor would still see that damn letter. No, the man has to meet the real Johnny Madrid – the real Johnny Lancer.”

Scott smiled. “I think it might work, Sir”

“Let’s hope so. Val, send a wire to Stockton as soon as you get into town. Tell Mrs. Barkley that Scott is on his way to their ranch. I think it would be best if you explained it in person, Scott.”

Scott agreed. “I’ll leave within the hour. May I take this with me?” Scott tapped the letter Murdoch still held in his hand.

Murdoch blanched. He didn’t want anyone else to see what was written there: The truths and half truths of his son’s life. A past that he had hoped to bury, but seemed to rise out of the grave to haunt Johnny.

“Sir,” Scott said softly, “it would be best if Victoria knew exactly what the governor knew. She knows Johnny; she won’t be swayed by what she reads here.”

Murdoch nodded reluctantly. “You’d better get ready, son. And one more thing. Neither Johnny or Teresa are to know anything about this until we hear from the governor. If Johnny finds out…he won’t stay if he thinks his being here will hurt Teresa in any way. And I don’t want Teresa to be burdened by this until it is absolutely necessary.”

“I agree. That means keeping them both here, around the house. This kind of thing won’t stay quiet for long. Hortence Shaffer is bound to say something to someone. She’ll want the world to know what kind of good Samaritan she is.”

Murdoch sighed deeply. “I’m afraid there is no way that Johnny and Teresa won’t be hurt by this. Damn Hortence Shaffer.”

Val downed his forgotten glass of whiskey and settled his hat back on his head. “I’ll have that telegram posted in a couple hours, and I’ll try to keep a lid on things in town.”

Murdoch held his hand out to Val. “Thank you, Val, you’re a good friend.”

Val nodded, turning toward the door and walking out of the great room with an angry gait.

His friend was going to get hurt, and hurt bad.


Chapter Two

“Juanito, we have done well today, no?” Cipriano spoke softly in the darkness.

“Si,” Johnny said lazily. The language of his childhood soothed his tired body and mind. He was not surprised when Cipriano had brought his bedroll out of the line shack and laid it down next to him. He knew the old Segundo treasured these warm, star filled nights as much as he did. Knew the old vaquero felt humbled beneath the magnificent blanket of stars that spilled across the ink black sky, knew it eased his mind as he listened to the chirp of crickets harmonizing with a thousand other night sounds singing nature’s lullaby.

There was no need for a fire, the air was still warm from the heat of the day and the ground still held the sun’s warmth.

Johnny looked over to see the outline of Cipriano’s face. He had made friends in the three months he’d been at Lancer, but none so natural as his friendship with this man. Cipriano seemed to know him so well. Not just because they shared part of the same heritage…but because Cipriano knew the lure of freedom…knew the cost of settling down.

“Ain’t my old man gonna be surprised when we come back half a day early tomorrow.”

“We did the work of four men today. He will be proud of you.”

Johnny snorted. “Maybe even proud enough to say ‘good job, son?’”

Johnny heard Cipriano take a deep breath, letting it pass slowly through his lips as he exhaled, contemplating his next words.

“It has not been easy, I know. Your father is a hard man. He lost much when your mother took you away. I think he fears losing you again.”

“Not by my reckoning. I think sometimes he would like nothing better than to see me hit the road. I’m not the son he lost twenty years ago.”

“How could you be?”

Johnny saw Cipriano shift in the darkness, turning toward him. “You were but a child then. You are a man now. He doesn’t always know how to treat you. He feels guilty that he was not there for you when you needed him. That he was not able to be there when your mama died, that he was not able to keep you from being hurt. It is a heavy burden he walks with.”

“It wasn’t his fault. I know that now. You knew my mother, how could she have lied like she did?”

“Ah, mi hijo, no one but Maria knew what was in her mind and her heart. But I fear it may have been anger.”

“Not anger, Cip. She hated him with every breath she took. And I hated him. Sometimes I still…”

A branch fell in the copse of Ironwood beyond them in the darkness and the crickets suddenly fell silent for just a moment, leaving his unsaid words hanging in the stillness.

The gentle sounds of the night returned and Cipriano’s voice was like a balm to Johnny’s soul.

“No, Juanito. You do not hate him. I see how you look at him when you think no one is watching. I see how he looks at you when you don’t see. I see the pain in his eyes. The longing to say the right words. Give him time. Give yourself time.”

“Sometimes I think it’s just too hard.”

“If it is good, and meant to be, then it is worth fighting for. You will see tomorrow. When we get back to the hacienda your father will be proud of the work you have done.”

Cipriano leaned over and laid his hand gently on Johnny’s shoulder. “A journey starts with one step. You and your father have just begun that journey.”

Johnny smiled in the darkness. “You are either very wise, Cip, or full of mierda.”

He heard Cipriano laugh heartily and then they both fell silent, and as the moon began to rise in the sky they fell into a peaceful sleep.


“I won’t be gone long,” Scott assured Teresa, kissing her on the cheek and lifting the lunch sack from her hands. “Three, four days at the most. Murdoch wants me to check out that new bull Nick Barkley bought at the Stockton auction last week.”

“I wish I could go with you,” she said longingly. “Audra and I have such a good time when we are together.”

“Maybe next time,” Scott promised. He and Murdoch had discussed taking Teresa with him. It would keep her away from Hortence and her nasty tongue…but the letter that scorched his skin as it sat in his breast pocket needed the Barkley’s full attention. Having to worry about Teresa overhearing their conversation would be counter productive.

“Besides, I don’t think Johnny and Murdoch are ready to spend four days together without at least one of us to referee.” Scott grinned as he mounted Charley. “Send them to their rooms if they start misbehaving.”

Teresa giggled as she waved to Scott, watching as he trotted beneath the Lancer arch. But then her smile disappeared. There was something brewing. She could feel it. An uneasiness. And there was no doubt it involved Johnny.

She stepped back into the coolness of the hacienda. It was going to be another very hot day, and even though the adobe bricks kept a lot of the heat out of the house, it still became uncomfortably hot in the afternoon, making it well worth her while to hurry through her chores in the morning.


Murdoch wasn’t quite sure what he was doing riding into Green River. His excuse that he wanted to make sure Val had sent the telegram to Victoria Barkley was a flimsy one. Val would do as he promised, post the message to Victoria as soon as he got back to town, and when he received an answer he would get it to the ranch immediately…whether in person or in the capable hands of his deputy. There was no need for this trip…but he could not help himself.

His children were being threatened. It didn’t matter that Johnny was a grown man, wise beyond his years. There was nothing he could do to protect his son as he grew up, save him from a life filled with pain and disappointment. But, by God, he would be there for him now.

And his heart went out to Teresa. The stigma from the gossip that was sure to erupt once Hortence Shaffer spewed her vile opinions would linger, tainting an innocent child. Tainting the entire Lancer household.

There were few people he could think of at the moment that he hated more.

As he rode down the middle of the street, he felt every eye on him…whether real or perceived; it sent a shiver down his spine. This was what Johnny felt each time he rode into town, any town. He had watched his son, his face passive, his eyes staring straight ahead, although Murdoch knew Johnny was taking everything in, every detail.

 It saddened him to know that this was the life Johnny led. That his inability to keep his wife happy, the mother of his child contented, condemned his son to a life of abuse and poverty. The scars on Johnny’s back read like a map of his life. Scars from bullets, knives, even the vicious stroke of a whip. He had yet to ask Johnny what that life was really like, because in all honesty, Murdoch didn’t know if he could stand to know.

Murdoch turned his horse toward Val’s office, sitting unmoving in front of the hitching post as his mind wandered.

He had been so close to losing Lancer to Day Pardee and his High Riders. His Segundo and best friend was dead, he had a bullet in his back that left him dependent on a cane. And Teresa, his darling Teresa, mourning for her father, yet fighting with every ounce of her being to stay strong and beat the marauders who wanted to claim Lancer and the valley as their own.

In a last desperate attempt to save his land, he had called for his sons, never expecting them to come. But they did, and three months later they were becoming a family. Johnny’s near death from Pardee’s bullet strengthened Murdoch’s resolve to make this family work. But he didn’t know how. None of them did. Most of all himself. He didn’t know how to talk to his sons. Scott was the easiest. But there was a distance between them, a gap formed by Scott’s strict, unemotional upbringing and Murdoch’s inability to show his true feelings. Johnny on the other hand was the antithesis of Scott. A hotbed of emotion. Murdoch had only seen glimpses of those emotions…some so hot they would singe you if you got too close, and some so cold that they froze the very air around him.


Murdoch shook himself out of his reverie. Val stood in the doorway to his office, one hand leaning on the doorknob and the other holding a tin cup, still steaming with thick black coffee.

“Buy ya a cup of coffee?” he asked.

Murdoch dismounted slowly. Long rides still bothered his back. Sam had warned him that it could be years before he was pain free…if ever.

“Thanks, but no thanks. You and Johnny are the only two I know with cast iron stomachs strong enough to handle that brew.”

“Suit yerself,” Val grinned. “What brings ya all the way to town?”

“Thought I’d see if you got a reply from Stockton. Scott’s already on his way.”

Val stepped back inside his office. The room was already sweltering and it was barely nine in the morning.

The sheriff nodded. “Got it about an hour ago. Never thought you’d be in town ta pick it up so I sent my deputy to deliver it.”

“To Lancer?”

Val snorted. “Where else?”

Murdoch paled. “There’s only Teresa with Jelly and Maria. What did the telegram say?”

“Nothing ta get excited about. Just that they’re looking forward to seeing Scott. If Teresa sees it she won’t think nothing of it. So, what’s the real reason ya came inta town?”

Murdoch didn’t answer, instead he looked around for a place to sit. Val finally came to his rescue and brushed a stack of posters off a chair. Murdoch watched them slide across the floor, and looked back up at Val.

Val shrugged. “I’ll get to them when I can. Most of ‘em are too old to worry about. You worried about Johnny?”

Murdoch eased himself into the chair, hearing the wood creak beneath his weight. “He’s just beginning to let his guard down. You know,” he laughed sardonically, “that two days ago was the first time he slept without his gun under his pillow? He still has his rig hanging from his headboard…but it was a big step for Johnny. Now I’m afraid…”

“Yer afraid that Hortence and all her butting in where she don’t belong will ruin all that.”

Murdoch nodded. He looked down at a poster lying next to his boot. The face looking up at him was not much older than Johnny’s. The artist took great pains to make his eyes look cold and emotionless. With a shiver, Murdoch remembered seeing those same eyes looking at him the first couple of weeks after Johnny had come home.

“You knew Johnny Madrid,” Murdoch said softly. It was a statement, not a question.

Val nodded.

Murdoch leaned over and picked up the poster studying it. “Are there any of these out on my son?”

“Not here, but there are plenty across the border. You worried about them things you read about Johnny yesterday?” Val asked, a little harsher than he meant to.

“I thought I had seen all I could stand in those Pinkerton reports. But…” Murdoch closed his eyes, trying to erase the thoughts that wouldn’t leave him alone. The images that Hortence’s letter invoked.

Val opened his desk drawer and pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey and two glasses, one clean and one smudged with fingerprints. “I know its kind  early for this, but you look like you could use something.”

Murdoch was grateful when Val passed him the clean glass.

“You think you can hear what I got ta say with an open mind?” Val asked.

Murdoch nodded. But inside he wondered if he could, if he really wanted to hear what Val had to tell him.

“I met Johnny Madrid in Los Alamos, he was probably fifteen, maybe sixteen. I was a deputy at the time. Johnny had a mouth, even back then, got himself into a lot of trouble with it. A range war was just simmering down. Johnny fought on the homesteaders’ side, against the big ranchers. The homesteaders lost in the end, but Johnny brought a lot of the ranchers’ men down. They didn’t take kindly to him and ambushed him in the middle of the street.”

“He was fifteen?” Murdoch groaned softly.

“Maybe in years, but not in guts or know-how. The ranchers knew it was Johnny who had killed most of their men. Bushwhacker missed Johnny’s heart, got him high in the left shoulder…”

Murdoch squeezed his eyes closed. He remembered that scar, wondered how his son had got that one along with all the others.

“He refused to let anyone help him. Somehow this kid, bleeding and half dead, climbed on his horse and rode out of town. I figured he’d die of blood loss or infection.”

“You didn’t go after him?” Murdoch asked incredulously, his temper flaring.

“Sheriff wouldn’t let me. Said Johnny Madrid deserved everything he got. Good and bad. Seemed to me though, that the boy didn’t get much that was good. Ta make a long story short, a couple months later a couple of drifters passed through town, ended up in the saloon. Seemed that word had gotten around about Johnny Madrid and the range war. But it weren’t the same war I saw. According to them, Johnny bushwhacked most of the ranch hands. The ones he didn’t bushwhack, he goaded into a fast draw that they didn’t stand a chance of winning. Thirty three men died…Johnny Madrid was credited with killing twenty-six of ‘em.”

Murdoch found it hard to breathe.

“So ya see…most of those things Hortence has down in that letter have a little bit of truth to them…Johnny was probably there…but he never was a back shooter…he never goaded anybody into a gunfight. Fame is a double edged sword, and most of the time a deadly one.”

Murdoch lowered his head and ran his fingers through his gray hair, pulling at it, needing to feel the pain to counter the ache in his heart. “Will he ever live down Johnny Madrid?”

“If he can stay out of gunfights…if someone faster comes along. But, I don’t see nobody being faster than Johnny.”

Murdoch looked up. “You were friends. You met again?”

Val nodded, a smile coming to his craggy face. “I moved on from Los Alamos. Found a job as sheriff in a hole in the wall down near San Jose. Was transporting a prisoner up to Vallejo. The kid got the jump on me, was ready to blow my brains out when Johnny came along. He just sat on his horse, calm as could be, asked the prisoner if he thought it was such a good idea to shoot a sheriff. Damn if that boy didn’t talk for fifteen minutes until the prisoner took his gun off me and Johnny shot it out of his hand. He saved my life, and the kid’s too. Ever hear of Trace Underwood?”

Murdoch nodded. “I have a couple of his books in my library.”

“That’s him. Underwood was scared out of his mind. Thought the only way he could get out of the mess he put himself into was to kill me. Johnny convinced him that he could serve his time and get on with his life. Don’t know how Johnny did it. But he did. We rode together to Vallejo, then back. Then he headed back across the border. Said he had some unfinished business. Never saw him again until I saw him lying on his belly on that big soft bed of his at Lancer. I don’t think he ever had a bed like that before in his life.”

“He should have had that bed all his life.”

Val shrugged. “He has it now. And we got ta make sure he keeps it. You know he’s gonna try to bolt as soon as he knows what this could do to Teresa.”

“I know. I only hope Victoria can convince the governor to come to Lancer. He has to meet Johnny, he has to hear stories like you just told.”

“Why don’t you try to find Trace Underwood? A good word from him might help Johnny’s case.”

Murdoch slapped his knees and stood up. “I’ll send a telegram to Stockton. Between Scott and Victoria maybe they can find a way to get Underwood here too.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Val slapped Murdoch on the shoulder…”We’ll get them kids through this…”

The door opened and Hortence Shaffer stood in the doorway. She looked at Murdoch and smiled.

“Murdoch, good, you’re here” She handed Val a neatly folded letter. “Judge Hampton has agreed that Teresa O’Brien is in both physical and mental danger while in the presence of Johnny Madrid. He is not to be within six hundred yards of her at anytime. Sheriff Crawford, it is your duty to see that the judge’s order is carried out at once. Good day gentlemen.”


Chapter Three

Murdoch stood frozen in the doorway. Despite the heat blasting him in the face, he felt a cold shiver shake his huge frame as Hortence Shaffer stood there, her head held stiffly in place, her shoulders pulled back…the epitome of self-righteous conviction.

Behind her, a crowd of townsfolk gathered despite the heat. Sweat stained the men’s shirts and dampened the women’s hair, strands of it hanging limply as it escaped imprisonment beneath their bonnets. Murdoch saw their lips pressed into thin lines of condemnation, their eyes boring into him. Waiting for him to say what? That he was going to send Johnny away…ban him from the only home he had ever known?

“It’s not right,” a woman called out, “that that child should be under the same roof with a known killer. What would Teresa’s mother think if she knew what kind of home her child was forced to live in?”

“It’s disgraceful,” another woman called.

Mrs. Brewster forced her way to the front of the crowd, pulling her sixteen year old daughter by the wrist. “Tell him,” she demanded of the girl. “Tell Murdoch what Teresa really thought.”

“Ma, please…”

“Tell him, child,” Mrs. Brewster ordered.

In a voice shaking with fear, Elizabeth spoke haltingly. “Teresa said she was afraid of Johnny Madrid coming to live with them.”

“All of it, child,” Mrs. Brewster coaxed.

“She said…she said he was probably no better than the high riders that were trying to drive us off our land.”

Murdoch’s mind reeled. He had had the same thoughts…at first…on that day in the great room, when Johnny Madrid stood before him, looking so much like his mother, so full of insolence. He had been so wrong. But he had never known that Teresa had the same fears.

“Send him away,” Stewart Jacobs shouted. “Send him away before he destroys what you worked so hard to build.”

Val stepped to the edge of the boardwalk.  “You all go home, ya hear? This is none of your business.”

“It is our business,” Hortence protested loudly. “It is the business of every God fearing man women and child here.”

Murdoch’s head spun. The thought of squeezing the life out of Hortence Shaffer whispered in his mind…her and her single-minded determination to destroy his life and his family.

“I said, go home!” Val shouted. “I’m the law and I’ll take care of anything that needs taking care of. Now get!”

Val pulled Murdoch into the office and slammed the door shut.

Murdoch found the seat he had been sitting in and collapsed into it, the legs splaying a fraction beneath his weight.

Val snatched the injunction, forgotten in Murdoch’s hand, and studied the document closer. “It’s the judge’s signature all right. Damn that woman, anyway.”

“What are we going to do?” Murdoch asked, his voice trembling with rage.

“We’re gonna stay cool, that’s what we’re gonna do. Hortence has those people out there, so riled up, who knows what they’ll do. One thing’s for sure, Johnny can’t come to town, not until this thing blows over. Meantime…” Val snatched his hat off his desk and plopped it on his head angrily. “I’m gonna have a talk with the judge.”

“What good is that going to do?”

“Judge Hampton is scared of his own reflection in his shaving mirror. Hortence Shaffer probably scared the starch right out of ‘im.”

“Damn it Val, the man already signed the injunction.”

“Judge Hampton may be a sniveling coward, but he also likes wearing them robes. And he don’t expect to be judging here in this valley the rest of his life…he’s got plans for Stockton, maybe even Sacramento or San Francisco. What do ya think he would do to get a private meeting with the governor? Huh? Ya think that might make him think twice about this here injunction? Hortence may a scared ‘im half way to his grave…but I’m betting he wants out of this valley more.”

Murdoch looked at Val Crawford with a new found respect. Few people gave Val his due…and Murdoch was just as guilty. He knew Val through his friendship with Johnny, but never took the time to really get to know the man. “Johnny ever teach you to play chess, Val?”

“Cain’t say as he has…and I ain’t looking ta learn. Never could figure out why Johnny likes that game.”

“Well, if he ever does, he will have a formidable opponent.”

Val looked at him suspiciously. “Whatever that means. I’m gonna have that little powwow with the judge. As soon as that mob out there breaks up, you high tail it over to the telegraph office and send that note to Miz Barkley about Underwood, and then get yerself back here. I’ll be back in an hour or so…then we can figure out what we got ta do with Johnny.”


Teresa was startled to find Johnny standing behind her, a smirk on his face and a red rose in his hand.

“I wish you would stop doing that,” she complained, setting a pot to boil on the stove.

“What?” Johnny asked innocently. “Bringing ya roses?”

“No. Sneaking up on me. You’re quieter than a house cat.”

“Want me ta start shaking the house like Murdoch?”

“Well, at least I know he’s coming. What are you doing back so early?”

“Me and Cip got that fence done lickity split. Where’s Murdoch?”

“He went into Green River this morning. Something was on his mind, he seemed kind of worried about something. And before you ask, Scott left yesterday for Stockton.”

“Stockton? Kind a sudden. What’s he doing there?”

“Nick Barkley bought a bull Murdoch wanted Scott to look at. He’ll be back in a few days.”

Johnny looked at her, perplexed. “That’s funny. They didn’t say anything to me about it.”

“You know Murdoch, he can do things on the spur of the moment. But you know what this means? Maria can make some of those extra spicy tamales you love.”

Johnny sniffed the air. “I can smell them already.” Kissing her lightly on the cheek, he headed out the back door. “I’m going to go tackle that hole in the barn roof.”

“But, Johnny, it’s so hot out there. Why don’t you just rest while you have the chance?”

“It is tempting, querida…but it’s got to get done.”

“I’ll make up some cool lemonade for you. Murdoch will be hot when he gets back too.”


Johnny wished he had heeded Teresa’s advice. It was hot enough to fry eggs on the barn’s roof and getting hotter. He looked down the road, meandering beneath the white adobe arch proclaiming this as Lancer land and through the tall green fields as far as the eye could see. In the distance the high, rugged peaks of the Sierras stood against the blue sky. This was truly God’s land. Lent to them for a time, but not really theirs.

He felt a slight twinge in his back as he moved the wrong way, a reminder that three months ago he had fought for this land, for his father and Teresa, and had almost lost. He knew just how close he had come to buying it for the last time…and he knew without a doubt, that he would not have survived if his family had not been there for him. Family…familia…a word he had thought for so long would never pass his lips, would never fill his heart.

The nails lying in a pile beside him nearly glowed red with the heat and would have blistered his fingers if he wasn’t wearing gloves as he nailed another shingle in place.

He had shucked his shirt an hour ago, kneeling on it, trying to protect his knees from the hot shingles. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be sporting the first sunburn he’d had since he was a kid. He’d never hear the end of it from Scott.

Thinking of Scott, he wondered why Murdoch had sent him off in such a hurry to look at that bull. He’d said nothing about being interested in a bull, at least not to Johnny. And that niggling feeling slithered its way into his mind again. Maybe he just wasn’t important enough to bother with. His conversation with Cipriano came back to him and he wanted to believe what the old segundo had said. Because as much as he believed he had found his family, that his place belonged here…he knew Murdoch worried about who he was, the life he had lived. Cip said if it was worth having, then it was worth fighting for. This…all this…was worth the fight…

A plume of dust appeared just at the edge of his eyesight and grew as it drew closer. Soon there was no mistaking the set of the rider in the saddle. For a big man Murdoch Lancer sat a horse well. Johnny went back to repairing the roof as Murdoch’s horse finally passed beneath the arch and stopped in the middle of the courtyard.

“What are you doing up there?” Murdoch demanded.

“Getting this roof patched while I got time,” Johnny replied, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. So much for familia.

“Why aren’t you working on that fencing? I told you I wanted that fence to hold this time.”

“It will. If you want an answer you can believe, go ask Cipriano. He won’t tell you no lies.”

Murdoch swung down off his horse, handing the reins to Jelly.

“I done told that boy not to go up on that roof in this heat,” Jelly complained, jutting his chin out, his beard sparkling with sweat. “It’s just too blamed hot. It’s only been three months, he ain’t ready for work like that.”

Murdoch nodded. “Come on down, Johnny. I’ve got something to discuss with you.”

“I’ll be down when I’m done.”

“You’re done now,” Murdoch ordered.

Johnny bristled at the order, but threw his hammer and remaining shingles to the ground. Rounding up the rest of the nails in his shirt, he slid down the roof until his feet hit the ladder.


Murdoch watched Johnny, his heart in his throat, as he so seemingly, carelessly slid to the edge of the roof and climbed down the tall ladder without a moment’s hesitation.

Johnny gathered his tools off the ground. “I’ll put these away and be in…”

“It’ll take ‘em for ya,” Jelly offered, pulling the hammer and shingles out of Johnny’s hands. “And I’ll get this back to ya as soon as I can.” He held up Johnny’s shirt, heavy with the weight of the nails. “Darn stupid thing ta do, if ya ask me,” Jelly sputtered. “Takin’ yer shirt off on a day like taday…ya kin get sun poisoning on a day like this.”

Johnny smiled. “I’ll take a lot more than a couple hours in the sun to burn my hide, Jelly. Got used to running around without a shirt when I was a kid. No shoes either,” he added reflectively.

The simple statement from his son drilled a hole through Murdoch’s heart. Johnny didn’t speak very often of his childhood, but little statements like that leaked out every once in awhile, sketching a picture of poverty and neglect. There was so much he wanted to know about Johnny, and so much he was afraid to know.

“Clean up before you come in the house,” Murdoch ordered brusquely, shoving back the thoughts of Johnny’s childhood. “And make sure you’re wearing a shirt when you come in. Johnny, I don’t want you parading around the house or anywhere near the house without a shirt on. Teresa is still a child, it’s not right that she has to see you half naked all the time.”

A cold smile formed on Johnny’s face, and he regretted the words that passed his lips even as he said them. “Seems ta me that Teresa saw more than half of me naked when I was half dead from Pardee’s bullet.”

Murdoch’s shoulders stiffened. “I’ll pretend I never heard that, John. Now, get cleaned up, I have something to discuss with you.”

Murdoch turned on his heels and walked into the house, his footsteps heavy with worry and his heart crying out for what he was about to do to his son.


Victoria Barkley’s hand fell to her side, the letter lost in the folds of her skirt, the silence filling the library with a heavy uneasiness.

Scott studied Victoria’s face, trying to read her thoughts. But she simply stared past his shoulder, past the window and out to the green grass beyond the house.

Jarrod reached for the letter and gently tugged it from her fingers. His face remained impassive as he read the scathing report.

Scott waited until Jarrod folded the letter closed and laid it on the desk top, looking toward Victoria.

She finally drew her eyes away from the window and to a portrait of Tom Barkley hanging on the wall.

“My husband first met your father soon after he moved to the San Joaquin Valley. We were already established and tried to help the new ranchers whenever we could. Murdoch Lancer was a stubborn man, still is – as you well know. Tom offered to sell Murdoch one of our prized bulls at below market price to get his herd going. Murdoch reluctantly agreed, but with the promise of paying us back someday, somehow. And he did. In so many ways I couldn’t begin to count.

I knew your mother briefly…she was a beautiful woman and Murdoch was as happy as a man could be…until the trouble began. I agreed with him that it was best to send Catherine to Boston until it was once again safe for her and you to return. No one could have foreseen the tragedy that was about to happen. Murdoch blamed himself, and I will always live with the fact that I encouraged her to leave.

“Two years later your father met Maria, and once again he was happy. We visited him often in those first two years, my boys were only a few years older than Johnny. When Maria left it devastated him. Once again his world had been shattered. He was never the same man after that. While on the outside he still seemed just a sadder version of himself, I knew that he was a shattered man.

“Then the high riders started attacking the ranches and he wrote and told me that he had sent for you and your brother. I questioned his idea of sending for Johnny. We all knew by then who he had become. I worried for both Murdoch and Teresa…”

She nodded at the letter sitting on the desk. “From what that letter says, I had every right to be concerned.”

Scott’s face flushed with unconcealed anger. “If you believe everything that is in that letter, then I am wasting my time here. I don’t know why Murdoch thought that someone who had never met Johnny could possibly know who he really is.”

“Then tell me, tell us…” Victoria challenged. “Make us know him as you know him. Tell us why Murdoch Lancer has thrown caution to the wind and accepted Johnny Madrid into his house. Don’t think that I haven’t heard the stories…because I have.”

“Then you have already made up your mind, and this is just a waste of my time and yours.  If you don’t mind…”  Scott stepped back but Victoria caught his arm.

“I do mind. Your father sent you here…and by God, you are going to tell me everything. I have never turned my back on a friend, and I won’t start now.”

She turned to Jarrod. “Please tell Silas that we will be late for dinner tonight, then get three glasses and that bottle of cognac you brought from San Francisco last month.”

Turning back to Scott she said, “I want to know everything about Johnny Madrid Lancer, the good and the bad, and I don’t want it sugarcoated. If you expect me to help you, then I expect to hear the truth…all of it.”

Jarrod returned with three glasses and the cognac. “I have been a lawyer long enough to know that facts alone don’t always tell the truth.”

Scott nodded and saluted Victoria and Jarrod with the cognac, uncustomarily knocking it back in one gulp. “It’s been one hell of a day.”

Jarrod filled the glass again. “Why don’t you tell us about it?”

Victoria threaded her arm through Scott’s and led him to the couch facing a floor to ceiling bookcase. “Tell us about the real Johnny Madrid.”


Chapter Four

Johnny briskly dried himself off, wishing he could just spend the rest of the afternoon resting. Teresa was right, it was too hot to be up on that roof, and despite his dark skin, and his years under the hot sun, he still felt light headed from the excessive heat. He’d already chugged down a gallon of water, and he could still chug down another one.

He slipped into a fresh pair of pants and his flowered blue shirt, the material already clinging to his sweaty chest and stomach. He looked at himself in the small mirror above his washstand. After three months at Lancer, his choice of shirts was still looked at with skepticism. He could always remember wearing bright colored shirts, even as a little boy when he had to steal them, and later as his reputation grew, when he could buy one for every day of the week if he wanted to. It had soon evolved into a way of separating himself from the other up and coming gunfighters, that and his lighting fast draw. Both were signatures of who he was and what he had been, as much a part of him as breathing in and out. Murdoch understood in his own way…but Scott…Scott still found it hard…too much Boston still inbred in him.

He ran a comb through his wet hair and buckled his gun belt on before heading downstairs. It was still a sore spot for Murdoch…Johnny wearing his gun in the hacienda. It went against one of Murdoch’s strictest rules...but it was a rule Johnny could not, would not, conform to. Given time, maybe he could change his mind…but not yet, it was too soon and especially not today…not after he had seen the way Murdoch looked when he returned from town.

Something had the old man’s temper up. As far as Johnny knew he had done nothing wrong in the past few days. But, there was always something. Real or imagined: It all ended in the same way…a shouting match with Johnny slamming the door and riding away from the house. One of these days…one of these days, he would not return.

He found Murdoch leaning over his massive desk, a map spread out across the highly polished top.

“You wanted to see me,” Johnny said, his voice flat. There was something more than just Murdoch’s usual gruff manner that put Johnny on edge. He could feel the tension in the room.

“Yes.” Murdoch turned around to face him. “I think it is about time that you pulled your weight around here.”

“Meaning?” Johnny bristled.

“Meaning, that you take responsibility for more than just punching cows and mending fences. I’ve watched you the past three months. Nothing gets by you. You absorb everything like a sponge. I want to see exactly what you’re made of.”

“That sounds like a challenge,” Johnny said, cautiously.

“It is. Are you man enough to accept it?”

Johnny remained silent, waiting.

“You know that we need a new dam built up above the Iverson Wash.”

Johnny nodded. “It would keep that lower pasture from flooding come spring.”

“Exactly. I hired a survey team and even took bids on hiring out to have it built before Pardee turned this valley upside down. I’ve decided to go ahead with the project. If it is started now, it will be finished before the snows melt in the sierras. And I’ve decided to put it in your hands.”

“Why?”  Johnny asked unemotionally, masking his shock. “You couldn’t even trust my word when I said we got the fence done early. Why would you trust me on a project like this?”

Johnny waited, watching his father.

“Because I think it’s time. You’re part owner of Lancer, Johnny, it is time you took the reins and proved to yourself and the men that you are just that.”

“And you?”

There was no hesitation in Murdoch’s answer. “You proved who you are to me the day you took a bullet in the back saving this ranch. But I don’t think you’ve proved it to yourself yet.”

Johnny slowly circled the desk, his hands on his hips, his lips pursed in deep thought. “I think you’re better off waiting for Scott to get back.”

“And I think you can do the job,” Murdoch countered. “Take Cipriano and a couple of men up to the site, build a line shack and a lean to for the horses. While you’re there, check out the area.” Murdoch rolled the map and survey reports and handed them to Johnny. “See what you think about these. I’ve already sent Cipriano and a couple of the hands into town to pick up supplies. You can take off first thing in the morning. It should take you two, maybe three weeks. Scott will be back from Stockton by the end of the week, if you think you still need some help, I’ll send him up.”

Something was wrong and Johnny didn’t like it. He eyed his father suspiciously. The whole thing didn’t make sense. There was no way Murdoch would hand him a project as big or important as building a dam at the drop of a hat. No, something was definitely up and he was going to find out exactly what that something was.

Johnny threw the map back onto the desk. “What’s really going on here, old man? I can tell when you’re hiding somethin’. What’s really going on?”

“Nothing. I simply want you…”

“Cut the crap, Murdoch. I can smell a lie…and you reek of it.”

“Can’t you just do as I ask, just once?  Trust me to know what’s best?”

Johnny lowered his head. “Sorry Murdoch, I can’t. I stayed alive a whole lot of years by looking out for myself. And I get the feeling you’re trying to do it for me.”

Murdoch turned away from Johnny, not able to look him in the face.  He didn’t want to hurt his son, didn’t want to subject him to the malicious attack being fostered on him by a single-minded old crone. Val had been able to get the judge to lift the injunction, but that didn’t change the hate and outrage that now festered in town. 

Realization suddenly dawned on Johnny’s face and his eyes turned cold. “You ashamed of me, old man?”  Johnny’s voice was steeped with accusation. “You got someone coming and you want me out of the way so I don’t embarrass you?”

Murdoch spun around, startling Johnny “Don’t ever ask that question again,” he growled. “You are my son, and there is not a man alive I would not be proud to introduce you to as John Lancer.”

“Doesn’t always seem that way.”

Murdoch took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Why are you making this so hard? Just do as I ask. I promise to explain it all to you later. Trust me, Johnny.”

Johnny shook his head slowly. “What’s going on Murdoch? The tension in here is thick enough to cut with a knife. Where’s Scott? Why did you send him to Stockton all of a sudden?  If it was for a bull you’d of said something about it before. If you want me out of here for a couple of weeks tell me why.”

Murdoch’s shoulders slumped. “Before I do, I want you to promise me that you will stay on Lancer land. That you will not ride off. That when I call for you, you will return. This is none of your doing, but I’m afraid you are the one who will be hurt the most.”

Johnny waited a long moment. Never before had he made a promise without knowing the reasons behind it. He survived all these years because he made sure he always knew exactly where he stood. Now he was being asked to go against a basic rule of survival.

Not once since he had come home had Murdoch ever asked anything of him that remotely equaled the magnitude of trust and loyalty he was asking for now. At this moment, Johnny knew he was being asked to make the biggest leap of faith in his life. His father was asking him to trust him completely. It was a step he didn’t know if he could take.

Looking up into Murdoch’s face, he saw a sadness that made him catch his breath. Whatever was going on, it was destroying his father.

Without even realizing it, Johnny was nodding yes.

Murdoch nodded back and slowly walked over to the cabinet pouring two measures of tequila into a glass and handing it to Johnny before pouring himself the same amount of bourbon.

“Johnny, when Teresa’s mother took off years ago, it was easier to explain that she had died in an accident than admit that she had run out on her husband and her daughter.”

“Seems like a lot of that went on around here,” Johnny said softly.

Murdoch ignored the jibe and continued. “Hortence Shaffer decided it would be best for Teresa to live with her than be raised by two men alone on a ranch the size of Lancer.”

“The bruja should mind her own business.”

“Hortence believes she knows what is best for everyone…and she will stop at nothing to get her way. She tried again when Paul died. I left the decision in Teresa’s hands. You know the answer of course.”


“She has decided it is not proper for Teresa to be living here now that you and Scott have returned.”

Johnny’s shoulder’s stiffened. “You mean now that I have returned.”

Murdoch had to nod. “She has stirred up a lot of angry talk in town.”

“Seems to me she’s gotten to you too, a little.”

“How dare you think…”

“What was that about not parading around half naked in front of Teresa? No, she’s got ya thinking too.”

“Johnny, I’m trying to protect both of you. I don’t want either of you hurt. Johnny, Hortence Shaffer has turned that town into an angry mob…they can only see what she is feeding them. I don’t want to lose you, and I don’t want to lose Teresa.”

Johnny looked down at his glass, watched the tequila swirl around, nearly spilling over the edge. “And after all this time, she finally has the ammunition she needs…Johnny Madrid.”

“Johnny, this will all blow over with time. The people in town are good people; I’ve known some of them for years. They are just caught up in the frenzy. Given time, they will forget about Hortence and her crusade, like they have forgotten about all her other crusades.”

“You’re asking me to run and hide?”

“I’m asking you to stay out of sight for a couple of weeks. Johnny, you will not be helping yourself or Teresa by going into town and confronting….”

“Teresa knows?” Johnny asked, a cold shiver going down his back.

“No. I won’t let her go into town either.”

Johnny downed the last of his tequila in one long gulp. Anger swelled up inside him so fierce that his hand shook from it. In a fit of rage he threw the glass into the cold, empty fireplace and said, “It ain’t fair Murdoch. Not for Teresa. She’s done nothing wrong.”

“And neither have you, Johnny.”

Johnny gave his father a scathing look. “You don’t know half the things I’ve done.”

“That’s in the past. You’re Johnny Lancer now.”

Johnny sighed deeply. “You’re a fool, Murdoch, if you really think that. Something was bound to happen.”

“No, Johnny…”

Johnny whirled around, drawing his gun so fast that Murdoch merely saw a blur of movement and the gun was in his hand. “For a long time this was my father, my mother, my brother…my best friend. I never thought it wouldn’t be the only thing I could ever love and trust. I figured I would die with it, one way or the other.

“I never back shot a man, or called out a man to be killed who wasn’t already looking for me. But it doesn’t mean I ain’t got the stench of death on me. I hoped it would never brush off on you or Scott…and especially not Teresa. But it looks like it has.”

Murdoch reached out and pushed Johnny’s gun hand back down, and Johnny just let it dangle there. “Johnny, just give it time. A couple of weeks…Don’t let Hortence Shaffer destroy what we have been able to build in the past three months. I know it’s not always been easy…but its been right…and you know it.”

“You really think a couple of weeks is gonna make any difference? Most of them people in town never trusted me in the first place. How are they going to trust me now? Johnny Lancer doesn’t exist anymore. Madrid has come to call.”

Johnny re-holstered his gun and turned toward the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Murdoch demanded.

“I’m going to pack my saddle bags and get out of here before Teresa finds out what is going on. That bruja is not going to get her hands on Teresa cause of me.”

Murdoch grabbed for Johnny’s arm and whipped him back. “You made a promise.”

“Don’t count no more. I didn’t know what I was promising.”

“You have always said you were a man of your word.”

Johnny smiled coldly. “I’m Johnny Madrid, hired gun, remember?”

“You’re my son! If you think I’m going to let an old bitch like Hortence Shaffer destroy my family then you don’t know me very well yet.”

Johnny pushed Murdoch’s hands away. “It was never goin’ to work, you know. I did what I needed to. I helped to stop Day Pardee and his men. I earned my listening money. If I was smart, I would of left as soon as I could get out of bed. I just made it harder for all of us.”

“Johnny, no, that’s not the way it is…”

Johnny sighed deeply. “It is and you know it. I was never cut out to be a rancher. Especially not part owner of the biggest spread in the valley. Not when it means making friends in town, expecting them to forget who I am…who I was. A dog tries to join a coyote pack, sooner or later the coyotes are gonna turn on him. Say good bye to Teresa and Scott. Tell Scott not to try coming after me. If I don’t want to be found, he won’t find me.”

“This is not the way, Johnny.”

“It’s the only way,” Johnny said with finality.

Johnny made to turn as Murdoch breathed, “No it’s not.”  With a fist made of iron, Murdoch punched Johnny in the jaw. Johnny didn’t even have the time to register surprise as his legs collapsed and he fell into Murdoch’s strong arms.

“Forgive me, son,” he whispered as he flung Johnny over this shoulder and headed for the front door, yelling for Jelly.


Chapter Five

Victoria Barkley studied the young man sitting across from her. To his credit he sat erect and never shied away from her penetrating gaze.

She saw no resemblance to Murdoch Lancer, except perhaps a stubborn streak. In all other ways he favored his fair-haired mother. But there was a harried look about him. She could see the turbulence in his eyes, but he never pushed, just sat and waited. Perhaps there was more of Murdoch in him then met the eye. He was no doubt a shrewd businessman. Given his upbringing in Boston, it appeared he was a culmination of both worlds.

The letter sat on the coffee table between them like a cancer. It seemed to eat up the very air in the room with its sickening presence, filled with half-truths and speculations.

Jarrod sat in a chair next to the sofa where Victoria sat. He too, was assessing the young man. Three months was not nearly long enough to take the Boston breeding out of him, and despite his road weary appearance, he carried himself with dignity, demanding respect. Jarrod decided he liked this young man. His brother, however, was a different story.

"Tell me how your father and Teresa are." Victoria finally broke the silence.

"Murdoch is well," Scott answered. "Worried about Johnny, and angry. But physically he is getting better by the day. The wound from Pardee's bullet still keeps him off a horse more than he would like."

"And Teresa?"

"Teresa knows nothing about what is going on…yet. I'm afraid it will only be a matter of time before she finds out."

"Is it wise to keep it from her? She has a right to know what is going on. Especially since it all centers around her."

Scott shrugged. "It's Murdoch's decision. He loves her like his own daughter. He wants to protect her as long as possible."

Jarrod shifted in his seat. "Allowing a gunfighter to live under the same roof…is that protecting her?"

Scott turned toward Jarrod. "You're a lawyer, I thought you of all people would know that not everything that is written down in black and white is the truth."

Jarrod nodded. "And I also know where there is smoke there is fire."

Scott's eyes turned cold and he stood angrily, snatching the letter from the table. "I knew this was a waste of my time the moment I stepped in the door. I don't have time for this. I'll speak to the governor myself."

"Sit down, Scott," Victoria ordered. Her demand brokering no challenge.

Scott sat down, the letter nearly burning his fingers as he held it.

"If you try to see the governor on your own you will not get through the front door. Now tell us what is going on, every bit of it."

Scott sat ridged in the chair, telling Victoria and Jarrod everything that had happened so far.

"Why would the town follow this Hortence like lemmings?" Jarrod asked.

A small smile tugged at Victoria's mouth. "Any father with a teenage daughter would jump at the chance to run him out of town. There is something quite alluring about a man with an air of danger surrounding him. Add his dark good looks, you have a powder keg ready to explode. Then add gunfighter to the mix and this Hortence has the entire town on her side."

Scott raised an eyebrow. "You've met Johnny?"

Victoria nodded. "I stopped by to see your father soon after Day Pardee had been defeated…single-handedly by you two, according to Murdoch. You were gone for the day, but Johnny was on the couch, the first day he was allowed out of bed. He was not happy with his confinement, but he was polite none the less."

"Those first few weeks were very hard," Scott admitted, remembering back to the angry young Johnny Madrid. It was only after Johnny was allowed to start working at his side that Scott really got to know the enigma that was Johnny Lancer. "But I've come to know him…and trust him."

"And that?" Jarrod nodded to the letter that still dangled from Scott's fingers.

"Johnny has never tried to deny who he was, what he was. And he won't apologize for it either. But he is not the cold-blooded killer this letter describes. He did what he had to do to survive. Who knows what any of us would have done if we were in Johnny's shoes, alone at ten, killing the man who killed his mother."

Victoria visibly shuddered. Heath could have been Johnny Madrid. Almost was.

"I've seen how people look at him…" Scott said angrily. "The shallow minded bigots who treat him like half a person because he is neither pure Mexican or pure white."

"It doesn't take away the fact that Johnny Madrid is a dangerous man," Jarrod argued, "with dangerous friends and enemies who could pop up at Lancer at anytime."

"As much as I hate to admit it," Victoria said, "Jarrod has a point. How will you convince the governor that Teresa will be safe in an environment like that?"

Scott jumped to his feet again, waving the letter in his hand. "Johnny is NOT the man described in this report. Where are the circumstances leading up to these…these deaths? Was Johnny defending himself, someone else? Was he hired to defend property from land grabbers and rustlers? He's still famous in Mexico for standing beside the peons against the rurales. How many times was he called out by another gunslinger? I saw it happen myself just last month. We were in town for a beer and a man spotted Johnny in the saloon. Johnny did everything he could to talk him out of it. But he wanted the reputation. He wanted to be the one to take down Johnny Madrid. Johnny was faster…"

Jarrod shook his head. His point made. "And that is just what the governor will see. I may be playing Devil's Advocate here, but Scott, its going to be an uphill battle to convince the governor that Hortence doesn't have a good case for either taking Teresa out of a dangerous household or sending Johnny away."

"That is exactly why the governor has to come to Lancer."

"To Lancer?" Victoria looked at Scott, not sure how to respond.

"It is the only way. Don't you see?" Scott sat back down on the edge of the seat. "We have to let the governor know the real Johnny Madrid…the real Johnny Lancer. He has to see the love he and Teresa have for each other. He has to see the kid Johnny is sometimes. For all that my brother has been through, he can still be entranced by a spectacular sunrise or stare at a blanket of stars overhead for hours, mesmerized. Don't get me wrong, he can still fight like a bear and is as stubborn as a mule. But the good in him far outweighs the bad. Let the governor see that before he makes his decision. Because, believe me, if Hortence gets her way and Johnny has to leave it will destroy him. He will go back to being Johnny Madrid…and you will never persuade Teresa that it is not her fault in some way."

"You're asking for a lot, Scott," Jarrod said. "You are asking us to put our reputation on the line for a man we don't even know. If we persuade the governor to ride out to Lancer and..."

"And what?" Scott demanded. "Do you think Johnny is going to gun him down?"

Jarrod jumped to his feet. "I didn't say that."

"I may have only known Johnny for three months, but I know him enough to trust him with my life and with Teresa's. If you can't see past that report, then I'm sorry for you, because you are missing out on knowing a good, decent man." Scott turned to Victoria. "Now, if you don't mind my taking advantage of your hospitability, I would like to rest here tonight and be on my way tomorrow morning.”

"Well, I do mind. Both of you sit down!" Victoria waited until both men were seated…albeit, glowering at each other. "I have known Murdoch Lancer since he first came to California. Your father and Murdoch were the best of friends. I watched him endure the loss of two wives and two sons. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that one of those sons would be standing before me asking for our help."


Victoria raised her hand. "Let me finish, Jarrod, then you can have the floor. I have also watched Teresa grow into a fine young woman. I know for a fact that Murdoch loves her like his own daughter and he would let no one…and I mean no one, harm her in any way. If he thought that Johnny was a threat to her, he would be gone."

"And his past doesn't worry you?" Jarrod demanded.

"Of course it worries me. But would you send Heath away because of his past?"

"They have nothing in common," Jarrod exploded. "Johnny Madrid was a gunslinger…a killer for hire."

"And so was Heath, for a short time. He has admitted it. So do we worry about Audra living in the same house with Heath?"

"They are brother and sister for God's sake."

"Half brother and half sister. We know a lot less about Heath's past then we know of Johnny's. Jarrod, please, I am only asking that you try to see past that report and give Johnny a chance."

"And if we're wrong? If we convince the governor to go to Lancer and Johnny turns out to be what this report states?"

"It won't be the first mistake we've made, and it won't be the last. I am willing to take the chance."

Silence hung in the room, broken only by the sound coming from the swishing of Victoria's skirt as she settled back down on the couch.

"All right," Jarrod conceded finally. "I will go into town first thing in the morning and purchase three tickets to Sacramento."

"If you don't mind," Scott said, "I would rather let you handle the governor alone…I'm afraid of what Murdoch might be facing trying to keep a rein on Johnny once he finds out what's happening."

"He doesn't know either?" Victoria asked, surprised.

"Not when I left. Murdoch was going to try to keep him out of town until we could get the governor there."

"So you are afraid of what he will do then," Jarrod said.

Scott shook his head. "Not afraid of what he would do. I'm afraid he will leave. We would never find him again if he left thinking that he was to blame for any harm coming to Teresa."

"You make him sound like a saint."

Scott snorted, "Johnny Lancer…a saint?" He smiled and laughed under his breath. "Far from it. He's a good man Jarrod. You'll find that out when you meet him and get to know him."

"I'm looking forward to it. I want to meet the man who can invoke so much passion. But for right now I'm starving. Mother, shall we eat?"

Victoria nodded. "After Scott has had time to freshen up. I will have Silas show you to your room. I'm sure a hot bath will feel quite refreshing after your long trip. And don't hurry on our account. Jarrod is always hungry and the rest of the family is out tonight, so it is just the three of us."

Scott smiled. "It will feel good to soak in a hot bath. It is one of the things I find the hardest to get used to out here. There were times when I would take two baths a day in Boston. There have been times out here when I have been lucky to take two in one week."

"That my friend," Jarrod slapped Scott on the back, "is not something we scrimp on around here. So take your time. I will raid the kitchen if need be."

Victoria stepped forward and drew Hortence's letter from Scott's hand. "And you won't be needing this tonight. I'm sure the governor has his own copy by now. I know it will be hard, but try to relax and enjoy the evening. I'm sure your father has everything under control at home.


Chapter Six

"What happened ta Johnny?"  Jelly was shadowing Murdoch's steps as he rushed out of the great room with Johnny slumped over his shoulder.

"Get the wagon hitched," Murdoch ordered. "And put some hay in the back to cushion it."

"You taking Johnny inta town to see the doc?" Jelly continued to dog Murdoch's heels, trying to get a look at Johnny to see why the boy was unconscious.

"No. I'm taking him to the line shack. Now get a move on. I want to be up there before Johnny comes around."

"Did he fall or somethin'?"

"No," Murdoch hissed in frustration. "I knocked him out. Now hurry."

"What in tarnation…?"

"Just do it Jelly, please. I'll explain everything on the way up."

Jelly shook his head as he hurried toward the barn. "You better know what yer doin'," he muttered to himself. "'Cause that boy ain't gonna be happy when he wakes up."


It felt like someone had taken a sledge hammer to his jaw. Johnny lay very still, trying to make sense of what had happened to him and where he was, but he couldn't think past the pounding in his head.

He only knew two things for sure…his head was about to explode and his rebellious stomach was going to do likewise.

Johnny wasn't sure how much time passed before his head cleared enough for him to decide he was lying on something softer than the ground, but a lot harder than his mattress. And someone was hovering over him. He could feel their presence, but it was too much effort to open his eyes yet to find out who it was. He couldn't do anything about it anyway.

Something cool and damp pressed against his face and he flinched to get away from the pain.

"Take it easy, boy," a familiar voice soothed through the ringing in his ears. "Nothin's broke, ya just won't be chomping down on no steak for a good long while."

Prying his eyes open, Johnny saw two Jellys leaning over him, both of them wearing a worried expression.

"What…" Johnny tried to ask, but his jaw was so swollen he couldn't form the word.

"No need ta be askin' questions yet. Ya just rest a bit. Ole Jelly'll take good care a ya. Now, just go back ta sleep, ya hear?"

Johnny had no intention of going back to sleep. Someone had belted him good and… "Murdoch!"

The name was garbled, but by Jelly's reaction, Johnny knew he had hit pay dirt.

"Now ya just relax, Johnny. Murdoch had his reasons."

Johnny leered at the old man.

"We're just gonna spend a few days here at this line shack. Jest the two of us."

Anger spawned a burst of adrenalin, and Johnny climbed to his feet, pushing Jelly aside roughly.

"Ain't gonna do ya no good, Johnny. Yer pa done took the wagon back with `im."

"Why?" Johnny tried to yell, incensed, but he only managed a garbled grunt.

"Maybe ta give ya time ta think twice 'bout what you were gonna do. Runnin' off ain't gonna solve nothin', save makin' them that loves ya sadder than a dog without a bone."

Johnny suddenly felt his bare feet on the wooden floor and looked down to see his toes.

"He done took yer boots an socks too," Jelly informed him. "Didn't want ya ta get the fool notion of trying ta walk back ta the house. Even though it be more'n fifteen miles, I kin see yer ornery enough ta try it though."

Johnny looked down at Jelly's feet.

"He's smarter than ya thought." Jelly grinned, wiggling his bare toes. "He knew ya was gonna take my boots if'n I had `im. Now, ya jest sit down an relax. Ain't no place ta go."

Anger mixed with the throbbing in his head and Johnny staggered toward the door. If he had to walk barefoot he was going to give Murdoch Lancer a piece of his mind before he left. He reached the door and tried to turn the knob, but his world suddenly spun and he felt Jelly's arms around his chest guiding him back toward the cot.

"Yer pa carries a wallop like a Brahma bull. Now ya jest lay there an let that head of yours clear up `fore ya start galavantin' `round tryin' ta find a way out a here…when there is none ta begin with."

//I'm going to kill him…// Johnny promised silently, as Jelly placed a cool cloth on his jaw again. //I'm going to kill him, then ride as far away from Lancer as I can get.//

Jelly shook his head as he watched Johnny's eyes slide closed, and his breathing slowed to an even rhythm.

The door opened and Murdoch slipped in. "Is he going to be all right?" he asked, his voice struggling to contain his worry and regret.

"Think so," Jelly answered. "Ya hit him pretty hard. He's probably got one of `em concussions Doc's always talkin' `bout. But he's got a hard head and even harder jaw."

Murdoch massaged his right hand. "I can attest to that. Will you be all right with him out here alone for a few days?"

"A course I will. Johnny's gonna be madder than a wet hen when he gets back on his feet, but it's a dang sight better than him taking off fer good. But what ya gonna do when them few days is up? He ain't gonna wanna stay any more'n he wants ta now."

"I know, Jelly. But time. I need time. I won't lose my son because of a meddlesome old bitch."

"Ya won't boss, we'll see ta that. Now ya get yerself out a here `fore he wakes up again. If I need anythin' I'll signal fer Joe. And make sure he stays outa sight.  I swear Johnny kin see a cat's whisker a mile away."

Murdoch nodded, looking down at Johnny sleeping. He seemed so young when he slept. It was hard to believe he'd led the life he had. Things could have been so different if Maria had never taken off, and had not filled his head with all those lies. "Try to talk to him Jelly. Try to make him understand why I did this. As soon as Scott gets back from Stockton we'll come back and talk to him. Hopefully by then he'll listen to reason."

"And that poor little girl? Are ya gonna tell Teresa what's goin' on?"

"Eventually, I'll have to. But not yet."

Jelly watched Murdoch reluctantly slip out the door, then looked back down at Johnny. His jaw was turning a deep black and blue and his right eye was showing signs of blackening.

"Murdoch," he whispered. "What have ya done?"


Jelly poured a cup of coffee and sat back to study Johnny in the flickering light from the two oil lamps he had set on either side of the cot. He had awoken just that one time while Murdoch was still here…but that was hours ago. Jelly was more than just a little worried now.

When they'd first arrived at the shack Jelly had done his best to check the inside of Johnny's mouth. After clearing out most of the blood and trying to wiggle the boy's back teeth, he was satisfied that the blow had not loosened any teeth. But his inside cheek had a deep gash where his teeth had cut the soft tissue and it would take
time to heal.

Jelly shook his head sadly. Murdoch had a powerful punch, and he was acting out of desperation. The combination could have been lethal.

Murdoch told him what was going on in town as they brought Johnny up to the line shack. He couldn't blame his boss. Murdoch was doing the only thing he could think of, in a desperate attempt to keep Johnny from packing up and taking off like a bat out of hell for parts unknown. Murdoch might not know his son all that well, but he knew him well enough to know that if Johnny had gotten on that horse of his, he would have ridden off for good. No, Murdoch did what he had to do; Jelly just wished he hadn't done it so well. Time would tell, but Jelly feared that that punch had done more harm than a bruise and a cut cheek. It may have reawakened Johnny Madrid.

Johnny moaned and his long dark eyelashes fluttered against his bruised cheek, then opened.

"Ya with me again, boy?" Jelly asked, leaning over Johnny and waiting for some sign of recognition that the young man knew who he was or where he was.

"Jelly?" Johnny mumbled.

"The one an only." Jelly gently helped Johnny swing his legs over the edge of the cot and handed him a glass, watching him carefully raise it to his mouth and take several painful swallows. "There now, that should clear yer head a bit. Got some beef stew simmering on the stove. A bowl of broth would settle that stomach of yours."

Johnny shook his head guardedly.

"Maybe in a little while then. Got coffee here too. And when yer feelin' a little more like yerself, I found a bottle stashed behind a `tatter sack. Someone's been doin' a little nippin' on Lancer time. Yer pa ain't gonna be pleased `bout that."

With the mention of Murdoch's name, Johnny glowered up at Jelly.

"I know," Jelly tried to placate him, "yer not feeling too fond towards yer pa right about now…can't blame ya, but it was just about the only thing he could do ta keep ya from riding off. Ya got a quick temper, boy, and ya do things rash sometimes. Murdoch didn't want ya takin' off `fore he could make ya listen to sense."

Johnny pushed himself off the cot and swayed a moment before he caught his equilibrium.  Murdoch punched harder than a mule kicked. He always wondered what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of one of his fathers hay makers. Now he knew, and he wished he didn't.  He gingerly felt his jaw, surprised how swollen it was. It would be days before the swelling went down completely.

Damn it to hell…what was Murdoch thinking? What right did he have to slug him like that? If he wanted to leave that was his business. He'd lived on his own for most of his life, he took care of himself then and he could take care of himself now.

He knew it had been a mistake to let down his guard, to trust someone so much. He never would have been sucker punched like that three months ago. He'd gotten soft…living in that big house, having people around to protect him. It was a mistake. He knew it from the very beginning…and now the most innocent of all was gonna get hurt. He would protect Teresa with his life. He would protect her by getting out of her life.

Jelly was standing by him, silently watching him, holding a cup of steaming coffee in his hand.

Johnny nodded toward the cup.

"I put a little somethin' extra in it ta dull the pain…" Jelly winked.

Johnny accepted the cup gratefully. It hurt like hell to work his swollen mouth around the cup, and the alcohol in the coffee stung his cut cheek, forcing a hiss of pain, but the hot liquid felt good going down.

"You thinkin' `bout your pa?" Jelly asked. "He just done what he thought was right."

Johnny's eyes narrowed, turning cold. Jelly took an involuntary step backwards. It was always an unnerving experience when Johnny Madrid came to call. There was an aura of danger about him that could not be explained.

