Teresa slowly opened the door to the darken room. “Are you okay?”
“Ya.” The creak of the rocking chair was all that could be heard.
“Crystal would like to visit you if you’re up to it.”
“Here sweetheart. Say ‘hi’ to your papa. Johnny how about I open the drapes so she can see you better?”
Johnny just shook his head as he watched his daughter smiling and reaching for his face.
“She gets so excited when she sees you, you know. She really loves you.”
“I love her too.” Johnny whispered out. “She’s going to have her mother’s hair.”
“She has a lot of the both of you in her. She definitely has your eyes. But you can see both her mother and father in her.” Teresa just watched Johnny as he tenderly hugged his daughter and even managed a weak smile as she pulled at his nose and lips.
Teresa sat on the bed smiling at the interaction between father and daughter. “ She would have been so proud at how fast Crystal is learning and doing things. She is doing more than most babies do at six months.”
“I know. Mi Dios! Why did she have to go help those people? I know that isn’t fair to ask. She didn’t know that what they had was catching. I should just be glad that Crystal didn’t get it. When she realized what they had was spreading to the rest of the family, she kept Crystal away. She was so afraid that Crystal would catch it but she did instead.”
“Why, why did it have to be her? She wanted so much to raise Crystal and help her become a strong woman. She wanted…” Johnny’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as he hugged his daughter trying to get himself under control.
“You know it’s been four months today?” he barely whispered out.
Teresa walked over and placed her hand on Johnny’s shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze as she said, “I know, Johnny. I know.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be doing this again.”
“No, Teresa, I have to quit this. I have ta go on, if for nothing else, for Crystal. Angelina would have wanted it that way.” Johnny tried to mask his feelings and hide the pain. “ So how are you and Jeff doin’?”
Teresa just looked at him with a sad smile. “We’re doing fine.”
“Has he popped the question yet?”
“I told him I wanted to wait.” Teresa walked back to the bed and sat down.
“Why?” Johnny was puzzled about this turn of events. Teresa was so excited that he was going to ask her. She wanted that so much.
“I’m needed here.”
“No, Teresa, don’t do that! I don’t need you here taking care of Crystal and me. Don’t give this up. You wanted this too much.”
“Not really Johnny. Jeff’s nice. He would be a good husband. But I want something more, something else.” Teresa pleated her skirt as she spoke.
Johnny looked hard at her and asked, “What, what else is it that ya want?”
Teresa looked at Johnny and then hurriedly looked down. She couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t let him know. Not now. It was too soon. It would be wrong to even think about bringing it up now. No, she would have to wait. Wait until the time was right. She was older now. She wasn’t a little girl. She was going to have to show Johnny that. “What I want right now is to go and start lunch. It will be ready in twenty minutes. Don’t be late”. Teresa hurried from the room hoping that Johnny didn’t know what she was thinking. Not yet.
~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
Later that day while Teresa was busy making some of Johnny’s favorite foods for supper she started to think back to when Angelina died. When Angelina had found out that whatever the Thompsons had was spreading to everyone in their family she sent Crystal home with Jose. She stayed waiting for the doctor to arrive. When he did he couldn’t allow her to leave. He wasn’t sure what it was but it seemed to be spreading fast. Mrs. Thompson had died and her oldest son didn’t look like he was going to last much longer.
Later that evening, Angelina started showing signs of having whatever the Thompsons had. When word reached Lancer and Johnny found out he was overwhelmed with fear for his wife. He kept insisting that he should be with her. But Sam couldn’t chance it. Murdoch had to even go as far as locking Johnny in his room and putting guards out to make sure that Johnny didn’t leave to go see his wife.
Angelina died forty-eight hours later. Johnny had showed no emotion while everything was arranged for her burial. They had to be careful because Sam still didn’t know what had caused this. Even during this time everyone kept watching Crystal for any sign that she had also caught this strange disease but she never even so much as sneezed.
The day of the funeral was awful. The last of the Thompson family of six died that morning. They carefully wrapped the body while wearing a bandana over their mouth and nose making sure that no one actually came in contact with the deceased. Then they had the house burned to the ground. Sam thought it was best since he had no idea what it was. He felt so inadequate about his skills as a doctor. He was perplexed over the fact that he didn’t get sick and Crystal, who was just a small fragile baby didn’t get sick. He decided that the Thompsons and Angelina had to have come in contact with something - most likely something that was brought in the house. But what it could have been he had no idea. There had been great strides made in medicine over the years but there were still so many mysteries that they had no idea how to handle and what the causes were.
At the gravesite Teresa had held Crystal while Murdoch and Scott flanked Johnny on either side. He just stood there, ramrod straight, staring at the casket. No emotion was visible on his face. He had his Madrid mask on and was afraid to let it go.
The preacher said his words of comfort over Angelina. Then they lowered her into the ground. Everyone filed past throwing a handful of dirt on the casket and said goodbye. When it was Johnny’s turn he pick up the dirt, when he went to throw it he collapsed. Murdoch and Scott grabbed him and helped him into the carriage.
Johnny just sat there shaking. When they got home they took him in the back door. They knew that Johnny wasn’t ready for all the mourners there. As soon as they reached the spare room Johnny broke down. Murdoch and Scott just clung to him not sure what to do and how to help. They have never seen Johnny break down like this, and being men, they didn’t really know how to handle it.
After what seemed like an eternity Johnny got himself under control. They helped him clean up so he could go out and thank those that had attended. Murdoch and Scott were pretty shaken by everything and had a hard time trying to get themselves composed also.
But in the end Johnny put on his Madrid mask again and was able to get through the rest of the evening without incident. So much emotion was hard on everyone especially the men. They all retired early. Drained and exhausted by everything.
Johnny never showed his feelings like that again, at least not in front of anyone. Teresa knew that he did in private. She had seen the times when tears would well up in his eyes and he would disappear into his room, staying there for hours. Those times keep getting less and less until he was able to function fairly normally. Oh, you could still see the sadness in his eyes. You could still feel the pain that radiated from him but he was coming to terms with what happened and was trying his best to move on.
Teresa started putting the finishing touches on the cake as she thought of her eighteenth birthday. She wasn’t a little girl anymore and she wanted everyone to know it. She had talked Murdoch into giving her the money to buy a new wardrobe. She took all her little girl short dresses over to the orphanage. She had so much fun buying the longer dresses of a mature lady. That is how she viewed herself. She hadn’t been a little girl for years now. A little girl couldn’t have taken care of her father’s funeral and nursed Murdoch back to health. A little girl couldn’t have kept the ranch running when Murdoch was so ill. No, she hadn’t been a little girl for a long time now.
She had sat for hours in front of a mirror practicing fixing her hair in the different styles of a woman. Not wearing it down like a child. She bought the combs she needed to accomplish the styles that she chose. But the combs that she loved best were the ones that Johnny had bought her.
She knew in her heart that was a sign that Johnny realized that she was growing up. Now she was going to let him know how much of a woman she had become. But she was going to have to be careful. His grief over his wife was just starting to lessen. She didn’t want to push to hard to fast and scare him off. No, she was going to be patient and gently led Johnny into what she knew he really wanted.
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Everyone was at the table except for Johnny as Teresa and Maria were bringing out the food. Scott laughed and looked over at Murdoch grinning. “Looks like we’re going to have heartburn tonight.”
Murdoch just laughed. “But you must admit, son, that this is a good reason to have it.”
Johnny walked in and slid into his chair while Scott and Murdoch were still laughing. “Teresa, Maria this smells great. What’s the special occasion?”
“Why would there have to be a special occasion to make sure my family has a good meal?” Teresa smiled as she sat next to Johnny.
Johnny looked over at her and gave a low whistle. “You sure do look nice tonight Teresa.”
Teresa blushed, “Why thank you kind sir.” Then she looked at Scott and Murdoch and added, “It’s nice to know that someone noticed.”
“I noticed.” Scott smiled his most charming smile at her.
“Oh yeah, and exactly what did you notice?’
“Uh” Scott tried to put on his best boyish smile, ”I notice how special you look.”
Johnny laughed and flipped a tortilla at Scott. “That’s a good one, but too bad you didn’t notice the new dress and fancy hair style. Why, Teresa here is starting to grow up on us.”
Murdoch looked over at Teresa. “You look lovely my dear. When did you start wearing your hair like that?”
“Murdoch, I’m not a child any more in case you haven’t noticed. All young ladies wear their hair like this.” Teresa smiled at him but she was a little upset that Scott and Murdoch couldn’t see that she wasn’t a little girl any more. But that didn’t matter. What mattered is that Johnny noticed. She felt a warmth flow through her. She knew that he would notice. He always did notice things like that. She was making the right choice. All her dreams were within her reach.
As the dinner was finishing up, Murdoch started to refill his wine glass, “Boys let’s go out on the veranda. I have something I would like to discuss with you.”
“Sure Murdoch,” Scott reached for the wine decanter and filled his glass, also.
Johnny grabbed some grapes and an apple and followed his father and brother outside.
“We have to renew our contract with the Millers. I would like you boys to go and handle that for me. It shouldn’t take you more than two weeks at the very most.”
“Now John, you haven’t even left the ranch in a few months now. It will do you good to get out. Crystal will be fine. Teresa and I can take care of her. In fact it will be fun having her all to myself for a while.” Murdoch smiled at Johnny watching the myriad of emotions playing across his face.
“Hey that’s not a bad idea brother. We haven’t had a chance for just you and me to go any place for a while. I personally miss that. So how about it? The Lancer brothers ride again.” Scott laughed and looked at Johnny hoping that he would go along with it. He needed to get away.
Johnny had been working too hard. He had been trying to put in a full days work and also take care of Crystal - refusing help. The family, of course, ignored his refusals and did all they could to help. They knew that Johnny was keeping busy trying to hide from the fact that Angelina wasn’t there any more. Now it was time that he started to get out and live again. She died but he hadn’t and he needed to start living again.
“Sure, I guess it would be okay.” Johnny gave a weak smile. He didn’t want to leave his daughter and if he was honest with himself he wasn’t sure that he was ready to go out and meet people yet.
“Great, I know of a little place there that has some of the most beautiful ladies….” Scott stopped realizing his mistake when he saw his brother’s face. Johnny wasn’t ready to meet women yet. Scott wished he could take the words back.
Johnny looked down and then looked back at Murdoch and Scott with a weak smile that had a hard time staying put. “The trip will be fine. I’m kinda tired so I think that I’ll turn in early. G’nite.”
As Johnny walked away with his head bowed and his shoulders slumped, Murdoch and Scott looked at each other. They both sighed knowing that all they could do was to be there for him and wait until the pain eased.
~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~
“Well, brother we have five days left to do whatever we want. How about we start off with a beer and then decide how we’re going to spend our time.” Scott had slung his arm over Johnny’s shoulder as they walked across the street toward the saloon.
“Sure,” Johnny really wanted to go home but he didn’t want to disappoint Scott. “I don’t see why Murdoch sent us here anyway. Old man Miller already had the contract signed and ready to send to us. This was just a waste of time and we especially didn’t need two weeks.”
“Johnny he probably wanted some time alone with Crystal. You know how much he loves that girl. Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth brother. Come on I can hear those beers calling our name.” Scott knew the real reason was to get Johnny away from the ranch and hopefully get him to start living again.
Since Angelina died, Johnny hadn’t gone anywhere. He would do his work and go straight home to take care of Crystal. No one expected him to be as carefree as he was before he got married but he was becoming a hermit. Never partaking in anything that didn’t involve the ranch or his daughter.
Scott decided it was his responsibility to get his brother back into society. He knew that he had to be tactful or his brother would hightail it back to the ranch. So he thought they would start out with a beer and then maybe a card game. It was too much to ask him to go to the dance that was being held Friday night but maybe they could find some other kind of entertainment that Johnny would enjoy.
While they were having their beer one of the girls kept coming up to Johnny trying to get him to pay some kind of attention to her. She was a beauty. Her red hair and green eyes stood out against the short green dress that the saloon girls were wearing. Her ruby red lips just asked to be kissed.
Scott was getting frustrated just watching Johnny ignore her. When she looked Scott’s way he gave her one of his most charming smiles. He thought that it would be a shame if she couldn’t have the pleasure of being with at least one of the Lancer brothers. Since Johnny didn’t seem to be interested he decided that the duty fell to him and he was one who took his duties seriously.
He started flirting in earnest to Johnny’s relief. Johnny didn’t want to be bothered. He wasn’t ready yet. It had only been a little over four months since a part of him was ripped away. That is how he felt. She was a part of him and now she was gone. He couldn’t imagine anyone taking her place at his side. No, he had something that only happens once in a lifetime. Now that she was gone, he was destined to be alone.
After a little over an hour Scott wanted to get away alone with Jayda but he didn’t want to leave Johnny. Johnny seen that Scott was wishing to get away and in all honesty he would prefer if he did. He wasn’t really in the mood to sit there and watch Scott and Jayda. He just wanted to go to bed and maybe think about how to talk Scott into going back early.
“Hey Scott, I’m going to take a walk around town. Why don’t you stay here with Jayda?”
Scott looked hard at Johnny. “Are you sure? We could do something together.”
Johnny just smiled at Scott. “No brother. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big boy now and can take care of myself. Have fun. I’ll meet you back in our room later.”
Johnny walked outside and looked around. The sun was getting lower and it was cooling off. Maybe a walk wouldn’t be all that bad. He just aimlessly started walking. After about an hour of wondering the streets he ended up in what would be considered the better part of town. The houses were quite impressive for around this area.
As he turned the corner he saw a wagon sitting by the sidewalk. From the rear of it he heard a woman’s voice. It sounded like she was scolding someone for misbehaving. He walked around and saw what was happening.
A young lady, about two years younger than him, was trying her best to get a dresser off the wagon. She had golden brown hair tied up in a chignon that shone in the dimming light. She was a good six inches shorter than him, with a tiny waist that was partially hidden behind an oversized coat. She was scolding the piece of furniture as if it was a disobedient child.
Johnny started laughing. When she turned around to see who was laughing he tried to stop. A lock of her hair kept falling into her large hazel eyes. Johnny couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was.
“If you were any kind of gentleman you would offer to help me instead of laughing at me.” She tried to put the stray lock of hair back into place but it decided to just go back where it was.
Johnny gave her one of his most charming smiles. “Ma’am I was just about to do that.” He walked over and grabbed the dresser and with a little difficulty placed it on the sidewalk. The piece was well build and heavy. “I really don’t think that you could have lifted this.”
She just smiled. “My uncle makes furniture. He wanted to surprise one of his better customers with this when they came back from their trip tomorrow. But he strained his ankle earlier today. I thought that maybe I could help out and deliver it. I guess that wasn’t such a good idea.” She then laughed and cocked her head looking up at Johnny, “Unless you would like to help me.”
Johnny looked down at his feet and then looked up with his head tilted. “I’m always willing to help a damsel in distress.” After he said that he thought the he was starting to sound like Scott.
“Why, thank you most kindly sir.” She gave him a small curtsey and then went over to the dresser.
“Where are we taking this?”
She pointed to the house behind them. There were about ten steps to climb before they reached the porch. Johnny was hoping that it was to be put downstairs but looking at the house he doubted it.
“I’ll get this end and…”
“Now ma’am I can carry this.”
“This is way to heavy for one person. You almost dropped it taking it out of the wagon.” She laughed at the look on his face.
At first he was going to deny it but then he did realize it was too heavy for one person. “Okay, how about I take the heavy end and I’ll try to carry most of the weight. You just kinda balance it.”
“Sounds good to me.” She laughed again. He liked the sound of her laugh. It had a musical air about it.
They got it up the stairs and into the foyer with little difficulty. Johnny was winded, though and when he looked over at her he saw that she was too.
“How about I see if there is something cold to drink in the kitchen.” She walked into the kitchen and was back in just a few minutes. “Here’s some cold lemonade. I just made it. I’ll just tell the Brenners that it was a delivery charge.” They both laughed and sat down drinking their lemonade.
“By the way my name is Rebecca. I guess we didn’t have time for introductions.” She smiled.
“Nice to met you Rebecca. I’m Johnny.” He liked it when she smiled it lit up her whole face. “Your uncle is pretty lucky to have a niece that would go through all this trouble for him.”
“No, I’m the lucky one. When my father died he took me in. I told him I was old enough to be on my own but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said I have a home with him until I get married. So I do everything I can to help him out.”
“He is quite a craftsman. His furniture is starting to get well known further and further away, which is keeping him pretty busy. I try to help him in the shop as much as I can.”
‘I can tell by the piece we brought in that he does beautiful work. So where do we have to put this.” He walked over to the dresser and was leaning against it.
“Well, we lucked out because he is converting one of the back rooms into a downstairs bedroom.” Laughing she add, “No more climbing stairs.”
