"Close one there, brother. Better keep that aristocratic head down if you don't wanna be breathin' through your eyebrow." Johnny warned.
"Don't think it's me that needs to worry, brother. Least that hole in your hat should give you a breeze on a hot day."
Johnny grumbled a line of obscenities. "Dammit, just got that hat new! Why can't they aim for my foot or somethin'?"
"Who'd want to take out that ancient beef hide? Those are the same pair you were wearin' when we got off that stage!"
"There they go again. How many bullets them fellas got anyway? We've been here over an hour an they just keep lobbin' 'em in so we can't even get around 'em. And what do you mean my boots are old? Only had 'em a few years. Takes time to get 'em broke in just right," the younger brother protested.
"Just be grateful that they caught us when we were near these rocks. If we'd been out in the open, Murdoch would be buying two wreaths now."
Johnny shuddered in the heat. He knew that Scott was right. Their enemy had made only one mistake. He could have easily ambushed them on the road to Lancer, but he had waited until the two young men were riding through a shortcut that was lined with rocks and boulders. "Still say one of us should draw his fire and t'other one could take him by surprise."
"Johnny, he's been playing with us. This boulder is the only thing that has kept us alive. There's no cover for five yards either direction so just how do you plan to take him by surprise?"
Shards of rock flicked off Johnny's nose. The dribble of blood that trickled down to his mouth infuriated him. No one played games with Johnny Lancer. "Don't care. Don't plan on just sittin' here 'til my tongue's hangin' out my mouth with wantin' water. I say, let's chance it. Might get lucky."
"Lucky?" Scott glanced over at his dark-haired brother. It was obvious that his sibling was just itching to do something. There were times when the sapphire-eyed man could display great patience, but this was not one of them. "All right, I'm game. Which one of us draws fire?"
Johnny took out a coin. "Call it."
The coin went up in the air a short distance then landed in a gloved hand. "Tails, it is. I figure your best bet is to go out gun blazin', dodgin' and keepin' low. Make for that other big rock yonder. While he's after you, I'll come around and jump him."
Scott nodded. "Watch yourself. If decides I'm not worth it, he'll see you pretty easy."
"Hey, didn't tell you 'bout the real reason I keep these boots. Got grease on 'em. Makes me run like lightnin'," Johnny grinned as he replied.
"See that it does. I'll count three and then we go. One, two, three!"
As soon as the last syllable was out, the blond took off, his gun spewing bullets out in the general direction of the shooter. Fleet of foot, the blond concentrated on reaching the rock that represented some measure of protection, even as he held his breath waiting for sounds from his brother.
Panting with the draining of adrenaline, Scott waited. He wanted to yell, but hesitated. He didn't want to endanger Johnny by being precipitate.
Suddenly, he heard a scream and then a familiar voice, "Come on down, Scott. Got 'im."
At breakneck speed Scott moved down to where he could see Johnny standing over the body lying in the dirt. "Did you kill him?"
"Nope, just gave him a knock on the jaw. Don't look so big now he doesn't have a rifle on 'im."
Scott walked over to remove the hat that hid the shooter's face. To his amazement and that of his brother, the face was that of a young girl, a young girl with a rapidly bruising cheek.
if that don't beat all?
Why do you s'pose she was after us?
You been romancin'
in the wrong place,
"I could ask you the same, brother. Wasn't it just last month that the town fathers bought all those shotguns with your name on them?"
Not too gently, Scott leaned over and patted the young woman's face. Once she opened her eyes, they could both see that she was older than they had thought, still she could hardly be called 'long in the tooth.'
Scott pointed his gun right at her nose, holding it only two inches away. "Now, young lady, why don't you tell us why you were trying to kill us?"
"Was. . .wasn't, not really. Wanted to keep you here 'til my brothers arrive. Should be here in a few minutes."
The man in the tomato-red shirt leaned over and caressed her long hair. "Tell us another one. Why would these brothers of yours leave you to take us on all by yourself?"
"They. . .they were workin' on the range. I spotted you two and followed. Sent my little brother to get 'im. They're big and strong. You'd better give up now. They'll tear you apart after what you done." The girl's violet eyes burned with hatred as she rubbed her jaw.
"What we done? Wasn't me or my brother who shot at two men, just ridin' along mindin' their own business," Johnny informed her.