"Johnny." Jelly circled Johnny and sat down on one of the kitchen chairs, the light from the lanterns casting dancing shadows in the corner, and waited for Johnny to join him. Johnny didn't move. "This thing with that old piece of buzzard bait, Hortence Shaffer, is gonna blow over. Ya just have ta give it time."

Johnny shook his head. If Johnny could have talked, he would have told Jelly that things had just changed. He had already stayed longer than he had intended. It was time he moved on. And everyone would be better for it. Especially Teresa. He would never do anything to harm her. If he rode this out, if Jelly was right and it soon blew over…how long before the next Hortence butted in? And who was to say that she wasn't right? Johnny Madrid spelled trouble, no matter how you looked at it.

Jelly looked down at Johnny's bare feet. "Ya might as well set yerself down, yer not goin' no where until someone brings back our boots. Why don't ya just try ta rest. I'm bettin' yer head feels like a team of drummers was in there pounding away. Sleep is what ya need right now."

Johnny had to admit sleep sounded very tempting, and Jelly was right, there was nothing he could do until he had his boots back. But after that…

Jelly jumped to his feet as Johnny walked over to the bed. "Now yer bein' sensible. A good night's sleep and you'll be feeling a whole bunch better."

Johnny raised a doubtful eyebrow. Nothing was going to make him feel better. Not for a very long time.


Murdoch poured himself a glass of bourbon and eased his tired body into his favorite chair in front of the fire. It was a nice evening, warm enough that night that he didn't need the heat from the crackling flames, but it gave him the solace he so desperately needed.

He thought back on the past three months; it had been a turbulent time, filled with the loss of an old friend and the return of his two sons. Nothing had been easy. Unasked questions still remained unanswered like, why he didn't try to bring Scott home or why he hadn't realized that Maria was so unhappy. Why had she felt the need to flee in the middle of the night with a stranger, a gambler no less, taking his precious Johnny with her? 

But they had also made progress. Johnny was settling in, as much as he could, into the everyday life of a ranch owner. His friendship with Scott had emerged as the backbone that kept the family together. Teresa was never happier, just having Johnny and Scott around brightened her life.

But it was all being ripped apart by a selfish old woman who wanted to prove that she could win, no matter what the cost.

And the cost was heavy. Johnny was only the first casualty. If she succeeded in sending him away, then she would find another reason why this house was not a fit place for Teresa to be raised in.

Sipping at his drink, Murdoch wondered what Johnny was doing at that very moment. Was he sleeping or was he just staring up at the ceiling of the line shack? Murdoch smiled into his glass thinking that Johnny must have a million and one questions going through his head right now and smoldering with a deep-set desire to throttle him for what he had done.

Murdoch hoped and prayed there was some way to set this right with Johnny. Some way to explain to his son, why he had raised his hand in such a horrific manner. Murdoch shook his head and sighed, troubled by the thought that he'd had to resort to such desperate measures in the first place. An act of violence was never the answer to solving a problem and something he was not prone to doing unless pushed into a corner with nowhere to turn. Would his son understand and accept his explanation? Forgive him? Only time would tell.

No matter how this turned out, this was going to be a black day in his life for as long as he lived. His only hope was that they came out of this a bit scarred and not broken.

He had received Scott's telegram earlier. The note was short, just that the bid on the bull was successful and he would be home late the next day. Their only hope now was that Victoria could convince the governor to come to Lancer and meet Johnny. But which Johnny would he be meeting? Lancer or Madrid? "Damn you Hortence…Damn you to hell."

Drinking the last of his bourbon, he stood up slowly and covered the open hearth with a screen and headed for bed. His steps were heavy and slow…the gait of an old man.

He had lost something today…something more precious than gold or silver or even this land he professed to love more than life itself…he had lost Johnny's trust, and he didn't know if he would ever earn it back.



Chapter Seven

Sam Jenkins was livid as he hurried toward the sheriff’s office.  A week away on his monthly rounds and he had returned to a town beset by gossip, innuendo and out right condemnation. And at the center of the controversy was the largest ranch in the San Joaquin Valley: The Lancer spread, or more accurately, Johnny Lancer.

He could not believe the stories that were circling, spinning into a cauldron of hate and fear, spoken by men, women and children alike.

“What in the name of all that is holy is going on here?” Sam demanded, as he burst into Val Crawford’s office.

“You’re back,” Val said, dragging his feet down off his desk and righting his chair.

“Yes I’m back. But I’m not sure I’m in the right town.”

“Oh, yer in the right town, all right, its jest got a little crazy is all.” Val drew a bottle of cheap whiskey from his desk drawer with two glasses.  “You might want a shot before I tell ya,” the scruffy sheriff suggested.

Sam dragged a chair over to the desk and sat down. “I’ve heard some pretty disgusting things since I got back in town. Where is all this dirt coming from?”

“Well it don’t take no one with more than a lick of sense to figure that one out. Hortence Shaffer, a course.”

Sam downed the drink Val had poured him and pushed his glass toward the sheriff for a refill. “Hortence. I might have known, but whatever for? Johnny has never done anything to…”

“It ain’t Johnny she wants, it’s Teresa. Or so she says.”

Sam eyed Val skeptically. “Teresa?”

Val nodded.

“And what does Johnny have to do with Teresa?”

“Just a means to an end,” Val sighed. ”Just a means to an end. Murdoch tells me she’s been fightin’ this war since Teresa’s mama up and died. It’s just now she’s got the ammunition she needs.”

“What are you doing about it?”

“Not much I can do, Sam. She ain’t broke no laws yet, not legal ones, anyways, not yet.  It ain’t against the law ta speak yer mind. But I tell ya, she’s jest on the edge of inciting a riot…she does that and I’ll haul her in fer disturbing the peace.”

Sam downed another shot and grimaced at the taste. “I’ll tell you what’s against the law, sheriff, t gut whiskey like this. What did you pay for this, penny a bottle? Because if you paid any more, you were robbed.”

“I ain’t holding no gun to yer head ta make ya swoller it, Sam.”

“No, but the taste I got in my mouth from that no good excuse for a woman, tastes worse.  How’s Johnny taking all this?”

“Johnny don’t know nothing about it, least ways not that I know. Teresa neither.”

This surprised Sam. “How is Murdoch keeping it away from them?”

“He won’t let Teresa come inta town, and he was gonna send Johnny off to build a bridge or somethin’.  I jest know when Johnny finds out, he ain’t gonna be happy ta know that his old man didn’t tell him what was goin’ on.”

“That’s an understatement. Where’s Scott in all this?”

“In Stockton.”

Sam set his glass down hard on the desk, frustrated. “Val, just tell me everything…don’t make me pull it out of you.”

Val shrugged. “Ain’t much more ta tell.  Scott went ta see the Barkley’s ta see if they’d put a good word in fer Johnny with the governor, and maybe bring him out to the ranch so he could meet Johnny and find out fer himself what kinda man Johnny Lancer really is.”

“The governor? How did the governor get involved?”

“Hortence again. She sent a letter ta him. I tell ya Sam, if I didn’t know Johnny, and I read that letter, I wouldn’t come within a mile of Johnny Lancer. She done a real good job on the boy, that’s fer sure”

Sam sighed heavily. “Maybe I should have a talk with Hortence, see if I can talk some sense into her.”

“Good luck, but ya might as well just stay here fer a spell, she should be right along any time now.”


Val pulled a folded letter out of his drawer. “I sent one of these over ta her this mornin’. As soon as she reads it she’s gonna be as mad as a witch without a broom.”

Sam read the letter and a smile crawled across his face. “You think this up, Val?” he asked.

“Sure did. Took a look at one ‘em law books Dennis Caruthers keeps in his office for when he’s in town. Came up with this here little law. Cain’t pronounce it…but I can sure uphold it.”

Sam smiled. “Then I think I’ll stick around until Hortence shows up. This could be interesting.”


They didn’t have to wait long until the door slammed open and Hortence Shaffer stood in the doorway, her face a peculiar shade between red and purple, holding a duplicate letter to the one that sat on Val’s desk.

“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, waving the letter. “This isn’t legal.”

“I’m afraid it is, Hortence.” Sam grinned. “I’m sure Val would be pleased to show you the law book he got it from. Wouldn’t you, Val?”

“I got the page number written down right here.” Val tapped the letter on his desk. “Ya kin follow me over ta Dennis Caruthers’ office if ya want. It says right there in that book that what yer doing is…is… ”

“Defamation of character.” Sam supplied, helpfully.

“Def…yeah…what he just said.”

“Everything I’ve said about Johnny Madrid has been true. Just ask anyone in town, they all know of his exploits. They all know he is an out and out killer. And you’re trying to protect him?”

“I’m doing what the law tells me to,” Val snapped back.

“This is outrageous,” she fumed. “It’s unethical.”

“You’d certainly be the one to know,” Sam quipped.

“This is none of your business, Sam Jenkins. So stay out of it.”

“Seems to me that you have made it everyone’s business…all the way to the governor.”

“I’m just trying to save that poor child,” Hortence said defensively.

“Hogwash!” Val jumped to his feet, his chair scraping across the wooden floor. “You just want ta win a battle you’ve been fighting since ya first moved to this town. And yer using Johnny and Teresa ta fight it. Well I’m tired of it, and you better pay attention to that law…cause if I see ya passing that letter ‘round to another person, I’ll throw ya in jail and throw away the key ‘til the circuit judge comes ta town, and that ain’t fer another five weeks.”

“We’ll see about this, Sheriff,” Hortence warned, her face now dark with anger. “I only have that child’s best interest at heart. If you can’t see that, then maybe we should find a new sheriff who can.”

“Is that a threat, Hortence?” Val asked sharply. “Cause if it is, I kin run ya in fer threatening a peace officer. I saw that too, in that book.”

Hortences’ eyes grew cold as steel. “Nothing is going to stop me from getting that half-breed killer out of this town, or that poor young girl out of that household. The shame of it…living with all those men, not one of them a blood relation…with only a Mexican housekeeper as a female role model. Something should have been done about it years ago. Now Johnny Madrid is pawing all over her. It has to stop, gentlemen, and I am going to stop it!”

Sam jumped to his feet. “If anything happens to that boy because of your meddling, so help me, I will see that you spend the rest of your life in jail for conspiracy to murder. And don’t think I won’t. Johnny Lancer lived a tough life, and now that he’s found a home and a family I won’t let a sour old reprobate take it away from him.”

Hortence nearly shook she was so mad. “Sheriff,” she cried, “I want this man arrested.”

“Fer what?” Val asked.

“For insulting a lady.”

“Well, seems ta me like he’d have ta find a lady first...”

Hortence turned on her heels, nearly knocking down two women walking along the boardwalk. “You’ll be sorry,” she called as she hurried across the street, dodging horses and wagons. “You’ll be sorry,” her voice trailed off as she headed down the opposite boardwalk toward her home.

There was no levity in Val’s voice as he sat down in his chair and ran his hands through his unruly hair. “There’s no way this is gonna end without someone gettin’ hurt.”

Sam nodded. “And we both know who that is.”


Murdoch sat at his desk, the day’s ledger open, but untouched. The pencil he held in his hand tapped unnoticed on the page, peppering the line of figures with black dots.

He had spent the night before sitting in a chair pushed up to his bedroom window overlooking the courtyard below. How he wanted things to be as they were, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but improving.  He had established a strong bond between himself and his oldest boy.  That had been easy.  Scott was everything a father could be proud of, even if he had not raised him. The simple fact that his blood ran in his son’s veins made him a part of Scott. He could trust Scot to keep a level head, make business decisions that profited the ranch. He could attend any Cattlemen’s Association and fit right in. No one had a disparaging word against Scott Lancer.

Then there was Johnny.  Everything that Scott was not. Unrefined, raw at times. Raised in the streets of a dozen poverty stricken Mexican towns, branded a half-breed every time he opened his startling blue eyes. He had survived on his wits and a fast draw.

But there was a soft side to Johnny, the side he tried so hard to hide. But it was there. No one who knew Johnny could miss it.  And that was the Johnny he wanted everyone to know.  Not the hardened ex-gunfighter.  And there lay the crux of the problem. Johnny could never totally escape Johnny Madrid.

In the three months since Johnny first arrived, filled with anger and hate so deep it nearly seeped from his pores, he saw a change in the boy. Scott had seen it first, had known instinctively that there was a good man beneath the façade that was Johnny Madrid. And Johnny had trusted Scott enough to let him in, to see the real Johnny. Just recently was Murdoch rewarded with a taste of that same trust. A word here, a look there, all adding up to Johnny allowing him to be a part of his life.

Then Hortence had to raise her ugly head. The thing that Johnny feared the most, that his past would hurt them, was happening, and not by some eager gunslinger looking to add Johnny Madrid to a notch on his gunbelt, but a spiteful old woman who would do anything to win her cause.

And in trying to protect him, in trying to keep Johnny from hearing the scathing half- truths and bald face lies, he had destroyed all the trust he had nurtured in the past three months. Because Murdoch had no doubt that that fist hitting Johnny’s jaw had summoned Johnny Madrid to the forefront.

They would have to begin again. He would have to regain the boy’s trust, try to make him understand that he would do anything not to lose him again.

The sound of a rider pulling up to the front hitching rail drew Murdoch’s attention out the window and he saw Scott slowly dismount. How was he going to explain this to Scott?


“You did what!” Scott threw his saddlebags on the sofa and glared at Murdoch.

“I had no choice,” Murdoch defended. “He was turning to leave. What would you have me do, shoot him? If your brother had left this ranch we would have never seen him again. I had to do something. I just hope someday he will forgive me and understand.”

Scot shook his head. “I told Victoria Barkley that you had everything under control here. How wrong I was. Well, I’d better go up and talk to him.”

“He’s not there,” Murdoch mumbled.


“He’s not there,” Murdoch said a little louder. How strange it felt to be on this end of the conversation. It didn’t feel very good. If this was how Johnny felt every time he was lambasted by Murdoch’s harsh criticism, then he would have to change his ways. It’s a wonder Johnny had stayed as long as he did.

“Where is he then?” Scott asked.

“In the North boundary line shack. He’s not alone, Jelly’s with him.”

“And why is Johnny just sitting in a line shack and not trying to ride off.”

“Because I stranded them without horses…and…and I took their socks and boots. Johnny won’t be going anywhere until we’re ready.”

“We’re ready? Oh no, there is no “we’re” here. It was your decision. I had no part in it.”

“What would you have me do, Scott?  I had to do something. I’m sorry I hit him. You can’t know how sorry I really am. But, I would do it again if it meant keeping Johnny here long enough to straighten this nightmare out. Now, what did Victoria say?”

Scott poured himself a drink and handed one to Murdoch. “Both she and Jarrod were reluctant at first. But they agreed, only because she trusts you. They left this morning on a train to Sacramento. They will wire us when they have any news. And don’t worry, they will be discreet. The telegram will simply say that they are coming for a visit. Nothing will be said about the governor.”

Murdoch walked back to his desk and sat down heavily in his favored chair. The years he had spent at this desk, through the good times and the bad. “I haven’t been out to see your brother since the incident. I thought it best to wait for you, I may need a referee.”

“What you’ll need is a miracle.”


Murdoch dreaded this moment. He pulled his horse to a stop at the top of a rise overlooking the line shack below. Everything looked deceptively quiet. The only sign that anyone was there was the smoke curling out of the stove’s chimney, wafting off into the air as a slight summer breeze caught it.

Scott pulled up beside him. “At least everything is quiet.”

Murdoch nodded, but he had the feeling that it was too quiet.

“You’ve got to talk to him sometime,” Scott said. “And you know he knows we’re here.”

Murdoch knew all too well that nothing slipped by Johnny, except, he thought ruefully, a sucker punch from his own father.

As they moved down closer to the shack, Murdoch noticed a figure sitting against a tree a few yards away from the cabin. There was no mistaking the colorful salmon shirt or the glint of sun off the silver conchos on his pants.

“Hello, brother,” Scott said casually.

Johnny squinted up at him. “Brother. Did you find that bull all right in Stockton,” he asked in a flat voice.

Scott nodded. “Well worth the trip.”

Murdoch nervously shifted in the saddle. “Nice boots,” he commented, at the pair of boots Johnny wore.


Chapter Eight

Scott had not been to this line shack before. Only fifteen miles from the hacienda, it was in rugged territory and took some skillful riding for them to wend their way down to a valley of spruce trees. Murdoch had mentioned in passing that the cabin had been built years ago when this was the only trail to Spanish Wells. Since then an easier road had been built.

Nestled in a copse of dense trees the shack was the perfect place to leave Johnny marooned.

Scott shook his head in disgust. He wasn’t sure what he would find here, but it wasn’t the pale sullen brother he saw sitting beneath a tree a few yards from the shack. The right side of his jaw was swollen and deeply bruised. Lighter bruising extended up his cheek and beneath his eye.

But it was the look in his eyes that startled Scott the most. There was so much anger there…and hurt. The two days Murdoch had waited for his return had left Johnny too much time to sit and think, to bolster his anger. Anger Scott knew was well deserved, but in the end, Murdoch had done the only thing he could to keep his son from riding off. Scott just wished his father had not done it so well.

“Are you all right?” Scott asked tentatively.

Johnny shrugged. “I’ve had worse.”

Sadly, Scott knew that was all too true. Johnny’s body was a testament to the abuse and hard life he had led before returning to Lancer. They had come so far in the short three months since they both arrived. Johnny had just started to let his guard down, to allow people to really get to know him. And he was a man well worth knowing…but now…now Scott feared that the Johnny they were getting to know would disappear like a wounded animal behind the safety of Johnny Madrid.

“I’m surprised you’re still here,” Scott nodded toward the old pair of boots. “Joe’s?”

Again a shrug, cold and indifferent. “Didn’t feel much like walking….”  With that, a pistol seemed to appear out of nowhere. “I’d rather ride.”

“Johnny…” Murdoch implored.

Scott nodded toward the gun. “Looks like you borrowed more than Joe’s boots.”

Johnny didn’t answer, just continued to watch them cautiously.

“Mind if we talk first?” Scott asked, not waiting for an answer before dismounting.

“The old man said all there was to say already,” Johnny replied, his voice still cold and unemotional. “Didn’t ya, Murdoch?  You can pack a hell of a lot of words in one punch.”

“Johnny, please.” Murdoch dismounted, taking a step away from Scott. “I’m sorry I hit you. But I had no other choice.”

Johnny laughed, but there was no humor in it. Carefully he began to stand up, using the trunk of the tree for support. Inching his way up until he was standing, one hand on the tree and one hand steadying the gun between Scott and Murdoch, he never took his eyes off them. By the time he made it to his feet, Scott noticed a sheen of sweat popping out on his face and an attempt to hide a pronounced sway as he pushed himself away from the tree.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll borrow your horse, Scott,” he said. “Now move away…slowly.”

Scott obeyed. Dropping the reins he took a step away from Charlemagne and his father. He hoped that Murdoch would catch on and do the same. To his relief he saw his father take a step away from his horse too. Now they made a wider target.

“Where do you plan on going?” Scott asked, taking another small step.

“Don’t know, don’t much care. Just away from here.”

“Johnny.” Murdoch kept his voice calm, taking another small step away from Scott. “We have to talk, Son.”

“Nothing to talk about. I made a mistake in coming here. I made an even bigger mistake when I decided to stay. I knew it couldn’t work.”

“But it is working…don’t you see, Johnny, it is working.”

“Just wishful thinkin’ on your part. I told ya, I got too much riding behind me to settle down and try to be a rancher’s son.”

“You are a rancher’s son,” Murdoch growled. “You’re my son, and I won’t let some bitter old woman drive you away from what’s rightfully yours.”

“What if I don’t want it?” Johnny asked bitterly.

“Oh you want it, Johnny, you want it so bad you can taste it. I’ve seen it in your eyes…when you’re looking over miles and miles of Lancer land…your land…when you’re sitting by the fireplace at night with nothing more to worry about than what time you’ll head upstairs to bed…your bed…your room…your…”

“Shut up!” Johnny yelled. “I don’t want to hear anymore, I just want to get out of here. I’ll leave Charlie at the house and take Barranca. I figure Barranca is a fair enough trade for my third of Lancer.”

“Johnny, don’t end it like this,” Murdoch pleaded. “There are so many things I need to tell you before you leave. If you still want to go after we’ve talked, then I won’t stop you.”

Johnny looked cautiously between his brother and his father. It was plain to both men that Johnny was not his usual self. His actions were slow and too deliberate…as if he knew one wrong move would send him toppling to the ground.

Scott glanced over at his father and nodded surreptitiously and Murdoch nodded back.

Seeing the cornered look in Johnny eyes, Murdoch spoke gently, the way he had watched Johnny gentle a wild and frightened horse.

“Don’t throw these last three months away, Johnny. We can work through this…if we stay together as a family. Don’t let the hatred of one old woman drive you away from what is rightfully yours.”

Murdoch took another step, toward Johnny this time, drawing his attention away from Scott.

“Stay where you are,” Johnny warned, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his left arm to stop the beads of sweat from running into his eyes, while at the same time swinging the gun toward Murdoch.

Murdoch sighed deeply. “That gun isn’t the answer, John. Please, put it down. I told you I wouldn’t stop you if you really wanted to leave.”

“I said, stay where you are.”

Murdoch stopped. “Jelly and Joe?” he asked gently. He needed to keep Johnny’s attention diverted toward him, and away from Scott. But he knew his son was on the very edge of bolting.

“In the shack,” Johnny answered. The gun wavered in his hand for just a moment…then he smiled coldly. “What do you think I did, old man? Shoot them? Or maybe knock them senseless into next year?”

“I’m sorry I hit you so hard, Johnny. I just wanted to stop you.” Murdoch took another step closer and now Johnny’s attention was fully on him, allowing Scott to move silently behind him.

“Well, you stopped me all right. But you could have saved yourself some sore knuckles…because I’m leaving anyway.”

“Not until the three of us have had a talk,” Scott said from behind him.

Startled, Johnny tried to turn around, but the move sent his head spinning and he fell against the tree trunk like a drunken cowboy. Scott caught Johnny’s arm, steadying him, while at the same time grabbing his gun and tossing it to Murdoch.

“Boy, you really must be hurting if I can trump you like this. Now, let’s get you back inside.”

“Leave me alone,” Johnny protested, trying to jerk his arm away from Scott, the motion sending him further off kilter.

Murdoch hurried across the short distance catching Johnny’s free arm as his knees buckled.

“Come on, Son, you need to lie down.”

“I need to be left alone.”

Johnny’s protests landed on deaf ears as he was half dragged, half carried back into the line shack.


“Well it’s about time ya got us untied,” Jelly harrumphed. Both he and Joe were sitting on the floor, their wrists bound to the legs of the cot with Jelly’s suspenders. Both men’s feet were conspicuously bare.

Scott and Murdoch led Johnny toward the cot.

“No,” Johnny protested. “Don’t want to lie down…over there on the chair.”

Murdoch nodded to Scott and they changed direction, easing Johnny down onto one of the straight backed chairs next to the small table in the corner. They both knew Johnny would not be comfortable there on the hard wooden chair, but comfort was not what Johnny wanted for the confrontation ahead.

Murdoch quickly turned to Jelly and Joe and untied the bound men.

“How long have you been here like this?” Murdoch asked, noting that the restraints were tied loose enough not to hurt the two men.

“Not more’n fifteen minutes, boss,” Jelly said sheepishly. “That dern boy a yours gots ears like a jack rabbit. He heard ya coming a mile away.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer.” Joe bowed his head. “Johnny got the drop on me yesterday. I tried to be as quiet as I could.”

“It’s all right, Joe. Jelly’s right…Johnny could hear a pin drop in a wind storm. And ah…” Murdoch couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he saw both men wiggling their bare toes. “Sorry about the boots.”

Jelly climbed to his feet, rubbing his wrist. “Ya got my boots with ya?  I got blisters on top a blisters.”

“You’ll find them in a sack tied to my saddle. Johnny,” he turned to Johnny, nodding toward the boots he still wore, “if you’ll give Joe back his boots he can get yours and Jelly’s.”

Johnny shrugged, raising his leg to Scott. “They’re too tight anyway.”

Scott grabbed Johnny’s ankle roughly and yanked the boot off. “This isn’t funny, Johnny.”

Johnny raised his other leg. “Never said it was.”

Scott threw the boots and socks toward Joe, who caught them and silently sat on the cot to pull them on.

Jelly walked over to Johnny, laying the back of his hand on Johnny’s forehead. “Runnin’ a tetch of fever,” he reported. “Don’t know why, but them ‘cussions do that sometimes. And he ain’t ate a thing since he’s been here. Cain’t rightly chew nothin’ with that jaw.

"Ya best have Doc take a look at him when we get home.”

Johnny moved his head away from Jelly’s hand. “Leave it be, Jelly.”

Jelly cleared his throat walking back over to pull Joe up by his arm. “Come on, I’ll help ya get them boots. I have a feeling these three here have a mite ta talk about.”

“Don’t go on my account, Jelly. I got nothing ta say,” Johnny said, lowly.

Jelly finished fastening his suspenders to his pants than snapped them angrily. “Well, ya may not have nothin’ ta say, but ya better listen ta what yer daddy and yer brother have ta say…cause… if ya walk away from ‘em now, then yer the biggest damn fool I ever had the misfortune ta meet.”

Jelly yanked the door open and waited for Joe to step outside before slamming it shut.

The silence that followed was palpable.

Johnny closed his eyes against the throbbing in his head. It wasn’t just his jaw that ached…it was his whole head. And he had to fight back the nausea that threatened to make a fool of him. If Johnny had ever wondered what it would be like to be on the receiving end of one of his father’s punches, he knew all too well now.

Jelly had taken good care of him, and he felt bad when he tied him and Joe to the bed frame. But he couldn’t stay here…and he wouldn’t stay matter what anyone said. He should have headed out on foot. But he had never seen this line shack before and neither Jelly nor Joe would tell him exactly where it was.

Murdoch had begun pacing the floor, and the sound was grating on Johnny’s nerves, each step keeping cadence with the throbbing in his head.

“If ya got something to say, old man, say it,” Johnny snapped.

Murdoch stopped…his anger rising. He looked down at Johnny sitting in the uncomfortable chair and the sight of his bruised face made him sick to his stomach. To think that his hand was the one to inflict so much damage.

“How do you feel, Johnny?” Murdoch asked. “And I want the truth,” he added sternly.

Johnny turned his face away. He damned the voice inside his head that wanted to answer his father. But the anger overrode it and he closed his eyes again.

He heard Murdoch’s heavy footsteps walk across the wooden floor and stop by his chair. Gently a huge hand, the one that had hit him so painfully, now tipped his head up, forcing Johnny to look at him.

“I’m sorry, Johnny. You have no idea how sorry I am. I acted without thinking. I didn’t want you to leave…not like that.”

The depth of hurt and anger in those impossibly blue eyes washed over Murdoch, leaving him breathless.

“I grew up knowing what it felt to eat another man’s fist for as far back as I can remember,” Johnny said bitterly. “I promised myself, when I was old enough to fight back, that I would never let another man hit me like that again. Ever.”

“Johnny…” Murdoch began to reach for Johnny, but Johnny slipped out of his chair, swaying before he reached out for the wall, leaning his shoulder against it for support.

 “I don’t wanna hear how sorry you are, Murdoch,” Johnny hissed. “I just want you to leave me alone.”

“I can’t do that…not yet. I told you outside that I would let you go if you still wanted to, after you listened to what I have to say. I still mean it. You can leave with Barranca and I’ll buy you out of your share of Lancer. Give you enough to start out somewhere else.”

Johnny eyed him warily.  

“You know I am a man of my word, Johnny.”

Johnny said nothing. He looked over Murdoch’s shoulder at Scott. His brother stood silently by the door, his arms crossed over his chest. Johnny knew that look. His brother was mad. But was he mad at him, or at Murdoch? Probably both.

“Will you listen to what I have to say?” Murdoch asked.

Johnny could feel his brother’s eyes boring into him. “Yes,” Scott shouted silently.

Johnny nodded once.

Murdoch looked at him critically. “Then will you sit down and tell me how you feel…honestly?”

“Do it, Brother,” Scott said from his perch against the door. “It beats sliding down that wall and landing flat on your face.”

Johnny thought about it for a moment, then casually sat down. Or at least he thought it looked casual. To Murdoch and Scott it looked like a man who was ready to collapse.

 "Besides a raging headache and a bout of dizziness, are you hurt anywhere else?”

“Ain’t that enough?” Johnny asked sarcastically.

"Murdoch couldn’t help but smile. “No, that’s quite enough.”

“So, get on with your talk so I can get out of here.”

Murdoch grabbed a chair and sat it down in front of Johnny, the rickety chair groaning beneath his large frame.

Silence once again filled the shack as Murdoch collected his thoughts.

“Johnny,” he finally said, “I made a mistake in not telling you the truth right from the beginning. But I was afraid you would react just like you did. I was afraid that you would feel responsible, when none of this was your fault.”

“My being Johnny Madrid makes me responsible.”

“No it doesn’t. Johnny listen to me…If you leave Hortence will just find another reason why Teresa is not safe at Lancer. She won’t stop until she has won, or Teresa is of age and can decide for herself. If we don’t stand together and fight for Teresa, Hortence will win.

You’ve got to understand, Johnny, it’s not Teresa she wants, it’s the game she started playing years ago, and she will play as dirty as she has to, to win. You’re her first pawn. Scott, Jelly, who knows who would be next.

“If you won’t fight for yourself, will you at least fight for Teresa?”

“I’d do anything for Teresa, you know that. But my staying isn’t gonna help that little girl. She’ll only get hurt when she finds out what I did all those years.”

“She already knows, Johnny,” Scott said.

“She don’t know the half of it,” Johnny snapped back bitterly. “Neither do you.”

“Then don’t you think you should be around to tell her the truth when she does find out, because, Brother, she will find out. Hortence is going to use every trick in the book to make you look like a cold blooded killer.”

“And what makes you think I’m not?” Johnny asked coldly.

“Because,” Murdoch answered immediately, “we know you enough. Don’t think for one second that I would have allowed you to stay if I thought differently. I would not have put Scott or the rest of the ranch in jeopardy if I thought you were the kind of man Hortence is trying to make others believe you are.” 

“What do you expect me to do then? You said so yourself, the town is ready to lynch me. What am I supposed to do? Hide out at the ranch?”

“No, not hide. Just don’t go into town for a few weeks. There’s plenty to do at Lancer.”

“You’re asking too much, Murdoch. I’ve never run from a fight in my life. And I’ve never let someone else do my fightin’ for me. If I stay I’ll do it on my terms. That means, if I wanna go into town, I’ll go. I won’t look for a fight, but I won’t back down if one comes a callin’.”

“Johnny that’s exactly what she expects you to do. She wants the town to see Johnny Madrid, and only Johnny Madrid. I want them to see Johnny Lancer…the Johnny Lancer I know – we know. The man Teresa loves with all her heart.”

“And if I don’t? If I leave here today?”

Murdoch took a deep breath. “Then I’ll have no other choice but to send Teresa away.”

Chapter Nine

 "Where is everyone?” 

Teresa paced the kitchen, then the great room, stopping to look out the window every few steps. The silence goaded her, reminding her that she was once again left out. Something was wrong; she could feel it in the very air. Murdoch was acting like a caged animal, ready to bite off anyone’s head if they got too near. And Scott, he had left so suddenly, was it really and truly a bull in Stockton that he was looking at?

Then Johnny was gone. Without a word. Murdoch said he was overseeing the building of a new bridge in an outlying part of the ranch. But he should have said good bye first…it just didn’t make sense. And she had not heard a word about a new bridge being built.

Scott returned this morning, looking worried, only to head out a few minutes later with Murdoch,  the anger between them so tense you could see it shimmering in the air.

Never had she felt so alienated in this hacienda she called home. Not even when she lost her father and then almost lost Murdoch and Lancer to Day Pardee. Not even when two strangers came to live with her, men she neither knew nor trusted.  Related to Murdoch only by blood…

Now they were a family. They trusted each other, or so she thought, but secrets had abounded, and she felt she was the only one who didn’t know what was going on. She was no longer a child, she deserved more respect than this.

“They will be here when they are here, chica,” Maria tisked, stuffing a dust rag in her hand. “The room needs dusting, you clean while you worry…no?”

“No. I don’t understand, Maria, everyone looks at me and turns away. I’m not allowed to go into town. Murdoch wouldn’t let me go to Father Ernesto’s brunch at the orphanage. There is something going on, and I just know it’s something terrible. When will they learn that I’m old enough to be a part of this family, not just when things are good, or God forbid, when I have to nurse one of them back to health, but all the time. And, why did Scott take off so suddenly?”

“I know you are worried, chica, but they will tell you, when the time is right.” Maria patted her hand, making circular motions with the rag. ”Now clean.”

Teresa snapped her hand back. “Then there is something wrong,” she cried. “I knew it. What, Maria, what is it. Please tell me.”

“I can not, Chiquita, it is not my place. Por favor, all your questions will be answered in time.”

“I am not your little one anymore, Maria,” Teresa said, exasperated. “When will you and everyone else around here stop treating me like one?”

She looked out the window and saw a cloud of dust moving in the distance along the road toward the house. 

“I wonder who that is.”

She didn’t recognize the buggy until it was nearly beneath the Lancer arch, then she noticed a green parasol shading a fancy little bonnet with white bows and green ribbons to match the parasol, and knew it was Bethany Rogers. Bethany was a friend, but not a close one. Her ways were too proper. Her family played at being rich. Her father was a clerk at the bank, but Bethany’s mother came from old money, all spent now. The lack of money didn’t keep Bethany’s mother from instilling in her daughter that she was a step above everyone else. Especially Teresa O’Brien.

Bethany pulled the buggy to a stop, fighting her long skirt out of the way as she jumped from the carriage and grabbed Teresa around the shoulders.

“Are you are all right?” Bethany panted, her cheeks red from excitement. “I mean, he didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“Hurt me?” Stunned, Teresa tried to pull away. “What are you talking about?  Who hurt me?”

Bethany looked at her, exasperated. “Johnny Madrid, of course. Mother says it’s just a matter of time before you are killed…or worse.”

Teresa looked at her dumbfounded. “Johnny would never hurt me. Bethany…”

“Everyone in town knows how dangerous he is. If Miss Shaffer weren’t trying to get you out of here, I’m sure someone else would try just as hard.”

“Hortence Shaffer?  Bethany, what are you talking about?”

“You don’t know?”

Teresa shook her head. The ominous specter of a conspiracy to keep her in the dark was coming to fruition. What was going on here?

Bethany took Teresa’s arm and tried to lead her into her buggy. “Hurry, we have to get you out of here before it’s too late, you’re in terrible danger.”

Teresa snapped her arm away. “I’m not going anywhere. Now, tell me what’s going on.”

Bethany looked around surreptitiously, her hand held against her bosom, her face mirroring her fear. “Is he here?”


“Johnny Madrid, of course.”

Teresa looked at her, completely baffled. “Johnny?”

Bethany nodded her head emphatically. “Johnny Madrid.”

“Johnny Lancer. His name is Johnny Lancer. And no, he’s not here. He hasn’t been for the last two days.”

“Thank God. Then we still have time. Mother says you can stay with us until he’s gone, or Miss Shaffer arranges for you to stay with her.”

“Hortence Shaffer? Why would I want to stay with that old witch?” Confusion turned to anger and Teresa clutched Bethany’s arm, dragging her toward the house. “I want to know what’s going on. All of it!”

Bethany grabbed her pretty little hat with the white bows and green ribbons as Teresa pulled her into the house.


Teresa hustled Bethany through the great room into the kitchen, pouring her friend a glass of lemonade and sitting at the small serving table near the stove.

Bethany looked around and cringed. “I don’t know why you like it in here so much. Mother says it’s the cook’s domain. I rarely see the kitchen.”

“Well, since I’m one of the cooks, I like it. And Maria won’t be back for awhile, so start talking.”

“I don’t know.  If your… if Mr. Lancer hasn’t told you yet, then maybe…”

“Just tell me, Bethany, please. No one has told me anything.”

Bethany was reluctant at first, then as she realized she was the first person to tell Teresa all the news, she undid the ribbon holding her hat on and placed it in the middle of the table.

“All right.” She leaned over the table conspiratorially. “This is what I know. Hortence Shaffer saw Johnny Madrid pawing all over you outside the mercantile…”

“Pawing? How dare you say something like that.  Johnny would never paw over me, or any other woman.”

“I’m just telling you what they are saying in town. Do you want to hear it or not?”

Teresa fought back her anger. “Go on.”

“They say Miss Shaffer tried once before to get you out of this place, right after your mama died, she knew you needed a woman to raise you. But your father and Mr. Lancer couldn’t see it, and fought her. I guess she tried a couple more times. but now, now with Johnny Madrid living here, well, everyone knows he’s a killer…and…” Bethany looked around the kitchen making sure it was as deserted as Teresa said. “He takes advantage of young women.”


“Everyone knows you’re not safe here with him, Teresa. Miss Shaffer is working with the governor to get you out of here. It won’t be long. But if you want to come right now, Mother will…”

“You can’t really believe that about Johnny.”

“He is Johnny Madrid.”

“He was. Now he’s Johnny Lancer.”

“Mother says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Teresa fought back the urge to slap Bethany Rogers across the face.

“I just know what I know,” Bethany continued, “and you are not safe here, not with him. And we are going to save you, in spite of yourself. You’ll look back on this someday and thank each and every person who helped rid this valley of the likes of Johnny Madrid.”

“Rid the valley?”

“Of course. No one wants him here. No one is safe with him around. Mother says if Sheriff Crawford can’t do the job then there are men willing to risk their lives to do it for him.”

Teresa jumped to her feet, upending the chair. “I want you to leave, Bethany.”


“I want you to leave and never come back, not until you apologize for all the horrible things you just said about Johnny.”

“Well, forgive me for worrying about a friend. I came to warn you, Teresa.” Bethany grabbed her pretty little hat and placed it on her head, tying the ribbon beneath her chin just so. “If they find you with a bullet in your heart and your skirt up over your head…”

“Bethany LeAnn Rogers! What a filthy thing to say.”

“It’s what my pa said. Oh, please, Teresa, come with me before it’s too late. Before Johnny Madrid kills you and everyone in this house.”

“Get out, Bethany…Now!”

“Very well….but…” Bethany pulled a folded sheet of paper from a pocket hidden in the folds of her dress. “Read this before it’s too late. Miss Shaffer knows all about Johnny Madrid,” she said as she slipped it into Teresa’s skirt pocket.

“Get out!” Teresa cried and made her way blindly toward her rose garden outside the great room.  Why hadn’t they told her? Why did Murdoch keep it a secret? Then a thought came to her, and her knees nearly buckled. She sat down hard on the bench, the one she and Johnny had sat on, side by side, watching the sun set. What if Murdoch had already sent him away?


Teresa wasn’t sure how long she had been sitting in her garden.  Maria had returned, preparing the kitchen for dinner, and she made her way back into the kitchen.

She couldn’t get the horrible things Bethany had said out of her mind. She tried to confront Maria, but the old woman’s eyes gleamed with tears and she could only mutter, “No es mi lugar.” (It is not my place.)

Then the sound of another buggy drew her to the window, and with a sinking feeling in her heart, she realized it was Sam Jenkins.

“What is Sam doing here?” she demanded. “Is someone hurt? Johnny, its Johnny isn’t it? Murdoch said he was overseeing that bridge, but he wouldn’t leave Barranca behind. What’s happened, Maria?”

Rushing out the door, she waited impatiently for Sam to pull up.

“What’s wrong, Sam? Who’s hurt?”

Sam climbed down from his buggy, grabbing his medical bag. “Johnny, who else?”

“How bad?” 

“I don’t know. A ranch hand came into town and said I was needed here. That Johnny had been injured. I have no idea how, or how bad. He’s not here?”

Teresa shook her head. “He hasn’t been here for two days.” She grabbed his bag and threaded her arm around his elbow, leading him toward the front door. “Sam, what is going on around here? Bethany had this fantastic story about Hortence and Johnny Madrid.”

Sam stopped, pulling Teresa up short. “You know nothing of what’s going on?” he asked, incredulous. “Murdoch hasn’t told you?”

“No. I’ve been stuck here like a prisoner. Oh no. Oh my God, Sam, it is true? Please, Sam, tell me what’s happening.”

Sam shook his head, lost for words. “Teresa,” he finally said. “I ‘m not your guardian, its up to Murdoch to tell you when he feels its time.”

Teresa began to protest.

Sam held up his hand for silence. “But since Bethany has told you what she knows, in her own inimitable way, I am sure, I guess it won’t hurt for me to…”

The sound of approaching horses stopped Sam in mid-sentence and Teresa turned to see Murdoch and Scott riding on either side of Johnny. Their gait was too slow, and she knew immediately from the way Johnny’s dark head sagged against his chest that he was in trouble.

Jelly and Joe quickly moved ahead of them and dismounted, ready to take the reins.

“What happened?” Teresa cried, rushing up to stand next to Johnny’s horse as Murdoch and Scott tried to help him down.

Johnny angrily pushed their hands away, dismounting awkwardly before staggering toward the door.

Teresa caught his arm to steady him and she noticed his bruised jaw. “Johnny, what happened?”

“Ask Murdoch,” he growled and pulled away from her grip, disappearing, unsteadily, into the house.

“Murdoch?” Teresa spun angrily on him. “What happened?”

“Later,” Murdoch snapped. He turned to Scott. “Make sure he makes it up to his bedroom.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” Sam called.  “Now,” Sam stood in front of Murdoch, “exactly what is going on here?”

Murdoch was too tired, emotionally and physically. “See to Johnny first, Sam…please. Then,” he turned to Teresa, “we’ll all discuss what’s going on after Sam has checked on Johnny.”

Teresa nodded. She needed to see for herself how badly Johnny was hurt. But after that, she wanted answers.


Johnny had his arm draped over his eyes, keeping the light out. His head hurt and he felt like the bed was trying to buck him off, the room was spinning so fast. But above all, he just wanted to be left alone. He had agreed with Murdoch to come back, just long enough for Sam to check him out. But the more he thought about it the less he was sure of his decision. Now that he was here, it was going to be a lot harder to leave.

And what if Murdoch was right? What if his leaving made him send Teresa away? The thought made his head hurt more, and he just wanted to fall asleep and forget everything.

But the door opened and closed and he felt someone walk over to the bed.

“Leave me alone,” he ordered.

“Not until I’ve checked you over,” came Sam’s voice.

“I’m fine, Sam. Just let me be.”

Sam dragged Johnny’s arm away from his eyes and Johnny looked up into the old doctor’s no nonsense glare.

“I’ll be the one to decide that. Now, do we do this the easy way or the hard way?”

Johnny sighed deeply. “I’ve got a bruised jaw, Sam, that’s all. I’m gonna rest for a couple hours then be outta here.”

“Leave, just like that?”

Johnny nodded and regretted it immediately. His stomach churned and he knew he was going to be sick.

He heard the sound of the water basin dragged across the nightstand and then felt Sam roll him to the side just as his stomach erupted.

“You are going nowhere, young man,” Sam said as he lowered Johnny back down. “Besides, you aren’t going to take off when Teresa needs you the most, are you?”

Johnny felt Sam begin to undress him and he didn’t have the energy to stop him.

“John,” Sam continued, “that young woman down there is scared to death. Murdoch has told her nothing.”

“Sam, I’ll only cause more problems if I stay. It’s because of me that Hortence has her claws in Teresa. If I go.”

“Your leaving will only break that young girl’s heart and not do a damn thing to stop Hortence Shaffer. I spoke with her this morning, she is a bitter old woman who wants only one thing, to make your father suffer. Now hold still while I take a look at you.”

Johnny silently suffered the indignities of Sam’s examination. At last the old doctor sighed and closed his medical bag.

“Well, as you might have already figured out, you have a serious concussion. And I believe that swelling has affected your right ear, something in there controls our equilibrium…our balance. We’re not sure how or why, it just does. I think once the swelling goes down the world will stop spinning. Meantime, I want you in this bed, flat on your back for at least four days, then we’ll discuss if you’ve improved enough to sit up.”


“I’m not joking here, John. This is serious. I can’t believe Murdoch hit you so hard, but he did. Now, it’s already been three days since you were hit, so I am going to give you some sleeping powders to take, and I expect you to take them. It’s either that, or one of Jelly’s concoctions. You need sleep, young man, and you are going to get it.”

Sighing deeply, Johnny agreed. “But I want to talk to Teresa first. I gotta know she’s all right.”

Sam nodded. “Then you sleep, agreed?”

Johnny couldn’t help the smile. The old fox had outwitted him again. “Agreed.”

“Good. I’ll send Maria in to stay with you while I talk to your family downstairs. Then I’ll send Teresa up.”

“Sam.” Johnny folded his arm over his eyes again to keep the light out. “How could things go so wrong so fast?”


Chapter Ten

Murdoch sat at his desk looking stoically out the picture window on the land he had so carefully nurtured into a dynasty. At one time it had meant life itself to him. The remembered words, spoken so callously to his sons on their first meeting, tasted like poison in his mouth now: “I love this ground more than anything God ever created. I’ve got a gray hair for every good blade of grass you see there.” How those words must have sounded.  But they meant nothing now. Not when his world was crashing in around him. Not when he faced the possibility of losing Johnny.

He heard Teresa crying softly from her garden, out through the open French doors, her sadness filling the room, as she wept alone. She refused to be consoled by anyone but Johnny. She would not even look at him as Scott followed Johnny up the stairs, a cautious hand on his back the only contact Johnny would allow.

When Scott came back downstairs he had said nothing, just poured himself a drink and sat on the sofa, his eyes locked on the French doors, listening to the cries of a broken heart.

Neither had spoken to the other on the long ride home. They had both watched Johnny as he swayed in the saddle, steadfastly refusing any help. He returned with them only because he had no other choice. It was like his days as Johnny Madrid, when he’d seek a safe place to hide and lick his wounds, and then be gone again. Murdoch hoped this time they could convince him to stay.

Murdoch sighed deeply and ran his hands through his graying hair. “I never did ask you how your trip to Stockton went.”

Scott looked up, his voice distant. “It went well. We should hear from Victoria and Jarrod any time now.  Victoria felt confident that she could get the governor here.”

Murdoch lowered his head into his hands, his elbows propped on the desktop. “What the hell good is that going to do now? The idea was for him to meet Johnny Lancer, not…”

“Johnny Madrid? Whose fault is that?” Scott challenged.

Murdoch snapped his head up. “Damn it Scott, don’t you think I know that already?  I have thought of nothing else. But what else could I do? Let Johnny ride away? I had to stop him.”

Scott looked at his father, exasperated. “Don’t you see, Murdoch, it wasn’t the punch that did the most damage, it was the waiting. Leaving Johnny trapped up there with Jelly and Joe. You should have returned there that night.”

“I did. I was never far from the shack.”

“And you never went in?” Scott asked, astounded. “You never told him you were there?”

Murdoch shook his head. “I didn’t know what to say to him, how to tell him I was sorry.”

Scott could not answer him. There were no words to tell his father that he merely had to open the door and walk in, just show Johnny that he cared.

Both men looked up at the sound of footsteps heralding the arrival of a very angry doctor.

“What in the name of heaven made you hit that boy so hard, Murdoch?” Sam demanded. “You nearly broke his jaw. As it is, he has a serious concussion.”

Murdoch shook his head. “I didn’t mean to hit him that hard. I was trying to keep him from leaving.”

“Well you did that all right. He won’t be sitting a horse for at least two weeks, maybe longer.”

“Why is he so dizzy?” Scott asked. “He’s had concussions before.”

“The swelling from the bruising has affected his inner ear. When the swelling goes down he’ll regain his equilibrium. Meantime, I have ordered him to stay in bed, flat on his back for the next four days.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Scott scoffed. “Johnny, staying flat on his back for four days?”

“I know, I know. I said four, and I expect two. It’s the best I can hope for. Maria is giving him willow bark tea for the fever and Aconitum for the nausea. We know very little about the inner ear, just that it affects balance. I’ve read a tiny tear can accompany a blow like that leading to an inner-ear infection. I’ll keep a close eye on him, but it should heal with rest. Now, I’ll leave some sleeping powders, and he has promised to take them, but he would like to see Teresa first. You know, if you had been honest with him and Teresa from the beginning this would never have happened.”

“I was only trying to protect …” Murdoch began, but Sam raised his hand sharply.

“Johnny doesn’t need protecting, he needs your trust. The only thing you have done so far is prove to him that you don’t trust him. You are playing right into Hortence’s hands. This family is falling apart like a house made of cards. The only way you can fight her is together, as a family. Where is Teresa?”

“Out in the garden.” Scott needlessly pointed out the French doors. Sam knew the house as well as any of them.

“All right, I’ll bring her upstairs. Hopefully by tomorrow he’ll talk to the both of you.”

“I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t,” Scott muttered.


Val Crawford poured himself another mug of his frying pan coffee and grimaced at the taste. Johnny was right, it was God-awful stuff…but it kept him awake. Not that he was in danger of falling asleep, not when the whole town was like a tinderbox, ready to explode. He’d seen this kind of mindset before, and it scared him.

Hortence Shaffer had whispered in enough ears and frightened enough folks with her tall tales about Johnny Madrid that Val was afraid there would be a lynching party before the week was out. Unfortunately, he had done everything he could, so far, everything the law would allow. He just hoped she would take one step too many and he could throw her into a cell where she belonged.

The office door swung open and Kurt Adams stuck his head in. “You better take a look see at this Sheriff,” the boy said. Only fourteen and he was already a head taller than Val.

Following the boy outside he saw a crowd of people standing around the livery stable, the drone of excited voices drifting down the street toward him.

“What’s goin’ on down there?” he growled, grabbing his rifle as he left the office.

“Don’t rightly know. I just heard someone holler something about Johnny Madrid and I thought I better come tell ya.”

“You did good, Boy. Now you git along, I don’t want you or anyone else getting hurt round here.”

“Sheriff,” Kurt looked down at his boots, “them things Miss Shaffer is sayin’ bout Johnny Madrid…”

“His name’s Lancer, Boy, Johnny Lancer. And you don’t pay no never mind to that nonsense. I’ve known Johnny a lot of years. All them stories is just a pack of half truths and outright lies.” Val had to reach up to lay his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You remember that, Kurt, when things get real bad, cause I can smell it in the air, things are gonna get right ugly.”

Val left Kurt standing on the boardwalk and walked toward the livery, wishing he didn’t believe in his own prophecy. As he drew closer he could hear a familiar voice talking loudly from inside the crowd.

“Now, don’t shove,” Hortence Shaffer placated, “there’s enough for everyone.”

Val pushed his way to the front of the crowd to find Hortence standing next to a buckboard filled with books. It took every ounce of willpower to keep from strangling the woman when he read the titles. ‘The Legend of Johnny Madrid’,’ Johnny Madrid Half-Breed’, ‘Johnny Madrid Killer’.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Val demanded, shoving his way past Arlo Brand and Clive Hanks.

“Sheriff Crawford. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’m selling books.”

Val picked up one of the books with disgust. “Where’d ya get these?”

“Mr. Baldemero had them in his storeroom. Boxes of them. I persuaded him to sell them to me.”

He turned on her, fire in his eyes. “Didn’t I tell you that I’d lock ya up if you did any of them Slan…Sland…”

“Slanderous?” Hortence supplied, smugly. “Sheriff Crawford, this is not slander, this is just works of fiction. Everyone knows it. I am doing nothing against the law, just providing some light entertainment. Here, you see.” She picked up several other titles. “There is something here for everyone. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, among others. I’m sure there is even something here that would amuse you, Sheriff.

“Yer inciting a riot,” Val bellowed.

“Sheriff, do any of these fine people look like they are ready to riot? I have done nothing wrong, so please, there are still people who want to purchase a book.”

Val looked around. She may have not been inciting a riot…yet. But there were some ugly faces in the crowd. 

“But yer creating a nuisance, now, all of ya, get outta here.”

“If anyone else wishes to purchase a book you can buy one at the saloon,” Hortence called quickly before she lost her audience. “Mr. Hanks has been gracious enough to volunteer to take a few along with him. And Mr. Brand will have a few at the barber shop.” She turned to Val and tapped the book he still held in his hand. “You can have that one for free, Sheriff. I’m sure it would be quite interesting reading.”

Val threw it back onto the pile in the buckboard as if it had suddenly started to burn his hands.

“You watch yerself, Miss Shaffer, one wrong move and you’ll be in a cell so fast that broom of yours won’t catch up”

“How dare you, Sheriff.”

Val used every ounce of will power not to knock Hortence Shaffer on her butt. She was within her rights, had done nothing against the law, but as sure as the sun came up every morning, she had just put one more nail in Johnny Madrid Lancer’s coffin.


Johnny lay very quietly in his bed. He listened to Maria move around the room, too tired to open his eyes; he felt her work -roughed hand press against his brow then a cool cloth was draped over his forehead.

The ride back from the line shack had been more than he could handle, and he could think of nowhere he would rather be at this moment than in this bed. He just wished everyone would go away though, and leave him in peace.

The horrific spinning seemed to settle down a bit as long as he kept his head perfectly still. Any small movement sent his world into a stomach-churning whirlpool. Sam’s explanation that it was his ear that was causing it seemed too far-fetched to believe, but he would stay here for a couple of days.

The sound of the door opening made him instinctively raise his head to see who walked in and he paid dearly for the move. He groaned softly as the bed bucked like the worst stallion he had ever tried to break, and Maria’s soft recriminations that he was to stay still seemed to float in the air around him.

He slammed his eyes shut and waited for what seemed a lifetime before the spinning settled and he felt Sam holding his wrist to take his pulse.

“What did I tell you about staying perfectly still?” Sam admonished.

“I know. Is Teresa…?”

“I’m right here, Johnny.” And Teresa’s hand wrapped around his other hand and he felt her brush her soft cheek against it, wet with tears.

“You’ve been crying, Querida,” he said, alarmed.

“A little,” she admitted, and there was a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “Here I am trying to tell everyone I’m nearly a grown woman and I cry at the drop of a hat.”

Johnny kept his eyes closed, feeling safe here with Sam and Teresa. “That’s ok, it’ll be our secret, right, Sam?”

“Right. Now I want you to get some rest, young man. Teresa…”

“I’ll stay with him, Sam.”

“See that he takes the sleeping powder.”

Johnny sighed. “We’ll be fine, Sam.”

“I know.” He cleared his throat. “And I know there are a lot of things you two need to discuss, but they can wait till tomorrow.”

“I’ll make sure he rests, Sam,” Teresa promised.

Johnny kept his eyes closed but he heard Sam’s reluctant retreat from the room.

“Is he gone?” he asked.

“Yes. And I meant what I said. You are going to get some sleep.”

The sound of a spoon stirring liquid in a glass told Johnny that Teresa was mixing the sleeping powder.

“Are you going to be ok, querida? The truth now.”

He heard the catch in her voice. “It’s just so unfair. What they are saying about you. What Miss Shaffer is trying to do.”

“You know about her then?”

“Bethany Rogers stopped by earlier today.”

Johnny couldn’t keep a smile from twitching at the corners of his mouth. “Hortence Shaffer’s little shadow, huh?”

“Yes. Oh, Johnny. They are saying some terrible things about you, and about my living here. How can people be so cruel and vindictive?”

Johnny took a shuddering breath. “Honey, not all those things they say are lies. I did a lot of things before I came here.”

“That was Johnny Madrid. You’re Johnny Lancer now.”

“Just changing a man’s name doesn’t change who he is. I don’t want my past to cause you any pain.”

“Johnny, I love you and Scott, you’re my brothers. And I know Murdoch would never let you go. Here, drink this, you promised, remember?”

Teresa gently lifted his head, just a fraction off the pillow, and tipped the glass to his lips. “Drink it all,” she ordered.

He did as he was told, his stomach warring with the invading liquid. But he held it down, and before long he could feel himself floating away. He hoped with every ounce of his being as the darkness of sleep overpowered him, that he would not be the one to hurt Teresa the most.

Fifteen minutes later, Teresa looked up from the overstuffed chair pushed close to the bed, tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked at Johnny, his jaw and cheek bruised and swollen, but it was his long dark lashes that caught her attention, she loved those eyelashes, those blue eyes so much. She trusted him…had trusted him…

Bethany’s letter fell from her fingers to flutter to the floor…the obscene list facing up, taunting her.

Who was Johnny?


Chapter Eleven

Johnny awoke and fought back the fuzzy feeling from Sam's sleeping powder. Somehow Maria had slipped him the medicine, probably in the honeyed water. He would take her to task for it, but gently. She only did what she thought was best for him. There was no way she could understand his need to always be alert, even when he slept. It was engrained in his body and his mind. Three months ago it could have cost him his life. Now, although he was safe, he was still not ready to relax completely. He still felt the need to be in control, especially with the chaos surrounding him.

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and turned to see that the soft cushioned chair pushed up close to his bed was empty, conspicuously empty. Most times he would find Teresa sitting there, keeping watch over him as he slept, and keeping him company as the long hours of the day crept by. Even when he would complain that he was fine, she would steadfastly stay by him as much as she could, telling him it made her feel good to take care of him. He liked listening to her talk about things going on around the house, a new bolt of material that came into Baldemero's store or her friends and their latest infatuations. Most times he tuned the words out, just listened to her lilting voice, so innocent and trusting.

But not this time. On the few occasions she did come into his room, to check if he needed anything or had taken his medicine, she seemed so sad and distant. He wanted to ask her why. He wanted to see her sit down in her chair and talk to him, to ease the pain of guilt he felt crushing his chest. But he didn't know how, so he just closed his eyes until he heard her leave the room.

Murdoch and Scott had visited, when work permitted. Murdoch had his own guilt to contend with, and he wore it openly on his sleeve. But Johnny could not forgive him easily. Not for the punch which landed him here in this bed, but for trying to keep the truth from him. Didn't he understand that hiding the truth from him could get him killed? Knowing his enemies, knowing the lay of the land, that is what kept him alive all these years. When Murdoch tried to shelter him from the painful truth, no matter how well intentioned, it put him in jeopardy.

And Scott had gone along with the subterfuge. He still hadn't told him why he went to Stockton so suddenly, and Johnny was not fool enough to think it was to look at a prized bull, Murdoch would have been talking about it for weeks. No, Scott had gone for another reason, and until his brother told him the truth he could not trust him.