Johnny started to laugh also. “That is good, real good.”
They got it to the back bedroom. Rebecca started looking around trying to decide where to put it. She was concentrating real hard and started backing up. Just when Johnny told her to watch out she bumped into a small stand knocking over a lamp. It broke on the floor and the oil was leaving a mark.
“Oh no!” She knelt down and started trying to clean it up. “How am I going to get rid of this oil stain?”
Johnny looked around and then reached for her hand. With one of his mischievous smiles he said, “I guess we just found the perfect spot for the dresser.”
They both laughed so hard that they had to sit down. “Yes, yes I think your right.” Rebecca was glad that someone was there to help and that he also had a good sense of humor.
They finished up inside and then headed out. When they got to the street both of them stopped and looked up and down the street.
Rebecca’s hands flew to her face and she gasped, “Oh no, I did it again.”
“What? What did you do and where’s your wagon?”
Rebecca kept her hands up by her face and peeked over at Johnny. Her cheeks were red. In a small voice she whispered, “I forgot to tie the horses here. I do that quite often. Don’t worry though they know the way home. They usually beat me there.” She sighed and put her hands in the pockets of her coat.
Johnny looked at her and started laughing. “You’ve done this before?’
Rebecca looked down and then with a small smile looked over at Johnny. “I guess it’s my trademark.”
They both started laughing again. “Well, I walked here but I would be willing to escort you to your place.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that. You’ve done enough already and besides I live all the way on the other side of town.”
“It’s Rebecca, your making me feel old.”
Johnny smiled at her and then corrected, “Rebecca, I don’t have anything else to do and I couldn’t sleep knowing that you were out here all by yourself.” With his eyes twinkling Johnny added, “And besides there could be bears out here.”
This made Rebecca feel better about her mistake. She laughed and looked up at Johnny. “I wouldn’t want to be eaten by a bear.”
They started walking. At first they were talking about things in general. Then Johnny asked her if she was getting chilly.
The coat she had on was oversized but it was also very light. She wrapped the coat tighter around her and said, “No, I’m fine really. This coat is warmer than it looks. It was my father’s. I feel close to him when I wear it. It’s been only two years since he died and sometimes I miss him terribly. I know that it probably sounds crazy.”
Johnny stopped and looked at her. “No, not at all. Then he showed her his ring. This was my mother’s. Well not exactly the ring. Hers was too small so when I go older I had the stone placed in this ring. I feel close to her wearing it.”
This opened the door for them to start talking about more personal things. She told him about where she used to live and her father. He told her about Lancer and his daughter. He didn’t know why he felt so comfortable talking to her. He didn’t really know her but there was something about her that made him feel at ease. He even told her about Angelina and how she died.
They took their time walking back to her place. They even stopped at the stores and looked in the windows as they passed. Three hours later they were at her house.
Her uncle was up and waiting for her. He had seen the horses come back and the neighbor help put them in the stable. With his foot he couldn’t go looking for her. He usually wasn’t too worried though because this had happened a few times before. But this time it was dark and he did worry. When he seen Johnny walk up with her he felt relief wash over him that she found someone to escort her home. He knew that she was very particular about who she hung around so he knew that this young man must be all right.
He hobbled out to the porch. “Rebecca you finally made it home.”
She smiled up to him. “I guess you know that I did it again.”
He laughed and shook his head. “How many times does that make?”
She just blushed and looked away. Then she took Johnny’s arm pulling him nearer to her uncle. “Uncle Jim, this is my knight in shining armor, Johnny. He helped me deliver Brenner’s dresser and then when the wagon was gone escorted me home.”
Jim reached his hand out toward Johnny. “Thank you young man for taking care of my niece. She’s a good girl but sometimes she is forgetful.”
Johnny laughed and shook his hand. “It was no problem. I should be heading back, though.”
“Well, thank you again John. Please stop by sometime. We would enjoy having your company.”
“Sure, I would like that. I better be going, bye.”
“Bye Johnny and thanks for everything.” Rebecca watched him walk away. Her uncle watched her and then smiled. “He’s a nice young man isn’t he?”
She smiled at her uncle and kissed him on the cheek as she went into the house. “That he is uncle, that he is.”
It took Johnny another hour to walk back to the hotel. He wasn’t sure how late it was but he didn’t expect Scott to be in the room. He could see a light on from under the door and cautiously opened the door.
Scott stood up right away and ran over to Johnny. “Are you alright? Where have you been? Come in here so I can get a better look at you and sit down.”
“Whoa there Scott. What has gotten into you? Why are you back already?”
“I came back early so you wouldn’t have to be alone. Then I find you missing. Where were you?” Scott was dragging Johnny into the room by his arm and over to the light.
“Scott, stop it. I’m okay. I just went for a walk.” Johnny couldn’t understand why Scott was acting this way.
“Scott keep your voice down and tell me why you’re so upset.”
“I’ll tell you why. You leave to go for a walk and stay away for five hours. Johnny I worry about you especially since….”
Johnny just shook his head and sat on the bed. So that was why Scott was upset. “Scott I know it hasn’t been long since Angelina died but that doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself. “
Scott sat beside Johnny and put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “I know that you can take care of yourself, brother. But lately you haven’t been as alert as usual. You’ve been to busy trying to deal with your pain. I was just worried that you were too occupied to notice and someone took advantage of it.”
Johnny looked up at Scott and smiled. “Brother, in a strange town I’m always on alert. Don’t worry. Besides I was helping a, what did that book of yours call it? A damsel in distress.” Johnny gave Scott one of his best smiles.
Scott looked at his brother and smiled too. “Was she pretty or was she old and wrinkled.”
Johnny laughed and hit his brother with a pillow. “That my brother is something you’ll never know. Now let me get some sleep. I’m tired.”
Scott grabbed Johnny around the neck and mussed his hair. “I’m pretty tired too.” Then he went to his bed and they both went right to sleep.
The next two days the boys did everything together. Scott was enjoying having his brother back. Johnny was starting to loosen up. He was smiling more often and actually having fun.
Every so often Johnny would think about Rebecca. At first he felt guilty about it. He felt that even just thinking about her was being disloyal to Angelina. But by the third day he wanted to see Rebecca again. He wasn’t sure why. He had enjoyed talking with her the other night. It had felt good. He didn’t really want anything to come of it. He was almost certain of that. It was too soon. He couldn’t just let go of Angelina yet. But he wanted Rebecca’s company. He wanted to hear her laugh. He just wanted to see her again.
Then he remembered her uncle built furniture. ‘Crystal will soon be moving from the nursery to her own room. It will need some furniture. He could go over there and see what Jim had. Then he could also see Rebecca. It would be safe this way. She wouldn’t think or expect anything from him other than business. He could bring Scott along. Yes, this would work out fine.’
He told Scott about Jim and the beautiful furniture he made. Scott agreed to go over with him and see about getting some things for Crystal’s new room.
They went over after lunch. Johnny was starting to have second thoughts about this. ‘Why was he so interested in seeing Rebecca again? He should just go home and take care of his daughter. He shouldn’t be here, trying to see her again. What good would come of it? He wasn’t ready for a new relationship. His heart still hurt too much for Angelina. So why was he here?’ He didn’t know but it was too late now. They were at her door.
Scott was the one that knocked on the door. Rebecca answered. Scott introduced himself and stepped aside to introduce her to Johnny when she gasped, “Johnny!” She was embarrassed. She didn’t mean to blurt out his name like that. It was just that she was thinking about him. Ever since that night she couldn’t get him out of her mind. She never expected to see him again even though she wished she could.
Johnny gave her a shy smile. “Rebecca.”
Scott looked from one to the other. “You two know each other?”
“She’s the damsel in distress that I helped the other day.” Johnny thought ‘Oh great, what is she going to think about me always calling her a damsel in distress.’
Scott could see in her eyes that she really liked Johnny. When he looked at his brother he saw confusion but he also saw that he like Rebecca.
Johnny cleared his throat and started, “It won’t be long before my daughter will be moving from the nursery to her own room. We are going to need some furniture for it. I liked what I saw the other day and thought I would talk to your uncle.” He didn’t think that he even took a breath while telling her this. He was so nervous and was getting mad at himself for feeling and acting this way.
“That would be great. Come on in. Uncle Jim is in the shop. I can take you out there through the kitchen. Just follow me.” She led the way with Scott and Johnny following.
Scott looked back at Johnny. Johnny was watching Rebecca’s every move. A smile came to Scott’s lips. ‘ Johnny is starting to have some feelings for Rebecca and he doesn’t even know it yet.’ Scott decided right then and there that as Johnny’s big brother he was going to keep an eye on these two and if they need a little nudge he would provide it.
Jim was happy to see Johnny. He had seen how his niece had acted after their walk that night. He knew the signs of someone falling in love and his niece was definitely showing the first signs. He wanted what was best for his niece and after she had told him about their walk and about Johnny he felt more comfortable about them being together.
He knew that he wanted to get to know this young man more to make sure but so far he seemed okay. So he decided that he had to do something so he could spend some time with this man. Then the idea hit him.
They talked about what Johnny would need and decided on what he wanted. Then Jim told him that lately he had been very busy but he needed to go over some more details. He asked the boys if they wouldn’t mind coming over for supper and finalize what Johnny wanted. Johnny and Scott agreed and then they went back to the hotel.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Rebecca was excited about having Johnny and his brother over for supper. She really liked Johnny and wanted to get to know him better. She knew that is why her uncle set this up. He also wanted to get to know Johnny better. He was a dear old man and she knew that he wanted what was best for her.
Scott was happy that they were going to Rebecca’s for supper. His brother had been withdrawn and sad for too long. He needed some distraction. He knew that Johnny and Rebecca were attracted to each other. If it worked out that would be great. If not then at least Johnny had someone to help take his mind off of his lost. Maybe this was the first step of him starting to live again.
Johnny was the only one that was worrying about the dinner. He kept thinking about Angelina. ‘Was she watching? Was she upset with him for even looking at another woman? What did he want from Rebecca? Did he just want a friendship?’ He was pretty sure that he didn’t want anything more than that but he wasn’t positive. He chastised himself because he had a daughter at home that he needed to worry about. Then he made up his mind that no matter what happened he was just going to be friends with Rebecca. After all they seemed to get along very well and think alike on many things. She would be a good friend, someone to confide in maybe. ‘Yes, that was all it was going to be. A friendship.’
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
Rebecca checked the table and house one more time to make sure that everything was perfect. During their walk a few nights ago, Rebecca found out a lot about Johnny. They felt at ease in each other’s company. It was almost as if they had always known each other. She didn’t believe in love at first sight, but this sure was close.
She checked on the roast one more time before she finished getting ready. It had been awhile since she got to cook for more than two people. Her mother died when she was fourteen. Her brother had died a few years before trying to rescue someone from a burning house. That left only her and her father. Her mother was a great cook and taught her but it wasn’t easy cooking for just two people.
About six months later her best friend’s mother died. Rosa was the youngest of five and all of her brothers and sisters were married. So that left her to take over the duties of cooking and cleaning at her house.
Rebecca and Rosa had got together and decided it would be more fun if they would take turns cooking at each other’s house. This way they learned to make different foods and also it was easier cooking for four and more fun when doing it with a friend. Rebecca always enjoyed the spicy food that Rosa’s mother made. It was fun to learn how to make the Mexican dishes. Her father wasn’t to happy about it at first but after a few meals he decided that he was starting to like the spicy food.
Rebecca wasn’t sure what kind of food Scott liked so she decided to stay with a Sunday roast. It would be safer that way. And besides she didn’t want Johnny’s brother feeling uncomfortable.
She just finished fixing her hair the way she usually did on Sundays. After placing the last strand and comb in place she heard the knock at the door. Taking one last look in the mirror she hurried downstairs to welcome the guests.
Uncle Jim had already answered the door and had escorted the boys into the sitting room. Rebecca went in to say hello. She served drinks and then went in to the kitchen to start bringing out the food.
The dinner was a pleasant affair. Scott and Jim did most of the talking. They talked about Jim’s business and then about Lancer. Jim watched Johnny and liked what he saw. He always thought of himself as a good judge of character. His niece was even better at reading people. As he looked her way he could tell that she really liked this young man.
The only thing that bothered him was Johnny being a recent widower. He wanted to make sure the boy had time to heal before his niece got too involved. If he could make sure that the young man had ample time to heal and be able to love again he would give his niece his blessings to allow him to court her.
After dinner Jim showed them around his shop. He also showed them some of the pieces he was working on. As they were leaving the shop a neighbor man ran over. He was older and Mexican. He ran up to Johnny bowing and talking rapidly in Spanish. He was speaking to fast for Scott to understand but he did catch the name Madrid several times. His heart fell to his stomach. Johnny’s past was coming back again, this time, to keep him from being able to have a chance of getting to know Rebecca.
When the man finished speaking to Johnny he turned towards everyone and asked their forgiveness and left. Johnny had also spoken with the man. He didn’t seem upset and even smiled at the man. When he left Johnny sighed. Then he mentioned it was getting late and Scott and he should be leaving.
They complimented Rebecca on her meal, thanked Jim for inviting them and left. Johnny was quiet on the ride home. Scott watched him and saw that he seemed deep in thought and sad. Scott thought it would be better though if he waited until they got to their room to talk.
When they got to the room Johnny just laid back on the bed and sighed. “Johnny, what did that man say? I heard him say Madrid a couple of times.” Scott was hoping that Johnny would open up to him. He seemed so sad.
A sad smiled appeared on Johnny’s face, He looked over at Scott and sighed. “He was just thanking me for helping him and his family out.”
“He seemed really grateful.”
“Yeah, his family and some of his relatives were being forced off their land. They didn’t have much but it did have a constant supply of water that made it valuable, especially to the bigger ranches around. I just helped them out. They were good people and treated me like one of their own.”
“Johnny that was nice that he remembered and came to thank you.”
“You’re worried that this ended any chance you had with Rebecca.” This wasn’t a question it was just fact.
Johnny looked over at Scott and then sat up. He ran his hand through his hair as he started to speak. “Would you want your niece to be around a gunfighter? Anyway, I shouldn’t have even gone over there. I just buried my wife and have a daughter at home that needs me. That’s enough.”
Scott walked over and sat next to Johnny. “Johnny, do you think that Angelina would want you to be by yourself? Don’t you think that she would want you to live your life and be with other people? Getting to know someone is not going to take away from what you and Angelina had. Nothing could do that.”
Johnny was looking down at his hands and was picking at an imaginary piece of skin. “I feel so confused. I…I mean I really liked talking to Rebecca. She is easy to talk to and it felt….” Johnny stopped talking and was trying to get his thoughts together to explain to Scott what he was feeling.
Scott put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, “It was nice to have a woman to talk to again wasn’t it?”
“Johnny it’s alright to be friends with a woman. Angelina wouldn’t mind. And if something more comes of it, I know that Angelina would be more than happy for you. She would want a mother for Crystal and she wouldn’t want you to be alone.” Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder.
Johnny looked up at Scott. The pain in his eyes was heartbreaking. “I guess I don’t have to worry about it. Now that they know I’m Johnny Madrid, Jim won’t let Rebecca near me. And besides, I’m not really ready yet, even for a friendship.”
Scott embraced his brother. “You don’t know that, but even if Jim doesn’t allow you near her there will be other women. Just keep the door open, Johnny. Don’t close yourself off. Promise me. Angelina would want that.”
Johnny just shook his head ‘yes’. “I’m kind of tired. I think that I’ll call it a night.”
Scott started to get up and looked at Johnny. “Think about what I said. Okay?”
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next morning the boys were in the dining room eating when Jim walked in. He walked up to their table. “I’m sorry to bother you while your eating but I wonder if I could have a minute of your time?”
Scott pushed out a chair for him. “Sure, would you like something to eat?”
Jim held up his hand. “No, but a cup of coffee would be good.”
“Sure thing.” Scott motioned a waitress over and she poured Jim some coffee.
Jim tasted the coffee and smiled, “They have good coffee here.”
“They sure do.” Scott smiled back and wondered why Jim was there. He looked over at Johnny. Johnny pushed the plate of food that he had been playing with all morning aside and was now holding his coffee cup, just staring down at it.
Jim sighed and started to talk. “The gentleman that came over yesterday was Hernandez. He moved up here about five years ago. He told me about what happened where he use to live and how you,” he looked over at Johnny, “helped his family and him save their homes.”
Johnny just kept studying his coffee. “He said that his sister and her family had taken you in. They got to know you quite well. He really thinks highly of you. He told me a lot about you. All of it was good.”
Johnny still hadn’t moved. Jim looked at Scott and then back at Johnny. “I don’t know if you realize how much of a compliment that is?” Johnny looked up at Jim then.
