A New Life
by  Seren

Rated PG for some strong language.

Heartfelt thanks to Lacy my wonderful beta.

Thanks also to Kate.                                   


A New Life 

Murdoch Lancer shifted miserably in his saddle, stretching his stiff and painfully protesting back muscles. The four day trek was proving just a little too much for his aging frame, and the cold hard mattress nature provided gave little comfort to his old bones.

Ruefully Murdoch had had to admit to now being a little too long in the tooth for such a trip, but he consoled himself with the knowledge he’d be sleeping in his own bed that night.

Maybe Doctor Sam Jenkins had been right about him not making the trip but then he’d not have benefited from sharing the experience and more importantly the time with his boys.

Staring ahead his eyes settled on the two young men riding before him, a deep sense of pride surged through him and an involuntary smile crept across his face. The business trip had been successful in more ways than one; they had secured a highly profitable deal and spent some quality time together.

The past few evenings beside the camp fire had proved easy relaxed hours, hours spent chewing over ranch business and generally putting the world to rights and that was one thing Murdoch was going to miss. The smile faded as he pondered on the last time he’d made this trip, then he’d been alone and the two young men estranged from him, Scott in Boston, Johnny…well he hadn’t known where his younger son was, only that the eighteen year old was living by the gun and everyday could very well be his last. The Pinkerton agents always seemed one step behind the boy, their reports bringing only grief and disappointment, but this time, this trip, his boys had been with him and he silently thanked God.

Life was for once running smoothly and Murdoch was going to enjoy the peace that fact brought.

Having risen at first light, the three men had made there way across lush green pasture, descending slowly into a small valley. A dirt track meandered gently around leafy thickets and through small open areas carpeted by wild flowers, welcome bursts of color that danced in the light summer breeze. The track had slowly narrowed and the pace had slowed accordingly. The noon sun now peeked fittingly through trees that reached out high overhead, their winding interwoven limbs providing shelter and welcome shade. Bird song echoed through the air and all three Lancer men seemed lost in the tranquility.

Suddenly Johnny’s voice shattered the spell and the silence. “Hey look, a cow!”

The beast grazed on contentedly, a bell hung low around her neck and a rope trailed along behind her. Jumping down to retrieve the rope and pat the docile creature, Johnny turned towards his father. “Looks like some homesteader lost their supply of fresh milk.”

Murdoch nodded as his eyes searched the area for any signs of life. “Take a look around boys, she won’t have come far.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Later Murdoch would wonder what had drawn him in that direction was it simply chance or had some greater power steered him towards the tiny cabin. The small wooden structure could so easily have been missed, nestling as it did almost secretively amongst a regiment of trees. A gently flowing stream snaked around it adding to its simple charm and Murdoch silently congratulated the owners on setting their home in such a beautiful spot. The Lancer patriarch urged his horse nearer, scattering chickens in all directions as he called out a greeting. Despite the commotion no one appeared.

Knocking on the slightly ajar door Murdoch waited for a response, when none came he peered inside, the clean and well kept room boasted a woman’s touch. Some what reluctantly he stepped inside, not wanting to intrude but some nagging inner voice insisting he stay and take a look around.

Embers of a fire glowed defiantly in the hearth but as he trailed his hand on the stove Murdoch knew that had long since gone out. A door led off into other room and he found himself drawn towards it, he entered slowly calling out to warn of his presence, this time his greeting didn’t go unanswered.

A barely audible whisper, a desperate plea for help drew him towards a bed. Quickly he crouched down beside the young women, his eyes settled briefly on the blood soaked linen before finally acknowledging the newborn baby held in her arms.

“Please Mister…please take care of my baby.” The weak, tremulous voice pleaded as pain filled green eyes beseeched Murdoch with true desperation.

Placing his hand gently on the ashen cheek, Murdoch felt the icy, clammy skin and was overpowered by a futile need to reassure the woman.

“You’ll be just fine.”

“No…please, take care of…Hope, please…” Pain turned to panic and the green eyes brimmed with tears.

‘Your husband?” Murdoch asked gently.

“Lost him… to the fever four months back…there’s no one else, please…”

There was no denying the inevitable and Murdoch clasped her small hand in his and squeezed gently.

“I’ll make sure she’s taken care of.”

“Loved, I want her to be loved, promise me…”

The young woman gasped for air and closed her eyes briefly, opening them to search the face of the man beside her. “You, you’ll love her…I know you will, please…”

Dear Lord of course I will. Tightening his grip Murdoch stared into the trust filled eyes that had some how seen into his very soul.

“I give you my word; I promise you, your daughter will be dearly loved.”

The young woman sighed and a single tear trickled from the unseeing green eyes. Murdoch bowed his head, a prayer on his lips as he closed his eyes to escape the heartbreak.


The brothers stood in stunned silence, nothing having prepared them for the heart crushing scene before them. Long minutes passed as the tragedy struck home, all three men gripped by the enormity of the loss and that inevitably taking them back to a time when the same such loss had shaped all their lives.

Scott’s wanted to say something to acknowledge the event that had denied him both a mother and for twenty four years a father too, but there were no words to express the numbness that gripped him at that moment. 

Johnny sensing the anguish of both men forced his feet to move forwards towards the bed. Reaching out to take the child from her mother he hesitated, the infant slept so peacefully, content in the arms that had welcomed her into the world, soothed and be it ever so briefly loved her. Arms she would never feel embrace her again, arms she would never remember holding her. Suddenly it didn’t seem right to tear her away from those arms, as still and as lifeless as those arms now were.

Murdoch saw the emotions flit across his younger sons face and forced down his own.

“Let me son” Murdoch stood quickly, stooping down to gently take the tiny new life into his arms. Instantly captivated he studied the tiny features, absorbing every little detail and committing them to a place deep within his heart. Finally he kissed the wisps of auburn hair that graced the tiny head, the infant stirred and two dark blue eyes blinked open accompanied by a weary yawn which drew a smile from the somber face.

“Well hello young lady, you’ve had a busy day!”

Both sons watched their father intently, overwhelmed by the tenderness the giant of a man possessed.

Murdoch sensed the two pairs of anxious eyes fixed on him, he reigned in his emotions once more and forced himself to concentrate on the needs of the child, finally he met his son’s troubled eyes and spoke quietly.

“Johnny…get that fire started son and see to the stove, Scott, I’ll need water…there’s a stream out there, there’ll be clothes here for her somewhere, take a look and one of you will have to milk that cow.”

All three men worked in silence, and to his son’s astonishment Murdoch soon had Hope washed, dressed and with a little ingenuity fed with a makeshift bottle. Laying the once again sleeping bundle into a cradle Johnny had found, he turned his attention to her mother.

“If you boys would see to the grave…I’ll see to things here.

”The brothers looked at each other and slowly left their father to the solemn task, both deeply troubled by the haunted look in the older mans eyes.




Fresh flowers lay upon the solitary grave that stood back a little way behind the cabin. It’s marker a simply wooden cross which bore the name Joseph Matthews.

The brothers worked together in silence, finally Johnny looked to Scott who nodded, the job done they moved away, kneeling beside the stream they dipped their heads into its cold depths. Johnny smoothed the wet hair back from his face, glancing back at the cabin then at Scott, his brother was staring into his rippling reflection, water dripping unnoticed down his face.

 “You okay Scott…I mean…” Johnny’s voice trailed off, he wasn’t sure what to say and he didn’t want to say the wrong thing.

Scott, a lifetime away started at his brother’s voice then nodded, he admitted to himself that the recent events had shaken him badly, he couldn’t get his fathers grief stricken face out of his mind, but he wasn’t ready to talk about that just yet.

“Yes fine. I think we’d better go back now.”

Scott’s clipped response troubled Johnny, he watched his brother stalk back to the cabin, head bowed and shoulders tense. Some old wounds had been opened today but it wasn’t just his father’s heart that was bleeding.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Murdoch closed his eyes and gripped the chair back to steady himself, he’d done all what was necessary and the last half hour had been harrowing.

Desperately he’d tried to block all thoughts of his first wife but the young woman…just a girl really, a little older than Johnny maybe but younger than his Catherine. The girl’s death had served to rekindle all the torment and anguish of twenty five years ago. He couldn’t let his sons see his grief and pain, still, one thought stopped him regaining control.

Had Catherine been able to hold their son.

 The son she had died pushing into the world. Had his sweet, gentle Catherine been able to hold and love their child, for even the briefest moment? Had death claimed her before the months of joyful expectation and her long hours of pain had been rewarded? 

A contented sigh drew him to the cradle and he gazed down at the child, he told himself that now wasn’t the time to dwell on the past, or wallow in self pity. This little lassie took priority now, she was now his responsibility and he began to once again think about her needs and the most important one right now was to lay her loving mother to rest.



A light rap on the door drew an invitation from Murdoch to enter. Both sons stepped slowly into the room, Murdoch ignored them, continuing to look through some private papers he had found.

Normally Johnny would have expected his brother to take the lead but Scott stood silently looking down into the cradle.

Johnny cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Murdoch.”


“We’re done. You alright?

Murdoch felt anything but alright but his younger son didn’t need to know that and he snapped back “I’m fine now let’s get this done.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


As Murdoch moved away from the grave the brothers followed behind. Johnny was troubled by the apparent chasm that had suddenly opened up between his father and brother. They noticeably hadn’t spoken and eye contact had been avoided, he decided they needed a little time together. Forcibly volunteering to see to their horses and livestock he insisted Scott take care of supper, he watched the older men make their way inside the cabin, both looked like they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Murdoch kept himself occupied with the child whilst his elder son threw together a stew. Scott felt unaccountably uneasy in his father’s presence, and it seemed the older man felt the same way. Absentmindedly stirring the stew he found himself staring over at Murdoch. Watching as his father eased himself into a fireside chair, reciting nursery rhymes to a pair of ears that seemed to understand every word, he forced himself to speak.

“You know sir, I haven’t heard her cry yet, I thought they did a lot of that at that age?”

Murdoch grinned “Well I suppose they do, but only to let us know there’s something wrong…or that they want something, don’t worry son this is just the calm before the storm!”

Nothing else was said and when Johnny returned he knew the situation remained the same.

Supper was a mainly silent affair, all three men pushing their food around their plates. Johnny attempted to make conversation but one syllable answers dampened his spirit. Eventually Murdoch set his fork down and looked from one son to the other.

 “We’ll set off as early as we can, we should be home before noon. Johnny I’d like you to then ride over to Doc Jenkins, I’d like him to check Hope over, and if you can let Val know what’s gone on, he may have known the Matthews.”

“Yes sir.”

“Scott, if you could see old Eb, order a couple of headstones, make sure he adds something about Hope.”

“Yes sir…should I make some enquiries regarding a home for the child?”

Murdoch looked away from his elder sons eyes, slowly getting to his feet he turned towards the cradle; he eased the sleeping form into his arms.

“I promised her mother she would be taken care of her, that she would be loved. The only way I can guarantee that is to raise her myself.”

Murdoch shifted uncomfortably under the intense gazes of both sons.

“Would you have any objections to that? Scott?

Both brothers were visible taken aback by the question, a long moment passed then Johnny looked briefly at his brother before lowering his eyes to stare into his coffee.

Scott sat back in his chair, his fathers gaze hadn’t wavered from his.

“I didn’t think you’d taken that promise so literally sir. I had thought you intended to find a home for the child. There are plenty of people we know who could offer Hope a loving and stable home, but no, I don’t see why she can’t be raised at Lancer.”

“John?” Murdoch stared at his younger sons bowed head; finally a pair of blue eyes met his.

“If that’s the best thing for her then no. No objections.”

“Good, I’ll see to the legal side of things over the next few days.”

Johnny turned to his brother but the older man was staring into the fire, lost in thought, he turned his gaze back to their father only to find him staring out through the window into the darkness, he too lost in thought.

The silence was heavy between them and Johnny wanted to demand they talk, clear the air. The woman’s death had had a terrible impact on his father and he understood that but it had shook his brother very badly too, not that either one had admitted it. Both men were hiding their emotions and Johnny could understand that too, but it was something they were going to have to deal with…together, before it came between them.

Maybe now ain’t the time and here not the place. Johnny thought, his eyes fixed on his father. The shock, the memories and the grief all still raw and painful but Murdoch was going to have to work through them because Scott needed his father right now.




Scott lay out the three bedrolls in the centre of the room, soon all three Lancer men had settled for the night but sleep proved elusive and when it did claim them it was light and restive.

All three stirred at the first whimper from the cradle but it was Murdoch who tended the fretful bundle, both Lancer sons listening intently as their father hummed a lullaby only falling back to sleep when their father stretched out beside them.

Johnny sat bolt upright, followed quickly by his older brother. Brutally roused from their slumber by a pair of tiny angry lungs, both jumping to their feet when they realized their father was not in the room.

They stood over the cradle, staring down at the crimson, tear stained face that neither had believed capable of making such an ear splitting noise.

“Do something Scott.” Johnny demanded pointing at Hope.

“You do something…” Scott shot back.

“It’s a baby Scott! I don’t know anything about them things!” Johnny said looking at his brother in utter disbelief.

“Just pick her up…” Scott instructed.

“You pick her up…you’re the oldest…” Johnny stated firmly, certain that that simple fact made all the difference, what ever it had the desired effect…

“What if I drop her?” Scott gathered his courage and forced himself to ease his trembling hands beneath the squirming tot, tentatively lifting her to his chest like he’d seen his father do. The crying stopped immediately and Scott sighed in relief, grinning smugly at Johnny, who nodded his approval. “She likes you…”

Just then Hope began to cry again with renewed vigor.

“You take her.” Scott pleaded.

“Me! No way!” Johnny stepped back, horrified at the thought. “I’ll…I’ll get Murdoch…”

Johnny rushed to the door colliding painfully with his father.

“Murdoch! Thank God, she’s gone a funny color and she’s…” Johnny stepped out of his fathers way “… she’s wailing somethin awful.”

“A funny color!” Murdoch repeated lifting the child into his arms, he studied the infants face, she looked a little distressed so something was certainly wrong, but what, he inhaled deeply and grimaced, the brothers sniffed the air and pulled equally gruesome faces, turning quickly away to head out the open door.

“Hold it right there you two.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

For some reason neither brother wanted breakfast, and had spent the next hour seeing to both the inside and outside of the small cabin, Murdoch had insisted it be left in good order and it was.

Scott had decided the Matthews wagon was road worthy and had hitched up their team. Carefully he’d placed the cradle and all the baby items they’d found in the back of it. There were also a few personal items including a small carved wooden box that had contained the papers and letters Murdoch had come across. It wasn’t much but Scott knew that one day Hope would treasure anything tangible left of her parents, the names Hannah and Joseph Mathews would mean something dear to her one day.

Murdoch climbed up into the wagon and Johnny found himself scared to breathe, he’d held Hope for all of five minutes but it seemed a darn sight longer. Staring down at the suspiciously silent child, he gazed into the mesmerizing blue eyes, he didn’t like the way she was looking at him, Hope was definitely planning something.

“Here Murdoch, you’d best have her, she don’t like me.”

Murdoch grinned as he reached down to take the child.

As Johnny raised his arms Hope suddenly hiccoughed depositing a small amount of her last feed on Johnny’s pink shirt, he groaned and glared at Scott who was grinning from ear to ear.

“No little brother, Hope doesn’t seem to like you, maybe it was all that jiggling her about you did.”

Johnny climbed up beside his father, taking the offered handkerchief to clean himself up.

“Jigglin! I wasn’t jigglin her about; I was doing what Murdoch does.” He looked at his father for reassurance.

“Don’t worry son, babies tend to do that, I seem to remember my younger son had a habit of doing the same to me.”

Johnny rolled his eyes then flashed his brother a warning glance “One word Scott, just one word and I’ll…”

Scott held his hands up and shrugged but as Johnny snapped the reigns and the wagon rolled away he gave in to the unbearable urge, after all the opportunity was too good a one to miss.

“I bet you’re glad he grew out of that bad habit Murdoch.”

"I am indeed son!” Murdoch laughed.

Johnny ignored the teasing but he had to admit to feeling some relief at hearing the banter between his father and brother.

Having to stop to attend to Hope drew out the journey home, but finally the white hacienda could be seen gleaming in the late afternoon sun, it was a welcome sight to all three men.

Scott tied the milk cow he’d been leading to the wagon and urged his mount into a gallop; he’d decided to let the household know in advance they had a guest. The level of excitement his news evoked surprised Scott, Lancer now rang with excited chatter and buzzed with a flurry of activity that had seen him almost trampled in the rush and scolded for getting under foot, he soon headed back outside.

Finally his brother pulled up the wagon and it seemed to Scott that before he had chance to blink Hope had been seized by feminine hands and whisked away in a blur of rustling skirts. The three Lancer men stared after the retreating huddle, left feeling suddenly redundant and a little disgruntled at the apparent lack of interest in their own return.

Finally Murdoch shook his head and as he led his sons in through the door he said soberly “It’s amazing how something so tiny can take over and rule the whole world, you boys had better get used to fending for yourselves.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


The moonlight spilled in through the open window and cast its pale glow over the empty bed. Sleep had proved elusive yet again to the elder Lancer son and he stood looking out into the night.

Lancer was at rest, but it seemed not all its inhabitants were at peace.

To Scott, the circumstances of his birth had always been someone else’s loss and sorrow; he could never quite equate himself with any grief at his mother’s passing. Did that make him shallow and callous? Scott had often wondered about that, but to the child, youth and the man he had become, Catherine Lancer had only ever really been a name, a beautiful but untouchable face in an ornate picture frame. Of course he treasured what he had of the enigmatic woman who had given him life, there were letters, trinkets and perhaps more importantly other people’s memories, but how he’d wished over the years he had some memories of his own, something tangible to remember his mother by.

