Disclaimer: This story is based on the characters and premises of many talented people. Essentially, not ours, no profit being made, etc. This is just for fun.
Summary: Sequel to Praeambulus and Intermedius. Now comes the hard part of living together.
May 6, 1865
Johnny wasn’t sure what to make of Scott’s expression, but he remembered his first look at Lancer from this hill, and figured it wasn’t too far from his own reaction. He knew Scott was tired, but was ignoring it or unaware of it. Either way, it didn’t matter, his brother showed all the little signs of getting ready for a fall. But Murdoch was watching Scott and reached up his hand to provide support.
Easing Barranca to his brother’s side of the buckboard, Johnny positioned himself close by, drumming his fingers on his leg. Didn’t make sense that he was feeling all protective of someone he just met, especially for someone grown. Irritated, he shot his brother short glances, before settling on watching him. If he had to go feeling all over protective of someone, Scott was probably the best fit. Once Scott was better, the feeling would go away. Probably. Maybe.
Come to think of it, Johnny thought he’d stop worrying about someone he’d never met once Scott was with them.
Scott was lost in soaking up this first view of Lancer, and it wasn’t until his legs started to shake that he realized he’d been standing too long. He became aware of Murdoch’s hand under his elbow providing a steadying support. It was past time to sit down.
Scott found his voice. “It’s impressive, sir.” He felt the inadequacy of the statement, but didn’t have the words or the coherent thoughts to provide more.
The blandness of Scott’s response left Murdoch at a loss as he assisted Scott in sitting down again. Bypassing the words, Murdoch instead focused in on the way his son couldn’t stop surveying the home that he had never seen. Would Scott understand that he was a big part of the reason how and why Lancer became what it is today?
However, what was more important right now was getting this son fed and tucked into a real bed. Scott did as well as could be expected on this trip.
“You’ll have a chance to explore Lancer at your leisure.” Murdoch settled the blanket around Scott again. “Right now I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed again. These bones of mine have had enough of sleeping on the ground.”
There was no response from Scott, but Murdoch hadn’t expected one. After exchanging a concerned glance with Johnny, they headed home.
Johnny was taken aback by the warm, enthusiastic welcome they received. Vaqueros rode up to the buckboard calling out, workers waved from the fields and corrals, and the hacienda doors opened with everyone waving and waiting for them.
“They did the same when I brought you home, Johnny, but were more than a little worried when it was in the back of a wagon.” Murdoch brought the team to a stop in front of the hacienda. “Everyone knows that I’ve waited a long time for you boys to come home.”
Seeing that Scott was unsettled by the attention, Johnny managed to keep Barranca between Scott’s side of the buckboard and the well-meaning people of the ranch. Scott was polite; but Johnny was overwhelmed, and he was just tired from the traveling. Not surprising that this was more than Scott could handle since he was long past tuckered out. Johnny wasn’t certain himself that he would ever get used to all this attention..
This was an awful lot of fuss.
Murdoch was thanking them all, doing a brief check in with O’Brien and Cipriano on how things were on the ranch, and they agreed to meet in the morning. Johnny dismounted amongst the fair number of folks that stayed to unload the buckboard, and one of the hands came forward for Barranca. Johnny stroked his horse’s neck in farewell, and worked his way through the throng to Scott, who was climbing down off the wagon.
Murdoch was firing off introductions left and right when Johnny noted the tension in their father. Their father didn’t want to be rude to his employees, or dismiss their welcome, but Murdoch was doing his best to deflect much of the attention away from Scott. For the very first time, Johnny considered himself lucky that he arrived unconscious in the back of a wagon. Maybe it was undignified, but it sure saved him from all this.
Scott was just going through the motions. Not that anyone else could tell by the pleasant smile, and the quick handshakes as he accepted his welcome to Lancer; but Johnny could tell his mind wasn’t quite on it.
“Later, folks, we want a bath, and I’m starvin’.” Johnny slipped in between the well-wishers, who laughed at his announcement and good-naturedly went about unloading the wagon.
Johnny leaned over to whisper in Scott’s ear. “I’ll remind you who everyone is.”
Receiving a grateful nod was enough.
Scott’s first impression of the house, actually hacienda did seem to describe it better even if he didn’t speak the language, was how different this was from Boston. Impressive with its large and airy rooms, he felt like he could still breathe indoors.
People were bustling about talking with both Murdoch and Johnny, although Johnny remained close by his side and diverted any conversation away from Scott. He wasn’t sure how it happened, but he soon found himself standing in what was said to be his room.
The large bed looked comfortable, although any bed would as long as he no longer had to sleep on the ground. The thick mat Murdoch and Johnny had provided was appreciated, but within the last couple of years he gained an enlightened respect for the small luxuries in life, and for Scott, there was no greater luxury than to sleep in a clean bed.
There was water, a basin, and towel waiting for him on a washstand and he availed himself of the opportunity to clean up.
The evening was still young and obviously dinner was about to be served downstairs, but Scott was certain he wouldn’t make it.
“Scott, do you want anythin’ to eat?” Johnny must have had the same thoughts.
He shook his head and wiped his freshly washed face. “Too tired.”
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and Murdoch entered the room carrying a mug. “Scott, I know all you want to do is sleep, but you need to eat something. Drink this down before you go to bed.”