“You see Hernandez had a hard life. He isn’t very trusting of people. When he moved here it was more than a year before he even started to trust me. He was the same with everyone. But once someone gained his trust he would stick by them no matter what. He always made sure that he knew the person very well before he gave that trust, though. You,” Jim pointed at Johnny, “seemed to have gained that trust in a relatively short time.”
Jim sighed and looked down at his hands. “What I’m trying to say is this. I love my niece very much and when my brother died I decided that I was going to make sure that she had the best life possible. I have always watched out for her and will continue to. “
“You don’t have to worry Jim, I won’t go near your niece. I’m sorry about any problem I may have caused you. You don’t even have to worry about the furniture.”
Jim held up his hands. “Wait a minute and hear me out. What I was trying to say is that I have seen the way my niece looks at you and you at her. If you want to court my niece you will have my blessing. I would like to ask one thing though.”
Scott was listening to all of this. He was so relieved that someone had seen past the legend and saw the man. “What is it that you would like?” Scott was curious where this was going.
“I would like you, Johnny, to make sure that you have had enough time to heal from the death of your wife. I don’t want my niece falling for someone that couldn’t love her the way she should be loved.”
Johnny sat there for a moment getting his thoughts together. “It hasn’t been that long since my wife past away. I loved her very much. I enjoyed your niece’s company. We seemed to think a lot a like and she is fun to be around. She is a very nice young lady I wouldn’t want to do anything to mislead her or hurt her in anyway.”
“I’m not sure that I’m ready for a relationship or if I will ever be. But I can tell you this if and when I’m ready I would really like to be able to court her.”
Jim smiled at Johnny, “very well said. When you’re ready you will have my blessing. In the mean time I’m working on your furniture and we will be seeing a lot of each other. Who knows what will happen.”
Jim patted Johnny on his arm. “I’d better be going. Stop in before you leave. You could show me which finish you like best. Scott,” He reached out and shook Scott’s hand and left.
Scott looked over at Johnny and smiled. Maybe his past was finally starting to give him a break.
“What are you smiling about?”
Oh nothing. I’m just glad that someone else thinks that my brother should start to get out more also.” Scott laughed at the look on Johnny’s face.
“You know brother, I think that it is your turn to take some responsibility around here and give Murdoch a daughter-in-law. Teresa will be getting married and moving off. Murdoch would like to have another female in the house.” Johnny sat there with his biggest smile at his brother.
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. I, as the big brother, have been helping you with that job. You have been doing a good job and I wouldn’t want to mess things up.” Scott was trying to maintain a serious look on his face.
Johnny started laughing so hard that he could barely stay in his chair. “You, Boston, just like variety. Maybe you should start thinking of picking just one and give all the fathers in the area a rest.”
Scott was laughing now too. “Now where would the fun be in that?”
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
The next morning the boys had everything packed and started to head back home. They went over to Jim’s place on the way out of town. Johnny and Jim went over the last details of what he wanted. Then Jim and Scott headed outside talking about business.
Rebecca was staining a piece of furniture and watching Johnny the whole time. Johnny smiled at her and walked over. He looked over what she was doing. “You’re doing a good job on that.”
“Thank you.” She stood up and wiped her hands on a rag she had nearby.
“If you deliver any furniture make sure you tie the horses.”
She laughed and went to put back a stray piece of hair but thought better of it since her hands had some stain on them. Johnny smiled and reached over putting the hair back in place. When he did she looked up at him. When he looked down at her he could feel her breath on his face and smell her perfume. He looked into her eyes and then her lips. He moved his hand from her hair over to her face rubbing his thumb across her lips. He could feel her quiver at his touch. He leaned towards her and their lips touched. She melted into the kiss. He started to pull her close then he heard Jim and Scott outside talking.
He let go and backed away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
She just sat there looking at him and then with a small smile sighed, “I’m not.”
Johnny reached out his hand to her and helped her up. “I’ll be back when the furniture is done.”
“The bed and table will be done before the dresser.” Rebecca smiled and moved closer to him.
Johnny’s face lit up with a brilliant smile. “I guess I’ll just have to make more than one trip.”
“I guess you will.” He took her hand and they walked out to where her uncle and Scott were.
“You ready to leave brother?”
“Sure Scott. I know how anxious you are to get back and start working again.”
Scott just rolled his eyes and started laughing at his brother. Johnny was the one that had wanted to go back early and Scott hadn’t had an easy time keeping him here. Scott also noticed Johnny holding Rebecca’s hand. ‘She may be just what he needs. I’m glad that Murdoch thought about us coming here.’
Everyone said their good byes. As Johnny and Scott were leaving, Johnny looked back. Rebecca was watching them go. He waved and she smiled and waved back. Johnny turned and sighed. He wasn’t sure how he felt yet but he did want the chance to get to know Rebecca better.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
It had been two weeks since their trip. Even though he kept busy with his daughter and ranch work he couldn’t help but think about Rebecca. He had really enjoyed her company. They seemed to think alike. It seemed that Rebecca and he agreed on more things than he did with Angelina.
Angelina was a strong person with just as strong opinions. Sometimes Johnny wondered how they ever got together. She wasn’t anything like any girl he ever dated before. Somehow though, they got together. The fireworks that followed were legendary. They loved just as passionately as they fought. Their great battles never lasted long and seemed to fuel their love afterwards.
When she made up her mind to do something there was no stopping her. That was why she had gone to help the Thompsons. Johnny hadn’t wanted her to go. She had their new little daughter to take care of but Angelina insisted on helping them out. She had said that Crystal would be fine and she would keep her in another room. Angelina just thought that they had the grippe and would be fine in a few days. It turned out that Angelina was very wrong.
Rebecca was a complete opposite of Angelina. She was quieter. She had just as strong opinions as Angelina but she didn’t express them with the fire that Angelina did. When Johnny was with her he felt relaxed and comfortable. He also felt that she was someone who he could tell anything too. Even if it were something she didn’t like, she would calmly think about it and then discuss it. She made her opinions known in a quiet but forceful way. She had a calming effect on him that he liked. He found himself wanting to be with her.
It was late, Johnny was outside enjoying the cool breeze and just watching the clouds float by the moon thinking about Rebecca and Angelina. He heard the rustle of a skirt and then felt Teresa’s hand on his arm.
“Beautiful night.” Teresa looked up into Johnny’s face. The light from the moon softened his features and made him look much younger.
He looked down at her and smiled, “It sure is.” Her hair shimmered in the moon light and her perfume danced in the air. She looked radiant standing there looking up at him. Johnny wondered if Murdoch realized how much she had grown up.
“You seemed deep in thought when I came out.”
“I was just thinking about Angelina.”
“She always loved this time of the evening.” Teresa tightened her hold on Johnny’s arm and leaned into him.
“Yes she did. She always said it was the most peaceful time of day and it helped to relax her for the night.”
Teresa placed her hand on Johnny’s heart. “She will always be with you here.”
Johnny placed his hand over Teresa’s and clasped it. “Yes she will. I miss her but it is getting easier.”
“She would want that. She would want you to go on and eventually find someone else to be with. She wouldn’t want you to be alone.” Teresa was looking into Johnny’s eyes watching his expressions.
“I’m starting to realize that. It’s just that I don’t want to lose what we had.” Johnny sighed and looked out over the grounds.
“You’ll never lose that as long as it is in your heart. She will always be with you.”
“How did you get so smart?” Johnny smiled down at Teresa.
“I just care and want what’s best for you.”
“You do a good job of taking care of us that’s for sure.”
She smiled at Johnny and reached up placing her hand on his cheek. “You always take care of the people you love.”
Johnny looked down at her. She was very pretty he had always seen that but tonight she seemed to glow. He was noticing something different about her but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
Just as he started to move a strand of hair from her face she reached up and placed her lips on his. He could feel her press her body into his and taste the sweetness of her kiss. He pulled away, taking her by the shoulders and stepped back.
“Johnny it’s okay. I know that you are still hurting.” Teresa then kissed his cheek, turned and went into the house.
Johnny just stood there stunned. His mind was spinning. ‘What just happened? We were just talking like we always do. Did I lead her on or is she starting to have feelings…no that can’t be. She feels the same way as I do. We are brother and sister of the heart. She knows that. I must of have said or done something to cause this. I just hope that she understands when I apologize. I don’t want anything to happen to our relationship.’
Johnny went inside and found Teresa in the kitchen. She was cleaning up from Murdoch and Scott’s raid on the cookie jar. Johnny watched as she wiped the crumbs from the table and rinsed out the glasses they used for milk. She was humming and didn’t seem upset about what just happened outside.
As Johnny watched he noticed how she had blossomed into a beautiful young woman. He wondered when that happened. It just seemed like yesterday when Scott and he had come to ranch. Teresa seemed so young then. It hadn’t been all that long and now the young girl was gone replaced by a very sensual woman.
He felt bad that she had turned down Jeff’s proposal of marriage. He tried to talk her out of it, worrying that she did it because she felt that she was needed to help Crystal and him. He knew that she would make a good wife. She would be someone any man would be proud to call his wife.
Johnny decided right then and there that he was going to help her find someone. She deserved that for all that she had done. She had stepped right in when Angelina died and started to take over the care of Crystal as if she was her own. Even now when Crystal babbled she was starting to call Teresa mama.
Johnny sighed and walked over to Teresa, taking her by her shoulders he turned her around. “Teresa, I’m sorry about what happened out on the veranda.”
Teresa reached up and put her finger over Johnny’s mouth. “Johnny you don’t have anything to be sorry about. I understand. Really.”
Johnny took her hand and smiled at her. “Teresa, you have been so good to Crystal and me. I don’t want to do anything to hurt you.”
“Johnny you could never do anything to hurt me. I don’t mind taking care of you and Crystal. When you love someone you want to help and be with them.”
Johnny smiled down at her and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you too. I don’t know what I would have done without my family.”
As Johnny left, Teresa put her hand to the cheek Johnny had just kissed. She sighed a contented sigh. Johnny had told her that he loved her. She always knew that he did and now he said it. She twirled around the kitchen thinking that it wouldn’t be long and she would be Mrs. Lancer.
Two weeks later a dance was going to be held in town. Scott was doing everything that he could think of to persuade Johnny to go. He was getting very frustrated. He wanted his brother to start getting out. He didn’t like the idea of Johnny always sitting at home.
“Johnny, give me one good reason for not going to this dance.” Scott had his arms crossed over his chest, his hat tilted back and he was staring at Johnny waiting for his reply.
“I already told you.” Johnny was sitting on the floor playing with Crystal.
“Murdoch and Teresa both said they would watch Crystal for you.”
Johnny looked up at that. “Teresa isn’t going to the dance?”
Scott leaned on the back of the couch. “No. Maybe no one asked her.”
“I can’t believe that. She should be going to that dance. She shouldn’t be hanging around here taking care of all of us. She needs to find someone and start her own family.”
“Well brother, why don’t you take her and make sure that she meets the right man. You get ready. I’ll ask her and I bet you she goes.” Scott walked away smiling from ear to ear. He really felt proud of himself. He was getting both Teresa and Johnny out of the house.
When Scott told Teresa that Johnny wanted to take her to the dance she was ecstatic. She even almost beat Johnny in getting ready. This was a dream come true for her. Johnny finally asked her to go some place with him.
When she came downstairs Johnny was in the great room talking to Murdoch. “Murdoch are you sure you want to do this. You know that Crystal gets cranky with her teething and all.”
“Johnny, Crystal and I will be fine. You just go to that dance and have some fun for once. You’re long over due.” Murdoch was bouncing Crystal on his knee. She was squealing in delight.
“I’ll be back early. I’ll only stay for a couple of dances.”
“John, I can take care of Crystal. I took care of you when you where this age. I know what I’m doing. Since I’m the one that calls the tune around here I say you, young man, are to go and have fun tonight.”
Johnny started laughing and as he walked away he said over his shoulder, “I wouldn’t want to have to do extra chores just because I didn’t have fun.”
Teresa and Scott met Johnny by the door. They both looked into the great room and told Murdoch goodbye.
“Have fun.” It made Murdoch’s heart swell with pride to see his children going off together to have some fun. It was good to see Johnny finally getting out. He was also happy that Teresa chose to go out too. After the break up between her and Jeff she had just stayed around the house - not even going out to see her friends.
“Well, Crystal it’s just you and me. Between your father, Uncle Scott, and Aunt Teresa I hardly get a chance to spoil you. Let’s see if we can fix that tonight.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
After the dance Johnny took Crystal and went to bed. Scott had to laugh at the sight, though. Murdoch was on the couch, with his feet propped up, sound asleep. Crystal was lying across his chest. There was a book that he had been reading precariously hanging from his loose grip.
Murdoch mumbled some excuse why Crystal wasn’t in bed and then headed to bed himself. Scott and Teresa were the only ones left in the great room and Scott was glad. He wanted to talk to Teresa about the dance.
“Teresa before you head off to bed I would like to have a word with you.”
“Sure Scott. Is anything the matter?”
“Why don’t we sit down?” Scott walked over and sat on the couch. Teresa sat in the blue chair.
“Teresa, I know that is hasn’t been all that long since you broke up with Jeff but I’m worried that you aren’t trying to see other people. There are many nice young men that would love to take you out.”
Teresa smiled at Scott. “Scott, I went out tonight and I had a really good time.”
Scott leaned forward with his arms on his legs and his hands clasped in front of him. “But you only danced with Johnny.”
“I also had two dances with you.”
“What I’m trying to say is you didn’t even try to dance with anyone else. I saw you turn down a couple of boys.”
Teresa got up and walked over to Scott. She sat down beside him and placed her hand on his arm. “Scott, don’t worry. I’m doing fine. I danced with who I wanted to tonight.”
Scott left out an exasperated sigh. “Teresa you have to start to meet other men. Just because it didn’t work out with Jeff doesn’t mean that it won’t work out with someone else.”
“I know that Scott. Don’t worry this evening was just the way I wanted it. Everything is going to be fine. You worry too much.” Teresa than laughed and patted Scott on the arm, “Good night Scott.”
Scott sat there wondering about what Teresa said. He had seen how she acted around Johnny. He was starting to wonder if she wasn’t starting to fall in love with Johnny. He was pretty sure that Johnny only saw her as a sister. He was hoping that he was wrong and she was just acting like someone who had just broken off her engagement. He would sure hate to be wrong.
He thought about talking to Johnny about this. But then he thought that wouldn’t be a good idea. Johnny was still healing from Angelina’s death he didn’t need the extra burden of wondering if maybe Teresa was falling for him. Scott decided that he would just watch the situation and if Teresa were falling in love with Johnny then he would take the necessary steps to make sure no one got hurt.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
Rebecca was excited. Johnny and Scott were due there some time that day. Her uncle had sent Johnny a letter informing him that the bed and table were finished. He invited Johnny and Scott to stay at their place for a few days.
Johnny had written back saying that they would enjoy spending some time with him and Rebecca. They would be able to come the next Thursday and leave early Monday.
After Johnny and Scott left the first time Uncle Jim had a talk with Rebecca. He wanted to know how she felt about Johnny. She remembered thinking hard about it. Johnny was different than any other man that she ever dated. They seemed to think alike. It was as if they could read each other’s minds. His smile could light up a dark night. He was funny and yet he also could be very serious. When he wasn’t around she couldn’t help but think about him. When he had kissed her before he left, she thought her heart was going to explode. She was glad that she was sitting down because she was sure her knees would have given out. She looked at her uncle and wondered what she was going to tell him.
She ended up telling him that Johnny made her feel like no one else ever had. He was kind, funny, and thoughtful. He was someone she was sure who would protect those he loved with all that he had. He was someone who she wanted to be able to get to know better.
Her uncle had smiled at her and said that she sounded like he had when he had met her late aunt. Then he told her about his talk with Johnny. He also told her that Johnny was still hurting over the loss of his wife and may not be ready for a relationship yet, would she be willing to wait.
At first she was shocked that her uncle seemed to be asking her if she wanted to date Johnny. Then she had to smile. Her uncle was a very perceptive man. He could read people almost as well as her father had. She knew that she had inherited that from them. She was also very good at reading people and seeing things that others may over look.
She also knew that he understood about Johnny turning his life around. His father, her grandfather had done that. When her great-grandparents and their children came here from Germany they moved to New York City. There they were able to rent a two-story place fairly cheap at what was called the sixth ward. Like most of the people that lived there they opened their shop downstairs and lived upstairs.
At first things were fine. Many poorer immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and some freed slaves had moved in. Most of them were artisans and tradesmen. They didn’t realize that their homes were built on a filled in collect pond and swamp. Soon the houses started to sink and tip. Factories started opening up, mass-producing the same products that they made by hand. There was no need for apprentices any more. This left the young people with nothing to do. They started forming gangs, dangerous gangs.
More immigrants, Jews, Italians, Chinese and others started coming. The landlords got greedy and started adding onto the already falling apart buildings and dividing them up more into small one-room apartments. Whole families lived in these apartments. Disease and filth was everywhere. Gangs started becoming rampant.
