Scott entered the saloon standing just inside the bat wing doors. As soon as his eyes got accustomed to the dim light of the interior his eyes roamed the room looking to see if his father had gotten there early or was still out working on his to do list. When he didn’t see Murdoch, he left the saloon and walked down the street to Sam Jenkins office. He was just about to knock on the door when he heard hurried boot steps running up behind him, turning he saw Andy, Val’s young deputy in training tearing up the street his hand holding the top of his hat to keep it from falling off.
Scott held out his hands catching the young man by the shoulders and stopping him before they both collided from his exuberance, “Howdy Scott, me and Val saw ya from the office window. Val said I could run over an ask ya how Johnny’s doin’?”
With a lopsided grin Scott said, “He’s doing very well Andy. So good in fact, that I just came by Sam’s to see if he’ll go out and give Johnny the ok to do some work.”
“Ah, that’s good to hear Scott, say, do ya think Johnny would mind if I came out to see ‘im soon?” he asked hopefully.
Scott shrugged, “Don’t see why not. Better come out soon though, everyone is going to be real busy this coming week. We got round up and branding starting Monday. If Doc gives the ok for Johnny to start back to work, there won’t be anyone with enough time to do anything but eat and sleep cause we’ll all be working from sunup to sundown.”
“No problem Scott, thanks, tell Johnny I’ll be out to see ‘im as soon as Val let’s me have some time off. Gotta new horse I wanna show im, Pa got ‘im for me when he went to that big auction they held down in Modesto a few days ago. He’s a beaut!” Andy declared before turning from Scott and running back the way he had come.
Scott laughed, turning back to Doc’s office and knocking. A young Mexican girl that Scott recognized as Sam’s cleaning lady, Rosita Diaz, opened the door. Tipping his hat at the young woman he greeted her as he entered the doctor’s office. “Hola Rosita,” he said.
“Buenos Dias Senor Lancer. What can I do for you?” the young lady asked.
“I’m looking for Doc Jenkins, is he in?”
“No, no Senor. He left a little while ago. He said he was going to your place to see Juanito,” she said, her dark brown eyes expressing concern at the inquiry. “Is there something wrong Senor? Juanito is not hurt again, is he?”
Scott took off his hat and shook his head, “No Rosita, he isn’t. I was just going to ask Doc if he would go out and check on him, that’s all.”
The dark haired girl bobbed her head in understanding, “Ah I see. Maybe the Doctor will still be there when you return home.”
“Maybe. Well thanks for the information Rosita. I have to be going. You have a nice day, alright,” he said tipping his hat and moving for the door.
“Gracias Senor, you also,” she replied as she opened the door to the doctor’s office and let Scott out.
Scott stood on the boardwalk for several minutes trying to decide what he should do while he waited for Murdoch to meet him at the saloon. He still had about forty five minutes left before their agreed upon time. With nothing better to do he made a decision and headed in the direction of the bank to meet his father.
At the bank Murdoch was sitting inside the office of Terrance Littleton, the bank manager. Murdoch studied the man before him as he diligently went over the figures that Murdoch had presented to him in regards to the money that would be arriving upon the delivery of his herd to Stockton. The man nodded his dark head several times and then absently stuck his pencil through a streak of graying hair over his right ear as he sat up and eyed Murdoch over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles. He took them off and smiled happily.
Thrumming his fingers on the papers before him he said, “It looks good Murdoch. If all goes well and you get these figures that you expect once you deliver the herd, I don’t see there being any problem with purchasing that piece of river land down south that Grady Owens deeded back to the bank.”
Murdoch fingered the hat he held in his hand then asked seriously, “How is Grady, Terrance?”
Terrance Littleton sighed heavily and stood up pushing his rolling leather chair back, walking over to a small but ornate corner table he picked up a crystal decanter holding it up in the air toward Murdoch with a smile, “How about a small one, Murdoch?”
Murdoch chuckled softly, “Just a small one Terrance. I’m having a beer over at the saloon later with Scott.”
Nodding his head and pouring two small drinks for himself and his friend, Terrance replied to Murdoch’s original question, “Grady’s fine, not too happy about having to sell out and move back to Texas, but what can you do. His family needs him.”
Taking the drink that Terrance held out to him Murdoch asked, “Have you heard how his folks are doing?”
Terrance sighed heavily and sat back down in the leather seat across the desk from Murcoch, “Last message he received from his brother Ernest said that both of them died. So did half the town from what I heard. Got a letter from Tyler Wicks, a buddy I went to school with back east, not long after Grady got his. Said the cholera swept through the town fast and hard like nothing he’d ever seen before. Most the folks living there didn’t have wills and many of them didn’t make arrangements for what to do with their money if something should happen to them. So between him and Richard Newly, the towns only lawyer, they’re having one heck of a time trying to figure out what to do with the monies they have in the bank.”
Murdoch shook his head and downed his drink, “Sorry to hear that Terrance. Grady’s a good man, he’ll be missed around here.”
Terrance finished off his drink setting the glass down heavily on the desk, “Yes he will,” he said sorrowfully, “But as awful as this all is, his loss is going to be your gain if things go well on your cattle drive.”
Terrance Littleton sat back in his chair and leaned back crossing his fingers over his middle, “Eight thousand is a lot of money Murdoch. Why don’t you just deposit the money into the Stockton Bank and have them ship the money to me instead of bringing it back personally.”
Murdoch laughed and set his glass on the desk. He too leaned back in his chair and smiled, “I appreciate that Terrance, but I prefer to have it on me. You’re right; it’s a lot of money. Money I need to pay the men and frankly I feel better if I keep most of it in the safe at home. So don’t go getting your dander all up in the air. I plan on making a hefty deposit into the bank and pay you for that tract of land that Grady has sold back to you.”
“Alright, it’s your neck, not mine. Fool thing if you ask me though.”
Murdoch rubbed the side of his nose, “Well I’m not asking, but thank you for the advice.”
“What advice is that?” Scott asked as he came in through the doorway that led to Terrance Littleton’s office.
Murdoch and Terrance stood as Scott entered the room, “Terrance you know my son, Scott”
Smiling, Scott took off his hat as he approached the banker owner’s desk and held out his hand, “Mr. Littleton, good to see you again.”
The older man held out his hand, “Scott, good to see you too. I was just telling your father that I didn’t think it was a good idea to be carrying so much money back with him after you men get done with the drive.”
Nothing in Scott Lancer’s face gave away the fact that this piece of news surprised him. Instead he said to the man, “Well I’m sure my father knows what he’s doing. After all he’s been doing these drives for years.”
Murdoch beamed at the show of support from his son and clasped him around the shoulders as he picked his hat off the banker’s desk, “That’s right son. I’ve been doing this for years and father knows best.”
Scott turned his head to look at his father, momentarily taken aback by his sense of humor. It wasn’t often seen and it surprised the young man more than finding out that they would be bringing the money from the sale back with them personally. He smiled brightly and wrapped his left arm around his father’s waist.
Terrance laughed, he was surprised too and was secretly happy for his old friend whom he hadn’t seen this content in many years. Having his son’s home had done a world of good in restoring Murdoch Lancer’s humor and pleasant personality as he remembered it being when they had first begun to settle this area in the early days.
Walking around the desk, Terrance reached for each of their hands again, “Well I can see that I’m outnumbered here, so I’ll just say good luck and I’ll see all of you when you get back.”
“Thanks Terrance.” Both older men shook hands and Terrance offered his to Scott again.
“See you in about a month Terrance,” Murdoch said as he and Scott made their way out of the office and past several customers toward the bank’s main front entrance.
Terrance ushered them out saying one last goodbye as father and son made their way across the street. Shaking his head and admiring the easy camaraderie the two of them seemed to have with one another he was one again glad to see that his friend was happy and doing well in the roll of father to his long lost boys.
Terrance Littleton returned to his office unmindful of the tall unkempt dusty man who stood at the counter, lining the wall next to his office, scratching notes on a torn piece of paper. The man was tall and thin with light brown hair trailing down the back of his neck, his light blue lifeless eyes traveled back and forth across the bank lobby, noting how many tellers were working, where each window adorned a wall, and every door that opened and closed, especially the big heavy black metal door to the banks vault that stood partially open just behind a young teller who was taking a deposit from a local woman.
Stuffing his hastily sketched notes into his plain brown vest, he sauntered over to stand behind the woman the teller was finishing up with.
The woman turned to leave, bumping into the dirty man standing behind her, crinkling her nose she mumbled an apology and sidestepped around the tall stranger.
Bruce Craddock smiled wickedly at the woman as she ran into him and looked up into his face to apologize. He rubbed a dirty crooked finger down the length of a scar that ran from his right eye clear down to his chin.
Tess Meyer’s face went pale at the leering look the man gave her, “Excuse me,” she started, “Oh my. My, my, oh my. Excuse me,” she stammered as she tried to move to her left to go around the dirty man.
Bruce Craddock took off his hat and nodded his dirty head at her response to him, smiling at her discomfort, “Ma’am,” then moved to his left just a little to let her pass but not before making sure that their bodies made contact just enough to make her shiver and remember him later.
Tess Meyer did shiver, she felt revulsion that the man had actually moved only enough to let her pass but felt his touch on her arm as she did so. When she was several feet past him and almost to the door she turned back around and found him staring at her, that same leering evil smile still played out on his ugly scarred face. Sucking in a breath and catching her hand to her heart she said, “Well I never!”
Bruce Craddock smiled even wider and his eyes squinted at her, he snapped his teeth in her direction for added effect, knowing she would turn several shades of red at his audacity and in a slow drawl he said, “No ma’am, I guess not.”
Sucking in another surprised gasp, Tess stormed out of the bank, nearly running to get as far away from the man as she could.
The bank teller coughed into his hand, “Can I help you?” The disdain in his voice as he asked the question did not go unnoticed by the dirty cowboy, but he decided to ignore it, not wanting to arouse any more suspicion than he already had playing his little trick on the plump woman who nearly tripped over herself getting out of his way.
Stepping up to the barred window, Bruce Craddock pulled out a gold eagle and plunked it down solidly on the counter, “Yep, got me twenty dollar gold piece here and I wanna put it in this here little ole bank of yurs.”
The teller, Jimmy Halston, laid his hand on top of the gold piece, just as he was about to pull it across the counter toward him, a dirty hand with one crooked finger slapped down on top of his stopping the movement, “Now boy, I know you ain’t gonna take that gold piece there without tellin’ me about what a fine establishment you have here, and whether or not my gold is gonna be safe or not.”
Jimmy Halston lifted his head to look at the dirty cowboy, the man’s scarred face had moved in closer to the bars and he smiled into the now frightened young teller’s. The stench from the man’s body floated into his space causing him to flinch backward, his hand still held firmly down. Rubbing thin fingers from his free hand through his sandy slicked back hair, the teller stammered, “No, no sir, if you’ll just let me have my hand back I’ll be happy to tell you anything you want to know.”
The dirty cowboy lifted his hand and Jimmy got a view of crooked dirty yellowed teeth and caught another whiff of putrid odor coming from the man’s mouth.
Leaning back the tall man said, “That’s what I thought.”
A noise from the far side of the room made both men turn, “Jimmy, everything alright?”
Stepping back one-step, Jimmy answered nervously, “Yes sir, Mr. Littleton,” he glanced at the customer who held his gaze in a hostile glare, the man daring him to say anything was wrong, “Just making a deposit sir.”
Terrance Littleton was no fool, he didn’t like the looks of the man in front of Jimmy but until something of consequence happened there was little that he could do. “Come see me when you’re done conducting business,” he stated, then turned back to his office.
“Yes Sir,” Jimmy said and turned back to the man at his window. His shaking hand reached out once more for the money but just before he could reach it, the intimidating customer grabbed it off the counter.
“Ya know, on second thought, I think I’m gonna go invest a little of that money at the saloon.” Craddock slipped the gold coin in his vest pocket and laughed at the stunned expression on the young tellers face. Leaning across the counter he put his face very near to Jimmy’s, “Iffen that’s all right with you?”
Jimmy took a step back this time, lacing his fingers together in front of himself, “Y…y…yes sir. Quite all right sir,” he stammered.
With a lopsided sneering grin Craddock said, “That’s what I thought,” then snapped his teeth at the frightened teller’s face much the same as he had done to the woman earlier. Slapping his hands on the counter loudly he turned to leave, following in the direction of the men he heard talking earlier with the bank manager.
Jimmy watched in wide-eyed terror as the tall lanky man disappeared through the doorway and then breathed a sigh of relief when the man was no longer in the building. He didn’t like the stranger one bit and decided to follow up on his boss’ request to see him now that the man was gone, he hoped for good.
Craddock followed the two Lancer men to the saloon. When he entered through the swinging doors he found them sitting at a table to the left of the bar a beer in front of each man. He sauntered over to the bar and called out, “Barkeep! How’s about you pour me a cold one.”
The bartender Larry, stopped cleaning the glasses at the opposite end of the counter, when he got to his newest customer he said, “That’ll be two bits cowboy.”
Craddock took out the gold piece and plunked it down on the counter, “Haven’t ya got anything smaller?” Larry asked in aggravation.
“Nope.” Craddock said unperturbed by the barkeeper’s annoyance.