It was easier to comply than argue, and the creamy soup was warming, filling, and like nothing he had ever tasted before.
The journey, the food, and his lack of stamina had his eyes drooping as he did his best to ready himself for bed.
He just needed to sit down…
Watching his brother’s head droop down to his chest, Johnny exchanged a glance with Murdoch before they both helped the sleeping young man finish what he had started.
Between the two of them, they removed Scott’s dusty suit, leaving him in his under clothing, and within minutes, they had him tucked into bed. Murdoch sat down on the side of the bed palming Scott’s forehead to check for fever.
“He’s a little warm.” Murdoch pushed the limp hair from Scott’s forehead. “But that could be from doing too much.”
Murdoch looked up at Johnny. “We’ll watch him and make sure he rests, and eats plenty, which won’t be a problem once Maria and Consuela get a look at him.”
Johnny grinned, remembering his own experiences with the women of the hacienda. They downright babied him when he first arrived, and hadn’t stopped. He had grown accustomed to it now, and couldn’t help liking it more than a little.
“That’ll be somethin’ to watch. Ol’ Scott’s all polite and pretty with the words, but I’m not sure he’s goin’ to like being coddled. ”
With a smile of his own, Murdoch looked back to Scott. “Oh, I think you’re right about that, and I’m looking forward to when he starts chaffing at the restrictions we’ll impose on him for now.”
A strange anxiety rose up in Johnny. “He’ll get better?”
His father turned his attention back to him, and reached out with his one of his large hands to lightly grip Johnny’s forearm. A simple touch that provided a surprising amount of comfort and one Johnny was just starting to get used to.
“We’ll see to it.” Murdoch had that look again, the one that made things happen. Then his face lit up, and his tone was lighter. “One of these days you’ll find yourself chasing after him.”
Murdoch stayed with Scott during the night, dosing off in the large chair and footstool he had arranged in the room. Any movement from Scott and he was awake. At one particular time, Scott grew agitated, and recalling Johnny’s actions back on the trail, Murdoch eased down on the bed behind him. Spreading his hand across his son’s thin back, he soothed the tension out in slow steady circles, and was pleased when Scott dropped into an even deeper slumber without ever waking.
Around two in the morning, Johnny snuck into the room, wearing a sheepish expression when he noticed Murdoch sitting in the chair.
“I just…” Johnny looked down as he let what he was going to say trail off.
Murdoch knew exactly what ‘I just’ meant. “Scott’s had a couple restless moments, but he never truly woke up. He’s cooler now than when he went to bed. However, I’ve still arranged for someone to head out at first light to fetch Sam.”
Nudging over Murdoch’s socked feet on the large hassock, Johnny sat down and made himself comfortable, but kept his eyes on Scott. The young man had something on his mind, and Murdoch waited to see if his son would say what it was.
The wait took a while and Murdoch was dozing a little when Johnny asked, “Was this how it always felt to you?”
Opening his eyes, he saw that Johnny was still watching Scott, but there was a tension in his shoulders that hadn’t been there before.
“The worry?” Murdoch welcomed the opening Johnny provided.
A slight nod was all he received in return.
“Yes, only worse. I had a different, more painful worry when it came to you. It was the not knowing. Back then I knew Scott was at least somewhere safe. I worried for both you and your mother. I could never forgive her for taking you away, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t concerned for her welfare. It’s hard to stop loving someone simply because they do something you don’t like.”
The easing in Johnny’s shoulders again assured Murdoch that he was using the right words.
“Then to find out Scott was in the war and a prison camp…” Murdoch swallowed hard on those thoughts. Seeing the aftermath in Scott’s body was all the proof he needed that there had been reason to be worried out of his mind for his eldest son.
“I kept telling myself that if I had found you and you were now home… then Scott would be too.”
Giving Johnny’s hip a little prod with his foot, Murdoch thought back to his son’s recovery. “The first day you were here and getting back on your feet was like seeing you take your first steps all over again.
“Now to have Scott home…” Murdoch sighed. “Even with the trip and not sleeping in my own bed tonight, I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed. You’ve always been together in my mind, but having you both here fills up more than a couple of rooms in this place.”
Patting the top of Murdoch’s foot, Johnny whispered, “Good-night, Murdoch.” And with a brief touch to Scott’s leg, he left as quietly as he had arrived.
May 7, 1865
As morning approached, Murdoch closed the curtains on the windows to keep the room darker and allow Scott to continue to sleep. Barring a couple of restless moments, the young man slept for over ten hours, much like he had that first night after he and Johnny had met Scott.
Sitting down beside the bed, Murdoch took the opportunity to study his son. As with Johnny, he found himself wondering what Scott had looked like as a child. He accepted that he would always wonder what could have been, but he pushed aside the bitterness that came with it. He had them both here, and that was more than he allowed himself to hope for in years.
Sighing, he knew he was going to have to talk with Maria and Consuela before they met Scott. The two of them would take one look at his older son and be all over him to eat, rest, and eat some more. Where Johnny had been a little overwhelmed by the initial attention, he was pragmatic enough not to refuse food when it was offered. The women mothered the boy, and eventually Johnny accepted that they only cared for him and wanted to see him healthy.