Her grandfather became a member of one of the gangs. He did it for survival but he also did things that he wasn’t proud of. After his brother was killed and his father injured he decided that he wanted out. He took his wife, father and mother and left with only the clothes on their backs. They headed out to California hoping to find a better life for their coming child.
He turned his life around. He wasn’t proud of the things he did while he was in the gang but he worked hard to change his life. He would tell his children about his life at what later became known as Five Points. He didn’t tell them everything he did but he told them enough so they would be supportive of anyone who truly wanted to change their lives for the better.
Her father and Uncle had also instilled that into their children. That is why when her uncle found out about Johnny’s past life and how he had turned his life around, he wasn’t worried at all about Rebecca falling for him.
Rebecca had checked the house one last time to make sure everything was in order. She did a lot of baking when she found out that Johnny was coming. She wanted to make sure that there were plenty of treats for everyone while they were here.
She knew that Johnny liked his spicy food and she was going to make him a grand feast for tonight. Scott had said that he was getting used to that kind of food when he was there last time so she hoped he wouldn’t mind. Tomorrow she would have something a little tamer for Scott.
Friday night was going to be a dance. She was hoping that Johnny would ask her to go. If he did she had already asked her friend if she would be willing to go with Scott. She knew that Scott would like her. She was very pretty. Her long silky blonde hair and deep dark brown eyes with her tan features and tiny frame made all the men notice her. Rebecca just hoped that Johnny wouldn’t notice her too much.
She heard a wagon pull up and knew it must be them. She let her uncle go out and show them where to put the wagon and horses while she got the lemonade and sandwiches ready. She knew that they would be thirsty and hungry after their trip.
When they walked into the kitchen Rebecca thought that everyone could hear her heart beating. Johnny looked her way and gave her one of his most brilliant smiles. He was even more handsome then she remembered.
“Hi Rebecca. You’re looking muy bonita today.”
“Thank you, Johnny.” Rebecca was mad at herself for blushing like a schoolgirl. “I have some sandwiches and cold lemonade for everyone.”
Johnny softly laughed when he had seen that she was just as nervous about seeing him as he was about seeing her. “That sounds great.”
“It sure does and that’s just what we need after our long trip. Thank you Rebecca.” Scott walked over and escorted her over to the table and seated her. He looked over at his brother and at the chair next to Rebecca then went to the other side of the table and sat. Jim sat at the head of the table, which left the only other place beside Rebecca.
All during the meal Johnny and Rebecca kept stealing glances at each other. As Johnny looked her way again he thought that she was even more beautiful than he remembered. Hearing her laugh was music to his ears. He could listen to that all day. He was glad that he came back here. He was tempted when he got the telegram to just have the furniture shipped but Scott and Murdoch talked him into getting it personally. When that happened Johnny had decided that Scott had talked to Murdoch about their first trip here. Normally that would have made him mad but now that he was here he was glad that they talked him into it.
That evening while they were sitting out on the porch talking, Jim brought up about the dance. Johnny looked over at Rebecca and then at Jim. “Jim, if Rebecca wouldn’t mind I would like to take her to the dance.”
Jim was hoping that he would ask. Laughing he said, “That would be good. Now I won’t have to worry about her being here all be herself while I go.”
“Uncle Jim.” Rebecca knew that her uncle was hoping that Johnny would ask her. “Scott, my friend would be honored if you would escort her to the dance. I have to warn you though. You will be the envy of every man there, she is very pretty and quite popular.”
Scott laughed, “Ah, a challenge. I would be honored.”
Johnny started laughing also. “If you know of anyone who could tie him down enough to get married, Murdoch and I would be grateful.”
Jim and Rebecca started laughing too. “Well, John, if Rebecca and I come up with anyone we’ll be sure to let you know.”
Scott just rolled his eyes, “Brother you are making it very hard to stay single.”
“That’s the idea big brother, that’s the idea.”
Jim took Scott out to the shop to show him a special piece he was working on. Johnny looked over at Rebecca. The moonlight filtering through the trees danced on her face. The rays made the highlights in her hair shimmer like gold. He put his arm around her, “You look beautiful.” He took a strand of her hair and started twirling it between his fingers.
She looked up at him. In the dim light his blue eyes sparkled with life. His features seemed to have softened and his lips. Oh, those lips just begged for hers. Everyone inch of her skin seemed to be screaming for his touch. She didn’t know if she could control herself. She had never felt this way with anyone before. She knew in her heart that no one else could ever make her feel this way. She leaned into him.
He could feel her breath on his face. He could smell the lavender in her hair. She was trembling under his touch. Her lips were beckoning him to taste them. He leaned down and tasted her sweet lips.
Her body was on fire and she deepened the kiss. She never felt anything like this before. She didn’t want it to ever stop.
Johnny pulled her closer savoring her taste. He then realized that if he didn’t stop now that he may not be able to. He reluctantly pulled away. They both were breathing heard. She was slightly flushed which made her even more desirable.
Johnny cleared his throat, trying to get himself under control. “It’s a beautiful night.” He said in a husky voice.
She only nodded not trusting herself to say anything yet. They just sat there for a few minutes enjoying the contact but also trying to get their emotions under control. She enjoyed the feel of his arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder and they just enjoyed the night and each other.
They talked as if they were always together. It seemed so right to be telling each other of their dreams and desires. Their souls seemed to melt together like a missing piece of a puzzle. They felt whole together.
It both excited and confused the couple. They hadn’t known each other for very long and yet they felt closer than most couples that have been together for years. It felt right, it felt good, and it had to be destiny.
At the dance everyone was having a good time. Scott was pleasantly surprised with his date. He thought that Rebecca was building up her friend so he would take her out. He was willing though, because he wanted to make sure that Johnny went and had a good time. When he met Susan he was stunned. She was beautiful but not stuck on herself. She was a lot of fun to be around. He was really enjoying her company.
Johnny and Rebecca danced every dance that they could together. They seemed as one on the dance floor. Everyone could see that they only had eyes for each other.
The time came when the ladies got to ask someone to dance. Rebecca was just coming back in from a short break outside. Before she could get to Johnny he already had a few ladies asking him for a dance. He looked apologetically over his shoulder to Rebecca as he was led out on the dance floor. She had to laugh at the look on his face. She turned to find Scott but seen that he also had several ladies bidding for their turn to dance with him so she joined Susan and they watched their dates.
“Becca, thank you for introducing me to Scott. I’m really enjoying his company.”
“I’m glad. He is very nice. He and his brother are very close.”
“I noticed that. I also noticed how you two couldn’t take your eyes off of each other.” Susan smiled as Rebecca blushed.
“He’s different than anyone I’ve ever dated before. It feels…Susan this may sound ridiculous but it feels as if we have always been together. We seem to be able to sense what each other is feeling and thinking. Does that sound crazy to you?”
“No not at all. In fact mother and father always said that was how it was with them. They say that it is a once in a lifetime thing. Not everyone is able to find the person who God has matched them with. You are one of the lucky ones. Don’t let him go.”
“I’m not planning on it, believe me.”
The girls enjoyed some punch and watched their dates, as they had to dance with the different ladies cutting in.
“Do you think that you should go save Johnny from those ladies.”
Rebecca started laughing. “No, I think that he will definitely appreciate my dancing more after the one he is with now quits stepping on his feet. How about you saving poor Scott.”
Susan was also laughing. “I’m enjoying watching Scott blush. Old widow Henderson doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I don’t think that Scott will be able to sit down if she squeezes his cheeks any more.”
Both ladies were laughing so hard that they almost spilled their drinks. A couple of ladies behind them though were not as amused. They were very upset by the widow’s public display. If Widow Henderson didn’t settle down she might be barred from the next dance.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Over the next two days, Johnny and Rebecca spent as much time together as they could. Jim always made sure that he or Scott was near. He could see how close Rebecca and Johnny were becoming. He wanted to make sure that everything was proper and their growing feelings didn’t get out of control.
Scott was able to spend some time with Susan also. He really enjoyed being with her. She was smart and fun. They had many conversations about books and philosophy. Scott was quite impressed with her insight. He also snuck over to the saloon to visit Jayda. She wasn’t as sophisticated as Susan but she was beautiful and fun in her own way.
Monday morning had come faster than either of the boys wanted. They had really enjoyed themselves there. They were just finishing tying down the furniture when Susan came over to say good-bye.
Scott walked over to her and they started talking. Johnny was happy to see his brother seeming to take interest in her. He was hoping that he would settle down. He would like nothing more than to see the ranch overrun with their children. They may not have been able to be there when they were young but their children would be able to do what they couldn’t.
“You know Scott that if you write me I will write back.” Susan swung her hip into Scott and laughed.
“That may be just the incentive I need to sit down and write you.” Scott glanced around to make sure that Jim wasn’t near and reached over giving Susan a very passionate kiss. Susan actually blushed and pulled away. She didn’t really want to but she also didn’t want him to think that he could get away with such brazen affections out in the open.
Johnny had seen the whole thing and was laughing when Rebecca came up to him. She was smiling and had that teasing twinkle in her eyes. “If you try that Uncle Jim is sure to shoot you on the spot.”
He looked over at Jim who was watching them. “I don’t doubt that one bit.” He did give her a kiss on the cheek, wishing that Jim wasn’t around so he could do more. He told her good bye. They both promised to write.
Scott joined him on the seat of the buckboard. They thanked everyone for a wonderful time and headed out.
Rebecca and Susan watched until they were out of sight. “You are very lucky.”
Rebecca sighed, “Yes I am. What about Scott? Does there seem like any chance of you two getting together?”
“Scott doesn’t seem like he is ready to settle down yet. When he is I wouldn’t mind being there with him.” Both girls turned and walked into the house.
“So, brother, what did you think of Susan. She sure is pretty.”
“That she is brother. And smart too. You can’t forget that.”
With an exasperated sigh Johnny looked at Scott, “Do you think that she may be the one?”
Scott shook his head. “Johnny, I told you before I’m not ready to settle down.”
“Brother, You’re not as young as you used to be. If you don’t get busy and find someone soon you will have to settle for old widow Henderson. She seemed really interested in you.”
Scott looked over at his cocky brother and grabbed him around his neck mussing his hair. “You, brother, are the one that needs someone to keep you in line.”
Both brothers laughed and enjoyed their trip home together.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Johnny and Scott pulled up by the house so the furniture could be unloaded. Murdoch came out when he heard the boys pull up.
“Johnny, Scott how was your trip?”
“It was good. We had a great time. Might have even found ole Boston here someone to tame him.”
Murdoch raised his eyebrows at the news. “That’s wonderful news.” Murdoch was hoping that Scott would find him a wife and settle down.
“Hey, I’ll have you know little brother, that I’m not letting any female get her claws into me just yet.”
Johnny was about to respond when Teresa came running out.
“Johnny, Scott you’re home.” Teresa gave Scott a hug and then ran over to Johnny. She flew into his arms and gave him a kiss.
She looked up into his eyes, “How was your trip.”
Johnny twirled her around as he thought about his time with Rebecca. “We had a good time. Where is Crystal? Was she good?”
“She’s taking her nap and of course, she was good. She missed you though.” Teresa had to laugh at the big smile that came over Johnny’s face.
“I missed her too. Murdoch wait until you see the workmanship on this furniture. Jim is a real craftsman.”
Everyone walked over to look at the furniture. Murdoch climbed up in wagon and looked it over. “This is some of the finest work I’ve ever seen.”
“I doubt if you could find anything finer in Boston. I’m thinking of telling grandfather about his work. I know that he would be impressed.”
“I’m sure he would, Scott.” Murdoch always had to make a conscious effort to keep his emotions under control when Harlan’s name came up. He was Scott’s grandfather and he raised him. Murdoch didn’t want to hurt Scott by letting him know how much he disliked Harlan, so for Scott’s sake he always tried to remain calm.
Teresa had looked over the furniture. “It’s beautiful. This will look great in Crystal’s new room.” Then she grasped Johnny’s arm. “Johnny, come see the curtains I made for Crystal’s room. They match the quilt that Mrs. Delaney and I have been working on.”
“Sure, I just want to see Crystal first.”
Teresa still had her arm around Johnny’s. “I’ll go with you. She should be waking up about now.”
As they walked away Murdoch waved over a few hands to take the furniture upstairs to Crystal’s new room.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next couple of weeks, Teresa was in heaven. She kept thinking back to when Johnny and Scott came home from their trip. She was so excited to have him back and he was just as excited. She could still feel his arms around her as he twirled her. She knew in her heart that meant he was happy to see her.
Then she thought back to their kiss that night out on the veranda. He even came into the kitchen later and told her that he loved her. And she couldn’t forget the dance. He danced every dance that he could with her. She now knew that he was starting to have feelings for her. Everything was the way it should be. She would soon be Mrs. Lancer and the mistress of the Lancer ranch.
A few days after coming back with the furniture Johnny had tried to write to Rebecca. Every time he wrote something he would rip it up and start again. Finally after a week he had a letter that said what he wanted. That was two weeks ago and still there wasn’t any reply. Johnny knew the mail was slow and he desperately hoped that was the reason he hadn’t received anything back yet.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Scott looked over at Teresa again and just sighed. He tried to get her to talk but she would just snap out a short answer and then stare straight ahead. He figured something must have happened in Morro Coyo. He had to pick up supplies and get some work done at the blacksmith’s. Teresa had a few things to take to the church and then she was going to pick up the mail. When Scott met her and asked her how everything went she just about bit his head off.
When he tried to ask her if anything was wrong, she snapped that nothing was wrong and he should mind his own business. He thought it would be best to let her calm down and try later. He did try again on the way home but the response was the same. He had no idea what had got into her but he hoped whatever the matter was that it would get straighten out soon. One thing he learned at the ranch was if the women weren’t happy, no one was happy.
When they got to the ranch Teresa jumped down before Scott could help her. Murdoch and Johnny were coming over to help unload the supplies. With the way Teresa walked up to them, Scott was sure that someone was going to get an ear full.
“Murdoch here’s your mail.” Teresa’s voice wasn’t very pleasant and she practically threw the mail at Murdoch. Murdoch just stood there with a puzzled look on his face.
She then turned to Johnny. “You have a letter.” She held it up. “ It looks like a woman’s handwriting.”
Johnny’s face lit up. He took the letter and looked at it. “You know Jim, he is the one making my furniture. This is from his niece.” Johnny tucked the letter into his pants pocket and started to help unload the wagon.
“Oh,” was all Teresa could say as she started for the house. How could she have been so foolish as to distrust Johnny? The letter probably just talked about how the furniture was coming along.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Over the next several weeks the letters started coming more often. Teresa was beginning to become upset with all of this. Why couldn’t Jim write instead of having his niece do it? She definitely wasn’t real happy about Johnny sending back as many letters as he was. She knew that Scott had taken at least five. She hoped that was all but Johnny could have mailed some when he went into town also. She knew that she had to do something about this.
Her opportunity came quicker than she could have hoped. Murdoch and Scott had some business out of town. They would be gone for two days. That meant two days alone with Johnny and she was going to make sure that she took advantage of every minute they were away.
The first day she took Crystal and met Johnny out by the creek he was checking, making sure that there wasn’t any debris that could stop the flow or cause flooding. Johnny was surprised and very happy to have his daughter there for lunch. Crystal had fun and Teresa got to be alone with Johnny in a beautiful quiet place.
While she was gone she had Maria and her niece, Adoncia who had been working at Lancer for a little over a year now, start making dinner. She had them make all of Johnny’s favorite foods and desserts.
She was planning on a late dinner so Johnny would have a chance to play with Crystal and then she could get her to bed. That would give them time alone to enjoy the meal and each other’s company.
Johnny was late getting back. Crystal was about ready for bed so Johnny didn’t have much time with her. He felt too tired to eat but he didn’t want to disappoint Teresa. He could tell she put a lot of work into this meal.
Teresa tried to keep a conversation going at the table. Johnny tried his best to pay attention but he was having a hard enough time just staying awake. Finally he couldn’t do it anymore. He complimented her on the meal and went to bed.
Teresa was very disappointed. She realized though, that Johnny was tired so she planned what she would do the next day. She wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip by without a fight.
She went out and talked to Jelly. She had told him that Johnny was tired and hasn’t had much time with his daughter. She asked Jelly to get someone to do Johnny’s work tomorrow so he could rest up. Jelly was more than happy to help.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next morning Teresa had everything ready all that was needed was for Johnny to make his appearance.
A few minutes later Johnny wandered into the kitchen. Teresa set a cup of coffee in front of him and went to get his breakfast.
“Thank you, Teresa. I’m sorry about last night. I guess I was pretty tired.”
“That is why I asked Jelly to get someone else to do your work today. You need to rest.”