And that was it, that was the crux of the problem, no one trusted him, and he could trust no one. He had survived on his own for most of his life, had danced with the devil himself, and came out singed but not burned. Fate, or just damn good luck had saved him from the firing squad, and he had suddenly found himself surrounded by a family he didn't know he had. And it had been working. Murdoch was right, it was working, but something had broken.

He could see it in Teresa's eyes and it stabbed him in the heart like a knife. The one innocent one, the one who had believed in him without the filth of his past to sully her trust in him. She was unsure now, like the rest of them.

He threw the covers off and sat up slowly. The room still spun, but not as chaotic as before. The biggest problem was his double vision. He could see two of everything and it was disorienting. He carefully shuffled his way toward the bureau in the corner, dragging his hand along the bed for support. The three feet of open space between the bed and the bureau left him staggering slightly.

Johnny knew he would get hell for this. But he had given them two days, and that was all he had in him. He found a shirt and pants in the top drawer and staggered over to the chair…Teresa's chair.

It was a daunting task to try to figure out which of the four pant legs to push his foot into, and more than once he found nothing but air. But finally he had them on and buttoned. His shirt wasn't a problem until he had to button it, and frustrated, he simply pulled it closed and tucked his shirttails into his pants.

His boots proved to be another big problem, but finally he had those on too, sans socks.

He knew he looked like a drunkard coming out of the saloon on a Saturday night, and he felt somewhat like it. But that would not keep him in his room another minute.

Satisfied with himself that he had gotten this far, it was time to face the stairs. He gathered up his resolve and made his way down the hallway, running his hands down the wall for support, just in case his world suddenly spun out of control again. When he felt a warm draft of air on his face he knew he was next to the dreaded steps.


"How dare she?!" Murdoch bellowed, his tall frame towering over Val Crawford as the sheriff stood in the great room with his head bowed, feeling terrible that he was the one to deliver the bad news. Murdoch held a copy of `Johnny Madrid- Half Breed' in his shaking hand. The cover was a ribald depiction of a Johnny Madrid he didn't know. Face shadowed beneath a black hat, gun spitting fire, a dozen bodies laying at his feet, men, women and children alike. The drawing made him sick to his stomach.

"I know how ya feel, Murdoch," Val said, "but I thought it best if it was me ya heard it from first. Hortence sold a couple dozen of `em this morning `fore I got ta her. Don't know how many people got their hands on `em all told."

Scott carefully pulled the book from Murdoch's grip, his own face blanching at the title and the lurid drawing on the cover. "Where did this trash come from?"

"Baldemero's store." Val held a hand up. "Now wait, afore ya start blaming the Baldemero's, ya know how they feel about Johnny. They would never hurt him intentionally. Hortence tricked `em. She got wind of them books, sitting in the Baldemero's storeroom. Refused ta sell `em, ya know. But she convinced them that they was takin' up valuable space, and offered to take `em off their hands. Promised she would get rid of them, right and proper. They feel just awful knowing they was tricked."

Scott rifled through the book, the words cold-blooded killer and murderer glaring at him from the pages. A passage caught his eye, depicting Johnny Madrid as a women beating back shooter. Words had always been his passion, to read them and to write them. He knew the power they could evoke. They could make or break a nation or a man. They could turn good into evil and evil against good. They were even more powerful than the spoken word. They could even kill. Hortence Shaffer knew their power and she was using them in the vilest way.

"Damn it, does it never end?" he asked, as he started to slip the book under his shirt to dispose of later. "Let's just hope that Teresa hasn't seen this."

"Seen what?" Johnny's voice asked from the door leading from the kitchen into the great room.

"Johnny!" Scott spun around, stunned. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"Sam didn't say you could get out of bed yet," Murdoch exploded. "You could have broken your neck coming down those stairs!"

"I asked a question, old man,” Johnny demanded coldly. He stood with his hand gripping the doorframe, his eyes noticeably unfocussed. The swelling around his eye had disappeared and only a hint of a black eye remained. The bruising on his chin was lessening too, but still looked terribly painful.

"Hey, Johnny." Val stepped in front of Murdoch, swiping his hat off and worrying the brim between his fingers. "Sam said you were a bit off kilter…hell, I could a told him that a long time ago. Looks like ya had a few too many. How ya feeling?"

Johnny ignored the question. Looking toward Scott again he asked, "What ya got in your hand, Scott?"

Scott sighed; there was no way of hiding it from him now. "A book," he replied flatly, keeping the cover turned toward him, though he doubted that Johnny could see well enough to read the title.

"Yeah? What kinda book?" Johnny stayed in the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the doorjamb for extra support. He could handle the vertigo now, but in combination with the double vision he didn't trust himself to take another step.

Scott looked from Murdoch to Val then walked over to Johnny. "One of those Johnny Madrid books. Sorry, Johnny, but Hortence Shaffer has been selling them all over Green River."

Johnny grabbed the book out of Scott's hand, the missed attempt the first time not lost on the men in the room. He squinted down at the title then looked back up at Scott.

"Johnny Madrid- Half- Breed," Scott supplied.

Johnny snorted derisively. "That's been around for years. Can't they come up with something new?"

"Sorry, Johnny, I wish I knowed what Hortence had planned, I would a stopped her somehow. But no one'll believe that hogwash anyway," Val sputtered.

Johnny let the book fall from his hands, landing on the floor between him and Scott. "They'll believe every word of it because they'll want to," he said lowly. "You still think it's a good idea that I stay, old man? Now everyone will know what kind of mean son of a bitch you have living under your roof. You should a just let me ride off."

"No one will believe that garbage," Scott yelled, picking up the book and throwing it into the cold fireplace.

"You don't think so?" Johnny turned to Val. "Tell him, Sheriff. Yell him what a mob can do when they're riled up enough. Tell them what will happen if any of you get in their
way…if Teresa gets in their way."

"Those people are our friends and neighbors, Johnny," Murdoch said.

"Your friends, Murdoch, your neighbors. They only know that you made the biggest mistake of your life asking me to stay after Pardee was gone. Face it; your life will be hell as long as I'm here. Cut your losses while you still can."

"No!" Murdoch made a move toward Johnny and Johnny tried to step back, nearly losing his white knuckled grasp on the doorjamb.

"Leave me alone, Murdoch. Everyone, leave me the hell alone. I know what's happening around here. Teresa is too scared to look me in the eye anymore and you're losing your friends right and left. It's not worth it, Murdoch. I'm not worth it."

Silence filled the great room. Johnny cleared his throat, trying to master his voice. "I would be beholding to you if you'd tell Jelly to hitch up the wagon. I don't think I can ride just yet."

"Well I never thought the day'd come when I'd see you turn tail and run, Johnny," Val exploded, slamming his hat back on his head. "You lettin' an old biddy like Hortence Shaffer get the better of Johnny Madrid? I thought ya had more in ya, Boy."

"I'm not running, Val, I'm just catching my breath. I'll stay at Cip's place, he's got that extra room no one uses. I'll stay there until my head clears."

"That's crazy, Johnny," Scott said. "Who is going to take care of you while Cipriano is working?"

"I can take care of myself. Sam said my head would clear in a few days."

"Johnny, this isn't the answer,” Murdoch began.

"I won't run out on you or Teresa. I'll stay until this is settled. I just won't stay here. When I'm feeling better I'm gonna fix up old Darber's place. I've been thinking about it anyway."

"No you haven't," Scott snapped. "Or you would have said something."

"Your place is here, in this house. Not ten miles away," Murdoch said, his voice rising in frustration.

"Who's Darber?" Val looked around, lost.

"He was my segundo before Paul O'Brien," Murdoch explained, not taking his eyes off Johnny. "We built another place bigger and closer for Paul and his wife when she was expecting Teresa. It's been sitting vacant ever since."

"At least stay here until Sam has cleared you," Scott tried, "then we can talk about Darber's…"

"I've made up my mind. Now, are you going to tell Jelly?"

"You're not leaving this house," Murdoch growled.

"How are you going to stop me, old man, punch my lights out again?"

The words seemed to echo off the walls in the now silent room.

Stung, Murdoch turned away and walked toward his desk. He sat down, opening the ledger as he spoke. "Scott, tell Jelly to get the wagon hitched, then gather what Johnny needs."

"Just like that?" Scott asked, shocked. "You're going to let him go, just like that?"

"He's a grown man, he can make his own decisions. If he doesn't feel comfortable here, then he shouldn't have to stay. Johnny, I only ask that you continue to take the medicines Sam left for you, and stay in bed as much as you can. Val, would you mind helping Johnny outside? He doesn't look very steady on his feet yet."

"Ya sure ya want him leavin' like this?" Val looked helplessly from Murdoch to Scott as he slowly made his way over to Johnny.

"I said it was his decision," Murdoch replied gruffly. "I'll have Teresa…"

"No!" Johnny cut him off. "Tell her she doesn't have ta bother. Let's go Val, before I make even more of a fool of myself."

Val threaded his arm around Johnny's elbow and slowly guided him toward the front door. "Oh, by the way, I almost fergot," Val said, pulling an envelope out of his pocket. "This came in fer ya this mornin', Murdoch."

Scott took the envelope from Val's hand, noting Johnny's unfocused eyes and shook his head in disgust before setting it on the desk. "You're just going to let him leave?" he

"What do you expect me to do, Scott?" The sound of the front door closing left both men unable to look at each other.

Scott walked over to the liquor cabinet. "I know it's a little early, but under the circumstances…do you want one?"

Murdoch nodded.

"I'll check on him later," Scott said as he handed Murdoch his drink. "Meantime I'm going to have a talk with Teresa.”

"No, I'll do that." Murdoch could not hide his anger. "She has a lot to answer for. There is no excuse for the way she's been avoiding Johnny."

Sighing, Murdoch picked up the envelope and pulled out a telegram. "It's from Victoria. The governor will be here in three weeks."

"Well, we've got to stop him. He can't come now, not when Johnny and Teresa are…"

"And what do we say to him, Scott? Would you mind coming some other time when Johnny is not being Johnny Madrid and Teresa is not being a spoiled child? No…he can't think anything is wrong or Hortence will have won already. We have three weeks to figure this out, or we could lose this family.


Chapter Twelve

Maria set the breakfast plates on the table without a word. Her gaze drifted to the empty seat and she shook her head sadly. Three days and still Jaunito had not returned. She had hoped that El Patron or Senor Scott could convince him he belonged here with his family. But he still remained at Cipriano's.

"Your hijo and your hermano needs your help," she had said to Murdoch and Scott each morning. "He is confuso…he does not know what is best for him."

But the answer was always the same. "Maria, he is a grown man, it is his decision to make." But this morning the Patron had had enough. "And," he added, "I would appreciate it if you would drop the subject. I know you worry about him, but we have done all we can. He has to make this decision on his own."

Maria nodded curtly, turning on her heel, but not before seeing the look of contempt on Scott's face. The pot was boiling, and about to spill over…Madre de Dios …there would be no happy ending here.


Scott set his knife and fork down, with forced gentleness.

Teresa lowered her eyes. She could tell that he was on the very edge of exploding. They had been walking on eggshells since Johnny left. She almost wished the explosion would come. Anything was better than this tension.

"I'm going to stop by and see Johnny before heading out today. Do you have any message for him?" Scott asked Murdoch pointedly.

Murdoch shook his head. "Just make sure he is doing well. Sam is supposed to check him this afternoon. But don't tell him. I don't want him wandering off before Sam gets there."

Scott blanched. "That's it, isn't it," he snapped, "don't tell him anything. If we all had been truthful in the beginning this would never have happened."

"If we had been truthful from the beginning," Murdoch retorted, "Johnny would be in Mexico by now. I am not proud of what I did, and God knows I never intended to hurt him so badly, but I would do it again."

"Three months…" Scott sighed deeply, "and you still don't understand him at all. I'll tell him you were worried about him," he added sarcastically.

"You do that," Murdoch bristled. "And while you're at it, tell him how much his little temper tantrum is destroying this family."

"Temper tantrum?"

"Yes. If he took a minute to think about anyone else but himself he would see that Hortence's attack is affecting all of us. And if he weren't so damn pig-headed in the first place I would not have had to hit him. When is that boy going to understand he has a family now? When will he put Johnny Madrid behind him and trust us?"

"Trust us? What have we done to gain that trust? Lied to him, punched him senseless, avoided him like the plague."

"Stop it!" Teresa cried, pushing her chair away from the table. "Stop it both of you. I can't stand this anymore. I just want everything back the way it was. I want Johnny home. I want Hortence to go away and leave us alone."

"Teresa, sweetheart.” Murdoch began to stand, but Teresa waved him off.

"No! Leave me alone. I just want Johnny!" She whirled away from the table, tears streaming down her face and she was gone, out the French doors toward her rose garden.

Murdoch made a move to go after her but Maria raised her hand.

"Please, Patron, let me talk to her."

"It may be best, Sir," Scott agreed.

Murdoch sat back down heavily in his chair. "All right, but tell her I would like to talk to her later. In fact, I think it is time we all talked." Making his mind up he added, "We are all going to visit Johnny this afternoon whether he likes it or not."

Maria nodded. "I will tell her, Senor."

Murdoch turned back to see a worried look on Scott's face. He hoped he was making the right decision. But things could not continue on as they were. Something had to be done.


Maria heard Teresa crying from somewhere deep in her rose garden. She followed the sound past the wooden bench to a small arbor the young woman ran to when she sought solace in the beauty of her garden.

"Ah, chica," she said, watching Teresa's back shake as she cried. "Por favor, may we talk?"

"There's nothing to talk about," Teresa sobbed.

"I think there is. Senora Hortence has caused a lot of pain for this familia…but she can only win if she can push you apart. You must be strong."

"But it's all my fault. Johnny left because of me."

"How can you say that? You are not responsible for that bruja."

"No, you don't understand."

"Then tell me, Teresa. Tell me why this is all your fault."

Teresa turned around, her face flushed from crying, her eyes red and swollen. "I was scared of him…of Johnny."

"Of Juanito?"

Teresa nodded. "He was a gunfighter."

"Si. But you have known that since before he came home. The Patron explained that to you. We all knew who he was, what he was, but you saw past that person he was and took the real Juanito into your heart. You are his favorite, you know."

"I know…and I betrayed him."

"Betrayed him? How?"

Slowly Teresa drew Hortence's letter from the waistband of her skirt. "I read this," she said, her hand trembling.

"What is it?"

Maria could see the young woman's world collapsing around her. "It is the letter Hortence wrote about Johnny Madrid. Maria…it says awful things."

"And you believe them?"

"I don’t know. I don't know what to believe. I want to think that Johnny couldn't have done any of these terrible things…but what if he did?"

"And if he did?"

Teresa looked at her, horrified. "Maria…if he did…if he killed people for money…woman and children…"

"Enough!" Maria grabbed the letter from Teresa's hand and began to tear it apart, her own eyes filling with tears. "This suciedad, this  filth. It is the words of El Diablo himself. Juanito may have used his gun, but you know he never would hurt a woman or a nino. This letter, it is meant to make you question those you love. You are so young, you do not know the ways of the truly evil ones. They use your doubts and turn them into fear and hate."

"But what if he did any of those things?"

"If he did, do you turn your back on him? Is he not the same man today that he was last week? Has he not always treated you with kindness and respect?

"Chica, a man like Juanito does not give his love and trust easily. He has been hurt by life too often. But he gave them to you. He trusted you, felt something in you…that is why this has hurt him so deeply."

"I'm sorry…."

"Sorry is only a word. You have it to prove to him.

"Teresa, you have no knowledge of life beyond this land. Si, you have seen many bad things, the death of your padre, the fight for this rancho. But you know nothing of the life Juanito led. El Patron has protected you from the ugliness of his childhood. Life is different for a boy alone in Mexico, especially one who is neither Mexican or White. Mestizo…they call them. They are wanted by no one. They roam the streets begging for food…prey to the worst people. He did what he did to survive."

"What can I do, Maria?"

"Talk to him. You must make Juanito understand. You must open your heart to him. Tell him your temores – your fears. You must see him as you did, before you saw this suciedad."

"But how?"

"I heard the Patron say that you and Senor Scott would accompany him to Cipriano’s house tonight to speak with Juanito. You must tell him then what is in your heart."

Maria drew Teresa into her arms. "It will mean much to Juanito to know that you still love him."

Teresa nodded, wiping her tears away.

"Si, that is better. Now, you have a long day to think about what you must say to your hermano. Trust yourself Teresa…you will know the right thing to say."

"Gracias, Maria," Teresa said. "I think I will stay here for awhile and think." She couldn't help but look down at the pieces of letter lying at her feet. "How can someone be so hateful?"

Maria shook her head, unable to answer the question. "I will tell the Patron that you are fine and that you will be in shortly."

"Thank you, Maria. I have a lot of thinking to do."


Johnny drank the last of his coffee and threw the tin cup into the sink. Cipriano had opened his house to him, and he had been nothing but foul tempered and closed mouthed.

He was angry with himself for letting himself fall into the trap, not at the old Segundo who had taken him under his wing from the day he had first rolled up his sleeves and gone to work. He should have listened to his instincts from the beginning. Left Lancer as soon as he was on his feet. Collected his money and been on his way. But instead he thought he could make it here. Could live a normal life… but that was not to be. His life had been mapped out from the moment his mother fled under the cover of night with a gambler who left her high and dry a month later.

Pushing himself to his feet, he steadied himself before heading for the front door. He needed some fresh air. He needed to get his head straight so he could move on. The dizziness was still too unpredictable. He felt fine one minute then without warning his world turned upside down and he was flat on his butt if he couldn't grab onto something in time. Sam said it would take time. Maybe months before he was completely free of the debilitating vertigo.

But he didn't have months. He would start fixing up Darber's shack tomorrow and move out by the weekend. He promised himself that he would stay until Hortence lost interest in her war against Murdoch, then he would move on, find a place to hole up until he was sure he was in control again then head for Texas. He could find work there. He had already decided he would find ranch work. He would not go back to gunfighting…not after having a taste of life without it.

He stopped at the sound of horses approaching and realized he had become careless the last couple of days and left his holster in the small room off the kitchen. He retrieved it quickly and strapped it on. "Those kind of mistakes can get you killed Johnny," he chastised himself.

Leaning against the wall he peeked out the curtain. Damn, he didn't need this. Teresa was flanked on either side by Murdoch and Scott, all three looking hesitantly toward the front door.

Slowly he opened it, sliding his shoulder along the doorframe until he was leaning against the doorjamb.

"Hello, Son," Murdoch called. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Johnny replied flatly. He wanted to tell them to turn around and go home, but somehow he knew that that was not going to happen. "I don't have much more than hot coffee to give ya, but come in if you want."

He watched Murdoch and Scott dismount and then helped Teresa down with a large satchel.

"Maria thought of that one, Brother," Scott grinned. "I hope you haven't eaten, because she cooked us up a feast."

Teresa walked past him into the cabin, nervously, and went right to work setting the table for dinner.

"What time do you expect Cipriano back?" she asked.

"Not tonight. He's decided to stay at the line shack while he works on the bridge."

"You're here alone?" Murdoch snapped.

"I can take care of myself, old man," Johnny snapped back.

"He knows you can," Scott rushed in before tempers flared. "He's just concerned. We all are."

"There's nothing to worry about. I'm doing fine."

That got a raised eyebrow from Murdoch, but nothing more.

Teresa arranged the food on the table, fried chicken, corn on the cob, biscuits.

"Dig in, Brother," Scott said, helping himself to the food, "I bet Cipriano can't cook like this."

"Lots of tamales." Johnny couldn't help but grin at Scott's look of disgust.

"I've had Cipriano's tamales. Nearly burned the inside of my stomach."

"I hate to tell you, Boston, but he made `em mild for you." The easy banter felt good and Johnny lost himself for a moment in it. If only things could be as they were. Then he looked over at Teresa, her head bowed, her food untouched. "But now you don't have to worry no more," he said, the humor forced now. "Maria can cook all them easy foods you like."

"She misses you, we all do," Scott said.

"Yea?" Johnny looked at Teresa. "Well, get used to it cause I'm not coming back."

"Son." Murdoch set his fork down, searching for the right words. His rehearsed speech seemed so inane now. "I'm sorry that I hit you. I was only trying to keep you with us."

"I know that, Murdoch. I wouldn't recommend trying it again. But I know why you did it."

"Then why won't you come back?"

Silence hung in the small cabin, touching each one of them.

"Because I don't belong there…never did."

"That's not true!" Murdoch railed. "You are Johnny Lancer, my son. You belong there as much as any one of us."

"Johnny Lancer, maybe." And Johnny looked pointedly at Teresa. "But not Johnny Madrid."

"They are one and the same, aren't they?" Scott asked. "Two parts of the same person?"

"Some people don't see it that way. Some people can only see Johnny Madrid."

"Stop it!" Teresa cried out. "Stop it all of you. I know you're talking about me. And I'm sorry but…"

"But what?" Scott asked. "What changed? Johnny is the same person he was last week."

"I can't do this." Teresa started to stand up but Murdoch's booming voice stopped her.

"Sit down, young lady. Now, I want to know what's going on, and I want to know now."

"Murdoch, please, "Johnny said softly.  "Leave her alone. It's not her fault. I knew I was doing wrong when I decided to stay."

"And you shut up too!" Scott shouted. "The two of you have escalated this way out of proportion."

Johnny's hand automatically slipped under the table, but Scott was not to be denied. "You are both acting like children. Maria is practically in tears all the time. The men know something is up and it's spread all over the ranch. Everyone is on pins and needles.  It's time to put a stop to it."

"And," Murdoch said softly, his huge hand moving to cover Teresa's small one, "I think you hold the answer to all of it. What happened, Sweetheart?"

Teresa dropped her head…"The letter," she whispered.

Murdoch paled. "The letter?"

"What letter?" Johnny demanded.

Teresa's voice dipped lower, her eyes glued to a gouge in the table. She didn't want to have this conversation in front of everyone. It was supposed to be just between her and Johnny. But now that she saw how much her betrayal hurt him she couldn't look him in the eyes. "The one Hortence wrote…I read it."

"Teresa," Scott felt like he had been punched in the gut. "How did you…"

"Bethany brought it. Said I wasn't safe living with Johnny Madrid…."

"What letter?" Johnny asked again, this time his voice was low and menacing. Johnny Madrid was knocking at the door.

Murdoch turned to Johnny. "Hortence compiled a list of all your…all the people Johnny Madrid supposedly killed." He looked back at Teresa. "Half truths and out and out lies."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Johnny Madrid asked. That quickly…and they had lost Johnny Lancer. Murdoch now knew he had been wrong in forcing the issue. But he wanted Johnny home.

"Because I wanted to protect you. I was never able to in the past. I didn't want you hurt again…and here you are. I'm sorry son."

Johnny looked closely at Murdoch and asked coldly. "How do you know they're lies?"

"Because I know you," Murdoch said firmly.

"For three months? That's not enough time."

"Time enough to know you wouldn't kill women and children or back shoot anyone."

"Is that what that letter said?" Johnny slowly turned to look at Teresa. "And you believed that?" he asked, his Madrid mask slipping for just a moment.

Teresa cringed away from the hurt she heard in Johnny's voice.

"I asked you a question!" Johnny shouted. "Did you believe I could kill women and children?"

"No! Not them, but the others. All those names, all for money."

Johnny stood up too fast: the cabin spun and he fell back against the wall.

"Johnny!" Scott leapt to his feet, trying to reach Johnny before he fell.

"No!" Johnny righted himself, using the wall for support. "Just leave, all of you."

"Johnny." Murdoch tried to move closer but Johnny shook his head. "Just go…please."

"Johnny, don't do this," Scott pleaded. "We can talk this over. Teresa is confused. It was a shock to her."

"I need time to think."

"You won't leave will you?" Murdoch asked.

"I said I'd stay until this is cleared up. I won't break my promise. You can find me over at Darber's cabin tomorrow. I've taken advantage of Cip's hospitality long enough."

"You'll need help cleaning the place up," Scott said.

"I can handle it by myself."

"I'm sure you can, but you won't. I'll be over with a crew tomorrow. We'll have that place fixed up before you sit down to dinner."

"Johnny, please, won't you reconsider?" Murdoch asked. "Your place is at home."

Johnny closed his eyes, willing himself to have the strength. "Please, just leave."

Murdoch took Teresa by the arm, trying to hide his distain for her right at that moment.

"We'll be here at sunup."

Johnny nodded carefully, still not steady on his feet. "And Scott, my clothes. This shirt'll be standing on its own soon."

"If you're sure about this."

Johnny looked at Teresa, the one person in the world who could hurt him the most. He was a fool to have opened his heart to her…to anyone. It was much safer being Johnny Madrid. "I'm sure."

Teresa didn't say a word, her world was as upside down as Johnny's. Her only wish was that the floor would open up and she would disappear forever.

The door closed with a click and Johnny sat back down at the table, listening to the life he thought he could have disappear. Only a fool dreamed of having something they knew was impossible…


 Chapter Thirteen

Hortence Shaffer made her way down the path leading to Green River's Protestant Church. She often thought that it was fitting that the Spanish Mission was in Morro Coyo, a smaller town with a larger Mexican population. Not that she minded the Mexicans…most of them anyway…it was just that it was easier not to have to live with them. And although the one room church was small compared to the Spanish Mission, the parishioners were of a higher caliber.

As she neared the church she admired how the new coat of paint had freshened the outside walls. And Hortence herself had taken charge of fixing up the inside for the new Reverend…Lester Montague. The old Reverend had passed in his sleep and they had been without a spiritual leader for weeks.

She just hoped the new preacher would feel comfortable in the small church with its plain straight benches and low organ.

Ironing her modest black dress with her hands and making sure her hair was captured in the pins she had so painstakingly put in place this morning, she knocked lightly on the door of the small house in back of the church. She had made sure the small cottage was ready for Reverend Montague as well. One of these days the town would realize all she did for them.

She heard footsteps inside and smiled to herself. She had given the Reverend three days to settle in before dropping in on him to welcome him personally to his new home. It was time that he learned a little about his parishioners…the good and the bad.


Johnny spent the day feeling trapped like a animal. He wanted to get on with things. Fix up Darber's place, but more than anything, he wanted something to do to block yesterday's conversation with Teresa from his mind. It still stunned him that she thought he could be the cold blooded killer that she read about. To think that she thought him capable of killing women and children angered and frightened him. It was one of the darkest moments of his life…and he had known some dark moments.

He should have known he was laying himself wide open for the kill, trusting like he did. All those years he had spent walking away before it got personal, keeping safe. His mama was right after all, you could only trust yourself in this world.

Johnny Madrid knew the truth. Johnny Lancer was learning it.

It was getting on toward late afternoon and he thought Murdoch and Scott understood he wanted to be out of here today. He had expected them this morning, but he hadn't seen a soul. If he was steadier on his feet he would walk, but it was ten miles, and some of it over rough country.

Strapping his gunbelt on, he headed outside. It was still hot, would be until the sun set. He was getting soft. The heat never bothered him when he was riding the trail through Mexico or the deserts down by the border. Now that was hot, sun baking the life out of man and beast, but he never complained. Not then…yep…he was getting soft, another reason to leave Lancer. Soft and careless, that's what he was lately. That could get a man killed.

He walked over to the small barn where Cipriano kept his gear, maybe there was some tact that needed mending. Anything to do. He was lonely.

Lonely…that was something he never was before. Sure he was alone and wouldn't have minded someone to talk to besides his horse, but never lonely like this. He missed his family.

The thought shocked him. He missed his family. His family. Damn, how did he let this happen?

Three months and his life was turned upside down. But he had to admit it was a good three months for the most part, and that was what hurt. Murdoch was right, it was working. Was…but not anymore.

"What's done is done," he said, not even a damn horse around to hear his words.

Stepping into the darkness of the barn he had to wait for a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. What he found surprised him. A workbench was piled high with worn tack. Intrigued, he sifted through the broken and frayed equipment then noticed a neater pile at the end. Retooled headstalls, reins, cinches and flanks looked like new. Halters and leads, even stirrups were carefully arranged on the bench.

So this is what Cip did with his time when the day was done, and the work was finished. He had made a life for himself here. In his own way a part of the family. He had found a way to belong and yet stay apart. Maybe that was what he needed to do. Darber's cabin was a start. Maybe he didn't have to move on. Maybe he could stay on the fringes of his family. Be a part of them but not taint them with his past. Could it work? Could he be so close to the life he shared with them and not falter in a weak moment?  He had to be sure first. He had to know that he was strong enough to push them back when they crowded him. And they would -all of them. Except Teresa.

The sound of a wagon pulling up outside made him turn too quickly and he lost his balance, grabbing wildly for the bench, his fingertips tangling in the tack. He landed hard on his side, the tack raining down on him.

The commotion was enough to bring Murdoch and Scott running into the barn.

"Johnny!" Murdoch was on his knees, disentangling him from the riot of gear. "Are you all right, Son?"

"Yeah," Johnny grumbled. "I'm fine, Murdoch...just my ego is bruised."

Scott took Johnny's right arm while Murdoch took his left and they hefted him to his feet.

"I know I'm from Boston," Scott chided, "but even I know that's meant for a horse."

"Very funny," Johnny muttered.

"Are you hurt?" Murdoch insisted.

"No. I told you I'm all right. How come it took you so long to get here? I told you I wanted to get over to Darber's place so I could start fixin' it up."

"We know what you said, but we had things to do. This is a working ranch." Murdoch regretted the words the minute they left his mouth and he saw the pent up anger in Johnny's eyes. "Johnny, I'm sorry. I know you want to work, but Sam wants you to take it easy for a little longer. It won't be long. In the meantime, we have the wagon outside and we'll get you to your new home as soon as you climb on board."

Johnny looked at Murdoch and Scott. Were they really going to make it this easy for him?

"I just need to get a couple things from the cabin then I'll be ready." As he walked out of the barn he was stunned to see Barranca tied to the back of the wagon.

"He was getting lonely.  Scott grinned.

"But you have to promise not to ride him until Sam gives you the ok," Murdoch warned.

Johnny nodded, smiling at the antics of the palomino as he recognized him. Then he turned back, the smile gone.

"I don't understand."

"What?" Scott asked.

"Why you're doing this."

"Johnny, we don't want you to do this," Murdoch said. "We want you home. But you have the right to make your own decision. If this is what it takes to keep you here at Lancer, then I'm willing to do it. The only thing that I ask is that you follow Sam's orders and that you come see us before you leave, if that is what you decide in the end. We are a family, Johnny. No matter how far you go, you will always be Johnny Lancer."

Johnny felt overwhelmed. He had been ready for a fight, he wanted to fight, it would be so much easier to walk away if there were angry words between them, but he didn't know how to fight this.

He felt Murdoch's hand on his shoulder. "Let's go, Son, before it gets dark."

Madre de Dios…could he ever live without these people again?


The ride to Darber's…no…his cabin…took less time than he thought. Murdoch pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the cabin and Johnny climbed down carefully, still painfully aware of his dizzy spells. It wouldn't do to let his father and brother see him like that.

As he walked closer he noticed a rocking chair on the small porch and curtains hanging in the windows.

Smoke billowed softly from the stove pipe. He remembered the last time he was here the pot bellied stove was a nesting place for all kinds of critters.

Johnny grabbed the doorknob and stopped. Once he stepped through this door, would he ever return to the hacienda? He felt a longing for things as they were, but pushed it aside for things that were to be.

Before he had a chance to open the door it flung open and Maria stood there, her wide smile not hiding her sadness.

"Juanito," she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him inside. "Bienvenido a usted hogar temporario." (Welcome to your temporary home.) "Temporario." She wagged her finger before his nose.

Surprise would be a wholly inadequate word for what Johnny Madrid Lancer felt at the moment. The old falling down shack he had seen just weeks ago had been transformed in one day to a comfortable cabin. It was sparse in its decorations, just the way he liked it.

Johnny was not exactly sure who grabbed his elbow and guided him into his new home. His eyes couldn't drink in what he saw fast enough. A small couch with a coffee table sat in one corner of the freshly painted room, a small bookcase hung from the wall nearby.  Scott's touch he was sure. A large Indian rug nearly covered the entire freshly scrubbed floor. The pot bellied stove he remembered was replaced by a small cook stove, with a counter and sink next to it. Maria already had every burner in use. The aromas of hot Mexican food made Johnny's mouth water. In the other corner a single bed sat with a real mattress and fresh linen. A comforter lay folded at the foot of the bed in case the nights got chilly.

Johnny couldn't say a word; the lump in his throat was so large it nearly choked him.

Murdoch seemed to be having a little trouble with his own throat. "Just a few things I had stored in the attic. might as well put them to use."

"Gracias," Johnny said softly.

Murdoch nodded. "Maria is right, we hope this is only temporary. But if you decide this is what you really want, then we will expand on this or build on a site wherever you want on Lancer. But Johnny, remember, your true place is with us in the hacienda."

Johnny looked around, still stunned. "How?"

"You have a lot of friends, Johnny. We had to turn hands away who wanted to help."

"Hola in the casa," came Cipriano's distinctive voice.

Johnny opened the door to find Cipriano standing on the porch with a bottle of tequila and a handful of limes. "We celebrate, no?"

"Si," Johnny grinned. "But what are we celebrating, my new house or you losing a houseguest?"

Cipriano thought for a moment and shrugged. "Both, I think."

"Come pronto," Maria called. "Dinner is ready. Cipriano, bring the rocking chair in. We must all eat together."

Johnny took his seat, painfully aware that one person was missing.


The dinner was hot and spicy and more than once Johnny held back a snicker when Scott had to down a glass of water to ease his burning mouth. But all too soon the dinner dishes were washed and set into the small cabinet above the sink and the guests were ready to leave.

They were leaving later than they should, it was a long, and often hard road back to the hacienda, but no one wanted to say good…especially not Johnny.

Johnny walked them out to the buckboard. He was still reeling from the generosity of his family. They had thought of everything from dishes to soap to towels. Even an old tub sat in back, and the thought of soaking in it tomorrow appealed to him mightily.

"I'm not sure how to thank you for all this,"  he began.

"No need for thanks, Johnny." Murdoch took Johnny`s offered hand and pulled him into an unexpected hug. "You take care, Boy, you hear? The door is always open to you. No matter what time of the day or night."

"I know," Johnny said. "But this is best for now."

Scott slapped him on the back. "Take care, Brother. I'll be by with extra hay and oats for Barranca."

Maria charged between both brother and father and wrapped her arms around Johnny. "You take care, Juanito, you hear me?"

"Si, Mamacita, I hear" Johnny grinned. "And I promise."

There were tears in her eyes as she let Murdoch help her into the wagon.

Johnny watched the wagon pull away and wished he were on it with them. But, like he told Murdoch, this was for the best.

Cipriano walked out of the cabin, ready to leave.

"You are a lucky man, Juanito, to have so many who worry so about you."

Johnny turned to look back through the door into his cabin. "I know."

"Niño, you will make the right decision. Your familia has given you the gift of time. They trust you…trust yourself."

"They may be betting on a losing hand."

"I do not believe that, and neither do you. I will stop by tomorrow and we will talk again. Si?"

Johnny smiled. "Si." He brushed past his good friend as he headed or the rocker and sat down. "Tomorrow" he called back as Cipriano mounted his horse and turned to ride away, leaving Johnny alone at his new home.


Johnny lost track of time just sitting and rocking. He could remember a time when this would be more than he dared wish for.

Now it wasn't enough…but it had to be. He could not go back to the hacienda with Teresa there. There would always be that doubt between them.

Johnny remembered the first time he had seen her, in that silly little hat, walking up to the stagecoach looking for Murdoch Lancer's long lost son. Who could have known that there would be two of them to answer her call?

She had been feisty from the start. Headstrong to a fault. Undaunted when it came to caring for him after Pardee's bullet nearly took his life. He had tried to push her away at first, both grateful and angry that she sat at his bedside so often while he slept. He warned her that he was trouble, that he had done things that she could never understand. But that didn't seem to matter to her. She only saw him as he was, injured and needy. Then their friendship grew -a special friendship. She only knew him as Johnny Lancer. For her, Johnny Madrid didn't exist.

What happened to that woman? It seemed that overnight she had taken a backwards step into childhood.

He knew, in age, she was just a child…not even eighteen. But she had grown up fast in the past year. They had talked about it, had supported each other. He thought nothing would come between them. Then that damn letter.

Johnny knew he had to have a look at that letter. He wouldn't get it from Murdoch or Scott. But he knew where he would get it. Not for a day or two though…he had given his promise not to ride Barranca until Sam cleared him…but when he did…


Chapter Fourteen

Reverend Montague sat back and listened to the monotonous tones of Hortence Shaffer as she droned on about every citizen of Green River. Most often he would not tolerate gossip, and found it repugnant. But this time he had a reason to wade waist deep in her sanctimonious dribble. From the moment he had set foot in Green River he had felt uneasiness, a tangible unrest that seemed to escape no one. Man, woman and child all seemed touched by it. He had thought at first it was just his imagination, his own apprehension at once again meeting a new congregation, but it went far beyond his own feelings. There was trouble brewing in this town. He only hoped he could somehow help them resolve it before it was too late.

"More coffee?" Reverend Montague asked, seeing Hortence's pleased look.

"Thank you, Reverend,. You don't know what a comfort it is to meet a man of your standing. Our last Reverend, God rest his soul, was getting on in years and I'm afraid he let his flock stray a bit."

"I hope to be of service to the community, Miss Shaffer."

Reverend Montague watched the old woman, saw her eyes flicker as she saw the opening she was waiting for.

"There is one problem that you may be able to help us with, heaven knows the good sheriff has done nothing."

"It sounds serious."

"It is quite serious. I'm not sure how to begin."

Montague sat back, making sure he retained a pleasant smile. "Sometimes it is best to start at the beginning."

"Yes, yes it is." Hortence sat her coffee cup down and composed her thoughts. "When my husband and I moved here to Green River thirty two years ago, it was little more than a rest stop for weary travelers on their way to Sacramento or San Francisco. My husband Bernard insisted that someday it would grow into a thriving community. Sadly he never had the chance to see that happen. He was killed in an unfortunate accident soon after we arrived, leaving me alone to fend for myself. Not an easy task for a woman, then or now."

"I'm sure it is difficult," Reverend Montague agreed.

"Sadly, I lost Bernard before we could start a family."

"And you had no other relatives?"

Hortence shook her head. "I was, and still am, completely on my own."

"I can see why the church would be of great comfort to you."

"It is."

"And this serious problem, does it have anything to do with the church?"

"Yes. In a way." She cleared her throat, filled with self righteousness, as she forged ahead. "It concerns one of your parishioners, Murdoch Lancer. He and his two sons own the largest cattle ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. He is a highly respected man in the community, President of The Cattle Growers Association, sits in on many of the council meetings both here and in Moro Coyo. But I'm afraid he can be stubborn to a fault."

"I have found, Miss Shaffer, that many successful men are often stubborn. That is why they are successful."

Hortence nodded, sitting forward, hands clasped on the table. "Yes. But in Murdoch's case, he is jeopardizing the welfare of a young woman and subjecting the town to untold dangers."

"Those are serious allegations, Miss Shaffer," Reverend Montague cautioned. 

"And this is a serious situation, Reverend. I believe Teresa O'Brien is in grave danger living in the same house with Johnny Madrid."

"Teresa O'Brien is…?"

"Murdoch Lancer's ward. Her father was Murdoch's foreman. Paul and Murdoch raised Teresa alone after her mother died when she was just a baby. I tried to tell them then that Teresa needed the guidance of a woman. But they would not listen. That poor child, it's a miracle she has turned out as well as she has. If not for the church and the occasional suggestion from me and the other ladies of the town, who knows what might have happened to her. Then last November Paul was killed when High Riders tried to take over the valley. I tried again to convince Murdoch that he was not suited to raise a sixteen year old girl alone. The impropriety of a man raising a young girl who is not his own…well, you understand, Reverend.  And on top of that, he was badly injured with a bullet in his back. He only had a Mexican housekeeper who moved in to help care for him. She can barely speak English to this day. I tried to explain to him that Teresa needed a woman's guidance. But he is stubborn as I told you."

"It appears you are stubborn as well, Miss Shaffer," the Reverend remarked.

"When I know something is wrong, yes. It is my duty to help those less fortunate than myself. Surely you believe that, Reverend Montague?"

"Yes, of course I do. That is my calling, after all."

Hortence nodded, assured that she had found an ally in her fight against Murdoch Lancer.

"And who is Johnny Madrid?" Reverend Montague asked.

"Murdoch Lancer's second son."

Hortence shifted in her chair, trying valiantly to suppress the smile that twitched at the corners of her mouth. With the Reverend behind her, Murdoch didn't stand a chance.

"As you said, Reverend, sometimes it is best to start at the beginning. Murdoch's first wife, Catherine, died in childbirth. Their son, Scott, was sent to live in Boston with his grandfather. Murdoch was inconsolable at first. I tried my best to help him when I could, but he was a stubborn man, even back then. Luckily he had enough sense to realize that Scott's grandfather could give the boy all he needed in Boston. He is a fine young man now, educated and well mannered. We thought Murdoch was coming to terms with his loss, but two years later he returned from a trip to Mexico, with a new wife, Maria. We were all concerned that he had made a rash decision. Maria was a beautiful young woman but…"

"She was Mexican," Reverend Montague offered.

"Yes. Not that I hold anything against Mexicans, but it is never good to cross breed."

"That is a harsh way to put it, Miss Shaffer."

"Perhaps, but the truth is often harsh, don't you agree?"

The Reverend quickly moved on without giving his opinion. "I assume, then, that his second son, Johnny, came from that union."

"Yes. Poor child. He was dark like his mother but had Murdoch's blue eyes. He was neither white nor Mexican. I'm sure that is why Maria disappeared with the boy two years later. Murdoch looked for months along the border, nearly lost his ranch. But in the end he understood he had made a mistake and turned his energies into building Lancer."

"But you say that Mr. Lancer now lives with his two sons?"

"When Murdoch realized he was going to lose his ranch to the High Riders he contacted his two sons. I'm not exactly sure why they came back, I am told there was money involved. I'm afraid I don't know all the details."

"That's surprising." The Reverend said with a sarcastic edge. But it was lost on Hortence. She was moving in for the kill and could see nothing else.

"Everyone was happy to hear that Murdoch's sons were returning. I was thrilled to learn that Scott was going to meet his father for the first time after all these years. And we were surprised, quite frankly, to learn that Johnny was still alive. After not hearing from him all these years, we had assumed the worst.  The poor boy, it turned out that his mother died when he was just a boy and he lived alone on the streets of Mexico. Rumor says that she took to prostituting herself to pay for their food. But I never listen to rumor. Sadly, the years were not good to him, and he lost his way. We learned soon after he arrived in Green River that Johnny no longer went by the name of Lancer…he was now Johnny Madrid."

"Miss Schaffer, I'm afraid the name Johnny Madrid means nothing to me, though it appears to hold great significance to you."

Hortence pulled a copy of her letter from her skirt pocket and slid it across the table. "This will explain everything."

Hortence waited patiently while Reverend Montague read the letter carefully, his face going pale as he read atrocity after atrocity.

Finally the Reverend put the letter down on the table, his hands shaking. "You know all these to be true?" he asked.


"Everyone one of them?"

Hortence scowled at him. "Does it matter? Even if only half are true, Teresa is not safe with Johnny Madrid around. None of us are. He could kill us all in our sleep."

Reverend Montague slid the letter back across the table to Hortence. "There must be a reason why Murdoch Lancer welcomed him into his home and let him stay."

"Murdoch can only see the boy he lost all those years ago. He thinks the boy has changed and wants to be a rancher like himself. Well, he is only fooling himself. Johnny Madrid is who he is…a gunfighter, a killer for hire…a half-breed who killed his first man at fourteen and never stopped. No one is safe here…no one. And especially not Teresa. I will not stop until that child is safely out of that house."

The Reverend stood up and walked to a desk sitting next too the door leading to the bedroom.

"Tell me, Miss Shaffer, is it that Johnny is a gunslinger or is it that he is a half-breed that bothers you more?"

"How dare you ask a question like that, Reverend, I am not a bigot."

The Reverend smiled. "I'm glad to hear that, Miss Shafer." He picked through several framed pictures not yet set up on the desk and carried one back to the table. "I'm afraid I neglected to tell you that I have a wife and son. They will be arriving in a fortnight."

"Reverend, I wish you had. This house is not big enough for a family that large."

"We know. We plan to find a larger house once she and the boy arrive."

"I'm sure they will find Green River a wonderful place to live."

"Yes, and now, I'm sorry to be so abrupt, but I have a lot of things to prepare for my first sermon on Sunday."

"Of course, Reverend, I understand. And I hope you can help us with our dilemma."

"I will try my best, Miss Shaffer. Tell me, do Murdoch Lancer and his family come to church each Sunday?"

"Murdoch, Scott and Teresa come every week. Johnny…well I'm sure not even the Catholic Mission in Morro Coyo would welcome a gunfighter into the sanctity of their church."

"I believe God welcomes all his children, even the sinners. I will see you on Sunday, Miss Shaffer."

"Yes, of course, Reverend." She held out her hand and shook his hand warmly. "I know we are going to get along just fine. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask."

"Thank you, Miss Shaffer…I will. Good day."

As the reverend closed the door he had to take a deep breath to control his anger. He tried not to judge people on first meetings, all too often they were not what they seemed. But Hortence Shaffer was as transparent as glass. She was a bigot, and a self-righteous crusader…an abysmal combination.

But she did leave him with a lot to think about. He had no doubt that she was the instigator of all the unrest in town. Something he was going to look into. He was determined to keep an open mind until he met this Johnny Lancer…or Madrid. His story was intriguing to say the least. And profoundly sad.  Perhaps he could help in some way.

He crossed to his desk, still piled high with unopened boxes and picked up a framed picture. "My dearest Margarita, we have our work cut out for us." He smiled at the picture. What would Hortence think when she met his wife Margarita Ines Francisca Sancha Montague, and their two son Raul?


Sam put his stethoscope away in his black bag and closed it with a solid snap. "Everything checks out," he said. "But I have to admit I am a bit surprised you followed my orders."

Johnny re-buttoned his shirt and stuck the shirttails back in his pants and shrugged. "There's always a first time."

Sam nodded. "I am clearing you for light work. No heavy lifting and not too much time in the hot sun."

"Can I ride?" Johnny asked. Sam didn't miss the anxious look in the young man's eyes, as much as he tried to hide it. Riding was like breathing to Johnny. Take it away and he would suffocate.

"Short distances…and at a slow pace. Johnny, you will still be prone to dizzy spells I'm afraid, for some time to come. From what I have read, we don't know a lot about the workings of the inner ear…just that it sometimes takes a long time to get back to normal after an injury like yours. I don't want you galloping on that horse of yours and having a dizzy spell. So for now…no more than a couple of miles from here and no faster than a canter."

"Come on, Sam, Murdoch's house is further than that."

Sam cringed at the reference to Murdoch's house. "It's your house too, Johnny."

Johnny shook his head. "Not now, not anymore. This is home."

"Even when everything settles down?"

"Sometimes you cross a bridge that you can't get back across. No matter how much you want to go back. This is that bridge, Sam."  Johnny stood up and strapped his gunbelt around his hips. "I think I'll take that ride now. I know you're going to report to Murdoch, so do you mind telling him that I'll be over in the mornin' for my orders?"

Sam stood up and collected his bag. "I will. And you promise to continue following orders."

"All right, Sam."

"And that means no further than the hacienda and at a canter."

Johnny couldn't help but grin at Sam. "I promise I won't ride too fast."

"Fine. I'll check on you again next week, just to see how you're doing. And Johnny, remember, your place is with your father and brother."

Johnny watched Sam drive his buggy away from the cabin then went to saddle Barranca. It was the first step in getting his life back together.


Johnny let Barranca have his head and the feel of the wind whipping through his hair made him feel like he was reborn. Everything that had happened seemed to fade into the background as he felt the powerful animal beneath him. He leaned low over the Palomino's golden neck and felt the horse pick up more speed.

He rode until he felt Barranca slow down, knowing the horse was tiring too. He knew very well he was going against Sam's orders but some orders were just too hard to follow…besides he had only promised Sam that he wouldn't ride too fast. And by his way of thinking, he was not riding too fast.

He finally pulled the horse to a slow walk, letting the air dry the sweat off both him and Barranca, and found himself just outside of town. The idea that he had played with the last couple of days seemed too good to pass up.

Steering Barranca off the main road he slowly made his way around the outskirts of Green River coming in from behind. He knew exactly which house he was looking for and where it was. Tying his horse to a tree behind a small white house at the far end of town, he jumped the white picket fence and pressed himself against the back wall peering in through the Dutch doors leading into the kitchen. The top half was open to let air circulate throughout the house. Johnny listened for voices and heard none. He sat on the bottom half of the door and swung his legs inside, thankful that he had remembered to remove his spurs as his boots touched the floor noiselessly.

The house was cluttered with highly polished furniture, leaving only small pathways to navigate through each room. He searched the kitchen first, noticing it lacked the fragrant spices that made Lancer's kitchen so comforting. Then the living room, the bright sunlight outside kept him hidden from prying eyes on the street.

When he stepped into the parlor he froze…Hortence Shaffer sat at her desk, hunched over a piece of paper writing furiously.

His first instinct was to turn and leave as quietly as he came in…then curiosity got the best of him and he called softly. "What're ya writing there, ma'am?"

Hortence stiffened as if a bolt of lightening had just struck her. She turned slowly, a look of abject fear contorting her face. "What…what are you doing here?" she asked, her voice catching in her throat.

"Came to get one of those letters you've been handing out like candy. Thought I should know what you're saying about me." Johnny smiled but there was no humor in his eyes.

"You can't come in here like this," Hortence warned, desperately looking over her desk for some kind of weapon. "If you kill me they'll know it was you and you will hang."

Johnny shrugged. "From what I can see, if anyone of them nice people out there saw me right now I'd be swinging from the closest tree anyway. Your doing I suspect."

"I'm just trying to protect Teresa." Hortence seemed to regain some of her composure.

"Yeah?" Johnny took two steps closer, letting his right hand caress the handle of his gun. "I didn't know she needed protectin'. Seems to me that she has all the protectin' she needs right here." Johnny lifted his gun just a little and let it settle back into the holster.

Hortence turned white as a ghost.

"Ah…I asked ya polite a minute ago…what are you writin'?"

Hortence tried to crumple the paper into her hand but Johnny easily snatched it from her fingers. Ironing out the crinkles with his hands he read the letter aloud. "Dear Reverend Montague. After our luncheon this afternoon I thought it would be helpful to know more about Johnny Madrid…"

Johnny let the letter fall to the ground. "I thought you'd said just about everything there was ta say about Johnny Madrid," Johnny said coldly.

"Get out," she cried. "Before I start screaming. All of Green River will be here."

Johnny nodded toward the desk. "Give me one of those letters and I'll be happy to oblige."

With a shaking hand, Hortence handed him a crisply folded letter. "Now get out of here!"

Johnny smiled and tucked the letter in his belt. "Been nice talkin' with you, Miss Shafer. Just remember, if you don't stop bothering Teresa, we'll be meeting again."

As quietly as he came, Johnny slipped out of the house and mounted Barranca, not one person in Green River aware that he had been anywhere near their town.

Hortence sat stunned, unable to move from her desk. She knew she had just escaped death or something far worse. She knew for certain now that God was on her side, saving her for the fight. One she would win at all costs.


Johnny rode Barranca at a fast trot until they were more then ten miles outside town. He was sure no one had seen him other than Hortence Shaffer, and he had to admit he was feeling a little more than tired after his first ride in a week. He felt the letter tucked inside his belt, the very presence of it making him feel sick to his stomach. He dreaded reading it…dreaded knowing what Teresa and others thought of him, but he had to know.

Just as he thought about Sam and how mad the old doctor would be at him for traveling so far he was suddenly slammed with a bout of dizziness so vicious that it knocked him out of the saddle and he slammed into the ground, seeing stars before blackness flooded his world


Chapter Fifteen

”Now calm yerself down,” Val ordered, his patience well tested over the past half hour. He kept on looking at the door hoping someone would come in to report a fight at the saloon, even a gunfight in the middle of the street would be better than this. “Yer gonna make       yerself            sick.”

Hortence Shaffer dragged in yet another deep breath and sobbed it out. “He almost killed me, Sheriff. Johnny Madrid almost killed me right in my own home. That heathen drew a gun on     me.”

Molly Rogers, as wide as she was tall, had burst into his office practically carrying Hortence with her. Her face livid with anger, she told Val how she found Hortence standing on her porch shaking like a tree in a hurricane.

Now the two of them were prattling at him. He didn’t get paid enough for this job sometimes.

”I think you must a put a little something in that tea of yours this afternoon, Hortence. There ain’t no way Johnny Lancer would step foot in this town, let alone yer parlor, or whatever ya call it.”

”He did.” Hortence dabbed at her eyes and cleared her nose into a hanky, most unladylike, Val thought, then squared her shoulders. The old Hortence emerged. only a whole lot angrier. “I want to file charges. Trespassing and attempted murder to start with. I told you he was a dangerous man to have around.”

”You got proof? I mean do ya have anyone else who saw Johnny in town?”

”I don’t know. That’s your job to find out, Sheriff. But I don’t know if you will find anyone. The man is an outlaw…he knows how to slip in and out of town unnoticed.”

”Then I can’t go arresting him on just your say so…not without evidence or another witness. I think ya just got yerself all caught up in all this business and was kinda daydreamin’ It happens ya know. I remember once when I …”

”I was not daydreaming nor hallucinating, Sheriff! Johnny Madrid stood in my parlor, as close as I am to you, and pulled his gun on me. If I hadn’t warned him that a gunshot would bring the whole town down on him, I’m sure he would have shot me. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t stop trying to help that poor girl.”

”Well, I’ve known Johnny Lancer a long time, and he can do some pretty dumb things…but sneaking into town and pullin’ a gun on you,  well it just don’t sound logical. But I’ll tell ya one thing, Miss Hortence, if Johnny was the cold blooded killer you want everyone to believe, I don’t think you’d be standing here. Now Molly, you take Hortence here home, and Hortence, I’d back off if I were you. I don’t know any man who could stand much more of what you been dishin’ out.”

”Sheriff, I haven’t even begun. His visit only emphasized how dangerous a man he really is. If you won’t do something about it, then I will have to go over your head and contact the Marshal. I’m…”

Val stood up slowly from his desk. “Lady, I’m done listening to you. Get out of my office and keep your nose out of other people’s business…or you’ll find it an inch shorter one of these days!”

”Well, I never…come, Molly.” Hortence grabbed Molly’s arm and pulled her toward the door. “We’ll see just how long you keep this job, Sheriff Crawford, after I talk to the town council. Good day, Sir.”

Val could only shake his head as the door slammed closed and peace once again came out of hiding.


Johnny slowly eased himself into the hot steaming tub. He ached in places he didn’t know he had places. When would he learn to listen to Sam? But then again, the look on Hortence’s face might have been worth it all. Except for the letter that sat on the table, unopened…waiting for him. He was afraid to see what was written there…what truths she had uncovered. He knew, from Teresa’s outburst the last time he saw her, that there were a lot of outright lies, but even one truthful statement could be enough to forever turn them all against him.

But it hadn’t.  Not yet. He couldn’t figure it out. How could Murdoch and Scott still call him family after what they must have read? Did the mere label of family make them turn a blind eye to what he was, what he had done? It confused him and worried him. When would they finally shed the blinders they were wearing and see him for what he was?

And there was the question…what was he?

He slipped down into the sudsy water until only his head and neck felt the cool air of the evening. This was a luxury he never would have thought would be his for the asking. He remembered the times he had gone for weeks with nothing but a cold creek to wash up in and a sliver of soap to scrub his clothes clean against a river rock. He wondered if he could ever go back to that way of life. But in the back of his mind he almost wished Teresa would barge in on him now… all innocent and reckless, with a breath of life like he had never experienced before. Would he ever see that innocence again?

No, and for that he would be eternally sorry.

Rolling his head a little to the left he yelped in pain as the hard wood of the tub came into contact with the walnut sized bump on his head. He wasn’t sure exactly how long he was out before he felt Barranca’s velvet muzzle touch his cheek. He remembered feeling foolish, nauseous and mad that the dizziness had betrayed him again. Getting back to the cabin was an ordeal, but luckily no one had come across him. He just hoped he didn’t give himself away tomorrow. If he was going to live on Lancer property he at least had to pull his own weight.

Feeling the hot water relaxing tired muscles and bruises that would surely give him away if anyone saw them, he felt his eyelids grow heavy. He could look at the letter later. He needed just a little more time before his world was forever turned upside down.


Scott rode beneath the Lancer arch well after dark. He had sent word to Murdoch that he was taking a detour on the way home to stop in Morro Coyo and pick up the mail. A letter waited for them from Victoria Barkley. It sat in his saddle bag unopened and he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to read it. The idea of bringing her and the governor to meet Johnny had seemed a good idea at the time. But things had changed. In fact the need for the visit seemed useless now. Johnny was no longer living in the main house. Teresa was far enough away from Johnny to be safe, in Hortence’s eyes. And now at this point could cause more problems.

As he looked at the house he saw a light from Johnny’s room and he had a moment’s hope that his brother had returned. But once inside the barn he didn’t see Barranca and knew it was not Johnny who had lit the lamp.

He found Murdoch sitting at his desk, his pencil poised above a row of numbers but his mind a million miles away.

”Got a letter from Mrs. Barkley,” he said, cringing at the look of dismay on his father’s face.

”I’ve been trying to figure a way to cancel this meeting without making things worse.”

Scott nodded. “It would only seem as if we had something to hide. We have to go through with it. Well, at least Johnny isn’t living in the house at the moment. Hortence can’t use that against him.”

”I wouldn’t be too sure. Hortence could say that it only proves that what she’s been saying all along is true. She’s accused him of being a threat to Teresa and to the community. By sending him away, I’m afraid it looks as if we agreed with her. Either way…we lose. No, wehave to have the Governor here as planned.”

Reluctantly Murdoch opened the letter.

”Well?” Scott rounded the desk, looking over this father’s shoulder at the letter.

