Part Three

by  Ros

A tall, gangly teenager, with a mop of pure white hair, galloped his horse into the courtyard at Lancer. He pulled the horse to a halt beside Jelly Hoskins and beamed at him.

“Howdy, Jelly,” he cried out happily. “How ya doin’?”

“Well, I was doin’ just fine till you ‘bout run me down with that horse,” Jelly growled at him. “Git yourself down off him an’ hand over that wire you got.”

Jelly scowled at the boy as he dismounted. “You have got a wire, ain’t ya? You ain’t got no other reason to come a’visitin’ ‘round here these days.”

The fourteen-year-old boy towered over the old man but he hung his head in embarrassment. “Sorry, Jelly. I wish I could get out here more often, but I got school an’ work an’ chores, so I just don’t get much time.”

Hoskins shifted uncomfortably where he stood. “Well, I reckon that’s a good thing, Sawdust. You doin’ all right at school?”

The boy looked at him and confessed, “Well, I ain’t one for book learnin’ Jelly, but I get by.”

“Good, now hand over that wire.”

The boy dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out the envelope, as Jelly yelled “Boss” at the top of his lungs.

Murdoch Lancer came out into the yard, with Teresa hurrying behind him. She and Jelly held their breath as he took the envelope and read the contents of the wire.

Murdoch smiled. “Scott says he and Val are just fine and should be home in a couple of days,” he told the assembled group.

“Well, that’s a good thing,” Jelly said brusquely. “Maybe he can keep that brother of his in bed.”

Teresa beamed with relief at finally having news of her elder ‘brother’. She couldn’t wait to have him back home, and she knew Jelly was right about Johnny. Just having him home would relieve Johnny’s mind and hasten his recovery.

“Mr. Thomkins said I should ask if you want to send a reply, Mr. Lancer,” the boy said, waiting patiently.

Murdoch slipped the paper back into the envelope and reached into his pocket for a coin. He handed it over to the boy. “No, I don’t think so, Tommy,” he replied.

Teresa and Jelly looked at him with the same surprised expressions.

“Aren’t you going to tell him about Johnny?” Teresa demanded.

“No,” he told her unequivocally, the dismissive expression on his face leaving no room for argument.

“But Murdoch, he’d want to know.”

Murdoch put his arm around her shoulders and explained. “Honey, he has enough to worry about right now. I don’t want him thinking about Johnny and not concentrating on those prisoners. He has to have his mind on what he’s doing.”

Teresa nodded, understanding completely. “Oh, I see,” she agreed quietly though her disappointment was obvious.

“How is Johnny doin’ Mr. Lancer?” the boy asked. “Everyone in town will ask when I get back.”

“He’s doing a little better every day, Tommy,” Murdoch told him confidently.  It pleased him to hear that his son was so popular.

“That’s good to hear Mr. Lancer,” the boy who had once been known only as Sawdust told him. “The other boys’ll wanna know, an’ there’s lots of folks thinkin’ of him too.”

“Thank you Tommy,” Murdoch said with a grateful smile. “You tell them all that we’ll have him back on his feet in no time.”

“Sure will.”

“Now you’d better get started back if you want to be back before dark,” Murdoch advised the boy, and then he turned to hurry inside. “I’m going upstairs. I know someone who’ll be very happy to see this wire.”

            CHAPTER TWENTY

 Celeste opened the door to Johnny’s room. “Do you feel up to having a visitor?” she asked him, with a quick glance towards Teresa, sitting by his bed. “There’s someone out here who’d like to see you.”

 "Sure,” he answered quietly, turning his head towards the door.

 She took the little hand beside her and led his daughter into the room. She had already warned Maddie what to expect and not to be too boisterous around him, so the child was a little subdued as she entered the room.

 But there was a beaming smile on her face and a gleam in her eyes when she saw him.

 “Hola, Papa!” she smiled radiantly.

 “Hola Maddie,” he answered, with equal pleasure. “Come an’ sit with me.”

 She climbed up beside him, careful not to disturb the bed too much, and she kissed his cheek and put her hand in his.

 “Do you feel better, Papa?” she asked in little more than a whisper.

 “Sure I do,” he assured her with an answering smile.

 “You had us all worried,” she admonished him. “Dr. Sam says that you should do like he says and stay in bed and get better.”

 “Did he?”

 "Uh-huh,” she told him with a determined nod of her head. “You are not allowed to get up until he says so. He was real mad at you.”

 “All right, I promise. I’ll be good from now on.”

 “You’d better be, Papa,” she told him seriously.

 “Been to school today?” he asked her, changing the subject.

 She nodded. “Yes.”

 “Learn anything interesting?”

 She shrugged her shoulders disinterestedly. “Just the same old things,” she answered. “I got all my sums right though.”

 “Well that’s good to hear,” he told her with a grin and she leaned cautiously back on the pillows beside him.

 “But Celeste is teaching me to talk in French.”

 Johnny looked past his daughter’s head to where Celeste still stood in the middle of the room. “Is she?”

 “Yes, and I’m teaching her Spanish.”

 “French, huh?”

“It’s a very eloquent language, Johnny,” she replied with a charming smile.

 “Yeah, I’ve heard you use it before,” he grinned again. “Very nice language, if I got the meanin’ right.”

 Teresa stood up abruptly from her place by the bed. “Celeste, do you think you could stay with Johnny for awhile?” she asked. “I have such a lot to do downstairs. Scott should be home tomorrow.”

 “Of course, Teresa,” Celeste replied. “I don’t mind.”

 “Thank you,” Teresa told her. “Johnny, I’ll see you in the morning,” she added, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “And Maddie, don’t you stay too long.”

 With that she left the room, with only a swift backward glance. Celeste was sitting down by the bed and Maddie sat on the bed, leaning back against the pillows beside Johnny. Teresa closed the door behind her and left, with a self-satisfied smile, to join Murdoch downstairs in the Great Room.

 “How about a game of checkers, Papa?” Maddie suggested.

 “Not tonight,” he told her. “I’m a little tired. You’d have an unfair advantage, chica.”

 She laughed. “I always beat you anyway, Papa.”

 He turned his head towards hers – two dark heads side by side – and he grinned. “Do not.”

 Celeste was intrigued watching them. She had not had much opportunity to watch father and daughter together, and she’d wondered what he was like with her. Now she saw what an easy rapport they had with each other. They were perfectly comfortable in each other’s company, something she herself had never had with her parents.

 “How about poker then?” Madelena asked innocently.

 “Poker? Who’s been teachin’ you to play poker?” he demanded.

 “Tio,” she answered sweetly and smiled at her father. “He says I’m good at it too.”

 “Well, Tio an’ I will have to talk about that. You ain’t playin’ poker.”

 “’You are not playing poker,’” she corrected him with a cheeky smile on her face. “You don’t say ‘ain’t’, remember?”

 Celeste saw the look on Johnny’s face and recognized it as a parent about to chastise his daughter. It brought a smile to her face, but she thought it wise to step in and settle them both down a little.

 Johnny was tired. She could see it in his eyes and he had even admitted it to Maddie. He almost never admitted to fatigue and when he coughed a couple of times as well, she knew that he needed to rest.

 She stood up and offered him some water to ease the cough. He took it silently, looking into her eyes intently.

 “I’ll read to both of you then,” she suggested helpfully, as she sat down again.

 “Oh yes,” Maddie agreed, and then sat forward a little to see Celeste properly. “What is ‘yes’ in French?”

 “Oui,” Celeste answered with a smile. “What is it in Spanish?”

“Si,” she replied, happily. “And what is no?”

 “Non,” Celeste told her. “And what is it in Spanish?”

 Father and daughter looked at each other and grinned mischievously. “No,” Maddie told her.

 “You’re joking!”

 Johnny laughed. “No, she ain’t.”

 “’No, she isn’t,’” the two girls corrected him in unison and he groaned.

 “Just what I need. Two of you makin’ fun o’ me.”




            Celeste read aloud to quiet them down until they both finally fell asleep. She watched the two of them, Maddie leaning slightly on her father’s shoulder, and Johnny sleeping peacefully after so many days of illness.

 It felt good, watching them together, and she stood up to dim the light in the room. There was no need to move Madelena yet, so she kissed the child lightly on the forehead, and then found herself doing the same with her father.  Then she sat back down and made herself comfortable.

 She didn’t notice Johnny’s eyes open and watch her. She didn’t see the anguished expression on his face either. It was there and gone before she looked up again.

 But Johnny had a lot on his mind.

 Scott would be back home tomorrow, if his plans went to schedule, and Johnny needed to talk to his brother. He had thought he could control his feelings for Celeste, but they just kept getting stronger.

 Scott was too important to him to risk hurting him, and he didn’t want to hurt Celeste either. If it meant stepping back out of their way, he’d do it.

 He just hoped it wasn’t already too late.



 It wasn’t until after lunch next day that Celeste went to Johnny’s room to relieve Teresa again. Everyone was eager for Scott’s arrival, and she knew that Teresa would want to be there too.

 She knocked lightly on the door and opened it, and Teresa hurried to the door and stepped outside with her, closing the door behind her.

 “What’s wrong?” Celeste asked her anxiously. “Is he sick again? Is the fever back?”

 “No, he’s fine, Celeste,” Teresa hurried to set her mind at rest. “Dr. Sam was here this morning and took that awful drain out. He was pleased with him and he even said Johnny could get out of bed tomorrow for a little while. It’s nothing like that.”

 “Then what is it?”

 Teresa looked terribly uncomfortable. “Celeste, have you and Johnny had some sort of disagreement?”

 Of all the possibilities that haunted her thoughts that was the last one that Celeste expected to hear. “Argument? No, of course not. Why?”

 “Well, I don’t understand, Celeste. He says he doesn’t want you to come in any more.”

 Celeste was speechless. Her mind went numb. What on earth had happened?

 “I tried arguing with him, but it did no good. He wouldn’t tell me about it.” She looked closely at Celeste, thinking she might see something in her eyes that might tell her that she knew what was wrong and could fix it.

 “I thought that you and he were…well, I was sure he liked you … a lot,” Teresa told her awkwardly. “Did anything happen last night?”

 “No, nothing at all, Teresa,” she finally murmured desolately. “I don’t understand.”

 “Well, something’s going on in that silly head of his,” Teresa told her in frustration. “Leave him to me, I’ll talk to him.”

 “Thank you, Teresa,” Celeste answered, lifting her head up. “But I’d like to talk to him myself.”

 “I don’t know if that’s a good idea right now.”

 “I want to know what’s going on,” she told her defiantly.

 “Well,” Teresa replied uncertainly, “I can’t say I blame you for that.”

 She took the doorknob to open it, but first she turned back to Celeste and said firmly, “Just remember, he is a sick man, Celeste. Be careful with him. Maybe he’s just not thinking straight.”

 “Oh, I’ll be careful with him all right,” Celeste told her with an icy edge to her voice.

 Teresa opened the door and let her in, and then she closed it behind her and waited outside.

 Even through the heavy bedroom door, Teresa heard her question.

 “I want an explanation, Johnny Lancer,” she heard Celeste say to him, and, even though she knew it was wrong of her, she stayed to hear his answer.



 “I told Teresa…” Johnny began, without looking at her. Instead he looked fixedly at the ceiling above him.

“I’m aware of what you told Teresa,” she answered coldly. “She gave me your message, but there was no explanation with it. I want one.”

“I’ve made my decision, Celeste,” he told her determinedly. “I’m just doin’ what I think is right.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a guest in this house – Scott’s guest – an’ it ain’t right that you should have to spend all your time in here with me.”

“Actually, I’m your father’s guest,” she corrected him. “But what has that to do with anything?”

Johnny finally turned to face her. “What do you mean – Murdoch’s guest?”

“Well, Scott was ready to pack my bags and put me on the train back to Boston himself,” she told him. “It was your father who said I could stay.”



         “What’s going on, Teresa?” Murdoch asked as he neared the door to his son’s room.

          “Shh, they’ll hear you.”

          Astonished, he stepped closer and whispered, “Are you eavesdropping? I thought you knew better than that.”

            “Well, I hardly have to listen at the keyhole. You heard them from downstairs,” she told him defensively.

           “I could hear an argument, that’s all. What’s going on?”

              “Johnny didn’t want Celeste in the room any more,” she explained briefly. “Now she’s gone in to find out why.”

               “Is that wise?” he asked, frowning. “If he loses his temper, it’s not going to do him much good in his state.”

                Teresa grinned knowingly. “It’s not Johnny who’s losing his temper,” she told him, with a mischievous smile.

            They heard heavy footsteps behind them and turned guiltily to see who had caught them at the door.

            “Scott!” Teresa exclaimed and threw herself into his arms.

               He was tired, dusty and unshaven. He’d arrived home expecting a warm welcome from the whole family but found only Jelly and a couple of the hands waiting instead.

              He had been surprised and a little put out that the only person to meet him when he got home had been Jelly. He might not have expected them to ‘kill the fatted calf’ for him, but he had expected some sort of welcome after being away for nearly two weeks.

              And then there was the news Jelly had for him that his brother had been ill again – desperately ill, if Jelly was to be believed. He hadn’t gotten much comprehensible information out of him. He’d been too busy huffing and puffing about ‘that mule-headed brother of his’ to make much sense of the story. All he’d been able to work out was that Johnny had pulled another fool stunt and made himself sick in the process.

              “What does a man have to do to get some attention around here?” he asked them, dropping Teresa back onto her feet and releasing her. “And what’s this Jelly’s been telling me about Johnny getting sick again? You want to tell me what’s going on?”

               “It’s good to have you home, son,” Murdoch told him quietly, and clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll tell you everything, but not now. Not here.”

               The sound of raised voices came through the door and caught Scott’s attention. He recognized the voices immediately and frowned impatiently. He looked first at Murdoch and then at Teresa.

               “Is that Celeste yelling at Johnny in there?” he asked angrily. “What does she think she’s doing? If he’s been sick again …”

               “Shh…keep your voice down,” Teresa said quickly. “They’ll hear you.”

                “And what if they do?” he asked testily. “And what are you two doing out here listening in like a pair of children?”

                Teresa and Murdoch looked shamefacedly at each other and then back at Scott. “We weren’t exactly listening in, son,” Murdoch told him defensively.

                “Well, it sure looked like it to me. I don’t think Teresa could have gotten much closer to that keyhole.”

                Teresa gasped in annoyance. “Don’t exaggerate, Scott. And it’s just a little quarrel.”

                “Well, I’m putting a stop to it,” he persisted furiously.

                “Scott Lancer, don’t you dare go in there.”

                “I won’t have her upsetting him. He’s supposed to be resting isn’t he?” Scott demanded.

                “Well, yes, he is, but I think this is important.”

                Scott didn’t know what she was talking about and lost his patience. “His health is what’s important, Teresa. I’m going to get her out of there, before she does some harm.”

                Teresa grabbed his arm as he made to move towards the door. “No, Scott,” she insisted. “Let them sort it out.”

                “Sort what out?” he asked her furiously. “If he’s not well, she shouldn’t be arguing with him. He should be resting.”

                “Yes, I know he should,” Teresa admitted cautiously. “But I think this is the best thing for both of them at the moment. They have to work this out if they can.”

                Scott was against it, and looked to Murdoch for support. “Murdoch?”

                “I think she’s right, son,” he admitted. “Leave them alone. I think they need to sort this out.”

                Scott wasn’t convinced. He was deciding whether to go along with them or not, when he heard his own name being used inside. He looked first at Murdoch, then at Teresa, and then stepped closer to the door so that he too could hear what was happening.



                 “But you traveled clear across the country to be with Scott,” Johnny fumed.

                 “No, I ran clear across the country to Scott for help, just like I’ve always done,” she told him angrily. “Is that what this is all about? Do you think I’m in love with Scott?”

                 “Well, what else was I supposed to think?” he demanded. “And what do you mean – you ran to him for help?”

                 “Oh, so now you’re going to ask questions,” she cried crossly. “You couldn’t have asked them before? If I was in love with your brother, do you really think I would have let you kiss me like that the other night?”

                 “That wasn’t your fault. It was mine.”

                 “Fault?” she gasped. “Zut! What is that supposed to mean? Are you saying it was a mistake?”

                 “I didn’t mean it like that,” he told her gracelessly.

                 “Well, that’s how it sounds! A ‘regrettable incident’, is that how you’d describe it? And I suppose you intended to confess all to your brother and step aside quietly?”

                 “I don’t regret any such thing. But I ain’t cuttin’ out my own brother.”

                 “And was I ever going to be asked how I felt? Or did you just plan to step quietly out of the picture and let Scott have me?” she asked furiously.

                 He said nothing to that, and she knew she had hit on the truth. “Mon dieu!” she shouted. “How dare you!”

                 “He’s my brother, Celeste. You can’t expect me to betray him like that.”

                 “So you benevolently hand me over and pretend there was never anything between us,” she cried out to him. “Very noble, Johnny Lancer. I knew you were a gentleman. But I would have liked a say in it.”

                 “I was hopin’ you hadn’t … hadn’t noticed…” he tried clumsily to explain.

                 “Hadn’t noticed?” she stormed and paced across the room and back. “Zut! Je voudrais t’etrangler! Mon dieu!”

                 Johnny looked over at her and leaned forward angrily. “Will you stop yellin’ at me in French? If you’re gonna be angry with me, I wanta know what you’re sayin’.”

                 She stopped and glared at him. “Angry?” she repeated coolly. She suddenly sounded almost calm, but it was the lull before the storm, as she let loose again with the full force of her emotions. “Angry!” she shouted. “John, je suis furieuse!”

                 She strode across the room to the door and put her hand on the doorknob.

                 “Celeste,” Johnny called from behind her, but her temper was long gone.

                 She turned around to him and furiously snapped at him, “Allez au diable!” and then opened the door and stormed out.

                 Johnny didn’t understand a word of French, but that last word had a familiar ring to it, and he was pretty sure that he got the gist of what she wanted him to do.




          There was a scurry of guilty-looking bodies as she left the room and slammed the door behind her.

          Celeste was very much aware of the audience outside as she passed them, but she was so distracted that didn’t even notice that Scott was among them. She couldn’t bear to face them or their questions so she chose to ignore them all and ran down the hall to her room, slamming the door behind her.

          The three bystanders stood silently watching her go down the hallway. No one said anything for a minute, even after she had disappeared into her room to the sound of a house-shaking banging of the door.

          “Maybe I should go and talk to her,” Teresa suggested, quietly breaking the tension.

          “I wouldn’t,” Scott told her frankly.

          She and Murdoch turned to him in surprise, so he shrugged his shoulders and added, “French! When she starts rattling off in French, there’s no reasoning with her.”

          “Did you understand any of it?” Teresa asked him, curiously.

          “Oh yes,” he answered with a cautious smile. “She’s not happy with him, is she?”

          “No, and I don’t blame her,” Teresa told him candidly.

          Scott sighed. “Well, I’d like to have a bath and a shave, and some kind of explanation of what’s been going on around here while I was away. It seems to me that I’ve missed quite a bit.”

          Teresa smiled at him. “I’m sorry Scott. We were so excited about your getting back too. Why don’t you get cleaned up and then join us downstairs. I’ll get you something to eat. You must be starved.”

          “At the moment, I’m more curious than anything else.”

          “I don’t see what’s so hard to understand,” Teresa told him. She looked at Murdoch and then back to Scott. “She’s in love with him.”

          Her smile broadened happily when she saw the shock on Scott’s face. “And I could be wrong,” she added. “But I think he feels the same.”

          Scott was stunned. “You’re kidding?”

          “Well, it’s not a subject for discussion here in the hallway. Go get cleaned up Scott, and we’ll meet you downstairs,” he told his eldest son decisively. “And Teresa, maybe you can get Maria to put something together for him to eat. I have a feeling she’s been cooking all his favorite dishes for most of the morning.”

          “No, I think I’ll go and have a little talk with Celeste first,” Scott insisted. There was a distinct look of disapproval in his eyes.

          “Leave them both alone, son,” Murdoch demanded firmly. “She’ll cool off soon enough, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near your brother just now.”

          “I don’t care if she cools off or not,” he said angrily. “I won’t have her doing this to him when he’s sick.”

          Teresa turned on him. “It just so happens that Johnny started the whole thing,” she said crossly.

          "It’s got nothing to do with either of you,” Murdoch told them in frustration with the pair of them. “Now stay out of it, both of you, and go downstairs.”

          “And what about Johnny?” Scott asked him anxiously. “If I know him, he’s already halfway out of that bed and trying to go after her.”

          Murdoch realized that Scott was probably right about that anyway. “All right, I’ll talk to him. You two go downstairs and stay out of it.”

          Neither of them moved. They looked hesitantly at each other, and Murdoch demanded angrily, “Go!”

          They finally relented. Teresa turned and headed down the hall to the stairs, and Scott trudged over to the door of his own room. Murdoch watched them go, just until they were out of sight, before he turned and opened the bedroom door and walked in.

          Sure enough, Johnny had thrown back the covers and was slowly swinging his legs off the bed.

          “Don’t you dare!” his father boomed.

          Johnny almost jumped in surprise. He turned, a little guiltily, but with an expression of sheer unadulterated obstinacy in his eyes.

           Murdoch stalked angrily across the room and around the side of the bed. He pushed his son back against the pillows and pulled the covers back up over him, tucking them around him carefully.

           “Haven’t you learned your lesson yet?” he demanded.

           Johnny knew he didn’t have the strength to fight his father physically, but his anger and his stubbornness kept the fire blazing in his eyes.

           “I ain’t a kid,” he told his father furiously. “Don’t treat me like one.”

           “Then stop acting like one,” Murdoch threw back at him, just as angrily. “You’re not going anywhere, young man.”

           His son glared at him, but didn’t answer.

           “Now, you listen to me,” Murdoch told him, struggling to recover his temper. “I don’t know what you two argued about, but it’ll blow over. Give her some time, Johnny. She’ll cool off.”

           “Will she?” he answered sullenly. “You know so much about women don’t you? Is that how you handled my mother?”

           “Yes, it is,” Murdoch replied without thinking.

           “Yeah,” Johnny huffed. “An’ that worked out just great, didn’t it?”

           The remark stopped his father in his tracks. He stared at Johnny and thought about it, and his anger finally faded away.

           “No, I don’t suppose it did,” he conceded with a heavy sigh. “All right, son, you stay put and I’ll see if I can get her to come back and talk to you.”

           “She won’t,” he answered morosely.

           “Well, I’ll try anyway. You are not leaving that bed, young man.”

           Murdoch walked back to the door and, as he opened it to leave, he turned back and repeated, “You stay right there in that bed and I’ll talk to her.”

           “Yeah,” Johnny said half-heartedly.

           “Your word on it, Johnny.”

           “Yeah, all right,” he replied reluctantly.