The stark scene he’d walked into at the cabin haunted his thoughts, driving home the fact that life had drained from his mother in exactly the same way. Now his mother’s death was suddenly very real to him and he could visualize what she had suffered through to give him life. Suddenly he knew and understood the crippling grief of the loss of a loved one, but he didn’t believe he had the right to feel that way now, not after all this time.

There had never been any tears, not from him, not from his grandfather, at least never in front of him. There were no tears now, but there was pain, the pain that was only found in sorrow, and Scott didn’t know how to let that pain go. The very same agony had been evident on his father’s face as Hannah Matthews had slipped away. It was still to be seen in his father’s eyes, Murdoch had never been able to let go of his pain and now it seemed he couldn’t bear to look at the cause of that grief. Perhaps that was the true reason it had taken Murdoch twenty four years to send for his son.

Eyes locked upon a distant twinkling star, Scott knew there would be no escaping into the depths of sleep this night. Troubled thoughts and unanswered questions would carry him through the remaining hours until dawn.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Hope’s cries carried in from his father’s room, it seemed the infant was airing her lungs big time tonight and Johnny buried his head beneath his pillows. Peace wasn’t to last as he was forced to come up for air, he threw back the covers and padded wearily towards the window, mumbling indignantly to himself all the way.

“Sunrise ain’t far off and I ain’t been to sleep yet! Don’t she ever sleep?”

Leaning out of the open window he welcomed the cool breeze that gently fanned his face, now he could grudgingly admit to having had a few hours sleep; that was a darn sight more than the old man had probably had!

Whenever Johnny thought of Murdoch and Hope together he just had to smile, she looked so safe snuggled against his father’s huge chest and he looked so at ease and at peace with her.

Murdoch had insisted he take the night watch, nothing Teresa or Maria said had changed his mind. It was obvious they didn’t approve but that didn’t matter to the patriarch, he had taken his responsibility to heart. Johnny was truly amazed by his father’s actions; the baby didn’t seem to faze the big man at all, Murdoch was clearly a man of hidden depths.

 Hope had already found her place in Murdoch’s heart, Johnny was certain of that. There was, it seemed, already the bond of love on Murdoch’s part. Hope had instantly and inexplicably become his and that mystified Johnny; surely it couldn’t be that easy or that simple.

The infants cries stopped abruptly and Johnny was instantly concerned, he made his way to his father’s room walking in to find Hope asleep in her cradle and Murdoch climbing into bed.

“Did she wake you son?” Murdoch whispered.

“No” Johnny lied, “I couldn’t sleep.”

Murdoch stared at his bleary eyed, tousle headed son and grinned.

“Go back to bed. I think you will now.”

“Yeah.” Johnny grinned back.

Murdoch watched his son leave the room then blew out the lamp; finally he lay back into the comfort of his pillows. Closing his eyes he embraced a host of cherished memories, memories from twenty one years ago. Then he had held his youngest son in his arms and had watched those deep blue eyes close in sleep. The memories were as vivid as the one of holding Hope only minutes ago.

Sadness fell quickly when his elder son filled his thoughts, there were no such memories of Scott, and that shamed him. Scott, his first born son, had been raised by another man and no matter how well he had been raised it was a bitterly sore fact for Murdoch to own up to. What would his Catherine have to say about that?

At the time of his first wife’s death he had been left numb and bereft, he hadn’t been able to think of anything but her and the way she had died. If only he had been there, if only he hadn’t sent her away, if only…if only he could turn the clock back he would do so many things differently.

Scott had been kept from him. Johnny taken from him and raised in a world akin to hell, the boy had somehow survived and after a lifetime of worry and bitter regret they had both found their way home to him and the biggest blessing of all, they had stayed. 

Love wasn’t a word to roll easily off his tongue but he loved those boys dearly, just as he had loved the two women who had graced and blessed his life be it so briefly. Life it seemed had been a grim story of loss but he couldn’t deny or forget the joys life had also bestowed.

Hannah Matthews had bequeathed a most precious blessing, this time it would be different, this time he would see his child through life, walking beside her every step of the way. Hope would never know hunger or cower from a brutal fist; she would not be exposed to the life his younger son had endured. There would never be any doubt that she had been wanted and she would never doubt his love, not like his sons had for so long.


*****     ******     *****     ******     *****     *****     *****     *****


As Johnny reached for another biscuit he found the plate whipped away, his half full coffee cup followed suit. Johnny stared indignantly up at Maria. “I ain’t finished!”

Maria burst into an impatient tirade and Johnny shrunk back meekly into his chair. It seemed a certain young lady was in need of some attention and the morning chores were being hurriedly worked through.

“Think yourself lucky Maria had time to make breakfast.” Scott teased his brother.

“I’d think myself lucky if I’d had any of it!” Johnny growled. “Murdoch was right, I’m gonna starve to death at this rate!”

“Did you get any sleep?” Scott asked as Johnny failed to stifle yet another yawn.

“Not much. More than Murdoch did I guess. How about you?

“Oh I slept…like a baby.” Scott grinned. Unlike Johnny’s, his bedroom was pretty well out of ear shot.

Johnny wasn’t convinced, his brother looked as tired as he felt, he was certain Scott had lain awake all night thinking over the last few days. There was a sad, distant look in Scott’s eyes and it was mirrored in their father’s, he wished he knew what to do about it.

“Scott…” Just as Johnny had worked himself up to asking his brother how he really felt about the tragic circumstances that had brought Hope to Lancer, Teresa swept into the room. Murdoch followed close on her heels, looking none the worse for his sleepless night. Teresa held up a long and expensive looking list of new baby necessities and informed Scott he would be accompanying her to town while Johnny was to see Sam, Old Eb and Val. Johnny grinned, he didn’t envy Scott one bit.

Murdoch watched as the three young people left for town. Scott had barely acknowledged him and he was sure he knew why.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Doctor Samuel Jenkins opened his door to an apparently healthy looking Johnny Lancer; he looked the boy up and down and shook his head “I give up, where are you hurt?”

“Sorry to disappoint you Doc but it ain’t me this time.”

“Well you do surprise me, going on past history you’re about overdue for some doctoring.”

Johnny grinned at the good natured teasing and sat down on Sam’s desk.

A strange looking metal instrument caught the young man’s attention; he twirled it in his hands briefly before Sam snatched it from the restless fingers. The doctor then dropped a small bag of lemon drops into Johnny’s hand. This sweet treat was kept specifically for his most difficult patients, the most recent being a ten tear old with a pebble stuck up his nose. Johnny’s eyes widened in delight, he popped one in his mouth and began to enlighten Sam.

“You might wish it were me Sam when you hear her yellin, I ain’t never heard anything like it before…it’s enough to make your hair curl!”

“Her!” Sam was intrigued “You found yourself a young lady Johnny”

“No but Murdoch has.”

“Murdoch!” Sam looked decidedly shocked.

Johnny nodded “She’s got him wrapped around her little finger already; and she kept him awake nearly all night!”

“Really!” Sam responded, having great difficulty digesting Johnny’s news.

“Yeah and the old man wants you to check her over, give her a clean bill of health.”

Sam studied the young man’s face, he’d fallen for Johnny’s pranks before and this had all the hallmarks of a Johnny Lancer send up, the blue eyes seemed earnest enough but…

“You’re telling me that your father has found himself a new woman and that he wants me…” Sam stopped as Johnny flushed.

“What! No Sam! You’ve got it all wrong, I…I never said that!” Johnny spluttered as he swallowed the lemon drop.

As Sam checked the contents of his bag, Johnny explained in greater detail what had happened. No way did he want to have to explain any misunderstandings to his father.

“So he’s thinking of raising the child himself at Lancer?” Sam stared at Johnny, concern evident on his face and equally in his voice.

Johnny nodded “There’s enough willing hands and…well there ain’t no reason why he shouldn’t is there Sam?”

Sam pondered on how to answer the question, uncomfortably aware of two blue eyes gazing intently into his.

“Well your father is no spring chicken; he’s…well he’s…” Sam shrugged, changing his mind about making his intended comment.

“He’s what?” Johnny asked, Sam’s sudden unease troubling the youngest Lancer.

“He’s not thought it through.”

“You don’t think it’s a good idea. Why?” Johnny knew the doc pretty well by now and the older man was keeping something from him.

“John, I’ve said all I’m going to say. Now let’s go.” Sam headed for the door, blue eyes boring into his back.

“You saying he wouldn’t raise her right…” Johnny remained seated, he wasn’t about to go anywhere until the doc set him straight.

Sam whirled around “I didn’t say that…”

“No but you’re damn well thinking it…” Johnny shouted back, anger getting the better of him.

“Don’t loose that temper of yours with me boy!” Sam replied quietly.

Johnny looked away, ashamed of his outburst. “Sorry Sam, but you’re not telling me something.”

“I just think your father needs to think this through some more, and I’ll be making that plain to him myself, things are never as straight forward as they seem, and doing something for all the right reasons and with the best will in the world doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”

“He’s set on the idea Sam.” Johnny replied quietly. The doc’s concern worried him; he himself could see no reason why his father shouldn’t bring the child up as his own. Truth be known he was secretly loving the idea of having Hope around and playing a part in helping to raise her.

“Yes well, it’s still early days.” Sam motioned to the door and Johnny reluctantly led the way out of Sam’s office.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


“Well I’m happy to say she’s a healthy if not a little noisy, bundle of delight” Sam gratefully handed a wailing Hope back to Teresa who hurriedly left the room.

Sam immediately turned his attention to Murdoch “How are you doing, anymore chest pains?”

Murdoch scowled “No! I told you it was nothing, whatever it was went as quickly as it came.”

“That’s not to say it won’t come back and with a vengeance. I told you at the time it could be your heart, didn’t I tell you to slow down; those boys of yours are more than capable of running things.”

“I am doing less, they do almost everything now.”

Sam shook his head, he knew that wasn’t true. “Johnny tells me you’re thinking of adopting the child; do you think that’s wise? Don’t you think you’re too old to be walking the floor with a teething baby or chasing down a tireless two year old?”

Murdoch bristled “I’m not over the damn hill yet, and don’t forget there’s plenty of help here…”

“Maria’s a grandmother now, she already does too much. It won’t be long before Teresa’s off raising her own and as fine a brother they both make Scott and Johnny just do not have the experience or time to raise a sister. I can’t condone you taking on…”

“I don’t need your approval.” Murdoch bellowed.

Sam ignored the angry outburst “No you don’t. Look Murdoch, I’m not speaking here as a doctor. I’m speaking as a concerned friend, a friend who wants you to consider all the options before you commit yourself.

“I’ve already committed myself Sam, there’s no turning back.”

“Do the boys know about those chest pains?”

“No! There’s no need for anyone to know, it was nothing.”

“If it was nothing why are you so keen to keep it from them.’’

“Isn’t it time you headed back to town Sam?” Murdoch curtly brought the conversation to a halt.

“Yes I suppose it is. There’s no point wasting my breathe on deaf ears.”

Sam gathered up his coat and bag and made for the door, turning he made one last statement.

“Those boys have only just found their father; I don’t want them to lose him before they find out how fine a man he really is.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny strolled towards the hacienda, if he’d timed it right Sam would be sitting down to some of Maria’s coffee and a slice of something sweet by now.

Darn it. Johnny groaned as the door opened and out stepped the doctor.

“Sam! You going so soon? Something wrong?” Johnny held the doctor’s horse steady as the older man climbed up into the buggy, his face betraying his irritation.

“There’s no fool like an old fool and your father…” Sam shook his head before continuing “Well, you know where I am if you need me, bye Johnny.” The doctor snapped his reins and Johnny was left watching the buggy heading away at a faster than usual pace.

“Johnny!” The almighty roar from the great room made him start violently; he quickly made his way inside where he found his father pacing angrily. Sam had obviously made his feelings about Murdoch raising Hope quite plain…too plain maybe, but then the doc was as straight as a die. Murdoch knew that and had always shown nothing but the utmost respect for his old friend and his wise words.

“You and Sam had words?” As soon as the words left his lips Johnny knew it was the wrong thing to say, not that anything else would have sounded any better to the seething giant before him.

“Get yourself over to our attorney’s office. Tell him I’d like him to come out to the ranch on legal business.” Murdoch’s voice remained raised but Johnny knew the older man’s anger was not directed at him; he decided to try and talk to his father about Sam’s concerns.

“Murdoch, why’s Sam against us raisin Hope?” Johnny held his breath half expecting his father to explode at his question.

Murdoch stared into the wary blue eyes and felt his rage ebbing away, he’d been wrong to turn his anger on his old friend. Sam was concerned for him; and his younger son didn’t deserve his anger either. Hadn’t the boy bore the brunt of enough irrational anger in his life?

“Me, not you son.” Murdoch said softly, his sudden change of tone had the desired effect and he noticed his son visibly relax, he turned away and sat at his desk, head down, eyes locked on a column of figures.

Murdoch’s reply stumped Johnny; he just couldn’t get his head around Sam not wanting his father to raise an orphaned child, now if it had been him he’d have understood the concerns but a good man like Murdoch? Staring at Murdoch Johnny knew the conversation was over, his father wasn’t willing to talk and pushing him would do no good. Damn if he wasn’t a stubborn…old fool at that.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Teresa’s excited chatter floated out through the door of the small dressmakers shop. News of the new arrival at Lancer was spreading like wildfire and Scott knew who was responsible for fanning the flames.

Mrs. Reed, the shop’s owner, cooed motherly as Teresa described Hope in great detail, even down to the birthmark she had on her left ankle. It had always amazed Scott what women found to talk about, it seemed there wasn’t anything they left unsaid.

Depositing yet more parcels into the wagon, he spied his brother leaving the attorney’s office. It appeared Murdoch was moving things quickly along as far as Hope was concerned.

“I thought you had gone home!” Scott called to his brother as he crossed the street towards him.

“So did I…”

“Come on you two, I don’t have time to dawdle.” Teresa scolded as she loaded several packages into Johnny’s arms.

Scott rolled his eyes and followed Teresa towards the general store, leaving Johnny to add to the pile of growing ‘necessities’ in the back of the wagon.

Johnny stared after his brother then down into the wagon, he wouldn’t be missed, not for half an hour or so. Climbing up into the wagon he eased himself between the packages and stretched himself out beneath the noon sun.

Forty winks, that’s all I ask.

Johnny almost got his wish, but just as he felt himself drift off a shrill voice jolted him back to awareness.

The Widow Smith. Johnny recoiled at the very name. Did she have to stop beside his wagon to chew the fat?

It seemed she did. It also seemed Hope was to be the main topic of conversation. Johnny didn’t recognize the other female voice, probably because she hadn’t had chance to say more than two words, how he pitied the unfortunate soul.

Johnny resigned himself to a long and unpleasant wait but he wasn’t prepared for what he was about to overhear.

The Widow Smith had started off politely enough but soon her corrosive tongue was lashing scorn on Murdoch Lancer. It seemed it was ridiculous to even contemplate raising an innocent under the very same roof as a gunfighter. If it took her very last breath, Louisa Smith would do everything in her power to prevent the poor mite being exposed to such a sinful environment. Johnny’s blood ran cold, it hadn’t for one minute occurred to him that his past might interfere with Hope’s adoption, he was certain it hadn’t occurred to his father…how did he tell him?


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Teresa wished the miles would pass by a little more quickly, the journey home from town was proving to be a rather strained affair. To Teresa’s right, sat a man she looked upon and loved dearly as a brother. The wise, gentle, compassionate and so very loving Scott Lancer.

Teresa knew he was the main reason that Murdoch and Johnny’s relationship had evolved from a distant and questioning duo into a loving father and son. Scott looked sadly in need of similar ministrations as he stared ahead, lost in some melancholy. Johnny, her wild, vulnerable but equally as loving and compassionate brother rode along side their wagon; he too apparently lost to another time and place.

Normally the Lancer brothers’ company meant a spell of good humor and laughter, today the afternoon sun shone down on a troubled and silent pair.

Scott’s solemn mood worried Teresa. As much as she welcomed Hope into the family she was very much aware that the infant’s presence had opened up some old wounds. No, that wasn’t fair, it wasn’t Hope’s presence, it was the traumatic circumstances of her birth. It seemed being witness to Hope’s mother’s death had stirred deep emotions within Murdoch and his elder son. Both tried to hide the fact but it was obvious to everyone around them. Neither man seemed aware of the other man’s pain, or perhaps they were aware, but chose to ignore it. More importantly it seemed they were ignoring that pain by ignoring one another. They had barely spoken since returning the day before and when they did it was a polite and formal exchange. Maybe she was wrong; hopefully she was just reading too much into it and imagining a growing rift.

No! in her heart Teresa knew it was there, even in such a short space of time she could tell Murdoch and Scott were being forced apart by a ghost from their past.

As for Johnny? Well Teresa wasn’t sure what was troubling him. Maybe it was concern for his brother and father, like her he must be feeling powerless to intervene. It was such a deeply painful and personal matter between father and son, something only they could work through, outside interference could only hinder that.

Teresa sighed as the hacienda came into view.

Not much longer now. 

As if reading her thoughts, Johnny glanced her way and flashed her a small smile, she smiled back but it was a little half hearted, just like his. It seemed they were all trying to pretend nothing was wrong.

Johnny had turned the matter inside and out. Finally as they rode under the great Lancer arch, he had reached the decision to tell his father straight out about Mrs. Smith’s concerns. There was no way to sugar coat it and putting it off would do no one any good, so with that reasoning he decided to break it to the family that very evening.

Supper time had become Johnny’s favorite time of day, due in part to the ample and varied dishes Maria would laden the table with. Mostly though, it was because it was the time when they all came together and where they, as a family, would share their day.

From that very first day at Lancer, the supper table had proved an innocuous forum, where the three strangers had gleaned insight into each other through the pretence of idle chit-chat. Slowly the unease and uncertainties had ebbed away; stiff conversation had been replaced by easy and jovial exchanges. Business concerns were often touched on and the general everyday matters aired. Johnny had come to know his family very well just by sitting down to eat with them.