Murdoch had a feeling Scott wasn’t going to follow the same path; doubting that Scott had much experience with the enthusiastic ‘mothering’ Maria and Consuela would provide. No, he would need to request that the women start off gently with Scott. But as Murdoch studied his son’s long bony fingers, he thought that would be hard for all them to do.
It seemed with Johnny that there was a part of the boy that wanted a father, and that gave Murdoch the edge he needed to build the relationship he should have had with his younger son all these many years. They had a ways to go, Murdoch had no illusions about that, but he knew he had a chance.
With Scott, he didn’t see any of the child left in him. He surmised that some of this was due to his experience in the war and prison, but he didn’t know his older son well enough to be sure.
Drawn out of his musings by Scott stirring on the bed, Murdoch waited for him to wake. The blue eyes blinked open and shifted to confused, before they focused on Murdoch.
“Good morning, Scott.” Murdoch reached to the nightstand to pour a glass of water.
“Good morning, sir.” Scott sounded hoarse. Murdoch helped him settle into a comfortable sitting position, and then handed him the water.
Scott drank down the refreshing water and felt more aware. Handing the glass back to Murdoch with thanks, he looked about the room he ignored the night before.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
Well, Murdoch warned him that he would be asking that question often.
“Better, sir.” Although true, Scott felt lethargic. He was curious about Lancer, but he doubted he would be up to much that day. He hated to admit it, but the journey had taken a toll on him.
“Good to hear.” Murdoch set the glass back on the nightstand. “How about taking it easy today? It was a tiring trip and we all need to recover.”
About that time they heard an excited ‘whoop’ coming from the open window.
Murdoch looked out the window. “Well, maybe not Johnny.” He turned away from the window, and gave a warm smile to Scott.
Curious, and wondering if he was remembering what was said upon their arrival, Scott decided to ask since they were alone. “Did I hear correctly that Johnny was brought ho… here in the back of a wagon?” He couldn’t miss the anger and sorrow that flitted across Murdoch’s face.
“A few days before we were to arrive home, Johnny was shot in the back by an enemy of his.”
Shot! He had seen a several boys hardly older than Johnny lose their lives in the war, but Scott couldn’t understand someone shooting anyone in the back.
“The man who shot him?”
“He won’t be troubling anyone again.” Murdoch was calm, and if what Scott suspected was true, completely without remorse. Scott wouldn’t judge his father’s actions since he honestly couldn’t find any compassion for Johnny’s assailant.
“I imagine you might like a bath and to shave.” Murdoch was also adept at changing the subject.
As a diversion, it was a good one. A bath sounded divine and Scott wanted to be clean-shaven. He’d made it a point since being released from the Confederate prison to remain clean and well-dressed. He never wanted to see the bedraggled man who left that prison ever again.
“Yes, sir. That sounds wonderful.”
The hacienda’s amenities were quite different from what Scott was used to in Boston, but they were a luxury all the same. He took his time soaking in the tub and scrubbing until his skin was red.
After that, he was exhausted and crawled back into a freshly made bed smelling of sunshine and clean air. He recalled meeting the local doctor, but couldn’t remember his name or anything else for the rest of the day.
May 8, 1865
“He still asleep?” Johnny stood in his brother’s bedroom doorway, twirling the hat in his hands by its brim.
Murdoch looked up from his book and focused his attention on his younger son to see him covered in dust, and with every indication that he had once again thrown himself into ranch life.
As usual, it never failed to make him smile. The grubby toddler he remembered wasn’t as far removed as he thought, and it gave him hope.
“Yes, he’s been awake to eat a little, but tends to fall asleep before he finishes.” Murdoch gently ran his hand over Scott’s hair. “I think he left Boston too soon and all this travel was too much for him.”
“Ah, Murdoch, we don’t know him well, but he’s stubborn.” Johnny leaned against the doorframe. “Think Scott was gonna do what he wanted to do whether he was ready or not.”
“Why did he come now?” Murdoch mused, more to himself than to Johnny.
Straightening from the doorway, Johnny grinned. “He’ll tell us eventually.” Putting on his hat and turning to leave, he added, “We’re stubborn too.”
May 10, 1865
Scott was a little surprised to discover that he had bypassed days by sleeping them away. He remembered eating, never quite finishing, and then falling asleep again.
Yawning, he had a feeling today was going to turn out the same way.
May 15, 1865
The days followed a pattern since arriving at Lancer.
Scott found he was and wasn’t a part of things: More like he was part of what had to be taken care of on the ranch. He spent most of his time in his room and hadn’t even explored the hacienda yet.
Maria and Consuela made sure he ate and rested at regular intervals. Murdoch checked on him to make sure Scott was doing what he should to regain his health. Dr. Jenkins examined him every few days since his arrival. He was due again today.
Johnny, well, Johnny wasn’t part of the regular anything, and Scott enjoyed Johnny’s unscheduled visits. His brother had a way of checking up on him that was less irritating than all the other attention.
Scott couldn’t begrudge the care he received and knew it was needed. With his slow recovery, at least to him, Scott’s long lost self-esteem was also struggling to come back. Some of it was sheer pride, and he hated the continuing need for others to care for him, even as he was grateful for it.
Watching the inner workings of such a large ranch from his window was both fascinating and intimidating. Scott knew nothing about ranching or the work that was needed to maintain such an enterprise. He felt like he didn’t belong in such a place.
He couldn’t see how that would change.