           Murdoch closed the door behind him, and made his way down the hall to Celeste’s door. He took a deep breath and let it out before knocking quietly.

           He was still getting used to the whole concept of parenthood. He was beginning to think things were getting out of hand. He hadn’t yet learned the art of being a father to his sons, so he felt wholly unprepared for this turn of events. Mediating in other people’s quarrels was not something in which he had any expertise. And he had certainly had no experience at intervening in this sort of quarrel.

           All his own experience had been at being on the end of the same sort of tirade his son had just endured from Celeste. Maria had a temper like that, though hers had been easier to ignite. He’d made his mistakes in handling Maria and the results had been catastrophic, so maybe Johnny was right.

           There was no answer to his knock, so he rapped gently again. “Celeste?” he called through the closed door.

           “Come in,” he heard at last. He opened the door and found her standing, arms folded across her chest, staring out of the window towards the mountains.

 She turned her head far enough to see who had come in, and then went back to staring at the view. “I’m sorry, Murdoch,” she said sadly. “I suppose I shouldn’t have lost my temper with him. Is he all right?”

 “Not really. He’s pretty upset.”

 Celeste sighed heavily. “Well, he’s not the only one.”

 “I think you should go back and settle it now, before things get worse.”

 She turned her head to face him. “Worse?” she scoffed. “I don’t think they could get any worse, Murdoch.”

 “He wants to see you.”

 She didn’t answer him for some time, but he didn’t rush her.

 Eventually, she did reply. “I’m not sure that I want to see him, Murdoch,” she told him unhappily. “Everyone wants to decide my future for me. When are they going to let me have a say in it?”

 “Celeste, he’s sick and he’s not thinking straight. Talk to him.”

 She shook her head. “No, not yet.”

 He tried another tack. “If you don’t go to him, he’ll come here to you,” Murdoch told her. “He’s already tried to get up to come looking for you.”

 Celeste spun around and stared at him. “He what?”

 Murdoch shrugged his shoulders, pretending indifference. “Oh, don’t worry. I made him promise to stay in bed,” he said calmly. “Of course, you know what he’s like when he gets an idea in his head.”

 “Oh, of all the silly, pig-headed…” she began, and then she stormed across the room towards the door.

 Murdoch prudently stepped aside and let her pass without another word. He grinned as he watched her go to Johnny’s room. Well, he thought, at least they’ll be talking!



 Celeste didn’t stand on ceremony. She opened the bedroom door and walked right in. She was all set for another argument, but he looked so exhausted that she began to think better of it. He was breathing hard, the color had drained from his face, and he looked ill.

Damn him! She thought. How could she fight him when he looked like that?

He heard her come in and turned to face her. “I didn’t think you’d come,” he told her, miserably.

“Well, someone had to stop you from doing something stupid,” she replied coolly. “Murdoch told me you tried to get up again. Don’t you ever learn? Do you want to go through all that again?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said wearily. “Come over here and sit down.”

“I’d rather stand thank you,” she answered stubbornly.

He shook his head exasperatedly. “Well, I don’t want to have to yell across the room. I don’t think I can. Come over here.”

She hesitated for a moment but, reluctantly, she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. His face was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and Celeste was struck by a sharp prick of guilt. She instinctively picked up the towel and wiped it away lightly, still with the same sullen expression on her face.

“Thanks,” he said quietly, but she made no reply.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence between them until Johnny finally spoke up.

“I’m sorry,” he told her gently. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Well, you did,” she told him bluntly. “You should have asked me before you started planning noble sacrifices that involve me and my life. And the idea of Scott and me anyway…it’s ridiculous!”

“Why?” he asked her, his temper threatening to flare up again. “You came all that way out here on your own to see him. He was all you talked about on the train.”

“Of course he was! He was all I knew!” she snapped back. “And you, Johnny Lancer, did not tell me who you were anyway,” she told him pointedly.

To his credit, he accepted that a little shamefacedly.

“I came here because Scott was the only person I could think of to turn to,” she told him, relenting a little.

“And why did you need someone to turn to?”

She sighed despondently. “My parents want to marry me to someone I don’t love,” she explained briefly. “I don’t even like him. I never will.”

She shook her head angrily, with herself this time. “And I couldn’t think of anything else to do than run away.”

“To Scott?”

“Oh, I have always run to Scott for help. He was forever getting me out of trouble when I was a child.”

“You told me on the train that you’ve been in love with him since you were thirteen.”

“I did not,” she answered defensively. “I told you I was in love with him WHEN I was thirteen. I soon grew out of that.”

“And what about Scott?”

“Well, you’ll have to ask him the answer to that, I suppose,” she admitted, and then added with an impish smile, “but his reaction when I told him why I was here was to threaten to spank me.”

Johnny looked candidly at her and replied, “Now there’s a thought.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Oh boy,” he declared with a lop-sided grin. “You don’t know me anywhere near well enough yet.”

He looked deep into her eyes. The storm clouds had passed, and they were back to the color of the sky on a sunny day. He pulled himself up till he was sitting and then he leaned forward in the bed and took her shoulders firmly in his hands, pulling her to him so that her face was close to his.

She blinked in surprise, but her smile was enough to tempt him.

“The first time I kissed you, Celeste,” he told her in a hushed whisper. “It was my fault. I took advantage of the situation. But this time, querida, it’s all yours - you’re just too temptin’.”

He leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers, catching her off-guard and cautiously gauging her response at first, and then he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him hungrily.


“It sure got quiet up there,” Scott nervously pointed out to Murdoch and Teresa. He’d cleaned up, shaved and had been regaled by Maria with more food than he could eat in a month.

Scott finally felt human again, and he looked around him, grateful to be home at last. He was leaning back in one of the big easy chairs in the Great Room, watching while Teresa stitched a button on one of Murdoch’s shirts and Murdoch himself poured a brandy each for himself and his son.

Murdoch found himself looking up the stairs, thinking the same thing.

Scott laughed. “Do you think she killed him?”

“I didn’t hear any more French,” Teresa said, looking over at him with a teasing smile.

“That’s enough, both of you,” Murdoch admonished them, hiding a smile of his own. “We’ll find out when they’re ready to tell us. Scott, tell us how that trip of yours went. Did you have any trouble?”

Scott accepted the glass of brandy his father offered him, and took a sip first. It burned pleasantly as it went down. It felt good to be home.

“Just the once, and we handled it. I left Val in Spanish Wells after we handed them over to Gabe,” he explained. “What about Johnny? What happened?”

“What always happens with that boy? He got overconfident,” Murdoch told him with a sigh. “Went riding before he should have and ended up getting caught in the rain. By the time we found them the next day, he was already sick with Pleurisy.”

Scott shook his head in frustration. “I should have known he’d do something stupid like that,” he replied. He stopped and frowned, and a puzzled expression formed on his face. “And who was ‘them’?”

“Them?” Murdoch repeated, a little apprehensively.

“You said, ‘by the time we found them the next day’. Who was ‘them’? Who was with him? Surely no one was foolish enough to go with him?”

Teresa looked enquiringly at Murdoch. She left the question for him to answer, but he evaded it for a moment. He wasn’t quite sure how Scott felt about the girl. He certainly hadn’t appeared to be concerned that his brother had feelings for her, but he seemed to treat her like she was his problem.

“Oh well, we had no idea where he went to,” he began tentatively. “You know what he’s like. He just left before anyone could stop him. Fortunately, Celeste remembered something he had said to her once and had an idea where he might be. She went after him and she found him and got him to some shelter.”

“The line shack, up near Pine Creek,” Teresa clarified for him without looking up. She finished off her stitching and cut off the thread with her teeth.

Scott frowned at his father. “And you said you didn’t find them until the next day?”

“Well, the rain kept them from coming back here, Scott,” Teresa explained innocently. “They could hardly travel through the rain with him sick, could they?”

Scott leapt to his feet. “Are you telling me that Johnny was up there alone with Celeste all night?”

“Oh sit down, Scott,” Murdoch commanded him in exasperation. “Save that righteous indignation for other some time. Your brother was in a fever most of the night, and he was unconscious by the time we got to him. If Celeste hadn’t been with him, he would have died. There’s no question of it.”

He seemed unmollified for just a moment, but then he did sit down, chastened a little, but still concerned. “I’m sorry, sir, I just feel that she’s my responsibility. She grew up kind of like a little cousin, following me around and getting in the way,” he explained. “Her family and my grandfather are business associates, so we saw them quite a lot. She could be an out and out nuisance sometimes, but I always felt I had to look out for her.”

“Well, she did all the right things that night, Scott,” Teresa informed him. “Johnny would have died up there alone. You should be proud of her.”

“What about this Pleurisy? How bad was it?”

“He had us worried for a couple of days,” Murdoch answered, more dispassionately than he felt about it. “He was delirious with a fever for a while and he developed a cough from the Pleurisy. Doc Jenkins was worried about his lung and had him on laudanum for the pain the cough was causing him.” He sighed deeply before continuing. “It’s set him back a lot.”

Teresa put aside the shirt she had been stitching and turned to Scott. “You’ll find he looks pretty bad. He’s lost a lot of weight, and he’s very weak. When you see him, remember that even though he looks worse than he did when you left, he really is getting better.”

“All right, but what’s this other idea of yours? What makes you think she’s in love with him?”

Teresa smiled tolerantly at him. “It’s been obvious to me for a while, even if it hasn’t to others,” she said with a glance in Murdoch’s direction. I don’t think it was quite so obvious to Johnny until now. I think that’s what started the argument. He tried to push her away.”

“Speaking of which,” Scott said, getting to his feet and putting down the empty brandy glass. “I think it’s time I went and saw him. Celeste has had time enough to sort out whatever differences they had.”

He made his way upstairs, knocked on the door, and then waited for an answer. When the invitation to ‘come in’ came, it was Celeste’s voice, so he knew she was still there.

He opened the door and went inside, and he stopped, shocked by Johnny’s condition.

He had thought he was prepared to see his brother, but the gaunt, fragile figure lying back against the pillows took his breath away. He was pale, although Scott could see he was getting some color back, and he had lost so much weight that he looked chillingly frail.

“Hey Boston, you’re back! Come on in,” he called happily. At least whatever had come between him and Celeste must have been resolved, since Johnny was in good humor and had her hand firmly in his when Scott came in.

Celeste pulled away and cried out, then ran over and threw her arms around his neck, most unexpectedly. He was taken aback by her enthusiasm and accepted her attention gracefully for a while, before he carefully peeled her arms from around him.

“I’m so glad you’re back safe,” she gushed. “We were so worried about you.”

She took his arm and led him over to sit on the side of the bed with his brother. “Now, I’m going to leave you two to catch up,” she told them both breathlessly, and then turned resolutely to Scott and added, “but if he gets tired, let him rest.”

The expression on her face was one of grave concern, and one that only Scott could see. It seemed that her buoyancy was masking her anxiety, and he guessed that she was still terribly worried about Johnny’s health. She had hidden it carefully from Johnny though and Scott nodded, letting her know that he understood.

“Of course,” he replied as he sat down.

She walked across the room with an elegant sashay, and gave them a last smile before she closed the door.  Scott was watching his brother. Johnny’s eyes followed her all the way, and he didn’t look back to Scott until the door had closed behind her.

Johnny looked his brother over silently. He appeared satisfied that he was in one piece and grinned.

“Don’t see no bruises or bandages on ya,” he said. “So how did it go?”

Scott laughed. “No trouble at all. The worst thing I had to put up with was Val Crawford’s snoring.”

Johnny doubted that that was the whole truth, but he also knew that if there had been any trouble, he wasn’t going to hear about it from Scott. He wasn’t even sure that Val would tell him later, but at least with Val, he might be able to prize something out of him.

“Yep, he can lift roofs with that snorin’ o’ his,” Johnny grinned. “Does Val think he’s got the right men?”

“Oh, there’s no doubt about that, Johnny,” Scott assured him. “At least one of them didn’t have the brains to keep quiet about it. It was them all right.”

He stopped and looked his brother over again, disappointed that his brother had suffered such a big set back while he was away. His disappointment soon grew into annoyance with Johnny for risking his health needlessly and when he glared hard at his brother for a moment, Johnny knew that he was in for a lecture. He’d known that it would come as soon as his brother got back. Scott just couldn’t help himself.

“All right,” Johnny sighed, “I know you wanta say it. Get it over with, brother.”

Scott shook his head angrily. “You must be seven sorts of a fool, Johnny,” he declared. “I left you making a good recovery, practically back on your feet. And then, the minute my back is turned, you do something stupid. And here you are, back where you started. Maybe worse. And for what? Just what did you think you were proving?”

“Wasn’t tryin’ to prove anythin’,” Johnny replied contritely. “Just wanted to get out on my own for a bit.”

“Well, from what I hear, it was just as well you weren’t ‘on your own’ for long,” Scott told him. “I’m told that if Celeste hadn’t been with you, you might have died.”

“Yeah, well, you ain’t sayin’ nothin’ that I ain’t heard already,” Johnny answered, a touch of anger creeping into his voice. “Just about everyone has had somethin’ to say.” He looked up and added, “Even Maddie.”

Scott nearly choked. “I wish I could have heard that,” he laughed.

A mischievous gleam sprang into Johnny’s eyes and he frowned a little. “Yeah,” he said quietly, “it was just before she told me you’ve been teachin’ her to play poker.”

If he was trying to take the heat off himself and turn it around onto his brother, Johnny more than succeeded. Scott pulled back and looked guilty.

“Oh, now that was just a bit of harmless fun.”

“What, you couldn’t teach her to play chess?”

Scott laughed. “I do teach her to play chess. She just prefers poker.”

 Johnny could believe that of his daughter. He chuckled and it brought on a fit of coughing that both surprised and frightened Scott.

He stood up and went to the other side of the bed, poured water into a glass and handed it to Johnny, waiting and watching to see that the coughing passed.

“Thanks,” Johnny said faintly, lying back for a moment to catch his breath. Handing back the glass, he saw the fear in his brother’s eyes and smiled. “Don’t happen so often now. Don’t let it throw ya.”

Scott sat down again on the bed. “Seriously, Johnny,” he said anxiously. “You have to start doing what the doctor tells you. It’s for your own good.”

“I know,” Johnny admitted. “I know.”

Scott shook his head again. “And I can’t believe that Celeste got into that argument with you while you’re in this shape.”

He was surprised by the angry glare he got from Johnny. “That was my fault,” he said icily. “Don’t go blamin’ her.”

Scott studied the expression on his brother’s face and realized that Teresa had it right.

“Oh, it’s like that is it?” he asked him with a smile.

“Like what?”

“You like her.”

Johnny closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows. Scott thought he must be tired and was about to get up to leave, but Johnny opened them again and looked warily at him.

“There’s somethin’ I gotta ask you, big brother,” he said gravely. “An’ I need for you to answer me truthfully.”

“That sounds serious,” Scott answered. “Well, go on, ask away.”

His brother took a deep breath and slowly let it out, considering his words carefully. “Scott, I do kinda like her, Celeste I mean, but I want you to know that … well … if you,” he stumbled awkwardly over the words and looked directly into Scott’s eyes before he continued. “If you’ve got any feelin’s for her yourself, then I’ll step back right now, ‘fore it’s too late.”

Scott was stunned speechless. He said absolutely nothing and wasn’t even sure if he was still breathing, he was so shocked.

“Me?” he finally managed to say. “Me and Celeste? … Oh no, that’d be … Oh lord, Johnny, that doesn’t even bear thinking about.” As if to stress his point, an involuntary shudder shook him. “Oh no, little brother, she’s a sweet kid, but I’ve never thought about her that way.”

He saw the relief rush into Johnny’s face and he grinned. “Which is just as well. I think it would be safe to say that it’s already too late anyway.”

Johnny actually blushed a little and then laughed. “Scott, she’s beautiful an’ sweet, just like you said, but she always has to argue, an’ that temper!”

“Yes, and in French too.”

Johnny laughed at that. “You heard her, did you? Did you understand any of that?”

Scott nodded and laughed with him. “She wanted to strangle you, little brother.”

“Yep,” he grinned impishly. “Figured it was somethin’ like that!”



Teresa was pleased to hear the sounds of laughter coming from the room as she approached it. She knocked loudly, to be sure that they heard it.

Scott opened the door and she smiled happily at him. It was so good to have him home. He knew how to cheer Johnny up and his absence had played on Johnny’s mind for too long. Things would be better now, she was sure of it.

“Do you think he’s up to having another visitor?” she asked him quietly, nodding towards Val Crawford standing beside her.

“Sure, we’ll be careful not to tire him out too much,” Scott told her confidently. “Come on in, Val.” 

“Don’t stay too long, either of you. He needs to get some rest.”

“Okay, Teresa,” Val assured her, and then followed Scott into the room.

“Howdy, Johnny,” Val greeted him cheerfully. He was just as shocked as Scott had been by the devastation Johnny’s illness had done to him. “Say, you look damned awful, compadre! What you been doin’ to yourself?”

Johnny laughed at him. Trust Val to pull no punches! While everyone else tiptoed around him, Val got to the heart of it.

“I dunno Val. A bit of a cough an’ a little fever, an’ everybody is yellin’ at me,” he told him, grinning. “I’m just fine. How ‘bout you?”


“Yeah, you?” Johnny repeated sarcastically. “Scott won’t tell me anythin’ ‘bout your little trip. How’d it go?”

“Went just fine, Johnny,” Val assured him. “Ain’t that right, Scott?”

“I told you we had no trouble Johnny.” Scott confirmed for him. “Though I can tell you that his whistling is hard to listen to for any length of time.”

Val gave him a hurt look “Aw, come on. It ain’t that bad.”

“Yes, it is Val,” Johnny confirmed, much to his brother’s delight.

Johnny leaned back and studied first one, and then the other. They both looked fine, but he was suspicious just the same. “So you two spent five days with three killers, takin’ ‘em to jail an’ probably to hang, an’ you haven’t got anythin’ to say about it at all.”

Val shrugged his shoulders and Scott said simply, “Nothing to tell, brother.”

“You’re talkin’ to the wrong man, boys,” Johnny told them, a touch of ice edging into his voice. “I’ve met ‘em, remember?” He stared at Val and suddenly noticed something different about him.

He frowned disconcertingly at him. “What’s with the bandana. Val?”

Crawford’s hand went to his throat and fingered the bandana. “This? It’s just like you said – a bandana.”

“You ain’t never worn one before,” Johnny persisted, suspicion obvious in his tone. “Looks kinda stupid too. Why don’t you take it off?”

“Come on, John,” Val groaned uncomfortably.


“All right, maybe there was just a little bit of trouble,” Val conceded guiltily. “But Scott there took care of it real good. Nothin’ to it. Right Scott?”

Scott frowned malevolently at Crawford. “That’s right, Johnny. There was nothing to it at all.” He glared in Val’s direction. “It’s not even worth mentioning.”

Val understood the meaning of Scott’s words, and hung his head a little guiltily. “No, not even worth mentioning.”

Johnny didn’t give his brother time to say any more. He could see that he was trying to get Val to clam up. “So what happened?”

Scott sighed heavily. “I got distracted and one of them jumped Val.”

“We both got distracted, Scott. It wasn’t your fault, an’ I told you that,” Val corrected him. “Scott took him out with the best shot I’ve seen in years.”

Johnny turned back to Scott. “You took him out?”

“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Scott told him, in exasperation. “I admit, I wanted to, but I just nicked him. He’s safe and sound in jail with the others.”

Johnny relaxed visibly, so Scott continued, testily. “All right little brother, if you must have all the details. They tried everything they could to distract us. They taunted us just like Murdoch said they would, and when one of them finally got hold of Val’s neck and threatened to strangle him, well, I admit, I was tempted. But I didn’t kill him. I didn’t lay a finger on any of them. All three of them are safely locked up in Spanish Wells waiting for their trial. Satisfied?”

“He handled himself real good, John,” Val told him candidly. “Didn’t pay no attention to ‘em at all, though I was sorely tempted to do some hurtin’ myself.”

He shifted his feet a little uncomfortably. “An’ that shot of his saved my life. I didn’t know he could handle a rifle like that.”

Johnny was glad that Scott had been there to save Val, so something good had come out of it.

“An’ what’s under that bandana, Val? You okay?” Johnny asked him, anxiously.

“Just a few bruises is all – little scratch,” he grinned. “The fella that jumped me had the chain on his handcuffs ‘round my neck. I’m just coverin’ up the marks so’s the good folks of Green River don’t think someone tried to lynch their sheriff.”

“Wouldn’t look good, I guess,” Johnny agreed laughing.

“I got my reputation to think of,” Val informed him. “An’ anyways, this brother o’ yours drug me off to a doctor when we hit town,” Val complained bitterly. “For a little bitty scratch!”

Scott grinned. “Dragged him in by the collar.”

“Kicking and screaming, I’ll bet,” Johnny chuckled.

“Oh, you two are just full o’ laughs ain’t ya?” Val growled sarcastically. “I don’t see you laughing when he ‘mother hens’ you, Johnny boy.”

Johnny laughed again, and coughed breathlessly as a result. Scott waited apprehensively for it to pass and then got him some more water, eyeing Val anxiously as Johnny drank it down.

 "You all right there, Johnny?” Val asked him, as Johnny handed the glass back to his brother and leaned his head back on the pillows for a moment while he caught his breath.

“I’m fine, Val,” he answered after a moment.

Neither Val nor Scott believed him for a minute.

“You want us to leave ya so’s you can get some rest?” Val asked him uneasily.

“No, stay,” Johnny said quietly. He closed his eyes and waited for his breathing to return to normal, and then pulled himself forward again to talk to them.

Val sat on the end of the bed and slapped his friend on the leg. “Now, ’stead o’ worrying ‘bout us buddy, you gotta put some meat on your bones and get back on your feet. You look downright peaked.”

“I think he’s enjoying himself, Val,” Scott teased Johnny when he was convinced that he had recovered a little. “He’s getting plenty of attention from the girls.”

He frowned abruptly and added, “Which reminds me, brother, I have a few questions of my own for you to answer.”

“’Bout what, Boston?”

Scott folded his arms across his chest and scowled at his brother. “A little matter of the line shack up near Pine Creek and a certain young lady of my acquaintance.”

“Oh,” Johnny sighed and then smiled boyishly. “You know, Scott, I am feelin’ kinda tired now. Maybe I should get some sleep.”

Scott shook his head determinedly. “Won’t work, Johnny.”

“Well, I don’t know how much I can tell you, Boston. I was kinda out of it most of the night.”

“Answers, Johnny – now, Scott persisted, trying to keep a stern expression on his face.

“Come on brother, I was sick… nothin’ happened.”

Johnny shifted uncomfortably in the bed, and Scott could have sworn that he looked a little guilty.