”They will be arriving on the seventeenth.”

Scott looked at him, stunned. “But that’s Saturday…six days from now.”

Murdoch nodded, “It gets worse. They’ll be arriving by stage in Green River.”

Silence fell upon the room as the implications hit home.


Scott made his way upstairs. He had eaten little at dinner and drank too much after. Not like him, but he couldn’t remember feeling less in control of a situation. No matter which direction they took, all roads led to Johnny being hurt, possibly so badly that he would walk away and never return.

As he passed Johnny’s room he saw that the lamp was still burning. He touched the door softly and pushed it open. He saw Teresa sitting in the chair beneath the window looking out.

He didn’t know what possessed him to say the words, but before he knew it, they came spilling out of his mouth. “Reaping the spoils of the battle?”

Scott sucked in his breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that.”

She looked back at him and he saw that her eyes were red and swollen from crying.

”I miss him so much,” she whispered, while she held one of Johnny’s shirts left behind in her darning basket in her lap.

Scott walked over to the bed and sat down. “We all do.”

”I never meant for this to happen. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

”Teresa, I just can’t figure out what happened. You can’t possibly believe everything you read in Hortence’s letter. Don’t you know Johnny better than that after three months?”

”I thought I did, but...”

Scott exploded. H e couldn’t help himself. Too much bourbon loosened his tongue. He lunged across the room and dragged Teresa up out of her seat.

”What kind of monster do you think Johnny is?”

”Stop it Scott , you’re hurting me,” she cried, trying to pull her wrists free of Scott’s grip.

”I want you to think hard. Do you really believe for one minute that Johnny is capable of all those horrendous things you’ve read? Would he shoot down helpless women and children, or set fires to a home if there were people inside? How about executing an innocent man in front of his family? Can you see him pulling the trigger and then laughing about what he’d done? Is that the Johnny you know?”

”You’re scaring me, Scott. Please…”

”Answer me! Is that the Johnny you know?”


”Then how could you believe any of that poison Hortence is force feeding everyone?”

”Please, Scott, let me go.”

”Not until you answer me. Tell me how you can believe that filth?”

”He told me, when he was sick. He told me he did terrible things. He said he didn’t deserve to be here with good people like us.”

”Did you believe him then?”



”Scott, don’t do this.”

”I want an answer…did you believe him?”


”Why not?”

”Because.” She sobbed.


”He was too gentle…his eyes…I knew he wouldn’t hurt me…couldn’t hurt me.”

”And now?” Scott asked softly.

”He wouldn’t hurt me.”

Scott let go of her wrists and eased her back into the chair. “No, he wouldn’t hurt you, or any of us. Teresa, a lot of us have done terrible things to survive. I did things I will never tell another living soul when I was a prisoner of war. Johnny had his own war to fight. He did what he did to survive. But you know in your heart that he didn’t do those heinous things Hortence says he did.”

”I know.”

”Then why did you turn away from him? No one could have hurt Johnny more than you did.”

”It all happened so fast. What am I going to do?”

Scott took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He wasn’t sure she could do anything for Johnny now. The damage was done. “That’s up to you. But I wouldn’t wait too long.”

”Will you take me out to see him tomorrow?”

”No need, he will be here in the morning. Sam’s cleared him to go back to work.”

Teresa nodded and went back to looking out the window.

”On more thing, Teresa,” Scott said just before stepping out of the room. “I won’t let anyone hurt Johnny anymore. No one.”


Clive and Arlo stepped into Hortence’s parlor.

”Ya mean Madrid was standing right here?” Clive grinned. “That boy sure has…well he sure has a lot of nerve.”

”Too much.” Hortence brought a serving tray from the kitchen to set on the small table between the sofa and two easy chairs. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to show this town exactly who Johnny Madrid really is. A murdering gunfighter.”

”I think I know a way, Miss Hortence,” Arlo said, sidling up next to Clive. “But it might cost ya some money.”

”How much is some?”

”Don’t know, a couple hundred, I suppose.” Clive slowly drew his gun and studied it. “Neither me or Arlo here are good enough to face Johnny Madrid, but we know how to get some men who are, who would love to get the chance to face Madrid. Once word gets out this town will be crawling with gunhawks looking for a name.”

Hortence nodded. It would be worth it to prove how right she was.


Chapter Sixteen

Johnny made coffee and a quick breakfast, washing and drying the dishes before putting them away in the small cupboard above the sink. If his old friends could see him now… But this was his place, and he was proud of it, not that he wouldn't be happier at the hacienda, but as second best, this was not bad.

He walked over to the small mirror and hutch where he poured water into a basin for a shave. He hadn't put a razor to his face in three days and he looked scruffy to say the least. But he found it hard to concentrate on even the simple task of shaving.

The idea of going back to the house this morning worried him. Not because of the limp he found he couldn't disguise. A large deep bruise on his left thigh proved that his little escapade into Green River had not gone without a hitch. And he fully expected a heated lecture from Murdoch and Scott. But it was the idea that he might come face to face with Teresa that hounded his sleep last night. He didn't know if he could do that just yet. His eyes were drawn to the crumpled letter lying beneath the table. He couldn't remember being more angry or disappointed in his life. Angry with Hortence for writing it and miserably disappointed that Teresa could have believed he was capable of such horrendous acts.

Finally wiping the last of the lather off his face, Johnny looked into the mirror and tried to see what he thought Teresa saw in that face staring back at him. Did she see the cold blooded stare of a killer?

He found his comb and pulled it through his hair, carefully avoiding the still tender knot on his head. His eyes strayed again to the letter. The most damnable thing about it was that there were parts that held some truth. He could not deny that there were men he had killed, wives and children who lost their husbands and fathers to his gun. There were many things he was not proud to admit about his past life…but he never shot an unarmed man, never backshot a man. He never robbed and pillaged houses or raped the women. He never hurt a child. The memory of reading that list of atrocities made his stomach turn over and he thought for a moment that he was going to lose his breakfast.

Pushing himself away from the mirror, Johnny grabbed his gunbelt and buckled it in place. He thought there for awhile that he was going to be able to put his past behind him…be just Johnny Lancer-rancher, not Johnny Madrid-gunslinger. But it was a foolish dream he realized now.

Setting his hat on his head carefully, he stepped outside. Maybe pouring himself into work would banish the hurt for just awhile.


Teresa finished the last of the breakfast dishes. Maria was gone for the month, her daughter ready to give her another grandchild and Murdoch had insisted she take the time off to be with her. Bad timing, they all agreed, but Maria's daughter already had five young children and needed help in the first few weeks with the newest one. That left the kitchen to her. She didn't mind, the extra work kept her mind off things she would rather not think about. But this morning was different. Last night Scott had some harsh words for her, and she realized she had been terribly unfair to Johnny. She wanted, no needed, to talk to him and try to make amends. She never truly believed those things she read in Hortence's letter, but they took her by surprise. She was stunned and lost at the sheer magnitude of the callous violence she read there.

But in her heart she knew that was not the Johnny Lancer she knew. She just had to have the chance to explain that to Johnny. She prayed he would listen to her. She loved him and missed him terribly. The house was too quiet without him there.

"Hola, Juanito." She heard Cipriano's voice carry across the courtyard. He was here. She whipped off her apron and patted her hair in place before slowly opening the kitchen door and stepping out into the warm morning.


Johnny felt a stab of regret as he rode beneath the Lancer arch. It was no longer his…not really.

He waved to Cip's warm welcome and saw Murdoch and Jelly emerge from the barn, Dewdrop pecking at Murdoch's feet. Scott stepped out of the house, strapping on his gunbelt. The barn and courtyard were busy at this time of morning with vaqueros heading out on their assigned tasks. Everything seemed so normal…and yet so wrong.

Johnny dismounted carefully, trying not to give away his sore hip too soon.

"You're right on time." Murdoch grinned as he gave Dewdrop a healthy nudge with his foot and the goose fluttered away in irate indignation.

"Been doing nothing for too long," Johnny answered. He could feel the tension between them and he wondered if this was such a good idea. Maybe he should have had Murdoch send his orders out to the cabin. There was no need for him to be here in person.

"Well that's about to change. Sam said he cleared you for light work, but not a lot of riding. Jelly’s a bit behind on mending tack. Why don't you help him with that for a few days."

Johnny nodded. "Whatever."

"Hey, Brother." Scott grinned. "It's about time you showed up, it's nearly seven, or do you miss having Dewdrop for an alarm clock?" He glowered over at the goose now pecking in the dirt around the water trough.

Johnny couldn't help but laugh. "No, I don't miss him a’tall. Sam told me to take it easy in the saddle and I did just that."

Murdoch arched an eyebrow. "Yes and I suppose you carried out all of Sam's orders to the letter."

"Of course. I always do."

Johnny said it with such conviction that both Murdoch and Scott burst out laughing at the same time.

"What's so funny?"

The familiar voice stung Johnny's heart as Murdoch and Scott parted, letting Teresa step forward.

All the frivolity was gone and the air seemed to drop ten degrees in temperature.

"Teresa," Johnny acknowledged her coolly.

"It's good to see you, Johnny. I've been worried about you."

"Yeah, I'm sure you have. Look, I got work to do."

He turned to leave but she grabbed his arm. "Can we talk, alone?  Please."

"I've got nothing to say to you, Teresa."

"Johnny, please don't do this. I'm sorry…I…"

Murdoch stepped in. "Teresa, maybe this isn't the right time. Johnny just got here."

"No." Johnny held up his hand. "We got to get this done sometime. May as well be now."

Scott stayed where he stood, not sure if either Johnny or Teresa wanted to face each other alone. Finally Johnny nodded toward him and Murdoch. "We'll talk in the garden," he said, his voice still cold. And as he walked off, two steps in front of Teresa, Scott couldn't help but notice the slight limp in Johnny's left leg. Something told him that his brother had not followed Sam's orders to the letter after all.


Johnny didn't stop until he reached the rose garden behind the house. This place was Teresa's bastion against the world. He would find Teresa out here whenever she was troubled, and he had listened to her amid the sweet scent of roses. Always patient, never critical of her thoughts, he had sat quietly by her side. It seemed such a natural thing to do after she had spent so much time with him after Pardee's bullet.  But that was then…now it was merely a place to find a little privacy for their talk.

"Johnny, can you forgive me?" Teresa asked, her face upturned to him, her eyes filling with tears.

Johnny stiffened. "I read the letter," he said, his voice emotionless.

Teresa dropped her head, her long brown hair cascading over her face. She seemed so child- like at the moment. But it was not the child in her that had hurt him so badly, it was the burgeoning woman. The Teresa who offered him sisterly love and understanding when he needed it so. The Teresa who helped him through the long nights when the pain made him wish the bullet had taken him quickly. And afterwards, the friend he cherished.

"I know now that it was all lies…all…"

Her words slammed against his chest as if they were corporeal, nearly taking his breath away. "You know now?" Johnny asked incredulously. "It took you all this time to DECIDE that they were all lies?"

"I'm, sorry…I wasn't thinking."

"No…it's not a matter of thinking, Teresa, it's a matter of trusting."

She raised her head slowly, her eyes finding his, still brimming with unshed tears. "I trust you," she said softly.

Johnny laughed cynically. "Teresa, you don't know the first thing about trust. It's easy until it's tested, until you have to lay everything on the line and grab on knowing you're right, knowing in your heart that you believe in someone no matter what."

"I know you didn't do those things."

"No, you didn't. You still don't."

"That's not true. Johnny.  I've admitted I was wrong. What more do you want? What do I have to do for you to forgive me?"

"You don't get it do you, Teresa?  Just saying you're sorry ain't enough. I can count on one hand the people who I can say I really trusted in my life, the ones who I knew would watch my back, no matter what, that would never hurt me. Well, that list just got a little shorter."

Teresa closed her eyes, trying to gather strength against the hurtful words. First Scott , now Johnny. They didn't understand. They couldn't understand. She had made a terrible mistake, one she would regret for as long as she lived, but people made mistakes. Johnny made mistakes…he was the last one who should point the finger of blame on her. If anyone should be willing to forgive it would be Johnny.

Teresa grabbed his arm. "That's not fair, Johnny. I made a mistake, I'm sorry. What more can I do?"

Johnny pushed her hand off his arm. "Nothing. I've made up my mind to take Murdoch up on his offer of helping me build a place of my own here on Lancer. I ain't leaving. This is my home. But I can't stay here." He nodded toward the hacienda.

"Johnny, no, this is your home. You belong here."

"Things change, Teresa. People change."

Teresa reached out for him one last time, her fingers curling around the front of his shirt, willing him to say the things she so desperately needed to hear.

"Will we ever be friends again?"

Johnny dropped his head and said softly, "Maybe... with time... but trust? I'm not sure I can ever do that, Teresa."

Teresa's world spun. She didn't mean for any of this to happen…


"I've got work to do," he said flatly and turned and walked away, leaving Teresa crying hopeless tears in her rose garden. Life had changed so quickly, she wondered if she would ever be happy again.


The next three days dragged for Johnny. He followed Sam's orders, not wanting a repeat of what had happened to him on his way back from Green River, and spent most of his time in the tack room mending tack.  Jelly had stopped by a few times each day to talk and reminisce; it seemed Jelly had a lot of memories for such a short time. But Johnny knew what the old man was trying to do and it touched his heart. Everyone wanted the same thing, for him to return to the hacienda. 

He had told Murdoch and Scott of his plans to build a house of his own, and Murdoch agreed to start drawing up plans soon, to beat the winter. Johnny appreciated that neither his father nor brother tried to talk him out of his decision. They knew all too well that to push him now might push him away completely.

Teresa stayed out of sight. But she did send him dinner sized lunches, all the Mexican foods he loved. He wasn't sure if it was because of her guilt or the age old theory that you could get to a man through his stomach.

He was still plagued by the dizzy spells, not as numerous or as severe, and luckily out of anyone's sight, but it worried him. Even here, even in Johnny Lancer's boots, he had to be on guard, ready to defend himself if someone came looking for Madrid.

Johnny sighed heavily to himself. Maybe this was all for the best. Maybe this was how it was supposed to be. But the knowing didn't make the hurting less painful.


Val leaned against the post outside his office and watched as a second stranger slowly rode down the center of the street.

He didn't know who he was, but he knew what he was. The cold indifferent look on his face, his eyes barely moving yet taking in everything.  The low - slung gun tied down and ready. Yes Val knew his kind and he was worried.

"Another stranger."

The voice startled Val. He spun around to see Reverend Montague sidestep little Jeffery Horton as the boy chased a terrified cat down the boardwalk. He nodded and looked back to watch the stranger dismount and head into the saloon. "Second one in two days."

"I know."

The sheriff scrubbed the toe of his boot against the post. "Not being impolite or nothing, but how do you know they're strangers? You been here less than a week yerself."

"I could tell by the reactions of the people. They don't know them and they don't like them."

"Pretty observant there, Reverend. Ah, Reverend…" Val quickly snatched his hat off his head. "Sorry I ain't had time to get over to the church to welcome ya properly."

"No need to apologize, Sheriff, I know you are a busy man, especially now."

Val nodded. "This town's a powder keg and it just needs one person ta light the fuse."

Reverend Montague chuckled, but there was no humor in it, just a sad acceptance. "And that fuse would be Hortence Shaffer."

"You met her?"

"Yes. She paid me a visit a few days ago. She seems to know a lot about everyone in town and the surrounding ranches."

"Hortence don't know diddly squat, Reverend. She's always got her nose stuck in everybody else's business."

"She seems particularly interested in the Lancers."

Val turned to look at the Reverend, his ire up. "Whatever she says about them…"

"I take with a grain of salt," Reverend Montague assured Val quickly. "I learned many years ago not to rely on the nattering of lonely old ladies. I was hoping to see the Lancers at church on Sunday."

"Oh I'm sure they'll be there. All `cept Johnny a course."

"He is Catholic."

"Yeah, suppose he is, but ya won't see `im at the mission in Morro Coyo neither. He don't hold much for churches."

"That's too bad, I'm sure a man like that would find solace in the church, no matter what the denomination."

"A man like that?"  Val's eyes flashed angrily. "Johnny ain't…"

"No disrespect intended, Sheriff. I have not even met the boy, but I have heard about him."

"From Hortence…"

"Yes…and others. He seems to be the talk of the town."

"Well, don't believe everything you hear, Reverend."

"I don't. But I have to ask about that letter. Disturbing details."

"That damn letter!" Val turned quickly and started walking back into his office. "Come inside if yer a mind to hearing the truth," he snapped as he disappeared inside.

The Reverend followed, closing the door behind him.

"I knew Johnny Lancer when he still went by the name of Madrid." Val began, pacing the floor behind his desk slowly. "He is just about the fastest gun I ever saw, then and now. But I never saw him draw on someone unless it was a fair fight. I know he done things in the past, bad things, things that only he and God will ever know. But I know what he ain't done, cause it just ain't in him. He's a good man, Reverend. The things Hortence says he did in that letter…that ain't Johnny Madrid."

"It appears there are quite a few people out there who do believe her."

"They wanted Johnny gone as soon as the trouble with Day Pardee was over. They didn't object when he was fighting Pardee, but when it was over and things had simmered down, people were starting to give the boy a chance…then Hortence."

"And now those strangers."

Val nodded. "Somehow the word got out that Johnny is here. I'm afraid there's gonna be some blood spilled before this is over. I just hope it ain't Johnny's.


Chapter Seventeen

Scott looked up from the book he was reading and looked at his father. The newspaper the Lancer patriarch was supposedly reading lay crumpled in his lap. It seemed that he had as much success in concentrating as Scott had. The days having Johnny here then leaving were almost as bad as not having him here at all. It seemed so wrong that he would mount up and ride away to HIS HOME.. 

He heard Teresa in the kitchen. Whatever words she had had with Johnny left her even more despondent and they noticed her eyes were perpetually red and swollen from crying. In one way he wanted to wrap his arms around her and tell her everything would be all right. But he knew they wouldn't. A corner had been turned, and there was no going back. Perhaps time would heal some of the hurt.

"Did you tell Teresa about Mrs. Barkley and her guest coming this weekend?" he asked Murdoch, knowing he hadn't.

"No, I completely forgot to tell her." Murdoch looked toward the kitchen and cringed. "With everything that's happened recently … I think I'll ask one of the vaquero's wives if they can come and help her get the house in order."

Scott nodded. "Good idea. But don't tell her that the governor is the guest. You might not survive the day.”

Murdoch sighed deeply. He realized he spoke to Teresa very little lately. In fact, no one spoke a lot lately. The evenings were quiet to a distraction. They all missed Johnny's presence.

"I'll go tell her now. Maybe we should convince Victoria and the governor to stay at the hotel in Green River."

Scott picked up his book again looking over the top of it at his father. "And have them miss out on observing our harmonious little family first hand? That would be a wasted trip if you ask me." His tone oozed sarcasm, "You know, we should charge admission for them to stay with us." Scott laughed, "It's better than a Shakespearian play."

Murdoch threw Scott a warning glare and disappeared into the kitchen looking like a lamb to the slaughter.

Scott knew in about two minutes he would hear a whoop and a holler and Teresa would be on a cleaning rampage. Maybe he should visit his brother for a couple of days.


Val awoke to the sound of someone banging on the jailhouse door. He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them of sleep and noticed the shadows cast by the bars from the cell window. It was just barely past sunrise. At least a man outta have time for one cup of morning coffee before starting his day.

"Hold yer horses," he yelled, pulling his pants on and grabbing a shirt. He didn't bother to button it…whoever was at the door seemed mighty persistent. He swung the cell door open and padded across the room on bare feet.

"Sheriff Crawford, open this door at once!"

Val stopped in mid stride when he recognized that voice.

"Sheriff, I demand you open this door immediately!" Hortence shouted, banging furiously on the door.

Val opened the door to find Hortence and a dozen good citizens of Green River standing on the boardwalk behind her."

"Miss Shaffer," he growled, knowing he looked a sight with his shirt hanging open and his hair sticking up in every direction.

"Sheriff Crawford, you have to come immediately," she demanded.

"And why is that, Miss Shaffer?"

Hortence pointed down the street and the small crowd parted so he had a good view of the boarding house. Even at a distance Val recognized trouble when he saw it. On the front porch, lined with rocking chairs for the guests, four men sat calmly rocking, looking toward him. One tipped his hat at Val.

"They are gunfighters, here for Johnny Madrid. I told you he was trouble, Sheriff. I told you he would bring trouble to our town. I told you…"

"Ya told me a lot, and ta tell ya the truth I ain't been listenin' much. Now, how do ya know they are gunslingers?" The question was pointless. He knew the answer already. They were gunslingers all right, and more than likely here to call Johnny out.

"They were asking after Johnny Madrid in the saloon."

"And jest how do ya know that, Miss Shaffer? Been slipping in for a nip or two yerself?"

There was a small tittering of laughter that was instantly silenced when Hortence turned her gaze on them. "I was told so by Mr. Brand and Mr. Hanks. Sheriff, we don't want the likes of them in our town. Or Johnny Madrid."

"I can't rightly throw them outta town if they're not doing nothing wrong. It ain't against the law ta sit and rock, ya know."

"Val, you know why they're here, it's that Madrid kid," Clem Hempstead said. "I told Murdoch Lancer that he was making a mistake keeping the boy around. I guess he sees I was right now."

"Johnny Lancer has every right to live where he wants to Clem. He ain't broke no laws and ta tell the truth, most of you wouldn't have a place to set yer head if it wasn't for Johnny. Doesn't it mean a thing ta any of you that he took a bullet in the back trying ta save Lancer and you people too? Now, I'm tired of hearing yer bellyaching, Hortence. You ain't been nothing but a fly in the ointment for months. You all go on back to your homes now…the sun's barely had a chance to shine yet. Git on with ya…all of ya. Git!"

Hortence puckered her mouth and jutted out her chin. "You'll be sorry for treating us like this, Sheriff." She turned to the crowd. "We all have a job to do. You each know what that is. Now get along."

As Hortence turned to leave Val grabbed her arm, forgetting to be gentle. "Whatever ya got in mind here, Hortence, I'd think twice about it. I'm just itching to throw you into one of them cells inside. Jest give me a reason…any reason."

Hortence glared up at him. "The law is only as good as the people who enforce it. You, Sheriff Crawford, are less than adequate. I will see that you are replaced when this is over."

Val's hand shook with rage.

"And I wouldn't put a hand on me, sir. The whole town is watching."

"You hear me," Val whispered. "Anything happens to Johnny Lancer and I will see that you pay, old woman or not. And I won't be acting as sheriff. Now get out of here afore I throw you in jail for just being butt ugly!"

Hortence turned on her heel and marched across the street. Val knew trouble was brewing…big trouble.


Murdoch looked down from his big bay, regretting that he had to leave Johnny alone with just Teresa and Ramón.

"We should be back before dark," Murdoch said, looking back at the vaqueros assembled behind him in the courtyard. Scott sat beside him on Charlemagne and Jelly drove the buckboard filled high with supplies. "If we don't get that dam shored up before the first rains come we could be in for a lot of flooding in the lower pastures."

"I know." Johnny looked past his father beyond the Lancer arch. He wanted to be part of the team again, getting his hands really dirty doing ranch work, not mending tack. "Wish I could go with ya."

"Not this time, Son, but soon. Sam will be out the day after tomorrow, if he clears you, you'll wish you were still on light duty."

Johnny grinned. "I'll hold you to that."

Scott leaned down closer to Johnny and spoke softly. "Are you going to be all right with Teresa here? I could have Ramón drive her into town for the day."

Johnny slapped Scott's knee. "Don't worry. There's plenty of space. Now get going before I can't stand it any more and I saddle up Barranca."

Scott nodded, noticing Teresa looking out the French doors. He didn't feel good about this, but they had no choice. That dam would take every one of them to fix, and more.

Johnny watched as the cavalcade slowly road away, Jelly's wagon setting up a trail of dust as it passed beneath the arch. He looked back at the house and saw Teresa watching him. He wasn't looking forward to this day. She was going to push him, he could feel it, and he didn't want to hurt her, but he wasn't ready to face her yet. He still needed time for the hurt to subside a little. Time to think clearly.

He walked over to the corral, smiling at Barranca who waited for him impatiently. The palomino stretched his neck over the top railing and pawed the ground with his left foot.

"I know, Amigo," Johnny said softly, "I want to get out of here too. I've got a few things I have to do first, then we can head out. We can check out the stream by Cutter's crossing, bet you'd like to cool off a bit."

Barranca nodded his head as if the horse knew exactly what Johnny was saying.

"Bueno." Johnny grinned and headed back into the barn and the tack room. He couldn't help but notice Teresa watching him from the window. That is why he couldn't stay here, those eyes, always watching. He shook his head sadly. Things could have been so good.


Teresa sat at the dining room table polishing the silver. At first she was mad that Victoria Barkley was coming for a visit now, of all times. But the more she thought abut it the more she hoped Murdoch's friend would be able to help her. She knew Victoria, not well, but on the occasions she had met her, the woman was kind and generous with her time and her thoughts. She needed someone to talk to desperately. She knew how much she had hurt Johnny with her hesitation. It wasn't that she didn't trust Johnny, she would trust
him with her life, but the letter threw her and as much as she tried she didn't know how to make amends.

Maybe she would try to talk to him today, while they were alone. Get him to understand that she loved him, always did. Damn Hortence and Bethany. They had both turned her world into a nightmare and she feared it would never, ever, be the same again.

The sound of a horse galloping into the courtyard caught her attention. No one galloped past the Lancer arch…unless it was an emergency.

She glanced toward Ana as she washed the last of the windows in the great room. The young wife of one of the vaqueros was thrilled to be asked into the hacienda to help Senorita Teresa prepare the house for the Lancer's special guests.

"Who is it, Ana?' she asked.

"It is the Niño from town, Hercules."

Teresa looked at her, confused for a moment until she realized Ana was talking about Herc. The story went that when Henry was three years old he could pick up twice his weight in firewood and someone called him a little Hercules…Herc stuck and no one ever called him Henry, except his mother. Now he was twelve and nearly as tall as Scott.

Teresa went to the door and stepped out onto the patio. She saw Johnny emerge from the barn.

Herc seemed nervous and steered his horse toward Teresa.

"Good morning," Teresa called up to him. "What brings you out here?"

"Got a message for Mr. Lancer," the boy said proudly.

Johnny had made his way silently across the yard and when he spoke, Herc nearly fell out of the saddle.

"He's not here. I'll take it."

Herc looked from Teresa to Johnny nervously. "I'm supposed to deliver a message to your pa…Johnn…Mr. Madrid."

"It's still Johnny, and Murdoch isn't here, won't be back until late."

Teresa stepped forward, her hand touching Herc's leg. "Johnny's right. It will be hours before Mr. Lancer gets back. You can leave it with us, we promise he'll get it."

"But Sheriff Crawford said…"

"The sheriff didn't know that Murdoch wouldn't be here, did he? Come on, you won't get in trouble, I promise."

Teresa smiled at the boy sweetly. "I know your own pa would be worried if you stayed out here all afternoon waiting for him, and I'd hate to see you having to ride all the way back out here again today. So just give us the message and we'll see that he gets it."

"Ok, if ya both say so. The sheriff said Miss Shaffer is gonna have a town meetin' tonight about them four gunslingers that come into town. He says he knows Mr. Lancer would want to be there."

Johnny suddenly stiffened but kept his voice calm. "What four gunslingers?"

"The ones that rode inta town the last couple a days. They just come in as easy as ya please, got themselves rooms at the hotel. Miss Shaffer says they're there for you, Johnn…Mr. Madrid."

"Thanks, Herc, you did good," Johnny said, handing the boy a silver dollar. "Now you go tell the sheriff that you delivered the message. You don't have to tell him that you didn't give it directly to Mr. Lancer, just that he got it."

A small smile played its way across the boy's face. "Thanks, Johnny. Appreciate it."

Johnny nodded. "Now get on back to town."

Herc spun his horse back toward the arch and kicked him hard, galloping before he passed beneath the arch.

Johnny watched after him, his hand automatically caressing his gun.

"Johnny, what are you going to do?" Teresa asked, wanting so much to touch his arm, to pull him close and keep him safe.

Johnny shrugged. "Give Murdoch the message."


"When he gets back."

"But, Johnny, that will be too late. They could never get to the meeting in time."

"Not my problem. I'm just delivering the message."

"Johnny." Teresa reached out and grabbed Johnny's arm as he started to walk away. "Where are you going? You're not going into town are you?"

"I promised Barranca a ride. I'll be back in an hour or so."

"Please, Johnny, stay here. Let me send Ramón to tell Murdoch about the meeting."

Johnny sighed. "He'll hear all about it by the morning. Now go finish your cleaning. I hear that Mrs. Barkley is coming for a visit. That should liven things up around here."

"It couldn't be at a worse time."

"You'll do fine. Barranca and me are taking a ride. If ya don't see me again then I've gone home. Tack is done, nothing more to keep me here today."

"Johnny, please…"

But Johnny ignored her pleas and walked away. He knew he was being a little hard, a little closed off, but he couldn't help it right now. He wasn't ready for this, for things to be as they were between them. And he didn't have time to try to fix them. He had other things on his mind…like four gunslingers in town,

Teresa stood on the patio waiting, watching until Johnny came out of the barn with Barranca. The horse was saddled, ready to ride, frisky and pounding the earth with one front hoof as Johnny slipped a boot in the stirrup and then pulled himself up onto the saddle. Her heart skipped a beat as she watched him, frightened by the way Johnny swayed in his seat after getting settled.

Her breath caught in her throat, unable to move as she waited to see if he would be all right. She thought him precariously close to falling at any moment, watching as he sat motionless for long seconds, head bent low, eyes closed, his hands clasped tightly to the saddle horn. Teresa watched, expecting catastrophe at any minute, then he seemed to relax and suddenly sit up straight as if it never happened. Then he was gone, riding away from her, from Lancer…and it scared her to death because she had a terrible feeling she knew where he would be tonight.

She ran for the barn to saddle her own horse. She would have to find Murdoch and Scott somehow. Johnny could be in terrible danger.

Fear and anger spurred her on and she galloped beneath the Lancer arch determined to find Murdoch and Scott in time.


Chapter Eighteen

Teresa leaned forward like Johnny had taught her and let the horse run at a full gallop. She had thought she knew horses before she met Johnny, but he had taught her so much more. How to trust them, how to relax into the saddle and become one with the animal as the wind whipped her hair into a frenzy. She had never felt so free as when she had ridden side by side with him, his face glowing with the thrill of the ride and the connection he felt with Barranca.

Now she hoped she could get to Murdoch and Scott in time to stop Johnny. She knew where he was going, she could see it in his eyes. She knew the gauntlet had been thrown down and Johnny Madrid Lancer would answer it, no matter the cost.

The dam was a two hour ride away from the house, but Teresa was determined to make it in half that time.  Murdoch and Scott’s plans were to ride to the location in the morning then return to the house in the evening while the crew stayed at the dam. It would take at least a week’s work to shore up the structure. If they had only left an hour later this morning Herc could have given the message to Murdoch.

Teresa did the math in her head and she didn’t like how it added up. By the time she reached the dam, even with fast horses, Murdoch and Scott wouldn’t arrive in Green River until late afternoon. The town meeting was scheduled for five o’clock…


Reverend Montague read the hastily printed flyer announcing the town meeting at five o’clock this afternoon. Hortence Shaffer’s doing no doubt. Sighing heavily, he folded it in half and tucked it beneath the binder of blank paper. He was due to give his first sermon on Sunday, two days away, and he still wasn’t sure what he would say. There was the obvious, a thank you to the town for inviting him there to be their Reverend, and his promise to minister to his flock to the best of his ability. But he had more to say, and he had to word it so he would not alienate his parishioners.  He laid his hand on his bible and knew the answers were in there, he just had to seek them out. Two days…was it enough time to save a young man’s life and the soul of a town…?



Teresa heard the sound of hammers and saws before she saw the dam and the men crawling around it like ants. She didn’t slow her mount down until she was almost inside the camp. She reined in hard, slipping from the saddle into Murdoch’s waiting arms, his face frozen in concern.

“What is it, Teresa?” he demanded, hugging her tightly against his massive chest and moving her over to the wagon.

Scott was by her side now. “Teresa…” He held a ladle of cool water and she drank it gratefully, not caring that half of it dribbled down his dress.

“It’s Johnny,” she was finally able to gasp.

“What about Johnny?” Scott asked anxiously. “Is he hurt?”

“No…but …”

Murdoch held her at arms length so he could see her face. “Tell us what happened.”

“Just after you left, Herc brought you a message from Val. Johnny persuaded him to give us the message.”

“What was it?” Murdoch coaxed.

Teresa looked from Murdoch to Scott, her eyes welling with tears.

“There’s going to be a town meeting tonight in Green River about four gunslingers who came into town and Johnny.” She suddenly looked at Murdoch suspiciously. “You knew about those gunslingers, didn’t you?”

Murdoch nodded. “I hoped Johnny wouldn’t find out. Val has been keeping an eye on them. I hoped if we could keep Johnny out of town, they would go away.”

“Well, he knows now,” Scott said bitterly. “I told you keeping that away from him was a mistake.” Turning to Teresa he asked, “Where did Johnny go?”

Silence hung heavy between them for a long moment. Both Murdoch and Scott knew without a doubt where they would find Johnny tonight.

“He said he was done with the tack and was headed home. But he’s not…I saw it in his eyes. Scott, he, he nearly fell out of the saddle, he’s in no condition to face those gunslingers.”

“I know.” Murdoch snapped. “But we’ll find him. You stay here until you and your horse have rested. I’ll have one of the men ride back with you.”

“I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”

“No, it’s not. Hortence has been pulling the strings from the very beginning. We’re all at fault. We all let Johnny down. But that’s about to change. Scott, I want four of our best men, the rest stay here and finish the dam. And make sure they know what they’re up against.”

Scott nodded. “There’s not a man here who won’t stand behind Johnny, no matter what,” Scott said adamantly, hurrying off to collect the men.

Murdoch knew it to be the truth. Why hadn’t he seen that before all this happened?

“Murdoch, please take care of him. I was so wrong.”

“We all were. Now you rest for a little while then get back to the house. We’ll bring him home. I promise.”

Scott led Murdoch’s horse over to them, already saddled.

“Try not to worry,” Murdoch said as he mounted his horse. But they were just words. Teresa could do nothing else.


Johnny rode slowly toward town. He was in no hurry. Herc’s arrival had been a revelation of sorts. He knew that some of the townsfolk disliked him, even feared him. But to find that Herc, who liked and trusted everyone, was afraid of Johnny Madrid had been like a knife driven in his back. If Herc could be persuaded to fear him then was there anyone left in town who didn’t feel the same? Hell, he couldn’t ignore the fact that even Teresa wasn’t sure of him anymore.

Val and Sam were the only two he knew for sure still trusted him. He didn’t think it would bother him, what other people thought of him, but now that he found that it did matter, it angered him. When did he fall into this trap of having other people’s notions make a difference to him?  It was always just him before, and lonely though it might be, it was a lot less complicated.

And now there were the gunslingers. Why had four of them shown up at the same time?

That usually meant a man had a price on his head, but Johnny was fairly sure he was not wanted, not in the states at least. Across the border was another mess altogether.

Pulling his hat lower to protect his eyes, he wondered what he would do when they called him out.  He would have no option but to oblige them, but he was not one hundred percent yet. Not even close to it. He still had those dizzy spells, if he had one at the wrong time. He shrugged and laughed, Barranca shaking his head at the sudden unexpected sound. “It sure would make life a lot easier for some of the good citizens of Green River.”

Relaxing deeper into the saddle, Johnny slowed Barranca to an easy trot…he didn’t want to get there too early. Making the right entrance was part of the game.


Val watched the good citizens of Green River begin to ride in from the outlying ranches and farms. Hortence’s flyer had cast a huge net over everyone. Why good, smart people could not see through her was a mystery. It seemed they were eager to see the bad in Johnny, which made them feel better about themselves. Well, he had news for them… out of the lot of them there were only a few who he would call friend, and none any quicker than Johnny Madrid Lancer.

The saloon, the largest building in Green River, was opened for the town meeting. Burlap Jackson, named for the burlap apron he wore behind the bar, had opened one of the downstairs rooms and set up a few tables where he could still sell beer and rotgut, he wasn’t “town conscientious” to the point of losing his liquor money. 

The rest of the tables, except three set up for the town’s dignitaries and Miss Shaffer, were stacked in a corner and chairs were set up in rows. The clock had barely reached four thirty and already the room was overflowing.

Val kept a wary eye on the four gunslingers, still sitting on the porch, waiting. He hoped it wasn’t for the subject of this neck-tie party. He had no doubt Johnny was going to be verbally hung tonight. He hoped Murdoch and Scott would reach town in time. Herc had assured him that he delivered the message to Mr. Lancer.

Val walked into the saloon, letting the bat wing doors swing close behind him. Not a seat was empty and the walls were already lined with people.

Hortence had taken her seat at the head of the room, sitting next to the Mayor and the town’s prosecuting attorney. Members of the town council took up one more table and at the end, to Val’s surprise, was the new Reverend Montague.

Hortence leaned over to the Mayor and whispered in his ear. The mayor nodded and rapped his gavel on the table to gain everyone’s attention. The hiss of voices lowered to just a few whispers.

“Since we have a full house I see no reason why we can’t begin this meeting.”

Val coughed loudly and every eye swung back to look at him. “That message of Miss Shaffer’s said five o’clock, that’s another fifteen minutes. Not everybody’s here.”

“I’m sure the late comers won’t mind. Especially since it is so hot in here,” the mayor countered, fanning his face with a folded sheet of paper for emphasis.

There was a rumble of agreement, but Val still persisted. “The Lancers ain’t here yet, and since this deals with ‘em, I think you could do the right thing and wait.”

“If they don’t care enough about this meeting to arrive a few minutes early, ” Hortence began.

“I sent a message out to ‘em today. Murdoch knows all about it and will be here, on time…right Herc?”

Herc nodded from across the room then turned away. He couldn’t look Val in the eyes, he’d had a job to do and he didn’t do it.

There was the sound of heavy footsteps behind him and Murdoch entered, followed by Scott.

They nodded to Val, then found a place to stand along the wall.

“I guess ya can start now,” Val called, not quite hiding the small smile that twitched at his lips.

“Very well,” the mayor said, rapping his gavel on the table again. “This meeting is officially in session.”


Murdoch felt the tension in the room. He saw faces he thought he knew, thought he called friends, but now they were strangers. Where was their trust? What had happened to those who had accepted Johnny as his son, as Johnny Lancer, not Johnny Madrid? He knew there were some who could never separate Madrid from Lancer, but they were becoming fewer as Johnny opened up and they saw the man he and Scott saw every day. A good, hardworking man…a man to be trusted.

He felt Scott’s hand on his arm and saw his oldest son nod toward the door. The batwing doors opened quietly and Johnny slipped in, standing unnoticed against the back wall. Scott made to walk toward him but Murdoch shook his head. Johnny would make himself known when he wanted to.

The sound of the gavel hammering on the table brought his attention back to the front of the saloon.  The mayor waited until there was quiet again, then spoke.

“Thank you all for coming on such short notice. I know you are all as concerned about the events happening in our town as we are.” Mayor Crenshaw nodded to the town council and Miss Shaffer. “We are faced with a dilemma that many of us feared would happen. We have had our share of hardships the past year. Many of us suffered from Day Pardee’s attacks and some of you are still recovering. And we all know who was instrumental in defeating Pardee”

There was a hum of yeses in the room.

“I believe we all concede to the fact that without the help of both of Murdoch Lancer’s sons, Green River would have fallen into Pardee’s hands. And we owe them both a debt of gratitude that we could never repay. But…Johnny Madrid has been an infection in our town since the day he arrived.”

“Now just a minute!” Scott’s voice thundered through the room. “You would not be standing here if it weren’t for my brother, and you know it.”

“Didn’t I just say that?” the mayor asked. “I agree we needed Johnny Madrid’s help. We needed his gun. And we offered to pay him handsomely for his work.”

“His work?” Murdoch asked. “No one hired him. He fought to keep our ranch…his ranch…and he fought to help you keep yours too.”

“Didn’t you hire him, Murdoch?” Hortence asked, her strident voice stilling the room. “Didn’t you offer him one thousand dollars to come to your aide? I heard it referred to as ‘Listening money,’ but we all know it was partial payment for his services.”

“How dare you!” Murdoch exploded. “I sent for both of my sons, and I asked both of them to stay and become partners. Both of them.” Murdoch was livid. How had she found out about their personal business? He had to wonder what else she knew.

“And that was a mistake, Murdoch,” the mayor said. “We tried to tell you…having Johnny Madrid here only causes problems. Look at the four gunslingers that just came to town. Do you think for one moment that they would be here if it were not for Johnny Madrid?  He is a menace, to everyone. And we want him out. Out of this town and out of this valley.”

Doug Clayton stood up, waving the letter in his hand. “This says it all. A man like this should never be around decent folk. I’m afraid for my little girl with him around. I’m afraid for my wife, and don’t think for a second that I won’t protect them both and kill the murdering back shooter.”

The mayor slammed his gavel against the table. “Sit down, Doug. We know how you feel, a lot of us feel the same way, but this is a town meeting and we will all act like law abiding citizens.”

“That’s a laugh,” Scott said, just loud enough for most of the room to hear.

“Just look outside. Aren’t those killers proof enough?” Prosecuting Attorney Atherton asked. “How many more of those kind of men will pass through here looking for Madrid?”

“I want to know why they are here now,” Scott challenged. “Why all of a sudden do we have four gunslingers in town? Johnny’s been here three months. Has there been one shootout on the street since he got here? Has Johnny done one thing to harm any of you?  What brought them here?” 

“Your brother, of course,” Hortence answered smugly. “I tried to tell you all that we would see this kind of trouble in our town with the likes of Madrid here.”

“Something or someone brought them here,” Scott said flatly. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

“Johnny Madrid is a magnet for trouble.” Jethro Tumy jumped to his feet, waving the letter in his hand. “It’s all here. Johnny Madrid is pure evil. I’m sorry Murdoch, I know you feel for him, he’s your son, but your blood running in his veins don’t take the killer out of him.”

“That letter is filled with lies,” Murdoch raged. “My son…”

“Your son is a murdering half-breed!” Temple Lewis shouted.

The mayor hammered his gavel against the table. “Order! I will have order in this meeting! Sit down Temple. I know tempers are running high, but please, try to control yourselves.”

“The letter speaks for itself,” Hortence said.

Reverend Montague stood up slowly, looking over the audience, faces red with anger and filled with fear. This was a mob in the making. “If I may,” he said, waiting for the room to quite down again. “I haven’t had the chance to meet all of you. I hope to remedy that at Sunday’s service.”

There was a general mumbling and Hortence sat back in her chair self-importantly. With a man of God on her side, Madrid would be gone before the day’s end.

“I have also read the letter and it repulses me. The man who could carry out these heinous crimes is without a conscience and will have to answer to God for his sins.”

“Amen!” Tumy shouted to a rousing consensus.

“But…” He picked up his copy of the letter so graciously given to him by Hortence Shaffer. “I have reservations about it. I have read it over several times, repulsed more each time I read it.” He shook his head sadly. “So many names, so many atrocities. The details are staggering. I commend your thoroughness, Miss Shaffer.”

Hortence nearly beamed with delight.

“However,” Reverend Montague continued, “I find the dates puzzling. This one here for example…August thirteenth, 1869, Johnny Madrid goaded a man into a gunfight and killed him in Three Rivers. That is a town up near the Oregon border, if I’m not mistaken. And yet the very next day it is reported that he goaded a man into a gunfight in Clay City.” 

“You see,” Hortence nodded toward the Reverend. “He is a menace to everyone here. It is only a matter of time before he calls one of our own God fearing men into the street to be murdered.”

“How many miles is it between Three Rivers and Clay City?” The Reverend waited for an answer.

Murdoch and Scott stood straighter. Scott glanced surreptitiously toward Johnny, not wanting anyone to follow his gaze. He saw Johnny leaning against the wall, his hands flattened against the wall, his head bowed, his face hidden beneath his hat. But it was the way he appeared to sag against the wall that sent a shiver of concern down his spine. Johnny was in trouble. He was in the midst of a dizzy spell and he could not help his brother without drawing attention to him. He prayed Johnny could hold on until it passed. Damn, he had no business being here in the first place.

“Six hundred miles as the crow flies,” Val answered, and Scott looked back toward the Reverend.

“What does it matter?” Tumy yelled. “We all know who and what Madrid is.”

Reverend Montague stared Tumy down. “Tell me, sir, how does a man travel six hundred miles in one day?”

 Tumy was flummoxed for a moment, looking around for help from the crowd. “So, there was a mistake on the dates.”

“If there is one mistake isn’t it possible that there are more?”

Val grinned from ear to ear. The Reverend had them. He turned to see Murdoch and Scott’s reaction and froze. He saw Johnny standing against the wall. What the hell was he doing here? This crowd was one breath away from a mob scene.

“There are more inconsistencies,” the Reverend continued. “April tenth, 1869, Johnny Madrid torched a house killing all the residents.”

There was a roar of outrage.

“But,” the Reverend called above the din of voices, “on that same day he was two hundred miles away shooting a man in the back for accidentally tripping him in the street. Think about it, how could he have been in two places at once? And how could he have shot a man in the back, in broad daylight, and not have been arrested and hung for outright murder?  Think about it, how could a man responsible for all these heinous acts be walking around a free man?  I ask you to go home and use your heads, not your hearts. I ask you to consider if two incidents are wrong, how many more are either outright fabrications or the facts stretched to the point of disbelief.”

The batwing doors swung open and Clive Harris searched the room frantically for Val.

“Sheriff! Struthers just rode into town, and he ain’t alone!”

“Who’s Struthers?” the mayor demanded.

“Bounty hunter,” Val hissed. “He only comes after the big money, and he’s as mean as they come. What the hell is he doing here?” He looked toward Johnny and found that somehow Murdoch and Scott had moved to stand in front of him. “Everyone stay where you are,” he ordered.

With a confidence he didn’t feel, Val walked out onto the boardwalk.

“Howdy, Pete,” Val said, his voice cold as ice.

“Howdy, Val. I heard you was sheriff in these parts. Come down in the world, huh?” Struthers’ smile, as slimy as a snake’s, displayed his teeth, yellowed and rotting in his mouth. But his horse and gear were some of the finest Val had seen. The man made money and spent it lavishly on himself.

“What brings you here?” Val asked.

“The kid, a course.” Struthers continued to smile.

“What do ya want with Johnny?”

Struthers smiled faded. “Don’t play games with me, Val. I’m aiming to pick up that five thousand dollar reward on Madrid’s head. Just think about it. I’ll be five thousand dollars richer and I’ll have the satisfaction of paying that half-breed back for those three years I spent in Yuma.”

“Don’t try anything in my town, Pete, it wouldn’t be healthy,” Val warned.

Struthers grinned again. “I wouldn’t think of it. Oh, by the way, I know Madrid is here in town. I stopped by the Lancer ranch and asked around. A pretty young thing…Teresa, I think her name was…told me the boy headed this way hours ago.”

Val felt like a bullet had plowed through his chest. “You leave that girl alone,” he warned.

“My boys ain’t gonna hurt her, Val. She was just so gracious…she insisted on coming to our camp and cooking for us.”

“If you lay a hand on her.”

“Nothing’s gonna happen to her so long as I get what I want. And just so we’re clear on it, you tell Madrid I said to meet me and the boys here first thing tomorrow morning.” He licked his lips and shifted in the saddle, “And Val,” he drawled with a slow menacing grin, “don’t try nothin’ stupid. You ain’t ever gonna find that little filly unless I want yah to, and that ain’t gonna happen until Madrid’s dead and I’ve collected the reward on him.”

The Bounty hunter smiled then, sensing he had the upper hand and tossed his last remark flippantly at the scruffy sheriff, “Nice to see yah again, Val. You want tah catch up on old times, come see me at the hotel. I got enough of the boys with me, we could start up a poker game.” His yellow grin was evil, expecting no acceptance from Val.

“I might be seein’ yah at the hotel, Pete…but if I do, it won’t be tah catch up on old times or play games,” Val warned him narrow eyed and tight lipped.

Struthers dipped his hat and reined his horse around, laughing as he rode down the street with his men toward the hotel.

Val turned slowly and reentered the saloon.

“Ya heard?” he asked everyone standing stunned and speechless.

“Yeah, I heard…” Johnny pushed his way past Murdoch and Scott.


Chapter Nineteen

"It's Madrid!"

The crowd surged forward en mass…the women pushed along by the men, arms raised in rage.

"He's the one…he's the one who's brought those killers to town," Tumy shouted.

Murdoch grabbed Johnny and shoved him toward Scott and Val, using his body as a wall between the frenzied mob and his son.

"No!" Murdoch shouted. "He didn't bring them. Whoever put that reward out for him brought them here."

"He ain't nothtin' but trouble, and everybody knows it!" Temple yelled above the din of voices. "Hand him over to his own kind."

Val pushed his way past Murdoch. "Ain't nobody being turned over to nobody here. That reward ain't even legal. If it was I'd have Johnny in jail right now."

"He's a friend of yours, Sheriff. Everybody knows it!" someone yelled.

"Friend or no friend, if he was wanted I'd a taken him in. Sides, legal or not, there's a five thousand dollar reward on his head and a whole lot of men out there that would give their eye teeth to be the one to collect it….along with bragging rights that they had taken out the great Johnny Madrid."

"So let them, sheriff," a surge of voices hummed in agreement. "It's because of him that Teresa's in trouble."

Scott gripped Johnny's arm tighter, feeling his brother trying to pull free. "It's because of that damn letter," Scott shouted at the crowd. "Didn't you just hear what the Reverend said? Didn't you listen to all the discrepancies?  There's not a man here who hasn't benefited in some way from having my brother here."

"He's a gun for hire…a killer. I ain't heard him say no to that," Temple shouted.

"Did that bother you when he helped dig that new well of yours?" Scott asked, his voice shaking with emotion. "Does that sweet water you have been drinking taste different now? Or you, Henry Barrows…does that leg of yours feel any worse knowing it was Johnny Madrid that lifted that wagon off you when it overturned? And you, Pete, does that ranch of yours feel any different knowing Johnny stood shoulder to shoulder with you, fighting back the flames that nearly burned it to the ground?"

"Doesn't make him any less of a killer." Tumy countered.

"I'd be careful where you put yer foot there, Jethro," Val warned. "Ya just might bite yer own toes off. Seems ta me that I read where yer past wasn't all lily livered white"

"You got no right to….

"I got a job ta do, ta protect the fine citizens of this here town from…"

"I did my time in Yuma," Tumy said before he realized what he was saying. He shrank back as he felt the town's eyes swing toward him.

"Yeah, I guess ya did," Val nodded, thinking hard. "Ya know, maybe someone kin write a book about you, make ya famous like Johnny here."

"Don't waste your breath, Val," Johnny said tonelessly, whipping his arm free of Scott's hand and walking up to stand next to his friend. "They made up their minds already. I just wanted to drop in…since they forgot to invite the guest of honor."

"You've got a lot of nerve, Johnny Madrid," Hortence accused Johnny. "Poor Teresa is in the hands of that heathen all because of you. You should be out there trying to get her back."

"He walks out that door and he's a dead man," Murdoch yelled.

"Ye reap what ye shall sow," Hortence proclaimed righteously, looking over for Reverend Montague's support. She frowned when he turned away from her.

The mayor pounded his gavel on the table for attention then pointed it at Johnny. "What do you propose to do to get Teresa O'Brien back to safety?"

Johnny shrugged. "Nothing right now. If Struthers wants to stay hidden that's what he'll do. But he won't touch Teresa tonight. She'll be safe until tomorrow."

"How can you say that?" Hortence fumed. "She is with those awful men."

"Struthers may be a lot of things, but he’s a man of his word. I'd be more worried about those men down at the hotel.., they're a nasty bunch."

"You know them of course," Temple said snidely.

"I know their kind. They're not honor bound by anything but money."

"And being the one to take down Johnny Madrid," Val added.

"Well, that too." Johnny couldn't keep the smirk off his face. "There's nothing any of you can do," he said coldly, the smile disappearing. "I know Struthers. If you do anything, Teresa is as good as dead." Johnny suddenly drew his gun. "Now everyone step back." He motioned with his gun, training it on Val. "You too, Sheriff."

"Johnny, don't do this," Val pleaded.

"Please, Son." Murdoch tried to take a step closer to Johnny but the gun swung around and pointed straight at him.

"I won't kill you, old man, but I will wing you, don't make me do it."

"You can't take them all on alone," Scott insisted. "It's suicide."

Johnny smiled, but it never reached his eyes. "Not if I play my cards right, Boston. Now…" He looked over the crowd who had gone silent. "First person sticks their head out this door gets it blown off. I'll be back when I can. And just so you know, that letter ain't anywhere near the truth."

He took one last look at Murdoch and nodded. "I'll get her back…promise."

"Johnny, please." Murdoch tried to step forward again but Val stretched his arm in front of him.

"This is something Johnny's got ta do."

Johnny backed out of the batwing doors and Murdoch felt his heart break…would he ever see Johnny alive again?


Johnny grabbed the reins of the first horse tied to the hitching post and mounted, galloping away before the bounty hunters, still rocking on the hotel porch, realized it was him taking off.

Circling the town, he reached Barranca and changed mounts, slapping the rump of the other horse, hopefully sending it home, then headed north.

He knew Struthers and he had an idea of where he might find his camp. Pete Struthers was not a man who liked to rough it. In most circumstances he would much prefer a roof over his head. But unlike the rest of the town, Johnny was under no illusion that the man would dare to hide out in plain sight after telling all of them he could be found at the hotel. Contrary to what he told Val, It wasn't Struthers style to be so blatantly obvious about where he would stay. The man was a killer, a liar and a thief, the kind of man that Hortence Shaffer tried to make the whole town believe that he was.  No, Struthers would leave a token amount of men at the hotel and take off himself.


Teresa had never felt more terrified. She knew she should have stayed at the ranch, but the guilt she felt over Johnny was piling up, and she knew if she didn't do something it would smother her to death. If she had made it to town she could have told them, all of them, how wrong they were about Johnny. She could tell them how wrong she had been to turn her back on a man she was proud to call brother. Now she wondered if Johnny would ever get to hear her apology.

She twisted and pulled at the ropes that had her wrists bound together once again. Mercifully they had not tied them behind her back and the bonds were not tight enough to stop the circulation. In fact they were loose enough not to cause much discomfort at all, but still tight enough that she could not wriggle the widest part of her hand free. She was also tied to the chair, a rope circling her waist and her arms so she could not lift them. Her ankles were tied to the front legs of the chair. She resigned herself to the fact that she was here to stay until they either let her go or someone rescued her.

"How you doing there, Missy?"

Teresa looked up at the man who seemed to be in charge. No, not seemed. Was. She could see the fear in the other four men who stood around inside the large tent.

He had said his name was Pete Struthers. Just the sound of his voice terrified her.

"You better let me go before my family comes looking for me," she warned with a voice more powerful than she thought possible. "And Sheriff Crawford…he's a friend of the family."

The man smiled down at her but there was no merriment in his eyes, they were as cold death, the eyes of a gunfighter. The realization that she had never seen that look in Johnny's eyes hit her like a physical blow. Why had she not thought of that before? She turned her head away. This was all her fault.

Struthers leaned in closer and Teresa could feel his hot breath on her face, making her stomach churn.

"You got something going with Madrid?" he asked, his teeth brown from neglect. "A sweet little thing like you." He lifted her chin up, forcing her to look at him. "But then ole Johnny boy always liked `em sweet and innocent. Treated `em right too."

"You knew Johnny?" She couldn't help but ask the question.

"Oh, I know `im alright. We kind a traveled in the same circles, so ta speak. But Madrid always thought he was better than us. He always picked his jobs, and not always cause of the money. He was a bleedin' heart. Don't know how he ever stayed alive so long. Maybe it was cause he was the fastest gun I ever saw. But, it's the end of the line for Madrid now."

"Why can't you just leave him alone? He's not a gunfighter anymore. He's a rancher. And good at it."

Struthers burst out laughing. "Oh, that's sweet. Madrid, a respectable rancher."

"It's Lancer now. Johnny Lancer," Teresa corrected quickly.

"Lancer or Madrid, he's still got a five thousand dollar reward on his head. Dead or alive. And I don't think many men would risk trying to take him in alive. `Sides, every snake in the grass is gonna try to be the one who takes out the great Johnny Madrid. Doesn't matter how they do it, just as long as it's their bullet that sends him to the here after."

"No, please…he's still hurt!" Teresa blurted out, realizing her mistake the minute the words escaped her lips. What had she done?

"Hurt? How bad?"

Teresa tried to turn her face away but Struthers yanked her head back. "I said how bad?"

"Not bad," she answered, her mind going a million miles a minute trying to think of the right thing to say next. "He hurt his elbow," she lied.

"Which one?" Struthers demanded.

Her hesitation was enough to get her a slap across the face. "Which one?"

"The right." She continued the lie. If they thought Johnny could not draw he might have an advantage. But, if he had a dizzy spell when he was facing them. This was a nightmare…all of her own making.

Struthers stood up slowly and smiled at his men. "Well now, Johnny may not be as hard to take out as we thought."

Gathering his men, Struthers led them outside the tent, leaving Teresa alone to think about what she had done…


Johnny pushed Barranca up the last ravine, knowing he was tired, but the horse seemed to know the direness of the situation.

He had an idea of where Struthers was camped. The bounty hunter's tracks led him north, skirting Lancer land. He knew the area, and knew where the best water and camping area was. If Struthers had one flaw, it was his need to surround himself with comfort. He didn't look the part, with his shaggy hair and rotten teeth, but if he could avoid roughing it, he would.

Pulling the horse to a stop at the top of the slope he ground tied Barranca. If things didn't go well he didn't want his friend lashed to a tree to die of starvation.

Dropping to his knees and sliding on his belly he peeked over the top of the rise and saw a large tent staked out in the clearing next to the river. A small smile played at Johnny's lips. He knew how to read a man…at times knew more about them than they knew about

He didn't see Struthers, but he saw a guard posted at the front of the tent and another sitting by the string of horses.  He spotted Teresa's horse, tied along with six other horses to a line strung between two trees. That meant Struthers and five men. Not good odds,
but he had had worse.