“You did what? Who told you to do that? I’m not tired any more and I can work.’ Johnny was very upset with Teresa.
Teresa sat across from Johnny and smiled at him. “Now Johnny, you have been working very hard. You’ve hardly had any time with your daughter. You deserve a break. One day isn’t going to make a difference.”
“I have the wagon all packed with everything that we will need to have a nice day out by the pond. Crystal would love a day with her father.”
Johnny sighed. “I guess it won’t hurt to take one day off. Just don’t do this again without telling me first.” He smiled at her then dug into his breakfast.
It was a beautiful day. Crystal had started walking at ten months and now she had three months of practice under her belt. She was doing a fairly good job of keeping Teresa and Johnny on their toes chasing her.
She started crying when Johnny had told her their swim was over and he carried her out of the pond over to the shade tree for her nap. He laid her on his chest and kept rubbing her back until she fell asleep. At first he didn’t think that she was ever going to go asleep but she finally did along with her father.
Teresa sat watching them. She was so happy to be there alone with them. They were her family. This is the way she always dreamed it would be. It had been eleven months now since Angelina died. Johnny was doing better each day. He was laughing again and having fun with his family. She just hoped that he would soon realize how much he loved her and ask her to marry him soon.
Johnny’s eyes slowly opened. He just lay there relishing the sound of the birds and watching the sun dance through the leaves of the tree. His daughter would sigh every so often as she slept. He thought that nothing could get better than this.
Teresa noticed his eyes were open. “Hi there.”
“Hi querida. I think Crystal had a great time. I know I did. Thanks for setting this up.”
“Like I told you before, you do things like this for those you love.”
Crystal started to stir. Johnny rubbed her back and she went back to sleep. “I’m a very lucky man to have such a caring family. This is what I always wanted. Sometimes I think I’m in a dream and I’ll wake up and it’ll be all gone.”
“I’ll never leave you. You can always count on me.”
“I hope you know that I’ll always be there for you, too querida.”
Teresa decided to take the chance and started to lean down to give Johnny a kiss when Crystal sat up. She had a big smile on her face as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked around to see what she wanted to explore next.
Johnny laughed, “Looks like we going to be chasing her again. I don’t know who she got all the energy from.”
Teresa smiled, “Oh, I think I know who and it wasn’t her mother.” Johnny just laughed and started following Crystal as she toddled toward a butterfly.
Teresa watched them with a sad smile. ‘Why did Crystal have to wake up then? I know that Johnny would have wanted that kiss. The time was right.’ Then her smile got bigger as she thought, ‘He did say he would always be there for me. He does have feelings for me. I guess I just have to be patient, but it is so hard.’
The rest of the day and the ride home were wonderful. Johnny had Teresa laughing all the way home. She thought about how he was so much fun to be around. He was someone who she could count on when there were problems and also someone who she could relax and have fun with. She knew more than ever that she was making the right choice.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Two months later Johnny was making another trip to get some more of the furniture that was done. He had asked Murdoch to go along this time so he could meet Jim and especially Rebecca. He also wanted to talk to Murdoch on the way up.
“Murdoch, I really did and still do love Angelina.”
Murdoch looked over at Johnny. He could see that he was nervous and was having a hard time saying what he wanted. “I know you did, son. We all did.”
“I was thinking of…how long…” Johnny was having a very hard time trying to say what he wanted.
Murdoch placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Son, I’m here and listening. Just say what you want to know.”
Johnny stopped the wagon, set the brake and turned so he could see Murdoch. “I was wondering if it was to soon to ask someone to marry me.”
Murdoch smiled. He knew this was coming but he just didn’t know when. “It’s been a year. No one would say anything if you asked Rebecca to marry you.”
Johnny’s eyes got big and his mouth flew open. “How did you know that I was thinking of asking Rebecca?”
Murdoch laughed and tousled Johnny’s hair. “Son, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Every time a letter came you would practically dance around the house. You talked about her quiet often and when you did your whole face would lit up. You made it very easy to find out what was going on.”
Johnny looked down slightly embarrassed. “I’m that easy to read?”
“In this case, yes.” Murdoch gave Johnny a couple of pats on his back. “I can’t wait to meet the woman who has stolen my son’s heart.”
They both started laughing and Johnny got the wagon moving again.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Murdoch was impressed with Rebecca. He thought she would be a good asset to the family. He watched Johnny and her together and was envious at how they seemed to be two parts of a whole. They were so comfortable in each other’s company and appeared to read each other’s mind.
Murdoch couldn’t have been happier for Johnny. He had had a hard life but now maybe things will start to work out for him. He prayed that it would.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next day Johnny asked Jim if he would have lunch with him at the local restaurant. Johnny was hoping that this would also give Murdoch and Rebecca some time to become better acquainted. If everything went as he hoped, she would be living at Lancer soon.
At the restaurant Johnny nervously picked at his food. He was getting mad at himself. He had faced dozens of men in the streets and now he was afraid to talk to one uncle. The only difference was that this uncle had the ability to give or take away something that he desperately wanted.
Jim had been watching Johnny for a while now. He thought that he had better start Johnny talking before the boy had a nervous breakdown. “John, I don’t think you ordered that food just to push it around your plate. Why don’t you tell me why you asked me to come here today?”
Johnny put down his fork and took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Jim, I wanted…your niece and I…” Nothing was coming out the way Johnny wanted. He had a speech all planned and now he couldn’t remember any of it.
Jim thought that he had better let the boy off the hook. At the rate Johnny was going, Jim would be an old man before he got around to asking. “Johnny look at me.”
Johnny swallowed hard and looked at Jim. “Why don’t you drink some water and ask me what you came here to ask.”
Johnny took a swallow of his water and stopped, looking at Jim. Jim started laughing.
“A man would have to be blind not to know. Now are you going to ask me or not?”
Jim had to laugh at the look on Johnny’s face. “I…I wanted to ask you if it would be all right if I married your niece.”
Jim smiled at Johnny and Johnny visibly relaxed. “Well, let me see. I may have to think this out for a while.”
Johnny’s face fell. His heart started pounding. ‘Was Jim saying no?’
Jim reached over the table and squeezed Johnny’s shoulder. “I’m sorry that wasn’t a very nice thing to do to someone who is as nervous about this as you are. I hope that you have an easier time when you ask Rebecca to marry you than you did asking me.”
Johnny just sat there a minute staring at Jim. “You…mean…I can marry her?”
Jim started laughing. “Johnny, you two seem to belong together and besides she would have my hide if I said no.”
Johnny had a big smile on his face. “I promise that I will always take care of her.”
“I know you will son. I don’t know of anyone who would do a better job. You have my blessing. Now go ask my niece.”
Johnny’s smile couldn’t get any bigger. “That’s what I plan to do tonight.”
No one saw Johnny all that afternoon; he was busy preparing everything for his date with Rebecca that night.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
That evening Jim and Murdoch watched Johnny and Rebecca leave. They looked at each other and started laughing. “Do you think that he will make it through this without having a stroke?”
Murdoch shook his had. “I’m just wondering how long it will take for him ask?”
“Well, if it is anything like this afternoon, we have a long, long wait before they come back home.”
“Maybe we should get some sleep so we’re up bright and early to greet them when they finally get back.” Both men started laughing. They were glad that it was Johnny doing this and not them.
Johnny took Rebecca to the fanciest restaurant that the town had. After they were done eating he had a carriage waiting for them. He took her to a spot he found earlier that day. There was a stream running through a grove of trees. On the ground was a blanket with a basket over flowing with flowers. They walked over and sat down.
“This is beautiful, Johnny.”
Johnny took a few of the flowers and put them in her hair. He then kissed her. “Wait here.”
He went over to the stream and pulled out a bottle of champagne that he had chilling there. He didn’t like champagne all that much but Scott had always told him that it was supposed to be used for things like this. He grabbed the glasses that he had placed there earlier and walked back to Rebecca.
He sat down in front of her. She smiled at him. “Johnny this evening has been wonderful. I will never forget it. Everything here is so beautiful.”
Johnny looked into her eyes. He didn’t feel as nervous any more. He could see the love she had for him there. This gave him the courage to do what he had planned.
He reached out and took her hand into his and kissed it. “Rebecca, I remember when I first met you. You were standing there in your father’s oversized coat, scolding a piece of furniture.” Johnny smiled and she laughed at the memory. “I knew than that I wanted to get to know you better. On our walk to your house something happened. I fell in love with you. Over the next few months I got to know you better and realized that I wanted to always be with you. I’ve told you more about myself than anyone else alive.”
“Murdoch gave me a second chance. He helped me turn my life around. I have a home, a brother who has been my anchor, a sister who has worked hard to make us a family, and a father who has not lost faith in me even when I did.”
“I see all that I have been blessed with and I find that something is missing. I’ve found the missing piece and hope that she will be willing to make a life with me.”
“I guess what I’m trying ta say is would you be my wife and come live on the most beautiful place on earth with me?”
Tears came to Rebecca eyes. She tried to say something but the words wouldn’t come. Finally she was able to whisper out, “yes”.
Johnny had a huge smile on his face. He opened the champagne and poured two glasses. He handed one glass to her. “To us.”
“To us.” She wrapped the hand and arm holding the champagne around Johnny’s and they both took a drink.
They both looked at each other and made a face. Neither one of them liked the taste. They started laughing. “I’m going to have to tell Scott that some of his proper eddicit is for the birds. It’s a good thing that I also brought some wine.”
Johnny got up and went back to the stream and retrieved a bottle of wine. “Now this is more like it.”
He dumped out the champagne that was in the glasses and filled them with the wine. They both enjoyed that much better. Then Johnny reached in the basket that was filled with flowers and from the middle of the flowers he pulled out a bouquet that was wrapped with a bow. He handed her the special bouquet.
“They’re lovely Johnny. She brought them to her face to smell them and noticed that the ribbon was also tied to something else. She looked closer and saw a gypsy ring tied to the ribbon.
“Oh Johnny.” Her hands started shaking as she reached for it. Tears started spilling down her face and she couldn’t see to untie the ring.
Johnny was immediately at her side. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.” He put his arms around her.
She buried her face in his shoulder crying harder. Through her sobs she said, “This is just so wonderful. A few of the girls I know have received these. I never thought that I would ever have one.”
Johnny laughed and got out his handkerchief for her to use. “Here dry your eyes. Now you have one. Let me untie it for you.”
He untied the ring and then placed it on her finger. It was a broad band of gold with intricate engraving. There were five stones in a row. They were amethyst, malachite, opal, ruby and diamond.
“Oh Johnny, It’s beautiful.” Her hands was shaking so bad it was hard to see the ring. “Let’s see the first stone is an amethyst. I’m not sure what the second one is.”
“The second is a malachite, then opal and ruby. It spells amor which means love in Spanish.”
She started crying again and threw her arms around Johnny’s neck, kissing his face.
Johnny started laughing again. “So anytime I want this kind of attention all I have to do is buy you an expensive ring.”
She swatted him then hugged him again. “No, this one is more than enough. It is a symbol of our eternal love. I will always cherish it and even more than that I will always cherish the one that gave it to me.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
“They’re here.” Jim and Murdoch hurried back into the sitting room and the chest board they had set up.
Johnny and Rebecca walked in. They both were glowing. Their smiles couldn’t have been any bigger.
“Did you two have a nice dinner?” Murdoch was having a hard time keeping the smile off his face. Jim wasn’t doing much better.
Johnny and Rebecca looked at each other. “You go ahead and tell them, querida”
Rebecca smiled and looked at the two men. “We’re going to get married. Johnny asked me and I accepted.” Then she held out her hand so they could see her ring.
Both men went over and looked at the ring. Johnny had already showed it to Murdoch on the way there.
Jim gave a low whistle. “That is some ring.”
“It’s a gypsy ring, Uncle. They are becoming quite popular. The stones spell out amor, which means love in Spanish. There is also a diamond which represents eternal love.”
“I’m so happy for you, sweetheart.” Then he held out his hand to Johnny, “I’m proud to have you in our family.”
“Gracias” Johnny was slightly embarrassed.
Murdoch gave Rebecca a hug. “I’m glad to have you in our family.”
Jim cleared his throat and announced, “This calls for a toast.”
Johnny held up the champagne. “We have the champagne already.” Johnny and Rebecca looked at each other and started laughing. As he handed the champagne to Jim he added, “Rebecca and me have decided that we don’t like it very much.”
Jim laughed. “Well, I just happen to have some imported wine from France that a customer gave me. Why don’t we use that instead?”
Johnny smiled, “Sounds good to me.”
After they made the toast and asked about the couples evening, they started talking about the wedding plans.
“Have you two thought about a date?” Jim was going to miss his niece but he knew that she would be very happy.
Johnny looked at Murdoch. “I thought the end of June would be good. All the spring work would be done and it would be a while before we have to get ready for the cattle drive.”
“That sounds good to me. How about you Jim.”
“That would be fine.”
“Of course it would have to be on a Wednesday. You know how the poem goes, Wednesday is the best day.” Rebecca smiled.
“Good than the last Wednesday in June it is.” Jim looked at Rebecca. “I know that you don’t know our new pastor too well, do you think your going to be comfortable using him?”
Rebecca looked somewhat sad. “Sure, I just wished that Reverend Sutton hadn’t moved to Spanish Wells. I really miss him.”
“Spanish Wells is right by us.” Murdoch piped up.
“It is?” Jim seemed deep in thought. After a moment of considering what he was thinking Jim said, “Why don’t we have the wedding there, that is if it is alright with Reverend Sutton.”
“That would be great. He was such a help to me after father died. I would be so honored to have him perform the ceremony.”
“Okay then it’s settled. We’ll take care of all the other arrangements from here.” Then Jim looked at Rebecca. “We’ll also get you over to that new seamstress for your wedding dress. I’ve heard a lot of good about her.”
“If you don’t mind Uncle I would like to wear my mother’s powder blue wedding dress.”
“That would be fine. Then we’ll get it over there to see if there is any alterations that need to be done.”
Rebecca went over and gave her uncle a hug. “Thank you for everything Uncle. You have always been good to me.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Johnny and Murdoch were relieved when they finally pulled the team to a stop. Murdoch looked at his youngest and smiled. Johnny was so happy and full of energy all the way home. Rebecca was going to be good for him.
Rebecca was so much different than Angelina. When Angelina and Johnny were together there was always some kind of fireworks going off, sometimes in anger, sometimes in love. The heat could always be felt when those two were around.
Rebecca brought out something different in Johnny. There was a calm and peacefulness about them when they were together. Johnny was so much more relaxed around Rebecca. He was sure that he loved her just as much as he did Angelina; maybe even more.
There was one thing that Murdoch was sure of; the house was going to be a lot calmer. He had to smile. It probably would be better for Crystal, also. He knew that he was going to enjoy it more.
When Johnny and Murdoch entered the house Teresa came running out of the kitchen. “Johnny, Murdoch, I missed you both so much.” She gave Murdoch a big hug and kiss and then Johnny.
Johnny looked over at Murdoch with a gleam in his eye. “Do you think she missed us?”
Murdoch chuckled, “No, not at all.”
“Oh, you two.” Teresa swatted at them playfully.
“Where’s Crystal? I sure did miss her.”
“She’s in the kitchen, Johnny. Adoncia is spoiling her.
Johnny laughed as he headed to the kitchen. “I’ll just have to straighten her out.”
Teresa turned to Murdoch. “Murdoch, come sit down. You must be tired. How was your trip?”
Murdoch sat in his chair and Teresa sat on the floor beside it placing her chin on her arm resting on the arm of the chair. “It was a pleasant trip. Jim and his niece Rebecca are very nice people. I enjoyed myself there.”
“That’s good. Scott may be a little late for dinner tonight.”
“Why don’t we have dinner a little later then? Johnny has something he would like to tell everyone.”
“Oh, what would that be?”
“You, young lady, will have to wait like everyone else.”
“I’ll get you some cold lemonade.” On the way to the kitchen Teresa was wondering what Johnny wanted to tell everyone. Then it dawned on her what Johnny was going to say. He was going to ask her to marry him. That had to be it.
They had been getting so much closer. And wasn’t it just a few weeks ago when Johnny was asking her about the engagement rings that her new magazine was showing. He was really interested in the gypsy ring. He had so many questions about it.
He also asked her how she would like someone to propose to her. That is when Scott walked over and told him that it was proper to use champagne when celebrating something as special as an engagement. She had to laugh at Johnny. His face screwed up and he made it clear that he tasted the stuff before and it was awful.
Tonight was going to be special and Teresa was glad that she was making some of Johnny’s favorites. She was going to have to make sure that she fixed her hair and put on that new dress of hers.
She grabbed the lemonade pitcher and a glass. She started to leave and remembered that they were going to eat late. “Adoncia, please tell your aunt that we will be eating an hour later tonight.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her.”