It hadn’t always been sweetness and light, but he’d never once stormed from the table, no matter what angry words had been spoken there, he’d always remained seated. Johnny knew it was because of the sense of security formed around that table that he would break the news to his family while sitting there later that night.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Teresa’s infectious chatter had carried them all through the meal. Johnny was grateful, but he knew it was unfair to her. Teresa was too young to be carrying such a burden; he should be the one shouldering the load. Playing intermediary was new to him and he was unsure of how to approach the challenge, and anyway he told himself, the Mrs. Smith problem wasn’t helping him concentrate on building a bridge between his father and brother.

Let me get that out of the way and then…

Teresa stood to clear the table, and Johnny hurriedly asked her to sit. All eyes settled on him and he took a deep fortifying breath of air.

“There’s something you all should know.”

Murdoch sat and listened intently to Johnny’s hesitant words, he knew it hadn’t been easy for his son to face them and him in particular with Mrs. Smith’s threat. The sapphire eyes stared into his but Murdoch knew Johnny was having a hard time maintaining that eye contact; his son’s unease troubled him and anger flooded through the Lancer patriarch.

How dare that harridan inflict her spite on my family?

Louisa Smith’s infamous evil mouth had done untold damage to others in the past, now she intended to stick her prying nose into his personal affairs. The old shrew had gone too far already, the proof sat before him, obviously expecting to be on the receiving end of his father’s wrath. Murdoch swore to himself that it would not be forthcoming, he forced his anger down.

“I see…well that doesn’t surprise me. Louisa is never happier than when she’s causing unhappiness for someone else. Fore warned is fore armed so they say, at least we know where we stand now. I’ll fill Harry in when he arrives tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll know how to deal with Mrs. Smith.”

Johnny stared at his father; he hadn’t expected him to take the news that well, he felt sure the Old Man was putting on a brave face for his benefit.

“Murdoch, if my past…”

“Johnny, we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. Is that understood?” Murdoch stated firmly.

“Yes sir.”  Johnny replied quietly, uncomfortably aware that all three sets of eyes remained locked on him and that all three family members were thinking the very same thing. Finally it was Teresa who gave voice to their concerns.

“Johnny, you’re not going to do anything stupid are you?”

Johnny grinned wickedly, he wanted to ease some of the tension “No Teresa, I don’t have any plans to shoot dear Mrs. Smith.”

“John, that’s not what Teresa meant and you know it.”  Murdoch barked harshly.

Johnny’s grin faded, his father had found no humor in his teasing. The joke had been in bad taste considering the circumstances and he regretted it.

“Sorry. No Teresa, I ain’t plannin on leaving just because of one little old lady.”


Scott excused himself immediately. Teresa insisted she spend some time with Hope while Murdoch caught up on some paperwork. Johnny could find nothing to occupy his mind and with Jelly away a few more days there was no neutral pair of ears to sound off at. Deciding he had to do something about the various concerns weighing heavy on his mind, he made his way to his brother’s room.

The light rap on Scott’s door went unanswered. Johnny being Johnny strode on in, he grinned at his brother’s look of disapproval.

“Do ya mind brother?”

“Do I have a choice?” Scott grinned back.

“No, cos we got us a problem.”

“We do?” Scott raised an eyebrow and moved to sit on his bed where Johnny had already taken up residence. “Seems we have a few of those at the moment.”

“Yeah we do and it ain’t all Ma Smith’s doing!”

Scott was surprised to hear of Sam’s concerns regarding Murdoch and Hope; but he knew there had to be a very good reason for them.

“Sam obviously knows something we don’t” Scott said quietly, turning several possibilities over in his head.

“Like what?”

“It could be Murdoch is ill.”

Johnny was stunned, that thought hadn’t crossed his mind; but keeping something like that from them would be typical of their father.

“That makes sense I guess. What do you think could be wrong?”

Scott shrugged. “I think we need to get that information straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“Huh! Well you can ask the wrong headed old mule! I don’t reckon he’ll take kindly to us pryin!”

“I think it better you did.”  Scott snapped.

Johnny stared at his brother’s troubled face. Deciding whatever was going on had gone on long enough; he decided to get straight to the point.

“What’s going on between you and him?”

“What do you mean?” Scott snapped back again.

“You two ain’t talking, not unless you have to. Did I miss something? An argument or…”

“No.” Scott said softly, he didn’t know how to begin explaining to his brother what was coming between he and his father; he wished it was something as simple as an argument.

Johnny felt anger stirring inside, he didn’t like seeing his brother like this or his father for that matter; he hated seeing them at odds with each other. Someone had to push the issue and knowing tact wasn’t one of his strong points he jumped right in.

“This is about your mother Scott. You and I both know that…”

“Yes it is!” Scott stood angrily, glaring down at his brother. “This is all about MY mother so keep out of it Johnny. It’s no concern of yours. Now if you don’t mind I would like to go to bed.”

Johnny for now admitted defeat, he stood and bidding Scott goodnight he left the room. It seemed he’d said the wrong thing, but at least he knew he was on the right track. Closing the door behind him Johnny made his way back downstairs. Murdoch was exactly where he’d left him, at his desk. Marching up to stand before his father, Johnny leaned across the desk and snatched the quill from his father’s hand.

With his father’s attention now centered on him, Johnny ventured his first question.

“Are you sick Murdoch?

Murdoch stared up at his son. “What? No…no I…”

“The truth Old Man!” Johnny demanded.

Murdoch stood and glared back at his son “What’s this about Johnny?”

“I asked you a question.”

“What did Sam tell you?”

Johnny rolled his eyes and in exasperation threw the quill down onto the desk.

“Nothin! Sam told me nothin! It seems nobody wants to tell me anythin, so I’m left guessin and thinkin the worst. Scott’s all chewed up inside, but he’s sayin nothin. You’re hurtin in just the same way and you’re sayin nothin! All this sayin nothin is getting us nowhere… except miles apart. Is that what you want Murdoch?

“That has nothing to do with you John…”

“Nothin to do with me? You sayin I ain’t part of this family?”

“I didn’t mean that son.”

“Then explain it to me Murdoch, because I need to know why my father and brother can’t look at each other or stand to be in the same room any more. It might not be important to you but it is to me.” Johnny pleaded, emotions causing his voice to quiver slightly.

Murdoch sat back down in his chair; he didn’t know how to tell his younger son what was destroying his relationship with his brother, but he did know he had to offer some reassurance at least.

“Johnny this is between me and Scott. But know this, I do want to make things right between us, it’s just going to take a little time.”

Johnny thought his father’s words over then nodded, he was maybe getting somewhere with his father at least, but he wasn’t finished with him yet.

“So, are you ill?”

“No.” Looking into the determined blue eyes Murdoch knew he had to expand a little more. “I had some chest pains a while back and Sam was worried it might be my heart…”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Johnny demanded.

"Because there was no need son. I didn’t want you to worry over me needlessly.”

“Don’t you think that’s our right Murdoch?” Johnny stated indignantly.

“Yes, I suppose it is.” Murdoch conceded.

“So you’re ok, I mean, Sam seems concerned…”

“Sam couldn’t find anything wrong at the time, he’s just being over cautious.”

“Yeah well, he knows what you’re like!” Johnny grinned and his eyes flashed with mirth.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Murdoch stared after his son as he backed quickly away towards the kitchen.

“Just something Sam said earlier and he was right.”

“Oh! What was it he said?

Murdoch could barely hear his son’s reply as he bounded up the stairs two at a time but it sounded suspiciously like “He said you were a stubborn old fool.” Murdoch retrieved the quill laughing softly to himself.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

“Is this all there is Murdoch?”

“That’s all I found.”

“The child’s mother said there was no one else?”


Harry Walters studied the papers in his hands. They didn’t give much away about the Matthews family, there was a part address, and he would have to chase that up. All in all though, it looked like his old friend would soon be acquiring a daughter.

“I’ll have to make certain there is no next of kin before the adoption can take place, you understand that?”

“Yes of course.”

“Good, I’ll get right on it. Any questions Murdoch?”

“Yes, one. It seems a certain concerned member of our community has grave doubts about Hope being raised under the same roof as Johnny Madrid. Will that carry any weight with the judge?”

“The Widow Smith I take it?”

Murdoch nodded at his attorney’s question.

“Only that old hag would have voiced that objection. Well, I suppose it would depend on the judge and what concerns she may put before him. Don’t worry too much Murdoch. You have a fine reputation in these parts and Johnny Lancer has earned a lot of respect around here too. That boy of yours has turned his life around since he’s been under this roof. I’d say that was something in your favor.”

“I don’t want him drawn into this Harry, he’s still not sure of his place here. I don’t want to…well I don’t want to lose him again.”

Harry gripped Murdoch’s shoulder and squeezed reassuringly

“You won’t lose either one of them if I have anything to do with it. Now how about showing me out.”

Murdoch watched Harry’s buggy disappear into the distance feeling a little happier after Harry’s reassurance. Although loath to admit it, Mrs. Smith’s promised interference had worried Murdoch. Heading back inside he found his elder son making his way in from the kitchen; the young man lowered his gaze as he offered a quiet greeting. Murdoch felt his heart sink when his son continued on his way, obviously unwilling to share more than a good morning sir with his father. Johnny was right; Scott couldn’t bear to be in the same room with him.

“Scott, wait.”

“Did you want me for something sir?”

The cold reply unnerved Murdoch and he instantly went on the defensive, his voice rose notably as he glared at his son.

“How long do you intend to keep this up?”

“Keep what up exactly?” Scott glared back, ready to exchange fire for fire.

“The cold shoulder treatment.”

Scott’s face contorted with disbelief

“The cold shoulder treatment! I was on the receiving end of that for twenty-four years.”

“What?” Murdoch stepped closer to his son.

“I think you heard me or is it that you just want to ignore the truth like you ignore anything and anyone that displeases you or fails you in some way. You ignored me for twenty-four years. What exactly were you punishing me for Murdoch?”

Murdoch stared at his son, confused by his words.

“Punishing you? No! I…I tried to bring you home but…”

“But what? Was it because you couldn’t bear to look at me, because I reminded you of what you had lost, of what was taken from you? You blamed me for her death then and you blame me to this day.”

Murdoch couldn’t bear to see the anguish in his son’s eyes and he turned away, he’d caused that pain, he was responsible for his son thinking the way he did. Murdoch searched desperately for a way to convince his son he was wrong. He didn’t blame Scott, had never, could never; blame his son for Catherine’s death. He had always thanked God for sparing their son.

Scott stared at his father’s back, it was all the confirmation he needed, he strode out to the barn. As he saddled his horse he became aware of his father’s presence, he turned to face him.

“Scott! We need to talk…”

“There’s nothing left to say. We both know where we stand.”

“Scott, son please, don’t leave like this…”

“I’m not leaving; I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction. Unlike you, I don’t believe in giving up what is mine.” Scott swung up onto his horse and kneed his mount into a gallop, almost trampling his father in his haste to get away.

Murdoch stared after his son; he didn’t know what to do. Scott was in no mood to listen to whatever he had to say. Going after him now would do no good; the boy needed some time on his own to cool down. Maybe when he returned he could make him see just how wrong he was.


*****    *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny rode into Green River, tired, hungry and downright mad. The urge to strangle his father was still burning strong and he felt a similar urge towards the other mule head in the family. Johnny spied that particular mule head’s horse in the livery stable and according to the livery owner his brother could be found festering in the saloon. After four long hours of searching he’d found his errant sibling, and Johnny was ready to do battle.

Damn the two of them anyway.

Johnny had almost popped his father one when he’d forced him to explain what had happened earlier. It had been a long and painful extraction of events, similar to pulling a tooth and Johnny’s temper was at boiling point when he’d rode out to search for Scott.

Hunched over a gloomy, corner table, Scott sat staring into his empty glass. Johnny chewed on his lip, his brother looked so alone and lost somehow. Strolling over to the table Johnny sighed, up close Scott looked a little, no a lot the worse for wear, a half empty whisky bottle told the sorry story why. Johnny hoped it was the only one he’d gotten through.

“You done sippin on that gut rot?” Johnny eased himself into a chair and signaled to the barkeep for a cold beer.

“Johnny? Who, who’s your friend?” Scott grinned at Johnny and the man along side him, who looked amazingly similar!

Johnny rolled his eyes; maybe Scott had downed more whisky than he’d hoped.

“You’ve had enough of that brother. You’re seeing things.”

“I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough and I haven’t had enough yet!”

“Oh and when will you know? When you’re seein three of me?”

“I’ll know. I don’t need you to tell me so go on home. Your pa will be worried about you.”

“Your pa IS worried about you!” Johnny replied in an aggravated tone, he didn’t like Scott’s manner, he’d never seen his brother so belligerent before.

Scott guffawed and topped up his glass.

“Scott please, come home. Murdoch told me what happened, you’ve got it all wrong.”

“I’ve got it all wrong! What do you know? I told you to keep out of this Johnny and I meant it. Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” Scott glared at his brother, suddenly sounding very sober.

“Come home Scott, he’s waiting to talk to you, to explain…”

“I’ll come home when I’m good and ready. I don’t recall you ever running home when daddy snapped his fingers.”

“You’re coming home Scott, this can’t wait.” Johnny growled, his anger rising.

Scott sat back in his chair and smirked across at his brother.

“You going to make me?”

Johnny sipped on his beer then stated coolly “If I have to brother!”

“Got a bullet with my name on Madrid?”

Johnny flinched, he knew it was the drink that was talking but it hurt all the same.

“I’m gonna go saddle your horse. If you’re not over there in ten minutes, I’ll hogtie you where you sit and drag your sorry butt behind Barranca all the way home.” Johnny pushed away from the table sending his chair crashing to the floor; walking out of the saloon without looking back at his brother.

Scott’s horse was saddled in record time, then Johnny stomped back towards the saloon, he wasn’t one for making idle threats.

Laughter drifted across the street, a name caught Johnny’s attention, his father’s name. Johnny recognized the four man huddle, partly hidden in the shadows of twilight. Johnny groaned quietly to himself. The Circle D ranch hands spelt trouble and that was one thing he had a knack of attracting.

Their conversation continued even with him as audience.

“Murdoch’s a soft touch alright taking on someone else’s kid; he’s made quite a habit of it.” The stout, gray haired Jake Peterson stated loudly and Johnny knew it was for his benefit.

“How’d you mean Jake?”  Al Davies replied equally as loud

“He took on O’Brien’s girl and you know what they say about that half breed of his?”

“No! What do they say?”

“Well folks say the kid ain’t his!”

All four men laughed, staring over at Johnny, who stood staring back, just yards away.

Jake hadn’t got the reaction he wanted so he continued in his efforts.

“That second wife of his was nothing more than a whore. Murdoch married her when her belly was swelling with child, but everyone knows it wasn’t his child she was carrying.”

“You lyin bastard” Johnny thundered, angry and unbelievably hurt by the words.

“That Mex mama of yours was free with her charms boy. Your pa could be any man within ten miles of here, including me, so you’d best be showing me a little more respect!”

Johnny launched himself at Jake, rage stirring him to pound the older man to the ground. It took the three other men to drag him away and by then Jake Peterson was thirsty for some revenge.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Scott had stared after Johnny; shocked almost into sobriety by the hurt he’d seen in his brother’s eyes, hurt he had inflicted. Why had he used his brother’s past against him? Wounding him with ammunition more deadly than any cold weapon could deliver. Scott’s anger at the world evaporated and he turned a critical eye inward, showering himself with a hefty helping of shame.

It wasn’t easy thinking clearly with a numbing measure of alcohol in the system. The sudden realization that he had taken refuge in a bottle stunned him. Scott had never seen the need to before; he knew damn well that no one had ever found any answers at the bottom of a glass.

Something was very wrong; he didn’t approach life in this way! Not by running from it! Facing problems head on had always been, for him, the only way, and he’d never once regretted it. But it seemed, on reflection, he had been running away this time. Scott found that fact highly unpalatable but he would have to swallow it and move on.

Before Hope had entered the world, their world, his relationship with his father had been good, very good in fact. There were, of course, unresolved issues between them; in particular questions about the twenty-four years father and son had been apart. Questions that had remained unasked simply because there had never been the opportunity to raise them. Looking back perhaps such opportunities had been allowed to pass by deliberately. 

There had been so many other things to consider, things Scott had decided must take priority. Building a relationship with his father and brother had taken precedence. Keeping the wild and insecure younger man at Lancer had been much too important a concern to overshadow with his own insecurities.

It was all becoming a little clearer; certain things were falling into place and he realized he had used Murdoch and Johnny’s precarious relationship as an excuse. An excuse behind which he hid his own doubts and fears, so avoiding confronting his father on the issues that troubled him the most.

Why had he done that? 

Simply because he was uncertain he could accept what his father had to say in reply. Having come home and become part of a family, he had not been willing to risk losing it all again.

In the last eleven months he had come to know Murdoch very well, he had been pleasantly surprised at how very alike they were, they even thought alike. So why then, were they suddenly at such odds with each other? What exactly had come between them?

There had been no angry words at the cabin but that’s where the rift had begun. Witnessing his father’s grief resurface had obviously affected him more than he realized; and he’d not been able to deal with the emotions it had evoked. That was where his reasoning had faltered. That was where he believed he had found one answer to his questions. Now he realized the answer was wrong.

It all seemed so irrational now but both men had sensed the other’s anguish that day and had misunderstood their unease. Both wrongly imagining the direction of blame. Scott knew blame was an easy burden to carry and a hard one to set down. It seemed his father had carried his burden a very long time, never having forgiven himself for his wife’s death. That was something Scott now felt a need to put right.

But still the vital question remained. There were no longer any excuses to hide behind. The time had finally come; he would ride home with Johnny and ask Murdoch why it had taken him twenty-four years to claim his son. According to Johnny, Murdoch was ready to explain


Stepping out into the fresh evening air, Scott inhaled deeply in the hopes it would help rid the lingering murk from his mind. Leaning against the hitching post for support, the elder Lancer son scanned the street for his brother. There was no sign of his sibling but if he could believe his unwilling to focus eyes, the rider approaching was his father.