Keeping the smile off his face, he scowled at him and repeated, “Nothing?”

“Well…no…” Johnny tried awkwardly to assure him.

Crawford grinned happily, watching Johnny’s discomfort with obvious pleasure. “Now, this sounds real interestin’,” he quipped. “I think I want to hear more of this.”



“So, how are you feeling today, Johnny?” Sam Jenkins asked as he checked him over thoroughly.

“Just fine Doc,” he answered. “Sick o’ being chained to this bed though.”

“Well, you’re not ready to get up yet, so don’t go getting any ideas of trying to sneak out,” Sam admonished him.

“Like I’d have a snowball’s chance in hell o’ doin’ it,” Johnny growled. “They’re all hoverin’ over me all day, every day. Even Maddie sticks her nose in to make sure I’m still here.” He frowned and added, “that kid’s takin’ unfair advantage if you ask me.”

The doctor laughed. “She’s just like the rest of us Johnny. She wants you to give yourself a chance to heal.”

“I’m healin’ just fine,” Johnny insisted. “What I need is a little exercise.”

Sam prodded around Johnny’s ribs gently, but it brought out a reluctant wince and a sharp intake of breath that told him that the boy was nowhere near ready to leave his bed for any length of time yet.

To Johnny’s own annoyance, it also brought on a fit of coughing that reinforced Sam’s decision and had his chest heaving for air when it was finished.

Sam passed him a glass of water, which he accepted gracelessly and drank down. He knew full well that his chances of talking the doctor around had just plummeted to zero.

“What you need is a little patience,” Sam told him straight, and then smiled. “But I know that’s something this family as a whole doesn’t have a wealth of.”

He sat down on the side of the bed before continuing. “You’re right, you are healing just fine, but it’s going to take a little time. Don’t underestimate what your body has been through in the last couple of weeks Johnny.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well, I know so. If you overdo it now, you’ll not only be putting back your recovery, but this time you would be risking your life. Your body can only take so much, Johnny.”

“All right Doc, you’re the boss,” he answered grudgingly.

“Good, now can you sit up while I re-strap that rib?”

Johnny sighed and did as he was told, reluctantly accepting the fact that he wasn’t going to get his way this time. He let Sam strap the heavy bandage around his broken rib and looked over to the door as he heard someone coming in.

“How’s he doing Sam?” Scott asked from the doorway.

“Oh, he’s doing much better Scott,” Sam told him, finishing off the bandage and nodding to Johnny to lie back down against the pillows. “He’ll be up and around before you know it.”

“Not until you give him the okay,” Scott replied with a smile at Johnny.

Johnny scowled. “There you see, Doc!” Johnny growled. “It’s a fine thing when a man’s own family don’t trust him.”

Scott grinned. “Well, it’s a fine thing when a man’s family knows that he can’t be trusted!”

The expression of abject innocence on Johnny’s face and his plea of “Well that’s nice isn’t it?” brought a laugh from the doctor.

“All right,” he said after taking a moment to collect his things. He closed his bag and picked it up, before turning back to Johnny. “We’ll leave you alone here for a while. I want to talk to Scott and your father.”

“You sure you can trust me alone for five minutes?” Johnny asked him sardonically.

Scott laughed. “Sure, but only for five minutes though.”

Sam went to the door and Scott followed him, turning back quickly for a last swipe at his brother as he put his hand on the doorknob to close it behind him.

“Stay put,” he said mischievously and closed the door, only to be followed by the thump of something hitting it.

Scott opened the door a little and looked in to see a balled up towel on the floor beside the door and Johnny, still in the bed but holding his ribs and scowling heavily.

He smirked and said, “Hurt yourself?”

He got a foul look from his brother for his pains. “Get outa here,” Johnny answered, still holding his rib, but with a smile on his face.

Scott pulled the door closed and went down the stairs with Sam Jenkins.

“He is getting better, isn’t he Sam?” he asked as they went through to the Great Room to where Murdoch was waiting for them.

“Sure he is, Scott. He’s making improvements every day.”

They reached Murdoch and he continued for the benefit of both of them. “The pleurisy is about cleared up, but that cough will probably stick around for a while. It’s holding back his recovery from that broken rib, and he’s likely to start up when he exerts himself. It annoys him, so his temper will suffer for it.”

“That’s something to look forward to,” Scott said with a wry grin.

Sam smiled knowingly. Johnny’s impatience was a family trait, and he was well aware that either of these men with him would be just the same if they were in Johnny’s shoes, even if they couldn’t see it themselves.

“Well, I think you both have a fair idea of what you’re in for. I’m going to let him start getting up and sitting in that chair in his room beginning tomorrow. Just for short periods of time, and only under supervision. He’ll know when he’s had enough, but if I know Johnny, he won’t admit it so watch he doesn’t try to push himself too hard.

Once he’s given a little freedom, he’ll want more, so keep an eye on him. Try to keep him occupied. Boredom is his biggest problem.”

“That’s easier said than done, Sam,” Murdoch told him.

Sam laughed. “I’m sure it is. Once he’s downstairs, try giving him some bookwork or something. By then he’ll need something he can do without someone constantly standing over him. I know we all joke about watching him, but he’ll really need some time to himself now and then. It’s frustrating him. So give him a little room, a bit at a time.”

“Oh, this is going to a fun couple of weeks,” Scott laughed.

Sam Jenkins laughed with him for a moment and then turned serious. “There is something I’ve been meaning to bring up with you, Murdoch.”

“About Johnny?”

“No, about Maddie,” he explained hesitantly.

Murdoch and Scott exchanged uneasy glances, something that the doctor did not miss. He’d been surprised that they had not looked to him for answers after her hysterics in the school when Johnny was shot. They had all accepted what happened, and dealt with it, albeit carefully with the little girl.

“Why don’t you sit down then Sam?” Murdoch invited cautiously, and took a seat opposite him. Scott stood near the desk where he could see them both, preferring to stand.

“What about Maddie?” Murdoch asked warily.

Sam sighed. “You can’t pretend what happened that day didn’t happen, Murdoch. Maddie was in shock and there is no reasonable explanation for how she knew about Johnny.”

“No, I don’t suppose there is,” Murdoch agreed noncommittally.

“And none of you were surprised,” the doctor continued. “So I’m guessing that it had happened before.”

Murdoch cast a sideways glance at his son and Scott judged it to be a good moment for a stiff drink. He silently poured three whiskeys and passed them around without adding a word to the conversation.

Uncertain, Murdoch stared into the glass for a good minute before answering. He searched his mind for the right words to explain it.

Finally he admitted, “Yes Sam, you’re right. It’s happened before.” He looked up at his friend and hoped he would be able to make him understand. “You won’t ever find a ‘reasonable explanation’ for it. There is none. It requires a leap of faith to accept it for what it is, and act on it if you need to.”

“Apparently it runs in her mother’s family,” Scott finally added and then tried to explain it to him. “The Senora – her great grandmother – the woman who raised her – told me a little about it before she died. She had it herself and suspected that Maddie would too.”

He stopped and looked to his father for support.

“Go on, Scott,” Murdoch told him. “You know more about it than I do.”

Scott sighed and looked at the glass in his hand as he nervously swirled the amber liquid around.

“It’s hard to put into words, Sam. The Senora couldn’t really. She just said that Maddie would always know what her father, or maybe even other people close to her are feeling. It’s not only when they’re hurt. It’s all kinds of emotions apparently. Johnny’s been around it for years. Luisa had the same gift, if you can call it that.”

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Murdoch added. “Then Johnny had that fall and she knew. She tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen. Scott insisted we go looking for him, and we found him hurt, just like she’d said. Since then, well, I just don’t question it.”

“Have you told Johnny about what happened this time?” Sam asked him.


“You have?” Scott asked abruptly, with an angry edge on his words.

“We couldn’t keep it from him, Scott,” he told him defensively. “And Maddie needed to talk to him about it. He was upset, I know, but they talked it over and both of them seem to be better for it.”

Sam Jenkins shook his head in disbelief. “I’ve seen some strange things in my time, Murdoch, but I just can’t explain how it happened.”

“Don’t try, Sam,” Murdoch told him with a smile, “It’s easier that way.”

Scott cleared his throat nervously to interrupt them. “Sam, we’d kind of appreciate your keeping it just between us if you don’t mind. Johnny doesn’t want it public knowledge while she’s so young. He feels she needs time to understand it herself.”

“Oh, I agree,” the doctor said quickly. “But what happened couldn’t have been more public, Scott. Children talk more than their parents do! There’s a lot of talk around town about it.”

“What sort of talk, Sam?” Murdoch asked anxiously.

“Well, mostly people are putting it down to just plain coincidence, although there are some who think she had some sort of vision. No one has mentioned any other incidents though to my knowledge.”

Scott looked seriously at his father. “If it’s considered a once only incident, maybe it will blow over,” he suggested.

Murdoch looked worried, but Dr. Jenkins hurried to reassure him. “I think Scott’s right Murdoch. A lot of people have strange experiences and just let it pass. I don’t think you need worry about it,” he told him. “And I can reinforce the idea that it was a one time incident.”

“I’d really appreciate that, Sam,” Murdoch said. “So will Johnny.”




Within a couple of days, Johnny was finally allowed to make his first venture downstairs. At first he found it exhausting, just getting up and down the stairs and he spent all his time tied to the sofa, disinclined to do anything but sleep.

But, as his strength began to gain over the next few days, he found the restrictions placed on him by his doctor, his family and especially by his own limitations, were soon grating on his nerves.

He was growing tired of their continuous attention. He knew they were watching him constantly to make sure that he didn’t repeat his last escapade, and a part of him even appreciated their concern, but it was buried beneath a thick blanket of frustration. He tried reading, but his mood distracted him and he soon got bored with it

Finally, he tossed the book aside and paced around the room like a caged tiger, biting irritably at anyone who tried to pacify him and refusing to rest. Teresa cajoled him, Celeste tried to reason with him, and Murdoch ordered him to take it easy, but the minute their backs were turned he would be up and pacing again.

Murdoch finally found him some bookwork to do. He left his desk to his son and handed the ledgers over to him, then he escaped out into the yard to find work for himself out there, as far away from Johnny as he could get. Being in the same room with his son pacing back and forth was getting on his own nerves. He couldn’t concentrate on getting anything done in there anyway.

Johnny eased himself into the big comfortable chair and opened the ledger. He sighed. This was the part of being a partner in the ranch that he liked the least, but it was something to do. He picked up the pen and concentrated on the numbers to make sense of them, then set about his work willingly.

After a couple of hours, though, he looked up as Teresa walked through the room, again. She was heading for the kitchen and smiled as she passed him. He sat watching her, idly fidgeting with the pen in his hand.

He frowned at her. “I ain’t going anywhere.”

Teresa stopped and feigned surprise. “I don’t know what you mean, Johnny.”

He put down the pen and sighed heavily. “What I mean is that you have walked through this room three times in the last couple of hours, and Celeste has passed through four times. Not to mention Maria asking me three times whether I’m hungry. I ain’t stupid!”

Teresa smiled. “Are we that obvious?”


“I’m sorry, Johnny. We’re just worried about you. You can’t blame us for that.”

“No, I don’t,” Johnny told her. “But just give me a little space will you? I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

He looked over as Celeste came in from the kitchen. He leaned back in the chair, folding his arms across his chest carelessly and watched her performance.

“Oh, there you are Teresa,” she said sweetly. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“Mostly here,” Johnny muttered under his breath.

Celeste looked over at him and asked, “I beg your pardon, Johnny,” with perfect innocence.

“Madre de dios, save me from hoverin’ females,” Johnny exclaimed in frustration.

“He’s on to us, Celeste,” Teresa explained with a smile. “He’s even counted how many times we’ve been through here.”

Celeste beamed. “Oh dear,” she said to Johnny. “And here we were thinking we were so clever.”

“Well, you ain’t foolin’ me,” Johnny snapped. “How can I concentrate with you girls sneakin’ in and out all the time?”

“We weren’t sneaking,” Celeste answered firmly. “But you’re right. We shouldn’t have disturbed you.” She turned to Teresa and smiled. “We should leave him alone, Teresa.”

“Yes,” Teresa laughed. “Though it’s nearly time for lunch. Do you think we should ask him if he’s hungry?”

Celeste shook her head decisively. “We might disturb him again and that would only get our heads snapped off.”

“True,” Teresa said with a serious nod of her head. “And if he gets hungry he can always come looking for something in the kitchen.”

Celeste nodded gravely. “It’ll be good exercise for him. He keeps saying he needs more exercise.”

“Exactly,” Teresa smiled. “And….”

“All right, all right,” Johnny laughed. “Enough.”

“Why whatever do you mean?” Celeste asked him artlessly.

“If you’re gonna hover, do it quietly please,” he told them in exasperation. “I’m tryin’ to concentrate.”

Both of the girls laughed. “We’ll bring you something to eat,” Celeste told him, still laughing, and they both left him to go back to the kitchen, where they knew Maria was listening in.

“Thanks,” he called after them, and went back to his books.



Johnny’s personal aversion to numbers and bookwork, as well as a growing tiredness that he refused to acknowledge, but which kept forcing itself on him, soon had him staring at numbers and seeing nothing but a swirl of figures that no longer made sense to him. His head began to ache and his temper shortened with it.

Celeste came back with his lunch and found him hunched over, leaning his elbows on the desk and rubbing the sides of his temples desperately. It didn’t take a genius to work out that he had a raging headache.

She placed the plate and the glass down on the desk carefully, but even that small noise brought a wince from him.

“You should take a break, Johnny,” she told him quietly but firmly.

He looked up at her and shook his head. “No, I told Murdoch I’d get this done.”

Celeste sighed in exasperation. “I’m sure he didn’t give you that bookwork with the intention of having you work until you were ill.”

“I’ll be fine in a minute,” he replied curtly, and then added, “Don’t fuss.” Even the sound of his own voice seemed to force itself through a crack in his brain and echo round and round.

She thought about her answer. It wouldn’t do to let him lose his temper now.

She put her hand on his shoulder. “I won’t fuss, Johnny,” she answered softly. “But you have to put it away. Come over to the sofa and rest for a while,” she suggested gently.

His inclination was to deny that he needed the rest, but a glance down at the figures swirling nauseatingly on the page in front of him convinced him that she was right. He wasn’t getting anywhere with them now. If anything he was going to mess them up somehow and get Murdoch mad at him.

And that wouldn’t do. The way he felt right now, Murdoch’s angry voice would have been like a hammer in his head.

Johnny stood up and made his way over to the sofa, unwillingly admitting to himself that he wasn’t as strong as he wanted to be. It was a devastating admission and forced new shards of pain into his already aching head.

“Sit down,” she told him as she followed him across the room. When he had made himself comfortable, leaning back against the sofa, she moved behind him and softly massaged the sides of his head for him.

The gentle circles her fingers made were almost hypnotic. Slowly the throbbing behind his eyes began to recede and he found himself relaxing and his mind clearing. A very pleasant lethargy began to overwhelm him.

“Feels good,” he sighed, closing his eyes and feeling his tightened neck muscles unwind as he relaxed. He smiled. “A man could get used to this.”

“My father used to like it when he had a headache,” Celeste told him quietly.

“You close to your Pa?” he asked.

“When I was little I thought so,” she replied wistfully.

“Couldn’t you just tell him you don’t want that marriage?” Johnny suggested. “I mean; he’s your ol’ man. He must want you to be happy.”

Celeste sighed. “I don’t think the idea even occurred to him, Johnny,” she told him sadly. “My father is a good man, but he’s weak. He’ll go along with whatever Mother wants.”

“Can’t figure a man like that,” he said firmly. “No one’s forcin’ Maddie into anythin’ while I’m around to stop ‘em.”

She smiled at the image his words conjured up. She could certainly believe that. Heaven help anyone who tried to hurt Johnny Madrid Lancer’s little girl.

He reached behind him abruptly and gripped her wrist, pulling her around and onto the sofa beside him.

“Johnny, stop that,” she gasped, laughing. “You’ll hurt yourself.”


“You will. You’ll hurt that rib if you’re not careful,” she insisted.

“I meant ‘Nope – I ain’t stoppin’,” he grinned and leaned back against the arm of the sofa, changing his grip on her wrist to her hand instead and holding it tightly.

“You’re incorrigible, John Lancer,” she laughed. “I thought you had a headache.”

“I did,” he smiled with a bright gleam in his eyes that she was delighted to see again. “It’s gone.”

“That was quick,” she laughed.

“Must be your touch, miel,” he answered unconsciously.

She stared at him curiously. “What does that mean?”

“What does what mean?”


Johnny squirmed awkwardly, not even having realized that he had said it. “Oh, nothin’,” he told her diffidently. “It means ‘honey’. I use it with Teresa all the time.”

Celeste smiled at his discomfort. “Is that right?” she asked him impishly. “And is that the best you can do?”

He stared into her bright blue eyes and frowned. “What d’ya mean?”

“Really, ‘honey’, is that all I get?”

She saw his embarrassment and laughed. “Do you think I let just any man kiss me in his bedroom, cheri?”

Johnny laughed. “Sure hope not!”

Celeste’s eyes sparkled. “Well, I can assure you I don’t.”

“In that case,” he answered mischievously, “Maybe I’d better change it ‘querida’.”

She eyed him curiously, but didn’t ask the question, so he told her anyway.

“It means darlin’.”

“Oh yes,” she sighed. “I like that much better,” she told him and melted into his arms.




Scott stomped the dirt off his boots just outside the doorway and strolled into the room. His attention turned quickly to the pair on the sofa as he caught the quick flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye.

He grinned broadly, and told himself that he was going to have to talk to his brother about time and place in the future if he didn’t want to be embarrassed.

Celeste brushed a stray wisp of hair out of her face and stood up quickly, leaving Johnny lying back on the sofa.

Scott smiled at her, but said to his brother playfully, “Feeling better little brother?”

“He was just about to have some lunch,” she told him with an affected air of nonchalance.

Her embarrassment delighted him. “Yes, so I see,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Zut, Scott!” she exclaimed, blushing prettily, and looking to Johnny for help. He just lay back smiling and he obviously had no intention of coming to her aid.

“I’ll get you something to eat too, Scott,” she said, miffed, and turned to go out to the kitchen.

“That would be nice,” he called after her teasingly, before turning his attention to his brother.

“Johnny’s is on the desk,” she shouted back over her shoulder as she stalked out of the room.

“Bad timing?” he smirked at Johnny.

“Scott, you got the worst timin’ of anyone I know,” Johnny grinned unabashed.

“Well, it could have been worse. What if I’d been Murdoch?”

Johnny groaned.

“Or Teresa or Maddie?”

He groaned again and admitted, “All right I see your point.”

But Scott was enjoying himself. “Or Jelly?” he added with a grin that threatened to split his face wide open.

“All right,” Johnny laughed aloud. “But, you can’t complain if you won’t let me outa your sight, can you?”

Scott laughed and retrieved his brother’s meal from the desk. He placed the plate in his brother’s lap as he sat up. “Eat,” he said abruptly. “The sooner you’re back on your feet, little brother, the better off we’ll all be.”

“Yeah, maybe I can get away from Murdoch’s books then.”

“We thought you’d like something to do instead of pacing around here like a bear with a sore head.”

“Well it gave me a sore head. All them figures gave me a headache,” he complained, biting into a beef sandwich. He chewed on it for a moment before finishing. “Celeste got rid of it for me.”

“Did she?” his brother laughed, delightedly. “I’ll have to remember that line.”

Johnny scowled at him. “It wasn’t like that, Scott.”

Scott laughed again. “I know, but it’s fun watching you both squirm.”

His brother laughed with him. “You know, Boston,” Johnny said at last, eying his brother warily. “You got a streak of evil in you that I never knew ‘bout till now.”

Scott grinned and watched his brother critically as he ate. His mood sobered a little. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said seriously at last. “I’d hate to see either of you get hurt.”

“Ain’t gonna happen,” Johnny told him confidently, but Scott wasn’t so sure.

He knew very well what could happen.



Johnny had been at his father’s desk all morning. Scott and Murdoch had left early to get started in the North pasture, leaving him stuck in the house again.

He closed the book, stood up and began pacing again, frustration growing with every step. After the headache he’d given himself yesterday focusing on the numbers, he was loath to spend too long on them today. Besides, it was boring work.

Never one to sit in one place for too long, the boredom began to make the room feel like a cell.

So, when Scott came in, tired and hungry, after a long day checking the fences out on the northern boundary, he was annoyed to find his brother standing by the long windows behind Murdoch’s desk, staring out into the yard.

“What are you doing up?” he snapped. “You know you’re supposed to be sitting or lying down when you’re down here.”

Johnny turned around and glared at him with icy blue eyes. “I feel just fine, brother, an’ I’m sick o’ being wet-nursed.”

“Oh, you are, are you?” Scott threw back at him. “Well, we’re sick of having to wet-nurse you! But you just keep on doing it the hard way, don’t you? Now get back over here and sit.”

Johnny stood staring at his brother. He wasn’t used to seeing Scott fly off the handle and his own temper waned in the face of Scott’s anger, but he defiantly stood his ground.

“I said sit,” Scott repeated forcefully when he made no move to do as he was told. “Now!”

Johnny stiffened angrily, but finally, and without a word, marched past him in a huff. He dropped heavily onto the sofa and crossed his arms rebelliously.

“If I have to keep this up much longer, Scott,” he muttered testily, “I’ll go loco.”

“Better loco than sick again,” Scott answered him, his temper cooling and allowing a little more sympathy in his tone.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Johnny persisted petulantly. “Sittin’ around all day, doin’ nothin’. A man has to have somethin’ to do.”

Scott looked Johnny over, and he had to admit that he was pleased by his progress. He had put some weight back on and, even though he was still thin, he was no longer painfully so. His color was back, except when he overdid things and exhausted himself, and his flaring temper showed all the classic signs of Johnny Lancer making a comeback.

“Murdoch gave you something to do,” Scott replied.

“Books! Numbers!” Johnny threw back at him. “I want something to DO.”

Johnny leaned his head on the back of the sofa and studied the ceiling above him. “Scott, I am tired of checkers, I’m tired of reading, an’ I haven’t got the patience for all those numbers Murdoch wants me to do in the books,” he complained. “I’m sick of having people lookin’ over my shoulder all day, an’ if I have to drink any more o’ that buttermilk Maria keeps bringin’ me, I’ll scream.”

Scott laughed lightheartedly and sat down beside him. “I can see your point, little brother. It’d drive me mad too, but you have to take things slow or you’ll end up back in bed starting over again.”

“But I feel just fine, Scott.”

“Sure you do, for about an hour at a time, and you know it.”

Johnny closed his eyes and relented. “Yeah, I guess so,” he admitted at last. “But I can’t stand just sittin’ here gettin’ old an’ soft an’ slow.”