Looking up at the fading sky he knew he had another hour before dusk, then another hour or more before it was dark enough for him to move in. He just hoped Teresa could hold on that long.


Val loaded a shotgun and a rifle and set them down on his desk next to four more rifles. He didn't know what they were in store for, but it wouldn't be pretty.

"You should have let me follow him," Scott barked, looking out the window as dusk turn toward dark. "I might have been able to trail him."

Val shook his head. "If your brother didn't want you following him you never would have found his trail. He'll find Teresa. Meanwhile we have a town that's about to blow sky high."

Murdoch sat heavily in one of the straight backed chairs that faced Val's desk, watching the sheriff prepare for the night.

"I've seen mobs before," he said. "But I never thought it would be people I called friends. Men and women I've known for years."

"Hortence did a mighty fine job of gettin' `em all riled up. I just hope Johnny has the good sense not to ride back into town. I don't know who's more dangerous right now, those gunslingers down at the hotel or this town."

There was a knock at the door and Reverend Montague slipped inside. He nodded toward Murdoch and Scott before approaching Val.

"Reverend," Val said. "What brings you over here?"

"I'm a man of God, Sheriff Crawford, and I can't take up arms against the people of this town, but I can stand with you and give you as much support as I can."

Val nodded. "Thanks. We can use all the help we can get."

Murdoch approached the Reverend with his hand extended. "Thank you, Reverend, we appreciate your help."

Montague clasped his hand. "I just wish there was more I could do. Miss Shafer seems to have sent this town into utter chaos."

"They've turned into a mob," Scott said bitterly.

"I saw it happen once before," the Reverend said. "It was a terrible thing. No one won…everybody lost something. It is sad to see it happening to another town."

Scott suddenly stiffened his shoulders as he looked outside. Murdoch and Val joined him with the Reverend behind them.

Four men slowly rode down the center of the street, slowly, deliberately. Scott instinctively knew who…no, what they were.

Val pursed his lips and blew out a long breath. "If Johnny doesn't come back into town then them gunfighters are gonna start turnin' on each other."

"If this town survives it will be a miracle," Val said, turning to the Reverend. "I think that may be your department, Rev."


Chapter Twenty

Teresa nodded once then jerked her head up at the sound of someone coming back into the tent, sending fingers of fear creeping down her spine. The men who had taken her were so awful. She could feel them undress her with their eyes, and even though Struthers ordered them to leave her alone, she didn't know if they would obey his command.

She stiffened at the sight of one of the men as he slipped in silently, dropping the tent flap closed behind him. He leered at her, his mouth twitching into a lecherous smile.

"Thought you could use a little company tonight, Missy."

Teresa cringed back as the man walked toward her, his hands going to his belt buckle. "Thought you might be lonely."

"Stay away from me," she hissed, yanking frantically at the ropes securing her to the chair. "Mr. Struthers said to leave me alone."

"The boss won't know nothing unless ya tell him."

Teresa drew in a deep breath to scream but it was choked off by a dirty cloth stuffed into her mouth.

"Yer gonna ruin all the fun, Missy." He bent down and kissed her on the cheek, the smell of his vile breath nearly making her vomit, his stubble of a beard scratching her cheek. "It's been too long since I had anything as pretty as you."

She tried to pull her face away but he grabbed her hair, yanking her head back until she was looking at the ceiling of the tent.

"We're gonna do this nice and quiet…"

Teresa shrieked soundlessly as the man's hand rested on her throat then slid slowly down her chest until his fingers were wending their way under her blouse.

"Ya never had a man before, did ya?" Henry grinned. "Well, then yer first is gonna be yer best."

Teresa squeezed her eyes closed and prayed as her blouse was torn open.


Johnny dropped to his belly and silently dragged himself toward the back of the tent. He had waited as long as he could. His plan had been to sneak into camp after everyone had taken to their bedrolls, leaving him with only two guards to take down while the rest of the camp slept. Struthers would be in the tent with Teresa for the night, but he knew the bounty hunter would keep his side of the promise and not hurt her, not until the morning. But when he saw the man slip into the tent he knew he had no more time left.

He reached the tent and drew a knife from his boot, freezing at the sound of the horses' knickering, alerted by his movements. He waited, soundlessly. Sweat dripped into his eyes, but he dared not make a move. The horses calmed down and the sounds of the guards' footsteps as they checked on the remuda settled back into silence.

Holding his breath he sliced an opening in the tent just large enough for him to squeeze through.

One lantern was burning bright, revealing what he had feared the most. Teresa was bound to a chair, her blouse torn open and her undergarment ripped apart exposing her breasts.  The man he had seen sneaking into the tent was leaning over her, biting at her ear and fondling her breasts. Rage nearly overwhelmed him, and he forced himself not to draw and shoot the man straight to hell. Instead he silently slipped inside the tent, knowing Teresa's attacker was concentrating on only one thing. Taking careful aim, he threw the knife and he saw the man jerk in stunned surprise and look toward him, his mouth opening to scream a warning. Johnny rushed across the wide tent and slapped his hand over the attacker's mouth, gripping his chin and snapping the man's neck at the same time. The sound of bones cracking filled the air and the man slumped to the ground, dead.

Teresa looked at him, terrified.

Johnny pulled the knife from the dead man's side and wiped it carelessly on his pants. He had not wanted Teresa to see this side of him, the killer, the hunter…Johnny Madrid…but he had no choice.

"Don't say a word," he hissed as he cut the ropes free. Slipping the gag from her mouth, Johnny pulled Teresa into his arms, holding her tightly against him. "It's going to be all right. Did he hurt you?"

Teresa shook her head, her eyes still wild with fear. Suddenly she backed away from him, trying to draw her blouse over her exposed chest, her movements uncoordinated, but the blouse was too badly ripped. Johnny's heart broke for her. Quickly he grabbed a sheet from the cot in the corner of the tent and draped it over her shoulders.

"We have to get out of here," he whispered.

"Johnny, I'm so sorry…I…"

"There's no time now. Listen to me. I have Barranca ground tied up over the rise in back of this tent, if anything happens to me…"

"No!  I won't leave without you! This is all my fault."

"Shut up and listen! Struthers won't be happy when he finds out one of his men is dead. If he catches you now, what that guy tried to do to you is nothing compared to what he'll do. Now, start running and don't look back."

"Johnny, I never meant for any of this to happen."

"I know. But it has. Now, get going, I'll be right behind you."

Teresa gathered the sheet around her shoulders and slipped awkwardly out of the tent just as the front flap opened.

"She's getting away!" someone yelled, and a bullet ripped through the tent whizzing over Teresa's head.

"Keeping going!" Johnny shouted, diving through the opening and flopping over onto his back aiming for the slit he had cut in the tent. The sound of a surprised scream told him that he had hit his mark.

A barrage of bullets surrounded them as Struthers and his men quickly circled around the outside of the tent and started chasing after them.


Scott and Val watched the four men ride slowly down the street, turning their horses toward the saloon and casually tying them to the hitching rail then disappearing inside.

Scott's shoulders slumped. "They're all here for Johnny."

Val nodded. " `Fraid so."

"But only one can collect the reward."

Val looked at Scott.  Sometimes he forgot Scott was still new at this game. "They know it. And they know not all of them are going to leave this town alive…but it's worth the risk to take down Johnny Madrid."

"Is there nothing you can do, Sheriff?" the Reverend asked.

Val shook his head. "Not tonight. Only thing we can do is try to keep the lid on this town till morning. And hope that Johnny gets Teresa back."

"Is Johnny right?  Will Struthers leave her alone until morning?" Murdoch asked, his voice raw with emotion.

"If Johnny says he will, then he will. It's Johnny Madrid Struthers wants. He'll…"

"Damn it!" Murdoch slammed his hand down on Val's desk. "I knew it was a mistake bringing that boy here. I knew someone would get hurt…that Teresa…"

Scott spun around on his heel. "Are you siding with Hortence and that mob out there now?"

"Of course not. I…Damn it, Scott, Johnny is trouble, and we all know it. It clings to him like moss on a tree. You can't always see it, but it's there…growing…"

"So what do you propose to do about it? Tell Johnny, sorry son, I love you, but you are just too dangerous to have around? I can't believe it. You are buying into all this crap Hortence is feeding everyone."

"No." Murdoch stalked over to where Scott was standing and stood toe to toe with his oldest son. "I won't abandon him now, but when this is over."

Scott pulled back his shoulders, eyeing Murdoch with a disgusted look. "If you can't find a way to keep Johnny in this family, then we aren't much of a family. And I don't mean him living on his own in that cabin, he belongs at Lancer, a full Lancer…or…"

The sounds of gunshots going off in the saloon silenced Scott.

"I guess the night's about to begin," Val sighed. "I sure wish I got a look at that wanted poster, I'd sure like to know who has five thousand dollars to put up for a reward."

"That is a lot of money," the Reverend agreed. "But maybe this will help." He smiled as he pulled a folded paper from his bible and handed it to Val. "I kind of found it on top of the Mayor's papers. I hope he isn't missing it."

"Ya pilfered it?" A smile blossomed on Val's face. "Ya might be just what this town needs."

Another shot rang out…. "It certainly needs guidance of some kind…the spiritual kind…" Montague quickly added.

Val looked over the wanted poster. The drawing of Johnny was accurate and up to date. No details were given except a description of Johnny Madrid and the amount of the reward.

Val stared at it for a long time, finally handing it to Murdoch. "See anything unusual about this?" he asked.

Murdoch studied the poster, the words souring his stomach. "No," he said.

"Look at the words…ya see this?" Val pointed to the letter `a' in Madrid. "See how the top of it is broken a little?"

Scott studied the printing. "Yes, here again," he pointed to the `a' in dollars."

Val grabbed the tattered weekly newspaper sitting on his desk. It appeared to have been used as a coaster for the sheriff's coffee and a napkin for his food. But he was undaunted when he found what he wanted and shoved it at Murdoch and Scott.

"Look here," he said, pointing to the headline. "Look at that `a'"

Scott immediately saw what Val was trying to show them. "The `a's' are the same," he said surprised. "The newspaper and wanted poster were printed on the same press."

Murdoch grabbed the paper out of Val's hand to look at it more closely. "This means someone in town put up the reward."

"But who would have five thousand dollars to put up for…" Scott began when realization hit him. "There's no money to back this up. It was used to get Johnny Madrid to show himself."

"Hortence Shafer," the Reverend said. "I knew she had a lot of hate, but I didn't know the depth of it. I'm sorry gentlemen, I should have done more to try to stop her."

"It's not yer fault, Rev." Val snatched the paper back. "But she's gonna have some explainin' ta do in the morning."

Another gunshot went off and the sounds of hurried footsteps rushed down the boardwalk and the office door slammed open.


Johnny scrambled to catch up with Teresa. She stumbled over the ends of the white sheet flung over her shoulders as she desperately tried to climb up the gentle slope.

The sound of Struthers and his four men grew closer as Teresa's foot caught on the end of the sheet once more and she went down on her stomach hard. Johnny's strong arms were around her waist now and he lifted her up on his hip and climbed toward the waiting Barranca.

Bullets pelted the ground around them in the dark and Teresa waited for the one that would slam into her body, but it was Johnny who grunted and faltered in his step for just a moment.

One of Struthers' men had mounted a horse and rode up behind Johnny and Teresa. Johnny suddenly saw the horse and rider at the top of the rise, gun drawn and aimed at them.

"It's no use, Madrid," Struthers called, "we have you surrounded. Throw your gun down and the girl won't get hurt."

Johnny hesitated. Teresa could feel his grip tighten around her, his chest heaving from the exertion.

"You promise to send the girl back to town, unhurt?" Johnny called.

"No!" Teresa cried.

"Listen to me," Johnny hissed in her ear. "I can do a lot more if I don't have to worry about you. Struthers will keep his word, he'll see that you get to town safely."

"I can't leave you…"

"What will it be, Madrid?" Struthers called. "I'm running out of patience."

Johnny leaned over and kissed Teresa gently on the cheek. "Trust me, querida."

The word `trust' stung Teresa. If she had trusted Johnny in the beginning of all this, they would not be here.

"Hold your fire," Johnny called, and climbed to his feet. He swayed slightly and Teresa quickly wrapped her arm around his waist, her heart stopping for a moment as her hand felt a widening patch of warm sticky blood seeping through his shirt.


"Don't say anything," he whispered sharply. "They can't know I'm hit."

Two of Struthers men rushed up the hill then grabbed their arms and led them roughly down the rise to the front of the tent. The campfire had been fed with fresh wood and burned brightly, sending flickering shadows over the campsite

"Well, if it ain't the great Johnny Madrid," Struthers grinned. "I've waited a long time to see you again, boy. Thought I missed my chance when I heard about the firing squad…then what should turn up but a new bounty on your head."

"You promised to see that the girl made it safely back to town," Johnny said, his voice emotionless. But Teresa could see the sweat dripping down his face, the slight tilt to his stance as he favored his left side.

Struthers nodded. "She'll be safe." Struthers motioned for one of his men to take Teresa back inside the tent. "Tie her up, but don't hurt her."

"No!" she screamed. "No, Johnny!"

"Don't fret, Missy," Struthers grinned. "Nothings gonna happen to your boyfriend tonight. In fact, all of us are gonna ride back into town tomorrow morning and I'll pick up my reward money, then…" He leaned closer to Johnny. "I'll kill him. Pete Struthers taking down the great Johnny Madrid."

Teresa was yanked away from Johnny, her protests fading as the tent flap closed behind her.

"You hurt her…" Johnny began but Struthers only laughed.

"You're not in the position to make threats, Johnny. I always knew it would be a woman who was your downfall. Too much of a bleeding heart."

Struthers nodded toward a nearby tree. "Tie him over there," he ordered. "And make sure the ropes are good and tight. That's five thousand dollars there."

Johnny was roughly led over to the tree by two men. One of them kicked Johnny's feet from under him and he landed hard on his rear, the impact sending waves of pain through his back. He had thought the bullet hadn't gone very deep at first, now he was not so sure. He was in trouble…and his only hope was that Struthers was greedy enough to want both the reward money and an audience watching as Pete Struthers killed the infamous Johnny Madrid.


Chapter Twenty One

Mayor Crenshaw slipped into Val's office, huffing and puffing with fear and exhaustion. He had run from his house on the edge of town, huddling in the dark alleyways and shadowed storefronts as a barrage of bullets pelted the buildings around him.

"Sheriff, this is outrageous," Crenshaw gasped. "They are destroying the town, aren't you going to do anything about it?"

Val shrugged. "Don't know rightly what I can do about it, Mayor. I cain't lock every one of `em up. And I'm only one man."

"Well deputize these two here." He pointed to Scott and Murdoch.

"Not interested," Murdoch said flatly.

"But they'll kill someone before the night's over. Besides, it's your son they are after. If Johnny Madrid…"

"It's Lancer," Scott and Murdoch said in unison.

"And they are here because someone in town put up that reward," Scott said, snapping the newspaper from Val's hand and shoving it into the mayor's chest. "It was written on Edgar Pearlman’s printing press."

"But that's not possible. I didn't authorize…." A bullet shattered a front window and everyone dove for cover.

"Well," Val snorted. "Someone used yer name or paid ole Edgar a pretty penny to print those wanted posters. Don't think they knew they was gonna get this kind a turnout though."

"What are we going to do?" The mayor buried his head in his arms as another bullet streaked across the room above their heads.

Val sighed deeply, crawling over to his desk. "I guess I better try ta calm `em down a bit." He reached up and pulled two of the rifles he had loaded.

"It's suicide to go out there," Scott protested, but he followed Val over to the desk, drawing a rifle down for himself and Murdoch. "But you and Johnny are two sides of the same coin, I couldn't talk him out if it either."

Val grinned broadly. "Johnny said he won the jackpot when he found you two. I guess he was right."

"He said that?" Murdoch asked, surprise turning to guilt knowing he had done little to make his son feel that way.

"Good thing Johnny doesn't know how you really feel about him," Scott said snidely before turning and following Val toward the door, keeping his head down.

Murdoch looked up, feeling the Reverend's eyes on him. There was no accusation in that look…only sympathy, and that stung even more. He had so much to atone for. When this was over, when Johnny was safe, he would seek the Reverend's counsel. He hastily crawled across the room to catch up with Scott and Val.


Johnny tugged at the rope that bound his hands behind him. One of Struthers' men had taken pleasure in yanking his arms backwards around the wide oak tree and cinching his wrists tightly. His "Sorry about the elbow," remark left Johnny puzzled. But they didn't seem to know about the dizzy spells or the bullet that was now lodged deep in his back. He could still feel a slow trickle of blood dampening his shirt and pooling around his belt. He had to get free before morning or he would be too weak from loss of blood to do
anything to save either Teresa or himself.

His only hope was Teresa now, but he was sure they had a guard on her at all times. He should have let Scott come along. Two of them might have had a better chance. Closing his eyes against the pain in his back, Johnny knew second guessing himself right now would do nothing to help his situation.


"I should just let the damn fools kill each other," Val spat as he and Scott ran around the back of Val's office. The plan was to make their way down to the livery stable then cross the street and enter the saloon from the back entrance, hopefully surprising the revelers. Murdoch crouched behind the water trough in front of the mercantile, covering the saloon in case Scott and Val needed to make a hasty retreat.

Murdoch watched the men stagger around in the street, firing blindly at buildings and into the sky. These same men would be stone cold sober by the morning, waiting to be the one to take Johnny Madrid down. Were these the kind of men his son had grown up around? Were these the morals he had learned? Somehow he knew that it was not in Johnny to act like this. Whatever his youngest son had done to stay alive, to make something of himself, no matter how repugnant Murdoch thought it was, he knew this was not Johnny Madrid's way.  

Val opened the back door to the saloon slowly.

"Turn around slowly and step back outside if you don't want a bullet between your eyes."  Val couldn't help but smile at the sound of the familiar feminine voice.

"You didn't say that last time I seen ya, Lydia."

A chorus of sighs filled the room and a lantern was hastily lit.

"You nearly got your head shot off, Val. But I'm glad to see you." Lydia was the saloon hostess, as she liked to call herself. "It's getting rough out there." She nodded toward the barroom. "Those fellas aren't too happy that I pulled my girls out of there, but someone's bound to get hurt, even killed tonight."

Scott saw the four young women huddled in the corner, holding onto each other for dear life.

"Is Johnny all right?" one of the girls asked.

"We don't know. He went after Teresa."

"Too bad they didn't take Hortence instead, then we could have all sat down and celebrated."  Lydia's next sentence was cut off before it began as a barrage of gunfire erupted in the barroom. "Here." Lydia pushed a scattergun into Scott's arms. "This might do more talking than that rifle there."

Scott grinned and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "You always know how to make a man happy, Lydia."


Val and Scott silently eased their way into the saloon, guns drawn. They found Burlap standing on the bar as bullets hit the bar top making the bartender dance. Someone had wound up the player piano creating a bizarre cacophony of music, laughter and gunfire.

Val aimed at the scroll in the piano and fired. Scott stood with his feet slightly braced apart, slowly moving the scattergun back and forth over the crowd.

The gunshots and laughter suddenly stopped, plummeting the saloon into a nerve tingling silence. Burlap climbed down off the bar, badly shaken, disappearing through a door behind the bar into the kitchen.

"You boys are getting a bit noisy here," Val said.

"Just letting off a little steam, Sheriff," one man protested.

Val nodded. "I kin see that. But shootin' up the town's only gonna get ya thrown in jail."

A man dressed in buckskins stepped forward. He was as tall as Scott, a little heavier. A nasty scar traveled down his cheek from the corner of his right eye to the corner of his mouth. He wore his gunbelt high on his hip. He was no gunslinger, Val decided, more likely a bounty hunter. But for Johnny, it meant bad news. He was wanted dead or alive, this man had nothing to prove, no reason to keep Johnny alive.

"There's a lot of guns in here tonight, Sheriff, might be more healthy for you to mind your own business."

Val smiled, glancing over at Scott. Scott still swung the scattergun slowly back and forth over the crowd. "How many do ya reckon ya can take out with that scatter gun, Scott?"

Scott shrugged casually, contemplating the question. "I've got two shells, most likely I could nick everybody in here, of course that's providing they don't get blown to pieces first."

"I think yer right. You boys holster yer guns and keep it down to a roar and I'll be happy."

"Don't see why we can't oblige, Sheriff," the man in buckskins said, then smiled at the sound of more gunfire outside. "Sounds like you still have your hands full though."

"Sounds like it." Val agreed. Nodding toward the door behind them, Val and Scott backed out of the room.

"How long do you think that's going to last?" Scott asked, lowering the heavy scattergun.

"About as long as it takes for us to get out of the building. Least we got Burlap out of there. I think it'd be best if we took the ladies over to the jail for the night."

"What are you going to do about the shooting outside?"

Val shrugged. "Let `em kill each other off…less for us to face tomorrow. I sure hope to hell that that brother of yours has enough sense not to ride back into town."

Scott nodded, helping the ladies to their feet and leading them to the door. "If Johnny finds Teresa that is exactly what he'll do."


Startled, Johnny realized he had drifted off. He stretched his eyes wide trying to clear his vision. To his surprise he had slept several hours. The moon already traveled its arc and was gone for the night. Sunrise would follow in just a few minutes. He checked his bonds again, but nothing had changed, except that his hands had gone numb.

The campfire had died down to a smoldering red ash and only the white of the tent was dimly visible in the darkness.

Then he heard it, what had awoken him in the silence of the sleeping camp…a shuffling in the tall grass behind him…followed by a startled grunt of pain and the thud of a body hitting the ground.  Then he felt a tug on the ropes and his arms were suddenly free, dropping uselessly to the ground, too numb to move.

To Johnny's bleary eyed astonishment it was Teresa who freed his wrist and now stood before him in the early morning light. He quickly noted her cheek was splotched with blood and that a carelessly buttoned shirt stained crimson and still wet, covered the torn bodice of her dress. Though it did the job of covering her exposed breast, it was a gruesome reminder of the trouble they were in.

"Hurry!" she hissed. "Before the rest wake up."

Johnny needed her help to climb to his feet, his legs wobbling like a new born colt's. He felt her shove his gunbelt into his arms and he held it against his chest, his hands tingling back to life.

"Can you ride bareback?" she whispered.

Johnny nodded, knowing that it would take too long for her to saddle two horses, and he couldn't help her with the bullet in his back.

Teresa untied her horse and another, handing the reins to Johnny before untying the rest of the remuda. Turning to Johnny she cupped her hands for him to step into to mount the horse. Johnny didn't hesitate; pride got men killed all too often. He grunted as pain lanced through his back. Teresa looked at her horse helplessly. There was no way she was going to be able to mount the horse. Johnny reached his hand down and swung her in back of him.

With a loud shout he scattered the rest of the horses and galloped away from the camp.


The sun was full up by the time Johnny eased the exhausted horse down a steep embankment to a dry riverbed. They were on the outskirts of Lancer land and he knew the area. Another three hours, and they would be in Green River. He hated subjecting Teresa to an extra hour of riding, but they needed to stay off the main roads.  Struthers would no doubt be looking for them after they rounded up their horses.

The Lancer hacienda was closer in miles, but there was no cover approaching the house and Struthers men would be waiting for them. Likewise for his shack, his new home was secluded in dense trees, but a large swath of open land lay before it.

He felt Teresa's cheek lift from his shoulder. She had her arms cinched tightly around his waist, her fingers locked together in a death grip. He knew that she was responsible for him staying on the horse more than once when he started to black out from pain and loss of blood.

"We can rest here for a few minutes," he said, surprised how husky his voice sounded.

She didn't say a word, just slid off the horse and landed hard on her backside when her legs collapsed beneath her.  The strain of riding double and bareback left her shaking from head to toe.

Johnny didn't fare any better; his legs gave out the minute he slid from the horse. The pain that constantly reminded him that he had a bullet in his back raged anew from the sudden impact and he groaned savagely.

Teresa was immediately at his side. She rolled him onto his stomach despite his protests and pulled his blood soaked shirt up to examine the compress she had hastily applied while they were riding away from Struthers camp.

"The bleeding's slowed down," she reported. "But it's looking wicked. It's infected already. We need to get to town as soon as we can."

"After the horse has rested," Johnny replied, hissing as he turned back over. Teresa quickly skirted her way under him and gently eased his head onto her lap.

"They didn't hurt you, did they?' Johnny asked.  He wasn't sure if he wanted to hear the answer. The shoulder of the shirt she wore was splattered with blood, and it was not his. His wound was low on his back, and she had been in front of him when he took the bullet.

"No," she said hesitantly.

Johnny waited, not wanting to push. He could see in her eyes that something terrible had happened. He wanted to pull her into his arms and protect her. Despite all that had happened, he still loved her. It would take time to forgive her…but the love had never really died.

"Another man," she continued haltingly, "came into the tent when everyone was asleep. He said he wanted to finish what his friend had started." Teresa brushed her hair back from her face, her hands shaking. "He untied me and dragged me to the cot…"

"Teresa…" Johnny reached for her hand but she snatched it away. It was stained with blood. So much blood he thought.

"He took the sheet away from me…and he laughed. He said if I made a sound he would kill you. I was so scared." Her hands went to her chest, feeling the torn bodice beneath the shirt, remembering his filthy hands on her, groping her breasts until she whimpered with pain. "When he leaned over to take his boots off I grabbed a canteen next to the cot and hit him over the head. I hit him over and over again until there was blood all over the floor…" She looked down at Johnny, her eyes haunted. "I killed him."

Johnny raised his hand to stroke her wet cheek, tears spilled off her chin and dripped onto his forehead. He knew the pain of taking a life…it was never an easy thing to do, but the first time was the hardest. It killed a little bit of your self…that little bit you could never get back again.

"You had to, querida," Johnny said softly. "You had no choice."

"And the guard. I hit him so hard." The pain in her voice nearly killed Johnny.

"You saved my life." He gently pulled her head down until her cheek was resting on his forehead. "You did what you had to do…no one will fault you for it."

Teresa cried, inconsolably, for half an hour until all the tears had dried up.

"It's time to go, Teresa," Johnny finally said when her sobs had fallen away. "You have a whole town worried sick about you."

Teresa nodded and eased Johnny's head back to the ground as she stood up to bring the horse over to him.

It took every bit of strength for her to get him back on the horse, and he nearly didn't have the strength himself to hoist her up behind him. But they somehow managed and set off slowly toward Green River.


Chapter Twenty Two

The gunfire had petered out by morning; just an occasional shot rang out as sunrise replaced the blackness of night. Val knew the futility of trying to disarm a dozen bounty hunters and gunhawks. He would end up a dead sheriff and that would do no one any good.

He had taken turns with Murdoch and Scott throughout the night keeping guard on the door. He suspected that no one in Green River had slept that night.

The Reverend had sat quietly, sometimes reading his bible, but mostly watching and listening. He liked the Lancers. Father and son were united in a fight to save another family member, and the love and respect between the two was clear to see. He had to wonder though how the puzzle of Johnny Madrid fit into the dynamics of this family. He had no doubt that most of what Hortence Shaffer's letter had said was outright lies, but there was a ghost of truth in all of it. Murdoch had, himself, denounced Johnny in a moment of outrage. The words were a spontaneous moment of anger, hurting Murdoch as much as they hurt his son Scott, or would hurt Johnny if he heard them. He would pray that the young man would never hear of them, spoken as they were out of fear and frustration, not out of truth.

"If Johnny found Teresa he'll bring her back ta town," Val said, looking out the window. The street looked desolate now, no one ventured out of their homes or businesses.  But Val had no doubt that there were men lying in wait for their five thousand dollar bounty, and the bragging rights to take down Johnny Madrid any way they could. "I think we need someone posted at each end of town ta stop `im."

Murdoch nodded his agreement. "Scott and I will go."

Reverend Montague stood and stretched his back. "You'll need food and water," he said, glancing at the `hell brew' Val passed off for coffee in the frying pan on the pot bellied stove. "The mercantile isn't open yet, but when it does I'll gather what you need. I don't think anyone will pay much attention to a man of the cloth today."

The mayor sat up from his cot inside an open jail cell. "That's much too dangerous, Reverend."

The Reverend turned on the simpering rotund man. "It is more dangerous to look away and not help, Mayor. I will not have a problem living with my conscious, can you say the same?"

Mayor Crenshaw turned his head away. See no evil, hear no evil…

The Reverend turned back to the Lancers. "I'll leave the supplies in the livery stable and have the liveryman saddle your horses."

Murdoch nodded. "We'll head out the back of the livery and make our way to the edge of town beyond the clearing. No one will be looking there."

"Hopefully they'll all kill themselves off before Johnny gets here." Val grinned, "Five thousand dollars and the bragging rights ta take Johnny Madrid out is gonna make some of them yokels real careless."

Scott took Val's place looking out on the empty street. "They can't all collect the reward."

"Course not. But some of `em ain't interested in the money, only the reputation they'll get from killing Johnny Madrid. I'm hoping ta get Johnny in a cell here, out of harm's way `til things simmer down. If I take `em in myself, then there's no reward…that'll send half of `im away."

"Let's hope so, Val." Murdoch nodded to the Reverend and slipped out the back door behind Scott as the Reverend boldly stepped out the front door.


The stagecoach hit another deep rut, bouncing the passengers inside like rag dolls.

"I don't remember this road being this bad," Victoria Barkley said as she tried to right herself before the stage lurched again, an apology in her eyes for her companion, Governor Atwater.

"It was them heavy rains last month that wiped out most of the roads `round here," Kyle Bedford offered. "Stage line promised ta smooth `em out, but I'll believe it when I see it. Never did see a company man or a politician keep his word afore."

Victoria had a hard time keeping the smile off her face as Kyle Bedford expounded on his heartfelt thoughts about both the president of the stage line and politicians in general.

His tirade over, Kyle squinted suspiciously at Victoria. "What are ya doing out this way, Miz Barkley? And without one of yer boys. This kin be dangerous country fer a woman ta be travelin' alone in."

"Oh, I'm just visiting an old friend, Mr. Bedford. Murdoch Lancer."

Kyle stiffened, his mouth shaping into an oh.  "Ya picked a poor time ta go a visitin', Miz Barkley. Ain't ya heard what's been going on in Green River?"

"A little, Mr. Bedford. But why don't you tell me what you know."

Kyle righted himself after another deep rut sent the coach swaying. Nothing would please him more than telling everyone what he knew. He traveled the trails alone most of the time, between Green River and Morro Coyo, eking out a living trapping meat for the restaurants. But today he had treated himself and took the stage. "It's a real mess there, ma'am. I lived here more'n half my life and I ain't never seen nothin' like it. That old Hortence Shaffer's got a bee up her pantaloons…" Kyle blushed. "Sorry, ma'am."

Victoria tried to smile discreetly. "I'm sure even Hortence Shaffer wears pantaloons."

"You know her, Miz Barkley?" Kyle asked in surprise.

"No, Mr. Bedford, but I have heard of her. Tell me, what is going on there?"

"Don't know why, but she, sudden like, got it in her head that Miss Teresa weren't safe at the Lancer ranch with Johnny `round."  Kyle shook his head. "Dang stupid woman There's no one she'd be safer with. Hell…sorry again, ma'am. If I had me a daughter  wouldn't find no fault with `er takin up with Johnny Lancer. He's a good boy, and I pride myself on bein' a good judge a people."

"There have been some disturbing allegations made against Johnny Lancer," the Governor said, speaking for the first time.

"Alla – what?"

"There have been rumors about Johnny Lancer's past," Victoria offered.

"Ya seen that letter too? I hoped it would get no further than Green River. If ya knew that boy you'd know that most of it is a pack of lies. Not ta say, that he weren't no gunfighter…but he never took them final steps ta becomin' a cold blooded killer. Ya kin see it in his eyes…they're still alive. Men I know who crossed the line, they ain't got nothin' but death in their eyes."

Silence drifted over the occupants of the coach, only the sound of the galloping horses and the rattle of tack and wood disturbed the uneasy quiet.

"I hope to meet the young man while we're in town," Governor Atwater said, breaking the uneasy silence.

"Ain't likely." Kyle shook his head. "I heard that the town is swarming with bounty hunters and gunhawks…all looking for the kid. Someone put up an award fer five thousand dollars on his head."

"For what?" Victoria asked, stunned.

Kyle shrugged. "Way I hear it, nobody knows, it just popped up.  Now, if you was smart, Miz Barkley, you'd stay on this stage in Green River and ride right on through town. It ain't a safe place for anyone right now."

"Thank you for the warning, Mr. Bedford. But we'll be careful."

"See that you are." Kyle warned. "The town's  ready to explode, gunhawks and bounty hunters or not. Hear tell it, that Hortence's got everybody up in a lather. Talk is that the town is hungry fer a lynchin'"

Victoria looked at the governor sitting beside her and saw the lines of his mouth tighten. She knew Jonathan Atwater to be a hard man when it came to politics, now she wondered what kind of man he would be when faced with a town that had murder on its mind.

She sat back wondering how her friend Murdoch was handling this as well. To have you own son…

The coach suddenly began to slow and the sound of the driver's voice drifted down to them as he coaxed the horses to a stop.


Teresa was near exhaustion as she struggled to keep Johnny on the horse. He had slumped forward until his head was resting in the mane of the roan's bobbing neck. Despite being weak from loss of blood and a rising fever, he had stayed conscious most of the ride, until now.

The stench of the drying blood on her clothes nearly made her vomit, but she held it together, knowing she was Johnny's only chance for survival. She held back the tears of guilt and self loathing as she thought how Johnny had risked his own life to save hers, even after all she had done to him, the way she had pushed him away so callously. By all rights she should be carrying that bullet in her back, not him.

She had kept them to the back trails for as long as she could, but now it was open space between here and town if she didn't want to spend another four hours skirting around the back of the town. Johnny didn't have that kind of time. She had no choice but to break cover and pray that Struthers would think they were already in town by now.

She heard the sound of horses galloping and the jingling of tack behind her, and her first instinct was to run for cover again. But she realized that Struthers didn't have a wagon and there was no way she could keep Johnny on the horse if she made a run for it anyway. Taking a deep breath she looked back and nearly screamed with relief at the sight of the Green River bound stagecoach barreling toward them.

Saying a silent prayer she turned the horse around and headed back to intercept the stage.

The sound must have awakened Johnny, because he struggled to sit back up, leaning heavily against Teresa.


"It's the stagecoach. We're going to be all right, Johnny."

Pulling strength from reserves Teresa didn't know Johnny had left, he sat up straight as the horse walked slowly toward the stage. Never show your weakness. She remembered Johnny saying that.

Hardly aware of how she looked anymore, Teresa waited until the coach came to a full stop amid a plume of throat clogging dust.

"Good Lord," Abe shouted from the driver's seat. "Is that you, Teresa?"

Teresa was near tears as she saw the first friendly face in how long she couldn't remember. "We need help, Abe. There are men following us."

The door to the coach swung open and Teresa nearly fell off the horse at the sight of Victoria Barkley rushing toward her.

"Teresa," she called, running through the dust. "What happened?"

Two men climbed out of the coach behind Victoria and Teresa was suddenly surrounded by hands helping her down, but she pulled away trying to reach Johnny as he picked up the reins and began to turn the horse in the direction they had come from.

"Johnny, no!"

"Get her home," Johnny said softly, his strength waning. "Struthers wants me, not Teresa. Get her to safety, she's been through enough."

"It seems you've been through enough yourself," the governor said, grabbing the reins and pulling the horse back. The sudden jerk unsettled Johnny and he slipped off the horse into the waiting arms of Kyle and Abe who gently carried him over to the shady side of the coach.

"What happened?" Victoria demanded again, frightened by the amount of blood that covered the girl's face and clothes.

"I was kidnapped and Johnny saved me. They could still be after us." She looked back at the horse they had been riding and darted over to its side, slapping it on the rump. "They can't know that we're here," she said, as the horse galloped away.

Johnny struggled to lever himself up on one elbow but he was easily forced back down. "You lie still," Victoria ordered. "Now," turning back to Teresa she spoke in a calm but firm voice. "What happened?"

Teresa looked down at Johnny and brushed the hair from his eyes. "I made a terrible mistake," she said. "I didn't trust Johnny when I knew I should have. I hurt him, and so many other people."

"Who kidnapped you?" the governor asked, pulling his suit coat off and unbuttoning his collar.

"Struthers," Johnny said, gritting his teeth against the pain in his back. "He wants the five thousand dollar reward on my head. Said he'd kill Teresa if the town didn't turn me over to them."

"And you went after her?" Victoria asked incredulously.

"I know Struthers. He would of kept his promise and killed her if I didn't show up."

"And I assume you are Johnny Madrid," Governor Atwater said, rolling up his shirtsleeves.

"He's Johnny Lancer," Teresa said emphatically. "And Johnny Madrid. And I am proud to call them both my brother."

"How badly is he hurt?" Victoria asked, uncorking the canteen Abe handed her and lifting Johnny's head to dribble the tepid water into his mouth. "Not too much," she warned, "you'll make yourself sick."

"He was shot in the back while we were escaping. I got the bleeding stopped, but he lost a lot of blood. And he's feverish."

"Let's get him turned over and have a look," the governor ordered.

"No." Johnny grabbed his arm. "There's not enough time. If they see you here with us they'll kill all of you. Take Teresa and get her to town."

"And you?" Victoria asked.

"Hide me under that brush over there. I'll be fine until someone can come back to pick me up. Believe me, I've had worse than this."

"Nonsense." Victoria snapped. "No one is leaving anyone behind." With that she helped the governor and Kyle turn Johnny onto his stomach despite his protests.

"Driver," the governor ordered, "I will need my satchel from up top and Victoria I'll need something for bandages." Noticing the look on Teresa's face he said. "I did my fair share of doctoring in the war. I was hurt and couldn't fight in the field but I could take care of the wounded."

"There's no time for this." Johnny struggled to roll onto his back but strong hands kept him in place. He felt his shirt ripped apart and the bandages being cut away with a knife. "You don't know Struthers. We killed his men…"

Teresa's hand touched his cheek. "I killed them, Johnny. And I would do it again to save you."

Victoria looked at the young woman. She saw the terror in her eyes, and the devotion she had for this young man. He seemed a far cry from the man she had read about in the letter Scott had showed her and Jarrod.

"We have time for this," she insisted.

"That bullet is in deep," Atwater hissed. "Too deep for me to get it out here. Besides if we start the bleeding again I don't have the necessary equipment to handle it. How far is Green River?"

"Another hour," Abe said, leaning over the circle of people tending to Johnny.

"Then let's get him in the coach. But before that…" he pulled a brown bottle from his satchel.

Victoria looked at him, surprised.

"I have a war wound, Victoria. It flares up now and again and this helps."

"No laudanum," Johnny said, seeing the bottle from the corner of his eye.

"Just enough to make the ride bearable. I promise, I won't knock you out. Now, one swallow is all you'll need."

Johnny shook his head even as the nasty medicine was forced down his throat.

"You don't know what you're doing," he warned as Atwater and Teresa wrapped bandages around his chest to keep the wound covered.

Victoria sat back and looked at the governor. She was responsible for putting him in this danger. But as she watched him work over Johnny's back she realized that he was more than capable of taking care of himself. And he would have to. She had met men like Struthers…they got what they wanted or died trying.

She glanced over at Atwater's jacket slung careless away a few moments ago and saw the tip of a letter peeking out of the inside breast pocket. It could only be Hortence Shaffer's letter. Damn that woman…she had brought forth the Hounds of Hell.


Chapter Twenty Three

Hortence carefully parted the curtains and looked out the window at the deserted street. It was nearly eleven and Green River was as still as a ghost town.

She knew this would happen. Tried to warn everyone, but no one would listen. Johnny Madrid was bound to draw riff-raft and killers to town. And now everyone was in danger. And Teresa, the poor child, what she must be going through in the hands of that awful bounty hunter and his men. Hortence clutched the delicate hanky in her hand, squeezing it tightly as she once again sniffed at the thought that Teresa might not survive her ordeal. And if she did…no man would want her afterwards. She shook her head sadly. Someone should have been man enough to go after those men. If anyone thought that Johnny Madrid was going to risk his own life to help Teresa, they were sadly mistaken. He was probably a hundred miles from here by now, no doubt back in Mexico. So be it, that is where he belonged anyway. If Murdoch Lancer had not offered him a third of the Lancer ranch then none of this would have happened in the first place. She would never understand how he could put a killer like Madrid before everyone else. Even if he was Murdoch's son, he had no business living with the good folks of Green River.

Hortence sighed deeply and walked back to her writing table. Her first letter to the governor had gone unanswered. It was time to write another one. And this time there was no doubt that Johnny Madrid needed to be exiled from this town. From the state if she had her way.


The stagecoach hit another deep rut and Teresa held tightly onto Johnny's arm. Sitting close, she could feel his languid movements brought on by the laudanum, masking the deep constant pain of the bullet, but it couldn't save him from the bone jarring jolts as the road worsened. She slipped her arm behind him, pushing his back away from the hardback cushion of the coach.

Victoria sat opposite him and reached over and clasped Johnny's hand, feeling the heat from the fever that was rising quickly. His face had gone two shades paler in just the last fifteen minutes.

"This won't do," she said. "He won't make it all the way to Green River like this."

Atwater nodded. "I was about to say the same thing." Leaning out the window he yelled up at Abe. "Driver! Find a good place to pull over, we're camping out tonight."

The coach veered off the road immediately. It appeared that Abe had the same idea.

"No," Johnny sat forward, the movement bringing a grunt from deep in his throat. "It's too dangerous. Struthers will be looking for us."

The wheel hit another rut and the stage bottomed out hard, bouncing the passengers nearly to the roof of the coach. Johnny clutched at the seat, trying to find something to hold onto, but his fingers were ripped from the edge of the seat by another deep pothole and he landed in Teresa's lap. Gritting his teeth to keep from groaning, he righted himself.

"Another jolt like that will likely kill you with that bullet in your back," Atwater said grimly. He sat beside Victoria, studying the young man before him. He saw the surprisingly blue eyes, now glazed from the fever, and the slightly dazed look from the laudanum. The young man needed more of the drug, and like it or not, he was going to get more.

"Listen to the man, Johnny," Kyle said. "Ya look worse than a half dead mule and twice as stubborn. `Sides, that town ain't gonna be welcomin' ya with open arms, more like a neck tie party. Do what the lady and gent says."

The coach came to a stop and Abe swung the door open. "There's some cover over there. Best I could find." They all looked at a stand of trees ten yards away. The sound of a stream filtered out from somewhere within those trees.

Teresa scrambled out of the coach and waited while Kyle and Atwater helped Johnny down. Angry that they had stopped on his account, he tried to push them aside, but his knees buckled, making him even madder.

Victoria jumped down from the coach and rounded Johnny, now slumped between Kyle and Atwater, trying to gather his feet beneath him. "You will do as you are told, young man. Everyone here is trying to help you. If you think being stubborn and dying on us is going to help Teresa then you are sadly mistaken. This child has been through enough. She doesn't need to bury you too. Now let Mr. Bedford and Mr. Atwater help you."

Johnny looked at her for a long moment, trying to stare her down despite his sagging eyelids, then the faintest of smiles crossed his face. "Dios, ma'am, are you always this bossy?" he drawled faintly.

Atwater chuckled. "Son, you have no idea. Now, let's get you settled."

Johnny nodded reluctantly before he shouted up to Abe who was already on top of the stage rummaging through the baggage for the rainproof tarp that held blankets and camping gear for emergencies. "Abe, throw down my gun."

"Already got it, Johnny."

Teresa quickly turned and took the gun as Abe leaned down from the top of the coach, feeling a moment of safety knowing it would be back in Johnny's hands.

Quickly showing it to Johnny, she waited for Abe to throw down the camping gear and she and Victoria each took an end of the rolled tarp and headed for the clearing to set up camp for Johnny.


Murdoch took a long swallow of tepid water from his canteen. It was hot and he was tired of sitting, hidden behind an outcropping of rocks. What little shade he had in the morning had disappeared long ago as the sun traveled across the sky. But he would spend a dozen days here if it meant stopping Johnny from walking into the powder keg that awaited him in Green River.

How different would this nightmare have been if he had handled things differently from the start?  Long before Hortence Shaffer had started her literary assassination against Johnny.

He should have told Teresa about Johnny Madrid. Not all the sordid details, not everything he had read in the Pinkerton reports, but about his life, the hardships he had endured. What had stopped him? He knew now it was not to protect her, but himself. By telling her, he was admitting that he was unable to take care of his son, to keep him from the pain and anger he felt as a child then as an adult. Teresa looked up to him, thought he could do no wrong…but she was so mistaken. He wasn't even able to take care of his own son.

And he should have confronted Johnny with Hortence's letter. Johnny had a right to know what was being said about him, to fight for his name and reputation. Instead he had punched him so hard that he still had the effects of the blow. And now he was out there trying to save Teresa. It didn't seem possible that life would be the same again.

Shifting to ease his back, he suddenly realized that the road had been uncommonly quiet today. Not one rider had passed by him, not even the Green River stage. Was everybody giving the town a wide berth? Everybody that is, but bounty hunters and gunhawks. He sighed deeply and took another swallow of water. No one was going to come out of this ordeal unscathed.


On the opposite end of town, Scott sat behind a similar outcropping of rocks. The long day gave him nothing to do but think, and his thoughts were traveling in a direction he didn't like. Murdoch's words kept running through his head and the more he heard them the angrier he became. They had all made so much progress…but no one had had to make more changes than Johnny. Scott knew all too well that lessons learned in battle were ingrained in a man's mind for life. To unlearn them, or shove them aside took more strength than most men had. Johnny had gained a lifetime of those kind of lessons, and yet he was forcing them into the background of his mind, allowing this new life as Johnny Lancer to emerge. But now Johnny had been forced to rely on those lessons again, would he ever be able to rebury them? If Murdoch had protected him, stood beside him instead of trying to keep Johnny a prisoner against the truth, maybe things could have been different. Hortence could have been shot down by the truth. Teresa would still be at home safe and trusting Johnny. Scott shook his head sadly. The bigotry and hate of an old woman and the stupidity of an old man were not only destroying his family but an entire town. When this was over, no matter how it was resolved, it would be a long time before the citizens of Green River could look themselves in the mirror and not see the face of guilt looking back at them.


Johnny protested all the way to the small clearing beneath a heavy stand of pine trees. His back hurt like hell and each step he took jarred his insides like a fifty-foot drop, but he was determined to stay conscious. No one knew how much trouble they were in being here with him and Teresa. If Struthers found them they would all be dead.

Atwater and Kyle took it slow, allowing him to stay on his feet and retain his dignity, until he found to his dismay that Victoria and Teresa already had a tarp laid out. Teresa sat on the edge of it using a knife to cut away strips of material from her petticoat for bandaging. He could hear a stream dancing beyond their camp and Victoria appeared from that direction, lugging a bucket of water.

"Lay him right here," Victoria ordered, and Johnny found himself being lowered face down onto the tarp.

Johnny realized they handled him with ease and that worried him. He knew he'd lost a lot of blood, he had felt the warm rivulets slowly running down his back all through the night while tied to that tree. Their desperate escape and his determination to stay in the saddle without Teresa's help worsened the wound and made it bleed all the more. There had been no time to waste, no time to think or speak of his injury, let alone do anything about it. The cost of not relying on her added strength had cost him and eventually robbed him of the last bit of energy he had in reserve. He now felt like a rag doll…helpless to fight them as they placed him gently as possible on the tarp.

"Listen to me," he said, his voice sounding strange to him with his ear pressed to the ground. "There's still time. Get Teresa back on that stage and get her to Green River."

His words were ignored and he felt his shirt cut away from his back. He damned the position they had placed him in. He couldn't see anything but the ground and the occasional skirt or pant leg as they moved around him. He smelled smoke and knew they had started a fire.

"No fire," he panted. "They'll see it."

"Doesn't matter." That was Atwater's voice. "That bullet has to come out now. Infection is spreading too fast." Atwater was down on his knees now, his face close to Johnny's. "This isn't going to be easy, Son, but it has to be done. I know you don't know me from Adam, but I promise you, you can trust me. I won't let anything happen to Teresa."

"You don't know what kind of men you're facing."

"I have a pretty good idea. But just in case they come along, Victoria found a place set to hide Teresa and they won't spot you either. Abe is fixing the stagecoach right now to look like it broke down. Now you just relax as best you can and let us do the worrying."

Johnny dragged his hand across the ground until he had his fingers clamped, with surprising strength around Atwater's wrist. "My gun."

"You are in no condition to handle a gun."

There was a swish of material and Johnny recognized the hem of Teresa's skirt as she laid the gun on the tarp beside him.

Releasing Atwater's wrist, Johnny grabbed the colt with a shaky hand and dragged it to his side. "Gracias, querida," he said softly as he heard her walk away. The fear that Struthers and his men had done irretrievable damage to Teresa tore at his heart. She had been forced to kill a man…two men to survive and to save him. She could never go back again. She would never be the innocent. He had turned that corner when he was ten and he knew the pain she was going through.

"Promise me," Johnny said, as he felt Atwater start to move away from him, his voice more air than sound now. "Promise me you'll take care of her. She doesn't deserve this."

The hand that came to rest on his arm was strong and solid, filled with promise.

"Nothing more will happen to her, I give you my word."

Johnny nodded. Somehow he knew there was truth in those words. He relaxed into the tarp, despite the pain, and waited for the ordeal to come. At least with the bullet out of his back he could face what waited him in Green River.


Victoria stood silently, listening to the exchange between Johnny Lancer and the governor. She remembered the passion Scott Lancer held in his voice as he stood in her den trying to explain how a, supposedly hardened ex-gunfighter, would warrant her help. She had almost turned him down, knowing a little of Johnny Madrid's reputation. But in the end Scott had convinced both her and Jarrod that there was something worth saving in his younger half brother…and now she knew how right he was.

Her heart dropped at the sight of Johnny weakly clutching the gun Teresa had handed him and she knew that this was another side to the enigma that was Johnny Lancer, the dangerous side, the Johnny Madrid side. She fervently hoped that she would get the chance to know this young man. But the bullet was deep and the infection was spreading fast. To add to their troubles, their little makeshift camp was not the most ideal of settings to perform surgery. But as Teresa knelt down beside his back and began to wash away the blood she saw the old scars marring his back and knew he had survived before. And, she thought, a small, sad smile touching her lips, she believed he had never had so much to fight for. There and then she knew that each person there would fight to the death to save this boy.


Little was said as the camp was readied for the surgery that would remove the bullet from Johnny's back. Water was set to boil on the fire in a pot that had mysteriously appeared in Abe's hand. It seemed the old stage driver had the uncanny knack for being able to produce anything a person could ever need or want, just by the asking of it.

"You know," Atwater reflected, as he set the knife in the flickering flame of the campfire, "I once knew an old prospector. He had a claim up near the Klamath River. There wasn't a thing a person needed that he didn't have. You asked for it and old Charley produced it. I have a feeling that you and old Charley are related in some way."

Abe chuckled. "Then I bet he was a handsome cuss." But his smile faded quickly. "And if he's kin of mine, then ya know he takes care of his friends. And Johnny's a friend. A good friend."

"I know." Atwater looked back at Johnny. "I know. I keep running into them." Clearing his throat he added, "I'll do my best for him."

"See that you do."

Atwater nodded and watched the old man walk away to kneel next to Johnny, leaning down close to the boy's face to talk to him softly. How did a man with Johnny Madrid's reputation garner so much love and respect?

Victoria walked over to him, threading her arm through his. "I remember the first letter Murdoch Lancer sent to me after he had found out that Johnny Madrid was his son. Murdoch never was a man to wear his feelings on his sleeve, but I could read between the lines, his worry and indecision. If Johnny was as bad as his reputation said, what would he be exposing Teresa and the rest of Lancer to? The next letter was a week after Day Pardee had been killed and Johnny had just turned the corner, and was expected to make a full recovery. He described the fight in infinite detail, as if he could purge some of the fear and uncertainty in the words he wrote on paper. He told me how he watched in horror as Johnny was shot off his horse, the worst moment in his life when he thought he had lost his son forever. He said there was so much anger and confusion in the young man. They all tried, even Scott, who was as much of a stranger to Murdoch as Johnny. Murdoch worried that the boy would leave as soon as he was able to travel. But the next letter…" Victoria looked over at Johnny and saw Teresa sit down next to him, gently drawing his hand into her lap. "The next letter was filled with hope. The hard, dangerous gunfighter was retreating and the real Johnny was emerging. I remembered those words when Scott came to us for help. I hesitated before contacting you, knowing I was asking a lot of you to become involved in this. But…"

Atwater sandwiched Victoria's small hand between his larger ones. "I'm glad you did. Sitting behind a desk in Sacramento, you sometimes loose sight of the individual. That young man reminds me of why I took the oath of office.”  

Victoria leaned her head against Atwater's arm. "He grows on you, doesn't he?"

Atwater chuckled. "That he does. Let's get this done while we still have plenty of light."


Johnny felt a change in the air and knew it was time. He could no longer deny that he was in a lot of trouble, so when Teresa's gentle hands lifted his head just enough for Victoria to drizzled more laudanum into his mouth, he didn't fight them. He had done all he could. And he trusted these people. He had an innate ability to read people, and he knew that Teresa was safe in their hands. He felt the drug flow through his veins, draining the feelings from his arms and legs, drawing him into its protective blackness.


Despite the laudanum, Johnny bucked as Atwater searched for the bullet. Kyle and Abe held his shoulders and legs down while Atwater straddled his back. Victoria sponged the blood up as he worked, knowing that Johnny was losing too much blood, but there was nothing they could do. Teresa sat by his head, leaning over him, wiping his brow and speaking softly to him, promising him that it would be over soon.

An hour later it was. Victoria packed the larger hole with a whiskey soaked wad of petticoat and, with Abe and Kyle's help, tightly wrapped his chest. A log was brought over, covered with clothes from Victoria's valise to cushion it, and Johnny was carefully maneuvered onto his side, leaning against the log.

Now silence claimed the camp. Only the crackle of the banked fire and the trickle of water, wrung from Teresa's cloth, broke the quiet.  She wiped the sweat from Johnny's fevered face and arms, then wet the cloth again.

Abe and Kyle had taken positions to watch for Struthers and his men.

"Will he be all right?" Victoria finally asked, her voice strained with exhaustion.

Atwater nodded. "The bullet didn't hit any vital organs and I think I got most of the infection. I would prefer that he were in a proper bed in a proper house, but something tells me that this is not the worst that boy has been through."

"Murdoch says he keeps his past to himself. I don't know if anyone will ever really know what that child went through. Or how he could have come out with a soul and a conscience."

"I hope I have a chance to find out. I find it hard to attribute the facts in Miss Shaffer's letter to the young man lying over there. What she did was reprehensible." He snapped a twig, the sound drawing Teresa's attention. Her eyes looked haunted as she looked up and Victoria's heart broke at the sadness she saw there.

"She has a lot to answer for," Atwater said bitterly. "She asked the governor for help and she is going to get it. Just not the kind she expected."

"I will look forward to the meeting. Meanwhile…" Victoria got to her feet. "I think we could all do with some food. I will ask Mr. Bedford to catch a rabbit or two and make a broth for Johnny. He'll need something more than water to regain his strength."

"Maybe you can get Teresa to help you, she could do with a rest."

Victoria looked over at Teresa, watching her for a long moment as she wiped Johnny's face with the cloth. "No," she said. "Leave her be. She needs this. They need each other."

Atwater nodded. "You are a wise woman, Victoria Barkley."

"Wise enough, I hope, to help Teresa when the shock is over and she starts asking why."


Chapter Twenty Four

As the day plodded on, a few of the more stalwart citizens skulked out of hiding and began to open their storefronts and cautiously carry on with their lives. Still it wasn't the Green River Val knew. The doors were open, but goods were not set out on the boardwalk for inspection and no one stood around the storefronts talking about the weather, the high cost of feed and the low price of cattle.

As he walked down the boardwalk, Val noted the gunslingers and bounty hunters sitting around aimlessly. But he knew that was just a cover, every one of them was as alert as he was, waiting for Johnny Madrid to come riding back into town.

It was getting late in the day, only another two hours of sunlight. It seemed almost useless to open the town back up for just a couple of hours…but people needed supplies, and soon husbands were sent out to retrieve the necessities from the mercantile and replenish their bravery with a drink at the saloon.

The mayor had returned to his home, ruffled, but unhurt. The telegraph office remained closed and locked and Josh at the stage depot was looking down the street expectantly.

"No stage yet, huh Josh?" Val asked.

Josh was a small man, balding and nearly blind. His horn rimmed glasses were so thick that his eyes looked like saucers behind the lenses, but he ran the depot like a drill sergeant and the stage was seldom late, and once it pulled into Green River you could bet your bottom dollar on it pulling out of town on time.

"No, Sheriff, and with the telegraph office still closed I don't know if it even left Sacramento this morning."

"Ya think they heard `bout our problem here and decided not ta send it?"

"It's possible. The stationmaster would be honor bound to tell the passengers that there was trouble here. They may have cancelled the run all together."

Val scrubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin. Shaving was the last thing on his mind today…hell, it was the last thing on his mind most days.

"All right, Josh." Val looked down the street and his hand automatically brushed the gun on his hip. "I can't make Maynard open the telegraph office today if he's a mind to keep out of harm's way. But I'll nudge him real hard in the mornin' if the stage still isn't here."

"Thank's, Sheriff." Josh looked toward the hotel and grimaced at the sight of four gunmen rocking on the chairs set on the porch. "Now I wish I had paid more attention to Hortence, she said this was going to happen."

Val turned on Josh, his nose just inches away from the old man's glasses. "You listen here," he said, his anger welling up inside him. "Johnny ain't done a thing wrong in this town, and ya know it. You probably wouldn't have a stage office to run if he didn't help run Day Pardee out of this valley. You and the rest of the good citizens were ready to slap him on the back when he saved yer hides, and now when he needs you, you want to send him to the wolves. If I were him, I'd turn my back on the lot of ya. But he'll be back, because Johnny Lancer ain't the type to put his tail between his legs and run. When he finds Teresa, he'll be back…and you'll most likely get yer pound of flesh. This town makes my innards crawl. When this is over I'll be heading out. Can't stand ta protect people I don't respect no more."