Scott groaned and stood up as straight as he could without teetering over; painfully aware he was not up to this encounter just yet.

A noise from the nearby alley distracted Scott and he forced his feet in that direction to investigate. Recognizing the sound of angry fists on flesh, he hastened his approach. Light spilled from a window, and it was clear to Scott that one man was at the mercy of four. Unnoticed in the melee, he drew his gun firing off one warning shot. The object of the men’s anger was dropped unceremoniously to the floor and it was only then Scott realized it was Johnny.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Sheriff Val Crawford had been on the scene within minutes, finding Murdoch kneeling beside his younger son and Scott holding the four men at bay with his gun.

Peterson was unrepentant, accusing Johnny of starting the fight, mouthing off and throwing the first punch. Loudly he’d declared “The boy was asking for it, he needed a lesson in respecting his elders and betters, a lesson his pa should have lain across his back a long time ago…if he’d been around.”

Murdoch had lunged at the man, slamming him violently into the wall. Val and Scott had struggled to restrain the irate giant and it had taken a desperate plea from Johnny to finally cool his anger. Returning to his son’s side he had watched Val parade the four men over to his office.

Together Murdoch and Scott had half carried Johnny to Dr Jenkins’ place, their differences forgotten in their plight. They had assisted Sam as he examined the battered younger man. Thankfully there was no serious injury, but two broken ribs did concern Sam. As he bound Johnny’s chest he warned them all of the dangers of a punctured lung and warned Johnny to “behave”. But Johnny had seemed withdrawn, unusually compliant, and Sam had been amazed at how easy it was to coax some pain relief into him. It was as if he wanted to escape from his turbulent world for a short while. It had been the cue needed for Murdoch and Scott to talk. As Johnny drifted into sleep, Sam had made his way to bed leaving the three Lancer men alone.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Sun rise blanketed the sky with it’s palette of colors and father and son stood in silence, sharing in the wonder and promise of a new day. The town was beginning to burst into life and Murdoch led the way back inside to his younger son, sitting beside the still sleeping form.

The chairs inside Sam’s back room had never been put to such good use before and probably wouldn’t be again, but the last few hours had seen them play silent witness to the telling of painful truths and the vanquishing of lingering fears and doubts. It hadn’t been easy for either man, strained and hesitant to begin with, but a deep need had loosened tongues freeing them of previous inhibitions. Now for the first time in twenty-five years there was nothing coming between them. The discussion had been too long in coming, neither could deny that, but they had to let all their regrets go. The future could now be viewed unhindered by their past, and it looked a very good place to be.

Johnny began to stir, one blue eye flickered open, it’s bruised, swollen partner refusing to cooperate. A glass was held to his lips and Johnny sipped slowly, aware something had changed around him. Something had definitely changed between Scott and Murdoch, both were smiling down at him, he wanted to smile back but his tender lips protested.

“I guess I slept through all the action, you two… ok?”

“Yes son, we’re ok!”

Johnny looked away from his father, unprepared for the sudden assault on his emotions. It seemed he wasn’t so tough; it hadn’t taken much to soften Madrid up…just a not so green as he looked easterner and a wrong headed old man who wanted to call him son.


How could one little word mean so very much? Because it did, it meant a great deal to him. It slipped so easily off Murdoch’s tongue, it resounded with pride and unconditional love and Johnny had waited a lifetime to claim that title for his own.

Jake’s crude taunts had been too much to ignore, he knew he should have walked away but no one insulted the two people who had given him life; one the man who had so very recently offered him a second chance, and more importantly, a new life. No one was going to cheapen or destroy what he clung to so desperately. His mother, his father; they had loved each other once; if that truth wasn’t worth defending then what was?

Murdoch and Scott exchanged concerned looks and Scott intuitively knew Johnny was in need of some private time with their father.

“I’ll go freshen up, organize some breakfast. See you later brother.”

“Yeah.” Johnny forced out, easing himself painfully up to a sitting position, his father’s strong arms instantly ready to assist.

As Scott left the room he could be heard talking to someone in Sam’s office. Johnny recognized Val’s voice and closed his eyes.

Val ambled into the room, ruefully telling father and son that he had had to let the four men go, the word of one man against that of four carried no weight. 

Val had questioned Johnny on the previous night’s events but had been met by a firm “I don’t remember.” The sheriff was unconvinced but knowing better than to press his friend further, he shot Murdoch a knowing glance and left the two men alone.

“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what happened either.”

“I don’t…no I don’t.” Johnny snapped. Murdoch could smell a lie a mile off.


“Look, it ain’t important.”

“I’d say it was. If Scott hadn’t found you when he did… well, they claim you started the fight, threw the first punch…”

“I did.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Johnny met his father’s steady gaze, Murdoch knew him pretty well, didn’t doubt his integrity. It was the last thing he’d wanted to do, but suddenly it was important for his father to understand, and seconds later he heard himself repeating the filth from the previous night.

Murdoch seethed silently, his grip tightening around his son’s hand.

“I see, well I wouldn’t expect a son of mine to react any differently.”

Johnny managed a weak smile; with that matter out of the way he wanted to know what had happened between Scott and Murdoch.

“So you talked huh?”

“Yes we did. Your gentle shove in the right direction helped!”

Johnny cringed; he’d given his father a mouthful, accusing him of running away from his responsibilities. Demanding to know why he’d let Scott ride away and not gone after him. Murdoch had said nothing in defense, letting him do all the yelling. Johnny had called him a coward and then stormed away, shrugging off his father’s restraining hand.

“Sorry.’’ Head bowed, Johnny couldn’t look his father in the eye.

“No, you were right and I believe I owe you an explanation too. You asked me once why I hadn’t brought Scott home, knowing where he was. I think I told you I had tried. I had tried, but I had failed time and time again.

Your brother needed to know why he grew up in Boston and not here with me. I was ashamed to tell him how I had failed in my attempts to bring him home, how I had failed him. I lost every battle with Harlan Garrett; I couldn’t compete with his money or power. For years I tried all legal ways to secure my parental rights but being a struggling rancher pitted against a wealthy Bostonian business man, I stood no chance. 

I did go to Boston for Scott’s fifth birthday, determined to bring my son home by any means possible. Harlan introduced me as his friend…Scott he…he shook hands with me…it was the first time I’d set eyes on him, the first time I had ever touched my son.” Murdoch’s voice trembled with the memory and his eyes took on a far away look.

“Harlan wasn’t prepared to let him go, not without a fight. I couldn’t put my son through that. I left Boston alone, believing I was doing the right thing for Scott, the best thing, but I’ve regretted that decision every day since.”

“Scott understood that.” Johnny stated.”

“Yes, but by telling him everything, he’s found out things about his grandfather, things I’d rather he never know. Whatever I think of Harlan, he did a fine job raising Scott. I don’t want Scott to…well I don’t want to come between them”

“He came between the two of you.”

“Yes, but I let him.”

“Seems to me you fought an honest war, Garrett didn’t. I think Scott needed to know that too.”


*****     *****     *****     *****    *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny avoided eye contact with Mrs. Smith, but as Scott slapped the reigns and the wagon rolled away, he felt her cold gray eyes boring into his back. 

Damn her. Johnny could easily imagine the hours of gossip she had enjoyed at his expense; she would have been in her glory embroidering the details of the fight. No doubt the whole town had heard her version by now. The great pity was, most people would believe her even though she hadn’t been anywhere near the alley.

Well he wasn’t going to let her spoil his day, he was going home. Sam had released him from his care, insisting he not sit a horse for a couple of weeks at least. A wagon ride would be none too comfortable, certain sore spots were sure to protest, but as long as he was heading to Lancer he didn’t care how he got there.

“You were late!” Johnny complained as the wagon pulled out of town.

“Yes well, Hope wanted me to finish the book I was reading to her.” Scott grinned.

“You ain’t been reading that Shakespeare stuff to her again?”

“Hope likes it.” 

Johnny rolled his eyes “Sure she does, it sends her to sleep.”

“A Mid Summer Night’s Dream is her favorite!”  Scott laughed.

Johnny groaned, was that supposed to be a joke!

Johnny’s thoughts remained on Hope and one thought in particular gripped him. Could Louisa Smith use his fight with Peterson against them in their bid to adopt Hope?

“Scott what do you know about adoption?”

Scott shrugged, he didn’t know very much.

“The court has to be satisfied that the child is being placed in a loving home, that their welfare will be paramount. There’s a lot of paperwork and once the papers are signed, the said child is legally the son or daughter of the adoptee. Hope will become Hope Lancer. You, little brother, will have a little sister and I will have another sibling to worry about.”

“What if the court decides the home isn’t suitable?”

Scott pulled the wagon to a halt and turned to face his brother

“The judge will not be interested in tittle-tattle, he’ll want only facts. No judge worth his title would settle for less. The judge has to assess the whole picture and not just the colourful bits. Now, who is it exactly who lives under Murdoch’s roof? Is it Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid?”


“And what a fine big brother he’ll make.”

Scott urged the team on. Johnny wished he was as confident as his brother appeared to be, he didn’t doubt himself in the role of brother but he was very well aware other people would.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Being the first anniversary of Scott and Johnny’s home coming, Teresa had prepared a special dinner. Murdoch sat at the head of the table, his sons either side, Jelly beside Johnny, Teresa beside Scott. A wakeful Hope wriggled in Murdoch’s arms. Usually asleep at this time, she apparently didn’t want to miss out on the celebration.

It had been three weeks since the incident with Peterson and life at Lancer had quickly settled into a new routine, Hope at the center of things.

A visit to their attorney’s office the day before seemed to bode well for the family. There was no trace of any living family members for Hope and Harry had begun working on the necessary papers. Judge Howells in Stockton had been sent the initial findings and now they were awaiting the first hearing. All things going to plan, Hope would officially become a member of the Lancer clan within six months.

No one heard the rap on the door, laughter having drowned it out. Scott heard the second heavier knock, and informing the table they had a guest, he strode over to the door looking back over his shoulder as Hope began to cry.

“Yes, can I help you?” Scott asked the well dressed, auburn haired man who stood at the door.

Scott led the man inside, silence fell around the room, all eyes on the suddenly pale Scott and the man beside him.

“This is Jeffery Matthews, Hope’s uncle!”

Johnny stared at the man, uncertain at first but it didn’t take long to place him.

This man couldn’t be Hope’s uncle, not this swindling, back stabbing snake.

The temperature in the great room seemed to drop several degrees and Teresa shivered involuntarily at the sudden chill in the air. Hope began to whimper again but her discomfort went unheeded as all attention centered on the stranger.

Cold, piercing gray eyes studied the faces around the table, lingering a little too long on Teresa, ignoring Hope and finally coming to rest on Johnny. The stranger’s smile slowly faded as he recognized the owner of the blue eyes staring menacingly back.

A long moment passed before he met Murdoch’s questioning glare.

“You don’t seem too particular about who sits at your table Mr. Lancer.”

Murdoch stood instantly “Teresa!”  Teresa rose from her chair and Murdoch eased the fretful Hope into her arms.

“Is that the kid?”  Matthews gestured at Hope but his eyes settled once more on the young woman, a smile returning to his lips when he saw her cheeks flame with color.

Murdoch ignored the question, softly instructing Teresa to take Hope to her room and stay there, he’d sensed Johnny’s unease immediately and knew better than to ignore it.

Johnny had wanted to let his father deal with the situation; Murdoch was no fool and had obviously read the scum before him for what he was. Unfortunately the history between him and Matthews prevented that; it also prevented him from keeping his calm. Standing, he glared over at Matthews angrily demanding “What do you want?”

Jeff Matthews reluctantly dragged his gaze away from Teresa’s retreating form and stared back at Johnny.

“Heard you were dead Madrid, sorry to see I heard wrong.”

“What is it you want?” Murdoch thundered, angrily striding around the table to stand directly in front of Matthews. Johnny and Scott quickly positioned themselves on either side of their father, while Jelly moved to stand along side Johnny.

Matthews appeared unperturbed by the show of strength, even seeming somewhat amused, as a lazy smile crawled across his face. Pointing at Johnny’s hip, to where the noticeably absent gun belt should be found, he shook his head…

“Your hired gun don’t seem too dangerous right now Lancer.”

“Johnny is MY son.” Murdoch stated emphatically, the timbre of his voice ringing with unmistakable pride.

Johnny swallowed hard, fighting the urge to look at his father.

Matthews seemed momentarily stunned, then began to laugh mockingly.

“Well I’ll be! That is a turn up for the books! So this is the man you swore to kill Johnny boy?”

“Shut up.” Johnny growled dangerously, stepping forward, only to be stopped in his tracks by his father’s firm grip on his arm.

Matthew’s eyes settled on Murdoch. “I take it he hasn’t filled you in on that promise.”

“Get out.” Murdoch demanded.

“I want what’s mine…” Matthews’ voice, drained now of all humor, resounded threateningly around the room.

Murdoch shook his head stating calmly, “Over my dead body!”

A sickening smile flashed across the stranger’s face, as he looked directly at Johnny.

“I’m sure Madrid would be happy to oblige for a price?”

Johnny lunged at the stranger, his father and brother having to wrestle him away from the object of his rage.

“You’d best be on your way mister.”  Jelly pointed to the door, concerned things were getting out of control.

Matthews looked towards the door then back at the restrained Johnny.

“I’ll be seein you again boy!”

Releasing his hold on Johnny, Murdoch positioned himself between Matthews and his younger son, answering the disguised threat with one of his own.

“You’d better keep away from my family Matthews, well away.”

“You call that half breed family…”

Matthews suddenly found himself spinning backwards, crashing violently to the floor, the impetus of a blow sending him rolling across the room.

The punch had taken them all by surprise but Scott and Jelly had recovered quickly and now looked on appreciatively at the unexpected payback. Johnny continued to stare in disbelief at his father, whose eyes were fixed on the object of his anger as he ground out…“Get him out of here.”

Scott and Jelly manhandled the unwanted guest onto his feet and steered him out through the French windows, throwing him unceremoniously up onto his waiting horse.

Wiping the trickle of blood away from his nose, Matthews stared hard at Murdoch, who stood, once again flanked by his sons. The eldest Lancer locked eyes with his new found enemy, showing no emotion as another threat echoed through the night…

“You’re going to regret that Lancer.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


The flames danced in the hearth and Murdoch watched them writhe to a rhythm all their own. The great room stood empty but for the patriarch and his thoughts.

The evening, meticulously planned by Teresa and eagerly awaited by all, had ended sourly. The bad taste lingered in Murdoch’s mouth still.

It seemed, whenever the family had something to rejoice over they were struck by another blow from the harsh fists of life. Murdoch was no stranger to the cruel twists of fate and like all the times before he would rise to the challenge, but he grew increasingly weary of the seemingly endless fight.

Another chapter in his life was waiting to be written. Would this chapter bear any resemblance to the longed for happy ending or would another small part of him wither up and die as he was forced to bear yet another insurmountable loss?

This time there had to be a happy ending, simply because the alternative was unthinkable.

“Over my dead body” he had said and over his dead body he had meant. If it should come to that then so be it, he knew his sons would continue the fight. Hope had become theirs tonight, any lingering doubt or qualm washed away by the thought of delivering the helpless child into the hands of the cold, ruthless Jeff Matthews.


They had watched Matthews ride away, returning then to the table, the meal forgotten as Johnny hesitantly told the unsavory tale of his past dealings with Matthews.

Johnny had been fifteen, a fact all at the table found difficult to digest. Hungry and struggling to put food in his belly, the timely offer from a gringo of a well paid job had promised to see him through the latest hungry spell. The job had fallen far short of its expectations. Johnny had flushed as he divulged the true measure of his naivety. Matthews didn’t want Johnny to guide him through the border towns as he’d been led to believe, he’d wanted the Madrid persona to keep trouble at bay as he swindled and cheated his way through every saloon and cantina that fell in his path.


Matthews was good at his trade, there was no denying that, very few people doubted his luck with the cards, and the few that did had been met by misfortune soon after, usually in some quiet unlit corner of the town.

Matthews rarely dirtied his own hands, preferring to pay the right person for such an inconvenience. The last such accomplice had finally met his match and the card sharp had found himself alone in some hapless town, turning to a boy, a boy with a growing reputation.


The first month had been easy money. No one queried Matthews’ winning streak, not even Johnny. The boy had been happy to watch from the sidelines as Matthews raked in, what seemed to the inexperienced fifteen year old, to be an honest dollar or two. They had moved around continuously, never in one place long enough for anyone to get suspicious. Johnny had had some doubts but Matthews was blessed with a silver tongue and Johnny had been drawn in by the charm and had started to look upon him as an older, wiser friend.

Unfortunately the truth was about to hit Johnny in the face, the first night in one quiet but promising little town saw to that. An old man Johnny had befriended, or had more likely befriended him at some earlier time, had taken Johnny aside questioning his role in Matthews’ game. Johnny could still remember his anger at being so gullible and for allowing himself to be used; he’d tackled Matthews who had laughed in his face.

Johnny had stormed away, then later as he had been saying adios to his friend; two gun shots had rang out, one killing the old man, one leaving Johnny with a bullet in his shoulder. It wasn’t Matthews, Johnny was sure of that, but it was his money that had fired the gun, Johnny and Paulo had simply known too much.

Their paths had crossed again a few years later. Matthews had moved on to bigger and better things by then, now he owned his own saloon, and the town the saloon was situated in. A dozen or so men worked for him, no questions asked. Three of those men had made it painfully clear to Johnny he wasn’t welcome in their town. The then seventeen year old had woken up miles from that town, nursing one very battered body, promising himself that one day, when the time was right and the odds a little more even, he would meet up with Matthews again.

Scott had broken the ensuing uncomfortable silence with a question…

“When will you see Harry Walters?”

“First thing tomorrow.”