“Emphasis on the ‘old’ Johnny. At least you’ll have a chance to get ‘old’ if you keep doing what you’re told,” Scott told him. “You’ll be getting out on Friday anyway. Judge Randolf is in town and they’ve set the trial for the day after tomorrow. They’ll want you and Celeste to testify.”

Johnny looked suspiciously at his brother.

“An’ just how do you plan on gettin’ me there? I know you won’t let me ride, an’ if you think I’m gonna get there flat on my back in a wagon, you got another think comin’!”

“No one is planning to embarrass you, Johnny,” Scott assured him. “If you rest up some more tomorrow, I’m sure you’ll be fit enough to ride up front on the wagon.”

“Well, gettin’ out is gettin’ out, I guess!” he grumbled. “At least I’ll be outa this house.”



As Friday loomed closer, Celeste sought out her confidante. Scott was still someone she could talk to in a moment of crisis, and she dreaded the idea of testifying in that court.

"I don't want to face them, Scott," Celeste told him seriously. "When I think of that day, of what they did to Johnny, I get so angry. I want to see them punished, but I can’t stand the thought of being in the same room with them. They frighten me."

"All you have to do is answer the questions, Celeste. There's no way that those men can touch you."

"I suppose so, but I don't know what I can tell the judge anyway," she insisted. "After all, I never saw their faces."

"Like I said, just answer the questions. If you didn't see their faces, tell them that. No one is asking you to lie."

She looked doubtful.

"What if they don't convict them, Scott? What if they get turned loose? Do you think they'll come looking for Johnny?"

"They're more likely to come looking for me," he grinned, and then saw the look of horror in her eyes and hurried to reassure her. "But, no, I don't think so. There's no reason to think they'll get off, and if they did, they'd want to get as far away from here as they can, and as fast as they can."

"I wish the whole thing would just go away."

"It'll be all right, Celeste," Scott assured her. "We'll all be there with you, even Johnny."

"I wish he didn't have to go through it."

"He can handle it," Scott said confidently. "He's tougher than you think. Don't underestimate my little brother."

“Oh, I have an idea of how tough he is. But he’s vulnerable too, Scott,” she told him quietly. “He’s been hurt too many times, and I don’t mean all those scars he carries on his body. I mean the ones he carries inside.”

Scott stared at her for a moment. He was stunned by her insight. In the very short time she had known him, she had seen Johnny as most people never saw him, because he didn’t allow it. He seldom let his guard down long enough for people to understand what a complicated young man he really was.

His ready laugh and his recklessness hid that man from the world. It was a wall he had built up around himself over the years, and he was good at it. Scott knew that he had learned to do it to protect himself from the pain of his world. It had taken some time for him to start to see the real Johnny underneath, but, even now, Murdoch sometimes had trouble seeing through it.

“You’re right, Celeste,” he answered solemnly. “But don’t go thinking that he needs protecting either.”

She sensed he meant more than he said and she looked closely into his eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Celeste, you've led a very different life from Johnny," he began awkwardly. "You've never known want, or been cold at night. You've had everything that money could buy, and parties and balls, friends and family. He grew up very differently, and he learned to be hard."

"I know that already, Scott."

"I don't think you do. I don't think you realize just how hard it was for him. I don't know all of it myself, and neither does Murdoch. He won't tell us, but he became a gunhawk just to survive, and he was very good at it."

"I don't care about what he was, Scott," she told him emphatically. "I care about who he is now."

"What he was and what he is now is all tied up together. I know you’re attracted to him, but Celeste, it's one thing to run away from home and hide out here, it’s another to stay. I don’t want to see either of you get hurt. I mean, it's all very romantic, but it's not very practical. You'd be giving up everything you've ever known."

"Like you did?"

Scott sighed. "That's different. Murdoch and Johnny and Teresa are my family. I belong here."

"You still gave up everything, Scott," she persisted.

"I suppose I did, in a way. And it wasn't easy," he told her. "And getting to know Johnny was the greatest challenge of all. You might think that you know him, Celeste, but you don't - not yet."

She scowled at him. "What you mean is - I haven't met Johnny Madrid?"

"Partly, I suppose."

"But you have, haven't you?"

"Yes, I've seen Madrid. He’s like a whole other person," Scott answered quietly. “And, if I had to be brutally honest about it, I’d tell you that he scared me. His eyes were cold and hard, and his nerves were like steel. Johnny Madrid was a professional gunman, Celeste, don’t underrate that.”

"But you love your brother?"

”Well, of course I do."

Celeste smiled sweetly. "Then why should you think I would be any different?"

Scott stopped and looked at her, bemused. He leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the cheek, then smiled at her. "You really have grown up, haven't you?”




When the day of the trial dawned, Celeste was amazed by the facade that Johnny built around himself. He was able to successfully mask any discomfort he was feeling, walking straight and tall, with an air of total ease. And what his emotions might have been was anyone's guess.

She watched him carefully, and it was obvious to her that Scott and the rest of the Lancer family was doing the same, and she saw the veneer crack only once, when he thought no one would notice.

When she saw his defences drop, she saw the strain in his eyes and knew instantly that he was getting tired, but he covered it up immediately. He gave his evidence clearly and identified the voices of the prisoners without hesitation.

Chance Harding had come back to town to testify as well, although the married couple, who had seen everything too, were noticeable absentees. Apparently, their good citizenship did not extend to identifying killers and bringing them to justice. Celeste had heard that they had refused to appear.

Celeste stepped anxiously up to give what little evidence she had to give. She hated having to relive those moments again and she was relieved when she finished and went back to her seat beside Johnny.

 Scott and Val both spoke of some of the things Tugwell had bragged about during that long journey back to Spanish Wells. Celeste felt a chill run down her spine when she heard it, and she glanced at Johnny to try to gauge his reaction to it. But he didn’t show any. He simply sat back casually and listened.

She did notice that the man they called Tugwell kept looking nervously over his shoulder in Johnny’s direction. Celeste thought that he was more afraid of Johnny than he was of being convicted and hung.

It was all purely academic anyway. When the evidence had all been heard, it was more than enough to make up the minds of the twelve men on the jury. There was nothing left for them to do but convict the prisoners.

Before they left, Harding approached Johnny and grinned broadly. “Gotta tell you, Lancer, I didn’t expect you to see you here. I heard you pulled through, but how the hell you did it is beyond me.”

Johnny offered his hand to the man. “I owe ya for helpin’ me that day. Guess you musta thought Celeste was wastin’ her time.”

“Well,” he answered, shaking Johnny’s hand firmly and companionably. “She was so determined, I just went along with her. I’m glad you made it though. Woulda been a shame to go out that way.”

“Thanks again,” Johnny grinned, and went back to join his family.

When they got him home again, Johnny was pale and exhausted and Scott helped him upstairs to bed. He slept the rest of the day and through the night, but the ordeal had its benefits.

When Sam Jenkins visited in the morning to check for after effects of his day in court, he was pleased to find that there were none to speak of and allowed him a little more freedom. Riding was still out of the question for now, but he was permitted to leave the house and his mood lightened with the slackening of the keen-eyed surveillance that he had been under.

The next day, Scott even set up a practice range for him out the back, far away from everyone. Scott knew Johnny well enough by now to know that he considered getting his speed back to be as much a part of his recovery as being able to stand alone and dress himself. If providing him with somewhere close by to practise meant keeping him from trying to get back to his own favorite spot at Pine Creek, then so be it.

Celeste and Teresa found themselves sitting by and watching Johnny as he tentatively tried his draw. Celeste was engrossed by what she considered to be the astonishing speed he was able to produce, and by the accuracy of his shots. She had never seen anyone draw and fire. He was so fast, and he didn’t miss a shot.

She had no idea that Johnny was actually thoroughly disappointed with himself.

He cursed himself under his breath, aware of his audience. He knew, better than anyone, that if he had to rely on his reactions to get him out of trouble at the moment, he'd be a dead man.

So he kept at it. Satisfied with his accuracy for the time being, he concentrated on his draw -drawing and then slipping the pistol back into the holster over and over endlessly. There was a natural grace in his movement that made it look easy - a grace derived from years of practise - and Celeste was captivated but at the same time, she was disturbed.

It brought a certain reality to the name Johnny Madrid, and that reality had to be recognized and dealt with.

Eventually, both of the girls noticed perspiration glistening on his face and decided it was time to put a stop to it.

"Johnny," Teresa called out, interrupting him at last. "Why don't you take a break for a while?"

He heard her, and turned around to face her, but said nothing for a moment.

"You shouldn't overdo it too soon, John," Celeste backed her up.

"Give me a minute, Chiquitas," he finally said, with a boyish smile.

He strolled over and picked up the cans that had served as targets earlier and lined them up side by side on the fence rail. Then he turned and walked back lazily, replacing the bullets in his pistol and sliding it back into the holster as he went.

As he reached his firing position, he spun around, crouched, drew and fanned the hammer, firing off five shots that echoed in their ears, and tore holes into each of the cans. The bullets sent them flying through the air and the bounced noisily on the ground as they fell.

He hissed and caught his breath quickly at the twinge of pain the sudden movement brought on, but he covered it up hastily.

Teresa smiled, and Celeste was stunned. He seemed to have doubled the speed of his draw in the time he had been practising. It was all over in a split second.

But Johnny's only reaction was a simple, semi-satisfied, "Better," as he replaced the bullets and returned the gun to his holster.

He looked over to his audience and produced a smile that charmed Celeste all the way down to her toes. "Comin' in ladies?" he asked cheekily.




“Now this was a good idea,” Johnny remarked as he stretched out on the grass in the dappled shade of a great weeping willow.

The river passed by lazily, glistening in the sunlight, and the sun peeping through the leaves was warm on his face. The branches of the tree hung down and swayed gracefully in the slightest of breezes that stirred the air.

He tucked his hands behind his head, lying back in the semi-shade of the tree, with the soft grass under him, and he felt better than he had in weeks.

Giggling and shrieks of delight, accompanied by excited barking, told him exactly where Madelena was playing, tossing a stick for her dog and demanding he return it to her.

“I’m glad you think so, John,” Celeste smiled. “It was too nice a day to waste.”

She sat on the grass with her legs tucked discreetly under her skirts. She was pleased that he had so readily accepted her idea for a picnic with Madelena. It served several purposes, not the least being to get him out in the fresh air without over-taxing his strength.

Johnny had gained weight and looked better for it. He was beginning to look more like his old self again. A little sunlight, and some relief from the frustration of being cooped up in the house all day, was bound to do him some good.

But, more than anything else, it was just plain fun, something he hadn’t had in weeks.

So, she had taken it upon herself to ask Maria to pack a lunch for them and then rounded up Madelena and her dog to back her up. She’d thought she would have to talk Johnny into the expedition, but he had surprised her and agreed to it immediately.

He had even suggested this spot, and she had to admit, it was perfect.

Johnny sat up, cautiously protecting his rib, and wrapped his arms around his knees. He watched his daughter playing happily on the riverbank and smiled contentedly.

It was a feeling that he had experienced on only rare occasions throughout his life. In fact, it was almost alien to him and he usually distrusted it. Those other occasions were usually too short-lived and had all too often come at too high a price.

Celeste looked on as he watched the little girl, his delight in her obvious.

“She’s a beautiful child, Johnny,” she told him earnestly. “You must be proud of her.”

“She’s like her mother,” he answered quickly.

Celeste shook her head. “She looks like her mother,” she agreed. “But she’s like you.”

Johnny turned to face her, curious to know what she meant.

She caught the look and he didn’t have to ask her. “I’ve seen Luisa’s photograph in your room,” she explained. “Maddie’s certainly the image of her, but just about everything she says and does is you.”

“I’m not so sure that’s a good thing,” he grinned.

Celeste laughed lightly and then sobered a little. She considered her next question very carefully.

“Johnny, how much do you remember about the day you were shot?” she asked him cautiously.

“All of it,” he answered without hesitation. He turned away and stared ahead at nothing in particular.

Uncertainly, she went ahead. “There was a moment when…”

“Luisa was there,” he finished for her, almost trancelike. “I don’t know how. I sure don’t understand any of that stuff. I just know she was there.”

“You still love her, don’t you?” she asked him gently.

“Yes,” he admitted. He was surprised at how easy it was to say it. He had always found it hard to talk about his first wife openly.

He’d kept her a secret from his family for more reason than just hiding Maddie’s existence from them. The bitterness of her loss had added immeasurably to the creation of the cold, almost emotionless shell that had been Johnny Madrid at his worst.

There had been so much hurt in her loss. He still felt it, but he also felt that he could let her go now.

“I always will, I guess,” he continued. “She’s like Johnny Madrid – part of who I am.”

He stopped for a moment, and Celeste let him have some time to get his thoughts together.

"But she's gone, Celeste. I've accepted that now...said my goodbyes. It doesn't mean that I won't find someone else an' start again."

He turned back to her and she was fascinated to see that he was smiling.

“A man’d have to be lucky to find that kinda feelin’ twice in his lifetime,” he told her.

“And are you that lucky?” she asked him encouragingly.

His smile broadened, and he shook his head. “That’s enough about me. What about you? Don’t you miss Boston? All those parties an’ high livin’?”

“Not at all,” she told him, smiling back at him.

“But you probably will – later.”

She thought about it. “Maybe,” she conceded. “It would depend on what was keeping me here.”

Johnny grinned at her. “What if that somethin’ was me?” he asked tentatively.


“Don’t be coy, Celeste. You know exactly what I mean,” he admonished her. His grin faded a little and he went on. “I ain’t much of a catch for someone like you. I’ve got a past that keeps comin’ back on me. I say an’ do things without thinkin’ sometimes, an’ I guess I have got a bit of a temper.”

“No, not really!” she laughed ironically.

“Well, I guess we’re kinda equal on that one,” he grinned sheepishly. “But I’m serious about my past, Celeste. It has a way of turnin’ up unexpectedly. I could be walkin’ down a street an’ someone calls out ‘Madrid’ and there it is again.”

She didn’t know how to answer him. He was right, but it didn’t really matter to her. She was willing to take the chance that it never would.

“We’ll just have to face that if it happens, Johnny,” she told him softly.

He looked down at the ground between his knees awkwardly. “You’re a beautiful woman, Celeste, an’ I guess if you lived in the same circles as Scott, you must come from a good family, with money. You could have your pick o’ them fancy beaux in Boston.”

“Yes, like Rupert,” she said bluntly and he looked up and over at her.


“The man my parents have picked out for me – Rupert Foxworth.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust and Johnny laughed out loud.

“An’ is Rupert just like he sounds?” he asked her.

Celeste laughed with him. “Oh much worse. Scott will tell you. He knows him.”

“Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of other fellas who would be more’n happy to take his place. Real gentlemen, with fancy manners,” Johnny continued.

“I imagine so,” she teased him.

“That’s the kinda man you should have,” he told her, a little despondently.

“Most of those ‘real gentlemen, with fancy manners’ are extremely boring.”

“Is that right? And you don’t like ‘boring’ huh?” he grinned.

“No,” she replied emphatically and then laughed playfully. “And it’s one thing you will never be accused of.”

He plucked a blade of grass and studied it self-consciously for the longest time, without saying anything.

Celeste had a good idea of what was playing on his mind.

“Johnny,” she began guardedly, “I don’t know how I will react if or when I have to confront your past. It’s easy to say that it doesn’t matter now. I haven’t faced it yet. But I do know that if it is what makes you who you are now, then I don’t care.”

“You cared on the stage, that day,” he told her.

She shook her head angrily. “Please, don’t remind me. I didn’t really know you then and I am so ashamed of it. I should have trusted my own instincts, instead of listening to their gossip,” she admitted. “But a lot of things have changed since then.”

“Papa, look!” they both heard and looked towards the child. She was laughing gleefully as she played tug of war with the dog over a mangled piece of wood that he had retrieved for her time and again.

“An’ there’s Maddie,” he pointed out.

Celeste grinned patiently. “Yes, she’d be a terrible burden,” she told him sarcastically. “I love her and you know it. Now, have you run out of excuses yet?”

He turned back to her, taken aback by her forthrightness, and then he edged over to her side and looked into her face. His own sapphire blue eyes sought some sort of reassurance in her soft blue ones, and he seemed to find it.

“Guess I have,” he said softly. “You know I love you, don’t you?”

She smiled and held his eyes with hers. “Of course, I do,” she answered tenderly, and then added mischievously, “but it’s nice to hear the words, cheri.”

“So will you marry me?”

“In a heartbeat, John,” she whispered, and closed her eyes as he leaned closer, wrapped her in his arms and kissed her.  



 “Looks like we’ve got company,” Johnny observed with a smile as they approached the courtyard. It was still only mid-afternoon, and he felt good. He wasn’t at all tired, and he was happy - happier than he had been in years. The young woman by his side on the buckboard was in high spirits too, as was the little girl sitting behind them. Even the dog seemed to be smiling.

 Johnny couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the family their news. Somewhat naively, he was sure that none of them had guessed how deep were his feelings towards Celeste. He was expecting to shock them all with his plans.

 He studied the buggy, stopped outside the front door of the hacienda, more intently as they drew to a halt. He recognized it now. It was that fancy black buggy with the tassels on the canopy that came from the livery stable in Morro Coyo. Harry Carver hired it out for those special occasions like weddings and funerals. So what the devil was it doing here?

 He jumped down from the buckboard, jolting his still tender rib, but not enough to cause more than a twinge of discomfort, and walked around to help Celeste down. Then he turned his attention to Maddie and lifted her off the back.

 “You shouldn’t be doing that,” Celeste scolded him, but he only grinned at her.

 “You can’t keep me in cotton wool forever, querida,” he laughed. “Sooner or later, you’re goin’ to find out that I feel just fine.”

 She blushed and laughed along with him. “I wonder who’s here?” she said, looking over at the buggy inquisitively and changing the subject tactfully.

 “Don’t know. That’s a hired buggy from town. Guess we’ll find out when we get inside,” Johnny told her cheekily, as he turned back to join her. “We’d best keep our little announcement till they’re gone though. I wanna tell Murdoch and Scott and Teresa alone before we let the whole world know about it.”

 “Yes, I think we should,” she agreed, smiling.

 “You hear that, Maddie?” he asked his daughter.

 Maddie pouted and looked unhappy with the idea. “Do we have to? I don’t think I can wait, Papa.”

 She had been more excited than Johnny had thought she would be. She sure hadn’t been surprised at all by the news, and that had come as a bit of a shock to her father, if not Celeste.

 “Well, you’ll just have to, chica,” he insisted cheerfully. “Not a word. Now take that dog o’ yours around back so’s he don’t get in the way of our guests.”

 With that, she ran off with Drifter. Johnny figured he wouldn’t see her for some time anyway. She’d make her way to the kitchen to see what Maria and Teresa were planning for supper. They usually let her sit and watch, and sometimes even help where she could. It was a favorite pastime for the little girl.

 “You ready?” he asked Celeste, standing beside her, a little nervously.

 “Yes,” she nodded and slipped her hand into his for a moment.

 Johnny was a little puzzled that no one had come out to meet them. His ventures outside were normally finished off with all of them hovering over him, fussing and making sure he had survived. It normally irritated him and it was a good feeling that they weren’t there, but curious, just the same.

 He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly, his eyes meeting hers in a brief moment while the world around them stood still. Then he lowered her hand and released it, and together they made their way through the door and into the hacienda.

 Inside they found Murdoch, Scott and Teresa, all looking very somber, with a man and woman about Murdoch’s age and dressed in their Sunday best. Johnny didn’t recognize them. He stopped in the Great Room and waited for an introduction.

 Celeste stopped, frozen, beside him.

 Celeste knew them.



 “Mother, Father, what are you doing here?” she asked in an appalled daze.

 Johnny stood stock-still and glanced at Celeste. She had blanched to a pale white color, and he looked over to the couple sitting on the sofa. He studied them more closely and found that there was a resemblance. The man had a look of Celeste in a masculine sort of way. He had her eyes, and the curve of his nose was the same.

 But they were a dour looking couple, with none of Celeste’s smile or spirit. There was no smile of welcome for their daughter. In fact, they hadn’t even risen from their place on the chair, unlike Scott and Murdoch who had both gotten to their feet.

 Neither did they deign to answer her question.

 “Celeste, Johnny,” Murdoch said pleasantly, attempting to break through the uncomfortable aura in the room. “It’s good that you’re back early. Johnny, this is Mr. and Mrs. Duval,” he said, by way of a cautious introduction. He knew that Celeste certainly didn’t need one. “This is my younger son, Johnny,” he concluded.

 For what seemed like an embarrassingly long stretch of time, but was only seconds, Johnny couldn’t get his brain to make his voice work for him. He stood, staring at them, and cursing the fate that had brought them here on this of all days.

 He knew nothing about them, but Celeste’s worries, and Scott’s unbridled ‘fear’ of her mother, was enough to give him the impression that their presence here was not a good thing. Now that he saw them in person, he could see that Celeste had reason for concern.

 “Howdy,” he said lamely, when he finally got his mouth to obey him, and then wished he had waited long enough to think of something better. “Pleased to meet you,” he added a little more carefully, imitating his brother’s manners.

 The woman got to her feet slowly and turned a dauntingly cold pair of eyes on him. She looked him up and down with no consideration of manners. He could feel her giving him the once-over and her expression told him that she did not approve of what she found.

 She turned a contemptuous look on him that was unnerving. He would rather have been facing Wes Hardin than this woman.

 She was actually a very beautiful woman, with porcelain skin and crystal blue eyes like her daughter’s, but lacking the sparkle that Celeste’s had. She was swathed in a stylish silk dress with a very fashionable bustle at the back, and a lace edging around the neckline that shouted elegance. And she had a certain poise about her that he could not deny. Whatever the woman might be like personally, she had all the chic of a sophisticated woman of wealth and power.

 She walked across the room so that she stood in front of her daughter haughtily.

 “We will speak privately, Celeste,” the woman told her, rudely ignoring Johnny and failing to even acknowledge his greeting. Celeste flushed hotly with embarrassment at her attitude and lowered her head to cover it up.

 Celeste’s father suddenly rose and went to his wife’s side wordlessly. It was as though he had been given some tacit cue to come and join her.

 Margaret Duval turned slightly to speak to Murdoch. “Mr. Lancer,” she said, with shattering good manners. “Is there somewhere that we can speak to our daughter – alone?”

 “Yes, of course,” Murdoch hurried to answer. “Celeste’s room is just upstairs.”

 She froze him with those icy eyes at the words ‘Celeste’s room’ but thanked him courteously and walked over to stand next to her daughter, followed at a discreet distance by her husband.

 Then she ushered them upstairs to speak privately.




“Little brother, you look like you’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar!” Scott teased him.