Larry took the gold piece and within several moments came back with change and a cold beer that he unceremoniously placed in front of the man.
Swiping up his change and grabbing for his beer, Craddock took a seat near the two men he had seen earlier in the bank. He listened carefully while appearing not to, should anyone happen to look over at him. He grinned into his beer each time as he heard their plans for the upcoming cattle drive and how much money the older man speculated they should make if all the cattle made the drive successfully and they met the deadline set by Maxwell Taylor for delivery.
Craddock pulled out the torn piece of paper and a stubby pencil from his pocket, writing down a few notes, he then stuffed the paper and pencil stub back into his vest pocket calling out to the barkeep to bring him another beer.
Murdoch and Scott having finished their beer’s stood to leave dropping a few coins on the table and with a casual wave in Larry’s direction left the saloon.
Larry brought another beer to the dirty cowboy’s table. He didn’t like the looks of the man but money was money and this man was paying so he wasn’t about to not serve him, he would just be glad when he was gone.
Craddock downed his last beer quickly, he had heard all that he wanted from the two men he had followed from the bank and figured it was time to head back to camp. He had plans to make and a sorry group of men to help him carry out his plans. But if all went well by this time next month he would have his share of eight thousand dollars or more in his pockets.
Murdoch and Scott made their way back to Lancer stopping at the crest of the hill that overlooked the valley that nestled the Lancer hacienda. This was the family’s favorite spot to stop and gaze over the valley and mountains beyond that belonged to them. This was the spot that Teresa had first stopped at when bringing the boy’s home after picking them up from the stagecoach in town upon their arrival. Murdoch hadn’t expected both his son’s to arrive on the same stage on the same day. Looking back on it now he wondered, and not for the first time, if fate or providence had played a hand in his boy’s lives that life-altering day. Whatever the reasons, or by whatever trick of fate that made it all come to pass he was grateful. His son’s were home and life was once again worth living to its fullest.
They were all still learning how to live with one another, and some days were better than others but Murdoch smiled as he watched the face of his oldest son next to him on the seat. Scott was as entranced with the land as he was and it thrilled his heart each time he witnessed the transformation on Scott or Johnny’s face each time they crested the hill and saw the land they had worked so hard to build and protect.
Protect. Murdoch also cringed a little each time he thought about their first weeks together. He had almost lost Johnny in the battle to protect this land they fought so hard to keep. His youngest son had been shot in the back while leading the land pirates to the main house, his plan never having been revealed to Murdoch because of the mistrust and hurt feelings generated by their lack of communication and angry emotions.
Almost a year later they were still working out the private relationships amongst one another but each passing day brought on a tighter bond than any of them would have suspected. Murdoch touched Scott’s arm and pointed south west of where they sat, “That’s it right over there, just beyond that smallest hill.”
Scott shook his head in acknowledgement, turning to him with a smile lighting his face. “Now we really do own everything we see,” he stated proudly.
Chuckling Murdoch said, “Well, we will soon enough. I’m glad Terrance is holding back on that piece until the drive is over. He’s had a few offers already but has guaranteed me that he’ll hold off on the sale and let us have first rights to it.”
“Guess Johnny and I will have our hands full building another line shack out there.”
“You’re right about that. Grady’s house wasn’t much more than a shack itself. Might be able to use most of the wood for the new line shack and build it on this side of the stream.” Murdoch clicked the reins and the horses started to move down the drive.
Scott looked over to his father, “How do you think Johnny’s check up with Sam is going?”
“Knowing your brother, it’s probably going pretty well. I can’t see him letting Doc tell him he has to stay off his horse another week. So most likely they’re working on a compromise as we speak.” Murdoch at least hoped they were. Johnny wasn’t one to be put off for long when it came to being told he had to stay house bound or for that matter light chore duty and no riding. Those words to the young active man were like a death toll to his soul and in his younger days Murdoch would have had to agree.
There was nothing worse than having nothing to do because your body wouldn’t let you. Ever since Day Pardee had shot him, it had put a damper on his own abilities to work and ride the land for long stretches of time as he had once done. Sitting in the saddle put great strain on his back and stiffened his legs to such a point that he had to limit the time spent working the land and now depended more and more on his son’s to do that kind of work for him. He refused to admit that age also played a factor in his body’s demands and sometimes worked harder and longer just to keep from having to face that particular piece of reality.
They pulled up to the house and had just gotten out of the buggy when Jelly showed up to help unload and lead the rig back to the barn. Sam Jenkins’ buggy was still in the drive so Murdoch asked, “How are things going inside Jelly?”
The handyman grumped as he grabbed up a box from the back of the buggy, “I ‘spect it’s goin’ alright, Doc ain’t been in there long enough ta ask. He only got here bout half hour ago and Johnny twernt in the house when he arrived. Doc got pretty het up when he found Johnny up on the roof of the barn fixin’ that hole you been complainin’ bout. So’s they only just went inside a few minutes ago.”
Murdoch worried his brows then asked, “Why didn’t Johnny just get one of the men to go up and fix the roof?”
Jelly huffed and dropped the box down on the ground reaching for another smaller one covered with flowers and a bow still left in the buggy, “Wal now since I don’t recall bein’ some kind a mind reader, I guess you’ll just have to ask Johnny. And while yer at it you might find out what’s been eatin’ at the boy. Can’t get a word at ‘im without ‘im bitin’ my head off.”
Scott started to take the hatbox from Jelly’s agitated hands fearing he would plop it down unceremoniously to the ground. His fears were unfounded as Jelly’s eyes popped open at the fancy package he held, “Now what in tarnation is this?” he asked, holding the box out and away from him like it contained some kind of hideous viper inside.
“That, my friend,” Scott took the box from Jelly, “is my apology to a certain young lady who got her hat trampled on the other day.”
Jelly grabbed his suspenders and replied loudly to Scott’s retreating back, “Wal now that seems a might fancy for someone you don’t even know as yet.”
Over his shoulder Scott called back, “And I never will Jelly if I don’t do something mighty fancy to please her.” Turning back he held the box out in front of him, “You know Jelly, you might want to take some notes. I have it on good authority that women like these kinds of things done for them. Might even score you a few points with Edna next time you see her.” He watched as Jelly’s face turned red behind the graying whiskers.
“And whose authority might that be smart aleck? And who told ya bout Edna?” Jelly asked as he puffed out his chest and shook a finger at Scott.
Smiling wide Scott said, “Mine, and as for who told me, Johnny did. Guess he didn’t think it was no big secret since half the town knows all about you squiring her around Green River after church for the past month. Val told Johnny you were so gussied up he hardly recognized you.”
Jelly’s flustered look made both Lancer men laugh out loud. “Well I’ll be a son of a biscuit eater, can’t keep a gall dern thing from any of yuh. Scott Lancer you can just keep yer dern authority to yerself. Don’t need no advice from some smart alecky, eye-baller, with too much mustard for his own good.”
Scott held his right hand up in the air, “Now Jelly, I wasn’t being nosy or trying to brag, I’m just speaking from experience. Ladies like gifts. Nice pretty gifts. Try it, you’ll see.” He walked over to stand next to Jelly and wrapped his arm around the shorter man’s shoulder, “Isn’t that right Murdoch?”
Murdoch half snorted through his nose, then bent to pick up the box Jelly had deposited earlier, “Oh no you don’t, I’m not getting in on this one. Got enough problems of my own without saying the wrong thing to either of you. And if I remember correctly, I’ve got some things I need to discuss with Johnny. So excuse me men while I go check in and see how he’s doing.” Taking the box of supplies he entered the hacienda leaving the other two men to end their discussion about women and gifts.
Scott slapped Jelly on the back and stood away from his side, “You know I’m just joshing you Jelly. When you meet Sadie tomorrow you’ll see why I got her the gift. I know you have a few reservations about me even seeing her, but honestly, Johnny’s ok with it. Besides haven’t you ever heard that quote, ‘Love conquers all’? You know how you felt the first time you got Edna’s permission to court her?” Jelly nodded his head, “Well that’s how I feel right now. Understand?”
Jelly looked a little abashed at the honest conversation Scott was having with him. It wasn’t often that the eldest son of Murdoch Lancer spoke to him in such a revealing manner. He was used to having personal private conversations with Johnny who often confided in him when he was unsure of himself, but as he recalled this was the first time that Scott was revealing anything to him of such a personal matter. It pleased him and made him feel like part of the family even more so than he had before.
Taking their talk as a sign that the two of them should have a truce, what with the conversation being of a personal nature, Jelly gave in and responded in like, “Guess yer right. Never thought bout it like that afore.”
Scott smiled affectionately at the older man; “Of course this doesn’t mean that I can’t learn some new tricks from an old hand, now does it?”
Taking in a deep breath and rolling his eyes, Jelly said, “Wal now yuh might just be right bout that. Young whippersnappers can always learn a thin or two from us seasoned fellas iffen I do say so myself.”
Taking the buggy harness in hand Jelly added, “Might just be needin’ some o’ this here seasoned experience once ya bring that little filly here to meet the family.”
Scott cocked his brows, “I might at that, Jelly. See you in a little while. Come on up when you’re done. I’m sure you’re going to want to hear Johnny’s verdict from the horse’s mouth before he leaves.”
Striding across the front foyer he heard Jelly say as he led the team away, “Sure ‘nuff right about that one. Just hope the boy gets some good news from that ole saw bones.”
Scott could still hear the old man grumbling as he entered the house. Setting the hatbox down on a side table in the Great Room, Scott rounded the corner of the hall and climbed the stairs to the upper part of the house in search of his father and Johnny.
He found Murdoch and Teresa both in the hallway outside of Johnny’s room waiting for the doctor to come out.
Eyeing them both curiously he said, “I take it that this is the waiting area.” It wasn’t a question so much as an observation.
Teresa who had her ear to the door shushed him with a wave of her hand and a finger to her lips.
Scott crossed his arms finding the whole scene funny. His father and Teresa both acted as if Johnny were in his room telling all the family secrets instead of simply getting a checkup by Sam, the way they were leaning in close and eavesdropping.
Within moments of standing with them he realized why they were being so quiet and trying to listen in through the door. Moving in between Murdoch and Teresa he bent his head closer and he could hear Sam’s voice raised in loud admonishments; quiet seconds followed, then more loud admonishments. Scott almost felt sorry for his little brother. It must seem to him that he can’t do anything right on some days. First he gets ordered around by Murdoch and talked down to and made to feel as if he had done something else wrong, then Sam lights into him, most likely because of his trip to the top of the barn and his fear that Johnny could have fallen and more seriously injured himself. Scott just shook his head. Johnny should have known better. Weren’t they always telling him that he needed to take better care of himself and try not to always put himself in dangerous situations without first thinking about the ramifications were something to go wrong.
This line of thought reminded him of the words that Murdoch had used with Johnny before leaving for town. Maybe this was the very type of thing that their father was trying to express but had worded in such a way as to seem commanding instead of concerned. Backing up a step he studied his father as he watched him listen almost as intently as Teresa. ‘Yes,’ he thought, that was it exactly; it was Murdoch’s fears that made him speak the way he had to his brother and it showed in every line on his face.
Scott almost reeled from the insight. His father was scared. It scared him that Johnny would get hurt again and be powerless to do anything about it. The cattle drive and needing every spare man was just his way of venting those fears without letting anyone know what was really going on inside his head and heart. The gruffness was a defense against saying what he truly wanted to. The thought hit him like a bolt of lightening and he determined right there and then that he would speak to them both about the revelations that had come to him. He didn’t know when he would say something but soon enough there would be some opportunity that would present itself and when the time came Scott vowed to be ready.
The door to Johnny’s room suddenly opened and Teresa would have nearly fallen into the doorway had Doc Jenkins not been there for her to stumble into. Holding his black bag in his right hand and pushing her gently back with his left, Doc reached behind him and slammed the door shut.
No one spoke. The look on Doc’s face was a thundercloud. “Well I can certainly see now where he gets it from.” Shoving past the family spectators, Doc found his way down the stairs and into the kitchen where Maria was just setting a fresh pot of coffee on the table knowing the good doctor would want a cup before leaving. She also placed a hot fresh baked apple pie in the center of the table, providing a knife, forks and plates if anyone wanted a piece.
Hearing the doctor storm down the stairs she backed away from the table just as he entered the kitchen, motioning with her hand the repast that awaited him. Sighing loudly the doctor rubbed a weary hand across his face and said, “Gracias Maria,” and sat on the chair indicated by her.
She placed a delicate china cup in front of him and silently poured him a steamy serving of the hot brew. He stared at the fragile cup comparing it to the family, in so many ways they were just like it; sturdy and useful yet ready to crack and break if handled in the wrong way.
Picking up the cup he took a small sip after cooling it with a few soft blows. Murdoch, Scott and Teresa had stopped at the landing listening for the all clear from Maria before entering the kitchen. If Sam hadn’t been so tired after being up half the night he would have found the entire situation hilarious at the thought of three grown adults hiding in the stairwell, waiting to see if it was safe to enter.
Maria walked over to the bottom of the staircase and ushered them into the kitchen saying, “Usted, adentro aquí ahora. El doctor es cansado y no desea jugar sus juegos. Además, su gruñido es mucho peor que su mordedura.” (All of you, in here now. The doctor is tired and does not wish to play your games. Besides, his growl is much worse than his bite.)