There wasn’t much they could do until Harry had advised them on the next step, but Murdoch warned them all to be vigilant. Teresa wasn’t to leave the ranch and Hope was not to be left unattended.

Johnny had excused himself as the conversation drew to a close; the three men had watched him leave the room. Murdoch had then found two sets of eyes on him and he’d nodded, reluctantly following Johnny up to his room.

Listening surreptitiously outside his son’s door, Murdoch had heard the boy’s troubled pacing. Knocking lightly he entered before his son had chance to answer.

“Murdoch?” The trapped animal look in Johnny’s eyes didn’t deter him and he ploughed through his own uncertainties.

“Something’s troubling you son!”

Johnny was suddenly struck by something he’d heard his brother say, something about the mountain coming to Mohamed.

Johnny had turned away, sitting down on his bed, his head bowed, tensing as he felt his father’s weight settle beside him.

It was the one thing he’d never wanted his father to find out. For the man to hear the sordid truth from the lips of a man like Matthews made it all seem even the more shameful.


Leaping angrily to his feet, Johnny rounded on his father…

“What do you want me to say Old Man, that I hated you, wanted you dead? That I wanted to be the one who sent you to hell!”

“You wouldn’t be telling me anything I didn’t know already.” Murdoch stated quietly, fully aware his son’s rage wasn’t directed at him.

Johnny drew back a little, surprised by his father’s reply.

“I saw the hate that very first day, you despised me for abandoning you; for the life you had been forced to live. When you found out the truth, you decided to give me a chance. I didn’t make it easy for you; I wanted you to be very sure about me and about staying. Thankfully I saw the hate disappear a little each day.

“You sayin’ you rode me hard to…to

“I thought it was either make or break for you and me.” Murdoch said softly.

A smile tugged at Johnny’s lips “I guess you knew what you were doing huh?”

“Have you ever known me not to son?” Murdoch said seriously, rising from the bed and making his way back down stairs.

Scott and Jelly had peered inquiringly at him and he’d nodded; the simple gesture enough to sooth their concerns and they’d headed off to their own beds.

Murdoch knew he wouldn’t sleep, and as Hope had been settled in Teresa’s room he settled before the fire. Four hours later he was still there, his younger son’s haunting past troubling him deeply, he’d found out another ugly snippet from the boy’s life. A life he should have been part of, a life that would have been free of such ugliness if he’d been able to raise the boy himself. Hope wasn’t going to be ripped from him like Johnny had been, this time he wouldn’t let go so easily like he had let go of Scott. No, this time he would win the fight.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


The rotund and balding Harry Walters listened intently to Murdoch’s surprising piece of news. According to his investigations, all done through trusted contacts and the Pinkerton agency, Jeffrey Matthews was dead. It seemed that was what Matthews had wanted the world to believe.

Murdoch finally fell silent, the air filled with expectancy and Harry as usual told it like it was…

“In my limited experience with adoption cases, next of kin are rated above all other such interested parties. If the next of kin were to be deemed unsuitable then eligibility would fall to the next suitable candidate. To secure custody of Hope we would have to show her uncle in a less than poor light. Now as easy as that may sound, it’s bound to result in the opening up of a very ugly can of worms. If Matthews is anything like the man he sounds he’ll fight back, blow for blow, he’ll have his attorney dig up dirt on you and yours and he doesn’t have far to look. You’ve already told me you don’t want Johnny drawn into this but he’s an easy target, and they’ll drag that boy through the dirt and back if they have to.”

Murdoch strode out from Harry’s office, a decision weighing heavily on his mind. Did he fight and risk losing his son or did he give Hope up without the barest whisper of a struggle? There had to be another way through this, things couldn’t be as black as they seemed right now.

Murdoch quickened his pace as he made his way to the livery. This had to be a family decision, one he had to ask them to make. It was, Murdoch knew the hardest thing, he had ever been forced to do.

Across the street two people caught his eye, the small white haired Mrs. Smith engrossed in an animated conversation with the tall auburn haired Jeff Matthews.

Suddenly Murdoch knew what he had to do; he had to harden his heart yet again.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny stared at the solitary figure, even from that distance he could tell his father was weighed down by some impossible burden. The broad shoulders sagged and his head tilted downwards. The big man’s horse walked at an unusually leisurely pace. Murdoch was obviously in no hurry to get home.


The quiet, almost plaintive request drew Scott’s attention immediately. Striding over to the corral fence, he climbed up to the top rail to sit next to his brother, he too staring off into the distance.

“Is that Murdoch?” Scott narrowed his eyes, also aware something was very wrong.


The brothers watched their father’s slow progression for several minutes and then, as if aware he was being watched, Murdoch sat erect in the saddle and kneed his mount into a steady canter home.

Marching over to the array of decanters, Murdoch poured himself a hefty nip of his best whisky. Throwing back his head, he downed the fiery spirit in one painful gulp; slowly the liquid warmth began to soothe his churning stomach.

The journey home had seen his resolve waver and regroup constantly; he’d turned matters over and over in his head and the harder he’d tried to build another wall around his heart the more impossible it had become. Recent events had softened him and that, he told himself, was no bad thing, but it wouldn’t help him get his family through the next seemingly impossible battle.

No matter what decision he made, no matter what path he took, Johnny was going to be the one hurt the most. The decision could not and should not be his alone, the only hope he had of keeping his family intact was to work with them, and they had to know exactly what was at stake here. Murdoch knew what kind of men his sons were but he could take nothing for granted. Johnny would undoubtedly endure anything to keep Hope, and Scott would stand beside him, helping to carry the load, but Murdoch knew he had to offer them the chance to say no.

Yesterday he had asked Johnny if he’d ever known him to not know what he was doing. Today, for the first time ever, he wasn’t sure he did.

Scott and Johnny had followed him in through the French windows and sensing their eyes upon him, he turned to face them.

“Harry doesn’t think we can gain custody of Hope without a fight.” Murdoch stated flatly, holding his hand up to silence both sons. “Next of kin have certain rights. If Matthews can prove he is Hope’s uncle he will be given custody of Hope. If I contest that, it could mean a long drawn out affair involving the court with both sides trying to prove the other unsuitable. Matthews seems to have covered his trail pretty well to date. If we decide to go for custody we would have to be prepared to have our lives laid bare and also have something substantial to use against Matthews to win…”

“What do you mean IF we go for custody? Of course we’re going for custody!” Johnny cut across his father, eyeing the older man questioningly.

“I think we need to discuss the matter first son.”

“There’s nothing to discuss…”

“YES THERE IS!” Murdoch stormed, frustration finally winning control; he strode right up to stand before his younger son, his voice losing some of its volume as he spewed out his concerns in one long anguished filled statement.

“Of course I want custody of Hope! But at what cost? I need you to be sure of what we’re getting into here; I want you to be prepared for the coming grief. I want YOU to come out the other end still wanting to call this place home…I don’t want any battle for Hope to cost me my son…”

Murdoch turned away, stunned by his outburst and overwhelmed by the emotions that bombarded him at that moment. The crystal decanter glinted in the sunlight and once more the comfort of its contents beckoned.

The large, trembling hand was gently relieved of the glass in its grip. The smaller, steady hand poured one good measure of amber liquid into three glasses. Murdoch grasped the proffered drink as if it were a lifeline, slowly meeting the two sapphire eyes that shone with empathy and something else, something Murdoch didn’t remember seeing so openly displayed there for him before, love.

“I know what I’m getting into here Old Man, and I want you to know now that nothing will ever stop me calling this place home.”

The dark head bowed, trying to hide his tumultuous emotions. Murdoch placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, his grip tightening gently.

Scott looked on, his own emotions taking a battering. He didn’t want to break into the moment but he knew it was up to him to move things on. Lifting his glass he made a toast.

“To Hope! To Hope Lancer!”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Dinner had seen Teresa and Jelly filled in on the fight for Hope; as usual the end of day ambience had carried them all through a difficult half hour. Teresa had fell silent only to rally as her indomitable spirit won through. Jelly had instantly begun bolstering spirits with his bluster and soon an air of confidence filled the great room. Lancer would take care of their own.

Johnny excused himself a little earlier than usual, he wanted some quiet time to think. Harry was calling the next morning to find out Murdoch’s decision and he would want to discuss each family member’s part in the custody hearing. Johnny wanted to prepare himself, believing himself to be the crux of the whole thing. Harry was sure to want to know anything and everything about him and there were some things he just wasn’t sure he could share.

A pair of blue eyes stared up at the ceiling, a spider in the corner of the room the object of the intense gaze. A web had slowly and surely evolved; its delicate but deadly construction one of tireless effort and determination. Grinning to himself; Johnny likened Murdoch to the spider, he’d been determined to build his empire too, setback after setback had not deterred the tenacious Scot.

The loss of two wives, two sons, had seen him reel from the impact only to pick himself up and carry on. What drove a man so? What fed the fires of such conviction? The answer was an easy one, so easy Johnny had overlooked it in the year he’d been home. A man like Murdoch looked ahead, planned for tomorrow, solely seeking a better tomorrow, but not for himself. Murdoch wanted to ensure that better tomorrow for those he would leave behind. It had never been a selfish need, but perhaps not entirely a selfless one either; the man was far from perfect after all. Maybe that’s why they had collided so many times, perhaps Murdoch saw Johnny as the weakest link in the chain. Murdoch wasn’t prepared to watch his apparently wild, reckless son endanger his future, the future coming home had suddenly opened up for him. A future that had until that fateful day in Mexico, been non existent.

The Old Man had been hard to figure at first, distant and cold that first day, but then all he’d really done was to reflect Johnny’s own demeanor perfectly. The days that followed the battle with Pardee, Murdoch had shown his true side, tending his younger son with a frightening depth of concern, frightening to Johnny because he had never experienced the like before and more importantly he didn’t know if he could or even wanted to reciprocate it or the emotions behind it.

At first Johnny had held them all, particularly Murdoch, at arms length, he didn’t trust them and he didn’t trust himself with the feelings awakening deep inside.  He had, of course, resented Murdoch, resented his rules and the reins the Old Man seemed to want to control him with. It had seemed to Johnny that Murdoch had been trying to break him, like so many men had tried to do before, he’d fought him every step of the way. But Johnny realized now his father had never wanted to break him, only to tame him enough to hold him at Lancer. The Old Man had won, Johnny had lost and it was one fight Johnny didn’t regret losing.

Now they were faced by another fight, this time they were openly on the same side and Johnny knew losing wasn’t an option. Hope was family now; he hadn’t been able to understand Murdoch’s instant bond with someone else’s child but that bond had somehow wrapped itself around his heart too. Hope meant as much to him as she did to everyone else.

Some things were worth fighting for; some things were worth the ravages of war.

The light rap on the door drew a smile from Johnny’s tired face; he’d known Scott would be along sooner or later. They hadn’t had a chance to talk alone since their conversation with Murdoch and Johnny knew his brother would have something to say on the matter himself.

Scott’s head appeared from around the door, the silly grin that plastered his face made Johnny sit bolt upright in bed.

“What you up to brother?”

In answer to Johnny’s question, Scott stepped into the room, a content Hope held securely in one strong arm.

“Hope wants to show you something.”

“She does!” Johnny grinned ear to ear, arms reaching out to take Hope from his brother.

“Hey there trouble. Shouldn’t you be in bed like your big brother?”

With child care no longer the worrying mystery it had been, Johnny settled Hope on to his chest, two green eyes looked up into his and a smile of delight met him.

“Did you see it?” Scott asked sitting down along side his brother.

“See what?” Johnny asked, studying Hope for whatever he should have seen but didn’t.

Scott grinned again “A tooth! Murdoch says that’s why she’s been so unsettled lately.”

“A tooth! Where?” Johnny enthused, eyes wide and one finger gently prying Hope’s mouth open to get a glimpse of the offending object. “Oh yeah, there it is. Ow! Hey that’s sharp!”

Scott laughed loudly at the ridiculous sight of Johnny sucking on his finger but soon a contented silence filled the room as both brothers gazed down at the still smiling, enthralling face.

“She sure is pretty.” Johnny said wistfully, suddenly remembering the beautiful young woman who had given Hope life.

“Like her mother.” Scott replied, immediately struck by the same thought.

“As long as she hasn’t got her father’s temper we’ll be alright!” Johnny grinned.

“He thinks the world of her.” Scott stated, watching the tiny mouth contort in a yawn.

‘Yeah, he shouldn’t be going through all this again… I’m worried about him.”

The open admission took Scott a little by surprise, but he hid the fact. “I know, but he’s pretty resilient.”

“He can’t lose Hope, not like he…I just don’t think he’d get over it this time.”

“He would, he’d do what he did before, paint a brave face on, bury the heartache and hope that one day…”

The brother’s eyes met, suddenly able to comprehend the enormity of the loss their father had experienced twice before.

“He ain’t going to lose her Scott, I ain’t gonna let it happen again.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny shifted uncomfortably in his chair; Harry Walters sat opposite him at the table reading through some papers. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the clock and Johnny’s heart pounding in his chest. 

When Harry finally spoke Johnny started.

“Now Johnny, the first thing I need to mention is that temper of yours! I know where you get it from, and believe me I’ve been on the receiving end of it enough times to know its all hot air, but the judge wont! Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.” Johnny couldn’t keep the smile from forming on his face.

Harry smiled back, he liked the boy, could see so much of his father in him, strength, stubbornness and the very same vulnerability they both tried so hard to hide.

The smile faded as he turned serious “This could get very dirty, you will be the one they single out. I can only defend what I know and to be honest Johnny I know very little about your past.”

“I understand that Mr. Walters, I guess there’s a lot they can hold up against me.”

“Yes, hold up against you but that’s not to say it will go against you. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes sir.” That thought was encouraging, he’d done a lot of things he regretted but nothing he wouldn’t do again if faced with the same choices.

“Two things in particular I want to cover first, your history with Matthews and your relationship with your father…now talk.”

Johnny flinched, Harry sure knew how to put him on the spot, he decided to tackle the easy one first …Jeff Matthews.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Murdoch stared into the bottom of his empty mug; Johnny had been with Harry almost two hours, was that good or bad? Murdoch wasn’t sure. Harry Walters wasn’t well acquainted with tact and he certainly didn’t know how to bite his tongue. Harry’s infamous approach concerned the Lancer patriarch. It didn’t take much too light Johnny’s fuse, he should know!

Across the kitchen table from him sat Scott, waiting patiently for his turn with the attorney. Murdoch wished he had more patience, he was notoriously lacking in that department.

The door opened and Harry walked in alone.

“Where’s Johnny?” 

“He said he needed some air, leave the boy be Murdoch.”

“What happened?” Murdoch demanded, wondering if Harry had pushed his son too far.

“I didn’t make it easy for him if that’s what you want to know…”


“Shut up and listen Murdoch. Johnny has to know what to expect. The judge won’t hold back on pushing for details, he’s not going to pussy foot his way around sensitive issues. I gave him a taste of what he could expect from a judge.”

“How did he do?” Scott asked the question Murdoch seemed wary of venturing himself.

“All things considered he did very well, the boy’s not used to opening up is he? Everything’s locked up inside fighting to get out and you Murdoch hold the key!”


“Maria! Johnny knows nothing of your relationship with his mother…”

“That’s none of his business; it’s no ones business but mine.” Murdoch raged, the invasion into his painful past proving too much.

Harry sat back in his chair and shook his head “It’s not Johnny’s reaction we need to worry about, it’s yours!”

Murdoch had the grace to hang his head, not only had he walked into Harry’s trap but he had hung himself too.

“Listen Murdoch, I’m hoping things won’t reach the point where this dissolves into picking over every bone, but it might. It depends on how far each side is prepared to go. Matthews may lose interest once the legal side of things kicks in. As we discussed yesterday, he may simply be out to make money, and he’ll show his hand before we get much further if he is. Of course he may even be genuinely interested in the child’s welfare, and if he is he’ll be prepared to fight for her too. Johnny’s past won’t be the only thing on trial; yours will be too.”

Harry slipped a letter out from his jacket pocket and handed it too Murdoch “This arrived this morning. It’s a copy of a letter sent to Judge Howells. Read it.”

Murdoch visibly deflated as he read the letter’s contents, as he passed it to Scott he turned to Harry.

“Maybe I’m not fit to raise Hope.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Judge S. J. Howells studied the papers set out before him. It was certainly turning out to be anything but a straight forward adoption case. The child concerned, orphaned at birth, had at first seemed destined to be raised by Murdoch Lancer.

The head of the Lancer Empire was known to the Judge by way of reputation, a reputation that bespoke of a good and honest man. The attorney representing the Lancers, of course, presented a very similar view.

Unfortunately, someone disagreed and had sent him a damning account of the man’s failings, and those failings fell into an area he could not ignore.

According to the concerned citizen Murdoch Lancer had fathered two sons and failed to raise either one. The eldest boy had been lucky and had apparently faired well. It seemed this son had benefited from the love of his maternal grandfather; he’d been university educated and was to be viewed as a man of honor, having served his country during the civil war.

The younger boy had grown up in the notorious border towns, motherless, fatherless and seemingly unwanted. Sadly there had been no such benefactor for this son. Judge Howells could easily understand how this boy had grown up to become the gunfighter Johnny Madrid.

Still one thing didn’t add up, both these young men now resided with their father. The elder boy had left the great city of Boston and a promising career; the younger boy had apparently hung up his gun, both turning to ranching to earn their daily crust.

The letter didn’t detail the events uniting the family, and that was one thing the Judge found decidedly interesting. Tomorrow, as he interviewed each member of the Lancer family, he would be looking for a great many answers to some very worrying questions. The one uppermost in his thoughts being, if the Lancer members were a loving, giving family unit or a group of estranged individuals sharing the same residence.

The child’s uncle Jeffery Matthews was proving a completely different kettle of fish. Despite his apparently flawless history, the Judge had a very uneasy feeling about the man. Matthews was a business man in his own right, not on the par of Lancer but he earned a good living from his small town hospitality house.