“How is he?” Murdoch stopped pacing the great room when Sam walked in.
Setting down his bag, Sam motioned for Murdoch to sit down by the fireplace and took a seat himself. “He’s improving. He’s gaining strength and tells me he is sleeping better.” Rubbing his worn doctor’s bag, Sam looked thoughtful before bringing his attention back to Murdoch. “Murdoch, the trip set him back some and he can’t afford to have any setbacks. He simply doesn’t have the reserves. And yet, coming to this type of climate was probably the best thing for him.”
“We’ll see to it that he follows your recommendations.”
“You should also take into consideration that this son could easily become as bored as Johnny was during his recuperation. He needs some activity to keep his mind occupied. He’s a very bright young man. Starting tomorrow, he could spend time down here, and some brief time outside as long as the weather is dry and warm. I think he’s feeling a little lost staying in his room and needs interaction with others.”
“I’d like to show him around the immediate area and have him get to know the place.” Murdoch was anxious to have Scott feel at home. That wasn’t going to happen until he could spend time around other areas of the ranch and, more importantly, with other people.
“Good idea, just watch that he doesn’t push himself.”
“I will. Thanks, Sam.”
“Aside from his health, how is it going?”
“He’s distant, but so was Johnny at first. I’m… hopeful.”
“As well you should be.” Sam smiled as he stood up. “It says a lot about his determination that he made the trip. He’s not in denial about his condition, but he didn’t let it stop him. Seems to run in the family.”
May 16, 1865
Chewing on the stampede strap, Johnny watched Murdoch and Scott from the doorway, unwilling to admit the emotion he felt watching as the two men talked. Scott had come downstairs, and was lounging on what Johnny still considered the hugest piece of furniture in the world, while Murdoch sat in the leather chair by the fireplace. He didn’t understand what they were talking about, and was unfamiliar with the subject. The low timber of their voices was soothing, but Johnny felt his insides twist with anxiety.
He could admit to being jealous of the ease in which Scott could talk to their father. Maybe they didn’t get personal and all that, but they shared interests that Johnny didn’t have any idea about. He wasn’t that much of a bastard to begrudge Scott Murdoch’s attention. His brother needed it, but Johnny wasn’t sure where he fit in now.
At Murdoch’s call, Johnny’s head shot up to meet his father’s smiling face across the room.
“Come join us. Maria’s bringing some lemonade, and you look like you could use it.” Murdoch waved him in.
Johnny salivated at the thought of the cool drink. Maria made it better than anyone.
Scott had his legs stretched out, but he brought his knees up to make room for Johnny to sit: a welcoming smile on his face. Not that it was necessary, the couch was more than long enough; but Johnny understood his brother didn’t mind him close, and truth was, Johnny didn’t mind it either.
Scott had an easy way about him in spite of the very proper way he carried himself, and right now he looked just a little bit relieved if Johnny wasn’t mistaken. Remembering his early days with Murdoch, and the strain of talking with a father he didn’t know, he suddenly understood his arrival was a welcome one.
“Johnny, stay for awhile. From what Paul has told me, you’ve already put in a full day.” There was no doubting Murdoch’s pleasure, and Johnny flushed a little at the pride he heard in his father’s voice.
Scott toed him in the thigh. “Show off.”
Murdoch laughed, and Johnny ducked his head down grinning.
Maybe they were all wondering where they fit.
May 18, 1865
Scott took a deep breath of the aromatic herb garden situated just off the kitchen’s back door. It was early, an hour before dawn, but the dream had been one that wouldn’t let him fall back to sleep. He felt the need to get out of bed.
He explored the house in the pre-dawn light and ended up in the kitchen. Maria would be arriving soon, and he wanted to take advantage of the peace to be found at this time of the morning. The outdoors beckoned him, and he inhaled the fresh air. Not that the house was closed up. In fact more often than not the windows were wide open, and the house appeared more a part of the outdoors than a structure to keep the elements out.
Further back in the garden he found a lounge type chair positioned under the larger shade trees and hidden from the house. A table sat beside it, and the chair’s cushions looked invitingly soft. Curious, he tested them out, and found them as comfortable as he thought they would be. Just as Scott wiggled down into the cushions, he heard his brother’s voice call out to him.
“Hey, you found your spot.” Johnny entered the sheltered area with a grin, tucking his shirt into his jeans.
“Yeah, Murdoch had this made up for you. Wanted to give you a place to hide when the motherin’ got too much.” Grinning, Johnny plunked down at the end by Scott’s feet. “Between you and me, I think the ol’ man don’t like it any better than we do.”
“Maria and Consuela are rather intense.” Scott thought back on the rapid Spanish, the flurry of colorful skirts, and the absence of any personal choice when the two women decided on a course of action.
“And they’ll find you here, but Murdoch made it clear that sometimes a fellow needs some time to himself. They’ll leave you be for the most part.”
“Morning, boys.” As one, they looked to Murdoch who was putting on his hat as he walked towards them. “Scott, you ready to see the place?”
“Good. Might as well start at the barns; there’s a few chores to be done before breakfast.”
Johnny groaned and stood up, offering a distracted hand to Scott. “Murdoch, you sure do know how to shatter a peaceful mornin’.”
Pulled to his feet, Scott caught the hat Murdoch tossed to him, studied the western design, and placed it on his head.