Val walked away, leaving Josh stunned. Silently Josh stepped back into his office and closed the door. He drew a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer and poured a healthy shot into a glass. Maybe a little liquid courage would get Val's words out of his mind.


Murdoch shifted his long legs trying to stretch out his aching back. It was late afternoon and if Johnny was on his way back, he would wait until full darkness and sneak into town. Even the stage had not passed him and that concerned him. He considered riding out and seeing if it had broken down along the way, but he could end up riding as far as Sacramento only to find that the stage had never left. And, at the moment, Johnny and Teresa were his main concern. He decided to return to town. Maybe Scott had better luck.


"Riders coming'!" Kyle rushed into camp, his rifle slung over his shoulder. "Ya best get Teresa hid and the boy out a sight."

"How many?" Atwater asked, already dragging the limb of an oak tree between Johnny's sleeping form and the fire. Someone would have to walk around the heavy branches to see him lying there.

"Half dozen," Kyle reported.

"All right, let's give them a good show."

Victoria returned to the clearing. "Teresa wants to stay next to Johnny. I can't blame her."

Atwater shook his head. "If they spot Johnny I don't want them to see her too."

"I agree." Taking one last look at Johnny she satisfied herself that his breathing was even and deep beneath the effects of the laudanum. She walked over to the fire and sat down next to Atwater to wait. "I hope that laudanum keeps him quiet," she said.

"I gave him a large dose earlier. He'll be out most of the night."

Abe took his position next to the stage, the back wheel of the coach looking precariously unstable. A well placed log made it look like the back axle had snapped.

Kyle dropped down next to Victoria and Atwater and stretched out as if he didn't have a care in the world. He gave them a wide grin as he slipped his rifle beneath him and pulled his hat over his face. Now all they could do was wait.

It didn't take long for the six men to ride into camp.

Victoria immediately went to work. She jumped to her feet, her hands clasped to her throat. "Oh dear Lord, thank you, we've been saved," she wailed. "I told Mr. Brown here that some Good Samaritan would come along and help us. You will help us, won't you?"

Struthers ignored Victoria and looked around the makeshift camp. "Anyone see a man and a woman riding bareback?"

"Yer the first person we done seen all day," Abe said from the coach. "Someone want ta give me a hand with this here wheel? With all ya fellas helpin', we could have this rig runnin' again in a couple a hours."

"We don't have time." Struthers dismounted and began searching the camp with his eyes. "You didn't answer my question…did you see a man and a woman….the man'll be most likely hurting."

Kyle pushed his hat off his face and shook his head. "Nope. I think I'd a noticed two horses being rid bareback."

"They're on one horse. If I find out that you're not telling me the truth." Struthers turned and ordered his men to dismount and search the camp. "We'll be on our way as soon as we have a look around."

"You're not leaving us here like this!" Victoria panicked, stepping in Struthers' way and weakly pounding her fists on his chest. "We'll die here. Please, help us fix the stagecoach. Please. I don't have any money to give you, but I have a case of peaches I just put up, you're welcome to half of them if you help me." Huge tears breached her eyes and flowed down her cheeks. "Please." She clung to Struthers until the man had to physically toss her aside.

Atwater stood up, arranging his vest pompously. "It would be a great help if you did take her, Sir. She has not shut up for one moment since the stage broke down. I fear I may have to silence her myself."

"You see," Victoria wailed. "I can't stay here another minute with these…these… men…."

Struthers chuckled as he motioned for his men to stay in their saddles and mounted his horse. "You can have her…and good luck. And if you see that man and woman you best not try to help them. The woman belongs to me and no man takes what's mine." He dipped his hat at Victoria. "Ma'am."

Victoria wailed one last time as the men disappeared from camp.

"My dear Mrs. Barkley," Atwater drew Victoria into his arms. "I believe you have missed your calling. I can see that the New York stage is your next stop."

Victoria allowed herself a moment to relax in his steady arms, then squared her shoulders and brushed the tears from her cheek. "You check on Johnny and I'll see to Teresa."


It was twilight by the time Scott slowly rode back into town. Lights were beginning to shine through the windows and behind locked doors. It was a warm night, a night that should have seen dozens of people still milling around the streets in the balmy air. But everything was closed up tight. Even the raucous laughter and the off- key piano behind the doors of the Green River Saloon were silent.

It reminded Scott of the war, when a town prepared for a siege. He couldn't help but think of the parallels between the war he had fought just a few years ago and the war that was being waged here. They both stemmed from the inability of some people to just let a man be a man. Never did Scott think that he would wage this war again, and that this time it would be his own brother that was condemned because of the color of his skin.

Not for the first time did Scott wonder what life would have been like for Johnny if he had grown up at Lancer. If he had never picked up a gun as a trade, if Johnny Madrid had never existed. Would the town have accepted him, with his dark tanned skin and vivid blue eyes? Or would he have just been Murdoch Lancer's son, like any other son to any other rancher in the valley? Somehow he thought not. Johnny would have always stood apart in someway. But not like this, not hated and feared by an entire town.

It didn't have to be this way, Scott thought sadly. Johnny was making quick progress. People were forgetting who he had been and were beginning to see who he was. If not for Hortence, life could have been very good for his brother.

They would never know for sure how it could have been. Hortence had tainted Johnny's name. There would always be those who would remember the dirt that spewed from her mouth and from her pen. The only thing they could hope for was that more people accepted Johnny than those who would follow Hortence. And the saddest part of all; Hortence could never have waged her battle unless a select few of the narrow minded citizens hadn't rallied behind her, collecting supporters through fear and intimidation.

Lost in thought, Scott headed for the stable at the end of town and tended to Charlemagne himself, making sure he was brushed down and had plenty of oats and water. It had been a long hot day in the sun for him as well. Satisfied that his horse was settled for the night, he headed for the jail hoping someone had something good to report about Johnny and Teresa. Because he has seen nothing but flies and jack rabbits all day.

He walked slowly, taking in the strangers who lounged on the boardwalks, watching him as he passed by. He judged the distance between himself and the sheriff's office, and a shiver went down his spine. It was too far. He should have tied Charlemagne to the hitching rail outside Val's and had someone else take him to the livery. It was too late now. No one was on the streets. If he tried to make a run for it he could end up with a bullet in the back.

"Hey, Lancer, where's that half-breed brother of yours? You hiding him out somewhere?" A chorus of laughter followed. "Never thought the great Johnny Madrid would hide behind his daddy and his brother. Hell, I never even knew he had either. Just figured he was born under some rock somewheres."

Scott kept walking. It was another twenty yards to Val's office.

The twilight had quickly turned to night and a figure suddenly stepped off the boardwalk in front of him.

"I believe the boys were trying to carry on a friendly conversation with you, Mr. Lancer. It's not polite not to answer."

Scott stopped, every nerve in his body alert, but outwardly calm. "I would have." He shrugged. "If they had said something worth my time."

"Hey, Granger, we got ourselves a smart mouth here."

The man called Granger nodded. Scott could barely make out the man's face, but he didn't need to. He knew he was in trouble. "So we do," Granger said. "But you could put that mouth to good use and tell us where Madrid is. Or maybe you took him down yourself. Five thousand dollars is a lot of money. Is that it, Lancer? You killed the boy yourself and took the money? Got to be embarrassing to have a half- breed for a brother."

Scott saw several shadows approach him from all sides.

"You know, Lancer, we all got a stake in seeing your brother ride back into town. Some of us just want our share of the reward…and some of us want to be the man who finally takes Johnny Madrid down. Either way, we all have a lot riding on your brother. So why don't you tell us where he is before someone gets hurt."

Scott was surrounded now. Any escape route cut off. He reached for his gun and pain exploded in his wrist. He tried to call out for help but his mouth was smothered by a huge hand and he was dragged into the saloon.


Johnny felt something cool touch his forehead and he relaxed into the comfort of it. He felt the vestiges of pain in his back. Scattered memories of agonizing pain and helplessness played fitfully with his mind. He was tempted to float back into the blackness that had sheltered him, but a nagging worry kept him reaching for consciousness. Suddenly a kaleidoscope of images exploded in his mind and he saw Teresa standing before him, blood dripping from her hands, her sweet face raked by fear and confusion. She was hurting because of him. He had to get to her…

He tried to move and a firebrand of agony bored a hole into his back and he could not help the whimper that escaped his lips.

"It's all right son, you're going to be fine." In the darkness beyond his closed eyelids Johnny did not recognize the voice. But the hand that lifted his head up just enough to place a canteen of water to his lips felt gentle and safe.

He felt the cool water ease the dryness in his throat and he tried to gulp more down before the canteen was taken away.

"Easy, not too much at first. It will make you sick." His head was lowered back down and he waited, trying to make sense of it all.

He forced his heavy eyelids open and waited until his vision cleared. It was night and the warm flicker of a campfire sent comforting shadows across the face of a man he did not recognize.

"Relax," the stranger said, and leaned over him to tuck a blanket tighter around his shoulders.

"Teresa?" Johnny heard his voice and was stunned at how weak it sounded.

"She's fine. Asleep for now. It took a lot of talking to get her to rest. She didn't want to leave your side. How are you feeling?"

"I've had worse," Johnny replied tersely.

"From the looks of those scars on your body I have no doubt you have. Still, you have a pretty serious wound there. I dug the bullet out and cut away the infection. Your fever's come down some. You're not ready for any rough riding but I think we can get you to Green River on the stage tomorrow."

"Stage?" Johnny found it hard to put two thoughts together and make any sense out of them.

"We were on the stage from Sacramento to Green Valley when we spotted you and Teresa. The best thing for you right now is rest. You need to build your strength back up."

"We can't stay here…men…" Johnny closed his eyes against his memories of Struthers and Teresa, their desperate attempt to escape.

"Take it easy, we've already met Struthers."

Johnny shot a look at the stranger. "You with him?" Johnny growled.

The stranger smiled easily. "No. And thanks to Victoria Barkley I don't believe they will be coming back."

"Barkley…" Johnny's vision was beginning to darken. He knew that name. Murdoch had mentioned it. And Teresa, she knew her. Damn, if he could only think straight. He felt his head lifted again and the smell of laudanum bit his nose.

"No! Not yet. I got to think."

"You need it, Son, before the pain gets to be too much again. And you have to get some rest if you want to be ready to handle that coach ride in the morning."

"Just a few minutes…please…just a few minutes."

"All right. But you are taking it tonight. I didn't dig that bullet out of you to die on me because you are too stubborn to do what is best for you."

There was the slightest of grins that touched Johnny's face. "You sound like Sam."

"Sounds like a smart man."

Johnny nodded. He closed his eyes and forced himself to make sense of all that was going on here. Fragments of memories still drifted aimlessly in his head. He snaked his hand down to his right hip. His holster was gone. Panic consumed him for a moment until he felt the stranger lean in closer to him.

"Were you looking for this?" he asked.

Johnny felt cold steel touch his right hand and he grabbed onto his gun. He dragged it close to him. "Thanks," was all he would offer. But it was enough for the moment.


Chapter Twenty- Five

Father Montague slid the oil lamp a little closer to his Bible, the scriptures failing to ease his troubled mind tonight. Seldom had he felt so much loathing for a person. He knew it was wrong to have these feelings, but what Hortence Shaffer had done was unconscionable. She had deliberately set out to ruin a man. Even if she had truly thought she was saving Teresa O’Brien, she had no right, in God, or man’s eyes to attack Johnny Lancer the way she had.

“You ok there, Reverend?” Val asked, his hand on the doorknob, ready to step outside.

Montague looked up, startled. He had been so lost in thought he had forgotten the sheriff was still there. “Yes, yes I’m fine, Sheriff.”

Val nodded. “Just gonna have a look ‘round. Murdoch and Scott should be back anytime now. Keep an eye out, Johnny might try to slip back into town now that it’s dark. The blamed fool should stay away, but that ain’t Johnny’s way. He’ll be back. If he kin stand on his own two legs he’ll be back.”

“Watch yourself out there.”

Val grinned. “I always do.”


Murdoch walked down the dark and quiet street toward Val’s office. He’d noticed Scott’s horse in the livery stable and wondered if his older son had had the same fruitless day he had baking under the hot sun. He forced back the thoughts that had hounded him all day. What was happening at Struthers camp? Was Teresa safe? Would Johnny return if he found her? What would his youngest son do if the unthinkable happened, what would they all do? And with every question he had the overpowering need to make the person responsible for all this pay dearly for what she had done. If Hortence Shaffer were a man he would feel no compunction to punch her into oblivion with his huge fists.

He felt a shiver run down his back as he felt eyes hiding behind closed doors and windows watching him. The same people he had once called friends. Like lemmings, they had followed Hortence, blindly accepting her lies because it was easier than searching for the truth. And he could not deny his own heavy-handed contribution to all this. In the end, Johnny would still be hurt, no matter which way the town sided. They had made their stand, and as far as Murdoch was concerned they could all go to hell. No matter what happened from now on, he would find it hard to look any one of them in the eyes again.

He passed by the saloon, noticing just a few lanterns lit inside. The ruckus from last night had settled down to a patient waiting game. A deadly waiting game.

“Any luck?” Val asked as he mysteriously appeared behind Murdoch, closing the doors behind them.

Murdoch shook his head, throwing his hat on a chair next to the desk. “Didn’t see a soul. Not even the stage.”

Val poured a cup of coffee from a coffee pot Murdoch had bought out of desperation, with strict instructions that anyone but Val Crawford could make the coffee.

“We noticed. But with Maynard not showing up to open the telegraph office we couldn’t send a wire to Sacramento. May have decided ta wait ‘till things settled down here ‘fore they sent it out this way.”

“I was thinking the same thing myself.” Murdoch looked around the office. “Scott have any better luck than me?”

Val looked back toward Reverend Montague. “I ain’t seen Scott taday. You, Rev?”

Montague shook his head. “I haven’t seen him since this morning.”

Murdoch grabbed his hat. “His horse is at the livery. It hasn’t been ridden for at least an hour. This is the first place he’d come to. I’m going to go have a look around. Send someone to find me if he shows up.”

“Hey, wait up there, I’ll go with ya.” Val grabbed his own hat. “We kin cover more ground.”

Murdoch nodded his thanks, but the sheriff’s rush to help just made him more nervous.


Atwater banked the fire until it snapped and crackled, adding more wood to the hungry flames. It was late and everyone else had fallen into an exhausted sleep. They had each taken two hour shifts, watching Johnny, wiping his face with a cool cloth to keep his fever down.  Since the bullet was removed and the infection cut out the ugly redness and swelling had gone down significantly. Given time to rest and heal, the boy would be fine. But he worried about the ride into town in the morning. It would be rough on Johnny, but he needed a real doctor and a soft bed instead of this hard ground.

He glanced around at the sleeping figures. Somehow Victoria had finally convinced Teresa that Johnny would be in good hands. But she had not gone far. She lay on her side, her right arm outstretched to touch Johnny’s shoulder.

She had told them a little of her ordeal with Struthers and his men…not everything he knew, he could see the ghosts haunting those too wide, brown eyes. As she spoke she had absently tried to brush away the blood that had smeared her face before she washed up at the stream. Tears rushed down her cheeks as she told them how Johnny had found her and their near escape that first night. She said little more when it came to the two men she killed to save herself and Johnny. A terrible burden for anyone to carry, a burden she should never have had to bear. It could all be placed squarely at Hortence Shaffer’s feet, and he planned to lay blame where it belonged. He wished he knew more, but it was not his place to ask her. If she would tell anyone, it would be Victoria, and in her own time.

A wolf howled in the distance, a lonely sound that made the night seem so much darker, and he instinctively shifted closer to the fire. It had been a lot of years since he spent the night beneath the stars tending a campfire. Looking up at the blanket of stars hovering overhead brought back memories, both good and bad.

Johnny moaned faintly, and Atwater’s reverie was broken. He waited, watching as the boy climbed his way through the fever and laudanum induced haze that left his cheeks flushed, his hair matted and sweaty against his forehead. When at last Johnny’s eyes opened halfway, heavy lidded and confused, Atwater leaned forward and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

“It’s all right,” Atwater said gently. “Everyone’s asleep.” Lifting Johnny’s head he tapped his dry lips with a tin cup and nodded with satisfaction when Johnny hungrily gulped down the water.

“More,” Johnny croaked as Atwater pulled the cup away.

“Not now.” Atwater eased his head back down on the make-shift pillow. “You’ll make yourself sick. Victoria made some rabbit broth for you. Think you can handle it?”

Johnny’s face turned a slight shade of green and Atwater chuckled. “I didn’t think so. Maybe in the morning you’ll feel more up to it. Right now you need to rest and get your strength back. I’m told the rest of the road into town isn’t any better than what we just covered.”

A sudden spasm of pain tore at Johnny’s back and he struggled to roll away from the agony but Atwater’s strong hands pushed him back down.

“Take this.” Atwater hurriedly mixed laudanum into a cup and lifted Johnny’s head once more.

Johnny tried to turn his face away, recognizing the smell instantly, but didn’t have the strength to fight the man holding it. He drank until the cup was empty then collapsed bonelessly back to the ground.

“You have to lay still. I have that hole in your back packed, but it could still start bleeding again.” His gaze drifted over to Teresa and Johnny’s followed. “I promised that young lady that I would take care of you while she slept. You don’t want to make a liar out of me, do you?”

Johnny turned his head back to look at Atwater, the faintest of smiles touching his lips.

“A promise is a promise.”

Atwater wrung out the cloth again and laid it over Johnny’s forehead. “She’s a brave young woman.”

Johnny nodded and Atwater saw the effects of the laudanum as Johnny’s features slackened and his eyes glazed over again.

“It never should a happened,” Johnny said despondently.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

Johnny rolled his head to the side to get another look at Teresa then looked back at Atwater. “Wasn’t it? If I had never come back…I should a known that I could never out run Johnny Madrid.”

Atwater gently drew the blanket up over Johnny’s shoulders. Who was this young man? Soon after Victoria Barkley had contacted him and he agreed to go to Lancer he began investigating Johnny Madrid. There were huge gaps in his history…where his mother had fled after taking him from Lancer, exactly how old he was when his mother died. Only after he put on a gun did he begin to leave a trail. But with the gun also came the legend, and fact blurred with fiction.

“Given time people forget. Someone else will come along and Johnny Madrid will be a memory.”

Johnny snorted derisively. “Not until I’m six feet under.”

Atwater saw the lines of pain ease on Johnny’s face and knew the laudanum was taking effect.

“Everyone would a been better off if I died that day next to my mama.” The words came slurred and slow. “There would a been no Johnny Madrid.”

“How did your mother die, Johnny?” Atwater asked gently. He knew he was taking advantage, but he wanted to know, no, he had to know what made this man the enigma he was.

Johnny’s gaze found something in the sky and he smiled gently. “My mama tried. She wasn’t strong enough for this life. She wanted to be a great señora at a fancy estancia. Instead she got Murdoch Lancer and a dream for a future she couldn’t see. As bad as she thought it was at Lancer, it was way worse in Mexico. She was saddled with me…a mestizo, not Mexican, not white. No one would help her. She took to selling herself…” Johnny’s voice faded for a moment…the memories too painful. “She died when I was eleven….”

“Why didn’t you go back to Lancer after she died?” Atwater threw another log on the fire and watched its flame flicker in Johnny’s eyes.

“She told me Murdoch threw us both out. That he was ashamed of having a half-breed son. I believed her. She said it everyday. I hated him…wanted to kill him for what he did.”

An introspective look turned to a frown and Atwater waited while Johnny collected his thoughts.

“You ever kill a man?” Johnny finally asked.

Atwater nodded slowly. “On the battlefield.”

“Then you never stood twenty paces from a man, stared him square in the eyes, watching for that flicker of his eyelid or the twitch of his lip telling you that he was gonna draw. Or saw the look in his eyes when he knew he was a dead man.”

The sound of the fire crackling and the croak of the frogs near the stream were the only sounds other than Johnny’s halting voice, slurred by the laudanum, and his own voice, gently and cautiously asking questions he had no right to ask, receiving answers he would never get if the boy were not weakened by fever and pain.

“How old were you when you picked up a gun?”

Johnny shifted and groaned at the pain even the laudanum couldn’t disguise. He bit his lip and waited for the spasm to pass.

“Eleven,” he said at last. “One of mama’s ‘friends’ got too rough. I was outside listening. Most of the time I just wandered off until morning when she was alone again. But not that night…He’d been to see her before. He was drunk and mean.”

Johnny’s voice faltered and Atwater saw the pain in his eyes and knew it wasn’t from his back. It was deeper than that, and so much more painful.

“I heard mama crying, then she was screaming. When I got inside…he had broken her neck. He came after me and I found his gun and shot him. Left him lying there, naked on the floor, and started running. Didn’t stop until I came to Lancer four months ago.”

Atwater silently reached over and lifted the cloth off Johnny’s forehead, soaking it in the cool water before wringing it out and replacing it on the boy’s still too warm forehead.

“How long before you started hiring your gun out?”

Johnny closed his eyes and Atwater thought he had drifted to sleep, but they opened again and Johnny looked toward the stars as if they held the answers to the why of his life.

“A couple of years. I met a man, a gunslinger, good at his craft, taught me everything he knew. Suddenly I wasn’t the mestizo, the half-breed everyone spit on. I was respected and feared. The name Johnny Madrid meant something.

At first it was all I needed. I had money to buy food to fill my belly when I was hungry. But gunslinging is a lonely life. I started hiring out to jobs that paid me nothing more than a plate of beans for supper…but I made friends. Good decent people who needed my help, needed my gun.”

“And now, you and Murdoch?”

Johnny snorted, a sheepish grin playing across his face making him look so terribly young and vulnerable. “We’re getting’ there. It’s not always easy. He’s as stubborn as I am. But I got me a family now, Murdoch, Scott and Teresa.”

The smile faded and Johnny turned his head to look toward Teresa sound asleep, her hand touching his shoulder still. “I had a family.”

When he turned back there was an infinite sadness in his eyes. “You make sure she stays safe tomorrow when we get to Green River.”

“I will,” Atwater promised.

Johnny nodded as his eyelids slid closed. In the morning he would never remember this conversation and Atwater would not speak of it. Johnny’s secrets were safe with him. Settling in for the rest of his watch he didn’t see Victoria turn over, the firelight catching the unshed tears in her eyes.


Chapter Twenty Six

The tension in the town was pulled a notch tighter as the sun rose. The very air seemed to hum with unease. Murdoch looked out the window. Across the street was the saloon. He had no doubt that that was where he would find Scott. But he and Val had made it no further than the bat-wing doors last night in their quest to find his oldest son. And it was abundantly clear that Scott would take the first bullet if they pushed for a shootout.

So they bided their time. Murdoch paced the floor; the sheriff’s office seemed to grow smaller by the hour.

Val had disappeared at first light to find Maynard and send a telegram to Stockton to see if the stage had left. Another worry to contend with.

Finding nothing better to do than reread the wanted posters on the wall, Murdoch was surprised when the door swung open and Hortence was rudely pushed inside by an irate Val.

“How dare you,” Hortence seethed, “I’ll have your badge for this.”

“Yer welcome to it, as soon as those yahoos are taken care of out there. This town’s suddenly got a rotten taste to it.”

Val escorted Hortence to a chair and shoved her into it. “Sit down and shut up,” he ordered.

“Val?” Murdoch looked from Hortence to Val.

“I made a quick stop at Edgar Pearlman’s house, escorted him to his office and got a copy of the work order for the poster out on Johnny.”

Murdoch grabbed the sheet of paper from Val’s hand and read it. “We already know she’s behind the poster,” he growled.

“I certainly am not!” Hortence jumped to her feet only to be shoved back down by Val.

“You say another word and I’ll gag ya,” Val warned.

Hortence’s face paled.

“Look at the bottom,” Val told Murdoch. “See where it says funds?”

Murdoch nodded and he looked back up at Hortence. “Where’s the five thousand dollars for the reward?”

“How should I know?”

“You took out the bounty on Johnny.” Val slammed his hand on the desk next to Hortence.

“I did no such thing! I wasn’t surprised to see the poster on him, giving who he is, but I certainly didn’t put it up myself. Where would I get five thousand dollars?”

“Well, ya better figure it out, cause if someone brings Johnny in, dead or alive, they’re gonna be lookin’ fer their money. And it’ll only take a question or two fer them ta find out that your name is on the work order for them posters.”

“But I didn’t do it.”

Murdoch held up the sheet of paper. “It’s right here, in black and white,” he said. “And we all know the pen never lies.”

“Don’t be preposterous. You know I didn’t do it.”

“Then who?” Val picked up his cell keys and jingled them in Hortence’s face.

“What are you going to do?” There was real panic in Hortence’s voice now.

“I’m gonna lock ya up fer yer own protection.  They find out that you were the one ta take out a bounty with no money ta back it up, they’ll string ya to the highest tree.”

“You can’t do this,” Hortence protested as Val pushed her toward the cells. “Murdoch, please tell him. He can’t lock me up.”

Val shoved her inside and slammed the door shut, making sure the sound of the key in the lock sounded loud. “I can and I am. Now shut up before I lose my patience and gag ya. I’ll send for one of the women ta bring ya food and clothes and anything else ya need.”

“This is outrageous, Sheriff. I will have you up on charges.”

“Told ya, don’t matter ta me.” He drew a dirty crumpled handkerchief from his back pocket. “Keep up the prattle an’ you’ll be eatin’ this instead of lunch.”

Val turned back to see Murdoch striving to keep a straight face. Despite the grave situation they were in, it pleasured him to see Hortence Shaffer tasting a bit of her own medicine.


Scott tested his bonds, knowing that he stood little chance of freeing his hands. The throbbing in his right hand no longer pained him, instead his hands were reduced to useless numb appendages.

He barely remembered being hauled into the saloon and roughed up until he lay gasping on the floor. Either they finally decided that he really didn’t know where Johnny Madrid was hiding or that they wanted him alive to use as leverage when they needed it. He suspected it was a bit of both.

His hands were tied behind his back and the rope wound around a leg of the counter behind the bar top above his reach. His ankles and knees were tied, leaving him as helpless as a calf awaiting the branding iron. A dirty rag used to clean the bar top was stuffed into his mouth and tied in place.

He had dozed on and off throughout the night. At one point he had heard the unmistakable voices of Murdoch and Val. But they had left quietly and Scott had no idea if they suspected he was there or they were just biding their time. At least they knew he was missing and were looking for him.

And the very fact that they were in there meant that they had not found Johnny yet.

He felt the knot in his stomach tighten. The longer Johnny went missing the more likely it was that he would never see him again. The thought darkened his mood and he once again tried to loosen his bonds. Even if it was fruitless, at least he was doing something.


Johnny awoke to the sounds of the camp being broken up. He lifted his head just enough to see the stage being loaded up again and Victoria and Teresa inside the coach arranging blankets on one of the seats.

The pain in his back was reintroducing itself to him, but he was determined not to let it show. He knew they had persuaded him to take the laudanum last night, and in a fit of weakness he had allowed it. But not again. Not when they were riding into a hornet’s nest in Green River.

“You’re awake.” Atwater dropped down to his knees next to Johnny and offered him a cup of water. Johnny looked suspiciously at it, but Atwater smiled, “It’s just water,” he promised. “But I am going to have to insist that you take a dose of laudanum before we leave.”

Johnny shook his head. “Don’t like it. Don’t need it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it, young man,” Victoria Barkley was suddenly hovering over him. “You need it and you are going to take it. I have three sons who are every bit as stubborn as you are, and,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes, “they always take their medicine.”

Johnny groaned and turned his face away. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he was not going to win this battle.

All too soon they were ready to move and Johnny gritted his teeth as he was lifted to his feet to walk the short distance to the coach. They had wanted to carry him, but his pride and the need to know just what he had left in him forced him through the pain and he walked, with considerable help, to the stage.

Teresa waited for him inside, her face pale and rimmed with dark circles beneath her eyes. He felt sorry for her, for what she had gone through.

By the time he was settled in the nest of blankets and clothes they had arranged for him, he was on the verge of passing out. Mrs. Barkley gently tapped his bottom lip with a cup and he drank the water. Only after finishing all of it did he realize it was laced with the hated laudanum.

“Most of it will wear off by the time we reach town,” she assured him.

Atwater climbed in after Victoria. Kyle sat shotgun with Abe. The stage lurched forward and they were on their way. Johnny secretly admitted that he needed the laudanum as the stage bucked violently, the wheels seemingly seeking out every rock and hole on the road.

It would take half a day for them to reach Green River at this pace, but everyone knew Johnny couldn’t handle any more. Especially Johnny.

Teresa continued her silence. The closer they got to town the more nervous she looked. Victoria gently lifted her hand and cradled it in her lap. “There’s nothing to be frightened of,” she said.

“I can’t face them,” Teresa whispered, looking at Johnny then dropping her head. She wished the ground would open up and swallow her right there, never to be seen again.

“You did what you had to do. Those men…”

Teresa shook her head, tears beginning to run down her cheeks. “It’s not just the men. It’s what I did to Johnny.”

Victoria glanced at Atwater then Johnny. Johnny had fallen into a pain filled sleep. Even the laudanum couldn’t protect him from the jarring bumps that rocked the coach.

Then her eyes fell on Teresa and she reached over, lifting the young woman’s chin up. “What did you do to Johnny?”

“I didn’t trust him. I turned my back on him when he needed me most.”

“I’m sure you were just confused for awhile. Your family will understand. Johnny seems to have forgiven you.”

“He shouldn’t. No one should. Mrs. Barkley, I read that letter Hortence wrote and I believed it. Not all of it, but some of it, and I was afraid of him. Johnny. I was afraid of Johnny. He has always been kind and, I betrayed him. He left the house and started living in the old segundo’s shack. I drove him away from his own home. I deserve everything that’s happened to me.”

“No, you don’t,” Victoria said angrily. “No woman deserves to be attacked. You made a mistake, Teresa, one you will have to work hard to right. But you will. It will take time. Trust, once lost, is hard to find again.”

Teresa knew those words were true. And she feared she had not only lost Johnny’s trust, but the whole family’s. She could never make up for what she had done, not in ten life times.

“We’ll get you both home and Johnny to a doctor. Everything will work out in time,” Victoria promised.

Teresa nodded, but the hurt was too deep. She knew she could never forgive herself. She reached over and brushed the hair from Johnny’s still too hot forehead. She wondered how this would end. She suddenly realized she had said nothing about the town. She wiped at her eyes and turned to both Victoria and Atwater when Abe yelled. “Green River straight ahead.”


Scott raised his head and listened. The sound of the bat wing doors swinging open was followed by a new voice.

“Stage is on its way in. Madrid’s on it.”

There was a scuffling of chairs and Scott struggled to lean forward just enough to see around the bar, but his bindings held tight. Frustrated, he could only breathe in and out slowly through his nose, trying to listen to each word. Dreading what he might hear.

“How do you know?” That was Newman, the self- appointed leader of the group of bounty hunters and gun hawks who had taken shelter in the saloon. The idea that a group of men like that would join together against one man gave proof to just how dangerous Johnny was. As the hours passed, and frustration turned to anger, Newman had settled them down.

“I was riding with Struthers. Madrid took a bullet in the back trying to save that filly of his. She took out two of Struthers’ best men before they scattered the horses and took off. Struthers is madder than hell.”

“Struthers and the rest of his men didn’t see Madrid?”  There was a hint of skepticism in Newman’s voice.

“I stayed behind to watch ‘em. They had the girl hidden in the brush and Madrid behind a log. He didn’t look so good last time I saw him.”

“How come you didn’t report this to Struthers? It’s not healthy to back stab a man like that.”

There was a derisive chuckle and the stranger answered. “Struthers ain’t thinking about nothing else but revenge now. He don’t care about the reward. He just wants Madrid to pay for killing two of his men and takin’ the filly away from him. I’m in it for the money, not Struthers’ revenge.”

“Fair enough.”

Scott heard the words and bile swept up his throat nearly choking him with the gag in his mouth. If Johnny and Teresa were on that stage they were riding right into a trap.  He looked around frantically for anything that would help him cut the ropes binding his hands, but there was nothing. Not one bottle stood close enough for him to break to use as a knife.

“How many on the stage besides Madrid?” Newman’s disembodied voice asked.

“An old lady with the filly, a well-dressed city fella and a cowhand along with the driver. The old lady won’t give ya any trouble and the city fella don’t look like trouble either.”

There was a long moment of silence. Scott squeezed his eyes shut trying to rid his mind of the images in his head. Johnny wounded, Teresa killing two men as they escaped. Where would this all end? The answer was what frightened him the most.

“How long before the stage pulls in?”

“Twenty minutes maybe. They’re moving slow for Madrid.”

Scott heard footsteps heading toward the bar and Newman leaned over the top leering down at him. “Guess you really didn’t know where your brother was. But you’re about to earn your keep.”  Newman poured himself a shot of whiskey and downed it in one gulp, hissing as the rot gut burned his throat.

Turning his back to Scott, he leaned his elbows against the bar and contemplated the situation. “There are six of us here, another three or four outside…when you divide the money it starts to…”

The sound of the batwing doors swinging open again cut Newman’s words off.

“Got some news fer you yahoo’s.” That was Val’s voice. Scott struggled to make a sound. Any sound.

“The wanted poster’s a fake. Madrid ain’t wanted by the law. Ain’t no money ta back it up. Ya might as well pack it up, boys, cause any of you kill Madrid now, ya’ll be taking yer last breath at the end of a rope.”

“You seem quite confident, Sheriff.”

“Just tellin’ ya how it is. ‘Sides, Madrid is probably in Mexico by now. So, git yourselves out of town before I throw ya all in jail for disturbing the peace.”

“And if we decide we like it here, Sheriff?” There was a spattering of laughter.

“Suit yerself. But I sent a telegram ta Sacramento and Stockton. There’ll be a dozen men here by the mornin’ I’d git out while the getting was good.”

Scott heard the bat-wing doors swing again and he knew Val was gone. How many men would stay knowing there was no reward? The answer came quickly, and not to his liking.

“You believe him about the money, Newman?”

“Most likely it’s true. But I didn’t come here for the money; I came here to face Madrid.”

“Even if he’s half dead?”

“Don’t under estimate Johnny Madrid. I’ve seen him outgun two men with a bullet in him.” Scott saw Newman push away from the bar and he disappeared from sight. But his words sent shivers down Scott’s spine. “I have a personal stake in this. I want Madrid to taste my bullet before he takes his last breath.”

“Yer not the only one here waiting ta take out Madrid.”

Scott could feel the tension build in the room.

“Madrid is mine.” Newman said, his voice cold and hard as granite. “I’ll pay each man here a hundred dollars to watch my back while I take down Madrid. That’s guaranteed money.”

“Then you get the reputation for killing Madrid.” Scott listened to the protest of yet another man. He hated that he could not put a face a voice.

“You said it yourself,” Newman said, “he’s half dead. What kind of reputation would you get from that? I’m not interested in the reputation, just the chance to put Madrid where he belongs…in hell.”

“Still a damn sight less than the five thousand we were gonna split.”

Scott could almost see Newman shrug. “A hundred is better than a share of a bounty that doesn’t exist.”

Scott heard the mumblings of assent and he knew Johnny didn’t stand a chance now. He was riding straight into an ambush and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

Damn Hortence Shaffer and her letter.


Chapter Twenty Seven

The stage hit another pothole and bottomed out and three sets of hands automatically reached out to keep Johnny from jostling around on the hard bench seat. The only sign that Johnny felt the heavy thud was a soft moan. The heavy dose of laudanum Victoria had tricked Johnny into taking before they took off was keeping him drugged. But it wouldn’t last much longer.

“He’s in no shape to face those men in Green River,” Victoria said tersely, reaching over to pull the blanket back over Johnny’s shoulders. If Teresa had remembered sooner what Struthers had said they would have headed toward Morro Coyo or Spanish Wells instead. She felt the young woman’s tense figure sitting next to her. She did not fault her. Teresa was hanging on by a thread… a very thin thread.

But they were now committed to Green River. Johnny couldn’t make the long trip from here to either of the other towns. Victoria studied Johnny, his face too pale, his breathing too labored.  

Atwater nodded, looking out at the desolate landscape. He had gotten soft living in Sacramento. It seemed that every block had a house with a doctor’s sign hanging outside. Here, a man was lucky if he was within twenty miles of the nearest doctor. Far too many lives were lost because they could not get the medical treatment they needed. He promised himself that Johnny Lancer would not be one of them. “He needs a doctor, or at least the medical supplies I can find at a doctor’s office.”

“I feel like we are feeding him to the wolves,” Victoria said grimly.

“We have no choice. He may have seemed to rally a little last night, but his fever is rising again. The wound is infected. I need hot water and carbolic acid to clean the wound, and he needs a warm, comfortable bed. He can’t take much more. Green River is our only option. Besides,” he studied Johnny intently. “I made a promise to him that I would do everything I could to get Teresa back to her family, and I made a promise to myself that I would get him back there too.”

Teresa sat forward, more animated then she had been since they climbed into the coach. “There is a back entrance to Sam’s office. If we can make our way around the backside of town, no one would know we were there.”

A smile washed across Atwater’s face, then it was gone as the stage hit another rut and his backside slammed painfully down on the wooden seat. He looked out the window. “How far are we from town?”

Teresa peered out past him. “Ten miles I think.”

Sticking his head out the window Atwater shouted up to the driver.  “Stop the coach!”

The coach came to a bouncing stop, dust swirling around it like a heavy fog. Abe yanked the door open, his eyes settling on Johnny. “You got a problem in here? Johnny all right?”

“We have to get Johnny into town unseen. The town is swarming with gunfighters and bounty hunters.”

Abe scratched at the whiskers on his chin. “How ya plan ta do that?”

“How long would it take to get Johnny into town, the back way, and to the doctor’s office?”

Kyle jumped down from the driver’s seat, his face flushed with excitement. “I kin take one of the horses, ride double with Johnny, bring back the horse and no one would know a thing. I could take it slow with Johnny, then hightail it back here. It’d take an hour maybe.”

“He shouldn’t be left by himself.” Victoria said.

“He won’t be.” Teresa leaned over and gently caressed Johnny’s cheek. “I’ll go with them.”

Atwater shook his head. “We’ll need you as a distraction.” He looked at her sympathetically. She had already been through so much. The guilt she felt over abandoning Johnny for that short time had risen exponentially when he was wounded trying to free her from Struthers’ camp. Now he was asking her to stay behind and not help him when he needed it most. It was something even a woman twice her age would find hard to do. His voice softened as he leaned his head close to hers. “Everyone will see you step off the coach and they will forget about Johnny. It may only be for a few minutes, but it could make all the difference. I know you have been through a lot. And I know what I’m asking you to do is possibly the hardest thing you have ever had to do…but we need to give Johnny all the time we can.”

Teresa’s hand stayed over long on Johnny’s cheek, his skin radiating heat from the fever. He had not stirred in the last ten minutes. His stillness frightened her and she nodded. She would do anything to help Johnny.

“I’ll take it slow and wait for you as long as we can right outside of town.” Abe said as he hurried to unharness one of the lead horses.

Johnny barely moved as he was carried from the coach and settled onto the horse. Kyle wrapped his left arm around Johnny’s waist tightly, holding the makeshift reins in his right. Riding bareback on a horse trained to the saddle was hard enough. But this horse only knew the feel of the stagecoach traces and pranced around nervously until Kyle settled him down. Even that didn’t seem to arouse Johnny and everyone eyed him with a worried look.

“I’ll take good care of him,” Kyle promised.

“Wait!” Teresa climbed back into the coach and emerged a second later with Johnny’s gun and holster.

Atwater grabbed it and quickly buckled it together before handing it to Kyle.

Kyle silently draped it over his shoulder and nosed the horse south, kicking the reluctant mount into a gentle lope.

They all watched as Kyle and Johnny disappeared from view in the distance.

Victoria wrapped her arm around Teresa. “Try not to worry. We’ll have you and Johnny back home soon.”

Home seemed like such an impossible dream now.


“Get Lancer on his feet,” Newman ordered. He leaned over the bar top, his elbows propped on the bar as he methodically checked his gun. “I’ve waited a long time for this day. A man’s got nothing to do, sitting in a jail cell for three years, but think. I thought a lot about your brother and how I was going to kill him. I had a man on the outside keeping tabs on him. But wouldn’t ya know that the day I was released Johnny Madrid went to ground. Couldn’t find him. I searched for four months, then I see this poster and, well you know the rest. Spent those three years in Yuma for robbing an old man who was too scared to put his money in the bank. Wonder what he’d think if he knew his money was helping me pay a debt?”

Newman cocked his head at the sound of the stage and his dark eyes turned black as coal. “Sorry you can’t say a proper goodbye to your brother, but then, Madrid didn’t let my brother say a proper goodbye to me.”

“No,” Scott screamed silently as the ropes tying him to the leg of the bar were cut and he was yanked to his feet. With his wrists and ankles still bound, he was dragged backwards toward the batwing doors and Johnny’s execution. 


There had been a rapid exodus of bounty hunters when it was learned that there was no money behind the warrant for Johnny Madrid. 

Emboldened by the departure of so many men, more citizens of Green River began emerging from their houses and stores. Crates of fruit and vegetables were once again on display in front of the general mercantile, and the window shades covering Lew’s Barber Shop were raised. The doors to the Green River Hotel were once again open, the empty row of rocking chairs a silent reminder of the men who had sat in them waiting for a bounty that didn’t exist. The only business still hesitant to open its doors was the bank.

Women and children mingled with the men as they hurriedly saw to their errands. But there was still a cloud of uneasiness hanging over the town. Gunfighters still sat ominously behind the batwing doors to the saloon, and Johnny Madrid still lingered in everyone’s awareness

Neighbor looked at neighbor, friend look at friend and averted their eyes. Guilt and shame had begun to creep into their consciences.  No one was ready to admit any wrong doing on their part…not yet… but they found it hard to sleep at night.  

Val looked out his window and saw the stage pull to a stop outside the stagecoach office.

“Stage is here,” he announced needlessly.

Murdoch hurried to follow Val outside. Maybe someone on the stage had seen Johnny or Teresa.

He looked across the street at the saloon. He was still certain Scott was inside. But Val was right. If they pushed their hand too soon Scott could end up with a bullet in him. He already felt in his heart that he had lost one son; he couldn’t bear the thought of losing both of them.

Reverend Montague cast a quick look at Hortence sitting on her cot in the cell before following Murdoch outside. A night behind bars had taken the sting out of her sharp tongue. He only hoped once she was released it would continue. But, he admitted, he didn’t believe in those kinds of miracles. Only the divine kind.

Murdoch watched Abe climb down from the driver’s seat followed by Kyle Bedford who rode shotgun. It wasn’t unusual to see Kyle up top with Abe. He hitched a ride into town ever month or so, and most times found Abe’s company more appealing than the hot and irritable passengers inside.

Abe opened the door and a once well-dressed man climbed out. He turned to offer his hand to the next passenger and Murdoch inhaled sharply as he recognized Victoria Barkley stepping out of the coach, her attire equally rumpled and covered with a layer of dust. He had forgotten about Victoria and the governor’s visit. Which meant her traveling companion was Governor Atwater. They couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. The idea of discreetly of introducing Johnny to the governor seemed ludicrous in face of everything that had happened. Murdoch continued to watch as Victoria and Atwater held their arms out for another passenger still hidden inside the coach.

It seemed forever before the coach springs rocked and a small figure appeared at the door. Murdoch froze. Teresa climbed awkwardly down from the coach into the waiting arms of Victoria and the governor. Her long brown hair was tangled, framing her pale face. A man’s shirt covered the bodice of her dress, but did not cover her torn and blood stained skirt. He saw her look toward him, her eyes haunted, then look away in shame.

“Dear God,” he breathed. “Teresa.” He wanted to go to her but he was afraid to. Afraid he didn’t know how to console her. Afraid of what news she had about Johnny.

The town came to a standstill. All eyes on Teresa’s disheveled appearance.

Reverend Montague quietly slipped into the office and took the cell key from a peg on the wall.

“Its time for you to see what you have done,” he hissed at Hortence as he opened the cell door. He pushed the confused and startled woman toward the front door.

Murdoch felt Val’s hand clench his arm tightly and was thankful for the support. He couldn’t stand the thought that his worst nightmare had come to fruition. His sweet and innocent Teresa violated by Struthers and his men. And she had looked away, mistakenly thinking that he would judge her for something she had no control over.

He took a deep breath. There was still a question he had to ask. He hoped to God that the answer was not in her haunted look and blood stained clothes.

Murdoch took a step toward the street when a voice rang out.

“Where’s Madrid?”

Murdoch swung around toward the voice and his knees nearly buckled. Scott stood, bound and gagged, between two men, one holding a gun to his neck.

A third man stepped forward. Dressed in black, he wore a well-worn holster slung low and tied down. “I know he’s on the stage. Took a bullet in the back at Struthers’ camp saving the girl there.”

Murdoch swung his head around to look at Teresa. Was that Johnny’s blood on her skirt?

Atwater took a step away from Victoria, the older woman pulling Teresa closer into her arms. “He’s not here,” Atwater called back. “We buried him this morning outside of town.”

Murdoch’s world went black for a moment. If not for Val’s strong hold on his elbow he would have collapsed to the ground. Johnny dead. He couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t believe it. But hadn’t he already accepted the possibility? Hadn’t he already begun mourning his younger son?

Newman shook his head. “Now why would you do that when his family would want to bury him?”

Val saw Atwater glance toward Murdoch and saw something flash across his eyes and knew Johnny was still alive. He was trying to buy time. Did Murdoch catch the sign too? He doubted it. The man was in too much pain.

“Well, I’d say they did the right thing,” Val called out. “Don’t want no murdering gunslinger back in my town.”

Val felt Murdoch stiffen and squeezed Murdoch’s elbow hoping the grieving man would understand.

“Sheriff, I would expect that from most of this town, but not you. I heard Johnny Madrid was a friend.”

Val snorted. “He was. Once. Not anymore. We had words that just didn’t set right with me.”

Newman grinned “Sorry, Sheriff, I still don’t believe you. If I don’t see Madrid in exactly five minutes, I’m going to put a bullet in his knee.” Newman drew his gun and pointed it at Scott’s leg. “Another five minutes and I’ll put a bullet in his other knee. Get the picture?”

Scott locked onto Murdoch’s eyes and Murdoch had to look away. If Johnny were here what would he do? Would he trade one son’s life for the other? He couldn’t answer the question and it rocked him to his very soul.

“If anyone makes a move before I see Madrid, it will be their last. Jackson!” Newman shouted. “Show them.”

A bullet from a rifle across the street zinged past Val’s head and exploded the window behind him.

“There are more men strategically placed. You want to stay alive, then bring me Madrid.”

“I told you, he’s dead,” Atwater called.

A bullet kicked up dirt at the governor’s feet. “I didn’t ask you. You got four minutes.”


Johnny heard the sound of a gunshot and forced his heavy eyes open. It took him a moment to orientate himself, but it didn’t take him long to recognize Sam Jenkins’ back office. It had become an all too familiar place since he first came to the valley.

He had a vague memory of lying near a campfire and drinking laudanum laced water followed by a pain filled ride in the coach.

Now he was lying on Sam’s examination table, fully dressed, not even a blanket covering him. Not like Sam, not like Sam at all. And no one else was huddled around him, fussing over him.

He closed his eyes again trying to remember…Teresa! He saw Teresa with her dress torn and her face smeared with blood. Everything came tumbling back with crystal clarity.

How had things gotten so out of hand so quickly? Hortence Shaffer’s letter had plunged him into a nightmare and because of his past, Teresa was swept up in it too. He couldn’t get the look of Teresa’s total devastation out of his mind. She had killed two men to save herself and him. He should never have stayed at Lancer. He knew there was a chance someone would get hurt. But, God, he would never have stayed if he thought it would be Teresa who would pay the price for his past.

He jerked at the sound of a second gunshot. A rifle.

Sucking back a groan, he levered himself up on one elbow and looked around. He listened for a voice, a sound of any kind coming from the front part of the office. It was late morning, he could tell by the angle of the sun shining in through the windows. There should have been noise coming from the street outside.

Summoning strength from somewhere deep within, he pushed himself up and swung his legs over the edge of the leather examination table. A wave of pain and nausea nearly flattened him on his back again. He had to sit for long minutes, taking deep, slow breaths, in through his nose, out through his mouth, before sliding off the table. It seemed an eternity before the room stopped spinning and he staggered toward the door leading to the outside office. Noticing his gunbelt draped over a chair he strapped it on, trying to ignoring the pain that tortured his back with even the simplest movement.

Johnny cracked the front door open, cringing at the tinkle of the small bell above the door and stepped out. No one in the streets or on the boardwalks seemed to notice him. They were all mesmerized by something down the street, looking like figures carved in stone.

He followed their gaze and froze.

Teresa stood by the open stagecoach, Mrs. Barkley clutching the terrified young woman against her. Atwater stood in front of them both. He swung his eyes over to Val’s office and saw Murdoch looking toward the saloon. His father’s shoulders sagged like a man who had lost everything. A knot of fear tightened in Johnny’s stomach and he was almost afraid to follow Murdoch’s gaze.

His heart climbed into his throat as he saw Scott standing in front of the saloon bound and gagged. Instantly he was alert to everything. His mind processed and filed even the smallest bit of information; information he hoped would save his family, and maybe even himself. He took note of everyone and where they stood. Even the little girl standing outside the mercantile with the folds of her mother’s skirt clutched in her hand. He scanned each building, looking for hidden guns. He noted the sun’s march across the sky and the dark shadows it cast between buildings. He felt the warm wind coming from the north.

He took one last look at Scott. With Scott’s ankles bound it was impossible for him to make a quick escape. This was all his play.

Johnny stepped back inside the office and leaned up against the wall. He had prayed that he would never have to rely on Johnny Madrid again. As painful as the bullet wound in his back, pushing Johnny Lancer away was even more painful. He knew with a certainty that he would never be able to return to Lancer once Murdoch and Scott met the real Johnny Madrid. He felt the adrenalin rush of the fight and he felt the cold dark side of himself emerge.

He took a shallow breath and cursed his own stupidity; he had forgotten his cardinal rule, one that had served him well as Johnny Madrid. Never hope for anything, it was just an invitation for failure to come knocking at the door. What a fool he had been to think he could be just Johnny Lancer, rancher, son, brother…  Ignoring the rush of pain it brought to his back, he stepped out of Sam’s office and slowly walked toward the saloon, the only sound the loud jingle of is spurs.


Scott felt the gun shoved harder against his throat, and with the gag still in his mouth, he nearly choked. He saw the fringes of his vision blacken and heard a buzzing in his ears until the pressure was retracted just enough for him to breathe again.

His heart went out to Teresa. Whatever had happened to her in Struthers’ hands had left her wide eyed with fear. He refused to ask himself whose blood covered her clothes. He was afraid he already knew the answer.

“One minute,” Newman warned. A menacing smile appeared on his face. “Maybe Scott Lancer isn’t enough of an incentive to bring me Madrid. Let’s raise the stakes.” Looking back at one of Scott’s guards he ordered, “Bring me five of Green River’s finest citizens. Let’s see what they’ll pay to keep Madrid safe.”

“You can’t do that!” Val raged.

“This gun says I can.” Newman drew and fired and Val yelped, spinning backwards into the Reverend and Hortence. He clutched at his left arm, blood seeping out between his fingers. “That,” Newman said,” is just a reminder of what I can do. Now, everyone, toss your guns in the middle of the street. The next shot won’t come from me, but from one of my men. And it won’t just wing someone…”

Murdoch heard the Reverend shuffling around behind him as he tended to Val.

“It’s just a flesh wound,” Montague whispered. “He’ll be all right.”

Murdoch watched as four men and one woman were rounded up and herded over to Newman.

“I think we are missing one,” Newman grinned. “Yes,” he said, looking past Murdoch to Hortence standing behind him. “The old biddy back there. I hear she was the one who put out the reward on Madrid in the first place. You people can thank her for all your unwanted guests.”

“No!” Hortence cried. “You can’t. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t put up that wanted poster, the two men I hired did it. Please. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The guard walked across the street and tried to shove his way past Murdoch. Murdoch flung his arm out to pull Hortence behind him.

“She’s an old lady,” Murdoch yelled. “Leave her alone.”

“You really want to protect her, Lancer?” Newman asked incredulously. “She’s the one who brought this all on. Every one of these people turned their backs on you and your son when you needed them most.”

“What do you care?” Murdoch asked. “You’re trying to kill my boy.”

“I promised my brother that I would kill Johnny Madrid. That I would put a bullet in his belly and watch him die in agony. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect the man.”

It was time for Murdoch to look incredulously at Newman. “Is this some kind of gunfighter’s code?”

“He’s the best at what he does.”

“He laid down his gun. He only wanted to be a rancher,” Murdoch said.

“I know. His heart’s not in it anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time. He was one mean son of a bitch when he first started out. Then he started taking lost cause jobs. Got paid with a home cooked meal and a roof over his head. Didn’t make him any slower. There’s a whole parcel of gunfighters, six feet under, who made that mistake.”

“Then you can count yourself lucky that you can’t make the same mistake. Johnny isn’t here.”

Murdoch’s eyes shifted to Scott. His son’s bruised face told the story. It had been a brutal night for him.

“We don’t know where Johnny is,” Murdoch said finally. “Let Scott, go. Let the hostages go. They don’t know where Johnny is either.”

“Then they better find him. Time is running out.” Newman yelled. “Bring the old lady,” he commanded, and Murdoch could do nothing to help her as Hortence was dragged away.

“Murdoch!” Hortence screamed, trying to reach back for him with her free hand. “Murdoch, please. You can’t let them do this to me. Tell them where Johnny is. Tell them. He isn’t worth all these lives.”

“She’s right, Lancer. Is Madrid worth your Scott’s life?”

“No,” Johnny Madrid said, “he’s not.”

Murdoch’s head spun around to see Johnny walking down the street. His gait was too slow, his face flushed and covered with sweat. But the cold look on his face, the eyes pinpoint and black, told him that he was seeing Johnny Madrid. He felt overwhelming anger. Not at Johnny Madrid, but for the fact that Johnny had to resurrect him.

“Madrid,” Newman chuckled. “I knew you weren’t dead.”

“But you’re gonna be.” Johnny said coldly.


Chapter Twenty Eight

The silence was deafening.

Teresa wrenched herself free from Victoria’s hold, only to have Atwater grab her and yank her back.

“No! You can’t help him now.”

“Look at him,” she cried, trying to wrench herself free. She knew Johnny’s condition, knew he couldn’t keep up the charade very long before his body gave him away. She glanced over at Murdoch and saw the horror on his face.

Atwater clutched his arms around her, pulling her back into a tight embrace. “The only one who can save Johnny Lancer now is Johnny Madrid.”

“No…” Teresa sobbed, sinking into Atwater’s arms. “No, someone has to help him.” She turned to look at the townspeople desperately looking for help from the men and women she had called friends. But she only saw fear and morbid curiosity, mixed with a thirst for blood. A story they could tell their grandchildren, the story of the day they saw Johnny Madrid in action.

“I heard you weren’t doing so good,” Newman taunted, and Teresa knew the dance was underway. She remembered Johnny calling it a dance so long ago…but this was nothing but cold blooded murder. She knew the only thing she could do now was wait breathlessly for Johnny’s reply.

“You heard wrong,” Johnny countered, his voice devoid of emotion.

“Good. I’d hate to take you down when you’re feeling poorly.”

“The only one going down is you, Mister.”

Johnny’s own words suddenly sounded hollow to him.  He took slow steady breaths, his eyes still fixed on Newman. Outwardly he knew he looked far from the hardened gunfighter his repudiation boasted, and inwardly he suddenly panicked. Where was Madrid? Where was his strength, his capacity to push the pain and emotions from his mind? Where was the man he had worked so hard to perfect? He had survived all these years by not caring…by having nothing to lose. But now he could feel Murdoch’s eyes frozen on him, could feel the man’s fears and regrets. His eyes shifted for just a split second to Scott, his brother’s eyes filled with the terrible realization that this might be the end. Behind him he heard a muffled sob and knew Teresa was watching too. He didn’t know if he could do this with them watching. He had never wanted them to see this, to see Johnny Madrid…to see the violent end to a legend he neither wanted nor deserved.

A wave of dizziness and nausea rushed over him and he sucked in a breath of air. Not now…Dios…not now. He knew he couldn’t bluff his way out of this one much longer.

“You don’t look so good to me, Madrid,” Newman mused.

Johnny forced his voice to remain cold and steady. Digging deep down within himself, trying to resurrect Madrid, he shrugged. “I’d be more concerned about my own health if I were you. Eating lead can leave a bad taste in a man’s mouth.”

A smile flashed across Newman’s face. “I like you, Madrid. Too bad I have to kill you.”

“You got a reason, or you just want the reputation?”

Newman’s smile turned to a dark leer. “I’ve got a reason. Barstow…three years ago. You killed my kid brother.”

“Barstow…” Johnny tried to recall the day, tried to put a face to another meaningless death. Then he remembered. “He was dealing from the bottom of the deck, and not very good at it either. I called him on it and he called me out.”

“You could have said no,” Newman charged. “He was only eighteen.”

“Age don’t mean much when a man has killing on his mind.”

“I suspect you’re right. Seth was a mean son of a bitch when he wanted to be. But it doesn’t change the fact that you killed him. I swore I would see you in hell.”

 Johnny nodded. “A promise is a promise. A man’s not worth much if he can’t keep his word. To bad your brother wasn’t worth dying for.”

He could feel the sweat running down his face, stinging his eyes. Pain and blood loss were taking their toll and it was only a matter of time before he lost it all. If he stood a chance of surviving this it had to start now.

“You trying to talk me to death, or are we going to get this dance started?”

Newman’s eyes widened for an instant and Johnny knew he had read him.

 “You in a hurry to die, boy?”

“Johnny smiled. “Ain’t planning on it.”