 Johnny took a deep breath and dragged himself back into the present. He had watched Celeste being marched up the stairs by her parents, or, to be more precise, by her mother, and he had never felt more inadequate.

 A sideways glance from her, before she left with them, had warned him not to interfere, so he had to trust her judgment. Nevertheless, he hated the idea of her facing them alone.

 He turned to his brother and glared at him. “Didn’t hear you sayin’ much either.”

 Scott shook his head. “Oh no, I’m the first to admit it, Johnny. That woman frightens me.”

 Murdoch exhaled slowly, and added, “I don’t blame you.”

 Johnny looked back towards the staircase. “You think maybe I oughta…?”

 “I wouldn’t Johnny,” Scott quickly told him. “Let Celeste handle it first. We’ll see what happens then and deal with it.”

 Murdoch watched his younger son walk over and sit down on the now vacant sofa facing Scott. He poured each of them a whiskey and passed the glasses to both of his sons.

 “Johnny, you look like you need this more than any of us,” he grinned as he handed him the glass.

 “Yeah,” Johnny answered dejectedly. “Just when things were looking good for once.”

 Scott eyed him curiously. “What do you mean?”

 Johnny’s head dropped and he considered his options. Their plans had already been cast aside, and there didn’t seem to be much left to do but tell them here and now.

 He finally came to a decision.

 “I guess there ain’t no point in waitin’ to make some big announcement no more,” he told them hesitantly. He looked back up at Scott and continued. “I … I asked Celeste to marry me…an’ she said yes.”

 Teresa shrieked and ran over to hug him exuberantly. “Oh, that’s wonderful, Johnny. It’s so romantic!” she prattled excitedly. She threw herself onto the sofa beside him, and barely stopped to take a breath. “You two are going to be so happy. I just know it.”

 Scott said nothing for the time being, but Murdoch stood swirling the drink in his glass absently. Then, finally, he broke into a smile and looked at his younger son.

 “Teresa’s right, son,” he beamed. “Celeste is a lovely girl – she’ll make you happy.” He laughed and added, “And she’ll keep you in line. She handles you better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

 Johnny glanced over at him deliberately and grinned. “I know,” he said quietly and then turned back to his brother.

 Scott’s silence worried him. Had he lied after all? Did he really care for her?

 “You’re kinda quiet, Boston,” Johnny asked him suspiciously. He watched him anxiously. Of all his family, it was his brother’s approval he wanted most.

 Scott suddenly grabbed his brother by the arm and wrenched him to his feet. He bear-hugged him with a huge beaming smile and slapped his back happily.

 “Congratulations, Johnny,” he said emotionally. “I really mean it.”

 “Thanks, Scott,” Johnny managed to get out, through the crushing embrace. “I was kinda hopin’ you wouldn’t mind.”

 “Mind?” he exclaimed, pushing him back. “Johnny, you idiot, it’s the best news I’ve had in years.”

 “Yeah, well, we wanted to tell you together, but well…”

 “I see what you mean. Her parents are here now.”

 “Yeah. Shame they turned up now, ‘stead o’ next week.”

 “Yes,” Scott said, more soberly and then added, “you pull this one off, brother, and you’ll deserve Celeste.”

 Johnny stepped back and glared at him. “Meanin’?”

 Scott sighed and walked away to get himself another drink. He gulped it down quickly and, without turning around to see the hurt that he knew he would see on Johnny’s face, he answered in a voice tainted with anger.

 “I mean, it won’t be easy, Johnny. Her parents won’t allow it. Hell, her mother will never allow it.”

 “They won’t have a say in it,” Johnny told him firmly.

 “She’s not twenty-one yet, Johnny,” Murdoch reminded him. “She needs their permission.”

 “Well, she will be next week,” Johnny argued impatiently.

 Scott turned back to face him. “Johnny, you don’t know that mother of hers. She’s been terrorizing Celeste into submission all her life. I don’t want to believe it, but…well, I’m afraid that Celeste might buckle again.”

 “She had the courage to run away once,” Teresa put in confidently. “She’ll do it again.”

 “She crept out in the middle of the night, Teresa, when she didn’t have to face her mother. That’s a different thing altogether.”

 He paced across the room and then swung around on them all. “I told you she’s always come to me for help – remember?” he said angrily. “Well, who do you think she needed help with?”

 “But she’s such a strong girl?” Teresa replied disbelieving.

 “Of course, she is,” Scott told her vehemently. “She’s had to be, just to survive in that house. But … her mother has her bluffed. She’s never been able to stand up to her.”

 “Why should she be against it anyway?” Johnny asked. “She don’t even know me.”

 Scott shook his head, getting angrier – not with Johnny, but with the circumstances. For the first time since he had met him, Johnny had a shot at real happiness, and he wanted it for him more than anything. And yet, he was the one who had to make him face the possibility that it might never happen.

 “The Duvals are very friendly with my grandfather, Johnny. They will have heard all about you from him.”

 Teresa went silent, and her face fell as she realized the magnitude of what Scott was saying.

 “Damn that man!” Murdoch cursed viciously.

 Despite himself, Scott swung an angry glare at his father, caught in the long-standing, two-way emotional trap that had his loyalties torn between his father and his grandfather. One day, he knew he would have to sort out his feelings about Harlan Garrett, but it wasn’t going to be today. Harlan wasn’t the issue this time.

 Today, they had more to worry about.

 “Yeah, well, that wouldn’t be so good,” Johnny smiled grimly, all too well aware of Garrett’s hatred of him. “But maybe he didn’t tell ‘em ‘bout me. Maybe he didn’t want ‘em to know you’ve got a brother. Celeste didn’t know.”

 “I’d like to think you’re right, Johnny,” Scott sighed. “But anything Grandfather might have told them would have been considered ‘inappropriate for her delicate ears’. That’s why she didn’t know.” He shook his head again, despondently now. “I can’t believe he wouldn’t have vented some of his anger about you in front of them.”

 “What about that grandfather of hers then?” Johnny reminded him. “She seems to think he’d help her.”

 Scott considered the idea for a moment before answering.

 “He might,” he agreed finally. “Hard to say. François Duval might help her to escape a marriage she didn’t like, but I don’t know about this. He’s descended from old French aristocracy, although Celeste told me once that he was born on the wrong side of the blanket. But he’s a proud man just the same, and he wants the best for his granddaughter. She’ll be his heir one day Johnny, and if he doesn’t approve, that might make him just as much a snob as her mother.”

 “I ain’t givin’ up Scott,” Johnny told him in a tone that was reminiscent of his first days at Lancer. It was more like Johnny Madrid speaking than Johnny Lancer.

 They all heard the change and Scott closed his eyes in despair. Why did he have to be the one to tell him?

 “No one is suggesting you do, Johnny,” Murdoch said resolutely. He put the glass he still held down on his desk and stood up to his full, towering height. “If Celeste wants to stay here with you, then we’ll just have to see that she has the chance.”

 “Murdoch, they have the law behind them,” Scott reminded him dejectedly.

 “Only for one week, Scott,” his father replied. “And if they take her with them, then we’ll just have to go after them and bring her back.”

 An expression of sober determination came across his face.

 “Lancer is a lot stronger now than it was when you boys were small. I didn’t have the funds then to fight for either of you. Particularly you, Scott. But now…” He stopped for just the slightest moment as he looked at his sons.  “If they want a fight, they’ll get one.”



“Go for a walk, Henry,” Margaret Duval told her husband harshly as they entered the bedroom Celeste had come to think of as her own. She barely even looked in his direction when she gave her order.

 Instead, she stared angrily at her daughter – until she realized that he hadn’t moved. Instead he stood by indecisively, torn between wanting to stay to help his daughter and having to face the wrath of his wife. Margaret turned on him furiously.

 “What are you waiting for, Henry? I want to talk to Celeste alone,” she snapped.

 Celeste closed her eyes and cringed as her father flashed a quick apologetic glance in her direction before he dropped his head infinitesimally and turned around and left the room without a word of argument.

 Her whole life passed by in a parade of such mortifying incidents.

 As a little girl, Celeste had watched her mother dominate and humiliate him and she had felt sorry for him, but, by the time she reached her teens, she had been angry with him for not standing up to her. And now? Now she felt nothing but shame for him. In her entire life, she had never seen him show enough courage to stop and say “No more!” His weak attempts at arguing with her had ended in more humiliation and he had given up long ago. He let her walk all over him, even in public.

 Celeste knew that Margaret Duval had been the worst possible choice that her mild mannered father could have made for a wife. She had been the first mistake he made in a lifetime that was littered with errors of judgment. His wife dominated every facet of his life and the result had been a maze of poor decisions, both social and financial.

 Margaret was an ambitious woman with extravagant tastes in life. She liked to impress people and she would never accept second best. Her clothes, her jewels and her excessive entertainments were the most sophisticated in Boston High Society.

 She worked hard at keeping her name at the top of the invitation lists and used whatever means came to hand to do it.

 She swayed her husband’s financial decisions in the same way that she dominated his home life, and her decisions were always based on what was to her own best advantage at the time. Celeste was aware of what few people knew – her father had lost almost everything years ago, including the money from the trust fund he had inherited from Grandmére.

 His unsound decisions had been based on his wife’s desires and, when they failed, she had held him to blame, ridiculing him endlessly until he had no pride or confidence left in himself.

 It was Celeste’s grandfather who financed them. He kept up the illusion of wealth that her mother thrived on and she hated him because of it. She hated having to go to him for money, and she usually forced her husband into doing it. François Duval was an entirely different man to his son, and he kept a tight rein on her spending.

 He was a clever, self-made man who had brought his wife and baby son to America from France with only a few coins in his pocket and a knowledge of wines second to none in his country of choice.

 From those few coins, he had built a fortune that had made his son Henri an eligible target for someone like Margaret, and she had cajoled and bullied him all the way to the altar.

 And into that world Celeste had been born. From her earliest days she had been a pawn in her mother’s drive to be a leader in the social whirl of Boston. A pretty little daughter had been useful to her, and Celeste had been thrown into the company of all the right people and their sons and daughters.

 But if their usefulness ended, so did Celeste’s friendships with them. Margaret Duval was a snob of the worst kind – a social climber who would use anything – or anyone - to get where she wanted.

 Even Celeste’s best friend had been taken from her. She and Ellen had been close for years, thrown together by Margaret, who appreciated the value of her mother’s old Boston family and her father’s wealth, when they were small.

 Margaret had used the friendship to climb up the social ladder, while the girls had grown up together, playmates and confidantes. But when Celeste was fourteen, Ellen’s father, Charles Burns, had suffered heavy losses and, with his financial position gone, so was Ellen’s desirability as a companion for Celeste.

 She had been forbidden from seeing her again, and Ellen had been rudely shown the door when she came by to visit. At that age, Celeste hadn’t been strong enough to stand up to her mother’s power. But she never forgot it or forgave it.

 That had been the last occasion that she had used the trellis to climb out of the window. She had run straight to Scott and cried on his shoulder, but soon after that he had joined the army and she’d had no one to turn to.

 Celeste looked at her mother now and fervently hoped that she had inherited nothing from her. The woman was ambitious to a fault, vindictive and cruel. True - she had never raised a hand to her daughter, but her wicked tongue had lashed her relentlessly all her life.

 Margaret watched her husband out of the room and shut the door behind him, then she turned back on her daughter and glared at her.

 She ran her eyes critically over her inexpensive clothes, and the hair that was escaping in wisps around her face, and she said coldly, “Just look at you, Celeste. Have you no pride in your appearance?"

 “This is hardly the place for embroidered satin, Mother,” she replied boldly. Inside, she quaked nervously. Facing her mother like this was like facing all the demons of her childhood, but this time she had her future to fight for – her future with Johnny.

 “Don’t be insolent,” her mother bit back at her. “You’ll have to keep a civil tongue in your head if you want to be accepted in society when you get home.”

 She turned away frigidly and walked across the room before turning back to face Celeste. “Fortunately, I was able to think of a story to stop any hint of scandal. Rupert has been surprisingly patient, more than you deserve. He’s still willing to marry you and we’ve arranged a ball to announce it as soon as we get back to civilization,” she informed Celeste wrinkling her nose in distaste as she looked around her. “And since Scott Lancer has not come up to scratch, you will pack your things and come home immediately. You’ve wasted enough time on this ridiculous undertaking and you will not put Rupert off any longer.”

 “I’m not going home with you, Mother,” she told her audaciously. She stood up as straight as she could, forcing her backbone rigid to give her the courage to do this. In her mind she repeated Johnny’s name over and over to strengthen her resolve.

 “I beg your pardon?” her mother asked her, her voice cracking like ice.

 Celeste’s heart raced and her stomach churned, but she could do this. With her fists clenched at her side and her chin held defiantly high, she stood up to her mother and declared, “I said, I am not going home with you. I’m staying here.”

 “Don’t be a fool, Celeste,” Margaret said impatiently. “You are never going to bring Scott Lancer up to the mark. It was a stupid idea right from the start. You’re wasting your time, and while you’re doing that, Rupert will get tired of waiting.”

 Celeste drew in her breath and readied herself for the storm she knew she was about to create.

 “I’m not the least bit interested in Scott. I never have been,” she told her, determination ringing clearly in her voice. “I’m going to marry his brother, Johnny Lancer.”

 Margaret Duval stared at her in frozen silence and Celeste found her courage threatening to crumble under the pressure.

 When she finally spoke, the woman’s voice dripped with malicious determination.

 “Oh, I don’t think so.”




“I love him Mother,” Celeste declared fiercely. “And I am going to marry him.”

 “Don’t talk nonsense, Celeste,” her mother told her with brutal finality. “Love is nothing but a dream made up by cheap novelists to taunt silly young girls with. It has no place in the real world.”

“Just because you’ve never loved anyone…”

“That’s enough. A good marriage is one that is advantageous to both parties, and that is what you will have,” she insisted. “I’ve worked long and hard to get you this opportunity, Celeste, and I will not have you ruining my plans now.”

Celeste stood before her mother, appalled at her callousness, but her mind wouldn’t think fast enough to answer her.

“I would have accepted an attachment to Scott Lancer,” Margaret continued, undisturbed by her daughter’s silence. “At least he would have been welcomed back into polite society, and he has his grandfather’s wealth to look forward to one day. But if you think, for one moment, that I would even consider that half-breed troublemaker who dares to associate his name with Scotty’s, then you must be mad!”

“Mother!” Celeste gasped. “How can you say those things? You don’t even know him.”

“Well, thank heavens for that! I have no intention of knowing him. And neither will you. You are coming home with us, and we will all put this silly escapade behind us.”

Celeste felt a rising surge of rage. “No, I will not go home. I love John, and I’m staying here to marry him. You can’t force me to go with you.”

“Can’t I just? You have no say in it,” her mother sneered. “You’re not of age.”

“I will be, in one week. We won’t even be back in Boston by then.”

“You’ll be leaving with us immediately, Celeste, and there will be no argument about it. You’re under age.”

“Then I’ll run away again, just as soon as I can,” she cried defiantly. “And this time, you have no right to stop me.”

“No you won’t. I have plans for you, my girl. And no one is going to interfere with them. Especially not that half-breed.”

“Don’t call him that. He’s a good man, mother. You don’t know him. He nearly died to protect me.”

“Then it’s a shame that he didn’t! If you’d heard the stories I have about him and that Mexican mother of his, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near him. He’s half Mexican of all things!”

Celeste’s eyes glowed with fury. “Well, I’m half French. So what?”

“How dare you compare your heritage with his!” Margaret shouted, outraged beyond endurance. “Your family were aristocrats…”

“Or so you want people to believe! I know better Mother. Grand-père freely admits that the Comte never acknowledged his birth. He doesn’t care a bit.”

It was a sore point for her mother, and Celeste knew it. François Duval did not appreciate her attempts to claim an aristocratic lineage for her husband. It was one of the many things about her that he disliked.

Her mother’s brow knitted and she glared viperously at her daughter. “I have plans for you, Celeste,” she repeated slowly and determinedly. “I will not see them ruined by some passing fancy for a low born son of a penniless Scottish immigrant. You will do as you are told …”

“I will not …”

“You will do as you are told,” she persisted relentlessly. “You will pack your things, thank these people for the holiday you have enjoyed with them, and you will come home with us to Boston and marry Rupert Foxworth.”

“No Mother, you can’t make me. Not this time,” Celeste told her with more courage than she had ever been able to muster in the face of one of her mother’s tirades. The knowledge that Johnny and Scott were downstairs and would back her up gave her the strength to do it.

“You think not? Don’t try me, Celeste, because I CAN make you.”

Celeste stared at her and a terrible fear began to grow in her mind. Just how far could she push her mother? She was capable of anything if it meant overcoming a threat to her plans.

“What do you mean, Mother?” she asked her fearfully.

Margaret Duval smiled, but there was no kindness or pleasure in that icy smile. It was a cold hard smile of victory.

“If you try to come back to that creature, Celeste, I will have it put down like the animal it is.”

Her meaning seeped through to Celeste’s consciousness with terrible clarity.

“You couldn’t.” she whispered weakly.

“You think not?” she declared frigidly. “Then try me and see.”

Celeste looked into her eyes, searching for a clue as to whether or not she meant what she threatened. It could still be a bluff, a ruse to bring Celeste to heel.

But what she saw there was horrific. Margaret Duval smiled confidently at her daughter. Celeste believed her.

She had always known her mother to be cold-hearted and callous, but what she saw in her eyes now was pure malevolent evil at its worst.

“Rupert Foxworth is my key to freedom from that damned French bastard you call your grandfather. Rupert is a weakling. He’ll be easy to handle. I’ll have all the money I need without having to crawl to François Duval for it.

But if you so much as think about Johnny Madrid or Lancer, or whatever he chooses to call himself, I’ll send someone to kill him. And if he fails, I’ll send another, and another, until it’s done. Do you understand me?”

Celeste felt as though her heart was being squeezed in a vice. The full horror of her mother’s words sank in, and she looked at the woman in front of her and knew, with a terrible certainty, that she meant every one of those words.

“No, you wouldn’t,” she cried feebly. “Even you couldn’t stoop to murder.”

“Oh yes, I would,” the woman sneered icily. “And you know it. I’m told he’s very good with a gun. It will be interesting to find out just how good he really is. There are plenty of men who would be willing to do it for me, for a price.” She smiled cruelly, apparently enjoying taunting her daughter. “It would be like poetic justice in a way. After all, I’m told he was an assassin himself. And, of course, there are so many other means at my disposal – poison is an option, I suppose. Or that quaint western method they have - a bullet in the back.”

She seemed to be relishing her plans and Celeste was aghast at her mother’s brutality. She pulled herself up straight and rallied the thin strands of her nerves to try one last attack.

“That would take a lot of money Mother,” she threw at her. “Money that I know you don’t have. And I can’t see Grand-père financing your little murder plots.”

“I won’t need his money,” she grinned victoriously, confident that she had everything planned out.  “I know someone who will be positively eager to give it to me.”


“Harlan Garrett.”



Celeste slumped onto the edge of the bed. She could not imagine why Scott’s grandfather would be willing to help her mother to murder Johnny, but it was obvious that she was perfectly confident that he would.

“Why would he want Johnny dead?” she asked naively.

“Because of Scotty’s ridiculous attachment to him. Harlan has long believed that if he weren’t around, Scott might go home to him where he belongs,” she told her coldly.

“But Scott loves it here. Surely Mr. Garrett knows that.”

“Don’t be stupid.  Harlan believes the brother’s death would make a difference and that is all that counts. He has tried so many other ways of parting them, but he’s just too soft to do what needs to be done. He’s afraid of what Scott might do if he found out.”

Margaret’s voice was like ice and she continued for her daughter’s benefit. “Well, I have no such qualms. What do I care what Scott does after his brother is dead. What matters to me is that the creature is dead and out of your life for good.”

Tears stung Celeste’s eyes. Tears of fright and despair, as she realized that it was no use. She couldn’t put Johnny into that sort of danger. What sort of life would they have together if they lived in constant fear of her mother’s reprisals?

And she had no doubt now, that her mother meant every word she said. Johnny would be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life – or hers. She feared his having to face hired gunfighters, but she was confident he could handle them, but poison and backshooting were a different matter.

“If I go home with you, do you swear to leave Johnny alone?” she whispered miserably.

“If you come home and do as I tell you, then I’ll have no reason to harm him.”

Celeste didn’t like that answer. She looked up at the woman standing in front of her, distrusting her completely. She could not put it past her to have him killed anyway, and a feeling of hatred filled her heart. She would never have thought herself capable of the feelings she now had for her mother.

All her life she had feared her, distrusted her – even disliked her. But her feelings had always been muddled with her sense of duty to her parents. She had always believed that she should love them, but at this moment all she felt for the woman destroying her life was loathing.

“That’s not what I asked you, Mother,” she told her with a flash of her old self. “I want you to swear to me that you will not harm Johnny, or arrange anything that will hurt him.”

Her mother smiled again, that same self-satisfied expression of victory that brought a light into her eyes. “Don’t you trust me, Celeste? Very well, I will make you this promise. If you do exactly as I tell you, and without question, then I will not have him hurt in any way.”

“You won’t help Harlan Garrett?”

“Harlan can look after his own interests. I will look after mine.”

Celeste knew she was beaten, but the lump in her throat felt like it would choke her, and her chest was tight with pain. God, how it hurt!

“All right,” she eventually agreed in an agonized whisper. “I’ll come back with you and do as you want.”

She looked up at her mother and scowled, and her voice took on a hard edge that echoed the older woman’s own. “But if I find out that Johnny has gotten so much as a scratch by your hand, Mother, I will go straight to the authorities. I will shout it to everyone who will listen, and I won’t care if you hang for it.”

Her mother laughed at her. “Well, finally, a little backbone from one of my family,” she sneered. “I never thought I would see the day.”

“I mean it Mother.”

“I don’t doubt that you do, Celeste, but for now, you won’t say a word to anyone. You will pack your things, say goodbye and come back to Boston with me. You can tell that man anything you like, except the truth. Tell him that you have changed your mind. You don’t want to give up your life back there after all. Do you understand? You are not going to tell him, or anyone, anything about this conversation.”

“Yes Mother,” Celeste agreed, her voice echoing of despair.

“And that includes your grandfather.”

“Yes, I know,” she nodded sadly.

“Good, now get your things together and we will leave straight away,” Margaret told her angrily. “I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to in this house.”

“I need more time than that, Mother,” Celeste begged her. She couldn’t just walk out of the house with no explanation. She had to have some time to talk to Johnny before walking out of his life.

Margaret Duval eyed her suspiciously. “All right,” she relented. “It’s getting late if we want to get back to what they call a town here. Your father and I will come for you tomorrow morning and you will be ready. Is that clear?”

Celeste nodded her head obediently. “Yes.”