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Scott hurriedly got cleaned up. He was anxious to hear Johnny’s announcement. He knew what it was going to be though. There wasn’t anyone on the ranch that didn’t know. All Johnny talked about the last several months was Rebecca.
He was glad that Johnny was so open about it. He was worried that Teresa was falling in love with Johnny but he was sure that she knew there was no chance. How could she not? Johnny ate, slept and breathed Rebecca. Scott was almost getting tired of hearing her name.
Everyone was at the table when Scott came in. Scott took his seat looked at the food and sighed. He shook his head thinking that Teresa was sure taking a liking to the spicy hot Mexican food lately. He sure hoped she would get over it and they would eat normal food again.
After dinner the dishes and food was cleared. A few more places were set for the desert. Murdoch wanted Jelly, Maria, her husband, Adoncia, her husband, Cipriano and his wife to be present when Johnny made his announcement. They were as much of the family as everyone at the table.
After everyone was seated and the dessert was passed around Murdoch cleared his throat and told everyone that Johnny had an announcement. Johnny felt awkward even though he knew everyone there well, he didn’t like being the center of attention.
Johnny looked down at his plate. He was playing with a fork. He finally looked up and took a deep breath. “I had met a beautiful young woman. She is everything any man could ask for in a wife.”
Teresa was trying to not blush. Her heart was racing and she listen to him describe the one he loved. She thought, ‘How could I have been so jealous of that Rebecca woman? I should feel sorry for her. She wanted something that was beyond her reach.’ Teresa vowed to have more confidence in herself from now on. She tried to get her mind back on what Johnny was saying. She didn’t want to miss the big announcement.
“I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Her name is Rebecca Birge. We are planning on having the wedding on the last Wednesday of June.
Teresa froze. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This had to be some kind of joke. She must be having a nightmare. She felt sick. She knew that she was going to throw up and went running from the table.
Everyone was congratulating Johnny and didn’t notice. Murdoch was going to get the best wine he had. Scott was patting his brother on his back telling him how happy he was for him. The only person who saw Teresa leave was Adoncia.
She found Teresa outside bringing up all her supper. “Teresa, are you okay? What can I do to help?”
Teresa didn’t really want any one around. Her stomach wasn’t calming down yet and she felt that she was going to be sick again. After being sick for the second time, Adoncia helped Teresa to her room. She placed a cool wet cloth on her forehead. “I’ll send mi tia in. She will make you some of her special tea that will help your stomach.”
Teresa just wanted to be alone to think this through. Right now her thoughts were just swirling. She had to think of a plan to get Johnny to see that he was making a big mistake.
She was the one that he should be marrying. She was the one that belonged here as Mrs. Lancer. She is the one that is supposed to run the Lancer household. Not some floozy that Johnny met while his heart was breaking over the death of his wife. She was going to have to make Johnny see that.
Adoncia told Maria what happened. Maria told everyone that she would take care of Teresa and they should continue the celebration. She gave her Juanito another kiss and told him that she was happy for him and then went to see Teresa.
Teresa lied to Maria and told her that her friend had this also. She said that it had only lasted a few days and wasn’t too bad. She said that she had been feeling a little under the weather all day.
Maria gave her some of her special tea and made sure that she was comfortable. She told her that she would check in on her again before she left.
Teresa didn’t really want her to come back and check on her. She wanted to be alone so she could start to plan on how to fix this fiasco. The wedding was less than five months away but that should be enough time to accomplish what she had to do.
Maria came out and told everyone that Teresa caught this from her friend but it wasn’t anything serious and she should be better in a few days. Murdoch, Scott and Johnny wanted to go in and see her but Maria wouldn’t let them. She told them that Teresa caught it from her friend and she didn’t need them catching it from her. They were to stay away.
Teresa had got up to get something from the kitchen and heard what Maria said. She smiled and mentally thanked Maria. This would give her all the time she needed without interruptions and distractions.
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
After three days Teresa got up. While she was getting dressed she smiled. She had a plan worked out that was sure to get her what she wanted. She knew the men at this house better than anyone and she knew how to get what she wanted.
When Murdoch came downstairs he was surprised to see Teresa making breakfast. “Teresa, honey how are you feeling?”
“Morning Murdoch. I feel so much better today.”
“I don’t want you over doing it. I want you to rest and make sure that you don’t have a relapse. We sure missed you, sweetheart.”
Teresa smiled. “Don’t worry I’ll always be here to take care of everyone. Where are Scott and Johnny?”
“They’re up at the north line shack. They will be staying there a few days until the repairs are completed.”
Maria escorted Cipriano into the kitchen. “Cipriano, sit. Do you want some coffee and some breakfast?” Murdoch had asked Cipriano to stop by so he could discuss some things with him.
“Some coffee would be bueno, señor, gracias.”
Teresa poured him some coffee while Murdoch started to discuss what was going to happen the next week.
Johnny and I are going to be checking out the string of horses over at the Jameson ranch. While we’re gone Scott is going to deliver that contract for the new bull for me. We’re all going to be gone for about a week. I need you to take care of things here for me. I want you to…”
Teresa couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Everything was falling into place faster than she thought possible. With all three of them gone she could start the plan faster than she had hoped. She was even going to have a few extra days to make sure that everything went smoothly.
Yes, this was turning out to be a good day. She was going to be able to get everything she wanted faster than she thought possible. Life was good.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
A week later Murdoch, Scott and Johnny were getting ready to leave. Johnny was saying good-bye to Crystal. He hated leaving her. She seemed to be doing new things every day. He didn’t want to miss any of it but he knew that being part owner of a large ranch meant that you had to make business trips. He told her that he would make up for it when he got home.
Teresa took Crystal with her outside so she could wave good-bye to everyone as they left. All three of the men kept looking back waving good-bye to Crystal. She had become the center of all of their lives and they would miss her on this trip.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
“Señor Murdoch and Señor Johnny it is good that you are back.” Their Segundo Cipriano seemed quite upset. “We tried to get a hold of you. It is muy malo, muy malo. “
“What is very bad?”
“Señor, I think it is best that we speak alone.” The look on Cipriano’s face told Murdoch that maybe it would be best that they talk in private.
Murdoch turned toward Johnny, “Johnny take the horses to the barn.”
“Murdoch if there is trou…”
“John.” Johnny didn’t know why Cipriano didn’t want to say anything in front of him but he figured that Murdoch would tell him later.
“Come in the house. We can talk there.”
As they walked into the study Cipriano took off his hat and was nervously fingering it trying to get the courage to tell Murdoch what had happened.
“Señor, you know my wife, she loves Crystal like she was her own nieta.”
Murdoch didn’t like the sound of this already. He knew that Cipriano and his wife treated Johnny like a son and Crystal like a granddaughter. “Yes, yes I know how much you love her. Did something happen to her?”
“We’re not sure señor.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Murdoch felt a pang of fear start to grow in his chest and he wanted answers and wanted them fast.
Cipriano nervously shifted from one foot to the other trying to figure out how to say this without causing to much hurt, but he figured the best way was to just come right out with it so they could start to take care of it.
Señor, por favor, let me explain. My wife, she wanted to check on the niña to make sure everything was okay since Teresa told Maria and Adoncia to take a few days off and visit their familia. She worried about Teresa being alone so long taking care of one so young. She come here and find Teresa and Crystal gone. We look everywhere but we cannot find them. My wife, she checks their rooms and find most of their clothes are gone also.”
Murdoch was stunned. “What are you saying? Are you saying that they were kidnapped? Did anyone see anything?”
“We don’t know, señor.” No one saw anyone come to the hacieanda. I have men out looking already. The rest are ready and waiting for your orders.”
Murdoch just stood there not believing his ears. How could this be happening? Johnny would be devastated when he found out. The room seemed to be closing in on him as he felt that he was reliving his nightmare with his own son.
He wasn’t going to let Johnny lose Crystal, though. Another Lancer child was not going to be taken from this ranch if he had anything to say about it. He looked at Cipriano with fire in his eyes. “Tell the men to get the horses ready. We’ll be leaving as soon as I tell Johnny.”
“Sí, señor, the men are ready. We’ll be waiting.” He hurried out the door passing Johnny on the way. He prayed that Crystal would be found and that no more heartache would come to this hacienda.
“Johnny, come in and sit down.”
Johnny looked at Murdoch and was shocked by the fire he seen in his eyes. There was also something else. Was it fear? Johnny sensed that something was terribly wrong.
“Would it be alright if I said ‘hi’ to Crystal first? I haven’t seen her for a week and I really miss her.” Johnny wanted to find out what was wrong but he also wanted to see his daughter again. The last week seemed like an eternity to him.
“Johnny, I think it is best if you sit and hear what I have to say.” Murdoch’s heart was breaking, knowing what news he had to tell his son. He remembered how his world was torn apart by similar news. He also remembered the pain that he felt. Pain like no other and now his son was going to have to experience it. This angered Murdoch. Hadn’t the boy been through enough in his life? Why did this have to happen to him? Who would be heartless enough to do this? Whoever it was, they were going to have to answer to him. And Murdoch knew for a fact that there was going to be no mercy shown for doing this to Johnny and their family again.
Johnny sat in the chair watching the myriad of emotions playing across Murdoch’s face. Something was terribly wrong. Johnny was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
Murdoch walked over and kneeled in front of Johnny placing his hands on Johnny’s arms and watching Johnny’s face. “Johnny, son, I don’t know of any easy way to say this so I’m just going to tell it the way it is.”
Johnny knew now that he didn’t want to hear what Murdoch had to say. He put on his Madrid mask. He hadn’t used that mask for over a year now. Not since Angelina died.
“Cipriano has just told me that Teresa and Crystal are gone. They have men out looking for them. The rest are going with us as soon as we can get our gear together. I’m so sorry son, but I want you to know that we will find them. I will do everything in my power to make sure that we find them as fast as possible. But we will find them.”
“Scott should be back from Stockton this evening. I’ll leave him a note telling him what happened. I will also have some instructions for him to get the Pinkertons on this and to inform all the sheriffs in the surrounding areas. We’ll keep in touch with him and he can catch up with us when he’s done.”
Johnny just sat there. He felt that he was in a nightmare and needed to wake up. This couldn’t be happening. This had to be a terrible mistake. His heart was racing and his hands felt clammy. He wanted to get up and run to Crystal’s room. He wanted to find her there in her crib but he couldn’t move. He could barely breathe.
Murdoch watched, as Johnny was absorbing the information. He was afraid of how Johnny would react. Right now Johnny was in shock trying to make sense of what he just heard.
Murdoch took hold of Johnny and gently started to help him from the chair. “Come on son we have to go and find them.”
Johnny just shook his head. He felt that he was moving in slow motion. He felt numb. He wanted to scream but it seemed that he couldn’t to anything. He knew he was going to be sick.
Johnny’s knees started to buckle and Murdoch eased him back in the chair. Johnny looked at Murdoch with the most pain filled, anguished eyes that Murdoch had ever seen. With a voice filled with despair, Johnny whispered, “why?” That one word was filled with all the hurt that Johnny had ever received in his life.
“I don’t know Johnny but we are going to find her. I promise you that.” Johnny could see that Murdoch meant every word he said. It strangely gave him a little peace and some hope. It gave him something to hold onto for now.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
Jelly burst into the study. “Scott, you’re back early. Did ya read Murdoch’s note?”
“Yes, Jelly. When did this happen and when did they leave?” Scott was sitting at the desk. He had just finished reading Murdoch’s note and was still having a hard time absorbing everything.
“That’s what I’m trying ta tell ya. They’re headed the wrong direction. They’re after the wrong people. Ya got ta stop ‘em and tell ‘em ta head north. You’ll be able to catch up right quick ‘cause they only left not more than an hour ago.” Jelly was obviously excited and rambling as fast as he could.
“Slow down Jelly. Why don’t you sit down and tell me what is happening from the beginning.
“Teresa and Crystal have been gone goin’ on four days now. Hank had told yer pa that he had met a man drivin’ a covered wagon ‘bout that time. Hank, he said that he heard a baby cryin’ in the back. The man said it was his niece and her baby. Murdoch, Johnny, and some of the hands are headed that way, tryin’ ta catch up with ‘em.”
“So why do you think they’re going in the wrong direction?”
“’Cause Matt had just come back. He was gone fer a few days visitin’ family. When he got back an’ heard he told me ‘bout Teresa.”
“What about Teresa?” Scott was getting frustrated with Jelly. He wanted some answers and wanted them now.
“Scott ya ain’t gonna believe this.”
“Jelly!” Scott snapped, “Just tell me what you know.”
“That’s what I’m atryin’ ta do. Teresa’s the one that took Crystal.”
Scott stared at Jelly for a moment and then said, “You mean Teresa took Crystal to go and visit someone.”
Jelly had his hat about wrung out by now. In a quiet and sad voice Jelly whispered, “No, Scott, I’m sayin’ that she gone an’ dun stole that child.”
Scott couldn’t believe that Jelly was saying this. “Jelly that’s crazy talk. Teresa would never do such a thing.” As an after thought he added, “especially to Johnny.”
“Scott, I know this don’t sound like her, but she sure ‘nuff did. Matt said Teresa had ‘im get a carriage from town and put it in the orchard fer her. He also said that when he was leavin’ he decided to head out at night ‘cause the moon was bright and it was cooler. He met Teresa putting Crystal in the carriage with a few carpetbags. She told ‘im that Johnny was goin’ ta visit a friend of his an’ she was goin’ ta surprise ‘im by bringing Crystal.”
Scott didn’t believe what he was hearing. There had to be a logical explanation. “Like I said before, Teresa wouldn’t do that. She knew that Johnny and Murdoch had business at the Blake’s ranch and then they where coming right back. If she took Crystal someone must have been forcing her.”
Jelly just shook his head. “Scott I pray that yer right but Matt, he followed her until sunup an’ no one else was around. She was heading north on the road outta Green River.
“Jelly, is he sure about this?” Scott still couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There had to be more to the story.
“Matt, he is the most honest person I know. That boy couldn’t lie if’n his britches were on fire.”
Scott started to get a sinking feeling. He wasn’t sure what was going on but whatever it was it wasn’t good.”
“Jelly, I’ve got to catch up with them. I want you to ride into town and tell Val what is going on. Have him wire all the towns between here and San Francisco asking them to keep an eye out for Teresa and Crystal.”
“Sure thing Scott an’ you tell Johnny not ta worry. We’ll get ‘em back. So we will.” With that said Jelly headed out the door glad that he was able to do something to help.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
“Rider comin’ pretty fast, boss.”
Murdoch looked back and watched the rider until he was close enough to recognize. “Everyone hold up, it’s Scott.”
“Murdoch we can’t waste time. Scott’ll catch up.” Johnny snapped.
“Johnny we’ve been pushing these horses pretty hard. They need a rest. Now is a good time.”
“We may not have time. We have to keep moving.” Murdoch could hear the desperation in Johnny’s voice.
“Johnny, I know how much you want to find them. I do too, but if we don’t take care of the horses and they come up lame, we won’t be able to find them.” Murdoch placated.
Johnny knew he was right, but fear and uncertainty were eating at him.
“Murdoch, I’m glad I caught up with you. You’re headed the wrong way.” Scott was out of breath from riding so hard.
“Why do you say that son?”
Scott glanced over at Johnny and then told Murdoch, “Maybe we should talk privately.”
“If it concerns my daughter it concerns me.” Anger and frustration was radiating from Johnny.
Murdoch looked over at Johnny for a moment than he sighed. “He’s right Scott. He should be included.”
“Damn right, “ Johnny argued.
“Johnny, calm down. Jeff, take care of the horses. Scott, John let’s go over there and sit in the shade while Scott tells us what he knows.”
The three men walked over to a group of trees that was apart from everyone else.
By the time they got to the trees and seated, Johnny had calmed down. The fear and worry over his daughter had twisted his gut into a knot. He knew that the only way for him to handle the delay was to don his Madrid persona. That is exactly what he did.
Scott didn’t waste any time and just started talking. “Jelly said that Matt came back from visiting his folks right after you left. When he heard what was happening he knew he had to tell Jelly what he saw.”
“He seen who kidnapped them,” Johnny didn’t ask he just stated the fact as he thought it was going to be. “Did he get a good look at ‘em? Does he know who they are?”
Scott held up his hand for Johnny to stop. “Johnny, it isn’t how you think. Let me tell you what Jelly said.”
“Let him finish son. Go ahead Scott.” Murdoch knew that Johnny was just worried about his daughter and Teresa. He wasn’t thinking clearly right now.
“Matt said that Teresa sent him to town to rent a carriage and had him put it in the orchard. She told him it was for a surprise and didn’t want anyone at the ranch to see it.”
“Later that night, Matt decided to get a head start out to see his parents. The moon was full and he would have no trouble traveling.”