Scott's lips curled slightly. "What's your name?"
"My name's. . . ."
"I know who you two are—the Porter Brothers. You're wanted in three states and two territories and there's a big reward. I intend to claim the reward!" The girl sat up, preening with pride.
"Porter? I'm Scott Lancer and this is my brother, Johnny. We own a ranch not far from here. Surely you've heard of Lancer?"
entered the violet eyes. "Lancer?
Me and my brothers have only been here for a coupla
weeks. We're from
"Miss Fenton, I'm sure there are many men who fit that description. I assure you that we are respectable ranch owners. Well, I am. I can't presume to speak for my brother."
Johnny gave him a punch in the arm. "Don't listen to him. He's one of them gigolos you hear about."
Carrie giggled. "Well he is mighty handsome and so are you. Guess. . .guess I mighta made a mistake. I. . .we just could use the money from the reward. It took more money to make our move than we thought and my brothers are big eaters."
"Brothers frequently are," Scott dryly observed as he helped the young woman to her feet.
"I don't want you to think that my brothers aren't good men. They are, but they work so hard and I have to stay home takin' care of my little brother and the house and all."
"Where'd you learn to shoot?"
"Micah, he's the oldest, said I needed to be able to protect myself, just in case. I practice a lot."
"Well, you certainly did a good job at keeping us pinned down."
The girl's long hair covered her eyes as she looked down at her rough hands. "Not long enough, I guess. Are. . .are you going to take me to jail?"
"Jail? What for?"
"I shot at you. I s'pect I could have killed you, but, well, I never killed a man afore. Didn't want to start now. Just wanted that reward."
Just then the thunder of hoof beats was heard as three large men rode up. One horse also had a small boy behind the rider. Micah, Benjamin, and Hosea Fenton climbed down, guns drawn as they approached the Lancers and Carrie.
Carrie ran towards them. "Micah, that's not them. I made a mistake. Don't shoot 'em."
"Did they hurt you?'
"No, no, and they been nice after I shot at 'em.
The three big men put their guns away and walked closer, faces filled with embarrassment. "Sorry 'bout this. My sister's got this imagination. Comes from bein' alone too much, I guess." The man, who towered over both Lancers, put out his hand. "I'm Micah Fenton."
"My name's Lancer. We live not far from here."
"Lancer? Is your daddy Murdoch?"
"That's right. Do you know him?" Scott inquired.
"Met him at a Cattlemen's Association meeting. He's gonna sell us some cattle. We're hopin' to have our own ranch. Nothin' like Lancer of course."
"Well, Mr. Fenton, I think you need to pay more attention to your sister. She could have killed us or been killed." Scott looked over at the girl. She had tears running down her face but was valiantly trying to hide them.
"Yeah, guess you got a point. Since our folks died, we been tryin' to get along. Keep forgettin' a woman needs more than cattle and work to be happy."
"Miss Fenton, my father has a ward. Her name is Teresa. She's much the same age as you. I'm sure she'd enjoy it if you visit her some day soon." Scott gave her his most persuasive smile.
The violet eyes opened wide. "You'd let me come see her? You're not sendin' me to jail?"
"What and have everybody in the valley find out that the Lancer Brothers were held captive by a young lady of your years? No way!" Scott grinned broadly. "Right, Johnny?"
"Right. Wouldn't do our reputations much good. So can we count on all of you to keep this quiet?"
Four heads bobbed in agreement.
"Good. Johnny, we'd better get on the road. Murdoch is probably waiting for us. Let's find the horses and be on our way."
The three Fenton Brothers moved towards their own horses while Carrie walked hesitantly towards Scott and Johnny. "I want to thank you. You're real nice fellas."
"Our pleasure, m'am and my brother just happens to be an excellent dancer. I don't suppose you'd consent to go to the dance with him this Saturday night? He's kind of shy." Scott did his best to say that with a straight face.
"A dance? Haven't been dancin' in ages. Would. . .would you really like to take me?" Carrie asked the dark-haired man.
"Sure would," Johnny replied. "Oh, and if Scott here asks you to dance, turn 'im down. Last woman who danced with him is still hobblin' with a cane."
Carrie giggled as the blond returned the punch he'd received before. Getting to know the Lancer Brothers would be lots more fun than shooting at them.