Newman chuckled. “You got guts, boy. Too bad that bounty went up. I lost you for the last four months. Never would of thought you’d make up with Daddy, and be part owner of a spread like Lancer. Got yourself a brother and a sister. Must be hard to know that they’ll have to watch you die.”

Johnny looked past Newman at the hostages. He forced himself not to linger on Scott. He couldn’t let his anger be diffused by his feelings of guilt. Scott had been nearly killed because of him. Everyone he cared about was being hurt because of him. “I’m sure they’ll get over it. You plan on standing there all day talking‘?”

Newman eased his hands carefully away from his body. “I’m in no hurry. In fact, I think this is fascinating.” Casually he raised his left hand and tipped his hat back to wipe the sweat from his brow. “Hot one today,” he observed. “Almost as hot as the day I found out you killed Seth. I had three years left on my sentence in Yuma at the time, three years to find out everything there was to know about you. I had a lawyer friend who owed me a favor…he knew all the right people. By the time I walked through those prison gates I was closer to you than your own skin. I knew more about you than your daddy or your brother or that pretty little thing you call a sister. Funny thing is…you weren’t the man I expected. Oh, in the beginning you were hell bent on making a name for yourself anyway you could, and a lot of men paid the price for your fame. But then something happened. What was it Madrid? What made you suddenly so particular about the jobs you picked? Some said you had a death wish. I think you found a soul.”

Johnny hated that Newman was on the right side of the truth.

“You couldn’t stomach the business anymore. You took jobs only a fool would take on, and you were paid with a plate of beans and tortillas and a roof over your head. But even while you were in Mexico the legend of Madrid kept growing. Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada, California…you must have had wings to be in so many places at once.”

 "Let’s get on with this,” Johnny growled.

Newman drew his hat back down to shade his eyes. “I am, Madrid. I’m just getting to the good part. Just when I thought your trail had gone cold for good, guess what my friend brings me? A copy of a letter. Damn, if that wasn’t good reading material. Too bad it was so full of holes you could use it as a sieve.” Newman glanced back at Hortence and shook his head. “Too bad you didn’t get it right,” he said. “Seems to me that the last words about a man should be the truth.”

Another wave of dizziness swept over Johnny and he felt his knees shudder.

“But these people here don’t want to hear the truth, do they?” Newman droned on. “They’d rather believe the worst because it’s easier than admitting they’re wrong. Ease their conscience.”    

Johnny took a measured breath, feeling hot pain shoot down his back and he fought to stifle a guttural moan as his legs wobbled for a moment and blackness filled his periphery vision. He fought to hold on, and looked past Newman at the hostages with eyes that would not focus anymore. But even through his compromised vision he could see their faces contorted by fear…and was that guilt he saw in their eyes too?

“Let them go.”

“You can’t tell me you give a damn about these people. They turned their backs on you,” Newman said incredulously.

“This is our fight, not theirs.”


Murdoch saw Johnny falter for just a moment, a dip of his head, a slump of his knees, but enough to know that his son was in trouble.

His heart skipped a beat. Had Newman noticed? He watched and waited, his heart beating in his throat. But there was no missing the twitch in Newman’s eyes. He had seen it.

The blackish red stain of dried blood on the back of Johnny’s shirt as he passed by a moment ago glistened a lighter shade of red now as fresh blood spread across the material.

Murdoch knew his son didn’t stand a chance against Newman in his condition. Knowing that Johnny would be furious at him for interfering, he spoke out anyway. “Newman, this is murder!”

“Keep out of this, old man,” Johnny ordered.

Murdoch felt Val’s weak hand clamp around his arm. “You’re gonna get him killed,” Val hissed.

“I’m trying to save his life,” Murdoch hissed back. “Look at him; he can barely stand. I won’t watch my son gunned down in the middle of the street.”

Murdoch saw Newman’s attention shift from Johnny to him for just a moment before he turned back to Johnny. “You letting your daddy fight your battles for you now, Madrid?” he mocked.

“It’s not much of a battle,” Murdoch called. “Is this the kind of reputation you want? Facing a man half dead on his feet?”

Johnny swayed. “Shut up!” he warned.

“It’s not the reputation I’m after, Lancer. I’m evening the score.”

“He killed your brother in a fair fight. This doesn’t look like a fair fight to me.”

“An eye for an eye, Lancer.”

“Murder, you mean.”

“Wasn’t it murder when your son drew on my brother? He was no match for the likes of Johnny Madrid.”

“My son is not a murderer,” Murdoch said without reservation.

Newman dipped his hat toward Murdoch. “The same can’t be said for my brother. But Madrid here understands the game. A promise is a promise.”

“Why not just gun him down then if vengeance is your only goal? Why wait and take a chance that he might take you?”

A small smile flickered across Newman’s lips. “He won’t.”

Murdoch looked around, desperately trying to prolong the inevitable. A thought came to mind and he took a small step forward, feeling Val tug on his arm.

“Are you sure this is the kind of revenge you want, Newman?” he asked.  “You said you waited three years to meet Johnny Madrid. Is this how you envisioned it? Or was it with the Madrid you came to admire and condemn at the same time?”

Murdoch saw Newman shift, his eyes tracking Johnny from head to toe, and his hand relaxed.

“You’re right, he does seem to be doing poorly,” Newman said thoughtfully. “I’ve waited all this time to meet the man who gunned down my brother. Doesn’t seem fair to pay to play the game and not have the real Madrid here.”

“Hey, boss,” one of Newman’s men whined. “What about the reward?”

“Shut up,” Newman snapped. “You’ll get your money.”

Newman looked back at the hostages and smiled viciously, before facing Johnny again. “Tell me, Madrid…what would you do if I gave you a choice, one hostage for your life and your brother’s.”

Newman waited while the offer sank in. He could feel the tension turn up a notch in the crowd. He could feel their eyes shift from Johnny to himself.

“Just tell me which one,” he prodded. “We’ll dance again when you’re back on your feet. Which one, Madrid? Your choice.”

A muted gasp echoed from the hostages. Eyes filled with fear seared into Johnny’s soul. They had turned their backs on him…believed all the filth, condemned him without a seconds hesitation.

“Which one, Madrid?” Johnny watched Newman reach back and drag Haggis the undertaker forward, the old man’s face grey with fear.

“Or her?” Newman taunted, dragging Sybil, the young waitress forward. Johnny remembered how she had smiled at him, had fluttered her long dark lashes seductively at him.

“What did they do for you, Madrid, but turn their backs on you when you needed their help?”

Johnny stared at their faces. Were they worth risking his life? Then his eyes swept across and settled on Scott. The bruises on his brother’s face attested to the rough handling he had received at the hands of his kidnappers. Did he have the right to turn down an offer that would save his brother?

He saw Scott shake his head imperceptibly. His eyes pleaded… ‘Not for me’

“And her?” Newman dragged Hortence to the front. “Will you die for her? She started all this…destroyed any chance you had of having a normal life with your family. She wrote that letter, put out the reward poster. Is she more important than your brother’s life?”

“No, please,” Hortence pleaded, trying to break free of Newman’s grip. “Please.”

A sharp pain so intense that it ripped a groan from Johnny’s throat hunched him in half, and it took every ounce of effort in him to keep from sinking to his knees.

“You better make up your mind soon, Madrid.”

Johnny slowly straightened up. His eyes met Hortence’s and he saw the fear there.  Anger seared his throat. She was at the heart of all this. She had robbed him of everything.

“Please, Johnny, don’t let them do this.” Hortence pleaded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was only trying to help Teresa. You have to understand…”

“Shut up!” Johnny growled.

“Who will it be, Madrid? Not one of them would be willing to fight for you.”

Johnny squared his shoulders, his gun hand moving into position. That would make him no better than them. He would not take the coward’s way out. That was not Johnny Madrid or Johnny Lancer. “Go to hell,” he said savagely.

Newman nodded. “A man of principles. You’re a fool, Madrid.”

“No,” Murdoch thundered. “He’s no fool. He’s a man who won’t turn his back on those in need. He is the Johnny Madrid that Hortence Shaffer decided to leave out of her letter. He’s a man I’m proud to call son.”

“I told you to stay out of this, Murdoch,” Johnny hissed, his voice trailing off as another wave of vertigo swept over him. But he could not deny that the words filled his hungry heart.

“I can’t,” Murdoch answered, his voice heavy with emotion. “For the same reason you brought Teresa back to us. Because we are family.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Johnny hissed.

“Yes he does.” This time Teresa could not be stopped. She broke free from Atwater and rushed across the street into Murdoch’s arms.

Reverend Montague stepped forward, his shoulder touching Murdoch’s arm in a show of solidarity.

Victoria and Atwater made their way across the street and stood belligerently beside Murdoch and Teresa on the boardwalk.

“I’ll kill every one of the hostages,” Newman warned, “starting with her.” He drew his gun and shoved it against Hortence’s head. “Is she worth all this, Madrid? Just say the word and I’ll let Scott and everyone else go.”

“Only a coward stands behind an old woman,” Johnny growled, his voice sounding too weak. “Let them go.”

“Listen to him,” one of Newman’s men shouted. “Take care of Madrid and let’s get out of here.”

“Shut up!” Newman shouted.

The townspeople who had been frozen like statues were now slowly moving toward Murdoch and Teresa.

Newman saw the change in the crowd, realized his tactical error. He shoved Hortence away. “All right, Madrid, it’s your call. I gave you a chance.”

Johnny nodded, letting his gun hand hang loosely at his side. He could barely see Newman now. The ringing in his head brought on by fever and dehydration built to a dizzying crescendo. But it didn’t matter. He would be dead in another minute. But he swore he would take Newman with him.

Scott suddenly jerked away from his captor trying to knock Newman off his feet, but with his hands and feet still bound he was stopped just short. A powerful fist sent him careening into the other hostages.

Johnny saw Newman go for his gun and he drew, but a sudden numbness flowed from his head to his feet, the gun slipping from his unfeeling fingers, his legs buckling beneath him. He could only wait for the impact of the bullet to send him straight to hell. “Not the way I planned to go,” he thought as blackness enveloped him.


Chapter Twenty Nine

Murdoch saw Johnny go for his gun then simply corkscrew bonelessly to the ground, his gun slipping from his hand and hitting the dirt with a loud thud. He watched helplessly as Newman slowly drew his own gun and leveled it at Johnny, shaking his head sadly.

“I gave you chance, Madrid. Too bad you didn’t take it. These people weren’t worth it.”

Murdoch cursed silently, knowing the truth of those words. Not a one of them was worth the life of his son. Yet Johnny was willing to make that last stand to save them. He hoped they would be haunted by this moment the rest of their lives. He knew he would be.

He drew his gun, knowing with a fatal certainty that he was to late.

Suddenly a gunshot rang out from a second floor window of the hotel across the street and Newman yelped, his gun falling from his hand as he tried to staunch the flow of blood from his right wrist. Murdoch followed the line of fire and saw Abe hanging his head out of the window, one of Newman’s bushwhackers slumped over the sill.

Another bullet kicked up the dirt near Newman’s foot and Kyle stood on the roof of the livery station, his gun raised above his head. 

“Johnny!” Teresa suddenly bolted past Murdoch, her skirt whipping around her legs, nearly tripping her as she ran frantically down the middle of the street.

Murdoch rushed behind her, feeling Victoria and her companion on his heels.


Scott felt the hostages surge in mass. He rolled awkwardly to his right, his wrist erupting in pain, as the guards were pummeled to the ground by the ex-hostages. They showed no mercy for the men who had selected them for what they thought was certain death.

Haggis broke away from the melee and quickly untied Scott’s hands, his face turned away from the older Lancer brother…shamed by what he and the rest of Green River’s so-called God fearing citizens had done this day.

Yanking the gag out of his mouth, Scott tried to untie the ropes around his ankles, but his right hand was useless, and the fingers of his left hand were too swollen from lack of circulation. Haggis saw him struggling and quickly untied the ropes helping him to his feet. Scott staggered over to where Johnny lay crumpled on the ground, Murdoch and Victoria Barkley already kneeling over him. A once well-dressed stranger, Scott could only surmise was the governor, dropped to his knees beside Johnny.

Teresa stood behind them, possibly the loneliest soul he had ever seen.

With hands that would not stop shaking, Murdoch gently brushed Johnny’s sweat- dampened bangs from his forehead before feeling his neck for a pulse.

“He’s alive…” Murdoch breathed.

Scott let out his breath, not realizing he had been holding it, and saw Murdoch turn around to look up at him.

“Son…?” he whispered, taking in Scott’s pale face and right wrist tucked into the front of his shirt. He had feared he was going to lose his oldest son too.

Scott nodded. “I’m all right.” But his attention was suddenly on Teresa as she swayed backwards, her ordeal written on her clothes, and heartbreakingly, on her face. He took two quick steps to her side and wrapped his good arm around her. “It’s all right,” he whispered close to her ear, “he’s alive.”

“Let me take a look at him,” Atwater said and the Reverend leaned over Murdoch coaxing him to sit back while Atwater took control…the brusque authority in Atwater’s voice suggesting years of leadership.

“Someone get something to use as a stretcher. And I want a clear path to the doctor’s office,” Atwater ordered before he and Victoria gently turned Johnny onto his stomach. The swatch of once dry blood was glistening wet, covering his entire left side.

Scott could do little more than watch and wait, his arm wrapped around Teresa’s shaking shoulders. Everything that had happened since Hortence wrote her scathing letter was reduced to this moment, to Johnny’s instinct to survive and Atwater’s medical experience.

The street suddenly swelled with people, their whispered voices sounding like the droning of bees. Doors that had remained closed while Johnny faced Newman were now open. Faces that peeked out of windows now sought to see what had happened to Madrid. Woman whispered at the sight of Teresa in her blood soaked clothes, and the men shuffled around each other to get a better look at Johnny.

Bethany pushed her way through the crowd, her arms reaching out for Teresa. “Oh no!” she cried, her pale yellow dress and matching bonnet with fresh cut flowers a stunning contrast to Teresa’s blood stained clothes.  “What did they do to you?”

Teresa turned away, burying her face in Scott’s chest.

“Teresa, I was so afraid for you. Please tell me he didn’t hurt you. I knew I should have done more to get you away from that terrible place before it was too late.”

Teresa’s shoulders suddenly went stiff. She turned slowly and deliberately to face Bethany. “I don’t want to ever see you again,” she said coldly.

“Teresa…I don’t understand…” Bethany began, but Hortence was beside her now.

“It’s all right, dear…poor Teresa is just in shock. What she must have gone through…I told everyone nothing good would come of Johnny Madrid being here in town.”

If not for the Reverend’s strong hold on Murdoch, Hortence would have felt the full brunt of the irate father’s rage.

“No!” Victoria jumped up from Johnny’s side, her hand pushing Murdoch back while she turned to face Hortence. “You must be Miss Shaffer,” she addressed her with deliberate politeness. 

Hortence nodded, trying to regain her composure. She glared at Murdoch then looked down at Johnny with disgust.

“Hortence Shaffer,” she replied haughtily, offering Victoria her hand. “I am in your debt, Mrs…?”

“Barkley. Victoria Barkley,” Victoria replied, this time not disguising the true contempt she held for the woman. “And there is no one I would feel less inclined to be indebted to.”

Hortence let her hand drop to her side, mouth agape. 

“I have heard enough about you to know that you are one of the most despicable people I have had the misfortune to meet in my life, and believe me, I have met all kinds. You are a sanctimonious and cruel old woman. You set out to destroy Johnny Lancer, a man you knew nothing about, except that he did not fit into your narrow minded set of ethics. You nearly got Teresa killed and you may yet kill Johnny…all because of your bigotry and hatred. And in your lust for self-righteous power, you nearly destroyed this town. There is not one person here who has not been tainted by your bitterness.”

Hortence took a step back, stunned. “How dare you! You have no right…”

Atwater stood up slowly, his hands stained by Johnny’s blood. “Ma’am, she has not said anything that I would not have said myself. And I plan to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Her anger deepened, and Hortence took a step closer to Atwater. “And just who do you think you are?” She asked venomously. “I just tried to rid the town of a killer, something all these people were too weak to do on their own. I did what was needed, and you will be singing another tune when the governor reads my letter and runs that little half-breed whelp out of town.”

Silence squeezed in between everyone on the street, suffocating them, realization striking them like a physical blow as they saw Hortence for what she truly was. But it was nothing like the sound of Victoria’s hand slapping Hortence across the face.

Hortence lifted her hand slowly to reveal the red mark rising on her cheek. Stunned, tears of pain and anger filled her eyes.

“You will regret this,” she promised. “When the governor…”

“Miss Shaffer,” Atwater said coldly, “it is obvious that you do not know who I am.” He waited, enjoying the moment. “I am Governor Atwater.”

Teresa nearly yelped in surprise. A small smile flickered across the Reverend’s face as he watched the play of emotions on the faces around him.

“Miss Shaffer, I have found Johnny Lancer to be a man I would be proud to call a friend. And…I found Johnny Madrid to be a man of conscious. A man who was simply trying to turn his life around.  If a man can not put his past behind him then what chance do any of us have? Because I know if I searched hard enough I would find something hidden in everyone’s past. Including yours.” Turning to Val he ordered. “Take Miss Shaffer into custody. I’m sure you can find any number of charges to hold her until I can make a formal complaint.”

“Yes…yes, Sir…” Val stuttered. Composing himself, Val pushed Hortence toward his office with his good arm, looking behind him to shout orders. “Some of you men there, bring Newman along, and what’s left of his men. The doc kin look at the lot of ‘em when he gets back in town.”

Atwater dropped back down to Johnny’s side. “Where is that stretcher?” he demanded.

“Right here, Governor.” Four men ran across the street carrying a batwing door they had ripped off the saloon.

Scott felt Victoria gently pull Teresa from his grasp, allowing him to drop to his knees next to Johnny.

“How is he?” he asked Atwater anxiously, looking across at his father’s face, seeing the fear there.

“He’s lost a lot of blood, and the infection is spreading. We had it under control yesterday, but the ride in the stage and now this…” he looked at Newman stumbling between two men as they roughly escorted him toward the jail, still holding his bleeding wrist. “I’m not a doctor. I can only do so much.”

Scott gently brushed Johnny’s sweat streaked face. “Do what you can.” He let his chin dip to his chest and shook his head.” This should never have happened,” he said bitterly. “He was happy for the first time in his life…”

“We’ll do everything we can to make him happy again,” Atwater promised.

Murdoch looked from Johnny’s motionless face to Scott and then to Teresa. He feared they would never have the same happiness they had shared such a short time ago.


Atwater looked down at Johnny, a grim expression on his face. It had been over an hour since Johnny had been loaded onto the make-shift stretcher and carried to the doctor’s office. He had been quickly undressed and his back washed down with soap and water then by carbolic acid, before Atwater had cleaned out the infection the best he could and stitched the wound closed. Now he could only wait and hope he had done enough.

Standing up to stretch his aching back he looked at Johnny’s worried family. “I’m afraid I’ve done all I can. I have everything I need to treat him here.” He motioned at all the bottles sitting in the medicine cabinet. “But I don’t have a clue what to give him or how much.”

Murdoch stood over the bed gently combing his fingers through Johnny’s hair. “I’m grateful for what you have done. Teresa told me Johnny would have died that first night without your help.”

“I will be honest with you, Mr. Lancer, I almost didn’t come. When Victoria first approached me and presented your problem I was reluctant to travel all this way. But after reading the letter, and seeing the viciousness with which it was written, and knowing Victoria’s innate power to read people, I decided to come. Not to say that Victoria can not be quite persuasive when she wants to be.”

Murdoch chuckled. “She can be a formidable force.”

Looking back down at Johnny lying on his stomach, his face nearly as white as the pillow case, Atwater sighed. “You could say the same for this young man. I had some time to speak with him…and I believe I gained a true picture of who both Johnny Lancer and Johnny Madrid are. His fevered ramblings were hard to listen to. But the one thing I know for sure…he is not the man described in Miss Shaffer’s letter. He is a decent honest young man who is trying to put his past behind him. He is lucky he has you and Scott and Teresa.”

“No, Governor, we are lucky to have him. I wish I had handled things differently when this all started. I made some mistakes I will never be able to repair.”

Johnny suddenly moaned deeply and shifted his head on the pillow. His eyes fluttered open half mast.

Scott who had been sitting in a chair against the wall listening to Murdoch and Atwater was instantly on his feet and kneeling down to look at Johnny face to face.

“Hey there, Brother,” he said softly. “Welcome back.”

Johnny swallowed, trying to form an answer.

“Don’t try to talk,” Scott said gently. “Everything is fine. Teresa is safe at home with Victoria and Maria, and Newman is in jail right next to Hortence.”

The smallest of smiles twitched at Johnny’s lips.

“All you have to do is lay here and get your strength back.”

Johnny’s sluggish eyes settled on the sling around Scott’s neck.

“Nothing to worry about,” Scott smiled. “It will be fine in a few days.”

There was suddenly a commotion from the front office. The door leading to the surgery burst open and Sam Jenkins stood in the doorway.

“What the hell is going on around here?” he demanded, surveying the room. Murdoch and a stranger, nearly as tall as Murdoch, stood over the examination table. Scott squatted at the head of the table, speaking softly to someone lying beneath a sheet. It didn’t take a genius to realize who it was. “And why is half of Green River waiting outside my office?”

Murdoch turned around, his face reflecting his relief. “Thank God, Sam, you’re here.” He stepped away from the bed revealing Johnny’s prone figure just as Sam expected.

Sam quickly washed his hands, looking over his shoulder at the men huddled around the bed. “It appears I missed all the excitement.”

Murdoch nodded grimly. “Believe me, Sam, we could have done without it.”

Sam nodded back. “Let’s see what we have here.” Leaning down to look Johnny in the eyes he smiled at his all too familiar patient. “Just can’t seem to stay out of my office, can you, Johnny?” he asked with a gentle smile. “I’m beginning to think you like it here.”

The smallest of chuckles passed Johnny’s lips before his eyes slid closed.

Satisfied that Johnny was again asleep Sam carefully began cutting away the bandages. He sucked in a breath when he saw the red and swollen area around the stitched bullet wound. “When did this happen?” he demanded.

“Two days ago.” Atwater answered. “I removed the bullet, but the infection set in almost immediately.”

“All right, everyone except you,” Sam nodded toward Atwater, “out of here. I need an assistant and you have done a good job so far from the looks of those stitches.”

Atwater nodded. “Of course, Doctor.”

“Sam…” Murdoch took a step forward.

“You know my rules, Murdoch. Now go wait outside. And…” his voice softened. “You know I will do the best I can.”

“We know, Sam,” Scott nodded. “We know.”

Sam looked up at Atwater as the door closed. “I hope our best is enough.”

As they worked, Atwater told Sam the entire story, at least the parts he knew. Sam could only shake his head. He knew Hortence was trouble, but he never thought she would go this far.

When they were finally finished Sam gently stroked Johnny’s cheek, feeling the fever burning the boy’s skin. Why were some people made to suffer so much? Johnny had already had his share. Why couldn’t life just let him settle down and live happily? Was it really that much to ask?

Shaking his head, he drew the sheet up over Johnny’s shoulders. The only thing they could do now was wait.


Chapter Thirty

Long days and even longer nights turned into a week and still fever ravaged Johnny’s body. Sam did all he could; tried to cool him down with cold compresses, fed him liquids and medicines through a nasal tube, and most of all prayed.

Cots were brought into the surgery and both Murdoch and Scott stayed by Johnny’s side twenty-four hours a day. Atwater spent most of his time at Sam’s, turning an insistent mayor away daily. He had no desire to meet the man who allowed all this to happen.  The rocking chairs that had lined the front porch of the hotel now sat outside Sam’s office where both men and women took turns sitting and waiting for word.

Teresa returned with Victoria and they spent most of their time in the office. Victoria’s strong presence was appreciated by everyone, but most especially Teresa. They had had long talks together. She told Victoria in great detail what had happened at Struthers’ camp. Details she would never tell anyone else. Talking it out helped with the nightmares…but the worst pain would not go away with a simple talk. That pain stemmed from her unforgivable betrayal of Johnny. She knew they would never see each other the same way they used to, she would never be so innocent, and Johnny would never be so trusting of her. But Victoria assured her, that in time, they could forge a new trust. Teresa was not sure if that was possible. Some wrongs could never be righted…some hurts could never be healed.


He couldn’t breathe. The pain in his back was suffocating him. He couldn’t remember what happened, where he was, only the crushing pain. Johnny heard someone moan in the distance then something sharp pricked his arm and the pain receded like water from the banks of a river.

The next time he clawed his way to the surface of consciousness he felt as if he could grab onto it and stay awhile. He took a couple of tentative breaths and found he could breathe again. Concentrating all his energy on the simple task of opening his eyes didn’t seem strange to him at the moment. In fact it felt good to have a goal to reach for. For too long now all he had was the agonizing pain, but this time when the pick came, the blackness didn’t follow.

Nothing made any sense at first. Wavy figures huddled around him, voices mumbled unintelligible words, but there was no mistaking the feeling of Murdoch’s huge hand brushing the hair from his eyes.

“Hello, Son,” Murdoch said to him, his voice quivering in his throat. Such a strange emotion coming from his father. “I’m glad you finally decided to join us.”

Johnny heard the unmistakable sound of Sam clearing his throat as the old doctor leaned down close to his face, his practiced hands opening Johnny’s eyelids one at a time. “Well then, young man, let’s see how you’re doing, shall we?”

Johnny tried to make his mouth work, wanted to ask them all if they had gone insane, but he could not form the words.

“Easy, Brother,” came Scott’s voice. “Don’t try to talk yet.”

It seemed like a sensible idea. He really couldn’t remember what he wanted to ask anyway. He was just too damn tired. He allowed his eyes to slide closed, allowing the blackness of sleep to claim him again.


“Well, Sam?” Murdoch prodded, hovering over the old doctor.

“If you would stand back, I could finish my examination,” Sam growled. He had waited for this breakthrough, and could barely keep the grin off his face. But he had to check Johnny over first.

Standing up slowly, he put away his stethoscope and ran a tired hand through his gray hair.

“Well,” Scott coaxed.

“Well, he’s still a mighty sick boy, and he has a long way to go…but I think he has turned the corner.”

“Thank God,” Murdoch breathed, and glanced over at Reverend Montague.

“I was thinking the same thing myself,” the Reverend said with a soft smile.

“You know, of course,” Sam continued, “the hard part is still ahead of us. Keeping him down long enough to heal. We won’t have any problems for the next week or so, he won’t be strong enough to lift a finger. But after that. He will have to take it easy for several weeks.”

“We’ll do what ever we have to, Sam,” Scott promised. “I threatened to hog tie him before, and I’ll do it, and he knows it.”

There was a light tap at the door and Atwater looked toward it. Checking his watch, he sighed heavily. “It’s one o’clock; that must be the Mayor. Well, I have put him off long enough. At least I have some positive news to tell him and those who have been waiting outside all this time.”

“Now they are concerned,” Murdoch said bitterly. “Where were they when Johnny needed them? He shouldn’t have had to put his life on the line for them to prove who he was.”

Atwater nodded. “In a few days when Johnny is stronger, I would like to hold a town meeting. There are a lot of things that need airing out here. Miss Shaffer is surely not the only one to blame. And…”Atwater added with a gleam in his eyes. “The mayor is about to find that out.”

Murdoch watched Atwater’s back disappear into the outer office. Over the past week there had been too many times when all there was to do was talk. Watching his son lying motionless became more than Murdoch could handle and at those times Atwater would begin talking about Johnny. The governor painted a picture of a man he both liked and trusted. Murdoch marveled at the depth of the man’s understanding, but couldn’t deny a hint of jealousy that his son would reveal so much to a total stranger. 

“I have a feeling,” Murdoch had said, “that politics has not always been your vocation.”

Atwater had laughed. “No. I spent my fair share of time roaming. A little wrangling, a stint in the army. I kind of fell into the job of Governor by accident. An accident I have never regretted…especially now when I can hopefully right a wrong.”


Three more days had past and Johnny was steadily improving. Sam insisted on keeping the nasal tube in place to ensure he was getting enough fluids and the medication he needed, much to the patient’s consternation. But the fever was gone and his body was now slowly healing itself. Still, too slowly for Johnny’s taste.

“Would you stop fussing, old man,” Johnny snapped as Murdoch pulled the blankets back over him after Sam’s latest examination.

Sam washed his hands in a basin beside the bed and slowly toweled them dry as he thought.

“If you keep improving like this, Johnny, I believe you will be ready to go home soon.”

“That’s great news.” Scott grinned. “I bet your own bed will feel a lot better than this.” Scott pounded on the hard mattress theatrically.

But Johnny’s expression clouded over.

“John…,” Murdoch began, puzzled by Johnny’s reaction to what should have been good news to the boy. “Is something wrong? You do want to go home, don’t you?”

Johnny nodded. “Yes. But my home, not the estancia.”

“Johnny, the estancia is your home,” Murdoch corrected. He had thought all that was behind them.

Johnny shook his head. “Things changed. You promised me if I wanted to, you would help me build my own place. That’s what I want.”

“But, Johnny.” Scott looked over at Murdoch for an answer he knew his father couldn’t give him. “Things have changed. I know they could never return to exactly what they were….but that’s life.”

“And its time to move on. I want to stay at Lancer…but…”

“You can discuss this at another time,” Sam said, stepping closer to the bed and lifting Johnny’s wrist to check his pulse. “For now, it will have to be the estancia. I will not send you home to an empty house. You will still need care for several weeks. After that…well, I hope by then you will have changed your mind.”

Johnny turned away and as the nasal tube brushed against his cheek he swatted at it.

“I believe I can take that feeding tube out tomorrow.” Sam said. “If you can drink the amount of water you need to replenish the blood you lost, then it will stay out and you can go home. And like it or not, it will be the estancia.”

Johnny nodded slightly; his turned faced clearly dismissing everyone.


Johnny felt stronger everyday. The tube had been removed and even though his throat was raw, it was a relief not to feel the reminder of just how sick he was every time he shifted his head.

This morning Sam had given his consent for Johnny to sit in a chair for thirty minutes in the morning and afternoon, no longer, and he was grateful for the time.

He looked out the window at the small garden Sam had planted out back along with his bed of medical herbs. Sighing heavily, he carefully leaned back in the chair, appreciative of the time alone. He knew everyone meant well, but they all hovered and fussed until he wanted to scream at them to just leave him alone. Why did he still feel that he had to nurse his wounds alone? Some things, he decided, were just too deeply ingrained to change.

But others had changed, so he had thought. Now…he wasn’t so sure.

The sound of the door opening announced his moment of solitude was about to end. He turned his head to see Mrs. Barkley carrying a tray with a gingham napkin hiding its contents.

“Feel good to be out of bed?” she asked, her skirt swishing as she closed the door behind her and set the tray on a small table in front of his chair. She drew another chair up so she was facing him and sat down.

“I thought you would enjoy something to drink other than water.” She began to raise the napkin slowly.  Johnny expected to see a glass of Teresa’s lemonade. He had to admit he could go for something cold right now. But what he saw brought a wide grin to his face.

“I have been told by my sons that there is nothing like a good beer to quench the thirst. And I have to agree with them.” She picked up a half filled mug of beer and Johnny reached for it but grimaced as the movement pulled on the stitches in his back.

She smiled knowingly and leaned over the small table and set the mug in Johnny’s hand.

“You can thank your good friend Jelly for this,” she said, taking a sip from her own mug. “He somehow got it from the saloon to here without being seen.”

Johnny snorted and grinned.

“I would appreciate it, however,” she said with a sternness that did not match the twinkle in her eyes, “that you not tell the good doctor about this. You are supposed to be on soup and buttermilk.”

Johnny made a face and Victoria laughed. It was a good laugh, Johnny thought. “I promise,” he vowed as he took his first sip. Nothing, ever, had tasted so good.

“Sam likes to fuss too much. He’d put a patient to bed for a hangnail.”

Victoria raised an eyebrow. “You have more than a hangnail, young man.”

“I’ll be fine in no time,” Johnny replied around another sip of beer.

 "You’ll be fine…but it will take time. And you have to give it that time. I have found that the hardest part of the healing process for my sons is giving themselves time to regain their strength. It won’t happen overnight, Johnny.”

Johnny nodded. He drained the mug and began to sit forward, but a moan slipped between his teeth as he once again pulled at the stitches. Victoria quickly took the mug from him and put it on the tray with her own empty glass and placed it on the floor with the napkin hiding the evidence.

Victoria sat back and watched as Johnny carefully moved around until he found a comfortable position for his back against the chair. He still looked too pale, the laugh lines around his eyes deeper and darker than she thought they would be when he was well.

“Your father tells me Dr. Jenkins is thinking of letting you go home tomorrow.”

Johnny nodded, the slightest shadow of a scowl tipping his lips downward.

“He also tells me that you don’t want to go back to the hacienda.”

“He told you a lot,” Johnny snapped, then looked down at his lap ashamed for his rudeness.

“We are old friends.  He would naturally want to talk about the things that are worrying him. And you worry him, Johnny. He knows he didn’t handle things right at the start of this…but he doesn’t know how to make it up to you.”

Johnny looked down at the blanket that covered his lap and began worrying a loose thread. “No need. Things happen, and you live with them.”

“Sometimes.”  Victoria settled back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap. “Other times you talk it out.”

“I ain’t much for talking.”

“This might be a good time to start. I have raised three sons and inherited a fourth. I know how hard it is for a young man to open up.”

Johnny shifted in his chair, fatigue beginning to settle in. The combination of the beer and his depleted energy threatened to overpower him until he heard Victoria’s next question.

“I have to admit after everything that has happened, I thought you had forgiven Teresa for what she did. That is the real reason you don’t want to return to the house, isn’t it?”

Johnny snapped his head up, his eyes flaring. “Teresa has nothing to do with it.”

“She doesn’t? She hurt you. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t mean to, or that she may have been too young to understand how her actions swept the rug from under your feet. The emotion is still there, and it will take time to get over.”

“It’s not that,” he admitted softly.

“Then what is it?”

Victoria’s heart went out to the young man who sat opposite her. A lifetime of hurt was mirrored in those incredibly blue eyes.

“It’s me. I should never have thought I could leave Johnny Madrid behind. I should’a known he would cause trouble. I knew he would. I had no intention of staying here. But…”

“But you found you had a family who loved you.”

Johnny snorted derisively. “And look where it got them. It nearly got Teresa and Scott killed.”

“So you are going to lick your wounds in the old foreman’s cabin until you are strong enough to move on. Don’t you think your family has a say in that?”

Victoria saw Johnny slowly raise his head and she caught her breath for a second. There was a coldness to his eyes that caught her by surprise. But she suddenly remembered another young man who was angry and lost and looking for love, even though he didn’t realize it himself.

“You think hiding behind the mask of Johnny Madrid is going to scare me off?” she asked. Victoria saw the hesitation on Johnny’s face and pounced. “You think you have the right to just up and leave now that you have become a part of this family? You think you will be able to just slip Johnny Lancer in your back pocket and forget him?”

Johnny looked startled at her attack at first, and Victoria wanted to back off but she knew if she did she might lose him.

“A lot of people made a lot of bad judgments,” Victoria continued. “You included. But now it’s time to pick up the pieces and start over again.”

“You don’t understand,” Johnny said softly.

“Then explain it to me.”

“No one is safe with me around here. Newman ain’t the only one out for revenge. And as long as Johnny Madrid is still alive there will always be someone around who wants to prove they can take me.”

Victoria raised an eyebrow and nodded. “I can see that. But why don’t you tell me the real reason now?”

Johnny jerked, and the movement brought a gasp of pain. But his eyes never left Victoria’s. “That is the reason.”

“Part of it, but there’s more.”


Victoria leaned forward putting her hand on Johnny’s knee. “You don’t know very much about me, do you?”

Johnny shook his head.

“Then you don’t know that I have a son very much like you, with a lot of the same problems you have. Oh, I admit, Heath never had the reputation you have…but he lived by the gun for awhile, just to survive like you did. You see, my husband strayed once…” A sad smile tweaked the corners of her mouth, the memory of his dalliance still painful. “…and Heath was born. I knew nothing about him until he landed on my doorstep one day demanding his share in all that was Barkley. I was hurt at first, and mad, but when I got to know Heath I knew he was right. He did have a right to his fair share of Barkley. Now, Heath is every bit as much my child as my other four children. I love Heath with all my heart, and it would kill me if he left. I know that is the way Murdoch feels about you. Now I know your mother and father were married when you were born. But you were taken away from him before he ever got to know you. You were just as much a stranger to Murdoch as Heath was to me.”

“You took him in, even though he was your husband’s bast…” Johnny blushed and dropped his head.

“Bastard? Yes. He is and it was no fault of his own. Just like it was no fault of yours that your mother took you away from your father when you were only two.

Johnny, can’t you see that, even though Murdoch went about it the wrong way, he was just trying to protect you, to keep you from reading and hearing all those filthy lies of Hortence’s.”

“That’s just it,” Johnny ground out. “They ain’t all lies.”

“Don’t you think he knows that? Don’t you think he knows there is a dark side to you, the Madrid side? But Newman himself admitted that Johnny Madrid wasn’t all bad. There was always a good, and caring young man inside, who couldn’t keep from coming out.”

Johnny fell silent, then with more pain than Victoria had ever see in a man’s eyes he whispered. “I destroy everything I touch. I don’t want to destroy them.”

Victoria felt the tears well up in her eyes. “Johnny, don’t you see, your leaving will destroy them. It doesn’t matter to them what is written in that note, or what those dreadful dime novels say. They know the real Johnny Madrid, and they all love Johnny Lancer.”

Johnny closed his eyes against the feelings Victoria stirred up in him. He wanted to believe her...but he was suddenly so tired he could not hold his eyes open. He heard her soft voice somewhere in the encroaching darkness and allowed it to soothe him into a deep sleep.

Victoria stood up slowly. She only hoped she had said the right words to Johnny. She straightened his bed and slipped out of the room to get someone to lift Johnny back into bed.


Chapter Thirty One

Scott followed Murdoch reluctantly across the street. He had no desire to face the men and women who had turned on his brother so easily. Nothing, in his mind, could ever exonerate them from the callous way they had thrown Johnny away. No amount of excuses or supposed heartfelt remorse would change the fact that they had willingly believed the lies of an ignorant, prejudiced old woman.

It had been almost two weeks since Johnny lay closer to death than life in the middle of the street, having again defended the very people who would not lift a finger to defend him. The subsequent outlaying of concern was too little too late in his estimation.

Now the mayor had called for another town meeting. Partly to discuss what had happened, but most of all, for the mayor to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Governor of California. In political circles, it was like a gift from heaven.

Scott watched as Murdoch offered his arm to Victoria Barkley as she and the Reverend waited on the boardwalk in front of the saloon.  Murdoch silently nodded to Atwater as the governor joined them, his expression as dour as theirs, and they followed him through the swinging saloon doors with Victoria on his father’s arm. Reverend Montague fell in step next to Scott and they both entered together.

While the last town meeting had been a travesty of justice, this one was a farce. Scott felt sickened as he took in the elaborate decorations the mayor had prepared for the governor. This was not to be a discussion about Johnny; this was political grandstanding.

A line of tables sat at the back of the saloon, with the mayor’s table taking center stage.  A red and white banner was draped across the front of his table, the American flag hung on the wall behind him. If not for the circumstances of the meeting, Scott would have found it hilarious.

Scott could not help but compare this meeting to the last one a little over two weeks ago. Then Johnny Madrid was a cold blooded killer in the eyes of the citizens. Still was in some people’s minds. Scott feared there were some who would never be persuaded differently.

The saloon had been staged the same way as before, except for the mayor’s ridiculous attempt to garner favor from the governor, and for one member conspicuously missing from the tribunal.

The tension in the room remained as before, but this time it was not fear from a known killer heavy on their minds, but the knowledge that they themselves had come perilously close to becoming like the very person they had exiled. Their silence and inaction had nearly cost Johnny Lancer his life.

Mayor Crenshaw beamed with pride as Atwater took his seat at his side. The sudden explosion of flash powder at the back of the saloon startled everyone. Scott cursed the sling that cradled his gun hand, but noted Val’s weapon already drawn. “Damn fool,” Val cursed as Scott saw Everett Standish’s face appear as the plume of white smoke dissipated. The reporter from Stockton had been hovering around Green River all week interviewing everyone who would agree to talk to him in lieu of a personal interview with Johnny himself. 

“Sorry, folks,” Mayor Crenshaw laughed. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Just wanted this moment caught for posterity.”

Atwater glared at the mayor. “This is not the time for political grandstanding,” he hissed.

The mayor leaned down and whispered, “That is where you are wrong, Governor. This is my ticket to re-election.” Supremely satisfied with himself, the mayor banged his gavel and waited for silence.

“Thank you all for coming. We have lived through a terrible ordeal. A lot has happened these past two weeks and I think we have all learned a valuable lesson…not to prejudge a man and not to jump to conclusions. We nearly made a terrible mistake.”

Scott listened with undisguised disdain. The crowded room, hot and stuffy and reeking of sweat, turned his stomach. But not as much as the contemptuous words that flowed from Crenshaw’s mouth.

Crenshaw glanced over at Scott and his smile faltered at the outright disgust on the oldest Lancer brother’s face. Quickly he turned to Murdoch sitting in the front row.

“I am truly sorry for what happened, Murdoch. I hope you and your family will find it in your hearts to forgive us. I just wish Johnny was able to join us so we could personally thank him.”

Scott held his breath, wondering if his father could hold his temper. He saw Victoria squeeze his hand and the Reverend lean over and whisper something in his ear. To Scott’s surprise, Murdoch merely turned his head away from the mayor and ignored the pompous fool.

Interpreting Murdoch’s silence as a sign that the Lancer patriarch accepted his apology, the mayor continued with renewed vigor. “We are again indebted to Johnny Lancer. And not, as you so wisely tried to tell us, for the first time. But as you know we were led astray. But I assure you, from now on, Johnny will be welcomed here in Green River.”

Scott cringed at the applause that followed. They were thankful now, but what about a month from now? A year from now? Or the next time Johnny Madrid was forced to reappear. Would they be so thankful then? His gut told him no.

“Now, without further ado, and with great pride, I give you the Honorable Governor of California, Jonathan Atwater.”

There was another round of applause, and then it faded away as Atwater kept his seat and silently looked out over the crowd. Scott felt the tension rise and turn to nervous chatter, until the legs of Atwater’s chair scraped across the plank floor and he finally stood up. He was an imposing figure, standing so assuredly in front of the crowd, and Scott could see he was a man who was comfortable with himself and his ideals.

Slowly Atwater pulled a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket.

“Words,” he began, his voice reaching the back of the room. “Words written on a simple piece of paper.” He carefully unfolded the sheet of paper. “They are powerful tools. We would not be the society we are today without them. They can tell the truth and they can lie. They can mend a broken heart or shatter it beyond repair. They can create in the right hands and destroy in the wrong hands.”

Scott felt Val shift next to him, scanning the crowd. The sheriff’s eyes came to rest on Jethro Tumy and Temple Lewis sitting side by side. They had been Johnny’s biggest adversaries at the last town meeting, and the most likely to cause trouble today.

“I received this letter in the mail a little over a month ago, asking me to remove a young woman from a potentially dangerous situation.” Atwater held up the letter. “A good friend of mine turned up at my doorstep the very next day. She advised me to tread cautiously, and not base my opinion on its contents. She suggested that I could not make a decision until I met the young woman and the man depicted in this letter.

“The letter disturbed me. Not only the list of crimes perpetrated by an evil man, devoid of compassion or conscious, but by the way it was written so callously. The name Johnny Madrid was not new to me.  I knew of his reputation, but I never heard of him being as cold blooded and cruel as this letter wanted me to believe.  But I could not take the chance with the safety of the young woman. So I began my journey to Green River, with this letter filled with a list of the most vile and sadistic acts and a promise to Victoria Barkley that I would try not to prejudge.

“Even so, it was not easy to push aside what I had read. Until I met Johnny Lancer. But what is your excuse?”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the crowd.  “You knew Johnny Lancer for four months before Hortence Schaffer started her campaign to destroy him. From what I’m told, Johnny never tried to hide his past. In fact, most of this town were the beneficiaries of his reputation more than once. You bought him drinks right here in this very saloon, you let your daughters dance with him at the church socials. What changed between then and now? What made Johnny Lancer so dangerous overnight?”

Atwater shook the letter viciously. “This! A lethal weapon that you helped to hone like a razor sharp knife.  

You put that knife in the hands of an old woman who was ostracized by most of this town for years until she suddenly produced her scathing letter. Miraculously overnight she became the single most important person in Green River.”

Mayor Crenshaw looked out at the crowd then up to Atwater. “How could we have known that she made up half that stuff in her letter?”

“You could have asked, Mr. Mayor. The sheriff, Murdoch Lancer, even Johnny Madrid himself.”

“She was right about one thing,” Clara Roe called out. “He did draw in the riff raff. All those gunfighters and bounty hunters.”

“Did they come here before Miss Shaffer’s wanted posters went out? You heard Newman yourself. He had no idea where Johnny Madrid was.”

“You can’t blame us,” Jethro Tumy shouted. “We didn’t do anything…”

“That is exactly the point,” Atwater charged. “You didn’t do anything. It became an exciting game to play, something to put a thrill into your dull lives. You were all suddenly part of something big and dangerous. Hortence Shaffer fed you all her lies and innuendos and bigotry and you ate it up like starving cattle.

And when the game got out of hand you fled to your homes and businesses…you peeked out of closed windows and watched as Johnny Lancer stood up to Newman, hurt so badly that he could barely stand on his own feet. Was the man you saw putting his life on the line for you the same man you read about in this letter or those dime novels? Would that man have stood up to Newman? Wouldn’t he have willingly turned Hortence Shaffer over to Newman in return for his own life?”

“What could we do?” Doug Clayton demanded. “We’re no match for gunmen and bounty hunters.”  Heads nodded in agreement.

“You could have stopped it before it got out of hand. Instead you played her game until you got caught up in it yourselves; until Teresa O’Brien was kidnapped and nearly killed.

I feel sorry for you. All of you. Because you have to live with yourselves. You have to face the truth that you nearly let an innocent man die. I leave for Sacramento tomorrow afternoon a richer man for having met Johnny Madrid Lancer. I hope you all take the time to get to know him yourselves.”

He nodded toward Val and the sheriff whistled shrilly. Scott was as surprised as the rest of the townspeople when Val’s deputy escorted Hortence Shaffer down the center of the aisle.

“Miss Shaffer,” Atwater said coldly. “I believe you owe this town an apology.”

“She owes Johnny an apology more,” Val hissed loud enough for everyone to hear.

“She will, Sheriff Crawford,” Atwater promised. “When Johnny is ready. Miss Shaffer, if you would join me.”

Hortence looked around her, her face pale and drawn. Two weeks in jail had been an ordeal for her.

The deputy led her behind the row of tables until she was standing at the governor’s side.

“I am sorry,” she said meekly, her head lowered. 

“They couldn’t hear you, Miss Shaffer, please speak up,” Atwater ordered.

“I said I am sorry.”

“I think these people deserve more than that, Miss Shaffer,” Atwater prodded.

Scott couldn’t keep the bitter smile from his face. It was good to see her forced to admit her wrongdoing.  

“I was only trying to help that poor child. I never thought it would go so far. I never meant for Johnny to be hurt, just out of Teresa’s life. She is a young, impressionable woman. Surely you can see the danger she is in.”

“You had no right to interfere,” Murdoch growled. “I would never have put Teresa in danger. If you had taken the time to get to know Johnny you would have known she had nothing to fear from him.”

Hortence nodded. “I was wrong. But I was just as much a victim as everyone here. I put my trust in Arlo Brand and Clive Hanks. They put out the wanted poster…they…”

“No amount of excuses will make up for what you have done, Miss. Shaffer,” Atwater said sternly. “Defamation of character, slander, attempting to incite a riot…I could go on and on. What you did was inexcusable. You had no right to interfere in the lives of others. You had no right to put Johnny Lancer, Teresa O’Brien and Scott Lancer in danger.  But unfortunately, these crimes are not punishable by prison terms.”

Scott’s shoulders sagged. She was going to get away with it. He knew that she had not committed a crime that was punishable by incarceration, but he had hoped that she would be punished in some way.  He looked at Murdoch and tried to read what was going through his mind, but his face was stoic.

A splash of color came to Hortence’s face.

“But,” Atwater continued. “you can be ordered to perform community service. The circuit judge will arrive in two weeks. I will leave a letter of recommendation as to how I think you should fulfill your community service. I have little doubt that he will accept my suggestions. I will suggest that you report daily to Father Alvereze at the Morro Coyo Orphanage. They could use a good dishwasher and cleaning lady. If I hear that you are mistreating any of the children or not performing the tasks assigned to you by Father Alvereze, I will find another position for you. And you would not like what I have I mind. Do you understand me, Miss Shaffer?”

Tears filled Hortence’s eyes as she looked out over the townspeople, looking for someone to come to her aid. No one did.

Scott couldn’t hide his smile and he saw an ironic glow in Murdoch’s eyes. It was a just punishment. He knew that Johnny would approve.

“You will remain in Sheriff Crawford’s custody until the circuit judge arrives. I hope you have learned your lesson, Miss Shaffer. You have hurt a lot of people. You can just be thankful that no one died because of your ill conceived vendetta. If they had, you would be facing jail time.”

At first stunned, Hortence was now angry as the mayor helped her sit down.

Atwater turned to address the crowd again. He folded the letter back up and held it before him. “And this…” he said slowly as he began tearing it to pieces, “ends here.”

With a nod to Murdoch and Scott, Atwater silently walked out of the saloon.


Johnny sat at the window looking out onto the street. He had seen men and woman enter the saloon, some with heads hung low, others talking animatedly. And later he’d seen the deputy escorting Hortence Shaffer into the meeting and wondered why she was there.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, damning the fatigue that still held him captive. But it was not just the physical weakness that bothered him. So much had happened, he wondered if he would ever return to a semblance of his former self. As he shifted in the chair, the stitches in his back pulled painfully and he hissed both in pain and anger. He had set himself up for this. Why did he ever think that he could put Johnny Madrid behind him? He was a damn fool for even trying.

Victoria Barkley’s words still echoed in his ears. He wanted to believe her words. But in his heart he knew she was wrong. Her son didn’t have the reputation he had. Johnny Madrid was a marked man. He was destined to die a violent death, and he could not…would not bring that kind of danger to his family.

He had only been fooling himself the last four months. Things had been quiet, no one was looking for him. But now all that was changed. Hortence saw to that. It would be months, maybe years, before the gunslingers looking for a reputation stopped coming now.

His leaving might tear his family apart for a time, but it would be swift. They would miss him, then go on with their lives. If he stayed, they would be torn apart slowly. He cared for them too much for that.

Leaning back against the chair, he sighed deeply. His decision was made. The cabin would no longer be enough…he needed to be far away from them. He would return to the estancia for a week or two until he was strong enough to make it on his own and then leave. He would head toward Wyoming or Missouri where the name Johnny Madrid was not as well known. Maybe he could even die an old man in his bed. Maybe

His eyes slid closed as the door opened behind him and his family returned. He would make the best of the time he had left with them, he thought, as he drifted away from the pain of his decision.


Chapter Thirty Two

Johnny sat at ease, feeling the razor glide across his cheek, down his throat, the scent of the warm lather lulling him toward sleep.

He had slept poorly last night, thinking of his decision, knowing it was the right one for him, for everyone, but the knowing didn’t make it any easier.

An hour ago Jelly had rushed into his room proclaiming it was time to get Johnny Lancer looking like Johnny Lancer again before going home.  “Yer liable ta scare poor Maria ta death looking like some kind’a wild mountain man. And as skinny as you are, ya want her cooking all them good meals for ya.”

The old handyman scraped the last of the lather off Johnny’s face and handed him a clean, damp towel.

“I could trim that mop ya call hair if ya were obliging,” Jelly offered.

Johnny’s muffled voice came from beneath the towel. “It’s fine the way it is, Jelly.”

“Sometimes I can’t believe you and Scott are brothers, him being so neat and all. And you…”

“Jelly, please, I know you mean well, but I just want to get out of here and head home.”

“I know you do, Boy. This whole mess has been hard on ya. But Doc’s right in making ya stay until yer ready. It’s a long ride back to the ranch. Ain’t gonna be an easy one neither.”

Johnny pulled the sheet off his shoulders, the movement awakening the pain in his back. It had caught him by surprise and he didn’t have time to suppress the hiss that passed his lips.

“You all right, Johnny? You need to lie down some?”

“No, Jelly, it’s ok. What time is it anyway?”

“About ten minutes later than the last time you asked. Ya know the doc still didn’t say ya could go home today for certain. It all depends on how yer doing. If ya want ta look like yer ready ta do some traveling when he gets here I suggest ya get yerself some rest.”

Johnny eyed the old man then smiled. “You could soft talk milk out of a bull.”

“Yer darn right I could. And it’d be the sweetest milk ya done ever drank. Now, let me help ya over to the bed for a little siesta.”

“All right, Jelly, you win.”

But as Johnny began to climb to his feet there was a light tap at the door. He sat back down, grimacing at the pain. “Who’s that?” he snapped. “Murdoch or Scott wouldn’t knock…and this is Sam’s place.”

“Only way ta find out is ta answer it,” Jelly pointed out matter of factly, then called out before Johnny could stop him. “Come on in.”

The door opened slowly.

“Good, you’re awake.” Victoria stepped into the room followed by Atwater.

“We were hoping you would be awake,” Atwater said as he closed the door behind him. “We wanted to say goodbye before we left.”

Victoria glided across the room. “Ah, so that is what you look like under that bush of hair.” She smiled, gently rubbing the back of her hand along Johnny’s cheek.

“Yes,” Atwater grinned. “He does clean up quite nicely.”

“He shore does.” Jelly preened. “A little work from Jellifer P Hoskins, and anyone’d look like a million dollars, even a scallywag like Johnny Lancer here.”

Johnny’s pale complexion reddened a bit and he lowered his head.

“You are a master at your craft, Mr. Hoskins,” Atwater proclaimed with a bow.

“Hey, Johnny, ya hear that?” Jelly grinned from ear to ear. “Even the Governor of California hisself knows talent when he sees it.”

Johnny’s head snapped up. “Governor?” he asked incredulously.

Jelly’s smile faded. “Didn’t ya know, Boy? This here is Governor Jonathon Atwater. He came all the way here from Sacramen’ta to check out Hortence’s letter personal like.”

“No, I didn’t know,” Johnny answered, his voice turning cold. “Seems everyone did…’cept me.” Anger welled up in his eyes. “Well, I guess the joke’s on Johnny Madrid, huh?”

“Johnny, it wasn’t that way at all,” Victoria protested. “When Scott came to me and asked if I could…”

“Scott’s in on it too?” Johnny stood up slowly, swaying just a little, but his eyes warned them all to stand back. “Just when were you gonna tell me about it?”

“To tell you the truth,” Atwater admitted, “I had forgotten you didn’t know. I’m sorry, Johnny, it was never meant to stay a secret.”

“I bet the whole damn town knew.” Johnny flung his right arm toward the window and regretted it immediately as the movement pulled on his stitches and ignited the pain deep down in his back. He grabbed for the back of the chair, sitting beneath the window, and cursed himself for showing his weakness in front of strangers.

“Johnny!” Victoria reached for him but he shook his head vehemently. “Stay away from me, all of you. I’m all right.”

“You are far from all right, young man,” Victoria raised her voice. “And if you want to land right back in that bed for another week, then go right on acting like a fool.”

“A fool?” Johnny snorted, then smiled ironically. “Guess I am, at that. Had the wool pulled over my eyes good’n tight this whole time. Well, Governor,” he spat, “did you see what you came to see? Johnny Madrid in action? Putting a whole town in danger, almost getting Teresa killed. Getting Scott kidnapped. I put on a real good show for you.”

Suddenly his decision to leave Lancer was crystal clear. If Murdoch and Scott had known about it, then Teresa knew too. He turned his head slowly until he was looking straight into Jelly’s eyes. Jelly knew too. His head sank to his chest. All this time…and he never told him, never warned him. He was set up like one of those animals Scott talked about in the zoo in Boston. People paying money to watch the dumb animals. Laughing at them. Pitying them. How much was it worth to watch Johnny Madrid in action he wondered?

Johnny felt trapped. He needed to be away from these people, these so called friends. He bolted toward the door but Atwater grabbed him by the shoulders. The pain in Johnny’s back flared up and he would have sunk to his knees if not for Atwater’s strong arms.

Atwater nodded toward the chair sitting beneath the window and Jelly quickly carried it over and the governor eased Johnny down onto the soft cushion.

“Listen to me, Johnny.” Atwater sank to one knee, his hand on the arm of the chair. “I did see what I came for”

Johnny dropped his head and closed his eyes. He wanted to be away from here. This town, this county, this state. Anywhere where nobody knew the name Johnny Madrid or Johnny Lancer.

The door silently opened and Murdoch and Scott stepped in, lured by the sound of raised voices.

“I found a young man I hoped would consider me a friend,” Atwater continued.

Johnny didn’t reply. Silence spoke louder than words, and he hoped they heard exactly how he felt.

“I admit I came here in the beginning planning to deceive you. Victoria and I were going to stop over at Lancer and spend a few days. I wanted to see how you acted in everyday life. How you interacted with your family, friends, how you worked with the vaqueros. I especially wanted to see if Miss Shaffer’s letter was right and Teresa was in danger in your presence.”

Still Johnny remained silent. He had heard all he needed to hear and more. He felt light headed and sick. He just wanted to be left alone.

“Instead I found myself digging a bullet out of your back and listening to your fevered nightmares.”

Johnny stiffened.

“I made a promise then,” Atwater added quickly, “that what I heard that night would go no further than my ears. And I am a man of my word. But it did give me an insight into who you really are, Johnny.”

“A killer?” Johnny asked, his voice ragged with self-contempt.

“No. A child who was dealt a bad hand in the beginning. A boy who took a wrong turn when there was no one around to steer him in the right direction. A young man who used his gun to right injustices for people who could not defend themselves. And lastly, a man who was given a second chance to live a life he always wanted. You have been given a great gift, Johnny, don’t throw it away. Your father and brother love you. Teresa will never forgive herself for what she did, or didn’t do, but she loves you with all her heart.”