Perhaps it was simply that, the way he earned his living; the teetotal Judge had never once been inside a saloon. A wry smile cracked the age worn face; he wouldn’t let that anomaly affect his judgment.

Pondering over the facts he realized that perhaps the reason he felt so uneasy about this man, was he seemed a little too perfect, no man went to meet his maker without making a few mistakes along the way. Matthews though didn’t seem to have made any, although the Lancer’s attorney had cast doubt on that in his latest brief.

Gathering the papers into an orderly pile he returned them to their file telling himself that tomorrow was going to prove a very interesting day.

Looking out from his second floor window, he watched the town’s folk below as they went about their business. A tall, imposing figure caught his eye, his arm linked with that of a young dark haired girl. They were certainly new to the area and he found his interest spark when they stopped to talk to two young men. Rearranging his spectacles on the bridge of his rather generously sized nose, he peered harder at the group. One of the young men stood out dramatically from the rest of the good people of Stockton, but it wasn’t the flamboyant pink shirt or silver studded pants that caught the Judge’s eye, it was the gun he wore low on his hip.

Judge Howells knew instantly who they were and studied them even more closely. They seemed at ease in each others company. The dark haired boy…John was it, seemed to be the center of some teasing, his head bowed coyly and his taller, blonde half brother, slapped him playfully on the back, before steering him along the street and into the towns barber shop.

Things were never quite what they seemed. The letter from Mrs. Louisa Smith painted a very different picture to the one Harry Walters had laid before him, and it certainly didn’t match the one he had just witnessed; his interest in the Lancer family grew.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Murdoch yawned and stretched, untying the knots in his aching back. The hoped for night’s sleep had eluded him as he’d spent almost every minute dwelling on the soon to be meeting with the Judge. A meeting he was in no hurry to face.

The hotel door swung open and the Lancer patriarch turned to find his younger son looking him up and down in mock disdain “Ain’t you dressed yet? Come on Old Man my stomach thinks my throats been cut.”

Murdoch smiled broadly at the short haired, clean shaven, immaculately suited vision before him.

Johnny began to squirm under his father’s intense gaze.

“I guess I look kinda funny huh?”

The dark head bowed and Murdoch felt a pang of sadness at his son’s unease.

“No son, you look fine, just fine.” The deep voice answered with conviction, winning an appreciative smile from his son.

“I’ll be along shortly; go on down and order me some breakfast.”

The door closed and Murdoch went about his morning ritual. As he lathered up his face he stared at his reflection, what would the Judge make of him? What would the Judge make of Johnny?

Would the Judge see Johnny for the man he was? Or would a reputation blind him to the true essence of Johnny Lancer?

Thankfully, Johnny was no longer the main bone of contention. He was. Murdoch was relieved that some of the heat had been removed from his younger son. The boy, no matter what he said or believed, shouldn’t have to have his life scrutinized and held up for the whole world to see. If Johnny found parts of that life impossible to share with those who loved him, how could he be expected to share it with uncaring strangers?


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


“He don’t look like he’s gotten any sleep.” Johnny informed his brother in between forkfuls of scrambled egg.

“You didn’t sleep much either.” Scott scolded.

Johnny waved his fork in front of his brother’s nose “Well if you’re so certain of that it means you got even less sleep than me!”

“I wish today was over.” Teresa said quietly, pushing her food around her plate.

“I know honey, try not to worry; we’ll get through this…”

“Of course we will.” Scott hurriedly backed up his brother’s comments as tears formed in the dark brown eyes.

“Do you really think things will go well, that the Judge will side with us?”

Johnny looked towards his brother, not knowing how to answer the desperate expectancy shining through Teresa’s tears.

Scott looked from one troubled sibling to the other “From what I’ve heard of Judge Solomon Howells he lives up to his name.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


“Mr. Lancer. It’s a great pleasure to finally put a face to a name.” 

The warm greeting was enforced by a firm handshake as Murdoch led the way into the Judge’s chambers.

Murdoch was a little taken aback but found himself instantly as ease by the demeanor of the elderly man before him.

“Thank you…Judge Howells, permit me to introduce my family. My ward Teresa, my elder son Scott and my younger son John.’

The warm smile remained on the Judge’s lips as he shook hands with all three young people. Urging them all to be seated, he took up his place behind his desk.

“Firstly I want to assure you all of my very best interests in the case. The child concerned will ultimately be placed in the home I deem the most appropriate. The welfare of a child is something I consider to be of the utmost importance, my decision will not be made lightly.

Now. I would like to speak to you all privately and then you will be free to return home. I have a meeting scheduled with Jeffery Matthews tomorrow and once that has been concluded I will need some time to deliberate on matters before I decide to either grant custody outright or to pursue the case through the court. Miss O’Brien, I’m sure the gentlemen will understand if I speak to you first.”

All three Lancer men sat in silence, watching the long gilt finger creep excruciatingly slowly, around the face of a china clock.

Teresa had been with the Judge for almost an hour, and every minute proved torturous to those waiting their turn. At last the heavy oak door opened and all three men stood, Teresa flew instantly into Murdoch’s waiting arms. The brothers looked on, unsure if her silent tears were of relief or for something else.

“Mr. Lancer, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Murdoch kissed Teresa gently on the forehead and steered her towards Scott, who in turn folded the trembling form into his arms.

As the door closed behind Murdoch, Teresa began to sob; eventually with a little coaxing she was able to regain control, sorrowfully admitting the reason for her distress.

“I lost my temper with him, gave him a piece of my mind.” Tears began to fall again and as the brother’s eyes met they heard their father’s deep voice boom through the closed door.

“Of course I wanted my son.”

Another hour passed and the noon day sun shone in through the waiting room window, spilling over the three seated figures. Teresa sat between the brothers, each hand clasped firmly in one of theirs. Another verbal explosion carried through to them and their spirits sank even lower.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Murdoch sipped on the glass of water, trying desperately to rein in his seething emotions.

“Of course I looked for my son…”  Murdoch repeated, only quieter this time. The Judge’s softly spoken run through of events, peppered with carefully constructed questions, had served to ignite Murdoch’s ire. No matter how truthful or how painfully candid the answer he gave, he felt he was digging a deeper hole for himself. How did he reason or explain his failure to raise his sons, in particular how could he look anyone in the eye and acknowledge the life his younger son had endured.

A father was supposed to protect his offspring, but he’d failed to protect Johnny from hunger and abuse, he hadn’t been there to guide and teach the boy, he hadn’t been there to nurture or love his own son, either son. Another man had worn his mantle and brought Scott to manhood, even if he had been able to raise Scott he knew he couldn’t have done any finer a job.

“I tried, I tried so hard…”

The questions were endless and pulled him in all directions, he struggled to answer some of them, aware his answer would seal Hope’s fate. Surely it couldn’t go on much longer, just how much more could there be.

“When did you find out the identity of your son Mr. Lancer?”

“Just three years before…before he came home.”

“How did you feel when you realized he was a hired gun…a killer?’

“He’s not a killer…” Murdoch’s voice soared in rage once more.

Johnny had never killed anyone in cold blood. Murdoch was certain of that now. But that first day, if he were to be honest, he hadn’t been so sure, he hadn’t trusted the boy, hadn’t been able to look at him without the name and reputation of Madrid searing across his heart.

“I was disappointed, hurt…shocked that a son of mine…that the innocent, loving little boy I had last seen had become a gun hawk…I didn’t like what I saw…”

Murdoch was ashamed to admit how much he had disliked the smart mouthed, aggressive youth that had suddenly and sullenly entered back into his life. But the unconditional love of a parent had soon kicked in when he saw the lost and bereft look in the sapphire eyes, and he’d prayed he was reading the boy correctly.

“To survive…to live through that nightmare and to keep his integrity and soul intact, to still care about the world that tried so damn hard to destroy him. I’m very proud of that boy. Madrid or Lancer, he’s mine and I love him.”

Murdoch’s thoughts wandered briefly to his children waiting outside, how much had they heard, not enough, not nearly enough. The Judge knew more about his feelings towards his two sons than they did, he would have to put that right.

“The boy hated you?”

“Yes. Yes he did, he had his reasons…”

That fact hurt, hurt so very deeply, but just as he had told Johnny a few weeks back, he understood why. Ignoring the boy’s sass, the caustic slights and the open insults had proved so very difficult. There had been so many times when he had wanted to knock his own son into oblivion, looking back he didn’t quite know how he had stopped himself.

“Once he found out the truth he let himself…well he doesn’t hate me anymore…”

The boy loved him now, Murdoch was sure of that. It hadn’t been easy for the boy to let go of his beliefs, and like Murdoch had admitted so very recently, he hadn’t made it easy for Johnny, wanting the boy to see him for who and what he really was so that he could hopefully love him unconditionally too.

“And your relationship now?”

A smile instantly appeared on Murdoch’s face.

“We have a good relationship most of the time, he’s so very like me and we clash often but we both know where we stand…”

“And where is that exactly Mr. Lancer?”

“Together, Judge, side by side.”

Half an hour later Murdoch walked from the room on shaky legs, there was to be an hour’s break for lunch and then Scott was to speak with the Judge. Murdoch felt sure Scott would have an easier ride but Johnny; the Judge had been particularly interested in Johnny Madrid.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****      *****

Everyone’s appetite had deserted them along with the power of speech. Even Scott, who was rarely left wanting in that department, sat in a silence heavy with despair. What little Murdoch had volunteered gave both sons the impression they were losing the fight. Scott wasn’t worried about his encounter with the Judge, in fact he couldn’t wait to put the revered Solomon Howells right on a few things. But Johnny! His younger brother had an even shorter fuse than Murdoch. Scott had visions of Johnny storming away from what now looked to be an interview on a par with an interrogation.

“I think we should be getting back.” Murdoch announced “Ready boys?”

“Yes sir.” Scott looked towards Johnny who was shaking his head.

“I ain’t”


”Look Old Man, he ripped you to shreds in there; you ain’t said if you put him straight or not.”

“I could only tell him the truth as I see it. Maybe it wasn’t enough; maybe it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. I don’t know, I just don’t know. I can’t deny my failure as a father, no matter how good my reasons at the time or impossible the obstacles in my way. I’m guilty of letting you both down. The Judge has to be sure I won’t make those same mistakes with Hope. I can understand that. I told him I would be a good father to Hope…he asked me if I knew how? I had to say no. I don’t know how, it’s not something you read in a book is it; it’s something that should come naturally. The only thing I do know for sure is that I want to be her father, be what I should have been to you. Given the chance I know I could be the father she needs. If that’s not enough for Judge Howells then…I’ve failed another child… and that child’s mother.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Murdoch wasn’t quite sure what the worst part was, the waiting or the actual time spent with the Judge. Scott had been in the next room for all of five minutes but it felt like an eternity.

Judge Howells had been painfully direct in his questioning, hitting every one of Murdoch’s sore spots, he’d even managed to get a rise out of Teresa. How would his sedate elder son fare in such a direct line of fire? Much better than he had, no doubt.

Teresa sat beside her guardian, needle point occupying her restless fingers. Over and over she had scolded herself, wishing desperately to be able to take back the flurry of angry words she had directed at the Judge.

“Do you think Murdoch Lancer took you in out of pity, out of guilt?” Oh she had been so incensed by that question, spitting back at the Judge like some feral cat.

“No! No I don’t, he’s always cared about me, he wanted me, he loved me…. he didn’t have to but he did…you don’t know him, he’s a good man.” 

Teresa realized she had over reacted but she was fiercely protective of her guardian, and she couldn’t bear to have anyone think badly of him. Automatically going on the defensive as she had that day by the creek, the day when Scott and Johnny had exchanged blows.

Johnny had accused Murdoch of throwing him and his mother out, that was such a terrible lie and she had desperately wanted Johnny to know the truth.

Teresa knew how much Murdoch loved his sons; she wanted the Judge to know that too.

“I’m led to believe he only wanted them home to fight off the land pirates.” The Judge had seemed a little taken back by her angry tirade; she blushed when she remembered how she had stood, hands on hips, her tongue lashing something she would never forgive herself for.

“That’s not true…” she had gone on to read her version of the riot act, finally sitting back down in her seat, as she’d added softly “He loves them both, very much.”

Finally, some resemblance of peace settled upon her as she realized she didn’t regret saying any of what she had said to the Judge, only the way in which she had said it.

As the minutes passed by, Murdoch’s thoughts moved to Johnny, the young man stood motionless, staring out through the window. Murdoch was relieved to see his younger son so calm, outwardly at least.

Unable to block the next thought he let his mind wander back to Lancer, to his youngest child. That was how he saw Hope now, as his child. They had left Hope in Maria’s care, knowing the treasured housekeeper and ‘Uncle’ Jelly would fuss over the child endlessly in their absence. A wave of sadness washed over him, he missed Hope dearly, he had been a fool to let himself get so close, to love her and  to see her as his own…because he was now faced with the very real prospect of losing her.

“I need some air!”

Johnny’s voice broke into his reverie and Murdoch stood quickly.


“I won’t be long, ok?”

Murdoch nodded, watching his son disappear through the door.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny made his way out onto the street, hurriedly crossing over to the hotel. Having spied Jeffrey Matthews enter the building, he decided now was an excellent opportunity to ‘discuss’ certain matters. Murdoch had requested both his sons avoid all contact with Matthews. Johnny didn’t like going against his father’s wishes, but he felt compelled to do something a little more constructive than sit back and wait.

The middle aged desk clerk enthusiastically informed Johnny that Mr. Matthews was staying in room 11, along with her views on how charming a man he was. Johnny had simply smiled at her, knowing exactly how charming Jeff could be. Taking the stairs two at a time he soon found himself rapping on the door.

“Madrid?”  Matthews’ eyes narrowed, he hadn’t expected to the see the boy just yet.

“I go by Lancer now.” Johnny replied, strolling into the room.

Matthews closed the door and continued his unpacking, seemingly unperturbed by his guest.

“Well! What can I do for you? Are you looking for work…your pa hasn’t thrown you out again has he boy? Don’t tell me he’s scared you might take up my offer. I pay well. Remember Johnny?”

“He pays well too!” Came the cold, menacing reply.

For a minute Matthews’ heart beat a little faster and he stared into the expressionless face.

“But he’s no killer is he Johnny? Did he really spawn you?”

Johnny grinned, eyes flashing dangerously “As much as I’d like to oblige you with that death wish of yours, I’m kinda on a good behavior bond, at least until Hope takes the Lancer name.”

“You seem very certain she will.”

“I know she will.”


“How much do you want?”

“Now Johnny, that’s beneath even you.”

“But it’s not beneath you Matthews.”

Matthews laughed “Nothing changes does it boy? You’re still a snot nosed killer and I’m still a what shall I say…a business man?”

“Money! That’s all she means to you!”  Johnny growled.

“A great deal of money! Everyday she’s at Lancer; she’s earning me a little extra interest. Your father can’t win, it’s unfortunate, I know, but I really am her uncle. When the wealthy Murdoch Lancer realizes how hopeless things really are, he’ll be ready to talk business. You tell him I’ll be quite willing to listen…”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****    *****     *****

Scott had to hand it to the Judge; he had a way of putting a person at ease, earning their trust then pouncing on them from a great height. It was one way to get the bare naked truth out of a man. No wonder both Teresa and Murdoch had been so drained on leaving his office.

Life in Boston, the time spent at university and his war service had all been discussed. Scott had to admit to believing Judge Howells was genuinely interested in his life and not just prying details out of him. But when the Judge was ready to get down to the real business in hand he was too.

“What was your first impression of your father?”

Scott smiled “Tall! He wasn’t anything like I had pictured him.” The smile faded as Scott thought back to that momentous day. “It was a strained affair. All three of us in awe of the situation. Despite everything I had been led to believe…I found myself liking the man…”

Scott hadn’t been able to help himself, there was something about the distant, arrogant stranger; something Scott could sense but couldn’t quite fathom.

“You have always got on well?”

“Yes, right from the start…we think alike…”

There had been very few cross words between them, the most serious only a few weeks back. That confrontation had, just hours later, led to them sitting down and talking, openly and honestly, and they had been able to lay their ghosts to rest.

Murdoch had talked about his love for Scott’s mother, of how her death had ripped his heart in two. The child they had longed for had been spirited away by a force Murdoch had defeated once before, by his marriage to Catherine. But that force would not be defeated again. Using all the tricks in the book Harlan had kept father and son apart. Scott believed his father’s account of things without question, the man he had found at Lancer bore no resemblance to the man his grandfather had decried for twenty four years.

“Do you believe he did the right thing allowing your grandfather to raise you?”

“I believe he did what he thought was best for me, he wanted me to have everything he couldn’t give but more importantly he didn’t want me to be the center of a long drawn out custody battle, so he stood back and sacrificed his own happiness to ensure mine…”

And he had been happy, his Grandfather hadn’t been overly demonstrative with affection but Scott had known he was loved. He had been given the best education money could buy, he had traveled extensively and as for his future, his prospects had been excellent.

The world had been his oyster and then the war had turned that world upside down. War changed a man, how could it not. Facing the finality of death day in and day out, put a whole new perspective on the here and now. Suddenly he wanted more, he wanted to broaden his horizons still further, he wanted a challenge of a different kind.

Restless and perhaps even reckless, he had unknowingly been waiting for something to jump up and grab him by the throat. Murdoch’s plea to come home had been just what he was waiting for. Scott had been looking for another way, a different way, and he’d found that new life at Lancer.

“What of the things you were deprived of?”

“A father! A brother! I deeply regret the years we were apart, I long for those lost years I suppose. I believe it’s made me more appreciative of what I have now…”

Scott wasn’t usually lost for words, but what he felt for those lost years was akin to grief. His greatest sorrow was for the separation from Johnny. His biggest regret that if only he’d been at Lancer he could have helped hold on to the boy, that was what he liked to believe anyway.

“Why did it take him so long to call you home?”