“And you, my son, know how to shatter any peace. I am merely returning the favor.”
“Ol’ man, you’d be so bored without me and you know it.”
Scott watched his father’s step falter, and then Murdoch was grinning as he hooked an arm around Johnny’s neck, pulling him off balance.
“True.” Murdoch ruffled the dark hair and released Johnny when he squawked. “Very true.”
Johnny huffed, and pulled his own hat on. Scott couldn’t help laughing at his indignant scowl.
His brother pointed a finger at him. “Don’t you encourage him. Got all I can handle with His Bigness now.”
Murdoch raised a brow. “His Bigness? Hmm… His Bigness.” He looked thoughtful, and then nodded. “Yes, that is appropriate.”
Johnny tossed up his hands and headed off, muttering in Spanish the entire way to the barn while Murdoch and Scott followed behind.
And this was the morning Scott was introduced to Lancer.
May 20, 1865
“Scott, do you ride?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, Boston, we’ll find you an easy-going pony to start off with.”
“That’ll have to wait until Scott is stronger.” Murdoch was quick to add since he was concerned about seeing his older son on any horse at the moment.
“Thank you, I’m sure I’ll manage when the time comes.”
Murdoch glanced behind Scott’s back to see Johnny dismayed look and mouthing, “A little?”
May 28, 1865
Life was so active on Lancer. Unlike Garrett Industries, Lancer required daily labor to run smoothly. Today was Sunday, and Scott noticed a lessening of activities as many of the families went to church, but there were others still working.
Over the last week or so, he met many of the people his father employed, along with some of their families. As promised, Johnny reminded him of the people he met when he first arrived, but that was a handful compared to the rest. Many of them lived and worked on the ranch.
It was apparent that his father believed as he did, that a person wasn’t judged by how they looked or how they spoke. Given that he had fought in a war to accomplish that very thing, Scott was relieved to see it happening on his father’s ranch. Murdoch treated everyone with the same consideration and respect. For his efforts, he had a crew that worked hard for Lancer.
Scott didn’t have as much faith that the war would result in the same throughout the country.
June 5, 1865
As had become a habit, Johnny, out of sight, listened as Sam reported on Scott’s condition to Murdoch.
“He’s much improved from a couple of weeks ago, Murdoch. He’s gained weight. Whatever Consuela and Maria are feeding him it’s working as well on him as it did with Johnny.”
“It’s less spicy.” Murdoch’s tone was relieved and humorous, but then turned serious. “We still avoid corn. It’s best if he isn’t around the kitchen when they’re making tortillas.”
“That may never change.”
“It doesn’t matter if it never does.” Johnny could hear the worry creep into Murdoch’s voice. “But he still looks so damn fragile.”
“That’s just appearances. You should know that by now. You have strong sons, Murdoch, and they keep proving that over and over.”
Johnny missed hearing what Murdoch said next, but it sounded like their visit was about over.
“I’ll come back in a week unless you need me before then.”
Johnny slipped away.
June 17, 1865
Murdoch was surprised to see Sam driving his buggy under the archway so bright and early in the morning. He hadn’t been expecting the doctor for another few days. He was even more surprised to see Johnny slouched in the seat beside him. Heading outside, he waited for them.
As Sam reined the buggy to a stop in front of the house, Murdoch could see the bruises on Johnny’s face. “What happened?”
“Just a little Friday night fun, Murdoch.” Johnny fumbled his way out of the buggy.
“It’s Saturday!” Murdoch looked to Sam for an explanation.
“Johnny and some of the boys got into a little trouble in the saloon last night. Nothing serious, but enough that the Sheriff decided to let them sleep it off in the jail. I thought I’d bring this one back home.”
snuck into town last night?” Murdoch struggled to hold his anger in check.
What was a sixteen-year-old doing in a saloon on a Friday night? He shook
off the idiocy of such a question and focused on Johnny.
“No sneakin’ involved. I just didn’t tell you.”
Murdoch had to hold the anger a little tighter. “Under no circumstances is it all right for you to go to the saloon with the hands. You’re too young.”
“Been goin’ to saloons for a couple of years now.” Johnny straightened in front of him. “Don’t need you tellin’ me I can’t.”
“I’m your father!” Murdoch was livid. He hadn’t known, hadn’t been there, and Johnny could have been hurt.
“Well, you weren’t there to stop me before. Kinda late to think that way now.”
Murdoch hadn’t seen this side of Johnny in months -- it wasn’t helping. “You are a sixteen-year-old boy. No saloons unless you’re with me! You are living here now and under my rules.”
Johnny stared him down. “That can change!”
Murdoch knew their discussion was about to get out of hand, and was grateful when Sam stepped between them. “Murdoch, Johnny, why not have this conversation when you’ve both calmed down some.”
Murdoch noticed Johnny’s attention was diverted, and followed his gaze to see Scott standing in the doorway. He had to have heard everything.
“You all right, Johnny?” Scott asked his brother.
“Nothin’ but a little scuffle, Brother.” Johnny’s demeanor completely changed.
“Wouldn’t hurt you to clean up. Looking a little over used, and I can smell you from here.”
“One of ‘em decided to break a bottle over my head.”
The anger drained away upon hearing his younger son’s nonchalant statement. Murdoch looked at Johnny’s head to find the wound.
