"Scott, hold still. I don't want this hem to sag!" Teresa placed another pin in the hem of the pink confection she planned to wear to the Valentine's dance."
"But, Teresa, I've been standing here for hours and Johnny will be home any minute and you promised he wouldn't see me in this get-up!" The blond almost wailed in his frustration, however the brown-haired girl just ignored him as she stood back to look at her handiwork.
Cupping her chin with her hand, she narrowed her eyes. "Well, the hem is all right, but there's something about the bodice I don't like." Carefully, she began to adjust the fine material."
"Watch it, Teresa, that tickles and you. . .you can't expect a man to. . .fill out a dress the same way as a girl, you know!"
The brown eyes glared at the man. "I know that, Scott, but it fits pretty well every place else. Of course it is too short on you, but I just don't like the cut of the bodice!"
"Listen, couldn't you get one of the hands' wives to do this?" Scott's voice took on a pleading tone.
"I told you the only ones who would fit into my dress aren't available and if Murdoch hadn't broken the dress form I use, none of this would be necessary. That man, if I ever get my hands on him!" Her white teeth gritted together.
"I'm sure it was an accident."
"Well, then he should have replaced it like he said he would! No, he can ride into town to get supplies for those steers but not to order me a new dress form!"
"Teresa, do you think you could hurry up, I've gotta go."
"Go where? I thought you were working on the books today?"
"Uh, not that kind of go, I mean. . .you know. . .I have been standing here for hours and I had two cups of coffee earlier."
"Oh. Well, I suppose it would be okay. Just let me help you take the dress off so you don't rip it!"
Unfortunately, the two young people froze as they heard uproarious laughter coming from the doorway. The chuckles, guffaws and outright belly laughter went on for some time until Johnny Lancer, tears in his eyes, finally managed to walk over to where they were standing in the middle of the great room. "Just your color there, brother. Goes good with your eyes."
"Just be quiet, Johnny. Scott is doing me a favor. Why don't you go into the kitchen? I baked some cookies."
I'll stay here 'til
In his most dignified voice Scott announced, "I'm perfectly respectable underneath, brother."
"No corset under there? Aw, too bad, guess I might as well go get them cookies." The laughing man left the room.
Teresa quickly pulled the dress up and over the blond head and then handed Scott a robe to put over the long shirt he wore. "I'm. . .I'm sorry about that, Scott. He'll never let you live this down."
Scott patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay. I've been laughed at before and I imagine I'll be laughed at again. At least it was just Johnny, can you imagine if it had been Murdoch or Jelly or the hands?"
"Yes, but. . . ."
"Don't worry about it and now I really do have to go. . . ."
An hour later Scott, now dressed in his normal clothes, walked out to the corral area where his brother was standing. "Teresa made some fresh lemonade. Thought you might like some." Scott handed over a huge glass to the dark man who took it carefully and then sniffed at it.
"What's the matter with it? Gonna give me spots or somethin'?"
"You're not allergic to lemons are you? Never noticed it before," Scott protested.
"No, just thought. . .well you know after I laughed 'n all."
"Johnny, laughing is good for you. Keeps you young."
"But you weren't doin' the laughin'!"
Scott rubbed behind his ear and then smiled, "No, I guess I wasn't, but I can see I must have looked pretty funny. I don't know how I let Teresa talk me into these things."
"Yeah well, better you 'n me." Then he decided to change the subject. "Sure is warm for February. Bet the girls at the dance'll be wearin' all them off-the-shoulder gowns I like."
"Could be. Well, I'd better go in and finish the books. Murdoch should be home soon and I'm behind doing the work."
Dinner that night was a sketchy affair since Teresa had been busy all day, but all the Lancer men and Jelly knew not to complain. They certainly didn't want to offend their cook, particularly since Maria wasn't available either since her sister-in-law was ill.
Jelly didn't always stay for dinner since he valued his independence, but Murdoch had invited him to stay since there was business he wished to discuss with the handyman and his sons after dinner. As soon as the food was served, all dug in until their bellies were satisfied. then Murdoch hesitantly asked, "I understand you were helpful to Teresa today, Scott?"
Scott glanced over at his brother. There was a glint of laughter in the sapphire eyes.
"So what if he was, Murdoch Lancer? He wouldn't have had to be if you hadn't broken my dress form!"
"Easy, Teresa. I was just going to compliment Scott on his willingness to help and I promise you that first thing tomorrow, I'll go into town and order whatever you need."
Teresa clutched at her napkin. "Sorry, I thought you were. . .anyway, thank you."
"I should have done it before, but I have been busy. Anyway, I don't see that Scott wearing a gown for a few hours is the end of the world. I remember reading about actors who frequently appeared as female characters in Shakespeare's time."
"Yeah 'n when I was workin' up in one of them minin' camps, we used to put on shows and these big tough guys'd be the ladies. Even been known to do it myself once or twice." Jelly looked around to see the reaction at the table. "'Course I was a lot younger 'n didn't have my whiskers."
Murdoch struggled valiantly to keep a grin off his face. Scott and Johnny weren't so fortunate, but nothing more was said as Teresa served dessert.
next day Murdoch kept his promise and went into
town to order the finest dress form money could buy.
The next week went by quickly and if every night before he went to bed, Johnny Lancer checked his bed and clothing for surreptitious items like itching powder or other evidence of retaliation by his sibling, he never found anything.
The Valentine's Dance was a huge success. Teresa's gown in shades of pink was much admired and she danced every dance while Murdoch talked business with some of the town fathers, but did manage to also dance with both of the Palmer Sisters as well as a widow or two.
Naturally, Scott and Johnny were much in demand and by the end of the evening both of them complained about sore feet and blisters. By the time, the happy quartet reached home, all were content to fall in their beds and sleep long past dawn. In fact, Murdoch Lancer missed church for the first time in months.
Over a light breakfast, the four of them sat at the table reminiscing about the night before.
"That was the best punch the ladies ever made last night. Pretty shade of pink, kinda like Teresa's dress." Johnny remarked.
"Pink punch? Guess I didn't see that. The punch I had was some kind of orange-flavored." Murdoch replied.
"Yeah, well, this musta been special, 'cause there wasn't much left when I got to it. Just enough for me."
"Well, several different ladies did make punch and cookies so I'm not sure who made pink punch, Johnny. I only contributed lemonade," Teresa said.
"It was excellent as always, Teresa. Strange about the pink punch though. Did you have any, Scott?" The older man looked over at his elder son.
"Not exactly. I. . .well, I paid one of the ladies to make it."
"What?" Suddenly Johnny's stomach began to churn.
"It was SPIN's favorite punch recipe and I thought everyone would enjoy it."
"What was in it? Am I gonna turn blue or somethin'? How'd you know I'd drink it?" Johnny jumped to his feet in agitation.
"Johnny, sit down, there was nothing in the punch but the usual things. Would I do something like that?" Scott's handsome face was a picture of innocence.
"Sure you would after I laughed at you. What's it gonna do, turn me bald? Make my teeth fall out?"
"Johnny, I swear to you there was nothing in the punch besides the usual things and a secret ingredient. SPIN said it made all the difference."
"Secret ingredient? Oh, I'm dead! What kind of a brother are you?" Without another word the young man took off for his bedroom where he spent the rest of the day moaning and groaning.
In the kitchen Murdoch thrummed his fingers on the table. "And just what is this secret ingredient if I might ask?"
"Well, it doesn't come in a bottle." Scott smiled at the other two. "I call it the power of the unknown."