While Teresa giggled at the statement, Scott looked bewildered, not understanding very much Spanish, especially when Maria spoke so quickly and Murdoch who understood portions of her statement was not overly amused.
They each took a seat at the table and Maria poured coffee for all and asked each in turn whether or not they wanted pie. Sam gratefully accepted his piece while Scott and Murdoch waved theirs off, wanting to know what Sam had to say but leery of asking him at just that moment. They were saved from doing so as Teresa took her piece of pie and asked expectantly, “So, Dr. Jenkins how is Johnny?”
Scott looked at her incredulously, sometimes his little adopted sister amazed him at her courage and tenacity to get right down to it and find out the answers that two grown men had feared voicing because of the doctor’s unusual hot temper.
Doc looked at her in a quizzical manner, “Why child don’t you already know? Wasn’t it you who had your ear practically glued to the door the entire time I was up there? Or was that some other ward Murdoch has hiding out here at the ranch?”
Teresa decided that playing along was the best medicine for the grumpy doctor so she said rather too brightly, “Oh Doc, didn’t I tell you that we had another girl living here who looks just like me? In fact I’ll just bet you ran into her right up there in the hallway.”
Taking another sip and grinning over the top of his coffee cup Sam said, “Yep, that’s just what I thought.”
Murdoch and Scott nearly sputtered their coffee as they listened to the doctor’s reply.
Arching his brows at the Lancer men, Sam Jenkins said, “Now don’t you two go choking to death on Maria’s coffee. She’ll skin me alive if you do.” His good nature finally restored Sam took another bite of his pie before responding to Teresa’s inquiry, knowing full well that Murdoch and Scott were being overly patient as they waited for him to continue.
Sitting back in his chair and rubbing his stomach for good affect, the Dr. proceeded with his latest report on Johnny. “Well that certainly hits the spot. Now in answer to all your questions, Johnny is fine, or at least he will be. No broken ribs as I thought a couple days ago, but he still has some very deep bruising that is causing him some trouble with his normal breathing levels. That’s to be expected and you can all thank your lucky stars that he doesn’t have any broken ribs or else he’d be in a whole other world of hurt. I want him to keep his ribcage wrapped for a few more days. Keep it tight as you can without it hurting too much, it’ll help with his breathing.”
Scott turned his head slightly to look at the doctor directly, “What about riding Doc?”
Taking a deep breath Sam said, “I told him he could ride so long as he doesn’t go off half cocked and ride like he’s hell bent for leather. And before you ask, I’d say he should be ready to get back into the heavier workloads within a few more days. His ribs are tender and sore and they need a little more time to heal up before he goes to wrangling any steers or calves. Got it?” Doc looked directly at Murdoch as he finished his sentence, hoping that his friend understood that he meant business.
Murdoch caught the look and said without any rancor lacing his tone, “Got it Sam. No worries. We’ll make sure he doesn’t overdo.”
“Good.” With that said, Sam got up and pushed his chair in, “Anymore questions?”
Scott who decided to take the cue from Teresa asked Sam the question he knew was on all their minds, “Why were you yelling at Johnny?”
Sam thought about this for a moment wondering just how much he should say, the conversation really was between him and Johnny and he felt that if anyone should tell them it should be the young man upstairs.
Frowning slightly at the remembrance of their conversation all Sam would say was, “Let’s just say that I went a little parental on him and leave it at that. If Johnny wants to tell you he will, if not, then let it be. Got to keep some things private or else the boy will never let me tend to him on a good day.”
Scott and Murdoch stood, Sam held out his hand to the Lancer patriarch, each man acknowledging the knowing look in each other’s eyes. “Murdoch.”
Murdoch took the doctor’s hand in his own powerful grip, “Sam.”
Following him to the door Sam squeezed Teresa’s shoulder lightly as he passed her by and waved to Maria and said another backhanded gracias in her direction for the pie and coffee, and said a final goodbye to Scott, who sat back down after he had left the kitchen.
Murdoch opened the door to see him out and followed him to his buggy. Before getting in he turned back to his old friend, turning serious for a moment, “Murdoch, go easy on the boy. I don’t know what’s going on between you two but he would hardly say two words to me the whole time. In fact he didn’t even argue with me when I lit into him about climbing up on top of that roof. Just kept his head down as usual or stared off through the window. Sometimes I get real worried about that more than anything else. He can’t afford to be off emotionally Murdoch and you know it. Beating himself up mentally is just about as bad as getting hurt in a physical fight, only it goes much deeper. If you think about it you’ll see that I’m right. Make sure you take some time with him. He’s going to need his confidence on a long drive like the one you’re planning and so will Scott.”
Murdoch listened to his oldest friend knowing he was right. Clapping the man on the shoulder and hoisting his bag into the buggy he turned back to him and said, “I know Sam. You’re right and I plan to do just that.”
Smiling the doctor got into his buggy and taking one last look at Murdoch he said, “Good, Now have a good trip if I don’t see you before you leave, make sure them boys of yours take care of themselves and tell Teresa if she needs me for anything while your gone just to send one of the men out to get me.”
“I will Sam and thanks again…for everything.”
“That goes for you too.” Taking up the reins Sam clicked his tongue and the horse trotted off leaving Murdoch staring after him, hands on his hips and deep in thought. As the doctor left the courtyard area he spied Jelly walking from the barn and waved goodbye to him knowing that the Lancer family would fill the handy man in on everything that had been said. After all, he was practically part of the family and he had come to appreciate the man’s help on many an occasion when one or more of them had been in need of medical attention. The grizzled old man’s love and steadfast loyalty were an integral part of them all, without him, a piece of their family puzzle would definitely be missing.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the tall rancher wrap an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders and together they returned to the house as Sam Jenkins, family doctor, friend and confidant, drove away with a weary smile on his lips and a thankful prayer in his heart for his dear friend Murdoch who had gone so many years without his son’s by his side.
Murdoch and Jelly entered the kitchen where Scott and Teresa still sat at the table sipping coffee and talking about the plans Scott had for bringing Sadie to the house after picking her up.
Taking a seat at the table both men poured coffee into their cups while Maria fussed over the simple dinner of beef stew simmering slowly on the stove. She then spooned large dollops of cornmeal batter into a hot black cast iron skillet generously coated with lard to crisp the bottom and edges of the cornbread as it baked in the oven.
Looking at his father thoughtfully Scott said, “You know we should have asked Sam to stay for supper.”
Sitting his cup down Murdoch frowned, “I thought about it son. Frankly I didn’t think he was in the mood. You’re right though, I still should have asked. Next time I see him I’ll invite him out for the big fiesta when we get back. I might even make a special trip into town to do just that.”
“Well I second that Murdoch. After everything that man has done for us he deserves to be a welcome guest anytime he wants. He has the worst patients in the world living right here in this house,” Teresa stated with firm conviction. She eyed each one of the men, letting them all know that she meant them in particular and with a roll of her eyes towards the stairs, her meaning included Johnny as well.
Maria continued to work at the stove but when she noticed that Murdoch was just about to pour himself another cup of coffee she quickly went to his side and removed the pot from his hand saying, “Ése es bastante patrón, usted estropeará su apetito con demasiado antes de cena.” (That is enough boss, you will spoil your appetite with too much before supper.)
Feeling that the pot was nearly empty, Murdoch decided it was best not to argue with the matronly woman. Somewhere along the way after the boys had come home the woman had become a veritable mother figure in the household and as time went on her role seemed to increase and occasionally include him. He found it to be a very odd sensation and wasn’t sure whether or not he liked this all inclusive family he seemed to have brought to life when he asked for his son’s to come home.
The dynamic change that had taken place not only in the house but also with the crew astounded him and at times made him bristle with anger. Before his son’s had arrived the only real person he had felt near to being a family with was Teresa, his best friend, Paul O’Brien’s daughter, who after his death became his ward. Now more often than not he found himself not only having to answer to Teresa, but two boy’s, the staff and one grizzled old horse wrangler who now lived with them also. There were times when he felt his authority slipping by the wayside and although he understood that it was all perfectly normal, he sometimes resented the fact that there were so many people who now commented on his words and actions, as they had never done before.
Scott brought him out of his reverie by saying, “I guess we should go get cleaned up. Smells like supper is going to be done soon, and I for one don’t want to miss it. I’m hungry.” He stood up and gave Murdoch a pat on the shoulder as he left the room.
“That goes fer me too,” Jelly said as he too stood to leave and get cleaned up. “Smells real good Maria.” He left out the back door promising to return shortly.
“Sí, sí, usted se vuelve pronto, él es casi listo,” (Yes, yes, you come back soon, it is almost ready,) Maria said to his retreating back.
Teresa began to clear off the table and Murdoch stood up excusing himself and saying, “I’ll go up and check on Johnny. I’m sure he’s hungry.”
Teresa looked up at him from across the table with a smile on her face, “Good, tell him I said to make sure he washes up. I don’t know if he had chance with Sam getting here so late in the day and catching him up on that roof.”
Murdoch nodded his head and retreated to the stairs leaving the women to get things set for supper.
He smiled as he reached the upper landing; he could hear Scott behind his closed bedroom door singing a lilting tenor. His son was happy, he only hoped his other son was just as happy.
Walking up to Johnny’s door he knocked but got no reply. When he knocked for the second time and no answer came he reached for the knob to go in.
He was just about to enter Johnny’s room when Scott’s voice stopped him from down the hallway. “He’s not there, already checked.”
Closing the door, Murdoch watched as Scott continued to dry his face and hands with a towel, “I suppose he went to the barn.”
Cocking one eyebrow Scott said, “That would be my guess. Want me to go find him?”
Shaking his head and sighing Murdoch said, “No son. I’ll go find him this time. You go ahead and finish cleaning up.”
Knowing that Murdoch wanted to talk to Johnny, Scott nodded his acquiescence and returned to his room, leaving his father to do the chore that usually fell on his shoulders.
It was still light out but with the setting of the sun the barn was draped in shadows letting little light inside to guide his way to the back of the barn where Johnny stalled his majestic horse, Barranca.
The barn was large and filled to capacity with bales of hay, feed bins, tack, blankets and other necessities needed to house the horses and care for them. Making sure he made enough noise so he wouldn’t startle his son into drawing on him, Murdoch approached the lighted stall crossing his arms over the top of the gated door.
He watched as Johnny worked tirelessly brushing the yellow coat till it gleamed like the morning sunlight that graced the valley with its pure golden rays of sunshine. “You keep grooming him like that and we’re all going to have to cover our eyes just to get near him.”
Johnny didn’t stop, “Well I guess you’ll just have ta cover your eyes then won’t ya.” There was no humor in his tone, just a statement as if what Murdoch had said was the truth.
Murdoch tried again, “Maria says to wash up for supper.”
Johnny stopped working on his horse and looked over at his father, then grabbed a handful of Barranca’s mane in his right hand and leaned his head onto the horse’s neck, “Ok, I’ll be in soon.” He dropped the hair held in his hand and bent over to replace the brush with a comb that lay on a bale beside the stall wall, saying nothing else to his father.
Murdoch sighed heavily, unable to find the words to say to his son that would help alleviate the tension he felt that stood between them after this morning’s belittling attitude and misguided words of command. In his heart he wanted to find the words but his mouth just couldn’t seem to make them come out like they had when Johnny had come home beaten and bruised. He wondered why it seemed easier for him to say the things he longed to say while Johnny was laid up and then suddenly disappear at the first sign that Johnny was well again. Even he had to admit that his actions were strange and temperamental for someone who had longed for his son’s to be at his side for so many years.
Seeing that his father still hadn’t left but instead seemed deep in thought Johnny asked, “Was there something else Old Man?”
Murdoch’s anger flared at the name Johnny called him. He didn’t like being called ‘Old Man’ by his son. The way Johnny said it made it sound like an insult. He said rather gruffly, “No,” and turned to leave giving the gate a hard slap on the top rail edge.
Over his shoulder he heard Johnny say sarcastically, “Didn’t think so.”
Murdoch stopped dead in his tracks not looking back. For several seconds he bit back words of rebuke toward his son and then continued through the doors slamming them shut as he left.
When he heard the doors slam closed, Johnny turned toward the wall and threw the comb with pent up anger and frustration etched in his every move. Barranca shied away from the seething rage emanating from his masters body and instantly Johnny was sorry for having frightened his horse. Taking several deep breaths and letting them out slowly he spoke calmly to Barranca, issuing several apologies and words of endearment to his beloved horse as he edged closer and wrapped his arms around his stately neck. The golden stallion seemed to understand and stood patiently as Johnny held him close to his face and swept his hands up and down the sides of his neck.
When Johnny knew his horse was calm again he picked up the brush and comb, replacing them in the box he used for storing them. After putting it away on a shelf that graced the barn wall high above Barranca’s head, Johnny then filled his feed bin with fresh hay. Exiting and closing the gate behind him Johnny offered his friend a shiny red apple hidden away just past the outside of the door to the stall. Holding it out, Barranca arched his neck over the gate and took it from Johnny’s hand nickering in pleasure as he chomped away at the sweet juicy treat. Johnny laughed and patted his horse on the nose wishing it were this easy to make up with his father.