“So you hardly felt it,” Scott deadpanned.
“Very funny. I stopped the bottle before it hit me, but not the whiskey.”
“Well, I wouldn’t recommend it as cologne.” Scott waved a hand in front of his nose.
Murdoch distracted Johnny when he touched his swelling eye. “Are you all right, Johnny?”
Hissing, he moved away from Murdoch’s hand. “I’m fine, Murdoch. Just need some sleep.”
“I’ll have Consuela make you a poultice for the swelling while you get cleaned up.” He ran a hand through Johnny’s hair just to make sure there wasn’t something hidden, flicking out a piece of glass.
Johnny allowed it for the amount of time it took for him to walk around his father and into the hacienda. Murdoch watched as Scott fell into step beside his brother.
Turning to Sam, Murdoch gestured towards the house. “Thanks for bringing Johnny home, Sam. How about some breakfast?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ll check on Scott while I’m here.”
As they entered the house, Murdoch knew they had dodged an ugly confrontation this time, but he was worried. They hadn’t come to agreement, and Murdoch wasn’t sure how to have this conversation with Johnny. His younger son was right; he was an adult in everything but his age.
Sam watched the silent, pensive young man button his shirt up.
“Scott, you’re progressing well. I know I’ve said it before, but time is all it takes at this point, and to be aware of your limitations in the meantime.”
Scott’s head swung up, puzzled. “My apologies, Doctor, my mind was elsewhere. What did you say?”
Sam repeated what he’d said, and added, “Johnny will be fine. I’ll check on him again before I leave.”
“Good.” Scott sighed, standing up from the bed, his mind obviously slipping away once more.
“Scott, what is it?”
Scott crossed his arms, his expression uneasy. “Many boys joined the war. Lied about their age, but both sides were so desperate for men that they ignored the obvious. Some of those boys –” Scott shook his head as if to dispel the memories. “I felt so old next to them. Johnny makes me feel like that sometimes.”
“Johnny is a very capable young man, and can take care of himself very well.” Which Sam had witnessed the previous evening: Quite well, in fact. His opponents hadn’t faired nearly so well.
A wry smile lit Scott’s face, eyes dark with memories. “So were those boys after a few months, but being capable doesn’t stop one from dying. Sometimes, it was just a simple little thing and the next moment they’re gone.”
Johnny wasn’t in his room, so Sam ventured downstairs to the kitchen where the tension hit him like a physical thing. Seated at the table was Johnny holding a poultice to face, while Murdoch was a towering statue of unease by the fireplace. Maria ignored it all, cooking and muttering in Spanish under her breath.
Sam plunked his bag down on the table harder than necessary, but it did have the desired effect of gaining their attention. “Come to a truce, gentlemen, and soon. Scott doesn’t need this stress -- neither do you -- but Scott must be a priority here.”
Sam cut Murdoch off. “Is worried about you both, mostly about Johnny.”
Johnny frowned. “He don’t need to be.”
“Johnny, need doesn’t have anything to do with this. Your brother saw young men of your age and younger die, and in ways that had nothing to do with actual fighting.” Sam gripped his bag and leaned forward. “I’ve had colleagues write to me describing the conditions. A mere cut easily became infected and a man died. I’m sure intellectually Scott knows that it isn’t so precarious here, but he’s spent too much time guarding against such things to be able to let those fears go. So, truce, gentlemen. Now.”
Sam left the room, leaving Murdoch and Johnny to stare after him. Maria muttered something else, nodding her head in obvious agreement.
“Were we just scolded?”
“I believe so.” Murdoch fought down the smile, and sat down across from his son. “Johnny, why’d you go to town?”
With one eye covered, the other looked at him before watching his free hand write patterns on the table. “Don’t mean to worry you.”
“I’m realizing that, but why?”
The hand stilled, and Johnny looked up. “Gets to be too much sometimes.”
“The ranch, me, what?”
“All of it.” Johnny scowled. “Don’t have the words for it, and if I explain, it’ll come out wrong.”
That, Murdoch understood all too well. He looked into that one blue eye, eyes like his, and felt the beginning of understanding his younger son. They weren’t so different, maybe quite a lot alike, and his own youthful days paraded across his mind: That drive to live and experience anything and everything.
“You don’t have to.” At Johnny’s startled expression, Murdoch smiled. “I was young once.” A glint appeared in the uncovered eye, and Murdoch shook his head. “And no, I will not tell you about it.”
Johnny smiled and lifted the poultice away from his face. “Next time, I’ll let you know when I go.”
Murdoch nodded. “I’d appreciate that, and even more if you didn’t go.”
“Do my best.”
“So will I.”
Johnny slumped back in his chair. “I didn’t know there would be all this negotiatin’.”
laughed outright. “Wait until you’re married.”
Scott wasn’t sure if he was relieved or worried at the very amicable breakfast he took part in. Father and son had come to some type of understanding, to the point Johnny had the entire table laughing with last evening’s exploits. Sam pointed out the exaggerations Johnny slipped in.
Scott tried to visualize his grandfather in this same situation, and admitted that he lacked the imagination to do it.
July 10, 1865
“It’s ungodly hot here at this time of year.” Scott sat down in his lounge chair and took a long drink of lemonade. He tossed his hat on the table.