Johnny shook his head. If they loved him like Atwater said, then they would not have deceived him.

“Don’t let Hortence Shaffer win, Johnny. Don’t let her bigotry and hatred triumph. If you shut your family out now then she will have what she wants. Johnny, sometimes people do the wrong things for the right reasons.”

Johnny raised his head, startled to see Murdoch and Scott standing by the open door. The black sling cradling Scott’s arm a reminder of just how dangerous it was to get too close to Johnny Madrid.

“Return to your rightful place at Lancer,” Atwater implored. “Let the people in Green River know that you belong here. They may have feared Johnny Madrid, but with time, they will respect Johnny Lancer.”

A place inside Johnny’s heart wanted to believe Atwater’s words, knowing that what they had done was their way of trying to help him. But it was just one more lie, heaped on top of a mound of lies throughout his life. The cold bitter truth was that he was Johnny Madrid, and would always be Johnny Madrid.

Victoria kneeled next to his chair. “Please, Johnny, promise me you will at least give it a try. Oh, I know it won’t be easy. There will always be Hortence Shaffer’s in this world. And there will always be that risk of danger having an ex-gunfighter around. But your family is willing to take that risk because they love you. And Johnny, I know you love them.”

Johnny looked up at Murdoch and Scott again, their faces filled with expectations he didn’t know if he could fill.

Victoria laid her hand on top of Johnny’s. “When you feel better I want you to come for a visit. I know you and Heath will find you have a lot in common. You two can talk. And Teresa will be there.”

Johnny looked up. “Teresa?”

“She was going to tell you herself when she thought the time was right, but I think you have had enough surprises to last you a lifetime. She has decided to go to school to become a nurse. Dr. Jenkins contacted The New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and she was accepted. It is known as one of the three best nursing schools in the country.”

“For how long?” Johnny asked. Another pound of guilt added to his already overloaded coffer.

“Three years. But it is a wonderful opportunity for her. Dr. Jenkins says she may go on to study to be a doctor.”

Murdoch stepped forward, seeing the guilt in Johnny’s eyes. “This is something she has talked about for a long time, Son. And this is the right time for her to go.”

“She will stay with us for a month before she goes,” Victoria said. “She needs time to buy the clothes she needs and to gather her thoughts. I’m hoping you can see her one last time before she leaves.”

“What is going on in here?” Sam’s voice roared through the room. “You all think this is a Sunday social?”

Atwater helped Victoria to her feet. “We were just saying goodbye, doctor.”

“Good, because I have a patient to examine if he has any hope of going home today.”

“Then we will be on our way.” Atwater offered his hand to Sam. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Doctor.”

“Same here,” Sam said. “I hope we can meet again someday, under better circumstances.”

“I’m sure we will. I have been invited back to see the Lancer Ranch when Johnny is up to showing me around.”

Victoria leaned down and kissed Johnny lightly on the cheek. “Give it time, Johnny, and everything will work out.”

Handshakes were exchanged all around until finally Atwater turned to Johnny.  “When I return to Sacramento and someone asks me what I have been doing all this time, I will tell them I met a man I am proud to call a friend. I met the real Johnny Madrid.”

Johnny nodded. He could not promise them anything now, but his decision didn’t feel as right as it had. “Gracias.”

Atwater smiled as he and Victoria disappeared out the door.


Sam stepped back from his examination putting away his stethoscope. “Well,” he said. “I would prefer you stay here a couple more days, but I know you are anxious to get home.”

Johnny couldn’t suppress the wide grin that swept across his face.

“You have the wagon all set?” Sam asked Murdoch.

Murdoch nodded. “We put down a mattress in the back and a tarp to keep the sun off him.”

“I don’t need to lay down in the back of a wagon like some old man. I’m fit enough to sit up front,” Johnny protested.

“You will do as I say or stay here another two days like you should. It’s the back of the wagon or nothing, Johnny. And further more, I expect you to take a dose of laudanum before you go. It’s going to be a rough trip home.”

“No laudanum,” Johnny barked.

“Then you can stay right here,” Sam barked back.

Jelly rushed around Sam, grabbing Johnny’s clothes. “I’ll have this boy all ready in a jiffy. And he’ll do like he’s told, right Johnny?”

Johnny conceded reluctantly.

“Good.” Sam smiled triumphantly. “Now, I’ll give you the medicines he needs, and directions for his care,” Sam told Murdoch and Scott. “And,” he said loudly enough for Johnny to hear. “If he gets out of his bed before a week is out, you hog tie him to that bed.”

Scott grinned. “Don’t worry, Sam, Johnny will follow orders if it kills him.”

Johnny closed his eyes, enjoying the easy banter between friends. He was glad to be going home…he just wished he knew for certain for how long.


Chapter Thirty Three

Johnny buttoned the last toggle on his shirt and sat back down on the edge of the bed with a ragged sigh. It had taken longer, and been more painful than he expected, to draw up his pants and ease his arms into his shirt. But he had insisted he could dress himself and his stubborn pride would not allow him to ask for the help he needed. But the pair of boots sitting next to his feet presented another problem. He could not bend his back enough to reach them let alone pull them on. With a groan of resignation he nodded toward Scott who had been sitting patiently and quietly in the chair beneath the window.

“Proven your point?” Scott asked, not a bit amused. What little color that had returned to Johnny’s face was now gone.

Johnny lowered his head dejectedly. “You know I don’t like being fussed over.”

“No one likes the humiliation that comes with being sick, Johnny, but you only make it worse by fighting those who want to help you at every turn. Do you know how close we came to losing you? How many times Sam’s best efforts were not enough and the only thing we could do was pray?”

“I’m sorry,” Johnny muttered.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Johnny,” Scott said, frustrated. “I just want you to allow us to help you. You are not alone anymore. You don’t have to hide out somewhere and lick yours wounds. We have your back, Brother.”

Johnny looked up. Damn, Scott was making this hard. His resolve to leave as soon as he was well enough was being sorely tested. But Scott was right, he did need help. And he would have to take it for now. He would make his decision when his mind was not clouded by the laudanum Sam had forced him to take an hour ago, when he could reevaluate everything that had happened.

Nodding reluctantly, Johnny kicked at his boot sitting on the floor next to his foot. “Do ya mind?”

Scott snorted. “It’s about time.”

Scott had just finished shoving Johnny’s second boot on his brother’s foot when the door into Sam’s back room opened and Murdoch stepped in followed by Reverend Montague.

“You about ready, Son?” Murdoch asked. He had Johnny’s gun belt slung over his shoulder, but made no move to hand it over.

“He’s ready,” Scott proclaimed as he gently helped Johnny to his feet, not releasing his hold on him until he was certain his brother was steady on his feet.

“I’ll take that,” Johnny said, damning the weakness in his voice.

Silence descended over the room. This was their first test. Johnny waited, swaying slightly. Murdoch looked toward Scott who nodded his head slightly. Clearing his throat, Murdoch covered the distance between them in two large steps. “I guess a man can’t be expected to walk out half dressed.”

Johnny accepted the holster, knowing the effort it took for Murdoch to so easily back down on something he was so adamant about. He grimaced as he strapped the rig around his slim waist.  “Thanks,” Johnny said as he flipped the safety loop off the trigger and slid the gun up and down several times to make sure it would not hang up on him if he needed it.

“I wish you didn’t need that,” Murdoch said, the pain of regret in his voice.

“Me too, Old Man.”

Murdoch nodded. “Jelly’s pulling the buckboard up out front.”

“I’m afraid,” the Reverend stepped forward, “a small group of well wishers have gathered outside.”

“Tell them to go away,” Johnny said flatly.

“There’s nothing we can do about it. I’ve already spoken to Sheriff Crawford. They aren’t breaking the law. Johnny, they are truly sorry for what happened. I know I can’t ask you to turn the other cheek and forgive and forget but I ask that you try to understand. They are good people. But sometimes even good people can sometimes be led astray.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve been on the bad side of good people.”

“Do you want me to have Jelly bring the buckboard to the back door?” Murdoch asked.

Johnny shook his head. “I ain’t leaving here with my tail between my legs.”

“Then let’s get you out of here before Sam changes his mind.” Scott handed the Reverend a box containing the personal items Johnny had collected while he was there and the medicines Sam had prescribed. “Do you mind, Reverend?”

The Reverend accepted the box and opened the door leading out to Sam’s waiting room. Instantly the sound of voices could be heard.


Johnny was already exhausted by the time he reached the front door, but he would not let the gwakers see how weak he was and he shoved Murdoch and Scott’s steadying hands away from his arms.

Sam stood at the door, an unhappy look on his face as he assessed Johnny’s condition. The boy looked too pale, the sweat glistening on his face telling him that he was pushing himself too hard. But Sam knew Johnny had to continue the healing process, not just from his physical injures but emotionally as well. And he needed to be home to do that.

As Johnny stepped out onto the boardwalk he immediately regretted not going out the back door. At least two dozen men and woman stood around the buckboard, all looking up at him.

Haggis stood in front of the crowd. “We’re real sorry, Johnny. We were wrong, dead wrong. I don’t know how we can ever repay you. You saved our lives.”

Sybil stepped forward. “Haggis is right. We were wrong. I hope someday you can forgive us. Tell us what we can do to make up for what we did.”

Johnny suddenly felt Reverend Montague at his side. “What Johnny needs right now is to get home so he can rest and recover. Meanwhile, I think you should all think about what happened here. And I hope to see you all at church on Sunday. My sermon will be Love Thy Neighbor.”

Murdoch and Scott helped Johnny step down from the boardwalk. Johnny tried to hide the grimace as he felt pain shoot up his back. Jelly hovered around him, patting the mattress down for him and making sure the tarp was secure to keep the sun off.

Johnny appreciated the old man’s help but he just wanted to get away from the crowd of onlookers. When Scott tried to settle him on his back he grabbed Scott’s arm and pulled him in close.

“I can’t lay down, not in front of all these people.”

“Johnny, you need…”

“Please, Scott. Just until we get out of town.”

Scott saw Murdoch nod and jumped onto the wagon next to Johnny, wrapping his arm around his brother’s waist, both of them sitting with their legs dangling off the end of the buckboard.

“What are you waiting for, Jelly?” Scott called. “Let’s go home.”

Sam and Reverend Montague stood and watched as the buckboard disappeared around the corner.

“Do you think he will stay?” the Reverend asked.

“I hope so,” Sam said. “But it’s going to be up to his family. They’re going to have to convince him that he belongs there.”

“He’ll never find happiness anywhere else.”

Sam nodded. “I hope he figures that out before it’s too late. Now come on in and let me buy you a cup of coffee.”


Scott could feel Johnny’s body begin to tremble from the effort it took to sit on the edge of the wagon. They had rounded the last curve in the well rutted road leading from Green River and Scott yelled for Jelly to stop the wagon.

Johnny made no attempt to stop Scott and Murdoch from gently lifting him and laying him on the mattress, but when Scott mixed up laudanum in a tin cup of water he balked.

“I don’t need that stuff,” he barked.

Scott settled himself on the mattress next to Johnny’s head. “I thought we talked about this earlier. We have your back, Johnny. Trust us.”

Johnny looked from Scott to Murdoch’s worried face, and even Jelly hung his head over the back of the seat tisking lightly. “Don’t be a blame fool, Boy, take the medicine. It’s a long ride home.”

“Not fair ganging up on a man like this,” Johnny complained, but accepted the cup from Scott. He tasted it and grimaced, then drank it down. He knew Scott had given him a strong dose of the pain killer, but he knew he could not make it to Lancer like this. And he realized that he did not have to. He was not alone. These men here would protect his back at any cost. He settled onto the mattress again, staring up at the tarp protecting him from the harsh sunlight. That was Jelly’s doing, he knew. He would miss the old man if he left. He would miss them all. As Johnny felt the tug of the laudanum draw him into a drugged sleep he wondered if he could make the right decision for everyone.


Teresa heard Cipriano announce the buckboard’s arrival   and rushed toward the door. She suddenly stopped, not certain she had the right to welcome Johnny back. So much of what happened was her fault. She felt Maria grab her hand and squeeze it tightly. “Come, Chica, it is time to make right what has been done wrong. You must listen to what is here, in your heart. You must make Juanito know that this is his home and he is wanted and loved here. And that you trust him. Trust is everything to a man like Juanito. This familia is strong, it will survive. But it will not be happy without both brothers here.”

“I don’t know if I can, Maria. My mistake almost cost Johnny his life. How can I ever make that up to him?”

“You can not. But you can go on. You can take the lessons you learned and grow stronger because of them. You can prove to him that you love him and trust him. But remember, whatever Juanito’s decision…he has a lot of ghosts that he has not laid to rest. It is not your blame to carry alone. Now go out there and welcome him home.”

Teresa wiped the tears from her eyes and reached for the heavy front door, taking a deep breath of air before opening it.


It was controlled chaos in the courtyard. Everyone wanted to be the first to help carry Johnny into the house. But it was Scott and Murdoch who carefully lifted Johnny onto the stretcher and Cipriano and Jelly who helped them carry him into the house and up the stairs to his room.

Teresa and Maria had prepared Johnny’s room for his return. It smelled fresh with starched white sheets and lemon polish on the furniture. Every inch had been scrubbed and rescrubbed as they waited for news about his condition.

Now Johnny was carefully settled into bed, the clothes he had labored so hard to put on replaced by a nightshirt. Murdoch drew a light blanket over him and brushed away the errant black hair from his forehead. Johnny’s ordeal showed in the gaunt face and dark circles beneath his eyes, but he was home now and he would begin to recover. Murdoch prayed that his son would stay with them, that he could leave Johnny Madrid behind him. But he would never again make the mistake of trying to separate the two. Johnny was both Lancer and Madrid. Both worlds made him the man he was today. A man Murdoch was proud to call son. When Johnny awoke he would tell him that. And a lot more. It was time that father and son really got to know each other. With a heavy sigh he turned to Scott. “The laudanum will keep him out for the rest of the afternoon,” he said.

Scott nodded. “I’ll stay with him, Sir.”

But without a word to anyone Teresa pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down. The last time she had done this she had made the worst mistake of her life. This time she was going to show Johnny just how much she loved him and trusted him.


Johnny felt stronger each day. Light broths turned to tasty stews and this morning a plate of spicy huevos rancheros sat on his lap.

“Maria said she made them extra spicy for you,” Scott grinned. “They nearly ate a hole through the plate.”

Johnny snorted. “Maria thinks she makes them hot, but this is nothing compared to the huevos I had when I was a kid. There was this old man who would come into our village once a month or so. His fingers were just nubs. He said it was from the hot peppers. There would always be a fiesta when he came. Food and dance. No one had much, but we all shared. Then he stopped coming.” Johnny smiled at the memory. “We all agreed he had eaten one too many of his own peppers.”

“It’s good to know that you have some fond memories of your childhood,” Scott said as he sank into the chair next to the bed.

“But I never had this.” Johnny swept his eyes over his room, the painting of Barranca hanging on his wall, a present from Scott, a small daguerreotype of Maria on his dresser. More shirts than he had for most of his life hanging in his closet. And a brother and father to watch his back. It was becoming harder each day to think of leaving this place. His home.

He remembered waking up a few days before to find Teresa sitting in a chair by his bed. It was so reminiscent of the day Teresa sat in that same chair, Hortence’s letter in her hand. It was the beginning of a long spiral, ripping away her child like innocence and exposing her to the evils of the world. But this visit was one that brought them together rather than tore them apart. He believed her when she said she was not being forced to leave to attend nursing school, it was just something she always wanted to do and now was the time.

Then the tears had welled up in her eyes as she held her hands out before her. “When does it go away?” she asked softly. “When does it stop hurting? I killed a man, Johnny. I grabbed that canteen and I hit him over the head with it. And, God forgive me, I would have done it again and again to get out of there.”

“Querida.” Johnny reached out as far as he could and was thankful that Teresa leaned forward to take his hand. “You did what you had to do. You saved us both.” He squeezed her hand. “I won’t lie to you and tell you you will wake up tomorrow and all the hurt and guilt will be gone. But in time it will fade. Taking another man’s life is never easy. And it shouldn’t be.”

“What about you, Johnny? Will your hurt and guilt ever fade away? I listened to your fevered dreams. I know you still carry those men with you.”

“That is my punishment for being Johnny Madrid.”

“And Johnny Lancer?”

“Johnny….” Scott’s voice brought him back to the present. “You were a million miles away. Care to tell me where you took off to?”

Johnny shook his head, looking past Scott to the window. “You better get going, Scott, Murdoch doesn’t like being kept waiting.”

Scott chuckled. “You got that right. We’ll be home by dark. Now, you stay in bed, you hear? We should be able to finish that line of fencing with all of us working.”

“I’ll be thinking about you.” Johnny grinned mischievously.

Scott stood up and slapped Johnny’s knee. “I know you will, brother, lying here with a beautiful lady waiting on you hand and foot. You had better take advantage of this little rest while you can. When you get back on your feet Murdoch and I are going to work you to the ground.”

Johnny grinned. “I’ll be looking forward to it, Boston.”

As Scott shut the door behind him Johnny sighed deeply, wincing at the pain a deep breath still triggered. He looked around his room again, and felt an easiness there. He was home…where he belonged. When they returned tonight he would tell them. Johnny Lancer was home to stay.


“From what I can tell, they left Madrid and the girl alone.”

Struthers looked down at the empty courtyard from the hill overlooking the hacienda. He hoped they had laid low long enough for the Lancers to let down their guard. Now it was time for payback.  No little girl killed one of his men, and no half mex made a fool of him and lived to die in his bed an old man.

Struthers kicked his horse in the side and started down the long hill toward the estancia.

“Let’s pay Madrid and his little lady a call.”


Chapter Thirty four

Teresa stood in Johnny’s room, satisfied for the first time since Johnny was shot that he had taken his first real steps toward recovery. He was far too pale as he slept fitfully, still plagued by pain beneath the heavy bandages encircling his chest, but he had eagerly eaten half the specially prepared tamale pie before drifting off to sleep.

Pulling the blankets over his bare shoulders, she looked at the man who had changed her life so much in such a short time. Despite everything, he forgave her and now they stood on fresh ground, both knowing more about each other; forming a new kind of trust.

A knowing smile brightened her face at the sound of horses approaching the house. She knew Murdoch and Scott had made a point of leaving them alone, making the most of the time she had left before she left for Stockton, then on to Connecticut. But she had a hunch that they could not stay away too long.

She crossed the room, pulling back the curtains to raise the window, ready to call out a greeting, when her world came crashing down around her in mind numbing terror.

She choked back a sob as she watched Pete Struthers and four of his men slowly ride toward the courtyard.

She clutched at her chest, memories of their hands pawing at her, ripping her dress fondling her breasts. She could still feel their rancid hot breath on her neck, their vile mouths covering hers, not letting her breathe.  She couldn’t face that again. Hot tears welled up in her eyes. Panic threatened to consume every part of her being. She slid down the wall, curling into a ball.

But somewhere in the pounding of her heart and the mantra of …No this can’t be happening…this can’t be happening… she heard Johnny shift slightly, his lips parting with a soft moan of pain.

Suddenly the need to keep him safe overpowered her fears. He was a part of her like never before. He had sacrificed everything to save her despite her betrayal. She could do little else and still live with herself. She angrily wiped the tears away and hurried over to Johnny’s bed, sliding his gun out of its holster hanging from the headboard. Shaking his shoulder gently, but urgently, she slipped the gun into to his right hand.

He came awake, confused.

“Johnny!” She watched his hand wrap around the handle of the gun, saw how easy and familiar he was with the weapon. He looked up at her, his hair hanging in every direction, his eyes still blurry from sleep. “Johnny, it’s Struthers and his men. They’re almost here.”

Johnny’s already pale face grew paler. “How many with him?” he barked, his voice still rough from sleep.

“Four. What are we going to do?”

She watched him begin to push the covers off, then stop. “Damn it, get me my pants,” he growled. It had seemed such a good idea at the time, Teresa thought, leaving Johnny without his clothes…the only tried and true way of keeping him in bed. Now she wished they had let him at least put on a pair of underpants.

“Where are they now?” he asked, his breathing growing raspier as he labored to pull on his pants. She kept her back to him, watching Struthers and his men ride ever closer to the courtyard.

She turned back to see Johnny sway unsteadily next to the bed. “They’re almost here,” she reported, hating the tremble to her voice. Despite her promise to keep him safe, she was still scared nearly senseless.

“We need to get you out of sight.” Johnny’s eyes held hers for a long moment and she saw the worry in them. She quickly grabbed a shirt from his dresser and eased his arms into it, realizing belatedly that it was the same blue flowered print she had just washed and mended after one of Struthers’ men had shot him in the back. A part of her wanted to tear it to ribbons and get him a new one, one that had never been soaked with his blood.

“Listen to me.” He demanded her attention, grabbing her arms with surprising strength, and pulling her closer. “You need to hide. If they find you they’ll finish what they started in camp. I want you to grab that derringer Murdoch gave you for your birthday and crawl into the attic. They won’t look for you up there…Make sure you don’t knock anything off the shelves in the panty on the way up. And Teresa…if they do find you….use the derringer.”

“Come with me,” she pleaded.

Johnny shook his head. “I’d never be able to climb up there like this. Go on now. They’ll be here any minute.”

Teresa’s blood ran cold as those words left his mouth. “I can’t leave you here alone.”

He nodded toward the door. “They’ll have to come through that door and I’ll pop ‘em as soon as they show their heads.” He pantomimed firing his gun at the door. “I’ll be fine. I only have to hold them off an hour or two until Murdoch and Scott get back. Now hurry.  I can’t take care of myself if I’m worried about you.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He wasn’t in any condition to fight them. His complexion had gone from white to a sickly gray. His labored breathing told her that he was ready to collapse. No. She couldn’t leave him. She wouldn’t leave him.

“I’ll be right back,” she said breathlessly, ignoring his protests as she ran out into the hallway. She raced down the stairs, her heart in her throat. She prayed that Struthers and his men would take their time walking into the house. She headed straight for the gun cabinet. Taking down three rifles she wished they were handguns instead. She stuffed a box of bullets into her dress pocket and ran to the kitchen, pulling open the knife drawer and pulling out two of her sharpest knives. Balancing the heavy rifles and two knives in her arms she made her way back up the stairs as fast as she could without tripping on her skirt.

She ran into Johnny’s room and dumped the weapons on the bed before running back out again. She heard Johnny’s protests but didn’t slow down her step. She burst into her bedroom and yanked open the top drawer to her dresser. Rummaging through her under things, she found the derringer and the box of shells. She prayed she would not have to use it.

Johnny had made it over to the window by the time she got back. His face and chest were glistening with cold sweat.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded. “I told you to go hide in the attic.”

She shook her head, struggling to get her breathing under control. “I’m just as safe here with you. With the two of us we can keep them out until help arrives.”

She saw Johnny’s angry frown soften then a smile crinkled his eyes. “Anybody ever tell you, you’re one hell of a woman?”

Teresa felt the floor move beneath her feet. She had not expected those words to ever be said to her…especially by Johnny Lancer.

“Let’s make it harder for them,” Johnny said, nodding to the dresser sitting to the right of the door. “Let’s push that in front of the door.”

Teresa nodded, but held out a cautionary hand. “I’ll do it. I’ve done it plenty of times when I’ve cleaned this room. Sit down while you have the chance.”

She saw the look in his eyes. The regret that he couldn’t protect her like he wanted to.

The sound of the heavy front door slamming closed downstairs told them that Struthers had arrived.

Teresa’s heart skipped a beat and she involuntarily stepped backwards into Johnny’s arms.

“It’ll be all right,” he promised, his breath sweet on the nape of her neck. “Remember they have to come through that door.” She nodded, feeling his strong arms wrap around her thin waist. Why was she getting these feelings now?

She felt him sway a little and quickly dragged the chair that sat beneath the window over to face the door. “Here, sit down,” she commanded. And his frown of annoyance made her laugh. “Now,” she ordered, and he reluctantly eased himself down into the soft chair. The chair she had insisted be brought in when everyone one was keeping watch over Johnny after Day Pardee’s bullet. Johnny had complained that he didn’t need it, but he never moved it either.

Teresa jumped at the sudden sound of furniture crashing downstairs. 

“Where are you, Madrid?” Struthers’ unmistakable voice called from the great room. “I know you’re here. Come out and face me like a man.”

She felt the muscles twitch in Johnny’s arms at the insult.

“How long before he comes up here?” Teresa whispered.

“Not long. Teresa, I’m sorry I got you into this.” His voice sounded profoundly remorseful.

“You didn’t get me into this. I put myself here when....” Her voice trailed off, not wanting to exhume old hurts when there was such little time left.

They both fell silent again, listening to the sounds of destruction downstairs. Raucous laughter mixed with the sound of windows shattering, and furniture breaking. Teresa thought of Murdoch’s well stocked bar and knew they would soon be drunk. She wondered if Murdoch’s prized sailing ship would survive the ruin. Then the sounds of destruction suddenly stopped. The silence pressed in around them, more terrifying then the noise.

Outside the windows the sounds of the ranch seemed so normal - birds singing, cattle mewing, the whinny of the new colt playfully romping in the corral. Everything oblivious to the horror inside the house. 

Teresa’s fingers dug into the palms of her hand until she froze at the sound of heavy footsteps ascending the steps.

“Here they come,” Johnny whispered. He cocked his gun and waited. Teresa grabbed a rifle and pointed it at the door. She wasn’t sure exactly what she could hit, but it would at least drive them off for a time.

The sound of doors slamming, furniture being overturned and glass breaking moved down the hallway. They were nearly to Johnny’s room. Then they were next door in her room. Teresa glanced over at Johnny. Tears glistened at the thought of her precious mementos being destroyed. She heard their lurid remarks as they went through her dresser. She felt vilified and dirty. They had had their hands on her body and now they were raping her memories, destroying what was left of her innocence.

She looked at Johnny and saw the pain in his eyes. His thoughts were there to read like an open book, his guilt at not being able keep her safe from the depravities of a life he had known. Not being able to shelter her from a man like Struthers. Her heart wept for him.

Then there was silence again. Teresa and Johnny waited. The creak of a floorboard outside their door, a hushed command to be quiet were the only sounds.

Johnny nodded toward the door and Teresa saw the doorknob turn.

“You in there, Madrid?” Struthers called.

Johnny warned Teresa to remain silent.

“You got Missy in there with you, Madrid? My boys didn’t get a chance to finish playing. You hear me, Missy?”

Teresa felt the hot tears burn at her eyes again. She thought of the derringer in her pocket and knew she would use it if it meant depriving them of their pleasure.

Suddenly the room shook as something hit the door hard. The dresser shook but stayed put. Teresa yelped and they heard the laughter in the hall.

“Hey, Missy! I heard you,” Struthers’ called, his voice slurred by Murdoch’s liquor. “Madrid, didn’t your mama ever teach you it’s not polite to hoard the goodies for yourself?”

Johnny reached his arm out, his hand slippery with sweat, and squeezed her arm. “They’re just trying to scare you.”

They were doing a good job. Teresa’s mouth was so dry she could barely swallow. She was sure if her heart beat any faster it would explode inside her chest.

“The more time they spend trying to scare you the better for us. Gives Murdoch and Scott time to get here.”

Something hit the door and the wood split. Teresa jumped back, nearly losing her balance.

“Let’s give them something to think about,” Johnny said. “Fire one bullet at the door…anywhere, just so they know we’re armed.”

Teresa nodded and aimed the rifle at the door. She pulled the trigger, the bullet making a clean hole in the wood.

“Good girl,” Johnny grinned. ”Now they’ll have something to think about.”

A shot split the door and a bullet sped past them burying in the headboard of the bed.  Johnny grabbed Teresa and threw her to the floor.

"Crawl over there.” He pointed to the corner wall against the hallway. Another bullet passed just over Johnny’s head and he dropped to the ground, grunting as his back protested.

Teresa made it to the far corner and pushed her back up against the wall, drawing her knees up tight against her.

“You ready to give up, Madrid? It’s only a matter of time.” Struthers’ voice had lost some of its bravado.

Johnny signaled her to stay quiet.

“You still alive in there, Madrid?”

Teresa squeezed her eyes closed. They weren’t going to make it.


“I really don’t like leaving Johnny alone,” Scott said, breaking off from Murdoch to herd a wayward steer.

Murdoch barely suppressed a grin as he waited for Scott to catch up with him again. “Sam left some sleeping powders yesterday. Teresa will use it if he gets hard to handle.”

“They both went through so much, I’m afraid it’s too early…”

“Scott, the danger is letting too much time pass. They have to learn to trust each other again. Teresa will be leaving for Stockton in a couple of weeks. We may not see her again for four years. Johnny has to get past his fear that he will hurt her again and she has to get past the guilt. They’ll be fine. In fact I bet they could use another hour or so.”

Scott nodded. “If your little experiment in psychology doesn’t work I’ll let you pick up the pieces.”

“I know Teresa, and I think I know Johnny. They’ll be fine. So let’s give them the time they need.”

Scott grinned. “I can just imagine the fireworks.”

“Let’s get these cows moving. I do want to be back before dinner.”


Johnny waited, counting the minutes with an internal clock that never failed him. Ten minutes and there had not been a sound from Struthers. He didn’t, for one minute underestimate the man. Pete Struthers had been a bounty hunter for fifteen years. He learned to read people. He was as dangerous a man as Johnny had ever met.

Looking over at Teresa, trembling in the corner, he felt an overwhelming desire to pull her into his arms and comfort her. But he didn’t think he could make it over to her. He had pulled himself into a sitting position against the opposite wall and his back was screaming at him. He could already feel the warm swatch of blood soaking through the bandages and sticking his shirt to his back.

He motioned Teresa to crawl across the floor to his side. Another bullet split the wooden door and she dropped to her stomach and dragged herself the rest of the way over to him.

“What are we going to do?” she asked, her face as white as a ghost.

Johnny nodded toward the rifles and knives still sitting on the bed. “Grab the knife,” he ordered. “But keep your head down.”

She quickly collected the weapon from the bed and crawled back to Johnny. He hated the thought that the rifles remained on the bed. But he could not use one with his back and for Teresa to aim and fire the weapons she would have to be in the line of fire herself. He had to come up with a new plan.

“Struthers has got something going on out there. He’s too quiet.”

The sound of a something scraping along the outside of the wall beneath the window was their only warning that all hell was about to break loose. 


Chapter 35

All hell broke loose.

Johnny saw the tip of a blond head cautiously rise above the window at the same moment a barrage of bullets nearly shattered the top of the door into kindling.

He aimed and fired at the window, the scream of the attacker falling away as the gunfire suddenly ceased, leaving his ears ringing from the sound. Gun smoke filled the room. He looked across at Teresa, huddled against the wall, her head buried beneath her hands.

“Teresa,” he whispered. “Are you all right?”

She looked up slowly, terror in her eyes, but only nodded.

Johnny looked at the shattered door and knew they could not hold out against another barrage like that. Spotting the knives on the bed he decided on the only plan he thought had a chance in hell of working.

“Bring me the knife,” he ordered his voice purposefully harsh. He had to get her to listen and obey.

Teresa looked at the door fearfully then back at Johnny.

“Now!” he snapped and she gathered her skirt around her and crawled across the floor, grabbing both knives from the bed.

“Listen to me,” he demanded, taking the knives from her. “We can’t hold out here like this. You’re gonna have to go for help.”


Johnny turned the knife on his left hand and slit his palm deep, the blood boiling up quickly, filling the cup of his hand.


He reached over and pushed his hand against her chest, just above her left breast, making sure the material was saturated with blood.

“I want you to play dead.”

“What? Johnny, no,” she cried.

“No matter what happens, don’t move. When they take me downstairs I want you to use the back stairs and go for help. Do you understand?”

Teresa looked at the blood smeared on her dress then back up, her eyes begging him not to make her go. “I can’t.”

“You have to. It’s the only way. They won’t be worried about you if they think you’re dead. Be careful getting to the barn and don’t waste time saddling your horse. I know you can ride bareback.” He gave her a half smile that died when tears threatened to well up in his eyes.  “Walk the horse out the back door, and don’t mount him until you’re at least a quarter mile from the house. Then ride like hell.”

“But you….”

“I know Struthers and his men. I’ve been around their type all my life. They have a score to settle. They won’t kill me right away.”

“Johnny, please don’t make me. I can’t leave you.”

Johnny grabbed her arm with his right hand, shaking her roughly. “It’s the only chance we have of coming out of this alive.”

Rubbing his bloody hand on her chest again, he meshed his palm hard against her dress soaking the material with more blood.

“Now, remember, when they come in here you don’t make a sound, don’t twitch a muscle. And…” Johnny had to turn away before asking the next question. “Do you still have that derringer?”

 “In my pocket.”

Johnny looked back, his eyes stern. He could not let his feelings overpower him now. Not when Teresa’s life was at stake. “Use it if you have to.”

Leaning over, Teresa kissed Johnny on the cheek, the tears falling in earnest now.

“Hey, none of that,” Johnny ordered gently, swiping the tear from her cheek. “A dead girl doesn’t cry. Now, get over there, beneath the window. The glare of the sun will make it harder for them to see you. And querida….”

“I know,” she said huskily. “I love you too.”

With that, Johnny watched her scurry back across the floor and lay on her side, her left shoulder with Johnny’s blood in plain sight. She quickly arranged her hair to fall across her face, one long strand covering her eyes.


Johnny’s left hand continued to bleed freely, but he had no time to deal with it now. Handling his gun easily with one hand, he spun the cylinder making sure his last bullet was two chambers away from the firing pin. He had to time it right. Raising his right knee to support his gun hand, he aimed it at the door.

It had all been so senseless, he thought. If Hortence hadn’t written that damn letter…if Teresa hadn’t believed it, even for a moment. Before the letter, before the bounty, he had begun to believe he could escape the shadow of Johnny Madrid. He breathed in deeply through his nose and exhaled slowly through his mouth. Some shadows were just too big.  Resurrecting Johnny Madrid, he waited.

And in a moment of complete clarity, he realized Madrid was and always would be a part of him. They were two sides of the same coin. It was what his family had been trying to tell him the whole time. They accepted him for who he was, both rancher and ex-gunfighter. He looked over at Teresa lying so still beneath the window, his blood glistening on her chest, and knew that she had been trying to tell him the same thing. He had almost turned his back on the greatest gift anyone could give him. The love and trust of his family. And now…and now it was too late.

The door finally gave way beneath the shattering butts of the rifles and the dresser was shoved out of the way as he pulled the trigger, twice, on the empty chambers. The sound echoed eerily through the room. 

“Well, well.” Struthers’ lips parted in a semblance of a smile. “Out of bullets and out of luck, huh, Madrid?”

Johnny shrugged, schooling his face against the pain in his back.

"Hey Boss, lookie here.”  One of Struthers’ men pointed his gun toward Teresa lying beneath the window, her hair splayed across her face. The glare of the sun hid her features in deep shadow, but there was no mistaking the glistening swatch of blood above her breast, too close to her heart for her to have survived.

“What a waste.” Struthers sighed. “We had plans for Missy there. Planned on having you watch, Johnny Boy.” Turning to one of his men he ordered. “Frasier, make sure she’s dead.”

Johnny stiffened. “Hey, Frasier, you couldn’t handle her when she was alive,” he taunted. “Think you can do better now that she’s dead?”

Frasier turned back to stare at Johnny, his face turning a crimson red. “You son of a bitch,” he snarled, and rushed for Johnny, Teresa forgotten. Johnny squeezed the trigger, the pain in his back throwing his aim off, and watched as his bullet just grazed Frasier’s arm. Enraged, Frasier grabbed Johnny by the front of his shirt and jerked him away from the wall, his empty gun clattering to the floor. Frasier drew his right hand back ready to plow it into Johnny’s face. “You’re a dead man, Madrid.”

Johnny locked his eyes on Frasier, his voice as cold as death. “I’ll be taking you with me.”

Struthers grabbed Frasier’s arm. “Don’t let him rile you. Get him downstairs.”

Johnny didn’t fight them. He let them take his full weight as they dragged him out of the room and down the stairs. He prayed Teresa would heed his words and ride as fast as she could away from here. He knew he didn’t stand much of a chance of lasting long enough for help to arrive, but at least Teresa would be safe. The thought of her in Struthers’ hands made him sick. He would do anything within his power to save her from that.

They dragged him through the kitchen past smashed dishes. Sacks of flour and sugar lay ripped open, their contents spread across the floor. The Great Room had fared no better. He was dragged past overturned furniture and broken windows. Torn books scattered the floor and Murdoch’s cherished sailing ship lay in ruins.

A straight backed chair was up righted and he was slammed into it, his back connecting with the hard wooden rungs. He couldn’t keep the cry of pain from escaping his lips.

Struthers leaned down low, his face inches away from Johnny’s. “Still hurting, Madrid?”

Johnny kept silent. His back was a fire brand of agony, but all he could think of was Teresa upstairs. She should be halfway down the outside staircase on her way to the barn by now. All the men who had ridden up, save the gunman he had shot climbing in his window, were here in the Great Room. Johnny had counted on Struthers’ own over inflated ego to think no one could get away from him twice…especially a little girl like Teresa.

Johnny’s arms were yanked behind him and his wrists tied together with a rope that was then threaded beneath the seat and both of his ankles were tied to the two front legs of the chair. He was completely and unequivocally trapped. Even if he could release his bonds, he knew he didn’t have the strength to make a run for it. His only hope was that Struthers didn’t hold too much of a grudge. His answer came with a jaw numbing slap across the face.

“I asked you a question, Madrid,” Struthers demanded. “You hurting, Boy?”

Johnny looked up at his tormentor. There was no way of hiding the sweat that plastered his face or the look of illness that still darkened his eyes. His back was on fire as it pressed against the hard backed chair and the steady drip of blood from his hand plopped on the floor.

“What do you think?”

Struthers looked down on him. “You’re gonna hurt a lot more before I’m done with you. You and that Missy of yours killed two of my men. Nobody gets away with that.”

Frasier stood in the kitchen doorway holding a long thin knife Maria used for filleting meat.  “Look what I got, Boss,” he said with a malicious giggle. He walked around so Johnny could get a better look at the razor sharp knife. “An eye for an eye?”

Johnny moaned silently. They were going to make him pay, long and hard.

Struthers shook his head. “Too easy. We’re gonna give Johnny here time to think about what he did. And let everyone else know that Pete Struthers doesn’t like being made a fool of.”

Damn. Johnny had thought there for awhile that he might be lucky enough to die an old man in his bed. Just another pipe dream.


Johnny closed his eyes against another wave of dizziness. He could still feel the blood seeping down his back, and the slice in his hand still bled; the sound of its slow drip onto the hardwood floor sounding loud to his ears.

Struthers and his men had disappeared behind him and he only heard heated whispers. Good…the longer they argued over his punishment the more time Teresa had to reach Murdoch and Scott. He knew they would never make it back in time, but at least he could go with the knowledge that Teresa was safe. She had made mistakes, and so had he. But it wasn’t worth her paying with her life.

Suddenly it became very quiet. Johnny held his breath as Struthers walked around the chair to face him.

“You and your lady killed two of my men,” Struthers said, leaning down, his face close to Johnny’s, his foul breath making Johnny’s stomach roil. “It’s too bad she isn’t here to see you pay.”

Johnny tried to turn his face away but someone behind him grabbed a fist full of hair and yanked his head back.

“You cost me a bounty,” Struthers growled.

“There was no bounty money,” Johnny said, knowing his words would land on deaf ears. But he needed time. Every second was literally life and death. “If you kill me it’ll be murder. You’ll hang, Struthers, and your men with you.”

Struthers backhanded him, and Johnny felt new blood flow from his split lip.

“Let’s see who hangs first, Madrid,” Struthers mocked.

Johnny’s hair was released and a rope was slipped over his head and tightened around his neck.

“They say hanging is quick and painless. The gallows trap door opens and you drop through, snapping your neck like a dry twig.” Struthers snapped his fingers and that brought a chorus of laughter from his men. “But there’s another way to hang a man.”

Johnny felt the rope tighten painfully around his neck.

“Last time we hung a man like this it took ten minutes for him to die. You should a seen him, Madrid. He yelled and cried for us to stop, puked all over himself and wet his pants. Not a good way for a man to go. You gonna give us a show, Johnny Madrid?”

“Go to Hell,” Johnny spat.  Already the rope was cutting into his skin. But he knew he wouldn’t give Struthers the satisfaction of watching him grovel…or give him the ten minutes he wanted. Between his back and hand he had already lost too much blood to give any kind of fight.

The rope tightened and he felt his head begin to pound with each pump of his heart. He thanked God that Teresa was not here to see this. He felt the pressure building in his head and he could not stop his body from fighting.  The instinct for survival took over and he desperately tried to yank his wrists and ankles free.

“That’s it, Madrid,” he heard Struthers taunting him, “give us a show.”

Damn if he would give the man a show. Johnny forced himself to relax his arms and legs, concentrated on what little air he still had. This infuriated Struthers and the rope dug deeper into his neck. Now there was no air left. He could feel his tongue swell. It would be over soon. Darkness moved in around him like a black cloud and he welcomed it.

Then he was gasping for air. The pain from his neck, hand and back all vied for supremacy. But the need for air in his starved lungs overshadowed them all.

Someone drew his head back and Struthers was standing over him again. “You didn’t think we would let you go that easy, did you Madrid? I said ten minutes and I’ll get every second of it. Your hell is gonna start right here on earth.”

Johnny stared into Struthers eyes. Revenge was a powerful emotion, and Struthers was filled to the brim with it. Johnny knew now that his death would be long and agonizing. And there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.

Twice more he was brought to the brink of death, and twice he was revived. Each time he barely had time to catch his breath before the rope tightened again. There was a time when he would have welcomed death, an end to a senseless, lonely life. But now he wanted to live. He wanted his family. He’d never had the time to tell them he loved them.

Again the rope tightened and he heard a low guttural groan escape before the darkness claimed him. So much faster this time.


Scott’s stomach was in knots. He’d thought the danger was behind them. That Johnny was healing mentally as well as physically. That Teresa and the ex-gunslinger had made more amends than anyone could or would have expected from either of them.

And now Teresa’s arms were wrapped around his waist as they galloped back toward the ranch, Murdoch’s horse racing by his side. His father’s face grimaced in pain, both from his throbbing back and the worry for his youngest son.

They slowed to a stop as they neared the Lancer arch.

“You stay here,” Scott ordered as he swung Teresa down to the ground. He saw the fear and guilt in her eyes. “You did the right thing,” he assured her gently. He wanted to comfort her, wrap his arms around her and tell her she had done what Johnny wanted, but he didn’t have the time.

Murdoch dismounted, looking toward the empty courtyard then at Teresa. “We’ll take care of Johnny, sweetheart.”

Teresa nodded. “Hurry,” she urged, and stumbled over to wait in the shade of the arch.

Scott nodded toward his father. No words were needed. Johnny was waiting for them, if he was still alive. Scott estimated it was at least a half an hour since Teresa escaped the ranch. A long time for Struthers to exact his revenge on his brother.

They split up: Murdoch headed toward the front door and Scott toward the kitchen entrance. Scott hugged the wall next to the door and listened. From what Teresa said, there would be four men after the man Johnny shot trying to climb through the bedroom window. He heard movement, but couldn’t tell from where, or how many,

He took a chance and slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door to a slit, just enough to see inside with one eye. The kitchen appeared to be empty, but the vandalism showed the violent nature of the men Johnny was up against. He slipped in and dropped down behind the small informal kitchen table and listened. There were voices coming from the great room that he didn’t recognize, then he heard a guttural groan and his blood ran cold. It could only be Johnny.  He was both terrified and relieved. At least Johnny was still alive. But what were they doing to him?

Scott darted over to the door and turned the doorknob, praying no one would notice him peeking into the room. He thought he was prepared for anything, but the sight of Johnny bound to the chair and the rope strangling the life out of him was too much for him. He fell back into the kitchen, his chest heaving, fighting the bile that rose up in his throat. He had to regroup. Despite the horror he had seen, his military mind had taken in everything in the room and he knew precisely where the four men were. They were too spaced out for him to take all four alone before at least one of them put a bullet into Johnny. He needed help. But how could he leave Johnny there alone? By the time he got back with help Johnny could be dead. It was possibly the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his life, but Scott quickly slipped back out of the kitchen to meet up with Murdoch, praying to God that they would not be too late.


Johnny came to again, the ringing in his ears nearly drowning out the frantic rhythm of his heart pounding in his chest and head.  One more time, that was all he could take, one more tug on the rope and this nightmare would be over. But Struthers was not going to let him go easy. A rough hand lifted his chin from its resting place on his chest and a harsh voice ordered him to open his eyes.

Curiosity, and a determination that Struthers would not break him, made him force his eyelids open.

“You’re a stubborn bastard, Madrid,” Struthers chuckled. “You and your Missy upstairs, you gave me a run for the money. Too bad she got in the way of a bullet, I had plans for her. Pretty young thing like boys were looking forward to a ride too.”

“You’ll burn in hell,” Johnny whispered, his voice so hoarse it was barely understandable. But the joke was on Struthers. Teresa would have had time to reach safety.

“You might be right,” Struthers laughed outright. “But you’ll be there waiting for me.”

Johnny closed his eyes and waited. The rope began to tighten again….

The deafening sound of a gunshot next to Johnny drew him back to the living. Frasier corkscrewed to the floor, a red stain blossoming on his chest.  The sound of the gunshot echoed into silence and Johnny saw Struthers standing motionless, staring at the French doors.

Teresa stood, framed like an angel in the doorway, her dress covered in blood, her face white as a ghost.

“No…” Struthers uttered.

A moment later the room was filled with gun smoke and Struthers and his men lay on the floor dead.

Johnny smiled. He had won in the end. It was more than he could have ever hoped for. Knowing that Teresa was safe and Struthers and his men would arrive in hell one step before him, Johnny slipped away into the darkness.



One Month later…


Johnny studied his reflection in the mirror. His face was still thinner than usual, and the laugh lines around his eyes were deeper. “I don’t think this is such a good idea,” he said, knotting the black bandana around his throat to hide the still angry scar from the rope. It was the one scar that everyone could see, a constant reminder of what had happened.

It had been a long and difficult recovery. He remembered nothing of the first few days, days when he balanced on a thin line between life and death. But something held him here to this earth. He had no doubt that he would have simply quit before he came here, before he found a real reason to keep living. Lancer had given him that reason. The land, the knowing that he belonged, and most of all the people. Murdoch and Scott who were there every time he woke up. Teresa and Maria who coaxed and prodded and demanded he take the vile medications Sam prescribed. Their love had held him here. And upon hours of reflection would keep him here. He was home.

A small smile tweaked at the corners of his lips. Scott’s rendition of how Teresa had covered herself in the flour that was spilled across the kitchen floor and then appeared as a ghost at the French doors had lifted his spirits more times than he could count.

“I think it’s an excellent idea.” Scott appeared in the mirror behind him, his face a little older, his eyes a little sadder. Johnny knew it would take everyone time to get over what had happened. “Sam is satisfied with your healing and gave his permission for you to ride into town in the buggy. You’ve got your voice back, although I’m not sure if I’d put that on the good side of the ledger.” Scott teased. “And you’re starting to drive everyone crazy with your pacing like a caged animal. I think its time you took the last step.”

Johnny turned to face Scott. “You know I don’t like crowds. Besides…”

“They were wrong, John, and they know it.” Johnny looked toward the door surprised that he had not heard Murdoch coming down the hallway.

“Don’t make it right what they did,” Johnny snapped.

“Of course it doesn’t.” Murdoch’s voice was filled with both anger and regret. “But they made a mistake. And they will have to live with it for the rest of their lives. They need to make amends.”

Johnny felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder, firm and comforting. “Murdoch’s right. They need to get past this. And so do you. And we’ll be right by your side the whole time. Besides it’s a going away celebration for Teresa as well.”

Johnny nodded his head reluctantly. He couldn’t hide at the ranch for the rest of his life. There were just some people he hoped would not make an appearance.


Jelly drove as if he was hauling a wagon load of eggs to town and Johnny was getting more and more irritated.

“Would you speed them damn horses up! I won’t break.”

“Sam said ta take it easy, and that’s just what I’m doin’” Jelly huffed. “Side’s Teresa don’t want her brand new dress all full a dust.”

“Thank you, Jelly,” Teresa called from the back seat, ironing her hands over the light blue silk of her new attire. “I want everything to be perfect today.”

“It will be my dear.” Murdoch looked back, and Johnny saw the pride in his eyes. Despite everything, they had survived as a family. Johnny hoped for his father’s sake that everything did go well.

Scott tapped Charlemagne with his boot heels and the horse fell back to keep pace with the buggy. “I’m going on ahead. At the rate Jelly’s driving you’ll get there an hour after the festivities are over.”

“You just mind yer own business,” Jelly huffed. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

“I’ll be sure to save at least one slice of pie for you, Brother.” Scott tipped his hat and kicked Charlemagne into a fast trot.

“Thanks a lot, Boston,” Johnny called after him. It had taken time to get back the familiar, comfortable camaraderie he shared with Scott, but they were almost there now.

It was another hour before they rounded the last bend in the road and the town of Green River appeared before them. Johnny couldn’t ever remember feeling more nervous. It would have been easier to face down three gunmen than face the townsfolk who had so easily turned their backs on him. He felt Teresa stiffen beside him and reached for her hand.

“We’ll do this together, Querida,” he whispered.

Jelly pulled up to the front of the livery and handed the reins over to the stable boy.

“Good to see you, Johnny,” the boy offered nervously. Johnny wondered if there was anyone in town who wasn’t nervous.

Beyond the stable the town was awash with activity. Long tables, filled with food and drink, had been set out on the boardwalks. A band had set up on a large hay wagon and played a lively rendition of “Oh, Susanna.”

“I don’t know about this, Murdoch.” Johnny saw heads turn, one by one, toward them and the music died.

Scott walked quickly toward them. “They’re all as nervous as you are, Johnny,” he said. “Come on, let’s break the ice.”

Johnny felt his family gather around him. Teresa threaded her arm around his as they walked down the middle of the street.

His heart beat in his throat as familiar faces nodded in their direction. Abe, the stagecoach driver, grinned at him with Kyle standing next to him. Johnny knew he would not be here without their help.

Other faces were not so open. Burlap Jackson stood outside his saloon wiping his hands on a dirty bar rag. Haggis and Sybil seemed unsure what to do.

Scott tapped Johnny on the shoulder and nodded toward the rotund man making his way down the middle of the street, a self important look on his red face. “Johnny, Johnny, welcome,” Mayor Crenshaw huffed.

“Damn it,” Johnny groaned. “I don’t need this.”

 But before the mayor could reach the Lancers, Val rushed across the street, grabbing Crenshaw by the arm and leading him back toward his office. He owed Val. Owed him big.

Another familiar voice called from a crowd forming in front of the musicians and Johnny saw Reverend Montague hurrying down the street, a beautiful Mexican woman and a young boy keeping pace beside him.

“Johnny, Teresa, welcome,” he called. “I am so glad you came. This,” he waved his hand back at the band and tables piled high with food, “is all for you.”

Johnny dipped his head. This is what he didn’t want. He was only here for his family. For Teresa.

The Reverend wrapped his arm around the woman. “Gentlemen, Teresa, allow me to introduce Margarita Ines Francisa Montague, my wife, and...” He gently tugged on the boy’s arm until he was standing beside him “My son Raul.”

Johnny saw the boy’s dark skin and vivid blue eyes. The smallest of smiles crept across his face and blossomed into a wide grin.

Johnny held his hand out. “Senora.”

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you and your family.”  She held his hand in both of hers. “Lester has spoken fondly of you all.”

“Your husband has been a much needed breath of fresh air in Green River.” Murdoch smiled.

“Si, he does make his presence known.”

A sparkle appeared in Johnny’s eyes and he leaned forward to whisper in Senora Montague’s ear. “You weren’t what Hortence expected.”

At first Johnny thought he might have overstepped his boundaries, then the Reverend’s wife burst into laughter, her husband looking at her quizzically.

No one was quite sure what had happened, but Senora Montague slipped her arm around Johnny’s and led him toward the center of town speaking in rapid Spanish.


Murdoch didn’t know what to expect of the day. He hoped for the best, but feared for the worst. It was a big step coming to town. Teresa had lost her innocence, and learned a lesson in life that he would never have wished upon her. He had nearly lost Johnny, in so many ways. Partly his doing, but mostly from the fear and prejudice of a town that was trying to make amends. He would not fault Johnny if he turned his back on them. They had abandoned him. But he hoped, for Johnny’s sake, that his son could get past this.

A light breeze sent small dust devils dancing along the street as they made their way toward Senor Baldemero’s Mercantile and a long table draped with a checkered cloth. The gentle wind brought with it the hearty smells of spicy Mexican food. Scott nearly ploughed into his back when Murdoch stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropping open at the sight of Hortence Shaffer standing behind the table serving plates of food.

Murdoch held his breath when he saw Johnny had stopped just as quickly when he noticed her. Senora Montague tightened her arm around Johnny’s arm and continued walking up to the table.

“Buonas tardes, Senora Hortence.”  Senora Montague offered her hand and Hortence glanced quickly at Johnny before extending her own hand to the Reverend’s wife. “Senora Hortence has been helping out at the mission. We would be lost without her.”

Murdoch watched Johnny’s shoulders tighten as he came face to face with the woman whose prejudice had nearly cost him his life.

Reverend Montague cleared his throat. “I believe you have something to say to Johnny.”

A long minute passed before the old woman began to speak. “Mr. Ma…Lancer, I…”

“No.” Johnny’s sharp voice cut through the air. “You don’t have anything to say to me that you haven’t said already. And I got nothing to say to you that you would want to hear.”

Murdoch watched his son turn on his heel and walk away.

“Well, I never…” Hortence looked wide-eyed at Johnny’s back.

Reverend Montague shook his head and wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and his son’s shoulder. “I believe there are others here who are honestly looking forward to seeing Johnny again.”

Scott leaned in close to Murdoch’s ear as they began to follow Johnny and the Reverend. “I believe my brother just won the first battle.”


Johnny felt an odd sense of pride and relief. He had learned a lot about himself. In a way Hortence had helped him. Many of the questions he had been afraid to ask himself were now answered. And the questions that still remained he was no longer afraid to ask.

“Well said, Johnny.”

Johnny spun at the sound of the familiar feminine voice. Victoria Barkley and Governor Atwater stood arm in arm.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking to Murdoch for an answer.

“We heard about this little get together and thought we’d drop in.” Atwater grinned. “Hope you don’t mind.”

Johnny shook his head, still stunned.

“It’s wonderful you could come,” Teresa cried. “It just makes this day all the more perfect.”

Scott coughed discreetly. “That may not be the case for long.”

Teresa followed Scott’s gaze and saw Bethany Rogers heading toward them, her hand holding her flowery bonnet with its bright pink ribbon tied beneath her chin and her matching pink dress, complete with a fashionable oversized bustle in back. 

“Teresa, Teresa,” Bethany called, and Teresa cringed at the sight of her.

“We have been so worried about you.” Bethany’s face was flushed with excitement as she reached out to take Teresa’s hand. “The girls and I were going to ride out to see you…but…well, we were afraid we would not be welcomed there.” Bethany glanced at Johnny and shivered. “But here you are now. Come, the girls are waiting. We want to hear all about it.”

Teresa pulled her hand back before Bethany could take hold of it. “You were right,” she said coldly. “You would not have been welcomed. And I’m afraid I don’t have time for you or the girls today. Johnny and I are here to celebrate the afternoon with friends.”

“Well I never…”

“Seems to be a lot of that going around.” Scott chuckled.

The sound of the mayor’s voice cut through the air and it was time for Governor Atwater to cringe. “I was hoping he had fallen into a hole and disappeared.”

“Everyone gather around,” the mayor called from the back of the hay wagon he had chosen for his platform. “Please, everyone, quickly now. And Johnny, you and your family, would you come to the front, please?”

Johnny groaned. “Murdoch…”

“Sorry, Johnny, I should have expected something like this. But the best thing for you to do is grin and bear it.”

Johnny reluctantly threaded his way through the crowd that had gathered and stood in the front with his family.

Crenshaw waited until the crowd settled down and began talking.

“We are all glad you decided to join us here today, Johnny. While we can never make up for the mistakes we made, I hope you can see it in your heart to forgive us. Hopefully we have all learned our lesson. Teresa, we are all proud of your decision to attend nursing school at the New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. And when you have your degree I hope you will return to us. I’m sure Dr. Jenkins could use a good nurse.”

“Don’t be surprised if she doesn’t come back to take my place,” Sam called out. “I believe Teresa would make a fine doctor.”

“A fine aspiration,” the mayor said tactlessly. “Now, to our guest of honor, Governor Atwater, would you like to say a few words?”

Atwater looked at Johnny, an apology in his eyes as he climbed up on the makeshift platform.

“Thank you, Mayor. But I am not here as the Governor of California, I am here as Johnny’s friend.” Stepping away from the mayor, he looked out over the crowd. “We have all learned a little more about ourselves. About our shortcomings and our strengths. Mistakes were made, lives were changed. Some of you are moving on…” he nodded toward Teresa who looked up at him with tears in her eyes. 

“I applaud everyone here who has made a concerted effort to reach out to Johnny. I won’t go into Johnny’s past, because that is what it is…the past. He has started a new journey, and those of you who are willing to travel that journey with him will not regret it.”

Johnny listened as the Governor spoke, feeling both embarrassed and proud of the words that were being said about him. And he could feel the pride flowing from Murdoch. This was every bit as much his day as it was Johnny’s. Scott’s arm, draped so causally across his shoulder, felt comforting and right. Old friends who had stayed by his side, Val and Sam, and new ones like Reverend Montague and Mrs. Barkley filled him with a sense of hope he had never felt before.

So much had happened. He had nearly walked away so many times since that first day he came to this valley.

Looking at the faces around him, listening to the governor’s words, he knew this was worth the fight. He had not only found a home, but he had found friends. There was still a long way to travel before he was completely accepted. But he knew the path now, and he would not veer from it.

“And lastly,” the governor said as he looked down at Johnny. “I am proud to say that I know the real Johnny Madrid.”


The end.



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