“Buenos noches Barranca. You and me, we’ll go for a ride first thing tomorrow,” he said softly and brushed his hand down the soft muzzle of his face. As Johnny walked away the horse whinnied loud and clear, letting Johnny know that he was just as excited about getting out and riding as he was.
Johnny had to smile as he left the barn and closed the door, his father had given him Barranca and for that he would be eternally grateful. The horse was his through and through, and everyone on the ranch knew it, including his family. There wasn’t a man, woman or child who didn’t know about the special relationship that existed between the two. The horse seemed to understand every word he said and was trained so well that it mystified many of the vaqueros who witnessed their loyalty to one another. Many a good man had tried to ride the horse long before Johnny came to live at the ranch but no one had been successful until that fateful day the two of them had met. Scott had ridden him once, after Johnny had tired him out but since then he had never been able to get back on the horse again. Everyone learned soon enough that the spirited horse had one and only one master and that was Johnny.
Stopping at the washstand just before the front foyer Johnny washed up and made a conscious decision to follow Teresa’s advice to be patient and bury his anger with his father for the good of all. He didn’t want to spoil supper and he didn’t want to continue feeling like he had all day. If that meant relenting and giving in this one time then so be it, he would do it, if nothing else than because he was grateful for the horse and the look in Teresa’s eyes when he knew she was pleased with him.
With this thought in mind, he entered the house taking off his gun belt and hung it on the rack next to the door and went in search of his father, wanting to at least apologize before supper for his behavior in the barn.
He found him sitting behind his desk in the Great Room going over the ledgers he had completed that afternoon. Walking quietly toward the desk, he was upon Murdoch before the older man knew he was standing there waiting for him to look up.
Feeling eyes upon him, Murdoch gasped inwardly as he glanced up and saw Johnny standing there staring at him. Putting his hand up to his heart, Murdoch said, “Son I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
Frowning and knitting his eyebrows together Johnny asked, “Do what,” in his most innocent voice as if he didn’t know.
Murdoch glared at him but in that way that says, ‘I know what you’re up to’. “You already know what I’m talking about so lets not go there. Just make some noise next time before you give your ‘Old Man’ a heart attack,” he stressed the words Old Man.
Johnny shuffled his feet and picked up a small wood carving of a Shetland sheepdog lying on its stomach that Murdoch used as a paperweight on his desk. Taking it, he sat in the chair to the right of the desk and idly rolled it round and round in his hands as he stared at it and tried to think of the best way to say what he wanted to without it coming out wrong.
Having seen this before and knowing that whenever he did, it meant that Johnny had something he wanted to say but was unsure of how to say it, Murdoch took pity on him and helped him along by asking gently, “What is it son?”
He didn’t look up and Murdoch had to listen very closely to hear what he had to say after noticing that he swallowed very hard before getting the first words out, “It’s just…Umm…I want to say…I’m sorry. You know. Bout out in the barn.” The paperweight was twirling faster in his hands now and suddenly Johnny stood up and placed the wooden figurine back on the desk just as quietly as he had picked it up, with all the agitation of only a moment ago suddenly gone.
Murdoch stood and came around the corner of the desk to where his son stood with his hands perched on his hips and his dark head bent staring at the floor. When his father reached his side he looked up at him and gulped, hoping he hadn’t made things worse.
Taking him by the shoulders Murdoch turned him around and they started walking toward the kitchen where the voices of the other family members floated toward them. “Me too son. Come on, I’m hungry and I’d like to get in there before those three eat everything in sight. How about you?”
Tilting his head up to look sideways at his father, Murdoch saw that smile that won so many hearts with its pure radiance, “Yeah, I could eat.”
Chuckling Murdoch said with mild sarcasm, “Thought so,” reminding Johnny of similar words spoken in the barn. Maybe they weren’t so different after all he thought.
Supper that evening was lighthearted and filled with happiness as each person recognized the truce between the two most volatile members of the family. When supper was over, Teresa was startled by each man as they took over the chores of cleaning up afterward. Scott washed while Johnny dried and together Murdoch and Jelly wiped down the table and counter tops putting away the leftovers as Teresa prepared coffee and sliced cake, putting it all on one big tray for their evening treat.
When the dishes were done and the kitchen was cleaned they all retired for the rest of the evening in the Great Room. Scott challenged Johnny to a game of checkers but he declined in lieu of playing the winner. He wanted to give himself time to digest his food while reclining on the sofa. The bandages were tight where Sam had put them on earlier and now they were downright unbearable to wear after having ate too much. If he was going to eat a piece of cake and have coffee to top it off something had to be done about the bandages around his ribs.
Teresa recognized the look of discomfort on Johnny’s face and took his hand before he could settle down on the sofa and led him back to the kitchen. If anyone noticed their departure from the room, they didn’t say anything.
Murdoch sat in the chair next to the fireplace picking up his discarded newspaper from the day before, while Scott and Jelly took seats on the floor opposite each other setting up the checkerboard.
Once in the kitchen Teresa had Johnny sit on the table so that she had a good vantage point for unwrapping and rewrapping the bandages. As Johnny started to unbutton his shirt, Teresa couldn’t help herself; she tenderly touched the fading bruise on Johnny’s cheek. He stopped his task and looking up he was pulled into the dewy softness of her gaze. “No sea triste mi querida. Son contusiones justas. Desaparecerán pronto bastante.” (Don't be sad my darling. They're just bruises. They'll disappear soon enough.)
“Sé, él los daños justos yo para ver que usted lastima,” (I know; it just hurts me to see you hurt,) she said softly, in the Spanish language they often times reverted to when they were alone together.
Taking her delicate hands in his, Johnny pulled her closer until she was standing between his legs. “Don’t querida, mi amor.” Her head was slightly bent so Johnny bent his to look up into her face. He smiled and he squeezed her hands and she smiled back at him.
“Mi amor?” she asked uncertainly, her heart skipping a beat when she heard the words of endearment.
“Sí querida, mi amor siempre y por siempre,” (Yes darling, my love always and forever,) he answered with all his heart.
“I’m gonna hold you to that Johnny Lancer,” she giggled as he started to tickle her sides to lighten the moment.
He squeezed her hips with his thighs and tickled her some more until tears were streaming down her face.
“Ok, Ok,” she gasped, “I give.” She swatted his shoulder. “You know it’s just not fair that you’re not ticklish like me.”
“That’s cause you’re a girl. Besides, I am too ticklish,” he said with mock seriousness on his face.
“Where?” she asked as she began to finish undoing the buttons of his shirt.
Johnny leaned back a little on the table and put his hands, palms down, to hold him up while she worked at getting the rest of the buttons loose. “That’s for me know and you to find out…Someday,” he hinted with a sly grin on his face and a gentle squeeze to her hips with his knees.
He tilted his head and watched her with his piercing blue eyes that spoke so much more than any words he didn’t say. Soft laughter rumbled deep within his chest as he watched her blush furiously and fumble with the buttons that suddenly refused to work no matter how hard she tried. Sitting up he took her hands in his and kissed each palm never taking his eyes away from hers. Letting her hands go he undid the last of the buttons and slipped the shirt off his shoulders holding his arms out from his sides when he was done.
She unwrapped the bandages and winced at the still too bright coloring that covered his ribcage. Rewrapping them around his torso, she made sure to leave a little extra room so he would be comfortable the rest of the evening while he had dessert and slept for the night. Doc had him wrapped so tight, the bandages had left indentations and the girl wondered if he had done so in a fit of frustration while chewing Johnny out for his foolish actions.
“I think Sam had those on too tight if you ask me. He said to make sure they were tight but that was ridiculous. I’m surprised you could breathe at all,” she said shaking her head in disgust.
“Well Sam was a mite put out with me today,” he supplied not giving her any more information than she already knew.
She stepped back from him when she was done and he jumped off the table reaching for his shirt all in one swift move. He put it back on and buttoned the shirt up leaving it out for comfort sake.
Crossing her arms she glared at him, “Aren’t you even going to tell me what all he said to you?”
Taking the two steps it took to stand in front of her he tweaked her chin playfully and said, “Nope,” and started to walk out of the kitchen listening all the while to make sure she was following.
Teresa stamped her foot and followed him, “Johnny that’s not fair!” she exclaimed somewhere just below a shout.
Johnny stopped and turned around letting her run right into his chest, she backed off a step, “What’s not fair querida, that I won’t tell you or that you didn’t hear enough through the door while Doc was havin’ a field day with me?” At her startled look he said, “Hmmm?”
She shoved him and turned him around forcefully, pushing him with her hands on his back toward the Great Room while saying, “You are impossible Johnny Lancer!”
He laughed and swung around grabbing her up in his arms and twirling her before they entered the other room, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Usted me ama y usted lo sabe.” (You love me and you know it.)
Still held in his arms she said, “Sí, pero usted sigue siendo imposible. Ahora déjeme abajo antes de que I débil de la carencia del aire.” (Yes I do, but you are still impossible. Now let me down before I faint from lack of air.) After he let her go she straightened out her dress and pushed her dark hair back off her shoulders making herself presentable before entering the Great Room.
Johnny took one last step up to her and repositioned a lock of hair, holding the silken strands between his fingers, wishing with his entire being that he could hold her close and bury his face in its luxurious softness the way he really wanted to. He settled instead for running his fingertip down the petal soft curve of her cheek and letting the desire in his eyes speak for him.
She answered back with the same yearning look, both understanding the need they had for one another, but knowing now was not the right time, but that ‘someday’ was in their future.
Morning came bright and early for the entire Lancer household. The evening before had been pleasant, filled with laughter and good natured teasing by all, including the tall Scotsman who continued to smile with every passing minute that his family shared together until it came time for each person to retire for the evening.
He sipped on his first cup of coffee for the day while Maria started breakfast and listened to the sounds of his family getting ready, the easy smile of the night before returning ten fold.
Teresa was the first to bounce into the kitchen, snatching up a wicker basket upon entering and placing a kiss on the cheek of first Maria and then a very startled Murdoch as she said good morning and bounded out the back door toward the henhouse.
At the look on her boss’ face Maria’s laughter filled the room causing a slight discomfort to grace his morning features. Within seconds it disappeared from his face when he heard her say, “It is good Senor. Your familia, they are happy this morning, as you are.”
She was right of course, he could see and hear that they were happy. Teresa was skipping around with all the energy of a 16 year old, as a cheerful melody from Scott drifted down the stairs and noises could be heard coming from Johnny’s end of the hallway as he searched for something to wear that wasn’t balled up and thrown on the floor.
Before long Teresa was back with a basket full of eggs and Scott was coming down the stairs humming while readjusting the front on his soft beige shirt for the tenth time as he walked into the kitchen with a silly grin on his face and a “good morning everyone” on his lips. Johnny slid down the railing, landing with a triumphant smile plastered on his face. He made his way around the kitchen table and placed his hands on Maria’s hips from behind and kissed her good morning on the cheek, “Buenos dias Tia, smells good,” he told her good-naturedly.
Smacking his hands away from her sides and smiling reproachfully at his exuberance, she said, “Nino, there is juice in the pitcher over there, please put it on the table, gracias.”
Johnny let her go and got the pitcher of juice. He reached past Scott’s shoulder and set it down on the table in front of his father and brother. “Looks like you slept well brother,” Scott remarked at Johnny’s unusual display of cheeriness so early in the morning.
“I told ya before Boston, I always sleep well,” Johnny said in return.
Morning chatter began after that was said and the family ate their breakfast while Murdoch spent a good portion of it going over the duties for the day, most of which did not include Scott since his father knew he would be picking up Sadie and bringing her to the ranch. He went over the details of how Johnny was to spend his day, making sure that his son didn’t feel like he was giving orders so much as he was reminding him to be careful. Murdoch told Johnny he wanted him to help the hands finish with the counts that were needed for the round up. He would be recording the numbers later that evening in his ledger and the numbers needed to be as accurate as possible.
Teresa was reminded that they would have a visitor, not that she needed it, but she took the instructions from Murdoch with the same lighthearted spirit as the rest of the family, glad that it was not Maria’s day off, grateful she would have help preparing the house before Sadie arrived.
Jelly came in just short of Murdoch’s last instructions and joined the family at the breakfast table. “Glad to see that everyone’s in such a good mood this mornin’,” he said to no one in particular.
Scott picked up the napkin from his lap and dabbed at his mouth before saying, “That we are Jelly.”
The old handy man filled his plate and asked Scott, “ ‘Spect you’ll be a wantin’ that fancy carriage rigged out today?”
Before Scott could reply Johnny said with mild teasing, “Of course Jelly. You can’t expect Scott to pick up his lady in that run down old buggy they went to town in yesterday now do ya?”
Jelly sputtered and the rest of the family hid their grins as they watched Jelly bluster and respond red faced to the question, “Now you listen here smart aleck, that buggy might be old and not near ‘nuff fancy as the new one but it looks dang good even if I do say so.”
Everyone laughed except for Jelly, the old buggy had been a pet project of his for the past month and he took great pride it the fact that he had new wheels on it and a brand new paint job that featured a fancy gold emblazoned Lancer brand, hand painted by Jelly on each side of the short door panels.
Johnny threw his left arm around Jelly’s shoulders and gave him a few quick pulls in his direction, “Aw come on Jelly, you know I’m just teasing you.”
“Iffen I didn’t you’d be feelin’ the sting of my hand on your behind,” he gruffed.