“When he got to the orchard, Teresa was there loading a sleeping Crystal and some carpetbags into the buggy. He asked her what she was doing. She told him that she was planning a surprise for Johnny. She told Matt that Johnny was going to be stopping by some friends and she wanted to have Crystal there as a surprise.”
Johnny and Murdoch couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “But I…I never said I was going to stop anywhere,” a confused Johnny stated.
“I know, Johnny.” Scott’s heart was breaking for his brother.
“Does Matt know where she was headed?” Murdoch was in shock and having a hard time believing what he was hearing. He watched Teresa grow up. He even took her in and treated her as his own when her father died.
There had to be a logical explanation for this. They had to find her and Crystal and get this straightened out.
Scott looked over at Johnny. He saw confusion and hurt. Scott could understand that.
He had watched Teresa and had talked with her about Johnny. He thought she was falling in love with him. So why would she do this?
Murdoch and Johnny were expectantly awaiting his answer.
“Matt stayed with them during the night. They parted company shortly after the sun started to rise. She was headed north on the road out of Green River.”
“Madre de Dios, if they reach San Francisco how will we ever find them?”
“Johnny, just calm down. I sent Jelly over to Val. He is going to send word to every town between Lancer and San Francisco to keep an eye out for them. In every town that we can we’ll wire Jelly telling him where we’re going so he or Val can send word if they hear anything.”
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
It was taking Teresa longer than she had planned to get to Elkton. She was making sure that she went through as few towns as possible. She didn’t want anyone to be able to track her. This made traveling harder but if she was going to be able to accomplish her goal then this is the way she had to go.
Elkton was an up and coming town south of San Francisco. One of her friends had told her how her cousin’s husband had died leaving her with a small baby. Her cousin, Ellie, had met a widow named Mrs. Woodrow. She had a boardinghouse and also made women’s dresses. She had had an accident and couldn’t get around as well as before and needed help. Mrs. Woodrow was more than happy to have Ellie and the baby stay at her boardinghouse. In return she helped Mrs. Woodrow out with the boardinghouse and her sewing. Mrs. Woodrow gave her free rent and paid her for her work. Then Ellie had recently met a man and got married.
Teresa had sent a telegram from the last town to Mrs. Woodrow. Hoping that she didn’t find anyone yet to replace Ellie. Teresa told her about when she was would be in Elkton and her desire for the job. She was using her mother’s maiden name of Johnson. She also told the widow that her husband had recently died leaving her with a small child. She let Mrs. Woodrow know that she had no family and was in desperate need of work.
As Teresa had to stop yet again to change and feed Crystal she prayed that the job would be waiting for her when she got there. Crystal looked so much like her dad. There was some of Angelina in her but Teresa thought she had more of her father. Teresa was hoping that while she and Crystal were away from Johnny he would realize how much he loved and needed her.
She knew he couldn’t really be in love with Rebecca. Rebecca knew that he was part owner of one of the largest ranches around. Teresa knew in her heart that Rebecca just wanted the security and status of being Johnny’s wife. She figured that Johnny would have the time to see this while he was alone at Lancer. He wouldn’t have the distraction of Crystal to cloud his judgment.
She knew in her heart that he loved her. He just didn’t realize it yet. She also knew that she belonged at Lancer. That she should be the one running the household and taking care of everyone. Isn’t that what she always dreamed of since she was a little girl? That was her destiny and no money grabbing, floozy was going to take that away from her.
When Teresa finally reached Elkton she was exhausted. Crystal was fussy and cranky from having to ride in the carriage for so many days. Teresa stopped and asked a young lady where Mrs. Woodrow’s boardinghouse was. She was just minutes away from hopefully a job and new life.
Teresa found the boardinghouse. It was a beautiful, three story house. Teresa figured that it must have once belonged to a very wealthy individual. She walked up the steps and knocked. After a few minutes she heard shuffling and then the door opened. A nice looking woman in her fifties with graying brown hair answered the door. She was using a cane to help her get around.
‘May I help you.”
“Yes ma’am. My name is Teresa Johnson I sent a wire…”
“Teresa, yes, yes. Come in. Come in. You look exhausted. How is the baby doing?”
“She’s pretty fussy from all the traveling, other than that she is holding up pretty well.”
“Come into the kitchen. I have some cold lemonade and I’ll fix you and your young one something to eat.”
“Thank you very much. I would really appreciate that.”
After they were situated and food was brought over to the table, Mrs. Woodrow sat down.
“Mrs. Woodrow, I hate to have bring it up right now, but I need to know if the job is still available. If it isn’t I have to move on and get to San Francisco as soon as possible and look for some work.”
“That is quite alright my dear. I know how hard this time must be for you and how important it is for you to find some work. Yes, the job is still available but I need to ask a few questions.”
“Of course.” Teresa was so relieved that the job was still available,
“Do you know how to sew, my dear?”
“Yes I do. In fact I made this dress that I’m wearing and I also made Crystal’s dress.” Teresa was glad that she thought to put on some of the dresses that she had sewn.
Mrs. Woodrow put on her glasses and looked at her and Crystal’s dresses. “You have done a lovely job.”
“Thank you. I’ve had some good teachers along the way.”
“The other thing I need to know is if you know how to cook.”
“Yes I do. I cooked for my father and two brothers before they passed away. I also cooked for fundraisers and special dinners. Everyone seemed quite pleased with my cooking. Like with the sewing, I have had some good teachers.”
“That is wonderful. What I’ll do is give you three days to rest up and get Crystal accustomed to her new surroundings. Then I’ll start to show you how things are done around here. I have a feeling that you will fit in very well.”
“Thank you so much. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”
“I’m glad that I can help. We will be helping each other. Your room is room three at the top of the stairs It has an adjoining room where you can keep Crystal. You can keep the door open so you will be near her at all times. The young man that helps with the heavy work around here should be back by the time you are done eating. He will take your luggage upstairs for you and take care of your carriage and horses.”
“Thank you so much for everything. I have a feeling that we are going to get along wonderfully.”
“I do too, my dear.”
Teresa felt so relieved. Now she was going to be able to start her new life. She had a job and was able to keep Crystal with her the whole time. She couldn’t ask for more.
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
After the horses were rested and they got something to eat they started out again but this time they headed north. Murdoch had decided that since no one else was involved in Teresa and Crystal’s disappearance, they didn’t really need everyone along. He was going to send everyone except Johnny and Scott back to the ranch. Cipriano could handle things until he was able to come back.
They stopped at Green River. Johnny was anxious to move on but he did see the wisdom in what Murdoch was doing. They got in touch with Val and told him the new news. They also had it set up that when they got to a town that had telegraph offices they would wire back to Val telling him of their progress. They would also let him know where they would be so he could send a wire and have it waiting for them if he heard anything.
Then Murdoch sent a wire to the Pinkerton Agency explaining what was happening and getting them started on the search. He was hoping that he had everything covered. Too much was at stake to make a mistake.
He also had more hope of finding them now then when Maria took Johnny. Now a lot more towns had telegraphs and pictures where being used more. With the railroads and new stage routes the country was becoming smaller and it was becoming harder to disappear.
He hoped for his son’s sake that he was right and it would be easier to find Teresa and Crystal. He didn’t know if he could handle losing Crystal. He was having a hard time trying to deal with this. It brought back to many painful memories. Memories that he would have preferred never to have to feel again. But for Johnny’s sake he had to keep it together. Johnny had been through too much in his life and he didn’t need to deal with his father breaking down.
By the time they got everything done it was getting late. Murdoch and Scott decided that it was best to get a good night’s sleep in Green River and then move out early in the morning. Johnny knew deep down that this was the right thing to do but everything in him was screaming to get out there and keep searching for his daughter. He was afraid of never seeing her again. He was more afraid than he ever was in his whole life. He didn’t like this feeling of helplessness and it was tearing him apart.
They got something to eat. Everyone had to force them self to eat. They didn’t feel like it but knew that they needed the strength to keep searching. Crystal was counting on them and they couldn’t let her down.
That night no one really slept. Each one was lost in their own thoughts about why Teresa would do such a thing. They all felt betrayed by her. The only comfort they had was that Crystal was with someone she knew and that Teresa would take good care of her. At least they hoped she would but now they weren’t sure about anything.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next week was exasperating. They went from town to town heading north. In each town they asked around trying to see if anyone remembered seeing Teresa and Crystal. The answer was always the same. They would also check if any messages were left for them from Val. It was always the same. Nothing. Then they would send a telegram telling Val where they were headed next and leave.
Murdoch was aging before every ones eyes. The helplessness and despair that he had felt those many years ago when he was chasing after Maria and Johnny were returning. He was trying his best to put on a brave front for Johnny but as each day passed without any sign of them it was getting harder and harder.
Johnny was beside himself with worry. His whole world was falling apart and this time there didn’t seem to be anything he could do to stop it. He would rather be on the losing end of a gunfight then to have to go through this. At least he could handle the physical pain. This pain was tearing him apart on the inside leaving nothing but more pain. There was no escaping this.
Scott was at a loss as to how to help. He watched as his father relived Johnny’s disappearance those many years ago. He also was watching his brother being torn apart right before his eyes. Both men were at the end of their endurance. If they didn’t find some kind of clue soon, Scott was afraid that this would destroy both of them.
He knew what he had to do. He had to put all of his feelings aside and be strong for them. He had to be the anchor that they desperately needed. He didn’t know if he was strong enough for this but he knew that he had no choice.
Scott wondered again for the hundredth time if Teresa realized what she was doing to the family. She had to know. She was there when Murdoch had finally told how he searched for Johnny. The pain could still be heard in his voice while he told of the countless days of dead ends wondering if his baby boy was even alive.
She had also been there when Johnny at times had told of the life he had to live because his mother wouldn’t stay at Lancer. She had seen first hand the effects of taking him from the security of the ranch into an uncertain life around the border towns. He still couldn’t understand after all that how she could have done this.
It was slow moving going from town to town, stopping and asking if anyone seen or knew anything. The towns all became a blur. The hope that they use to have as they entered a new town was dying. It seemed like Teresa and Crystal just vanished.
It was getting late as they enter another town. The towns were all starting to look alike. The trio was dejected and weary. They looked around and saw the mercantile was still open. Just like they had done in every town they started there. They figured that Teresa wasn’t likely to go to a saloon especially with a baby in tow. They had no luck there but the store also had the telegraph office in the back corner.
Murdoch went to see if Val sent them any news while the boys headed to the saloon hoping that someone may have seen them.
Murdoch looked at the man running the telegraph office. He was an older man, small built with thick glasses. The man was busy receiving a message so Murdoch had to wait. He sighed and wondered why he was even bothering. Every town was the same. There was no sign of Teresa and Crystal and no new news from Val.
“May I help you?”
Murdoch was pulled back from his thoughts. “Yes, Do you have any telegrams for Lancer.”
“Yes.” For the first time in days Murdoch felt a glimmer of hope.
“Yes I do. It came last night.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.” Murdoch grabbed the telegram and ran out of the store searching for the boys. He wanted to open it with them. Hopefully it was good news. They all needed that right now.
Murdoch walked up just as the bar tender was telling the boys that he hadn’t seen anyone by that description. Murdoch placed his hand on Johnny’s back and asked the bar tender for a pitcher of beer and three glasses. He held up the telegram and led the boys to a table.
As soon as they sat down with the beer and glasses, Murdoch started opening the telegram with shaking hands. He scanned the telegram and then looked at the boys. Johnny tried to read Murdoch’s face but he couldn’t. Tears started to come to Murdoch’s eyes and that made Johnny’s stomach tighten.
In a husky voice Murdoch barely whispered out, “They’ve found them. The Pinkertons have found them.”
They all sat there stunned. This is what they have been hoping for and beginning to think that they would never hear. Now everyone sat there while the words slowly made their way into each of their thoughts. No one moved at first, afraid that it would break the spell and this would be nothing more than a dream.
Johnny was the first to talk. “Where? Did they say where they are?”
Murdoch shook his head as if to wake himself up. He looked at the telegram. “Yes, They’re in Elkton. It’s a town south of San Francisco. The Pinkertons want to know what we would like for them to do.”
“They should get Crystal.” Scott didn’t want to chance losing her again.
“But if they grab her she will be terrified. She doesn’t know them Murdoch, Scott. Mi Dios, we have to get there.” Johnny didn’t want his daughter traumatized any more than she was.
“We could,” Murdoch paused hoping that he was making the right decision. “We could have the Pinkertons keep an eye on them until we can get there. Then we could go and get Crystal.”
“If she sees them she may run.” Scott was trying to think of all the possibilities.
“I’ll tell them that I will pay extra to make sure she is watched twenty-four hours a day. It should take us no more than four days to get there.”
“That should work. This way we will be able to get Crystal and find out from Teresa why she did this.” Scott had tried to come up with an explanation why Teresa did this. He was hoping to find out from her.
“Good, then it’s settled let’s go.”
“Johnny wait a minute. I have to send the telegram out and it is getting late. I think that we should try to get rested up and let our horses have a good rest also. That way in the morning the horses should be fresh and we will be able to make better time.”
“Murdoch’s right Johnny. It’s starting to get dark already. If we head out we could only go a couple miles before we have to stop. The moon won’t be out tonight so we would have no choice but to set up camp. It will be better if we have a fresh start in the morning.”
Johnny listened to what Murdoch and Scott had to say and knew they were right. It was so hard though. Now he knew where his daughter was and all he wanted to do was to go to her and bring her home.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The next morning they left early. No one got any sleep, but the horses were fresh and ready to go on. They pushed as hard as they dared, making good time. They ended up at the outskirts of Elkton in a little over three days.
The Pinkerton agent had wired Murdoch back when Murdoch asked for Teresa to have constant surveillance, telling Murdoch what hotel he would be staying in. While one of the agents was watching Teresa the other would rest and get ready for his turn.
It didn’t take long to find the hotel. Murdoch and the boys went to the agent’s room and knocked. It wasn’t long before the door opened. Murdoch introduced himself and they went in.
Agent Dan started telling them all that he had found out. Teresa was living in the Woodrow boardinghouse. Mrs. Woodrow had trouble getting around due to an accident a few years back. Teresa was getting free rent for helping with the cooking and cleaning for the guest. She was also getting paid to help with the dresses that the widow sewed and sold.
Crystal was fine and always with Teresa. Mrs. Woodrow had taken a liking to her and would spend as much time as she could with her.
Johnny wanted to hurry over to the boardinghouse and get his daughter. Murdoch put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Son give me a minute with Dan and then we’ll go get Crystal. Scott why don’t you take Johnny downstairs and get something to eat at the restaurant.”
Johnny started to protest but Murdoch held up his hand. “Johnny, when we get Crystal I would prefer that we leave this town right away. I’m sure that you don’t want to have to stop to eat.”
Scott wasn’t sure why Murdoch wanted to talk to the agent alone but he had a feeling that it was about Teresa. Johnny had been through enough he shouldn’t have to worry about what they were going to do concerning her.
Scott put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder and said, “That’s sounds good. Let’s go eat so we can get your daughter.”
Johnny wasn’t happy with the waiting but he went along with them anyway.
Murdoch turned towards Dan. “I want to talk to Teresa to see why she did this. I don’t want to bring her back to have this happen again. Do you think that Mrs. Woodrow would keep her in her employ if I explained the situation?”
“From what I’ve learned of her, she is always trying to help people. I think if you talk to her there is a good chance that she will let Teresa stay.” Dan could see how this decision was hurting Murdoch. “Maybe you would like to talk to her before you confront Teresa. Jerry is watching her so we don’t have to worry about her going anywhere.”
“But if she sees any of us she will try to leave.”
“She won’t have to see you. Mrs. Woodrow comes to the church on Thursdays for the ladies prayer meeting. I could meet her before she goes in and ask her to talk to you in the dining room downstairs.”
“That would be good.” Murdoch did wonder how he was going to keep Johnny from going to get Crystal until he got to talk to Mrs. Woodrow.
“She should be getting to the church in about an half hour. I’ll bring her over to the restaurant and you can talk to her.”
Murdoch met the boys in the dining room and ordered some lunch. He explained to them that he thought it was best to talk to Mrs. Woodrow before they went to get Crystal. Johnny was getting upset. He wanted to get his daughter and was getting angry about all the delays.
Scott was finally able to get him to calm down and wait. He felt bad for his brother and hoped that Murdoch had a good reason for this delay in getting Crystal.
Murdoch didn’t want to tell them that he might not let Teresa come back to the ranch. He had thought about this long and hard while they were searching. He didn’t know if he could trust Teresa around Crystal anymore. He also couldn’t just leave her stranded, though. That was why he wanted to talk to Mrs. Woodrow. He wanted to make sure that she would still have a means to support herself. But, before all of that, he wanted to talk to her to see why she did this and if he did have to keep her away from his granddaughter.