“He believed I had rejected him, he had sent me letters, gifts, all through my childhood, every milestone was marked, but not one thing was delivered into my hands.

The letter’s contained explanations of his absence, reasons for the distance between us, his hopes of one day being able to bring me home. They contained news of the ranch, of my brother….of his years of desperate searching. I didn’t know Johnny existed until I came home… There were invitations, pleas to visit, to write him… to get in touch should I ever wish. The last letter was sent on my twenty first birthday, I was legally of age, he felt there was nothing more he could do.

I took his silence, his apparent neglect of his parental duties, a clear indication of his complete and utter lack of interest in me, and he saw my failure to respond the very same way.”

Scott knew he would never be able to forgive his grandfather, what he’d done was incomprehensible and inexcusable, and it would forever come between them now. It was for that reason that Murdoch had been wary of acknowledging the extent of his father- in -laws role in things. To his credit he had tried to protect the older man. Why? After everything he had done. No, no, Murdoch hadn’t been protecting Garrett; he had been trying to protect his son. Trying to salvage something from the ruins of what had been a good relationship until then. Murdoch didn’t want his son to look back on those twenty-four years with nothing but bitter regret.

“Is it fair to say your father and brother don’t enjoy the same strength of relationship?”

“It’s fair to say they didn’t, I know it was very difficult for both of them at first. Johnny was so hostile, mistrustful of him, of all of us to begin with. It wasn’t easy gaining his trust but we did, it took Murdoch a lot longer…Johnny had to be really sure about him, he most of all wanted and needed a father, he accepts Murdoch in that role now.”

“Is Murdoch the father he needs?”

“He tries to be, he still makes mistakes but he’s learning by those mistakes…I don’t think anyone would find it easy playing father to that boy...”

Scott couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at his lips, Johnny was a law to himself, he could still be the rebellious and defiant young man that he’d met on that stage to Moro Coyo. Scott had to wonder just how much Johnny deliberately played up for their father, and if it wasn’t just for the hell of it. In the early days he’d certainly gone out of his way to rile the man. Pushing and testing him to the limits. Even now he’d bite the bit and kick up his heels, but now Murdoch seemed to take it in his stride…most of the time.

“I have to be sure the home environment will be a safe and happy one. I’m no stranger to the family tiff myself but arguments and internal family warring are no medium to raise a child.

That is one of my main concerns here Mr. Lancer, your father and brother apparently have a very volatile relationship, have their arguments ever turned violent.”

“No!”  Scott tried to sound calm but for some reason that question had annoyed him. Scott knew a lesser man would have punched Johnny in the mouth for some of the insults he had hurled at his father.  “My father isn’t a violent man, neither is Johnny…”

“But Johnny instigated a fight with four men a while back. Your father attacked one of those men and he recently assaulted Mr. Jeffrey Matthews…”

“You don’t know the full story…” Scott interrupted.

“Would the full story have me condone it?”

“No, but it would make you see why they reacted the way they did.”

“Would you have reacted the same way?”

“Yes Judge Howells, I believe I would.”

“Thank you Mr. Lancer that’s all I need to know; send your brother in will you please.”

Scott stared across the desk, truly believing he had sealed Hope’s fate.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

“Johnny?” Murdoch stood to meet his son.

“It’s a little stuffy in here is all, specially with this collar chewin at my neck!” Johnny grinned, he’d fill Scott in on Matthews later, and together they would have to decide how best to tell Murdoch.

“Johnny look…I…if…well…nothing.”  Murdoch shook his head in defeat.

“What Old Man? I hate it when you do that.”  Johnny snapped, wishing his father would just say what was on his mind.

“I just want you to go in there and not worry about what you say, don’t feel like you have to…”

“Have to what?’’

“Hide your thoughts on me.”

Johnny wasn’t sure what to say, he knew exactly what his father meant but before he could think of some reply the door opened and Scott stepped forward, dropping exhaustedly into the chair beside Teresa.

“Johnny. The Judge is ready for you now.”

“Please, take a seat Mr. Lancer.”

“Johnny…please!”  Johnny sank stiffly into the chair facing the Judge. Between the new suit, the painfully short haircut and the apparently astute man before him, he was feeling decidedly ill at ease.

“Does the name Lancer make you uncomfortable? Perhaps I should call you…”

“No Judge. It’s the mister I cain’t get used to.”

Judge Howells smiled his understanding, he had been somewhat struck by the transformation since yesterday. Gone were the long locks and bright apparel, in their place a well turned out fish out of water.

“Johnny it is then.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****    *****     *****


“How did it go son?” Murdoch studied the bowed head of his elder son.

“I don’t know, not as well as I’d hoped.”

Murdoch sighed; it seemed the Judge had sunk yet another ship.

Laughter filtered through the door and Murdoch and Scott stared incredulously at each other. Teresa giggled “Do you think Johnny’s telling him one of his jokes?”

“I hope not!” Murdoch spluttered. “I hope he hasn’t been telling you any either Miss!” he added as an after thought, the majority of his younger son’s yarns were not suitable for such ears.

Teresa flushed and lowered her gaze but she couldn’t control her smile.

“The Judge asked me about Johnny’s fight in town and your… altercation with Matthews.” Scott hesitantly told his father.

“Don’t worry son, he asked me too!”  Murdoch had to wonder what kind of picture he had painted of himself, he’d shown not one ounce of remorse for punching Matthews. In his angry outburst he’d even declared he’d do it again.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Johnny watched the Judge closely as he made his notes, but not even his razor sharp vision could decipher the spidery scrawl. All Johnny wanted was a clue to how things were going but the writing was unreadable and so was the older man’s face. That was to say Johnny couldn’t tell what the Judge was thinking but he knew he had the older man pegged.

The hooded, pale blue eyes might reside behind a pair of spectacles, but nothing could hide the great warmth, compassion, honesty and pure grit Johnny had seen shining there. There was even a glint of devilment, that at first seemed so out of place, but Johnny had soon realized it betrayed a rich depth of character and that intrigued him to no end. The younger Lancer son would like to have met this fine man under different circumstances.

The Judge had instantly put him at ease. One thing Johnny appreciated was humor and the Judge was blessed with a hefty helping of that. Johnny hadn’t expected the man to act so normally, or so humanely, to the likes of him. He’d expected to be hauled over the coals from the word go, without any of the niceties or chit chat to ease him into the fray.

For someone who had difficulty trusting anyone, Johnny now found himself trusting this stranger implicitly and that he found totally disarming.

Like a lamb to the slaughter, Johnny boy.

The Judge was only now beginning to touch on his life and Johnny didn’t feel too uncomfortable about sharing it with him…parts of it anyway.

“So you have no memory of the first few years of your life, the time you spent with your father?”

“No…I don’t think so, sometimes something will seem familiar…like the big clock we’ve got, it chimes the hours! I remember that… or maybe I just think I do…”

“You don’t remember your father at all?” 

“I…no, no nothing.”

“Go on!” The Judge motioned with his quill “You were going to say something.”

Johnny shrugged, unsure of how to explain what was really just some fragile, wisp of a memory.

“When I was scared, you know when I was a kid. I used to try to remember someone who had held me, who’d made me feel safe. I think that memory was of him...”

Was it a memory or had it been just another wishful thought? There had been so many of those. Thoughts of being wanted, of being loved. That the nightmare was just some mistake, that his father did want him, that he was looking for him and that one day he would find him. Johnny had clung to those thoughts desperately. But as he’d grown older, and life had knocked him about some more, he’d told himself to let those thoughts go. He’d told himself to grow up, because fairytales never came true.

“How old were you when your mother died?”

“About twelve.”

“You witnessed her murder.”

Johnny forced himself to maintain eye contact with the Judge, one thing he couldn’t stand was pity but there was no pity in the Judge’s eyes, only empathy and he relaxed again.


“Go on!”

“Ain’t you got it written down there somewhere?” Johnny didn’t like where the Judge was leading him now.

“I have your father’s account of events. I’d like to hear yours Johnny.”

Johnny had never told anyone all the facts, not even Scott. Murdoch knew only what he’d told him, the skimpiest of accounts.

The Judge listened silently, impassively, and before Johnny could stop himself, it was all out. For some reason he’d felt compelled to divulge every sordid, painful and bloody detail. For the very first time Johnny had openly revealed how a twelve year old boy had fought back against his mother’s rapists. How that terrified boy had been savagely punished for getting in the men’s way. How their sick idea of fun had gone too far and how he’d somehow got hold of one of their guns, killing one man and wounding the other in his terror and grief. Then he’d panicked and fled, running until he couldn’t run any more. Johnny knew he’d lost more than his mother that night.

Ripping off his necktie, Johnny frantically fumbled with his collar, suddenly unable to breathe. A glass of water appeared before his eyes and he took it gratefully in his trembling hands, downing its contents before finally meeting the Judge’s empathic eyes.

“My father doesn’t know the details…I don’t want him to.”  The blue eyes fell away from the Judge, as he gathered his composure; he was suddenly unable to look the man in the eye.

“He won’t find out from me Johnny. But does he really need protecting, he seems a strong, hard man to me?”

“He is… and he ain’t, he’s easily hurt, he just hides it well.”

“Like you!”

A long pause followed as Johnny searched for a way to admit that truth. Finally as he placed the empty glass on the desk, he replied quietly. “Scott says we’re too much alike!”

“It must have been something of a shock, to find out you had a brother?”

“It sure was, and not just any brother…a Harvard educated one at that!” Johnny grinned.

“Did it surprise you that your father had failed to bring Scott home too?”

“He tried.” Johnny snapped, all trace of humor evaporating.

“You seem very sure of that, and sure of him. It hasn’t always been that way has it?”


“So what happened to change your opinion?”

“I got to know him.”

“That wasn’t easy?”


“You don’t find it easy talking to him.”

“It’s getting easier.”

‘You clash often.”

“Not as often as we did!”

“He’s got quite a temper.”

”I’ve seen worse.”

“And you’ve been on the receiving end of worse, haven’t you Johnny?”

Johnny hesitated; there was no instant answer to that one. He knew what the Judge was referring to but was unsure of exactly what the man was delving for now.


“Would Murdoch Lancer have ill treated you?”

“No!” Johnny stated emphatically.

“He hasn’t always treated you…shall we say… fairly? While he welcomed your brother with open arms, he treated you very differently. Your own father viewed you with suspicion, he was cold towards you, harsh, deliberately pushing you away …he held you at arms length!”


“That’s what he told me.”

The dark head bowed, it seemed his father had split himself wide open during his time with the Judge.

“He just gave as good as he got.”

“So you gave him a hard time too…but that’s not surprising considering the life he abandoned you too.”

“He didn’t abandon me!” Johnny struggled to contain his anger; he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let his family down, but the Judge seemed to have a very poor view of his father and didn’t appear to want that view altered “You know the truth Judge; you know every damn thing there is to know about us…”

Judge Howells held up his hand as he leaned forward over his desk, peering over the top of his spectacles at Johnny.

“I know the cold hard facts but I don’t know what glues those facts together. I know what holds a family together and what makes a house a home. What I need to be sure of is that together you are a family and the place you live in really is a home.

I’d like to believe that after the unfortunate years of separation and in the short space of time you’ve been back at Lancer, you’ve come together and committed yourselves to becoming and being a family. But is it really that easy or that simple? Taking all the bare facts into consideration I’d say it sounded impossible. If I were to rule simply on facts, the facts that have been laid before me by outside parties, I would have had Hope removed from your father’s care weeks ago! Fortunately I don’t take anyone or anything at face value, I don’t see life in black and white. I like to form my own opinion and to do that I have to have answers to questions I deem relevant. Are you going to answer those questions or would you like to leave my office now?”

Johnny stared at the Judge, he couldn’t quite remember what he’d said to set the Judge down that path but he regretted it now.

“Yes sir!”


The Judge sat back in his chair and made a few more notes. As Johnny chewed over the Judge’s words, things became a little clearer. Murdoch had thought he’d be the one on trial, Johnny had thought his past would swing the Judge’s decision. It seemed neither one was right. The Judge was methodically allowing the individual members of the family to draw him an honest and unadorned picture of their relationships. At the end he would be looking for an image of a family united after years apart. But to be a family in the Judge’s eyes they would have to be seen and believed to be a family united by love and not just through circumstance.

“Tell me about Madrid?”

“What do you want to know?”

“How a scared twelve year old boy turned into him?”

“Hate, hunger…shame. Not one thing, a whole bunch of things I didn’t know how to change. A gun seemed the only way to get by. Madrid kept me alive.”

“Madrid had you lined up in front of a firing squad.”

“Yeah, it was inevitable I suppose.”

“But you were granted a second chance.”

“And I grabbed it with both hands; the Old man offered me something I couldn’t turn down.”

“Was the share in Lancer the only reason you stayed?”

”No, I knew there was more there if I wanted it, and I did want it. I wanted a home, a family…I wanted the chance of a new life.”

“It hasn’t been easy, you left a while back.”

“Yeah, but I realized what I was throwing away, and I ran home, tail between my legs.”

“Your father didn’t try to stop you?”

“No…he wanted the choice to be mine.”

“Have you made the right choice Johnny?”

“Yeah. I’ve got everything I ever wanted inside those four walls.”

“But can you honestly tell me you believe it’s everything Hope would want?”

Judge Howells watched the Lancer family cross the street, making their way back to the hotel. There was no spring in their step today, no teasing; in fact they appeared a rather solemn group. Tomorrow they would make their way home to await his decision, he would try not to prolong their agony…but would he be able to spare them any grief? By the end of tomorrow he would have his initial judgment and the way things had gone today he had a pretty fair idea as to what it would be.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Pummeling his pillows for the umpteenth time, Johnny once more settled back down to try to sleep. Hours after climbing into the comfort of his own bed he was still very much awake, the trip to Stockton weighing heavy on his mind, and, he was certain, on all the family’s minds.

Every one of them had returned home that day disheartened, but none more so than Murdoch. The Lancer patriarch seemed to have aged since his encounter with the Judge; he was quieter and deeply pensive. Johnny wondered if his father was beginning to resign himself to losing Hope. It was hard to believe, Murdoch would fight to the bitter end for her wouldn’t he? He would if he thought he was the right person to raise her, but these last few weeks had made him seriously doubt that.

Johnny didn’t know what to say to him, he didn’t know how to assure his father of his worth or of his faith in him. All Johnny could do now was pray that Judge Howells saw his family the way he did.

Judge Howells! Despite everything Johnny had liked the man immensely, he knew all his digging and gouging into their personal lives was for a reason, and he’d tried to answer everything thrown out at him honestly. Johnny knew the Judge had been worried about his and Murdoch’s relationship, and he could understand his concerns, they had ripped into each other so many times those first few months. Neither man trusted the other, Johnny because of what he’d grown up believing and Murdoch because he was certain Johnny would just up and leave like his mother had. No, they hadn’t trusted each other but they had desperately wanted to.

The Judge had listened patiently to Johnny’s hesitant explanations, he’d seemed to understand and accept them, but had he? Johnny believed he had.

Some of the questions the older man had asked had taken some thought on Johnny’s part, but one question in particular had received an immediate and vehement “Yes I do.”  The Judge had sneaked it up on him, well perhaps not sneaked exactly, but it had taken him by surprise when he’d suddenly peered over his spectacles and asked “Do you believe Murdoch Lancer would have been a good father to you and Scott?”  The Judge had then asked Johnny why he was so certain. Johnny had labored over that question; he wasn’t very good with words and putting feelings or gut instincts into words for that matter, was so very difficult for him. Judge Howells had made considerable notes on his answer and Johnny had wondered if he’d said the wrong thing. As the Judge had scribbled away Johnny had suddenly felt the need to add “He’s been a good father to Hope, he loves her…we all do.”

Judge Howells had simply nodded then moved on to the next question “How do you know Jeffrey Matthews?” That question had been expected but when the Judge asked why Murdoch had punched the man, Johnny had hesitated briefly before stating with unabashed pride “He was defending me.”

It seemed they’d all done a great deal of defending each other in their interviews with the Judge. But had they made it clear how they all felt about each other? Had they been able to show the Judge that it was love that held them together? Would the Judge accept they had made many mistakes in their year together, but that they had learned from those mistakes and were stronger because of them? Johnny’s head spun with questions and doubts, but he forced himself to concentrate on what worried him the most, his father. It seemed Murdoch hadn’t been able to bounce back from the Judge’s questioning. Murdoch had taken everything to heart, his guilt had deepened and if he were to lose Hope, Johnny knew he would hate himself all the more.

The floor boards creaked outside his room and Johnny strained to hear the soft padding of bare feet as they made their way downstairs.


Throwing back the covers Johnny decided that his father was in need of some company.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Pitcher in one hand, glass in the other, Murdoch poured himself some milk, then sat staring into its hidden depths as if expecting to find an answer there to his woes. Coming downstairs had seemed a good idea at the time, it was one way to occupy his mind, anything to escape thoughts of the seemingly inevitable. But no matter where he was or what he did he was haunted by the thought of losing Hope. Any way he looked at it, he just couldn’t see himself winning custody. He couldn’t bare the thought of losing her; he knew he couldn’t go through the heartache again. What was he to do? Well there was one answer, but it was something that truly galled him, it would be going against his principles but principles wouldn’t keep Hope in his life. 

“Anything good to go with that milk?” 

Murdoch started at his younger son’s voice, then smiled at the disheveled sight before him. Johnny had obviously been tossing and turning the night away too.

“I’m sure there is, check the pantry.”

Murdoch’s smile turned into a guffaw as Johnny exited the pantry with a plateful of cookies in one hand, and a huge slab of fruit cake in the other. “Hungry son?”

“Not really!” Johnny replied as he sat down opposite his father. “But he might be!” Johnny gestured towards the door, to where his bleary eyed brother stood.

Scott grinned. “Is this a private party or can anyone join in?”

“Pull up a chair son…there something I want to say to you both!”

Johnny bit into another cookie, eyes locked on his father. “Go on!”