“Ouch,” Johnny said as he pulled his arm back in mock imitation of hurt on his face, “Jelly,” he drawled out slowly.
“Don’t Jelly me young un, and finish yer breakfast, Barranca’s chompin’ at the bit this mornin’ just waitin’ fer you to get yer sorry hide out there and ride ‘im,” the older man said with mild severity lacing his tone, yet with a smile that everyone knew held genuine affection for the boy sitting next to him.
At Jelly’s remark Johnny suddenly picked up his coffee cup and quickly downed the last of the contents and grabbed a biscuit from the center of the table. Jumping up from his seat he started toward the front entrance of the house but was stopped before he could get any further by his father’s commanding tone from behind, “Johnny!” Murdoch fairly shouted across the room.
Johnny stopped but didn’t turn around; he grasped the sides of the doorway in his hands keeping his back to his father and the rest of the family, waiting to hear what the man had to say, “Be careful today son. Remember what Sam said and take it slow. No rough riding.”
It seemed the entire room held their breaths as they waited to hear Johnny’s reaction. Dropping his hands to his sides and fingering the conchos on the sides of his black pants, Johnny pivoted around and narrowed his eyes for the briefest of seconds then smiled and replied, “I will,” and with a quick nod in their direction he turned and left them to finish their breakfast.
Arching his eyebrows and letting out the breath he was holding Scott said, “Well that was easy.” He picked up his fork and began on his breakfast again, glad that the day was starting off on a good note and that Johnny hadn’t let Murdoch get to him by voicing his concerns for his safety. His father seemed inclined to work on how he spoke to his little brother. He seemed to be trying at any rate and if the past few minutes were any indication of the changes Murdoch was going to make, then maybe, just maybe, their relationship could start to develop a deeper bond than they have had in the past year.
Conversation resumed at the table in a leisurely manner, giving Scott time to go over in his head how he wanted the day to pass. He was excited about seeing Sadie today and wondered if she was just as anxious to see him, as he was to see her.
He hoped that things had gone well in their home since the last time he had seen her in town, and wondered if Milo was faring as good as Johnny was. Thinking back on it he remembered that Milo hadn’t looked much better than his brother as he watched them walk away and get into their own buggy and head for home. He was also a little worried about meeting Sadie’s parents for the first time. Were they just as put out by him taking Sadie on an outing, as his family at first seemed to be with him when they had found out what he planned on doing? He hoped not.
When breakfast was over he set out with Jelly in tow to the carriage house near the barn. Each man took a door and opened it wide letting the early morning sun spill into the interior. Walking to the back of the building they each took a corner of a tarp that covered Lancer’s newest mode of travel. A double-seated carriage painted a deep burgundy with gold trim running across the top and bottom edges. The back panel was also edged in gold and fancy scrollwork graced the back and framed a very ornate Lancer brand, a circle L. The finishing touch was a beautiful shade canopy with gold twisted fringe that dangled all around. It was lightweight yet sturdy enough for four people to sit in comfortably and made a wondrous sight when out in the light of day. It sported side steps and handrails making it possible to get in with much more dignity than the older buggy that only seated two people on a good day.
Folding up the tarp, Scott stood back with Jelly at his side as they took in the carriage with their eyes, “I’ll say one thing Jelly, you were right, she is fancy.”
Jelly snorted, “Tain’t nothin’ you have to tell me about. I ain’t never seen anythin’ so gall danged gussied up just to go drivin’ round in.”
Scott just laughed at the surly attitude coming from Jelly; “They say Jelly, that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Besides, don’t you think Edna would like it if you picked her up in this and showed off just a little?”
Jelly was thoughtful for a minute before saying, “Maybe, but knowin’ Edna she might be a bit scared o’ gettin’ in this here fancy contraption. Might even think folks were a thinkin’ she was gettin’ uppity or somethin’.”
Scott tipped his hat back and studied his friend, “I think you should try it some time Jelly. I think Edna would like it. All women like to be made to feel special once in a while and that’s how you have to look at it. Besides that, it’s comfortable.” Taking the older man by the arm he pulled him to stand next to it. “Just feel these seats,” he said as he ran his hand across the front cushioned seat.
Wiping his hands off on his pants first, the older man rubbed his callused hand across the velvety softness letting out a soft whistle. “What’s that made of?”
“It’s called velvet. Nice isn’t it?” Scott asked.
“Yep,” was all the man would say. He still thought it was too fancy but he had to admit to himself that it would make a nice comfortable ride and Edna would probably like the fact that there was so much more room than the old buggy he had used a couple of times to take her for a ride.
Hitching his thumbs through his suspenders Jelly said, “Guess iffen it works for you I might give it a try myself.”
Scott clamped his left hand on the man’s aging shoulder, “I promise Jelly, you won’t regret it. Now come on and help me pull this thing out so we can get her ready to go.”
Scott and Jelly worked for the next hour getting the carriage ready and hitching up two seasoned pullers from their stock of horses used primarily for that purpose.
When the carriage was ready Scott went back inside and up to his room to wash up and double check his appearance. As he stood before the mirror giving his self one last cursory look up and down his neat attire, the door to his room flew open, a cheerful Teresa walking in unannounced to stand behind the blue upholstered chair to the left of his room.
Scott rolled his eyes and sighed heavily at the intrusion, then turned in her direction. He knew she was there to offer her opinion on how he was dressed. Holding his arms out, he turned once around letting her get a good view, “Well?” he asked, “Do I pass?”
Resting her elbows on the back of the chair Teresa cupped her chin in her hands and said, “You’ll do.”
“That’s it?” he asked critically.
Teresa tapped her finger on her lips and said, “That’s it,” smiling mischievously she added, “Of course you might want to do something about that tuft of hair sticking up on the back of your head.”
Frowning, Scott turned back to the mirror brushing at the back of his head. “There’s no hair…” he started to say as he turned around only to find that Teresa was no longer there. He could hear laughing as she walked down the hallway toward the staircase.
Snatching up his hat and clamping it down on his head Scott left the room grabbing the hatbox on his way and slamming the bedroom door as he left. When he got to the front foyer, his father and Teresa were waiting for him with smiles plastered on their faces.
“You think you’re so funny little girl. Just you wait, I’ll get you back one of these days,” he said grinning and giving the brown haired nymph a peck on the cheek as he passed her and a grinning Murdoch on his way to the waiting carriage.
His family followed him out the door and to the carriage. Jelly was dusting off and polishing the last of the trim and stepped away as Scott got inside the rig, carefully setting the gift on the seat beside him and took the reins in his hands.
With a final look at his family, a tip of the hat in his father’s direction, Scott flicked the reins and was finally off to meet with Sadie for the first time since their encounter in town.
Scott made his way to the McIntyre property with not a minute to spare. Checking his watch for the tenth time since leaving his home, he pulled up to the two story ranch house amid the cackle of several chickens and one lone barking dog. From the side of his vision he noted two men emerging from the large double door entrance of a freshly painted red barn with white trim, the name McIntyre in bold white lettering just above the frame of the double doors.
He instantly recognized the towering frame of Milo McIntyre and guessed that the man with him was his father. Taking a deep breath Scott braced himself and stepped down from the carriage to face the men as they approached.
Milo McIntyre started to move faster, but with a quick touch to the arm by the slightly shorter and older man, he slowed his step, letting the other man move just a step to the forefront as they continued to stride in his direction. When they got within five feet of Scott, both men stopped short and studied Scott as if he were a prize bull on display at the auction.
On one hand this could have been a bit intimidating considering the size of the two men before him. Milo was well over six foot just as he remembered, with flaming red hair and flashing green eyes. The bruises over his left eye and his cheeks were starting to fade much as Johnny’s were. Unlike most people that Scott had met with red hair the color of Milo’s, the man had no freckles and his skin was dark and tanned from long exposure to the sun while working. He wore overalls with a faded blue short-sleeved cotton shirt underneath, exposing bulging biceps and wiry red hair covering his arms.
Scott held his hand out to the other man standing next to the hulking Milo and introduced himself as Scott Lancer, all the while taking in the near matching appearance of the older man. Dressed almost identically to his son, the elder McIntyre removed his hat revealing the same shocking red hair with sparkles of silver glinting here and there. He ran a big beefy hand over the top of his head then swiped the sweatband inside his hat with a bright red kerchief from his back pocket. When finished, he shook Scott’s hand in a firm grip saying, “Boyd McIntyre, Sadie’s Da.”
Scott then held out his hand to Milo, hoping that the truce between them was still ongoing. He reasoned it was when Milo took the proffered hand in his own and they shook, though Milo eyed him as if he were ready to rip his arm off at the first sign of trouble.
Elbowing his son in the side Boyd McIntyre said rather gruffly, “Come in the house lad. I’ll be a wantin’ to talk to ye a bit afore you go takin’ me Sadie off in that fancy rig of yers.”
Scott grabbed the hatbox from the seat of the carriage before following them inside. Milo turned before going up the four steps to the wrap around porch, a smirk on his lips when he spied the large flowery box in Scott’s hands, “Already bearing gifts I see,” he said smugly while checking to see that his father had already entered the house, “It ain’t gonna work if Da decides he don’t like you.”
"Then I guess I’ll just have to make sure he likes me,” Scott responded to the giant redhead looking down on him. “Got a problem with that?”
Milo waited for what seemed like minutes then said, “Not as long as Da is ok with it. What he says goes, and that means if he don’t like you,” he stressed the word don’t, “then yeah, I’ll have a problem with it, but it won’t be a problem I can’t handle.” Milo turned after the implied threat and followed his father into the house. Scott Lancer followed slowly up the steps, a surging desire to wipe the arrogant look off the big man’s face.
The front door opened into the sitting room, which extended to Scott’s right, fully furnished with sturdy furniture made of heavy woolen plaid materials and thick wood framing. There was a large sofa, nearly as long as the one they had at Lancer, sitting in front of a stone fireplace, a heavy wooden mantle stretched across the width and laden with pictures, flowers and nick knacks. Over the mantle were two hunting rifles that appeared to be as old as the flintlock that Jelly owned. On each side of the fireplace were two chairs covered in the same multicolored brown hued plaid as the sofa. Small tables made of the same heavy wood sat next to each chair and a large coffee table graced the center of the room. Overall it was a very comfortable and homey room. White lace curtains adorned the windows and there were crocheted blankets folded neatly and within easy reach that gave the room the added feminine touch it needed to soften the masculine feel of the dark heavy furniture.
To his left was the dining room. Scott noted that once again the furniture was of a heavily constructed wood material and not of a style that he could name in his head. He wondered if the older man was a carpenter in his spare time, since all the furniture had a home made quality to it that impressed him with its size and finely made design. It seemed to fit the men of the family perfectly and Scott noticed again the feminine touches that gave the oversized furniture its homey atmosphere. He fingered the intricate white lace cloth on the dining room table as he followed Milo through another door from the room into the kitchen.
Sitting at the table was Boyd McIntyre, and to his left sat a woman that Scott would have recognized as Sadie’s mother in a heartbeat had he met her on the streets of town. She was just as beautiful as he remembered Sadie, only older, with the slightest hint of gray tingeing the same auburn hair as her daughter. Her hazel green eyes sparkled and glowed as he entered the kitchen. He knew immediately that here was his ally should he need one when dealing with father and brother.
Standing up, she extended her hand in greeting, “I’m Fiona McIntyre, Sadie’s mother, welcome to our home.” Fiona had the same Scottish burr as her husband but it was soft and melodious to hear her speak.
“Thank you, I’m Scott Lancer, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said in return and shook her hand after setting the hatbox on the table.
Milo sat at the opposite end of the table from his father and gestured for Scott to sit across from his mother.
Fiona blushed and said, “I hope you don’t mind Scott, but we’re not much for putting on airs, so we thought the kitchen was best for getting to know one another a bit before our Sadie comes down. Coffee?” she asked holding up the pot and indicating the cup in front on him.
Taking the cup, Scott nodded and accepted the offer. The kitchen was obviously a place where the family spent a lot of time so he relaxed as he watched the family partake of coffee. Mrs. McIntyre then passed around slices of thin cake to each person including himself before questions started to be asked from the head of the household, who watched him silently while sipping his coffee from a large sturdy mug.
The silence was hanging thick in the room until Boyd McIntyre slammed his cup onto the table and said brusquely, “Tell me about your family.”
Quietly setting his own cup down on the table and trying not to show surprise at the gruffness of the question or the older man’s intimidating and loud behavior Scott said, “Well there’s my father, Murdoch Lancer who settled here after immigrating from Scotland to America. Then there’s…”
Boyd McIntyre leaned against the edge of the table his arms circling his mug, “From Scotland ye say,” he interrupted.
Scott met the man’s gaze realizing that he may have accidentally stumbled onto something that could help him win this family over, “Yes, from Inverness.”
Boyd McIntyre pound his meaty fist on the table causing Scott to jump slightly in his chair. “So that be the reason ye weren’t able to best the man’s brother when ye fought him,” Boyd said to his son, pointing a finger in Milo’s direction. “A good Scotsman is always hard to beat, especially when he’s up against another good Scotsman.”
Scott tilted his head in Milo’s direction listening to the man’s equally loud response, “I told ye Da, he was big and mean. He kept comin’ at me like some kind of devil caught up in a tornado or somethin’.” He glared at Scott daring him to refute his description of the fight to his father.