“If you try any tricks, my girl, I will do what I told you I would do. Johnny Madrid will not live long enough to enjoy life with you. Do you believe me?”

Celeste looked up and stared into her mother’s face. It was cruel and heartless, and she knew she meant it.

“Yes, Mother.”



Celeste saw her parents off and heaved a sigh of relief. At least she had one more night of freedom from her Mother’s domination. But then she thought about what she had to do, and her breast tightened again from the strain.

Murdoch, Teresa and the boys had left her to see them off privately, and she was glad that they had. It meant that she didn’t have to feign any feeling for the couple who had brought her into the world. She had none to give. They had killed the little that had once been there.

She turned back and walked miserably into the house, only to find Johnny standing in the hallway waiting for her. She could see how worried he was about her, and she wanted nothing more than to run into his arms and never let go. She longed for the comforting warmth of his body close to hers, his shoulder to cry on, and his reassurance that everything would be all right.

But it wasn’t going to be all right. She knew that she had to convince him that she had changed her mind. If he suspected otherwise, he would force the issue with her mother, and that would be disastrous. It could get him killed.

“Celeste?” he began hesitantly. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head and looked up at him. “We have to talk, Johnny,” she told him sadly. “Somewhere private.”

He didn’t like the sound of that. “Sure,” he agreed quietly. “We’ll go out back to Teresa’s garden,” he suggested uneasily, and he led her past the rest of the family and outside to the little kitchen garden that Teresa tended lovingly.

He ignored the unspoken questions from his family and closed the door smoothly behind him. Then he turned around and looked at her, and he didn’t like what he saw.

Any fool could see that she was distraught. She was as white as a sheet, and nervously fidgeting with her skirt. He saw unshed tears pooled in her eyes and a shudder of fear rolled over him.

“What is it?” he asked her gently.

She couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t face him and see the hurt she knew would be in his eyes. So she turned away from him, and said what she had to say with her back to him.

“I have to go back, Johnny.”

The words tore through him, their sting hotter than any bullet had ever been. He closed his eyes against them for a moment, and tried to pretend that he hadn’t heard them.

Then he opened them again, knowing that he had heard them, and he concentrated for a moment on breathing. In and out, Johnny boy, that’s how you do it, he told himself.

He forced himself to speak in the end. He forced his mind to think up some words.

“It won’t be for long. You’ll be twenty-one next week.”

“It doesn’t matter any more, Johnny,” she whispered, still keeping her back to him. “I won’t be coming back.”

“Celeste,” Johnny answered desperately. He walked over and took her shoulders firmly in his hands and turned her around to face him.

She kept her head lowered, not able to bear looking into his eyes.

“Celeste,” he continued tenderly. “Murdoch says we can fight them. You’re not in this alone any more. Once you’re of age, they can’t force you to do anything.”

Alone! Of course she was in this on her own! But she couldn’t tell him that. She shook her head vehemently. “No, you don’t understand. I’m going home, Johnny. Home! Do you understand?”

He did understand, but he wouldn’t believe it. Only hours ago they had pledged their love for each other. It hadn’t mattered then. So where had that gone to all of a sudden?

“This is home,” he told her anxiously.

Suddenly, she looked up into his face. Her eyes were swimming with unshed tears, and part of her died when she saw the devastating confusion on his face.

“No, Boston is where I belong, Johnny,” she told him, her voice catching on the lump in her throat. “Mother is right. I couldn’t live here for the rest of my life. I’d miss home too much.”

“This is your home,” he repeated.

“No, this is your home,” she cried. Her heart was pounding so hard that she couldn’t believe that he wasn’t hearing it too. She began to tremble, and the tears in her eyes started to spill over and trickle down her cheeks.

God, she wanted this over. She couldn’t stand it any longer. It was only prolonging the hurt. “I’d miss it all, Johnny,” she lied. “I know that now. I don’t want to stay here and then find myself longing for all the fine things back home. It wouldn’t work. It would only hurt you.”

Johnny slipped his hands from her shoulders and let them drop. He frowned as he took in her words. “You said…”

“Oh lord, I know what I said, and I’ll never forgive myself for it. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

The tears rolled down her face and she tasted their salt as they slid onto her lips and into her mouth as she spoke.

“I’d only hurt you more if I stayed,” she pressed on. Her heart was tearing itself apart, but she had to convince him that it was what she wanted. She couldn’t bear the alternative. “I can’t do that to you, Johnny.”

He said nothing, but stared at her. The world seemed to have stopped.

“I’m sorry, Johnny. I love you but…”

“But not enough,” he finished for her bitterly.

“No,” she lied, and her heart finally broke.


Johnny stared at her for a long time, and then turned silently and stormed back through the house.

He left the door open behind him, so she heard Murdoch and Scott call his name anxiously as he stalked past them, and then she heard the slam of the heavy front door.

Her trembling worsened to convulsive shaking. She hid her face in her hands and wept until her knees buckled beneath her and she crumbled to the ground.

Teresa found her like that, sobbing desperately. She wrapped her arms around her and helped her to her feet and into the house.

She sat Celeste down on the sofa and sat down beside her, holding her arm around her shoulders to comfort her as Murdoch handed her a glass of brandy and encouraged her to drink it. But Scott stood back and said nothing – watching.

Celeste sipped the brandy and grimaced at the taste as it burned its way down her throat. Then she accepted the handkerchief from Teresa then dried her eyes and wiped her face and nose.

Slowly, she regained some control and leaned back on the sofa.

Her eyes fell on Scott, watching her steadily, his usually soft blue eyes blazing. She could see what he was thinking, and she wanted to run - now.

“Where’s Johnny?” she asked anxiously.

“Gone!” Scott answered tersely.

“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”

“He’s ridden out somewhere.”

She leapt to her feet. “No!” she exclaimed. “He can’t. You have to go after him.”

“No,” he said bluntly.

Celeste blinked in surprise. “Scott, please. He’s not supposed to ride yet. He could get hurt.”

“He’s already hurt, Celeste,” Scott threw at her coldly. “What did you say to him?”

“Please go after him, Scott,” she pleaded, hoping to avoid the question if she could.

“He needs to be alone,” Scott persisted stonily. “Now, what did you say to him?”

“Take it easy, Scott,” Murdoch told him, trying to stay calm himself. He, too, was worried about Johnny, but Scott was right – the boy obviously needed to be alone at the moment.

“Are you all right, Celeste?” Teresa asked sympathetically.

Celeste sat down beside her again and nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

“Then tell us what happened, please,” Teresa pressed her.

“I told him I’m going home,” she finally whispered and winced at the audible sigh of exasperation from Scott.

“I knew it,” he yelled at her angrily. “One word from your mother and you gave in to her again, didn’t you?”

“Please Scott, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going with them and that’s all there is to it.”

“Is that right? Did you even consider standing up to her?” he raged at her. “You’re just like your father. She lashes the whip and you jump through the hoop! Only this time it’s Johnny who’s getting hurt.”

“We’ll help you, Celeste,” Teresa told her calmly. “If you want to stay, we’ll help you.”

Celeste smiled feebly through the tears that threatened to flow again. “I have to go home, Teresa,” she said softly. “You’ve all been so kind to me, but I don’t have any choice.”

“Then we’ll help you get back when you’re of age,” Murdoch put in. “If you need anything, legal help – whatever – we’ll give it to you.”

“Thank you Murdoch,” she answered quietly. “But it’s no use. Mother’s right, I don’t belong here.”

“And that’s what you told Johnny?” Scott asked her icily.

She lowered her head, desperately wanting to scream the truth at them. Instead she answered, “Yes.”

“Damn you, Celeste!” he shouted furiously and turning away from her. “I should have made Murdoch pack you off and send you home that first day.”

“Scott, stop it!” Teresa yelled at him. She could see what he could not from where he stood. Celeste was trembling again. There was more to this – she was sure of it.

“No,” Scott persisted, turning back on her angrily. “Didn’t you see him? You must have seen how hurt he is!”

“We all did,” Murdoch threw back at him. “And you are not helping. Go outside and cool off.”

Scott glared at him, and then stormed out of the house.

Celeste got to her feet slowly and deliberately. “I think I’d better go up to my room,” she told them quietly. “I have to pack and …”

She choked back tears. “I’m so sorry. I’ve caused enough trouble.”

She headed for the stairs, and turned back before taking the first step.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again and went upstairs.

Teresa looked up at Murdoch and saw the troubled expression on his face.

“You know there’s more to this than she’s saying, don’t you Murdoch?” she said softly.

He sat down on the arm of the sofa and put his arm around his ward. More than ever, she seemed like a daughter to him right now. And he realized once again what a gift she had. She was wise beyond her years sometimes, seldom taking things at face value, but looking underneath to find the core of the problem.

“Yes, honey,” he agreed. “I think you’re right. She’s changed her mind far too suddenly for there not to be something else wrong. But I don’t know how we can get her to tell us what it is. She made no attempt to defend herself against Scott.”

“Do you think I should try talking to her again?” Teresa suggested. “When she’s calmed down, I mean.”

“Perhaps,” he replied absently.

She sighed dejectedly. “Maybe if she and Johnny could sit and talk about it calmly…”

“No,” Murdoch told her firmly. “I don’t think that would be wise at the moment.”

“It’s such a shame, Murdoch,” she cried. “I was so sure they were right for each other.”

He hugged her tighter to comfort her. “And you weren’t wrong, Teresa honey. We just have to figure this thing out for them.”


It was well after dark when Scott finally heard the front door quietly open and close. No one came into the Great Room, so Scott guessed who it was.

Johnny had been gone all afternoon and half the night, and with the sun down, the fall evening had cooled down rapidly. He was not only on horseback, before he was ready, but in the night air as well. While they were all quietly concerned about what effect it would have on his health, no one talked about it. He needed the time to himself to get over the shock of Celeste’s decision to leave.

Scott rose quietly and headed out of the room for the stairs, following the sound of the footsteps he could hear in the hallway above.

“Scott, wait,” Murdoch called out, stopping him before he got out of the room.

“That’s Johnny,” Scott answered, turning around to face him.

“I know,” Murdoch said slowly. “And if he wanted company, he would have come in here. Let him be.”

“No, I don’t think so, Murdoch,” his son insisted. “He’s been alone all afternoon. Now he needs to talk.”

Scott didn’t give his father any more opportunities to argue with him, but made his way quickly upstairs instead. He went straight to his brother’s room, and rapped gently on the door.

“Johnny,” he called through the door, but he got no answer. “Johnny, I’m coming in,” he told him, and he opened the door without invitation.

The room was in almost total darkness, lit only by a small beam of moonlight shining through the window. Scott had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the lack of real light before he located his brother.

Slowly he made out a dark figure on the bed. He saw Johnny stretched out flat on his back, his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling above him. He didn’t move, or acknowledge Scott’s presence in any way.


“Go away, Scott,” he muttered in a defeated monotone.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered, still not looking at his brother. “I just don’t feel like talkin’.”

Scott closed the door behind him and walked in anyway. He walked over to the small table and located some matches. Striking one, he lit the lamp, turning it down low to dim the room enough to accommodate his brother’s somber mood.

“It might help,” Scott told him kindly, but his brother didn’t say anything in reply. Scott had known it wasn’t going to be easy to get him to open up, but he was determined.

“Johnny, I know this is hard…”

“What do you know about it?” Johnny snapped back angrily, his eyes locked intently on that same spot of the ceiling.

“Not enough I suppose,” he sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Johnny, listen to me…” he began, reaching out and taking his brother’s arm firmly. He stopped and frowned angrily. The shirt was damp from the night air – damp almost to the point of being wet.

“You idiot,” he growled, forgetting, for the moment, why he had come here. “That shirt is wet through.”

He put his hand to Johnny’s forehead and found it covered in perspiration. He was sure it wasn’t a fever, more likely it was just sweat from the unaccustomed exertion of a long ride when he wasn’t really strong enough to handle it.

“And you’re covered in sweat,” he continued crossly. “I don’t know a better way of getting another fever, do you?”

Johnny finally took his eyes off the ceiling and turned his head to glare at his brother with open hostility.

“I don’t care, brother,” he said coldly. “I really don’t care.”

“Well I damned well do!” Scott growled at him furiously. He stood up and strode across the room, then he picked up the hand-towel on the dresser and went back to dry his brother’s face off, despite Johnny’s best efforts to stop him.

“Quit it, Scott,” he demanded testily, trying to push his brother away. “Just leave me be will ya?”

Scott brushed his anger aside. “Get the shirt off, Johnny. Right now.”

But Johnny pushed his hand away roughly. “Leave me alone, brother. I don’t want no wet-nursin’ now.”

“Then get that wet shirt off, or you’ll find yourself back in that bed again. You can’t fight for her from the flat of your back.”

“Fight for her?” he threw back at Scott. “How the hell do I do that? I don’t even know what I’m fightin’.”

“Well, what did she say?”

Johnny turned his head away again, and found that same spot of the ceiling. Scott saw the pain in his face, and, this time, it had nothing to do with his injuries. This pain went deeper, and would last much longer – perhaps for the rest of his life.

Scott’s anger with Celeste soared until it too almost physically hurt. He knew that her mother was somehow at the bottom of it, but that did not excuse Celeste in his mind. She had caved in the moment the woman had confronted her, just as she had all her life.

How many times had he listened to her tell him that she was going to stand up to her mother, only to have her swallow her pride when the crunch came? Too many times to count, and this time it was his brother who was suffering for it. Scott could not forgive that.

“It don’t matter, Scott,” Johnny answered stubbornly. “She’s leavin, an’ she ain’t comin’ back. That’s all that counts.”

Scott’s anger dissipated watching his brother’s anguish. He sat back down on the side of the bed. “She must have given you a reason, Johnny.”

Johnny didn’t answer and his silence was frustrating.

“Johnny?” he pushed, just a little harder. “What did she say?”

When Johnny eventually told him what she had said though, he frowned thoughtfully.

“She said she didn’t love me enough to stay,” he admitted despondently. The words sounded calm, but the emotion beneath them was plain to see on his face. “Guess it ain’t so surprisin’ really.”


Johnny didn’t look at him, but after a moment he answered quietly. “Be honest with yourself, Scott. What can I offer her?”

“Well, the impression I had was that you were all she wanted anyway,” Scott grinned.

“Not enough, apparently.”

Scott didn’t say anything for the time being. Instead he took his time and thought things through just a little more clearly and rationally.

“And did you believe her?”

“I don’t know what to think,” he told Scott, hurt and confusion ringing in the words.

“You seemed pretty confident of her this afternoon,” Scott told him.

Johnny shrugged his shoulders negligently. The gesture implied more indifference than he obviously felt. “Yeah, well, that was then.”

“That’s right, before she met with her mother.”

“She knew that we’d back her play if she wanted to stay here,” Johnny told him coldly.

“Yes, she did,” Scott agreed, puzzled now.

Johnny frowned too and turned to his brother. “Somethin’ musta happened,” he said quietly. “I’d swear she wasn’t lyin’ when she said that it didn’t matter this afternoon. What changed her mind?”

“I don’t know, but her mother will be behind it,” Scott answered. “She’s a tyrant, Johnny. Don’t go thinking that, because she’s a woman, and a mother, that she couldn’t be a nasty piece of work. That woman has lauded it over her family for as long as I’ve known them. And she always wins.”

“Then I’m gonna go find out,” Johnny told him, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“No, I’ll talk to her and see what I can find out,” Scott suggested instead. “I don’t think she’s going to tell you while she’s this upset.”

Johnny sat on the side of the bed and was suddenly racked by a fit of coughing. He fought to bring it under control, but, by the time he had, he was red-faced and breathing hard. He kept his head down, not ready to face the ‘told you so’ expression that he knew would be on his brother’s face.

Scott tugged at the sleeve of his brother’s damp shirt.

“You get out of these clothes and into something dry, before you catch cold,” he ordered him. “Getting sick now won’t help at all.”



“Go away, Johnny,” she called out through the door.

Celeste had no desire to draw out the misery any further.

She lay on the bed, still dressed, trying not to think about what her life was going to be like from now on. There was no one to turn to for help this time.

Even if her father knew what was happening, he was too weak to be of any use to her.

If she dared to tell the Lancers, and especially Johnny, they would go on the attack. Celeste had no doubt that they would send her mother packing. She knew that even Margaret Duval would be no match for them in a head-on confrontation.

But her mother did not work that way. Up-front arguments were saved for her husband and her daughter. Her real genius was for plotting. She devised cunning plans that would get her whatever she wanted.

And she could be amazingly patient in bringing those plans to fruition. Even if it took months, or years, to succeed, she was at her happiest preening herself over her secret victories.

Celeste was well aware that, if it took years, her mother would bring disaster to the Lancer family if she didn’t agree to her plans. Margaret would stalk Johnny relentlessly and there would be nothing anyone could do about it. They would never know a moment’s peace, and she could never inflict that on them.

But, as bad as life with Mother had always been, it was bound to be a lot worse now. She knew the secret to getting Celeste to toe the line now, and she would use it as a weapon for the rest of her life.

And then there was the prospect of facing life married to Rupert Foxworth. The man was a fool and a weakling. He was as much under his own mother’s thumb as her father was under Margaret’s. He’d be no match for Margaret Duval.

She felt as though her heart had broken into a thousand pieces, shattered like a crystal vase – impossible to restore. She would never feel for anyone what she felt for Johnny, certainly not for Foxworth.

Her life stretched out in front of her as an endless parade of tea parties, balls and inane dinners with the social elite of Boston, where her opinions would count for nothing, unless it involved clothes or inconsequential gossip. The most she would hope for to get out of her future was to be able to make the best of a bad situation. 

Grand-père was going to be disappointed in her, and that hurt too. He had always hoped that she would not be like her father - that she would be strong enough to break away from her mother’s tenacious grasp.

But when it came down to it, she too had been weak. It seemed that she was too like Henri Duval after all. Like her father, she didn’t have the strength or the evil genius that her mother had.

Perhaps that was not such a bad thing? She would rather be like him than like her mother - cruel, tyrannical and destructive.

Scott’s angry words still rang distressingly in her ears. He had always been there for her to turn to, but even that solace was gone now. He would never be there for her again, and it saddened her to the core of her being.

And the memory of the hurt and disbelief on Teresa’s face was like a knife twisting deep in her chest, tearing through what was left of her soul. Celeste treasured the friendship of both of them, and could not help but feel that she had dishonored their trust in her.

She couldn’t even cry any more. She had sobbed until she was numb. Distraught and alone, she had finished her packing and lay forlornly on the bed, even though she had no expectation of being able to sleep tonight.

That look on Johnny’s face, when she had told him she did not love him enough to stay, would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life.

Through the door, she heard the muffled answer to her demand to be left alone.

“It’s not Johnny,” the voice said, clearly recognizable despite the heavy carved wooden door between them. “It’s Scott.”

She couldn’t face him, not after hurting his brother so badly. She couldn’t bear another confrontation like the one downstairs.

“I don’t care who it is. Go away.”

There was a drawn out silence that followed and she thought he must have taken her at her word and left, but, when he spoke again, she realized that she had been mistaken. He was still there.

“Celeste, I’d like to talk to you.”

She told him no determinedly, but she heard the door open a little and Scott poked his head through to let her see that he intended to enter, no matter what she said.

“Please go away, Scott,” she begged him. “I have nothing more to say.”

Scott came all the way in and closed the door quietly behind him. He stood there, just inside the door, and he looked around.

The light was just as dim and gloomy in here as it was in Johnny’s room. He noticed the bags packed and sitting by the bed, ready for an early start in the morning. She was lying on her side on the bed, fully dressed with her legs pulled up under the crumpled skirt, and she rolled over so that she faced away from him.

“I’ve got some things to say to you,” he told her softly.

“You’ve said enough, Scott. Don’t you think?” she whispered sadly. “I really don’t want to go over it all again.”

“I don’t really care what you want right now, Celeste,” he said firmly and quietly adamant. “Johnny told me…”

Celeste sprang forward and turned to face him, her legs tucked under her. “He’s back?” she exclaimed, relieved.

“Yes, he’s back.”

“Well, is he all right?”

Scott scowled at her, exasperated. “It depends on your definition of ‘all right’,” he told her. “If you mean physically, then yes, he doesn’t seem to have done himself any harm. But emotionally he’s a mess.”

He studied her a little more critically, taking in the red and puffy eyes, and the pale complexion. “Just like you,” he added. “Not surprising when you consider that you said ‘yes’ and then ‘no’ all in a matter of a few hours.”

“I’m sorry, Scott,” she answered earnestly. “I didn’t want to hurt him, but I thought it was kinder…”

“Kinder?” Scott exclaimed. “Now that you’re going to have to explain, my girl. Kinder than what?”

Her mind raced for a rationalization of the words she had dropped inadvertently. She was going to have to lie to him, and she hated herself already for it.

She dropped her head and stared at her hands, the fingers fidgeting nervously with her skirt. “What if, in a couple of years, I realized that I missed Boston?” she suggested. “I couldn’t go back, could I? We’d both be miserable.”

“You seemed pretty sure of what you wanted when we last talked about it,” Scott reminded her. “And apparently you were very sure this afternoon.”

“I got carried away, I suppose,” she whispered despondently. “I should have given it more thought.”

“So what changed your mind then?”

Celeste didn’t answer. She wouldn’t look at him either, and he was, more than ever, certain that she was lying.

“What did your mother say?” he asked her carefully.

She finally looked up at him. “She just made some valid points. Please don’t make me go through it all again.”

“What valid points?”

Desperation made its way into her thoughts. She had to convince Scott that she really had made her own decision. He would never stand for the truth.

“She made me think of all the things I’d be leaving behind,” she told him, closing her eyes against the scepticism she read on his face. “Like not seeing Grand-père,” she said passionately, and then adding, rather lamely, “and snow at Christmas, and not seeing the clippers come into the harbour. Lots of things.”

Scott shook his head slowly. “No, missing your grandfather I might believe,” he replied. “But the harbour? No, I’m sorry, you’ll have to do better than that.”

“No, I don’t!” she declared. “I’ve made my choice, Scott.  Leave it at that, please.”

“You’re not being honest with me, Celeste. I’ve known you too long for you to be able to fool me.”

“I’m going home tomorrow, Scott. There’s nothing more to say.”

“All right,” he finally relented. He crossed his arms firmly across his chest and frowned at her. “But before I leave this room, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t love my brother.”

She tried. She looked up into his face and tried so hard to tell him that lie. She knew that if she could just answer that one last question, she could convince him, but she couldn’t do it. It felt like a blasphemy, and it was the one lie she couldn’t tell.

Instead, she looked away sadly and said nothing.

“I thought so,” Scott said bluntly. Even in the subdued light of her room, he had seen the plea for help in her eyes when she finally looked at him.