“It’s about Matthews, about what he said to you…”

Johnny looked away briefly, he’d been soundly blasted by his father for approaching Matthews, Scott had been equally unimpressed.

“I suppose we all knew money was his goal, and now he’s played his hand we know where we stand…at least as far as he is concerned.”

“We ain’t lost yet!” Johnny stated, trying to buoy up his father’s obviously flagging spirits.

“No… but I’ve been trying to prepare myself for every eventuality. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve come to realize that maybe if I’d been more ruthless, refused to take no for an answer and even simply… just ignored the law, then maybe I could have kept both of you in my life.”

Leaning back in his chair, Johnny’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized his father, he didn’t like where this was leading.

“What are you saying?” Scott was equally as uncomfortable with his father’s line of thought.

“I’m saying I’m not prepared to lose Hope, she’s become a part of me and part of this family. I won’t lose another child no matter what it costs me…”


“Hear me out Scott…”

Scott nodded his compliance, glancing quickly across at Johnny to find troubled eyes looking back.

“If the Judge does rule in Matthews’ favor then we know Matthews is willing to…for want of a better word, sell Hope to me…”

“The Judge won’t…” Johnny interrupted but was silenced by a warning look from his father.

“I want you both to know now, I’m prepared to do anything to keep Hope and if that means meeting Matthews’ terms then so be it.”

“I don’t think we should wait until after the ruling.” Scott exclaimed “I think we should approach him…tomorrow.”

Johnny stared open mouthed at his brother, had Scott lost his mind?


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Jelly had returned from town an hour or more ago, having been there on several errands. One errand had been to inform Hope’s uncle of Murdoch Lancer’s request to meet with him. Matthews had apparently seemed indifferent and Murdoch had been a little perturbed, maybe Matthews had changed his mind about Hope. Now all Murdoch could to do was wait, and he wasn’t much good at waiting. Pacing the length of the great room repeatedly, his mind wandered back to the previous night’s conversation with his sons. Johnny had been against any dealings with Matthews, Murdoch could understand why but he’d shot every one of his younger son’s arguments down, even the most convincing.

Johnny seemed certain the Judge would side with them. Murdoch was surprised at the boy’s faith in a stranger and in the law; his younger son didn’t trust easily and except for his relationship with Val had always seemed to treat the law with scepticism. Would he ever understand his younger son?  Scott and he had tried to sooth over Johnny’s concerns and after an hour of heated debate they had all three come to an agreement, even if it was against Johnny’s better judgment

Finally the anticipated knock came and Murdoch stopped his pacing, gathering his composure he walked resolutely towards the door.


“Heard you wanted to see me!”

Murdoch led the way into the great room, turning to face the unwelcome guest.

“Johnny mentioned something about a business deal!”

“Worried the ruling won’t go in your favor?”

Murdoch wanted to knock the smug smile off Matthews’ face but he forced down his anger “I’m not prepared to take the chance.”

“So you’d be interested in entering into…a business deal?” Matthews’ smirk grew even bigger, knowing he had Murdoch Lancer just where he wanted him.

“Yes of course, but I want it done my way…I want it done through our attorneys; you sign a document relinquishing your rights to Hope…”

“That will take time Lancer, time I just haven’t got. There’s a business venture I want to invest in, it’s some considerable distance away and I have to close the deal within the week…”

“I insist this is done legally…”

“You’re in no position to insist on anything. You’re not the only one interested in the kid. I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to part with your hard earned profits so I had some friends make some inquiries. There’s at least one childless couple willing to pay any amount for her, no questions asked. It’s really a question now of who comes up with the cash first. I need your answer now, otherwise I telegram the other interested party.”

“I need some guarantee that you won’t renege on the deal…a personal letter from you to me stating you have relinquished your rights to Hope.”

“Alright, I’ll agree to that.”

“Good…now name your price.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

“When does the money change hands?”

“I told Matthews I needed a day or so to get the money so it will be the day after tomorrow. I go alone, is that understood?”

“Murdoch, he can’t be trusted…” Johnny stated much louder than intended.

Murdoch lurched to his feet, eyes fixed on his younger son “You will not interfere Johnny…do you hear me?”

“I hear you Old Man.” Johnny glared at his father then strode angrily from the room.

Murdoch slumped back into his chair “I expect you to keep that boy in line Scott, I don’t want anything to go wrong!”

“He’s worried about you, and so am I, maybe we should rethink…”

“No! I know what I’m doing, we stick to the plan.”

Scott nodded but he was having serious second thoughts.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Removing the money from the safe, Murdoch carefully recounted it and packed it neatly into his saddle bags. It was an exorbitant amount, but he could honestly say Hope was worth every dime to him and his family.

Johnny and Scott had left for Green River straight after breakfast. Murdoch had watched them until they were out of sight, his advice to them still hopefully ringing in their ears “Let either one of you dare go against my wishes…”

The agreed rendezvous was a good two hours ride away, and Murdoch decided he’d leave a little earlier than planned to allow for any unforeseen delays. He didn’t want anything to impede his chances of keeping Hope.

Planting a gentle kiss on first Teresa, and then Hope’s cheek, he hauled himself up onto his horse and rode out from Lancer; he turned, waving back at the smiling faces. Thankfully he’d managed to keep his deal secret from Teresa, she didn’t need to know until it was all over. Teresa had sensed something was amiss though, all three men had been quiet over breakfast and she had scolded them all for getting out of bed on the wrong side.

Murdoch could still hear his sons’ warnings ringing in his ears, he had listened as first one, and then the other, and finally both, had told him how best to handle Matthews. Murdoch didn’t know how he’d managed to contain his disbelief. Finally, when he’d been able to get a word in edge ways, he’d told them in no uncertain terms that he hadn’t got to his ripe old age without knowing how to watch his own back!

Taking stock of his surroundings Murdoch knew the old mine was only about half an hour or so away.

So far so good.  He eased himself down from the saddle and in the pretence of tightening the cinch he studied the surrounding vista, there was no sign of anyone tailing him and he breathed a sigh of relief. Matthews had warned him; any sign of company and the deal was off.

Finally the played out mine was within yards and Murdoch scanned the area for Matthews. Finding no sign, Murdoch’s heart beat a little faster, he told himself he was early, to keep calm.


The voice took Murdoch by surprise. Matthews had concealed himself well in a thicket, and was barely discernable among the overgrowth.

“You alone?”

“I told you I would be!”

“Get down and bring the money over here.”

Murdoch waited for Matthews to step out into the open, he didn’t want to take too many chances, then he followed the instructions. Watching as Matthews quickly counted the money, he held out his hand “The letter...”

“Oh yes, the letter, I’ve decided it’s worth a little more than I first estimated!”

“We had a deal…” Murdoch lunged for the smaller man, wrestling the saddle bags away from his hands “No letter no deal.”

“Oh come on Lancer, you can afford to part with some more, another ten thousand or so.”

”No, no more, you’ve almost crippled us as it is. Now if you want the money you meet me here tomorrow with that letter or the deal is off and I take my chances with the Judge.”

Matthews seemed to think it over for a moment before nodding his agreement. Murdoch drew himself up into his saddle urging his mount into a gallop as a deep sense of unease washed over him. The unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked had him instantly reaching for his own but before it was out of its holster, two shots rang out in rapid succession and he felt a bullet rip into him. Spinning from the saddle Murdoch hit the ground, winded he lay where he fell, a shadow loomed over him and he closed his eyes.

A familiar voice called his name and Murdoch felt himself being rolled gently onto his side.                     

“Murdoch?” The voice came again, more insistent this time.

Urgent fingers ripped at his shirt and he felt something being pressed against the bullet wound, it drew an involuntary grunt of pain and once again he felt his lungs fill with air.

Scott sighed with relief; the shoulder wound didn’t look too bad “You’re lucky; Johnny’s bullet hit Matthews in the arm, deflecting his shot.

Murdoch opened his eyes and found both sons kneeling anxiously over him.

“Getting shot wasn’t part of the plan!” Johnny snapped, unable to contain his concern or growing anger.

“Matthews?” Murdoch struggled to get up and found two pairs of hands easing him to a sitting position.

“Val’s got him covered. YOU were early Old Man…” Johnny gestured angrily with his finger. “We weren’t in position!”

Scott flashed his brother a ‘not now’ look. “Johnny, you and Val take Matthews in, I’ll get Murdoch home…send Sam over.”

“If you ask me they both want locking up…” Johnny snarled in his father’s direction before storming over to help Val get his prisoner onto his horse.”

Murdoch watched Johnny go, puzzled by his anger.

“You scared him.” Scott explained “Like he said, getting shot wasn’t part of my plan.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****    *****


“The sheriff is in on this! They’ve paid him well!”  Matthews shouted at the gathering crowd.

“Inside.” Val steered Matthews in through the door of the jail, ignoring his prisoner’s shouts of innocence. The sheriff couldn’t ignore the small crowd collecting outside the jail though, “Move along folks, shows over.”

Johnny followed the men in, stopping in his tracks when he realized the man sitting behind Val’s desk was Judge Howells.

Once again Johnny found the pale blue eyes peering at him over the spectacles. Before Johnny had chance to open his mouth to greet the Judge, Matthews, unable to believe his luck, was spewing out some story of how the Lancer family had tried to intimidate him and how Johnny Madrid had shot him.

“Really Mr. Matthews! Tell me more.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


“Of all the stupid things to do…and at your age too!” Sam lambasted his patient.

Murdoch grimaced, certain the doctor was making his ministrations more painful than was necessary. “Now Sam…”

“Don’t now Sam me! I can’t believe a man of your intelligence went out there alone…”

“I wasn’t alone, the boys…”

“The boys barely made it there in time…whose fool idea was it anyway to lure Matthews there…”

“It was mine Sam!” Scott admitted shamefaced. It had seemed a fairly good idea at the time.

“I was the one wanting to pay Matthews off. Scott thought if we had Val witness his attempts at extortion we could lay that evidence before Judge Howells…”

“Val agreed! He wants his fool head looking at too…you all do. A few more inches to the right and that bullet would have orphaned Hope for the second time!”

“Val didn’t like it one bit but he couldn’t talk me out of it…it was a risk yes, but it paid off, it means we can discredit Matthews and…”

“I understand why you did it Murdoch! But quite honestly…well…words fail me!” Sam shrugged, appalled at how close his old friend had come to losing his life. “You’d better stay in that bed until I say otherwise Murdoch Lancer…or you’ll rue the day you were born.”

Murdoch opened his mouth to retaliate but a withering glare from the doctor changed his mind, he wasn’t feeling up to any further verbal sparring, especially with Sam.

“I’ll leave Teresa in charge of your care, this young lady has more sense than you three Lancer men put together!” Sam winked at the young woman who had so calmly helped him remove the bullet lodged in her guardian.

“Actually Sam, Johnny was against this from the start…” Scott admitted “I talked him into it…”

“Actually I talked him into it, I call the tune…” Murdoch wasn’t prepared to let his sons take responsibility for his actions.

Sam rolled his eyes “How many times have you both blasted that boy for doing something foolhardy only to now talk him into doing something equally as…as…dangerous.”

Murdoch sank deeper into the pillows, weary but wanting to somehow explain himself “I was desperate Sam and I don’t regret it, I refuse to let Hope go.

Sam studied the bowed head; sadly he knew only too well that Murdoch had suffered the torments of hell during the years of separation from his sons.  “Yes, well I don’t condone what you did but I can understand the reasons behind it. I’m with Johnny on this; you should have left it in the Judge’s capable hands.


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****


Judge Howells was impressed, the trip to Lancer had been very pleasant, and Johnny had been an excellent guide, pointing out the various aspects of the property and stock. The young man obviously had a keen interest in the cattle business, and had sounded every inch the seasoned rancher as he’d enthused about certain new ideas his father was considering implementing.

The hacienda was pleasantly cool after the long ride in the afternoon sun, and he sat at the kitchen table with a glass of iced lemonade in one hand. The wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread filled his senses and he had spent a pleasant ten minutes chatting with Maria as she mixed and rolled out pastry needed for the assorted fruit pies she was making. Judge Howells drank in the atmosphere with relish.

Johnny had excused himself to check on his father. It was obvious the boy was angry at the older man but only out of fear and concern, his father’s close call had really shaken him.

Dr Jenkins’ buggy had been outside and the Judge had insisted Johnny ask the doctor’s permission before he delivered his ruling to Murdoch Lancer in person.

The kitchen door opened and Johnny led Sam into the room.

“Samuel! Good to see you.”

“Solomon, you look well!”

Johnny watched the two men shake hands and greet each other warmly; he hadn’t known they were old friends.  The two men swapped some news and Johnny listened impatiently, he couldn’t bear the waiting, the Judge had given nothing away as usual and Johnny was about to bust with anticipation. Suddenly both sets of eyes settled on him and he began to squirm.

“This one is as stubborn as his father; the other one isn’t much better!” Sam said seriously.

“I think I prefer tenacious Sam…it sounds a little more wholesome than stubborn.” Judge Howells replied his eyes twinkling merrily.

A broad grin swept across the young man’s face but the grin soon faded when the Judge pointed to the door.

“Come on Johnny, lead the way, Sam says I can go break the news to your father.”

Johnny didn’t miss the absence of the word good… or bad for that matter, the Judge was certainly drawing out his agony.

Stepping quickly inside his father’s bedroom, Johnny stared anxiously at his father, Murdoch lay back against a mound of pillows, his upper torso swathed in bandages; Hope nestling contentedly in his good arm.

“You’ve got a visitor.”

“Judge Howells!” Murdoch paled, but recovered quickly. “Please…take a seat.”

“Thank you!” Stepping over to sit beside the bed, the Judge greeted the other family members in turn, “Good afternoon Miss O’Brian, Scott…and this must be Hope.” The Judge reached out, taking one chubby little hand in his, “Hello Miss Lancer.”


*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     ****


Judge Howells sat opposite the two biggest grins he’d ever had the pleasure of witnessing, neither man had stopped smiling since he’d given the family the news they were all hoping for but apparently not expecting.

The whole room had seemed to hold its breath, unsure of what they had just heard and of its implications. Finally Murdoch Lancer had found his voice “You mean…”

“Yes, as soon as the paper work is completed Hope will be legally your daughter.”

Judge Howells had been a little surprised by the stunned silence that met him, but it hadn’t lasted long, soon he was being crushed in an embrace from an openly sobbing Teresa, followed by two overly enthusiastic handshakes that would later play havoc with his rheumatism. He’d smiled as the three young people hugged each other before turning their attention to their father.

Murdoch Lancer had looked so very pale, but suddenly he glowed with health, his blue eyes had been moist with tears which fell unashamed down his face. Finally the Lancer patriarch had managed to tear his attention away from his family and meet the Judge’s eyes.

“Thank you…you don’t know how much this means to me, to us.”

But he had known and as he sat once more at the kitchen table with the two Lancer sons for company he wanted to expand on his decision.

“More coffee Judge…something stronger?” Scott asked coffee pot in hand.

“Murdoch has the best whisky there is!” Johnny said jumping to his feet and was half way to the door before the Judge had time to decline.

“No! No thank you. I really must be going. I still have that matter with Matthews to deal with; Sheriff Crawford seems to have a dislike of paperwork!”

The Judge had earlier explained to Murdoch why Matthews was so desperate to raise so much money, he’d recently lost his saloon and most all of his smaller enterprises in a high stake game of poker and that was the reason he had suddenly crawled out of the woodwork.

“I wish I’d arrived a little earlier to have prevented that …incident with him.”

The brothers’ smiles vanished instantly as they waited for the axe to fall.

“I don’t suppose you wanted to take my infamous wisdom for granted?” Two pale blue eyes peered over the top of the spectacles demanding some address.

Johnny looked instantly at his brother who, to his relief, seemed to have a great desire to explain. “Johnny didn’t doubt you sir…none of us doubted you exactly. I suppose we doubted ourselves…I know our father did.”

Johnny nodded his agreement; he’d been convinced from his interview that the Judge would side with them.

Sitting back in his chair the Judge nodded. “Yes I know. I was I suppose quite tough on all of you, pushed you a little too far perhaps but there’s method to my madness and you all fought back with a passion. Passion comes from within, it’s stirred by a variety of emotions, the strongest one being love.

Being a father of five myself I was able to put myself in your father’s shoes to some extent, his reactions to my prying didn’t disappoint me, he was like some… she cat defending her young!” The Judge chuckled at his comparison, pleased when it drew a small smile from each of the two men before him.

Teresa doesn’t of course have a blood tie; that fact is only relevant here because it has no relevance in this family, she is clearly perceived as sister and daughter, as of course is Hope.

I was mostly interested in you both. You both had what seemed to an outsider, insurmountable issues with your father but that was clearly not the case and I wanted to know why?

Johnny I have to say you intrigued me the most. I don’t of course want to devalue Scott’s case in anyway but I believe I know your brother well enough to know he’ll understand why I say that.

I wanted to know what influences were at work here at Lancer, what forces helped you change your life around, and keep it that way. It seemed a leopard could change its spots but then I realized also that Madrid might not be anything more than a mask you wore, an armor you put on to protect yourself. I saw no trace of Johnny Madrid in my office, only a loving brother and son…Johnny Lancer. I’ve no doubt Madrid wouldn’t appear in some shape or form if the necessity should arise, but I am also aware that you use your discretion wisely.

I don’t have the time to bore you both with anymore of my reasoning but I will just add this…a year is a relatively short space of time to form a relationship. It takes a great deal of time and effort to go from being what I can only unfortunately deem strangers to becoming loving family members, the fact that you did despite the odds stacked against you, demonstrates the strength of character of each and every individual involved. I know that by placing Hope in the care of such a loving and steadfast family, she will be nurtured and steered wisely through life.

Hope, just like the two of you, came to Lancer in need of a home and family, it was the start of a new life for all of you. If you both could make such a success of your new life here, then I have only the sincerest belief that Hope will too.


The End 

Seren 2004


Submission Guidelines