Scott could only smile. The thought of anyone referring to his little brother as a Scotsman was almost too funny to think about but it was true, Johnny is a Scotsman. At least half Scot and if not for his mother’s heritage showing up in his features and skin coloring it might have been a more believable piece of information. Otherwise the whole idea of being half Scot was almost laughable to anyone who knew Johnny or the infamous Mexican pistolero Johnny Madrid. It certainly put a different spin on things when Boyd McIntyre spoke the way he did about his brother. He reserved this little bit of thinking for a later time when he would have ample opportunity to tease his little brother about it.
“Ye forget lad, I’ve seen ye fight meself and by the looks of ye when ye got home I’d say ye had a little bit of the twister in ye too.” Boyd McIntyre almost sounded as if he were proud of the way his son had fought. Now that the news had come to light that Scott’s family had come from Scotland he wasn’t as displeased about the fight as he had been the night his son had come home looking for the world as if he had been dragged behind a runaway horse. “But that being said I still don’t hold to ye fightin’ in the middle of the streets for the whole town to see.”
Milo lowered his head, “I know Da, I told ya I wouldn’t do it again.”
Boyd shushed him with a wave of his hand, “We be from Dornoch Scotland lad. Do ye know of it or have ye ever been there?”
Scott shook his head at the turn of the conversation but decided to go along and answer the man’s questions, “No sir. I don’t know much about Scotland at all except for what I learned in school. I believe though, if my memory serves me correctly, Dornoch is a little north of Inverness isn’t it?”
“Somewhat lad. So tell me, why don’t you know more about the country from which ye Da come from?” he asked without the gruff loudness he had been using all along.
Scott pondered the question wondering just how much he should reveal about his family. He figured that sticking to the truth without telling everything would be the best course of action, so he said, “I’ve only lived with my father a short time. We haven’t gotten around to too many conversations yet about his life before building our ranch.”
“Why is it that ye haven’t lived with your Da for very long?” he asked Scott.
Scott wasn’t comfortable at this point with all the questions so he simply said, “That’s a long story Mr. McIntyre. I was raised by my grandfather in Boston after my mother died, while my father built our ranch during troubled times here in this area.” He felt that his statement pretty much hit as close to home as he was going to allow for having only just met these people.
Boyd McIntyre was no fool and he realized that there was much more to the story than Scott had said but was willing to let it go for now. Time would tell much more and he didn’t want to scare the boy off, much as his family thought he would like to. He had Sadie’s feelings to consider and decided that he would change back to his original topic, “So tell me about the rest of your family lad.”
Grateful that he didn’t have to go into any further details of the Lancer family history, he proceeded to tell them he had a brother Johnny, leaving out the details of his past and then told them about Teresa and how she was born on Lancer.
He was just about to tell them about Jelly and some of the people living on the ranch who played major roles in their lives when he heard the rustle of a silk skirt from the doorway behind him. Turning, he smiled brightly as Sadie entered the kitchen and stood abruptly when she entered the room and passed his chair to stand next to her father.
Boyd McIntyre’s entire being changed before Scott’s eyes as the older man put an arm around Sadie’s waist and tugged her close. She bent and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and said, “So have you thoroughly changed Scott’s mind about wanting to take me out today Da?”
Boyd McIntyre laughed boisterously at her question, “No lassie, I haven’t. At least I don’t think I have, have I?” he asked Scott seriously.
Scott shook his head and regained his breath at seeing Sadie walk through the room. She was as lovely as he remembered and looked forward to taking her for a drive to the Lancer household for lunch. Taking her hand in his he said, “No sir you haven’t.” Bending slightly at the waist he kissed her hand and then released it noting her look of pleased surprise. ‘Dog gone if that trick don’t work’ he thought. He’d have to remember to tell his brother how often this had worked of late and thank him for the little lesson in chivalry.
Blushing at the courtly show of greeting Sadie said, “Scott it’s so nice to see you again. How is your brother doing?”
“He’s fine, thank you. Looks about as good as your brother over here,” he indicated Milo with a nod of his head in her brother’s direction.
Sadie smiled at the observation, Milo had been pretty sore the past few days and their father had not let him have much of a moments rest since coming home that day. Their father was still a might put out by the fact that they had been fighting in town and had spent many a fine sermon blistering her brother’s ears as they worked side by side on their little spread. She had suffered to some degree as well with the added chores her mother had given her but all in all it hadn’t been that bad and seeing Scott here in her house she knew she would do it all over again if it meant getting to meet the tall blond cowboy who now stood in her house.
Fiona McIntyre was as charmed as Sadie and hoped that they would get a chance to talk a little more before the two of them left, “Sadie darlin’, why don’t you come sit over here by me for a few minutes while we all get to know Scott a little more before the two of you leave.”
Milo pulled another chair from the corner of the kitchen and placed it next to his mother’s and sat back down. Sadie took the chair and cast her eyes to the hatbox that was sitting on the table. “Is that for me?” she asked with total innocence, knowing that it was.
Before Scott could answer Milo shoved the box across the table toward his sister and said sardonically, “Yeah it’s for you, who else would he be bringin’ a gift for?”
Sadie crinkled her brows at her brother and said, “You know Milo, someday you’re going to make some woman a fine barn mate,” she said in her most mocking tone of voice.
Fiona McIntyre grasped her chest with her hand and nearly sputtered the coffee she drank right out of her mouth and onto the table. She swallowed and said exasperated, “Sadie McIntyre, I cannot believe the words that just came out of your mouth young lady!”
“Yeah I’m hurt little sister,” Milo teased and then grinned.
“Leave her be, both of ye, and Milo I’ll expect you to mind you’re manners,” their father said, ending any retort that Sadie might have come back with. Turning to his daughter he then said, “And you remember little lassie that you’re a lady and ladies don’t talk that way.”
“Yes sir,” Sadie said in her most contrite tone.
Scott who had been listening with rapt attention to the family, moved the box a little further in front of Sadie and said, “It is for you. Why don’t you go ahead and open it.”
Sadie opened the box and marveled at how much thought Scott had taken to make sure that his gift was finely packaged with the colorful flowered print and fancy bow. She had told him that he owed her but she hadn’t expected him to bring her something as beautiful as this. She took out the green felt hat and touched the brightly colored feather that adorned one side, tears pooling in her eyes at how lovely it was. The hat was much finer than the one she had purchased herself and knew that Scott must have paid a hefty price for the exquisite gift. She would never know that the price had been high indeed, at least in his estimation since it meant having to set up a luncheon date between Grace Richards and his father at the ranch.
“It’s lovely Scott, much too lovely in fact since it’s much nicer than the one that got ruined. I don’t know if I can accept it,” she said with a trace of sorrow lacing her voice.
Scott reached across the table and placed one hand over hers, “Yes you can. I owe you and this is what I’m giving you.”
She turned worried eyes toward her mother, “Ma?” she asked hesitantly.
Seeing the look on her daughter’s face, Fiona replied with full assurance, “Tis fine my dear. Isn’t it Boyd?” she asked of her husband.
Boyd nodded his head in agreement, “Yes Sadie, Tis fine just as ye dear mother says.”
Scott let out the breath he was holding, glad that Sadie had so liked the new hat. He would have to let Mrs. Richards know the next time he was in town just how much Sadie appreciated it.
For the next half hour the conversation flowed freely at the McIntyre table. Scott told them more about his family’s ranch and where it was. He told them about the cattle and the horses while asking them questions about their own place so that they were all included in the conversation. By the time Sadie finally announced that they should be on their way, Scott felt that he had come to know the family quite well and was pleased that they felt comfortable with him taking Sadie out for the day. He promised to have her back before dark and informed them that he would take good care of her while they were gone.
Gathering her shawl as Scott led her out the front door with three pairs of eyes watching closely, Scott helped her into the carriage and guided the horses in the direction of his home.
As they were pulling out of the yard he remembered to ask Sadie if she would have any objections to having lunch at his house instead of the picnic by the creek. He informed her that his family was hoping to meet her and he thought it would be nice for her to see his ranch and meet everyone. She was nervous about the sudden change in plans but decided that if he could manage meeting her family the first day out then she could do likewise.
As they left the yard and took the road that led through town, the young couple and the family who had retired into their house never saw the two men who watched them leave through a spyglass from far away.
“Was that one of ‘em boss?” a short, thin man asked as he pushed himself off the fallen log they hid behind.
Bruce Craddock snapped the spyglass closed as he continued to lie across the log they had used to perch their chest upon while watching Scott enter the two-story house a little over an hour ago. “Yeah that was one of ‘em. It’s the old man’s kid. Looks like he done found himself a little fun before goin’ on that long trip to Stockton with his papa.”
Fred Wallace played with the black mustache under his nose in a fidgety habit that irritated Bruce and made him want to slap the hand to make him stop. “Let’s ride,” he said, grunting as he lifted his tall frame off the ground to stand in front of his beady, black-eyed partner. He resisted the urge to smack Fred’s hand away from his face and strode past him gathering up the reins to his horse.
“Where we headed boss?” the little man asked as he stood looking up into Craddock’s weathered face beneath the brim of his sweat stained hat.
“Camp. We got some plans to make, startin’ with how we’re gonna git that money away from Lancer when he gits back from that cattle drive. Now mount up, afore I leave your mangy hide here all by yerself and stop that fiddling with the hair under yer nose afore I take the notion to shave you bald!” Craddock shouted back as he turned his mount toward the base of the hills that ran along the valley.
Grabbing the reins of his horse, Fred swung himself into the saddle and raced after Bruce. An hour later both men arrived at their camp to the sight of six guns pointed in their direction and ready to shoot at the drop of a hat.
Craddock glared at all of them and commanded, “Drop yer guns boys, it’s just me and Fred. Six guns were reholstered as Craddock and Fred Wallace dismounted. After tending to their horses they joined the rest of the men around the campfire, all eyes upon their leader waiting to hear what he had to say about the plans to rob the Lancer’s of the money they intended to make at the end of the cattle drive.
An hour later Scott pulled to a stop on top of the hill that overlooked the valley where all of Lancer could be seen. Although Scott had spent much of their time traveling describing Lancer and all its holdings Sadie was unprepared for the vast beauty of the scene that lay in front of her.
There, nestled in the lower regions of the valley sat the most magnificent home and outbuildings she had ever seen in her entire life. The two o’clock sun cast its golden splendor across the floor of the valley, lighting the swaying fields of rich emerald grass and causing the rippling flow of waters from the river to shine like sparkling diamonds, just begging for someone to reach out and take a handful. Cattle dotted the landscape grazing in slow moving patterns as their tails switched to and fro. She could just make out the tiny figures of men as they rode their horses in and around the large hacienda that dominated the picturesque view.
Scott reached past her without saying a word and pointed high into the sky. She followed the direction of his pointing finger and gasped as she watched two hawks soaring and twirling a death defying acrobatic dance far above the line of the mountain range. Their screeching calls echoed in her ears and she watched fascinated as they nose dived straight toward the earth, claws locked in combat, wings extended as their feathered bodies fought for dominance over a single piece of meat that dangled from the talon’s of the larger of the two birds of prey. Just before she thought they would crash into the earth below them they parted forcefully each with a prize clutched fiercely in their grasp.
Scott laughed as he watched her face glow with excitement and awe at the specter before her. He was tempted to brush a stray wisp of hair behind her ear but resisted the impulse fearing it was too soon in their relationship for such a familiar act. Instead he flicked the reins when the mighty hawks ended their show of supremacy and guided the horses down the long slope that led to his home.
The closer they got to the hacienda the more agitated Sadie seemed to be sitting next to him. Her hands had clasped and unclasped several times and by the time they reached the arch that was the entrance to the Lancer domain, Sadie had pulled out a dainty handkerchief and was very nearly going to have it torn to pieces before they arrived.
Pulling just past the arch he stopped the carriage and took her nervous hands between his own ignoring the questioning look on her face about why they had stopped. Holding her hands he asked quietly, “What’s wrong?” simple but to the point he thought.
Looking shyly at the pale blue eyes that studied her every fidgety move she answered, “Nothing.”
Scott’s eyebrows shot up at that remark. He wasn’t too fond of women saying that nothing was wrong when clearly there was something wrong. He figured if they were to start out on the right foot, that nonsense had to stop immediately or their future was doomed for sure right from the get go. “Now Sadie I can tell that something is wrong so I want you to tell me now. Besides, it’s just not fair to this poor little hanky who’s taking all your abuse.” He took the handkerchief from her hands and held it up for her view smiling at her consternation.
She smiled back and Scott thought his heart would stop beating at how beautiful she was at just that very moment, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. It’s just that, the closer we get to your home the more nervous I’m getting.”
Scott tilted his head a little and watched as she lowered her head at the confession, embarrassment at her admission causing her to blush profusely. He balled his right hand and tenderly prompted her to raise her face to his with a gentle nudge of his forefinger and said, “Sadie, there’s no reason to be nervous, my family will love you, just be yourself and everything will be just fine, I promise.”