About forty-five minutes later Dan brought Mrs. Woodrow into the hotel dining room. Murdoch immediately got up and led them to a table away from the boys. He didn’t want them to hear what he had to say yet.
Mrs. Woodrow was a pleasant woman. Murdoch explained to her what happened and that he would like Teresa to stay there in Mrs. Woodrow employ. She sat there and thought about it for a few minutes. Teresa had lied to her to get the job. But after working with her these last couple of weeks she had come to really like the girl.
She decided that Teresa was someone who, under loving supervision, could get her life straightened out. “Mr. Lancer, I think that I could help Teresa get her life turned back around. She has been a joy to work with and I would be glad to keep her.”
“Thank you Mrs. Woodrow. You don’t know how much that means to me. I’m going to get my sons and we are going to go get Crystal now.”
“Mr. Lancer when you get there, just go on in. Teresa will be in her room now while Crystal naps. Her room is at the top of the stairs, number three.”
Murdoch thanked her again. He got his sons and headed out to get his granddaughter.
They went to room 3. Johnny started to reach for the doorknob but Murdoch stopped him. “Johnny let me handle this. You don’t want Crystal upset do you?” Murdoch gave a sigh of relief when Johnny relented. He was afraid that in Johnny’s present state he might do something that would make things worse than they were.
Murdoch knocked on the door. Movement could be heard in the room. The door slowly started to open. When Teresa saw Murdoch she gasped and started to shut the door. Murdoch gave the door a shove and walked in.
Teresa backed up and then straightened her shoulders and with an air of defiance she spewed out. “What are you doing here? You have no right to barge into my room.”
Scott stared at her in disbelief. “Oh, it’s okay that you stole my niece but we can’t come in to take her back?” Sarcasm was dripping from his lips.
Johnny started to say something but then he saw Crystal sitting in the corner of the room playing with some toys. When she saw Johnny she squealed with delight and started to toddle over to him. He swung her up in his arms, hugging her close to him. He had to feel her in his arms. He had to know that she was safe and with him again.
“She should be my daughter,” Teresa glared at Scott.
“How do you figure that?” Scot was starting to think that she lost her mind.
“Johnny should be marrying me and not that floozy.”
“Now you wait just a minute young lady.” Murdoch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Could this actually be the Teresa he knew? “Rebecca is a very good, sweet girl that I will be proud to call my daughter.”
“If you didn’t insist that we all act like brothers and sister then Johnny would have been marrying me instead.”
“Teresa what are you talking about. I ….I never thought of you as anything more than a little sister and a friend.”
“You may have at the beginning but I grew up and you noticed too. You told me so.”
“Yes, you grew into what I thought was a beautiful young woman but Teresa I…”
“You what? You were afraid of what your father would think. Johnny Madrid afraid of his own father. I thought you were stronger than that I thought you had more backbone but I found out you were nothing more than a coward.” Teresa had let all her hurt and broken dreams fester into hatred.
“Teresa!” Murdoch hollered. He didn’t recognize the girl standing in front of him. She was so full of bitterness and hate. He searched her eyes for the sweet loving Teresa that he knew and couldn’t find her. His heart was breaking over the loss of the Teresa he knew. “That is enough. Johnny has never cowed before me and if he really wanted something I would have given him my blessing.”
“Sure you would.” Sarcasm was evident in every word. In her eyes could be seen how much she wanted to hurt everyone in that room. Maybe not physically but she wanted them to hurt emotionally. “You treated Johnny like he was some kind of thorn under your nail that you couldn’t get rid of. You never….”
“Teresa stop. What has gotten into you? Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to hurt everyone here? If you’re mad at me, then aim your anger at me but leave Murdoch out of it.” Johnny studied Teresa’s face trying to find the girl he once knew. The realization hit him that she was gone. Did he cause this? What had caused such a drastic change?
Johnny bowed his head as he held Crystal tight and quietly told Teresa, “I’m so sorry if I did anything to make you believe that there was a chance for anything between us. You were always a loving, caring person. You are someone that any man would be proud to call his wife. I just don’t have those kinds of feelings for you. I’m sorry.”
“You could if you gave it a chance. I could make you love me. I know how to make you happy. Together we could have a wonderful life. I was meant to help run the ranch by your side.” There was a quiet desperation in her voice.
“You don’t want someone that could eventually love you the way a man loves his wife. You deserve more than that.” Johnny could see that even though she had a women’s body inside she was still a little girl. A little girl living in a dream that she didn’t want to wake from.
“You would learn to love me that way. I would be willing to wait.” Teresa had reached out and was clinging to Johnny’s arm now.
Scott gently pulled her away. “No Teresa. That wouldn’t be fair to Johnny or you. If you really think about it you will know that I’m right.”
“He is right Teresa.” Murdoch was trying to find his voice. Trying to understand why Teresa was doing this. Then it hit him. He realized what was going on. “Teresa…”
“Stop it! All of you! I don’t know why I thought any of you was worth the bother. Just get out.”
“Johnny take Crystal and I’ll meet you downstairs. Scott get Crystal’s things and go with your brother.” Johnny was glad to get his daughter and leave the room. Scott followed watching Johnny, knowing that this had more of an impact on him than Johnny would be willing to admit.
Murdoch turned toward Teresa. He look at her for a long moment and then he just shook his head and try to state without letting any of his emotions come through. “Your father gave you anything you ever wanted while you were growing up. He felt that in some way that would make up for losing your mother. I did the same when your father died. I see now that we both made a big mistake. Instead of becoming the understanding, loving woman that we had hoped you would become, you have become selfish and self-centered. You don’t really love Johnny. You love the idea of having Johnny as a husband. The idea of being Mrs. Lancer the wife of an owner of a large ranch.”
“That isn’t true, Murdoch. How could you say that?” Teresa grabbed hold of his arm and was giving him that doe eyed look that had always gotten her what she wanted.
“It won’t work this time. If you really cared about Johnny you wouldn’t have taken Crystal. You of all the people know how bad that could be. You were there when Johnny opened up about how his life was, about how he wanted so desperately to have a family and to have his father care about him. You’ve seen the outcome of such actions and yet you went ahead and did it anyway. You did it for your own selfish purposes. You did it to get your own way again. No more Teresa. It is about time you start to grow up.”
Teresa started crying like her heart was broken. But Murdoch had fallen for those tears before. He wasn’t going to this time. Too much was at stake.
Murdoch pulled away from Teresa and in a firm fatherly voice he began, “Teresa, wash your face and listen to me. You have a nice, comfortable place here. You have a good job. You will be staying here. You will not come back to Lancer. You are a grown woman now and you don’t need me. I will be there if you get into any real trouble financially, but I will expect you to be prudent with your money and for you to grow up.”
“You are not to even visit Lancer for at least a year and then it will be under strict supervision. I can’t take a chance that anything like this will happen again. You will not attend Johnny’s wedding. I won’t leave you stranded. I will have people checking up on you making sure that everything is as it should be. But don’t go and get any ideas because I will make sure that whoever I get will know what to expect and will not be misled.”
“When you are permitted to visit Lancer again you will apologize to Johnny. You will stay away from him and his new wife. If you so much as look like you’re going to cause any problems you will be gone. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly, you have your sons now so why would you want to be bothered by me?” Fire was shooting from Teresa’s eyes.
Murdoch just sighed and said, “Teresa, the games are over. Good bye.” He turned and left the room. As he closed the door he also closed his eyes for a moment. How could he have not seen this? How could he have let things get so out of control? He wasn’t sure. Maybe with the boys coming back and working on building their relationship he just didn’t notice. Maybe …there was always what ifs and maybes in life. Maybe it was time to just move on and make sure that the same mistakes were not repeated.
Murdoch paused at the bottom of the stairs and watched Johnny with Crystal. He was a good, loving father, but Murdoch knew that this was going to be with Johnny for a long time. Even now Murdoch could see how Johnny was clinging to his daughter drinking in her every movement. Once again Murdoch’s heart broke for the pain that seemed to follow his son. With a sigh he entered the sitting room.
“Boys, you ready to leave?”
“What about Teresa?” Scott wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for her to return to Lancer. He didn’t know if she could be trusted not to take Crystal again.
“She’s staying here. She is settled and has a good job working for Mrs. Woodrow. She is better off here.” With that said Murdoch starting heading for the door.
Johnny paused a moment watching his father. He looked down at Crystal and sighed. ‘Did he cause this? Did he lead Teresa on? Is he going to cause hurt to his own daughter?’ He prayed that his presence in Crystal’s life wouldn’t cause her any hurt or harm. He slowly followed his brother and father out to the horses.
Murdoch turned to his sons as he was untying the horses reins, “We should head over to the livery and get a buckboard. It will be easier on Crystal.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Johnny’s voice could barely be heard.
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other. They knew that Johnny was taking the blame for this. They knew that they were going to have to help him see that this was Teresa’s doing and that he didn’t cause any of it.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
That evening by the campfire Johnny had Crystal wrapped in a blanket, sleeping on his lap. The talk was only about what was needed to set up camp and ranch business.
Johnny hardly said more than two words and he wouldn’t look directly at them. He was hurting and feeling guilty. He was also worried that Murdoch was going to hold this against him. He didn’t want anything to interfere with Murdoch and Crystal’s relationship. But if Murdoch ended up hating him, he wondered how that relationship would stay intact.
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other and knew that it was time to talk to Johnny about what happened. Scott was the one to start the conversation. “It wasn’t your fault you know.”
Johnny looked up at Scott and you could see the sadness and disbelief in his eyes. Murdoch couldn’t stand to see his son hurting and taking the blame for something he couldn’t control.
“Johnny, Scott is right. Teresa knew what she was doing. There isn’t anything that you could have done or not done to cause this. This was totally her own doing.”
Johnny looked at Murdoch, his eyes filled with torment. “No, Murdoch I…”
Scott started to say something but Murdoch held up his hand to stop him. “Johnny, Scott hear me out. When Teresa’s mother left, Paul felt guilty for not being able to make her happy and leaving Teresa without a mother. So he started giving Teresa anything she wanted. We both treated her like a fragile flower. But the thing is she wasn’t fragile at all. She was a very strong young girl and she always knew what she wanted.”
“As I look back now I can see that she probably saw that as a sign of weakness in us. She learned early how to get anything she wanted. She learned how to manipulate us. I’m sure that you boys have seen how she is very good at getting things done that she wants.”
Murdoch sighed and went on. “When Paul died and I was injured, I relied too heavily on her to keep things going. She did it with no problem. I felt guilty for having to do that so I tried to make up for it by giving in to anything she wanted. I didn’t even think about how harmful this kind of action could be.”
“Teresa took advantage of all of this. She used it and me…well all of us to get what she wanted. I should have stopped it a long time ago but I let guilt get in the way. No matter what you would have done or not done, Johnny, she would have ended up doing the same thing. She had decided that she should be the one to run the Lancer household. To accomplish that she decided that she should marry you, Johnny. “
“I’m not saying that she didn’t have any real feelings for you son. She did - that is why she picked you and not Scott. The only thing is she didn’t take into account that she couldn’t manipulate you into having the same feelings for her.’
“You see son, you weren’t the one that led her on. She was trying to lead you on. She couldn’t do it and I’m glad.” Murdoch held up his hands at the gasp her heard from his sons. “Boys don’t get me wrong. I love that girl with all my heart but she has a lot of learning and growing to do before she is ready to make a good wife and partner for any man.”
“My decision for her to stay in Elkton was in hoping that she sees what she has done and finally grows up into the woman I know she can be.” With that said Murdoch just watched his son’s reactions.
“I always knew that Teresa was bossy but I guess I never really thought much about it. But thinking back on different things I can see now what you were saying is true.” Scott said in a pensive voice.
Johnny just stared into the fire for a few minutes. “I knew a lot of people that way. I guess I just thought of Teresa as a young girl and never really put much thought into how she was acting. I really liked Teresa as a friend and sister. I hope that she will realize how she has been acting and change. There is a lot of good in her. I would hate to see her just throw her life away being someone who tries to control other people.”
Murdoch looked at Scott and they both smiled. They knew that Johnny would forgive Teresa. He always seemed more than ready to forgive anyone who wanted it whether they deserved it or not. The thing that made them the happiest though, was that Johnny seemed to understand what Murdoch was saying and he wasn’t blaming himself any more. That made each man relax knowing that everything was going to be okay.
~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~
The trip home was uneventful. Crystal slept a good amount of the time. When she was awake though, she kept the Lancer men busy trying to entertain her while traveling. When the arches of Lancer came into view each of the Lancer’s gave a sigh of relief. It was not easy traveling with a one year old. Especially when you didn’t have anything prepared for the long trip.
Murdoch, Scott and Johnny thought they could sleep a week once they were settled inside. Of course Crystal had other things in mind. She was just happy to be out of that wagon and home again. She had a lot of exploring and playing to catch up on to the dismay of her grandfather, uncle and father.
But as they stretched out in the great room watching her toddle from one thing to the other there seemed to be a peace that settled over all of them. Crystal was back home with no side effects from what happened. Lancer didn’t lose another one of it’s own. The family was intact just the way it should be.
Johnny came into kitchen. Maria handed him a cup of coffee and looked him over. She gave a contented sigh and patted his cheek as she hurried off to finish breakfast. She was all dressed up, as were all the Lancers. Today her Juanito was going to get married and no one could keep her away.
She hurriedly set the table. Murdoch and Scott were already seated drinking coffee and going over everything that needed to be done, making sure that nothing was missed.
Johnny sauntered over to the table and sat down. He wasn’t sure he was going to make it through this. This morning brought back memories of Angelina. He had loved her. He still loved her. He wondered if this was fair to Rebecca. Even though he loved her with all his heart he couldn’t just forget about Angelina. He knew that she would always be a part of his life. He was just hoping that Rebecca understood. She said that she did. He was hoping that she really did.
He would never do anything to make Rebecca feel inferior or second place to Angelina. He loved her too much for that. But Angelina was a big part of his life for the short time they were together and he knew that he could never just let that go. He would always be reminded of her every time he looked at Crystal. He sighed and decided that he would do everything in his power to make sure that Rebecca never felt that she had to compete with Angelina. He knew that Angelina would have wanted him to remarry and get a mom for Crystal. And he also knew that Angelina would never want to be the one who would cause any problems between him and Rebecca.
“Hey, brother, you seem to be deep in thought this morning. Are you getting cold feet?” Scott laughed. He remembered how nervous Johnny was the first time he got married and it seemed that this time wasn’t any different.
Maria set a plate of food in front of Johnny. “Eat. Today is muy importante. You need to make sure that you are ready.” She smiled and gave Johnny a peck on the cheek then pointed at his plate, “Eat.”
“I don’t think I can. I’m not very hungry, really.”
Murdoch laughed and gave Johnny a light swat on the arm. “Son, this is how you acted the last time. Eat or you’ll make yourself sick.” Then looking seriously at Johnny he added, “You have nothing to worry about, son. You’re making the right decision. She is a wonderful woman and you two will be very happy together. She is going to be a great asset to this family.” Then he looked pointed at Scott. “It’s just too bad that she won’t have a sister-in-law to help her out.”
Scott choked on his coffee and gave his father a shy smile. “I’m just checking out all the possibilities.”
Johnny just laughed. “Yeah, a few times over. It’s about time you take some of the burden off of me, brother, and help with providing Murdoch here with grandchildren.”
“Well, I could just…”
“Boys!’ Murdoch put a stop to their banter before it got out of control. Maria was still there and he didn’t’ want to embarrass her.
Adele brought Crystal in. She was hired after they brought Crystal back from Teresa’s. She was to take care of Crystal until Johnny got married. They had decided to keep her for a few months after that just so Rebecca could get use to things and become more comfortable in her new home.
Adele had Crystal fed and already dressed in a frilly laced pink dress with little white flowers around the waist and neckline. She had a pink bow in what little hair she had. Crystal looked like a baby doll all dressed up for a tea party.
Johnny looked at his daughter and couldn’t help but smile. She was beautiful like her mother. He was so proud of her and wanted so much for her. He wished things were different with Teresa. She was there and helped with Crystal when Angelina died. Crystal was even starting to call her mama.
He just hoped that Teresa would be able to get her life straightened out. He knew that she would be so proud to see how beautiful Crystal was right now but he also knew that it would be a long time before he could trust her around his daughter again.
No, he had to put all those thoughts away. Today was a new beginning for him and his daughter. He was about to marry a caring, loving woman. One that could make his heart skip a beat just by walking into the room. God had blessed him with many second chances. He was going to embrace this one with all his heart and never let go.
He had more than he ever thought possible. He had a home, a family that loved him, a beautiful daughter and soon a wonderful wife. Yes he was truly blessed. And he was going to make sure that he never took any of it for granted.
A New Beginning