If she would only open up to him, he might be able to help. He couldn’t fathom her this time. He had never had a problem getting her to talk to him before. She had always been all too eager to pour her heart out to him.

Hadn’t she travelled the width of the country to come to him for help? So what had her mother said that made it impossible for her to come to him now?

He knew Margaret Duval was at the bottom of it. She was holding something over Celeste’s head, and she was winning again.

He sighed, then turned and left the room, leaving Celeste to pour her heart out all over again.

She had thought she had cried all the tears she had in her to shed.

She was wrong.



“You don’t have to do this, Celeste,” Scott reminded her the next morning.

 He picked up her bags to take them downstairs, still hoping that she had changed her mind. She looked pale and drawn; no doubt the result of a sleepless night.

 When he had gone back to Johnny’s room last night, he would have given everything he had in the world, and then some, to be able to tell him that it was all fixed, that Celeste had just had a case of ‘cold feet’ and was staying after all.

 Having to tell him, instead, that he hadn’t solved anything was about the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

 It had been all he could do to prevent Johnny from storming down the hallway and forcing his way into the room to confront her. It wouldn’t have helped – not then anyway.

 He had thought that, perhaps, in the morning, in the cool clear light of day, they could talk it through rationally and resolve the problem.

 But now, seeing her collect the last of her things from the room and listlessly pack them away, he had his doubts. Her movements were mechanical, deliberate. She seemed to have switched off her emotions.

 “No more, please Scott,” she entreated him quietly.

 “Okay,” he reluctantly relented. “Are you ready then?”

 She nodded wordlessly and then looked at him with desperation in her eyes. “Where is Johnny?”

 “He’s downstairs,” Scott answered, noting her dismay. “You can’t expect him to let you go without saying goodbye, surely?”

 “I’m sorry. I just can’t face it.”

 “Well, I’m sorry too,” he told her testily. “But I am not sneaking you out the back way.”

 Celeste walked to the door and stopped for a moment to take a breath, to steady her racing heart. Then she went through the door and headed for the stairs without another word.

 Downstairs, Johnny sat on the corner of his father’s desk, casually flipping a silver letter opener end over end in his right hand. He looked cool and unconcerned, a fact that bothered both Murdoch and Teresa.

 Even Maddie was watching him closely. Teresa had told her that Celeste was leaving this morning. She’d asked questions that Teresa could only wish she had the answer to, the hardest one being the simplest – Why?

 So Teresa had answered her honestly. “I don’t know, Maddie, but we have to accept whatever she has decided.”

 The little girl had nodded silently and joined them in the Great Room to say goodbye.

 The atmosphere there could not have been gloomier if it had been a funeral.

 It was so quiet that the clip of hoofbeats and the rattle of wheels and harness out in the courtyard could be heard clearly by all of them. They sounded like a death knell, and all of them looked up as one, knowing full well who had arrived.

 Even Johnny paused briefly from his game, just long enough to look up, then ignore it and consciously go back to that damned letter opener again.

 It was Murdoch who stood up and went to the door to let them in. He came back with Margaret and Henri Duval, both dressed in their most elegant clothes and holding themselves up proudly.

 Margaret’s eyes seemed to demand that they acknowledge her superiority over them all. She nodded almost regally to Teresa when she and Madelena stood up as she entered the room.

 But it was Johnny who caught her attention.

 He neither stood up politely, nor even stopped playing with the knife, but ignored them with cool indifference.

 Teresa wondered at his self-assurance, but it worried Murdoch. He knew the volcanic temper that was simmering under that calm exterior. If it erupted now, the situation might never be remedied, though he doubted now that it could be anyway.

 Margaret glared at Johnny malevolently, but he paid her no attention until he decided that he was quite ready to face her on his own terms.

 When he felt the time was right, he caught the letter opener one last time with a snap of his wrist and closed his fist around it defiantly. Then he raised his head slowly, until his eyes met hers.

 Everyone else in the room seemed to disappear. Deep blue eyes met cool blue eyes, both with a touch of ice that could have frozen a man on the spot. They were alone and facing off just as surely as if she had been an armed gunman waiting for him to draw.

 There were no guns this time, but it was in her power to hurt him more deeply than anyone he had ever faced on the street.

 Johnny said nothing at all, but returned her steady stare with his own icy gaze, holding out until she was the one who eventually turned away. When she spoke at last, he notched up at least one minor victory over her.

 “Is my daughter ready to leave, Mr. Lancer?” she asked Murdoch imperiously.

 “Yes Mother,” they heard from the staircase and they turned as one towards the voice.

 Celeste solemnly entered the Great Room, and Scott put the bags by the door and then followed her in.

 “You may get someone to put those bags in the surrey please Scotty. We will be on our way immediately. There’s no point in lingering,” she ordered.

 “I’d like a moment to say goodbye Mother,” Celeste insisted firmly but dejectedly.

 Her mother turned a crushing glare on her and replied coldly. “You’ve had all night to do that Celeste. If you haven’t done so by now, it’s too late.”

 “The lady said she would like a minute,” came a voice from behind her. It had an edge to it like rough cut glass and she turned back to face him furiously.

 “You mind your own business, young man,” she snapped at him, but his reaction was hardly what she expected or looked for.

 He actually dared to smile at her, but the smile did nothing to warm her to him. Nor was it intended to. The hardness in his eyes conveyed a threat that his crooked smile only seemed to emphasize, and he put down the letter opener and stood up slowly and deliberately.

 Scott froze to the spot, and Murdoch caught his breath.

 But Celeste was intrigued. She had never seen this side of him, and instead of frightening her, as even Johnny had thought it would, she found herself watching the man they called Johnny Madrid with unashamed fascination.




“Celeste IS my business,” he answered her coolly, looking her straight in the eye. He had already guessed, from their earlier show down, that she wasn’t used to being confronted head on, and he sensed an advantage in that. And Johnny Madrid had learned long ago to use any advantage that came to hand.

“An’ our business ain’t concluded yet,” he continued in a soft, disquieting tone of voice that dominated the room.

Johnny looked towards Celeste. “You and me have some talkin’ to do.”

Scowling maliciously, Margaret told him, “My daughter has nothing to say to you!”

But Johnny paid her no attention. He kept his eyes on Celeste. It was up to her to make the next move and he waited with his heart pounding.

He could see she was wavering indecisively, so he called to her, his heart to her heart, and said simply, “Celeste?”

She looked longingly at him. She could see his love for her in his eyes and her heart reached out for him. He had faced down her mother for her. No one had ever done that for her. He was ready to fight for her, and she felt her resolve weaken.

 Johnny was all she wanted in the world, all she would ever want.

She walked over to him and he smiled with a mixture of relief and pleasure.

She stood in front of him and reached out to touch his face, tracing her fingers softly down his cheek. But even as she did, she knew that her mother would do just as she had threatened. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in her mind that Margaret Duval could, and would, arrange his murder if she was given reason.

Celeste could feel the cold hard gaze of her mother on her back. She saw her mother clearly now for what she was. Her power over people lay in their understanding that she was capable of anything, and Celeste did understand that now. She knew that she couldn’t fight her – not with those risks.

“I love you, John,” she whispered, so quietly that he alone could hear what she was saying.

The touch of her fingers on his face brought a thrill of pleasure and the hope that she had changed her mind, but the message in her eyes conveyed only sorrow. He knew that he had lost her before she even spoke.

Je t’aimerai toujours, cheri,” she told him softly. “I will always love you … but I can’t stay.” Her eyes moistened and glittered with the tears that she had wanted desperately not to shed, and she fought to hold them back. “Pense a moi de temps en temps - think of me sometimes.”

Johnny couldn’t move. He’d been so sure. When she moved over towards him, he’d been convinced that she was coming to him, to stay with him.

Instead, he felt the soft caress of her lips on his cheek, the moist wetness of a single tear that had escaped despite her best efforts, and then he watched numbly as she went first to Teresa and hugged her and told her goodbye, and then to Scott and Murdoch, doing the same and thanking them all for the kindness to her.

Finally, she turned to Madelena, kneeling in front of her to take the little girl in her arms and hold her tight. “Look after your papa for me, will you Maddie?” she asked her quietly.

Maddie nodded and returned her embrace.

“You don’t want to go,” she whispered in Celeste’s ear, for her alone to hear. “I know you don’t.”

“I don’t,” she whispered back quietly, “but we can’t always have what we want in life, cherie.”

Celeste smiled tenderly at her little friend and pulled her away to arm’s length. “You’re such a special little girl Maddie. Never lose that.”

She kissed Maddie’s cheek softly and repeated the same plea she had asked of her father. “You look after your Papa, and think of me now and then, will you?”

“Yes,” Maddie answered her without hesitation and Celeste got back to her feet.

Her expression became grim as she walked, with dignity and grace, to where her parents waited for her.

She didn’t stop. She went straight past them to the door, without so much as a glance in their direction, and walked out of the great hacienda for what she knew would be the last time.




Murdoch and Scott followed them outside, but Teresa hung back for a moment. She watched Johnny with her heart breaking for him, and she felt she should go to him and console him.

But something told her that it wasn’t what he wanted. He would want a minute to himself, so she turned and went after Murdoch.

Johnny didn’t follow them at first. He needed to get hold of himself. 

Emotions he had not felt since childhood swirled and eddied nauseatingly inside him – disappointment and hurt, even anger – the terrible conflicts of being left by someone he loved.

Those emotions had been the constant companions of his earliest days and he had evolved the hard, cold guise of Johnny Madrid to endure the hurt. 

That was how he had coped back then, but what about now? He’d been alone then and it was easy to convince strangers that nothing got to him, but convincing Murdoch, Scott and Teresa was going to be tougher. And then there was Maddie to consider as well. Maddie would always know what he felt.

But Johnny was not a man to wear his heart on his sleeve, so he told himself that he would just have to face it. She was going. Life would go on without her, just as it had without Luisa, although at least Luisa had gone unwillingly.

He had learned to live with her loss, now he would learn to live without Celeste – impossible though it might seem to him now.

But right now he felt confused and indecisive and that alone was disturbing.

While a part of him wanted to go after her, drag her back and make her listen to him, he was torn by conflicting emotions that held him back. If she wasn’t lying, if she really had doubts, then maybe she was doing the right thing. Better to leave now, than later when they were bound together, when their lives could be ruined by the bitterness of lost chances.

But he couldn’t make himself believe that she meant what she’d said.

Just as he thought his head would explode under the strain, he sensed a small presence beside him and the light grip of his hand by another, smaller one.

Johnny glanced down to find Madelena at his side, holding his hand tightly and smiling up at him reassuringly. He took a deep breath and cleared his head, and then he smiled back at his daughter

“Guess we have to go say goodbye to her, Maddie,” he said to her, swallowing the lump in his throat and heaving a heavy sigh.

“Yep,” she answered sadly, nodding her head and leaning against his leg. “Guess so, Papa.”

He squeezed her hand firmly and together they went outside to join the others.

Scott had already put Celeste’s bags into the surrey by the time they got there, and Henri Duval was helping his wife up into her seat. No one spoke, and the atmosphere was taut with foreboding.

Johnny entered the courtyard and stopped quietly just outside the door, watching the scene unfold and dreading having to see Celeste drive out of his life. He was wondering how he was going to face it, when his attention was caught by the rumbling sounds of a wagon coming up the drive.

Jelly sauntered over from the corral to join them.

“Wagon comin’ boss,” he called out to Murdoch as he got closer, then he muttered gruffly, “had more callers in the last coupla days than we’ve had in months. Gettin’ so’s it’s like a danged railroad station ‘round here.”

The wagon drew closer, and none of them recognized the driver, but they could make out that there was a second man on the seat beside him. It was an ordinary buckboard, one that would normally be used for carrying supplies, not transporting visitors.

“We expecting any deliveries, Jelly?” Murdoch asked him, looking intently down the drive.

“None that I know of Boss,” Jelly replied, puzzled. He too was trying to make out who it was.

Johnny and Maddie took their places by Murdoch’s side and looked at the approaching wagon, just as bemused as everyone else. The passenger became clearer as the battered vehicle neared the yard. He took off his hat and they realized that he was a rather elderly man, with a full head of gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache that matched.

He was well dressed, but not overly so – dressed for travel and comfort rather than for show, and he sat up straight beside the driver, riding out the bumps and grinds of the wagon ride with composure.

“I don’t believe it!” Scott exclaimed suddenly.

His family all looked away from the wagon to stare at him.

“Do you know who it is, Scott?” Murdoch asked him.

Scott grinned with amusement and pleasure and answered “Oh yes.”  He turned to Celeste, but she too had already recognized the visitor.

Her spirits soared as the wagon came to a halt behind the surrey and she watched the man climb down nimbly and then reach back up to retrieve a silver headed ebony cane. He moved with surprising agility for a man of his obviously advanced years.

The man turned to face them all and stood up to his full height of perhaps six feet with uncommon dignity. He stood the cane on its end, ready for use, but it must have been more for appearances than for practical use because he didn’t seem to need to lean on it.

“Grand-père!” they all heard Celeste cry out and she forgot herself and her troubles completely and ran to him, throwing herself into his arms delightedly.

He slipped his arms around her calmly, taking her assault on his person in his stride. He gently patted her back and smiled charmingly.

“Bonjour, ma chérie,” he said to her quietly.

“You’re here, Grand-père,” she exclaimed, and held him tightly. “Tu es ici.”

“Mais naturellement,” he answered, sounding surprised. “Tu m’as demandé, et me voici! Here I am! Where else would I be if you ask for my help?”

Celeste did not answer him, but she held him as though she feared he was only a figment of her imagination.

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” he asked her anxiously. “Ta mere?”

She looked up quickly, too quickly for his liking, and she hurriedly replied. “No Grand-père, nothing is wrong now. Everything is all settled.”

“Is that so, ma chérie,” he said gravely, untangling himself from his granddaughter’s embrace and addressing Murdoch instead.

“I forget my manners, Monsieur,” he told him. “Forgive me. Here I have arrived uninvited at your home and then I chatter in a language foreign to you.” He bowed his head politely and added, “My apologies, Monsieur. I am François Duval, Celeste’s grandfather.”

Murdoch had already guessed his identity. Celeste had made that perfectly plain to everyone. He took an instant liking to François Duval as the man stepped over to him and shook his hand firmly.

“Murdoch Lancer,” he told him, and then turned to introduce his family. “These are my sons, Scott and Johnny, my ward Teresa and my granddaughter Madelena.”

“Ah yes, Scott I know well,” he informed him and took Scott’s hand to shake it heartily. He looked the young man over carefully and smiled approvingly. “You look well, my boy. This new life has been good for you.”

“Thank you, Monsieur,” Scott grinned. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. This is my brother, Johnny.”

“A pleasure, Johnny,” he said as they shook hands. With his heavy French accent, he slurred Johnny’s name till it was barely recognizable. “I have heard a lot about you,” he told him with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Knowing that the source of that information had to have been Harlan Garrett, Johnny dropped his head to stare at his feet while he considered an answer. A moment later, he brought his head up smiling. “I just bet you have,” he laughed. “Hope ya don’t hold it against me. I’m pleased to meet ya, Sir.”

François moved on to Teresa, took her hand and lightly kissed it in an exhibition of his finest French manners. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle,” he whispered with a charming twinkle in his eyes.

Teresa acknowledged him with a slight blush and a smile of pure delight. His whiskers had tickled the back of her hand, but she had never encountered such charm before.

She found herself quite speechless and watched him bend forward to take and kiss Maddie’s hand in the same way.

“Enchanté, mademoiselle,” he repeated to the little girl and, to his surprise, she grinned happily and answered, with a pretty curtsy, “Merci Monsieur.”

“Very nice, ma petite,” he smiled at her. “You know French?”

“Celeste is teaching me,” she told him captivatingly.

“Ma foi! Is she indeed?” he cried excitedly. “Well, she must be an excellent teacher, my dear.”

Madelena beamed and looked up at her father proudly. He tightened his grip on her hand and smiled his approval.

“Perhaps we should all go inside,” Murdoch suggested, very pleased to be able to put off Celeste’s departure for a little longer.

But Margaret Duval did not like the plan. “Really François,” she complained boorishly. “We were about to leave. We have a train to catch.”

“There will be other trains, madame,” he replied graciously, but firmly. “I have come a long way and will not be inconvenienced any further.”

He turned to Celeste and added, “Come chérie,” holding his hand out to her expectantly. But, to his surprise, she baulked and threw a quick glance towards her mother.

“No, really Grand-père,” she said agitatedly. “We are all packed and ready to go.”

“Nonsense, chérie,” he told her indomitably, and it appeared that the rest of his family were taking his lead since Henri Duval helped his reluctant wife back to the ground and headed her back to join the rest of the little group.

“Jelly, have Mr. Duval’s bags taken into the house, please,” Murdoch instructed him casually. “And see that the driver gets something to eat and drink before he leaves.”

“Sure, Boss,” Jelly assured him and wandered off to arrange everything.

Murdoch led François Duval into the house, and everyone filed in after them, but Celeste was the last to move. She hesitated, hating the idea of going through all of that again, and since she could not tell her grandfather what the problem was, she knew that she would still be leaving when this was all over. It was just putting off the inevitable.

She finally moved towards the door and found that Johnny had lingered back to wait for her. He was alone and lightly grabbed her arm as she passed him.

“What are you afraid of?” he asked her quietly.

“Nothing,” she answered, just as quietly. “Please, leave it alone.”

“No,” he argued, but before he could say any more, her mother’s voice called her from inside, demanding her presence.

Celeste bowed her head sadly and pulled away from Johnny. He let go her arm and made no other move to stop her, and he waited until she had gone in before following.




        “Ah yes,” Duval sighed contentedly. “A very fine brandy, monsieur. You have excellent taste.”

Murdoch smiled at the compliment.

“That’s high praise, Murdoch,” Scott told him. “Monsieur Duval is a connoisseur of fine wines and brandies.”

Celeste’s grandfather nodded his easy acceptance of the accolade. “True, Scott. I would hope so. It is my profession after all and I would be nothing without such expertise. But were we speaking of malt scotch whiskey,” he grinned, “I would never argue with a Scotsman.”

“It’s too hard to get a good malt scotch here,” Murdoch laughed. “So I make the best of it with a decent brandy instead.”

Duval laughed with him. “Ah, how it must grieve you. I know where to lay hands on some fine examples of malt scotch, Monsieur. I will have some sent to you when I have returned to Boston.”

The idea delighted him, but Murdoch shook his head quickly. “No that’s not necessary…”

“Perhaps not,” the Frenchman cut him off good humoredly. “But it would be my pleasure. It is the least I can do to repay your kindness to my mischievous little granddaughter.”

He looked over towards Celeste and added. “I hope she has not been too much trouble.”

“Not at all,” Murdoch hurried to assure him. “In fact, she’s been a great help to us.”

François Duval looked his granddaughter over quickly, taking in her pale complexion, and her red and puffy eyes, as well as the downcast look on her face. He glanced over towards Scott and looked for something in his stance that might provide an answer for her sadness, but the young man appeared his usual confident self.

He turned his focus on the brother. That young man stood looking him straight in the eye, and accepted his inspection without hesitation or malice, but when he thought that Duval had turned his attention away, he glanced over at Celeste, and her grandfather’s questions were answered by the look in his eyes.

François Duval stood in the Great Room surveying his surroundings with obvious endorsement. He liked the subtle expression of strength that the room exuded. 

The books on the shelves appeared slightly worn, indicating to him that they were more than just for appearances. The chessboard on the table at the far side of the room had the pieces spread across the board where a game was patiently waiting to be continued at a later date. And yet, the desk that dominated the far end of the room indicated that it was a room put to practical use as well.

There was an aura of simple culture and good taste in the room, and he was impressed.

Celeste and her mother sat together on the sofa, at Margaret’s insistence, with her husband standing behind them. Teresa sat on one of the easy chairs, hopeful now that Celeste’s grandfather might be able to sort things out.

Scott leaned casually against the mantle over the fireplace, noting Duval’s covert study of his surroundings, and well aware that he was forming his own opinions of the house and of them.

Johnny stood leaning silently against the wall beside him, watching the man’s quiet self-assurance.

Murdoch and François dominated the conversation in the room, with some input from Scott, but everyone else maintained an awkward silence.

Finally Margaret would take no more. She got to her feet with a rustle of silk and flashed a look of exasperation at her father-in-law.

“This is getting us nowhere, François. We really cannot stay any longer,” she snapped at him. “We’ll miss the train if we don’t go now.”

The old man flashed an amiable smile at her. “Then you will get another, madame,” he said crushingly. “What is a little inconvenience when there are important matters to discuss?”

“There is nothing to discuss, Grand-père,” Celeste told him nervously, warily keeping her eyes on her mother.

“Is that so, chérie?” he asked. “Really Celeste, I get home to find a letter from you begging for my help, and then I find a telegraph asking again for help. I learn that you, my own granddaughter and raised to know better, had run off in the middle of the night and disappeared. And now you tell me that there is nothing to discuss? Zut! Celeste, have you wasted my time?”

“That’s right, Grand-père,” she replied quietly, not daring to look him in the eye. “I was foolish, childish, and I’m sorry.”

He put down the empty brandy glass deliberately and waited for a moment. There wasn’t a sound in the room except for the bump of the glass on the desk.

“And were you just being ‘foolish’ when you climbed out of the window of your bedroom and travelled all the way here, alone and unchaperoned? Was it for nothing that you risked all that scandal?”

“It was childish.”

“Is that so?” he asked her quietly. He looked her over, noting that she couldn’t look at him. “Then I think I will speak to you alone, Celeste,” he said with gentle firmness, and did not miss the look of panic that spread across her face as she glanced towards her mother.

He wasn’t the only one who noticed it. Johnny saw it too and clenched his fists angrily.

“Oh no, Grand-père,” she begged him. “There is really nothing to discuss. I am going home with Mother. It’s all decided.”

“No it’s not,” Johnny put in quickly, unable to contain himself any longer. He had listened to all the small talk with growing impatience, while furtively keeping his eye on Celeste. He had struggled to control his anger and now he had to fight to keep his voice cool and calm.

“An’ if you leave, I’ll come after you,” he finished resolutely.

Celeste paled. “Please Johnny, don’t do this,” she whispered. “It’s hard enough.”

All eyes in the room were on Johnny, but he ignored them all. “No, I love you Celeste,” he told her decisively. “I ain’t lettin’ you go.”

“Celeste has made up her mind, young man,” Margaret said spitefully.

“Her mind was set on marryin’ me till you got here,” Johnny answered coldly.

“Is that true, Celeste?” her grandfather asked suddenly.

“Yes, Grand-père,” she admitted, hanging her head dejectedly. She couldn’t face Johnny. “But I’ve changed my mind. I am going home.”