She nodded her understanding, grateful that he was being so understanding and comforting. She didn’t know why but she trusted him completely and felt totally safe just by being in his presence. After all, hadn’t he just gone through the grilling of his life with her parents? He had taken it all in with a grain of salt never once appearing to be at unease with any member of her household. In the short time since they had moved to the Green River area many a courageous visitor had left their home declaring they would never return because of bold questions and the loud, sometimes overbearing mannerisms of her family. But Scott hadn’t. He had smiled and laughed, answered their questions and joined in with all their banter and even promised to come again for a longer visit the next time, all the while catching Sadie’s eyes ever so often and showering her with understanding from his own.
Her heart swelled and the nervousness threatened to return as her stomach sank to her feet while drowning in his gaze. Was it only seconds or minutes, she didn’t know but it seemed as if the world had come to a screeching halt and the only two people that were left standing were the two of them. Her tongue peeked out and she licked her lips, her eyes drifting toward the firm mouth just inches from her own, her heartbeat rapidly pounding an age-old rhythm in her ears.
Scott’s heart was racing as he watched her dainty tongue wet her pink ripe lips. He ached to bend toward her and kiss her with savage ferocity, while wrapping his sinewy arms around her slender shoulders. Instead, he leaned forward closing the gap that kept them apart and touched her lips with his own in a tender but reserved manner. They parted slowly, Scott sinking further in her shining emerald stare as Sadie shivered from the intense feelings coursing through her entire being at the touch of his lips upon hers. Just as Scott was about to lean in for another honeyed kiss the horses grew restless and jolted the carriage just enough to bring them both back to their senses reminding them that they were well within the sight of anyone who cared to be watching.
They parted quickly and Sadie ran unsteady fingers along the side of her face and brushed the straying hair that wisped around her eyes and cheek back around her ear. Scott gathered the reins in his hand taking a deep breath to still his racing heart. He was about to flick the reins when he heard her gasp and whisper his name with a touch of awe, “Scott.”
Looking back at her he glanced down at her hands held firmly in her lap and followed her gaze. There, perched on her dainty fingers was the most beautiful butterfly he had ever seen at such close range. Large yellow wings fluttered with the breeze, its brilliant blue and red designs a marked contrast against its golden coloring. Sadie lifted her hand and the butterfly flew away almost as quickly as it had appeared, darting haphazardly across the open meadow and finally landing on a patch of daisies just off the drive.
“I can’t believe it landed on my hand,” she said with wonder.
Scott shook his head at the sight he had just witnessed, “Neither can I.”
She smiled up at him when he turned back to her, “It was all gold and colorful just like your valley looked from on top of the hill.”
He almost laughed at the comparison because he had thought the same thing when he saw it sitting on her hands, “Maybe it’s a sign,” he said instead as he pulled her hand into his.
She let him hold her hand basking in the glow of his cloudless eyes, “A good sign?” she asked hopefully a grin beginning to form at the corners of her mouth.
He answered her with a grin of his own, “I hope so.”
Letting go of her hands reluctantly he gathered the reins again flicking them across the backs of the horses, they were eager to reach home and did not need much encouragement from Scott to set the pace. Before long he had the team pulling into the courtyard outside the main entrance. Within seconds of their arrival the door opened unceremoniously and three people came to stand within just a few feet of the carriage, all with eager smiles and words of greeting to the young couple.
Sadie watched as a short older man with graying whiskers, took the harness in hand and tipped his old floppy hat in her direction, “Wal now we wondered what in thunder was keepin’ you so gall dern long. Man could o’ died of hunger waitin’ on ya to git back here.”
Scott helped Sadie out of the carriage and taking her arm he held out his left arm and introduced her to the grumpy old man bowing slightly at the waist, “Sadie, this is our old and dear friend Jelly Hoskins, a part of our family.” He pulled her gently to his side standing in front of Jelly.
Holding out her hand for the older man to take she said, “I’m so pleased to meet you Jelly, Scott has told me so much about you that I feel like I know you already.” She leaned toward him and said conspiratorially, “He speaks very highly of you and says, he doesn’t know what Lancer would do without you here to guide them all and keep everyone out of trouble. He also says you can make the best concoction to ward off any kind of ailment known to mankind.”
Jelly let go of her hand and hooked his thumbs under his suspenders, puffing out his chest and rocking onto the toes of his feet, “Now that boy done finally went and said somethin’ that’s sure ‘nough true. Iffen it weren’t for me this whole place would come tumblin’ down around their ears sure as shootin’. Got to keep my eye on the whole lot of ‘em, cause there’s no tellin’ what kinds of trouble they’d get into. An I got me a whole passel of coctions fer anythin’ that might ail ya, ain’t that right Boss?”
Murdoch laughed at Jelly’s audacity saying, “That’s right Jelly, when someone is ailing you sure do.” He walked the few steps needed to stand in front of Sadie and held his large hand out to her, “I’m Murdoch Lancer, Scott’s father, it’s so nice to meet you.”
Sadie was astounded at the height of the man standing in front of her. She had expected him to be tall much like Scott but she was surprised that he was at least a few inches taller than her imagination had painted and powerfully built making her feel tiny in comparison. Putting her hand in his, she was astonished at the gentleness of his touch and the warm acceptance she saw on his face as he greeted her. “Thank you Sir, it’s very nice to meet you too. Scott didn’t tell me you were so tall,” she said in return as she tipped her head up to look at him towering over her by at least a foot or more.
Laughter rumbled deep within his chest as he released her hand, “Jelly why don’t you go on ahead and take care of the team and then join us for lunch.” He then turned to the young woman who stood silently behind him waiting to be introduced and beckoned her over to his side, “Sadie, I would like you to meet Teresa O’Brien, my ward.”
Teresa moved forward to stand next to Murdoch with a hesitant smile, her hand extended in a warm greeting trying her best not to show the hesitancy she felt upon meeting the sister of the man who had dared to hit her Johnny. For Scott’s sake she kept her feelings well hidden and promised him silently that she would do her best to be as pleasant as possible to the woman that Scott had taken an interest in.
Teresa noted the look of reservation on the woman’s face and wondered just exactly what Scott had said about her to cause that look. Just as quickly as it appeared, the look was replaced by a genuine smile that lit her eyes and made them sparkle, “So you’re Teresa, It’s so nice to meet you. I don’t know many of the women in the area yet but Scott tells me that you practically know everybody, I hope we’ll get to be very good friends.”
At the warm greeting in return Teresa felt more relaxed, she stepped forward and wrapped an arm around the auburn haired woman noting that they were about the same height and ushered her in through the front door, leaving Scott and his father behind.
Both men watched as they chattered and arm in arm retreated into the house where lunch was laid out on the long formal dining table. “Well that went well,” Scott said thoughtfully.
“Did you expect that it wouldn’t?” his father asked.
Putting his hands on his hips Scott replied, “I’m not sure what I expected, I’m just glad that it went well. Where’s Johnny?” he asked ending the speculation of how things went.
“Still out on the range. Hasn’t been back since he left this morning,” he answered.
“It’s after two, do you think it’s wise that he’s still out there?” Scott asked with a tinge of worry in his voice.
Murdoch clapped his son on the shoulder saying, “Johnny’s a big boy Scott. Enjoy your day and stop worrying about your little brother. I’m sure he’s just fine.”
At the frowning look on Scott’s face Murdoch relented and said, “I sent Tom out to find him and hour ago. Told him if things were good to leave Johnny alone but report back to me as soon as he finds him one way or the other.”
Relief flooded the younger man’s face and Murdoch had to chuckle at the look. He never ceased to be amazed at how seriously Scott had taken over the role of older brother or how protective he had become in their short time together. He was grateful and felt relief over some of the guilt he felt whenever he spent time dwelling on the fact that neither of his boys had grown up at Lancer. He often wished that he had made different choices or tried to fight harder to keep what belonged to him, his sons.
The grief over what he felt were his shortcomings as a man and a father sometimes overwhelmed him, but seeing his sons together now and getting along so well brought a happiness to him that was indescribable and hard to put into words. He knew that one day he would have to try and find those words to say to his sons. There had been a lot left unsaid since the day they had both returned to him but there just never seemed to be the right opportunity or the words to say what he felt in his heart. Even if he could find the right words it would have been difficult to relay them. He wasn’t a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and verbally expressing himself was not one of his better traits.
He had come close many times when one or the other of them were ill, but he knew deep down in his heart that things needed to be discussed between all of them, out in the open with no distractions such as illness or the constant demand of ranch life. Until he had an honest heart to heart with each of his sons, he knew the situation would invariably return to the way things always were.
His relationship with his younger son was the perfect example of how things never quite got settled to compete satisfaction even after heated arguments, apologies or changes in behavior. There were still too many unanswered questions and although Murdoch loved Johnny, he found it very difficult to develop the same kind of bond he felt he had with Scott. Johnny was so much like his mother in character and temperament that facing him was a challenge because of his physical appearance and the memories he stirred when Maria had left without a word, taking their son with her.
Deciding to put these painful thoughts away for another day he followed Scott into the house, glad that his older son felt comfortable enough to bring a young lady to the house for them to meet, even if he had insisted on it. Scott seemed happy to have her meet everyone and except for the momentary thoughts centering on Johnny, he thought Scott was enjoying his time with Sadie and their afternoon at the ranch.
Jelly followed just minutes behind him and the family gathered around the table for a hearty lunch of roast beef sandwiches and apple pie, fresh from the oven. Maria made sure there was plenty of fresh lemonade and blushed profusely when Sadie complimented her on the well-laid feast.
Sadie told them about her family and noticed that Murdoch Lancer was intrigued with the fact that they were from near the same part of the country he had immigrated from, “Sadie you’ll have to do us the honor of inviting your family to the fiesta we’ll be having after the cattle drive is over. It’s a very big celebration with lots of food, music and dancing, games and contest for the all the young men and women,” he told her casting a questioning look toward Scott to confirm that his idea was good.
After wiping his mouth with his napkin Scott said, “I think that’s an excellent idea. What do you say Sadie?”
Glancing around the table at all the expectant faces she said, “That sounds wonderful Mr. Lancer. Scott and I can ask them together when he takes me home this evening.”
Clearing his throat Murdoch said, “It’s Murdoch, Sadie. There’s no need to call me Mr. Lancer. That is if you have no objections.”
Sadie smiled brightly saying, “No Sir, ah…Murdoch, thank you.” She felt a little strange at the familiarity of it all but decided it was best to go with the flow of the conversation when she saw the flushed appreciation on Scott’s face. “Do you usually do the planning?” she asked directly of Teresa, “Maybe I could help.”
Teresa swallowed her bite and answered with a teasing grin, “Well usually it’s Maria and myself but I think it would be wonderful if you’d like to help with the planning and preparations. It’s a very big undertaking and we can always use the extra help. Isn’t that right?” she asked Maria, who was quietly refilling the glasses on the table with more lemonade while listening intently to the conversation.
Sadie watched as all eyes turned in Maria’s direction, and noted the sudden quite that permeated the room as they waited for her answer.
“Sí niña, es un trabajo muy grande y la ayuda sería apreciada mucho,” the older woman answered with an affirmative nod of her dark head.
Sadie smiled bashfully at the woman’s enthusiastic response and said, “I’m afraid I speak very little Spanish but it sounds like you think it’s a good idea.” She watched for the woman’s reaction knowing instinctively that it was important to the rest of the family after the tense quietness that followed Teresa’s question.
Maria rounded the table to her side and refilled her glass, “Sí chica, it is a very good idea and I would be most pleased to have your help.” The older woman gave her a gentle pat on the head and left the room, leaving the family to finish their lunch, a wide smile plastered on her face.
“Oh this is wonderful!” Teresa said, excited at the prospect of having another girl her own age working with her on the fiesta. “It’s a good sign if Maria is smiling, you made a good impression on her. She takes the end of the year fiesta mighty seriously and I’ll tell you now that she’s the boss, but it’s so much fun and I just know you’ll have a good time.”
Sadie was glad that she had made the older woman happy. There had been a moment there in the conversation when she realized that this woman was a formidable force with the family and was glad that her answer to the invitation had been the right one to make.
“Maria puts on the dangdest feast this here side of the Mississippi and there ain’t nobody better than her if ya was to ask me,” Jelly commented.
There was a knock on the door and just as Scott was about to stand and go answer it Murdoch said, “No Scott, you sit back down, I’ll get it.” He stood and put his napkin down on his empty plate and left to answer the second knock.
While Murdoch answered the door, Teresa cut pie for everyone and placed a piece for each on their plates. “How is your brother doing Sadie, we heard he was just about as banged up as Johnny was when he got home?” Teresa was instantly sorry for having brought up the incident. She hadn’t stopped to think about how Sadie would feel when she blurted out her inquiry and by the crimson stain that crept toward her hairline Sadie hadn’t expected it to come up either.
Scott narrowed his eyes at Teresa and took Sadie’s hand in his under the table where prying eyes were unaware, and answered for her, “He’s doing very well. I think both those boy’s will think twice before tackling each other again considering neither one came out the winner in that bout.”
Sadie quickly regained her composure and asked the dark haired young woman the same question hoping to alleviate the look of embarrassment from her face, “And how is Johnny, I’m surprised he wasn’t here to join us for lunch?”
Well there was one thing Teresa could say for the woman she thought she had made uncomfortable, she gave back as good as she got, “He’s doing fine also. He’s been a little sore and has several bruises that are finally beginning to fade but other than that things are good. Today was his first day back on the range. Doc confirmed that he didn’t have any broken ribs and told him he could get back on his horse so long as he takes it easy.”