As had become habit, Johnny sat down on the end of the lounger. He was dusty and sweaty from working with the horses, and relished the shade. “Never been any place this hot before?” He knew before he finished saying it what the answer was and regretted it. “Never mind that.”
“How do you know?”
Johnny met his brother’s shuttered look. Couldn’t side step that one and still feel good about himself. “Murdoch showed me on a map where he thought the prison camp was located. Were you kept inside or outside?”
“Then it was hot and miserable. You were thirsty all the time, couldn’t sleep, and the bugs were awful.”
“First hand experience?”
Johnny was grateful Scott left it at that.
July 30, 1865
Knowing he was late no matter what he did, Johnny tried to save time by cutting across the range to the main road leading to Lancer, and discovered he’d be sharing the road with a buggy. It looked like one from the Morro Coyo livery.
Catching up, he rode alongside and found a distinguished elderly man handling the horse. Upon seeing Johnny, he pulled the buggy to a stop.
“You, boy, is this the road to Lancer?” He took the moment to swipe his handkerchief across his face.
Easing back in the saddle, Johnny studied the old coot until he turned a little redder than the heat had caused before answering.
“Yeah.” Johnny put on his most annoying drawl. “I’m headed there. I’ll show you the rest of the way, Mister…?”
“Garrett, Harlan Garrett.” His entire demeanor screamed impatience and irritation. “Let’s be off then, boy.”
Impertinent boy: Harlan was disgusted, as he had been since arriving in California. What could he expect in this backwater state of uneducated people? The boy riding next to him was certainly no exception. The sidearm was proof enough that he was dealing with one of the many illiterate habitants who survived by violence. Harlan was forced to deal with many such men since making this journey.
Once again, he questioned Scotty’s mental state for making this trip. His grandson wasn’t in the physical condition needed for difficult travel, but Harlan was assured that his grandson had arrived at Lancer.
Would he never be rid of the taint of that name? The fact that his grandson carried it was only due to honoring the wishes of his daughter. To him, Scotty was a Garrett, and would always be a Garrett.
He couldn’t shoot Scott’s grandpa.
Scott and Murdoch were just getting comfortable around each other, and it wasn’t easy with neither of them being the talking type.
Murdoch was so nervous about making a wrong move that he wasn’t saying the things Scott needed to hear -- that Johnny needed to hear. Johnny knew enough about Garrett to know the man wouldn’t care, in fact he’d probably prefer, that Scott didn’t have time to get to know his father.
Now wasn’t the time for Garrett to come visiting.
He’d never said anything to Scott, but it was clear to him that Harlan Garrett was manipulative and as dangerous as any gunfighter Johnny had come across: Didn’t need a gun to destroy lives.
Murdoch rejoined Scott standing by the large window in the great room. He had spent time working on the ledgers only to end up back at the window a short time later.
Scott didn’t bother with the pretence of doing other things to keep occupied. Arms crossed, he stood still and silent watching the road. Murdoch hadn’t seen a noticeable change in his position for the last half hour.
“What would cause Johnny to be this late?” Scott asked, breaking the silence of the last hour or so. He didn’t move, and his tone was thoughtful, but the tension in his shoulders gave away his unease.
“Numerous things,” Murdoch said in what he hoped was a calm tone. “Barranca could have thrown a shoe; he might not have finished as quickly as planned, or simply Johnny was not paying attention to the time. He’s still getting used to making plans by the clock.”
“How many times have you run these scenarios through your mind in the last hour?”
“Too many to count, Son.”
Once the Lancer arch was in sight, Johnny looked to Garrett. “Mr. Garrett, I’ll let them know to expect you.”
Without allowing time for a response, Johnny nudged Barranca into a gallop and headed home. He needed to at least give Murdoch fair warning of what was coming.
Murdoch saw Scott’s shoulders relax, and took the first easy breath he had in over an hour.
Johnny was home.
Pivoting on his heels, Scott dropped his arms as he headed for the closest door leading outside while Murdoch set the ledger back on the desk and followed him out.
Johnny was galloping in with a sense of urgency that had Murdoch studying his son and horse for any anomalies. Johnny reined in and was off Barranca before the horse stopped. When the blue eyes settled on him, Murdoch knew he wasn’t going to like what came next.
“Harlan Garrett’s comin’ for a visit.” Pushing his hat off to settle on his back, Johnny turned to Scott. “He’ll be along in a minute.”
Murdoch could see Scott was as stunned, but was sure it was more from being surprised than anything else. Murdoch could have gone the rest of his life without seeing Catherine’s father again, and he was sure the feeling was mutual. There was only one reason for Harlan to make the trip to California. That reason was standing a couple feet away from Murdoch.
“Scott, I haven’t asked this before now, but did your grandfather know you were coming here?” Seeing Scott duck his head, so much like Johnny was prone to do, was answer enough. “Son, I think we can assume he isn’t happy that he had to track you down.”
Scott looked back to him. “I did tell him I was going to a warmer climate to help in my recovery. I’ve written to him.”
“In other words, you haven’t informed him that you came here.”
“No, sir.” Scott folded his arms, and shifted his stance to stand straighter. “It was my decision to make and it was the right one. I wasn’t improving in Boston.”
Moving close to Scott, Murdoch rested his hands on his son’s shoulders. “And I’m glad you did. But why do you think he’s here?”