He shook his head sadly. “I have never known you to be fickle before,” he said cuttingly. He turned to Murdoch and added “Une affaire de coeur! It brings out the worst in a woman, does it not Monsieur?”

He didn’t give his host any time to answer, but shook his head once more. “My apologies, again. I forget myself once more. I have been three months in France and the language comes too easily to me,” he smiled charmingly. “Is there somewhere my granddaughter and I could speak privately, Monsieur Lancer?”

“Certainly, perhaps the garden outside?” Murdoch suggested helpfully.

“Thank you,” he answered with an elegant nod of his head. He turned back to his granddaughter. “I really must insist, Celeste.”

She glanced at her mother fearfully, but she also knew better than to disobey her grandfather. Even her mother didn’t dare to do that. Torn between the two, she finally took a deep breath and walked reluctantly to his side.

“Merci, ma chérie,” he said and smiled at her. “You will excuse us, Monsieur?” he asked Murdoch pleasantly, for all the world as though there was nothing wrong in the room.

“Of course,” Murdoch answered with a mischievous glance in Scott’s direction.

If anyone could get the truth out of Celeste, it was this man. He had charm, eloquence, and, from what Murdoch had seen so far, a will of iron. He did not appear to be a man to be taken lightly, and it struck Murdoch that he was more than a match for his daughter-in-law.

“Thank you, Monsieur,” he said politely and turned back to Celeste, suggesting politely, “The garden chérie.”

As they started for the door, he added subtly, “And perhaps John will join us.”

It took a second for Johnny to realize that ‘zhe-on’ was himself and he straightened quickly, unsure whether his presence would be wise.

“No Grand-père, please,” Celeste whispered in his ear quickly.

“Nonsense, Celeste. I would like to speak with him also.”

Johnny threw a questioning look at Scott and his brother nodded his agreement. That was enough for Johnny. He followed the pair out the back and into Teresa’s garden.




The little herb garden and vegetable patch was Teresa’s pride and joy. She grew them for the kitchen and for medicinal purposes, and she had read and learned how to put them to good use.

The sweet smell of lavender filled the air as Johnny brushed past the leaves. The scent floated and settled around them, but even that couldn’t soften the tension surrounding them.

Celeste looked uncomfortably in Johnny’s direction and kept silent. There was anger in his eyes now, as well as the hurt she had seen there before.

Duval watched Celeste for a moment and then looked over at Johnny. The young man stood up straight and faced him proudly under his scrutiny, and he was pleased to see it.  So far he had seen nothing of the vicious killer that Harlan Garrett had described on so many occasions. It was, perhaps, too soon to tell, but he was also well aware of his friend’s obsession with his grandson and had never taken him literally. Harlan’s judgment was clouded at best.

The boy was certainly good looking, and he carried himself well, though he was a little on the thin side. His clothes hung a little loosely on him, so he had probably lost some weight recently. Duval suspected there had been an illness recently. He did not seem overly pale, but if one looked closely, there was a hint of tiredness around his eyes.

“Now,” François Duval said as he halted between them. “What do we have here?”





        “So, what is the problem, mes enfants?” he asked them, but got no answer from either of them.

“A lovers’ quarrel perhaps?” François Duval suggested roguishly, and smiled at them both.

He was met with a wall of stony silence so he continued on relentlessly. “No, apparently not,” he said circumspectly, and turned his attention directly to Celeste. “So why have you changed your mind, chérie?”

Celeste glanced over to Johnny and saw, again, the hurt and the anger in his eyes. She wished she could be somewhere else – anywhere, just so that she didn’t have to do this again. She wanted so much to tell him the truth, but it was just too dangerous.

“I realized how much I would miss Boston,” she told her grandfather, disconsolately lowering her eyes so that she didn’t have to look at him when she lied.

“Ma foi! Indeed!” he exclaimed in mock surprise. “You mean you would miss all those balls and the parties you complain to me of so often?” he grinned sarcastically. “And your family of course – you would miss them so much wouldn’t you?” he added.

Celeste chose not to answer his questions, but looked up at him. If she was to convince him, she would have to face him, and she did so unswervingly. “I’ve made my decision, Grand-père,” she told him. “It’s all settled. I’m gong home with Mother and Father. And the sooner I leave, the better it will be for everyone. It’s over.”

François turned his attention quickly to Johnny. “Is it?” he asked.

Johnny looked over at Celeste and folded his arms resolutely across his chest. “Nope.”

“Pfft!” he snapped back at his granddaughter. “You waste my time then girl. I come home from Paris and find a letter, pleading for help – ‘I will not marry this man’ it says. Then there is a telegraph – ‘Help me Grand-père’ it says.

I rush across the country to your side and you tell me all is well. You have made up your mind, and without my help.”

“Is this what I am supposed to believe?” he demanded.

“Yes, Grand-père,” she assured him. “I’m sorry you were inconvenienced, but everything is settled.”

He paced angrily across the garden and then stopped and turned on her. “No. I do not believe you chérie. Ta mere is behind this. What has she threatened you with?”

“She hasn’t threatened me, Grand-père,” Celeste cried, horrified at how close he was to the facts.

The old man stared at her intently and found that he believed her, but her eyes slipped towards Johnny too often for him to believe there was no love there. No, there was something being held over her head.

She shifted uneasily with both of them staring at her, and she began to fidget with the folds of her dress. Her grandfather knew the habit all too well and Johnny had noticed it before too. It was a sure sign to both of them that she was hiding something.

Duval thought hard about the situation. There was obviously something wrong, but he was now convinced that she was not going to volunteer it. He carefully considered all the possibilities that come to mind, discarding them one after another until he finally hit upon one that worked.

“Then, perhaps she has threatened John?” he suggested with a sidelong glance at her. The terror in her eyes confirmed it.

Johnny saw it too. His hands dropped to his sides. “What!” he exploded.

“Please, both of you,” she cried. “Please stay out of it.”

“That’s why you’re leavin’?” Johnny demanded angrily, but Celeste wouldn’t answer him. The secret was out, and neither of them realized the danger Johnny was now in.

Duval explained. “That woman is a devil, John. She would stop at nothing to get her way.”

“Is that it, Celeste? Is that what’s going on?” Johnny fumed.

Tears of fear glistened in her eyes. “Please, Johnny, let me go. It’s for the best.”

“Dios!” he stormed. “’For the best.’ How can you say that? This is our future you’re talking about. Answer me, did she threaten me?”

“Yes, she did,” Celeste finally admitted desperately. “She said she’d have you killed. And she’ll do it too. Johnny, you have no idea what she is capable of. You have to let me go.”

“Celeste, I’ve been dealin’ with that sorta thing all my life”

“She said she’d hire someone to kill you.”

“Let her then!” he shouted angrily. “I can handle it.”

“Ah yes,” Duval interrupted suddenly, his mind abruptly running off on a tangent. “That brings us to another question that I have.”

He stared hard at Johnny and looked him over critically.

“I have heard a little of your reputation, young man, and I wonder if you are really the right man for Celeste.”

“Grand-père!” Celeste exclaimed, horrified.

“Ça suffit!” he insisted, surprising Johnny with the sharpness of his tone, and turning back to Johnny to continue. “Young man, what of the things I have heard about you? Are they true?”

For a moment, Johnny only smiled at him, and his eyes twinkled with delight. “It’s a fair question,” he conceded eventually, the smile fading a little. He liked the way the old Frenchman cut to the chase. He was as sharp as a tack.

“If you heard about me from Garrett,” he told her grandfather, “ then you probably heard the truth.” Then, with a disarming smile, he added, “with just a little exaggeration.”

The twinkle in his eyes grew and sparkled and he added cheekily. “The man just don’t like me.”

“Then you were a gunfighter?”

“Yep,” Johnny admitted without hesitation, and, to Celeste’s annoyance, without further explanation.

She blanched and closed her eyes in exasperation.

“I was good at it too,” Johnny added with a smile, and Celeste sighed heavily and shook her head.

Duval smiled back at him. But what lay behind that smile, Johnny had no idea. This man could smile at you, full of charm and good manners, and hit you between the eyes in the next moment.

Johnny’s eyes suddenly hardened and he decided to tell him more. “I hired out my gun,” he told him coldly. “It ain’t no secret.”

“But I ain’t been Johnny Madrid for years. My name is Lancer, an’ I own one third o’ this place. It’s a good ranch, but I guess maybe I ain’t as rich as you are. I don’t know what you got, but things’d be a whole lot easier if Celeste had nothin’,” he told him in frustration.

“How much I got rides on the price o’ beef, so that’s up an’ down. An’ I ain’t got the education Scott’s got,” he continued bluntly, but kept his eyes leveled steadily at the old man. “But I ain’t no fool neither.”

François Duval returned his intent look and considered him for a while. Celeste held her breath throughout the silence.

At last, Duval smiled. “Bon!! Just as I thought,” he said happily. “You would fight me for her too, would you not?”

Johnny said nothing, but his grin answered for him.

“Bravo!” François cried in approval. “Celeste, you have chosen well.”

“I know that, Grand-père,” she said with a smile. His approval meant everything to her and she beamed, but then the reality of her position crept back into her mind. “But it doesn’t change anything. Mother will never change her mind. She’ll do as she threatened.”

“If you think I’m worried about your mother…” Johnny began, but Duval stopped him cold.

“Oh, you should be,” he told him candidly. “Celeste is quite right. My daughter-in-law is a vindictive woman, and if you threaten her plans, she will stop at nothing to do you harm. But she does not have the facilities to keep that promise.”

“If you mean money, Grand-père,” Celeste put in quickly. “She does. She has a ‘backer’.”

Both men looked enquiringly at her. “She told me that she has someone who will give her all the money she needs to kill Johnny.”

Johnny knew who it was immediately. “Harlan Garrett,” he hissed angrily.

“Zut!” Duval snapped.

“You see, Grand-père, there really is nothing else I can do,” Celeste cried desperately.

“Well, I don’t see it,” Johnny told her bitterly. “I seem to remember you got all riled when I didn’t ask you about steppin’ aside. Seems like you’re doin’ the same thing. You should’ve come to me first.”

“This is different, Johnny. I couldn’t take that sort of risk with your life. Mother said she would carry out her threats if I told anyone, especially you and Grand-père.” She looked over at her grandfather with fear in her eyes. “When she finds out that you know, she’ll think I told you and…”

“Hush, ma petite, I will take care of your mother,” Duval told her confidently. “I know how to handle her. And as for Harlan Garrett, I will see that he does not interfere in my affairs.”

Johnny stared at him curiously. He was well aware that Scott’s grandfather was a powerful man and no one had ever suggested that they could sway him as nonchalantly as François Duval just had.

“You can do that?”

Duval smiled one of his most charming smiles. Facing it, Johnny thought that if a rattler could smile, that would be just what it looked like!

“There is only one thing that Harlan Garrett thinks more of than his grandson, John, and that is money. I am not being immodest when I say that he receives a lot of money from my affairs. He would not like it if I withdrew my business from his company.”

Johnny smiled. He liked Celeste’s grandfather. That charming smile and amiable style hid a clever and calculating brain.

Without waiting for any response from either of them, Duval gave his orders. “Chérie, go back and bring your parents here to me, s’il vous plait.”




Celeste had gone for her parents, leaving her grandfather alone in the garden with Johnny.

Duval frowned slightly. It was the first time Johnny had seen him do anything but smile, and he waited guardedly.

“John, I know Scott is not the father of that engaging child, so she must be yours, yes?”

“That’s right,” Johnny answered suspiciously.

“And her mother?”

Johnny baulked at answering. Luisa was not a subject he openly discussed with just anyone. She was a part of his past - a part that involved memories that he guarded carefully.

His eyes turned hard as steel and he glared at the man, but Duval’s light blue eyes, so like Celeste’s, didn’t waver.

Slowly Johnny’s anger began to recede as he realized that Duval had the courtesy to not hurry him for an answer. The Frenchman’s patience was rewarded when Johnny finally cooled enough to answer.

“My first wife died when Maddie was born,” he told him in a few words.

“You must have been young.”


François Duval nodded sympathetically. “I remember the pain of losing my own wife. It was many years ago, but it seems like only yesterday.” He looked Johnny in the eye. “I was never lucky enough to find someone to replace her.”

“I’m not replacing her!” Johnny fired back at him furiously.

“You still love her then,” Duval replied kindly.

“Of course, I do,” Johnny flashed.

“I always will,” he added, his tone cooling a little. “That don’t mean I can’t love Celeste. Luisa’s gone. Celeste is here - alive, an’ I love her.”

Her grandfather smiled again. “That is all I wanted to hear, mon fils.”

Johnny stared at him for a moment, trying to figure the man out. Then his face broke into a grin. “You’re a crafty ol’ fox, ain’t ya?” he said and Duval laughed with him.

Finding them laughing together was as daunting to Margaret Duval as it was heart-warming to her daughter. They came into the garden together, with Henri Duval a pace behind, as he usually was.

Celeste went to stand by Johnny’s side, determined that her parents should see how she felt.

Henri Duval caught up with his wife and stood by her side, watching his father’s expression carefully. “What’s going on, father?” he asked, and Johnny realized that it was the first time he had even heard the man speak.

“Your wife and I need to have a discussion, Henri, and you need to hear it,” François told him firmly. There was no smile on his face now.

Instead there was only the grim expression of a man facing an old enemy and taking her measure warily. It seemed these two had been opponents for years.

Margaret Duval said nothing, but glared malevolently at her father-in-law.

“I don’t know what there is to discuss, father,” said Henri, naively. “Margaret and Celeste agreed yesterday that she was coming home with us. The matter is settled.”

“The only matter I want to settle, Henri, is your wife’s threat to have the young man murdered.”

Henri Duval jumped. “What? Father, that’s ridiculous!”

François shook his head. “Henri, you are a fool. Do you never question your wife’s actions? How did you think she had convinced the child so quickly to leave him?”

“You’re wrong, father. Even Margaret would not… could not…”

He stopped when he looked over towards his wife. A sly smile had crept over her face as she glared at François.

“Margaret, you couldn’t have?” her husband asked her desperately.

“You think you can stop me, François?” she asked him coldly, almost as though she had not even heard her husband. “I warned her what would happen.”

“Yes, I heard,” Duval answered. “And yes, I think I can stop you, madame.” He smiled at last, and Johnny thought of a rattler about to strike.

“If I think you have harmed one hair on that boy’s head, Margaret, I will cut you and Henri off without a cent. I will disinherit you completely and leave everything to Celeste instead.” His smile broadened and he continued. “Harlan Garrett might finance your vendetta, madame, but will he finance your lifestyle?”

“What has Garrett got to do with any of this?” Henri asked, confused, but he found himself ignored by all concerned.

“You wouldn’t do it, François. Henri is your son. You wouldn’t see him penniless.”

“Whether he was penniless or not would be up to Celeste. The same would apply to you, madame. How much do you think your daughter would support you if you had her husband killed?”

“So you would stand by and watch her throw everything away for him?” she spat viciously. “What about the grand plans you had for her, François?”

“The only grand plan I have for Celeste is for her happiness, madame,” he shot back at her. “What a shame that her maman does not share that dream.”

She turned to Celeste. “This is not over, Celeste,” she snarled at her daughter, not ready to accept the failure of her plans.

“There is one more thing,” François added cheerfully. “I have taken an interest in some land out here in California. There are some very interesting advances being made in wine-making here and I think it might be prudent to invest in some land here in California.”

That mischievous twinkle came into his eyes again. He was like a cat playing with a mouse. “I would, of course, need someone to manage it for me. Perhaps you could do that Henri?”

“From Boston?” Henri asked stupidly.

François Duval shook his head sadly. How he and his beloved wife Celeste had ever produced this fool was beyond him.

“No, mon fils, from California.”

“You wouldn’t!” Margaret cried furiously.

“Oh I would, madame. Do you think you would like the social whirl of California? It would be a good idea to separate you from Harlan Garrett, I think.”

Her eyes blazed as she recognized defeat.

“All right, you win then François,” she sneered. “Let her have her half-breed and live with the consequences. See if I care.”

Celeste turned on her. “This ends it mother,” she told her, standing straight and finally ready to say it. “I don’t ever want to hear from you or see you again. You’re dead to me – do you understand?”

Margaret Duval cast an icy gaze at her daughter and threw her head proudly in the air. “You’re a fool, Celeste, and I don’t need another fool in my life – your father is enough.”

With that, she turned and stormed out of the garden and into the house. She didn’t stop there, but strode angrily past her hosts without a word, except to shout furiously, “Henry, we are leaving – now!”

Henri Duval looked stunned by the events, and hung back with his father and daughter.

“Henri, I will be buying that land,” François told him patiently. “If you want to manage it, with or without Margaret, I will arrange it.”

Henri appeared to be shocked at the very thought of doing anything without his wife’s consent, but Johnny could see his mind beginning to take in the novel idea.

“I’ll consider it, father,” he said vaguely, and then turned and left to follow his wife.

When they were well out of earshot, Johnny grinned broadly. “Remind me to always keep on your grandpa’s good side,” he told Celeste and laughed with her.

Celeste ran over to her grandfather and embraced him fondly. “You really are incredible, Grand-père. What would I do without you?”

“Ma foi! Who knows, chérie?” he laughed. He pulled her away and looked at her lovely face, so like his own dear Celeste, her grandmother, that it brought a lump to his throat. “You are free to make your own choice now, Celeste.”

“I’ve already made it, Grand-père.”

“Bon,” he said and turned to Johnny. “I will be able to influence Harlan when it comes to his dealings with Margaret, John. It will not be hard. You will both be safe from her, but his obsession with bringing your brother back to him will not go away. You should be wary of Harlan Garrett.”

“Ain’t nothin’ new in that, Mr. Duval,” Johnny answered blithely.

“Do you really think she will stop?” Celeste asked her grandfather nervously.

“She depends on my goodwill to keep her lifestyle, chérie,” he explained. “As much as she hates it, she has no alternative. She will not take the risk of losing it.”

For a moment Celeste looked a little uncomfortable, but she carried on regardless. “Grand-père, you know I love you, but if anything should happen to you, she would have all the money she needs.”

“Ah, my dear Celeste, ever practical,” he said with a brilliant smile. He turned to Johnny. “You see why I love her? So much sense, and in such a pretty little head.”

“My threat to disinherit your parents is an empty one – a bluff,” he explained to her. “I realized your father’s failings as a businessman many years ago and I remedied things then. You are my heir, my dear, not your father. Everything will be yours, and her allowance will be up to you.”

“Grand-père,” she gasped and then laughed. “Johnny’s right. You really are a crafty old fox, aren’t you?”

Celeste looked happily over to Johnny and suddenly noticed how tired he looked. He was losing the ability to cover it up and that was not a good sign.

She wondered if he had gotten any sleep at all last night, because she hadn’t. And then there was that long ride he should never have taken and the strain of today.

“I think we should go inside and join the rest of the family,” she suggested and went to his side. “They’ll want to know what’s happening.”

Johnny put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer, looking into her eyes and smiling.

“I know a little girl who’s gonna be real happy when she hears,” Johnny told her.

“If she doesn’t know already,” Celeste answered cryptically, but Johnny understood her meaning. She looked at him and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry I hurt you, cheri, but I couldn’t take the chance. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if you were hurt again because of me.”

“I know,” he replied quietly. “Forget it. It’s over. She can’t hurt you or me now. But there is one thing - I don’t want any mention o’ Garrett’s involvement in all this. Scott don’t need to know about that.”

“Agreed,” Celeste readily approved. “Grand-père?”

“Yes, indeed. Agreed.”



 Johnny had grabbed Celeste and together they had slipped away from the ranch for some peace and quiet. He was riding today with everyone’s blessing. In fact, Teresa had been pleased to have him out from underfoot.

Teresa had Lancer in an uproar with her plans for the wedding, and Murdoch and François were blatantly encouraging her. Their own original idea of a nice quiet wedding with just a few friends was rapidly spiraling out of control, and it looked, to a disgruntled Johnny, like the whole of the San Joachin Valley was going to be there.

To everyone’s relief, her parents had not stayed. As true to her word as ever, Margaret Duval had left right away, dragging her poor harried husband along with her. They had gone straight back to Boston, where she would no doubt find a sympathetic ear from Harlan Garrett.

Celeste was actually glad that they would not be there when she and Johnny were married. Her mother’s open disapproval would have darkened the day.

Her grandfather would give her away instead of her father, and Celeste thought it more fitting that way anyway.

Johnny reined in Barranca at the top of the mesa and Celeste halted beside him on the neat little chestnut mare he had given her. She was riding astride, western style. She found it far more comfortable than the sidesaddle she had used in ‘polite society’ back east, and she was wearing blue jeans like Teresa.

Her grandfather had not been impressed with her changes at first, but the gleam in Johnny’s eyes had given her more than enough incentive to continue with them. She had pointed out to Grand-père that she wasn’t in Boston any more, and eventually he had nodded his approval.

This spot was Johnny’s favorite. From here they could look out and see the whole valley, clear across to the mountains rising like a backdrop behind the ranch, with the hacienda right in the middle of it. The corral, the barn and the outhouses, and the smaller homes provided for the vacqueros with families, all made it look less like a home than a small town – a thriving one.

They could see men working horses and cattle in fields set between green rolling hills, while the river wound gracefully past them, and from up here it looked almost tranquil, defying the reality of their busy lives on such a big spread.

Johnny dismounted and dropped the palomino’s reins while he helped Celeste to get down and join him. He wrapped his arm around her waist and brought her forward for a better view.

She drew in her breath sharply. “Johnny, it’s breathtaking from up here,” she gasped.

He tightened his arm around her waist and she leaned her head on his shoulder.

“This is where I first saw Lancer,” he told her, feeling a deep sense of pride in the ranch, one that had taken time to grow and blossom in him. “Teresa stopped here an’ pointed it out to Scott an’ me that first day we came home.”

He looked down at her fondly. “It’s how you should’ve seen it that first day you came, ‘stead of in that back o’ that ol’ wagon with me bleedin’ all over ya.”

“No,” she said looking up at him and smiling. “I’m glad I’m seeing it today, with you.”

Johnny spun her around playfully to face him. “You know, if I could, I’d offer you the world, but this is all I have - one third of what you see out there. Ranchin’ ain’t the easiest life for a woman, an’ I guess I ain’t gonna be the easiest man to live with.

But I love you, Celeste. I always will.” He turned her to face the valley below them. “So take a look out there an’ tell me, once an’ for all – is it what you want?”

She didn’t look away at the magnificent scene behind her.

Instead she looked into his eyes, deep blue and so revealing. They told her all she wanted to know.

“You are all I want, Johnny,” she told him, without hesitation.  She reached up and took his face in her hands. “I don’t care about anything else, just you. I love you, cheri. I want to be by your side. I want to share your life, whatever that brings us – now and always.”


Part 1 Part 2

April 2004


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