Sadie looked directly at Teresa and said, “I’m glad to hear that. I’m…I’m…sorry about everything that happened. I hope your family won’t hold it against us.”
Scott and Teresa spoke in unison both of them telling her that none of them held any grudges and hoped the same from her family. Sadie laughed as they finished their sentences, both faces looking abashed at their outburst. “No my family is ok with everything and they understand why they got into the fight in the first place. My father was more concerned by the fact that Milo was fighting in town where everyone could see him more than anything else.”
Scott understood how her family felt, most everybody he met in town just yesterday with his father had heard about the fight and Scott had been hard pressed to contain his irritation that so many people knew about it. No doubt the whole town knew about it by now but he also knew that the gossip that surrounded the fight would most assuredly die down by the time they got the cattle to Stockton and returned home. By that time there was sure to be something else more important for the local gossips to talk about than the fight between Johnny and Milo.
Murdoch returned to the table after having a short talk with Tom who assured him that Johnny was fine and seemed to be taking things nice and slow. He also informed his boss that it looked as if things were going according to schedule with the counts and that he would report to Cipriano as soon as they were done.
Teresa breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that Johnny was ok. She was having a good time visiting with Sadie and spending the afternoon with the men but in the back of her mind floated thoughts of where and what Johnny was doing. He was after all still bruised and sore, and even though he would never admit it, still tired out easy the past couple of days. She knew he would push his body to the limits having been given permission by Sam to be on his horse and return to light duty. If there was one thing she had learned about the dark haired cowboy who now lived here on the ranch, he never did anything with half measure.
Putting thoughts of Johnny aside for the time being, Teresa finished her pie and watched the animated trio of men explain the day to day process of rounding up strays and branding to a very wide eyed Sadie McIntyre. After a full half hour of non-stop information Teresa decided that Sadie was going to need a little help if Scott was ever going to spend a little time alone with her before he had to take her back home. Picking up her spoon she tapped the empty glass in front of her gaining the attention of every person sitting at the table, “Excuse me, but I was thinking that Scott might want to take Sadie outside for a walk while you two help me clear the table off.”
Although this was an unusual request by Teresa everyone at the table knew what she was doing and Scott in particular was grateful for her insight. Scooting back his chair he was the first to stand slipping behind Sadie’s chair easing it back and taking her hand in his as they departed from the room and walked out the front door.
Hand in hand Scott led Sadie to a large oak tree well away from the house where its tall canopy of limbs and leaves shadowed a green grassy patch of ground and a stone bench nestled underneath. They both sat in the cooler shade of the old tree, Scott still holding on to Sadie’s hand, “I thought this might be a nice place to sit and talk for a while before we leave,” he said thoughtfully.
“This is nice,” she replied. “Your place is beautiful Scott, and your family was very nice also.”
He grinned, “Yes, they do have their moments.”
“You almost sound skeptical,” she said in reply.
Scott shook his head, “No, not skeptical, just glad is all. There was little bit of frustration with the family when they first found out that I had asked you out on a picnic.”
“Oh,” was all she could find in her head to say.
He opened and closed his fingers that were intertwined with hers, the first hint of any nervousness on his part since the day began, “Yes, that’s why we came here instead of going to that nice little shady spot down by the creek you mentioned the other day.”
Tilting her head she looked him in the eyes and smiled, “If it’s any consolation, I’m not disappointed. This was nice…meeting your family. I just hope they liked me and will like my family when they meet them. That is, if they agree to come.”
Scott turned on the seat toward her, “Of course my family liked you and they will like your family also. There’ll be so much food and games and so many people here they won’t even have time to think about anything other than whose got them dancing to the next song being played.”
His enthusiasm and encouragement, enhanced by the most charming smile she had ever seen in her life melted her heart all over again. They talked about the little things they were both interested in and then before either one of them were aware of it an hour had suddenly gone by and it was time to leave.
Scott hailed one of the men to bring the carriage back to the front entrance of the home as he lead Sadie back to the house to say their goodbyes.
Standing outside beside the carriage Sadie shook hands with Teresa and Jelly and thanked them for their kindness and the delicious lunch that was served. Murdoch took her hand in his before she got into the carriage with Scott and said, “It was very nice to meet you Sadie and I do hope you and your family will make it to the festival. I look forward to meeting them.”
Smiling, Sadie said, “Thank you sir,” and then retracted the ‘sir’ when she saw his brow arch at the use of the word, “Murdoch,” she amended.
He smiled back and released her hand after giving it a gentle squeeze and stepped back to allow Scott room to help her aboard while Jelly held onto the harness, keeping the horses still.
Just before pulling away Sadie noticed that Maria had stepped out the front door, with towel in hand, watching as they started to pull away. She grasped Scott’s forearm and with a slight pressure whispered, “Wait.” Leaning past him in order to clearly see the woman she knew was very important to the family she said in her best Spanish accent and words that she could remember, “Buenos tardes Maria y gracias.”
The woman smiled at her and with a wave of the towel and a nod of understanding she replied sincerely, “Y tu chica.”
Flicking the reins Scott got the buggy in motion and with a wave to his family they were off. As they drove away from the house and the family that watched them leave he asked without turning to look at her, “I thought you didn’t know any Spanish?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t know any Spanish, only that I didn’t know very much Spanish,” she replied looking straight ahead same as he.
“Let me rephrase my question, how did you know that it was important to address Maria personally?” he asked, turning his head in her direction and staring at her profile.
She smiled a knowing smile and green eyes stared back into slate blue eyes, “The same way you knew it was important to stay and visit as long as you did with my father, Scott Lancer.”
That was all that needed to be said on the subject. The rest of the ride was spent with each of them regaling stories on each of the members of their families until they pulled up in front of her house. By the time they arrived they felt that they had learned a lot about each other and Scott felt confident enough to ask if he could see her again before the long cattle drive. Sadie agreed and together they entered her home unaware that prying eyes had been watching their every move since they had driven past the barn and up the final distance to the front door.
Before the two young people entered the house, Boyd, Milo and Fiona quickly gathered up personal items and sat hurriedly down on the sofa and chairs in the living room as if they had just settled down to a nice quiet evening of reading and mending.
Sadie opened the door to the most unrealistic domestic scene she had ever witnessed her family doing at such an early hour. She grinned and ducked her head as she ushered Scott in knowing that her family were deliberately there just so that they could all be together when Scott brought her home. Otherwise her father and brother would still be out in the fields working till near sundown cutting hay or gathering crops at this time of the year. She was glad Scott didn’t know her or her family well enough yet to know what they were up to or she would be mortified at their actions.
“Sadie girl, I see the young lad brought you home safe and sound,” her father said as he stood and placed the paper he had been pretending to read on the seat.
“Yes Sir,” Scott replied for her, “Safe and sound.”
Sadie wasn’t sure but she thought she caught a hint of amusement in his voice but before she had time to reflect on it any more, Scott was shaking her father’s hand and her father was indicating that he should take a seat on the end of the sofa nearest to where his chair sat.
“Milo, move yerself down lad and let the young man have a seat,” the older man voiced to his son.
“Ah Da,” Milo started to protest.
“Now don’t you ah Da me boy, move down and let yer sister and the young man have a seat.”
Milo did as he was asked but there was a belligerent manner in his attitude as he got up and moved to the end of the sofa near his mother.
Fiona set down her mending and asked, “Would you like a cool drink dear?
Scott and Sadie both looked at her and said together, “No thank you.”
“Are you sure? Twas a long hot dusty drive,” she remarked.
Knowing her mother wanted something to do and that she wanted a moment alone with her daughter, Sadie relented and looked at Scott while she said, “It was a long drive,” then turning back to her mother she finished, “A cool drink would be nice, why don’t I help you Ma.”
They left the room leaving the men behind. The silence stretched for what seemed and eternity until Milo said, “So what did you and my sister do?”
Scott was sitting a little stiffly on the end of the sofa when Milo had asked the blunt question. He heaved a sigh and turned to face the redheaded man sitting down from him, “We went to my ranch and had lunch with my family.”
Milo’s eyes squinted and Scott asked himself if Milo wasn’t always perpetually looking for an argument or a fight where his sister was concerned when he heard him say, “I thought you were taking her out by the church for a picnic. What happened?”
Scott shrugged deciding to play his game, “Change of plans,” he answered without elaborating.
Ignoring the fire in Milo’s eyes, Scott turned to Boyd and said, “By the way, my father has asked me to invite you and your family to our end of the year fiesta after we get back from our annual cattle drive to Stockton. Do you think that you and your family would like to attend? We would be most honored if you would Sir.”
“Ha, ha ha, you, on a cattle drive. Now I can just picture that!” Milo said with sarcasm from his seat. “What’s a dandy like you gonna do on a cattle drive?”
“Milo McIntyre that will be enough!” Boyd roared across the room at his son.
Milo lowered his head and said, “Sorry Da.”
“That’s better,” he turned to Scott who sat smiling at the exchange between father and son, thinking how similar the older man was to his own father, “Ye told me earlier today that yer Da be from Scotland, is that right lad?”
Nodding his head Scott answered, “Yes Sir, from Inverness.”
“Then you can tell yer Da that we accept the invitation, as long as I can bring me some of my own private drink in honor of the occasion to share with him.”
Pursing his lips and with a quick nod, Scott said, “I’m sure that would be fine Sir, my father has some fine stock of his own I’m sure he’ll want to show you and have you taste as well.”
Boyd McIntyre pounded the armrest of his padded chair, “Hear, hear. Sounds good lad, yes indeed, sounds good.” Tuning in his seat he bellowed across the room through the dining room, “Fiona, Sadie, where are those drinks? A man could die of thirst ye be takin’ so long.”
It wasn’t much long after the drinks were done that Scott excused himself and said his goodbyes to the McIntyre’s. The horses were still hitched up, he had stayed longer than he intended but he took an extra minute on the front porch to stand with Sadie, promising to come visit her the next weekend or sooner if possible and take her on that promised picnic down by the creek. She walked down the steps with him and together they stood next to the carriage holding hands suddenly shy in each other’s company.
Scott swiftly shrugged off the cloak of shyness and leaned in to give Sadie the sweet goodbye kiss he had been thinking of in the back of his mind ever since bringing her home. At first the kiss was tentative and just barely a touch of the lips but as the kiss lingered on and Sadie seemed just as eager, he felt compelled to continue, his arms slowly began to wrap around her waist. He pulled her in closer and deepened the pressure of his body against hers but not so much that it would scare her. Before he knew what was happening her slender arms reached up and encircled his neck, one hand holding the back of his neckline while she ran the fingers of her other hand through his soft honey wheat hair.
The touch of her womanly curves molded into his hard frame sent shimmering heat waves coursing through his body. He felt like he was on fire and the pressure of his kiss deepened even more as he forced her mouth open with his tongue and began to explore the sweet honey taste of her kiss.
They pulled away from each other his eyes filled with feverish emotion as they parted, “I think I better go now,” he mumbled in a low husky voice he barely recognized as his own.
Still reeling from the bolt of sensation that crackled through her Sadie could only stand and stare as if blinded by the sun. She was incapable of thought after the onslaught of Scott’s kiss. Her body ached for more but her mind was screaming at her to turn away from the dangerous and exotic feelings that had left her standing there staring at him mesmerized by dizzying sensations.
He was just about to climb back into the carriage when he suddenly turned around, taking the steps to where she stood in great strides and grabbed her to him, he drew his mouth near hers and whispered hungrily, “God, do you know how beautiful you are. I could kiss you all over.” Bending his head he kissed her again, and felt her body turn to liquid in his arms.
Sadie felt as if every bone in her body had disappeared, there was no strength left to support her except the hard sinewy arms that held her against his. Her body burned with an unnatural heat as his mouth devoured hers and her head swam with a heady pleasure and near blinding fury of passion from deep within some region of her soul. She was reduced to a tingling fiery mass of flesh when he finally pulled away from her. Reaching up she touched her lips with the tips of her fingers and was surprised to see the same fiery passion still ignited in his eyes which had turned an almost sapphire blue when they parted. It was silly of her but she giggled.
He smiled and licked his lips, “What did you find suddenly so funny?” he said taking a step closer to her.
“It’s your eyes,” she said in awe.
“What about my eyes?” he asked amused that she seemed to sparkle and glow after their kiss.
“They’re dark. Almost like the color of your brother’s eyes,” she said standing on tiptoe, her hands on his chest and leaning in to get a closer look. “Yes, just like your brother. That’s funny. Why would they do that? My Ma says my eyes get darker when I’m mad, but you weren’t mad were you?” she asked innocently and knowing full well that he wasn’t.
He laughed, “No ma’am, I’m definitely not mad. If anything I find myself to be one of the happiest men on the face of the earth right about now. But now I really should be going. I’m surprised your folks haven’t come out here yet with a shot gun pointed at my belly.”
She turned and looked at the windows, “I guess they went into the kitchen, otherwise you might be right.”
This time he did get in the carriage. As he drove away he turned one last time and found her standing on the front porch, her right arm wrapped around the overhang post and the fingers of her other hand trailing softly across her lips as she watched him disappear down the road a secret smile lighting her face.
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