“He is probably worried about me.” Scott knew his abrupt departure would concern his grandfather, but he still felt it was the right decision.
Murdoch took a step closer to him. “Son.” The gentleness to his father’s voice was alarming. “He’s here to take you back to Boston.”
“Sir, I can make my own decisions.” He searched Murdoch’s gaze attempting to understand the genuine worry he saw there.
“Yes, I believe that, but the law doesn’t side with you.”
“Scott, you’re not twenty-one. Your grandfather has legal guardianship over you.”
“He wouldn’t force me to return with him if I didn’t wish to go.” Surely, that wouldn’t come to pass? In spite of recent revelations, Scott couldn’t believe his grandfather wouldn’t understand his wishes.
“I’m glad to hear it, and it needs to be said again that I want you to stay.” But Scott sensed Murdoch wasn’t as confident that his grandfather would allow it.
“He’s comin’.” Scott met Johnny’s eyes, noted the apprehension in his brother, and together they watched Harlan make his way to the house.
Scott had the sensation of opportunities slipping away. They hadn’t talked. Not about the truly important things. There were so many questions Scott wanted to ask, and he didn’t know where to start, and now there wasn’t time. He thought he’d have time. He pulled away from Murdoch to meet the incoming buggy.
Murdoch couldn’t mute the devastation he felt as he watched Scott walk away from him and towards his grandfather. They hadn’t enough time to get to know each other, to talk about the past and the reasons behind some difficult decisions. But Scott was right – his health had improved since coming home.
Would it be enough for Garrett to see that Scott belonged at Lancer? Murdoch doubted it. If Harlan couldn’t see that twenty years ago, he wouldn’t acknowledge it now.
Johnny moved to stand by Murdoch’s side as they both watched Scott walk towards the buggy. “You don’t think it matters what Scott says.”
“Harlan may just be worried about Scott, especially knowing what he’s been through in the past months.”
With a soft huff, Johnny looked up at Murdoch and could see the unease, like he was watching an approaching storm. The feeling was the same. “You don’t believe that any more than I do. And I don’t have a history with the man.”
Murdoch’s face took on a blank look that Johnny disliked to see on him. It was one Murdoch used to brace himself for whatever bad was coming next, and bad was pulling right up beside Scott in a buggy.
Noticing one of the workers approaching, Harlan was more than ready to hand off the conveyance, find his grandson in this abominable place, and talk some sense into him.
Startled, Harlan looked closer at the worker to see Scotty smiling out from under the western hat. “Scotty.” He reached out a hand to shake his grandson’s and was surprised by the firm grip. Scotty pulled off his hat with his other hand, and Harlan was able to look at him.
The smile was wide, genuine, and welcoming, his eyes no longer sunken and the dark circles were gone. Scotty was still thin, but not worryingly so. He stood straighter and steadier. He was much improved from the last time Harlan had seen him, and he was grateful to see it.
On the heels of that thought, was resentment that Scotty’s improvement occurred at Lancer, with Murdoch.
“Scotty, it is so good to see you. I’ve been extremely worried about you.”
“I’m sorry, Grandfather, but I had to leave.”
“But to come here? It was far too long of a trip.” Harlan couldn’t prevent the chastisement in his tone. After receiving the first couple of telegrams and letter, he suspected Scotty had headed for California. What had Murdoch Lancer said that would undo all his meticulous planning to keep Scotty away from his father?
“I needed to come here for more than one reason. I wanted to meet my father, or as it turns out my family.”
“I’m your family, Scotty.”
“Yes. Yes, you are.” Scott met his eyes and resting there was the stubbornness that was when he returned home after the conflict. “However, I have other family now as well, and I couldn’t ignore that.”
Murdoch Lancer approached. “Harlan. This is a surprise.”
“Yes, I’m sure it is.” Harlan looked the man over, finding his hair was grayer, his face more lined than he recalled, but that had been many years ago. “I needed to find Scotty. This trip of his was ill advised.”
Resting a hand on Scott’s shoulder, Murdoch met his gaze. “I won’t argue the point, but his time here has improved his health, and I’m grateful to have him home.”
Home? Not likely.
“Grandfather, you must be tired and hot from your journey. Why don’t we go inside.”
“Yes, of course, Harlan. You’re welcome to stay here.”
Good, this would make things easier. Traveling back and forth from town would be inconvenient. “Thank you, Murdoch.” He climbed out of the buggy as a hand came up to the take care of the horse.
“First, Grandfather, I’d like you to meet my brother, Johnny.” Scott pulled the young man who led Harlan to the ranch to his side. “Johnny, this is my grandfather, Harlan Garrett.”
“Yes, we’ve met.” Harlan studied the boy closer and could see his mixed heritage. Yes, he knew all about him, and he doubted Scotty had been told the truth.
So much the better.
The old man was nothing but trouble. Johnny shook Garrett’s hand, but he knew he was being checked over and dismissed. As far as Garrett was concerned, Murdoch Lancer was the only obstacle he needed to get past.
Johnny figured he may change Harlan’s mind about that.
Dinner was… stressful. Johnny’s shoulders had crawled up to his ears by the time the meal was over. Garrett was polite, but there was an edge to the man, one that could cut if you weren’t careful. Johnny didn’t trust the way he’d slip-slide around questions, and how he’d reel Scott in with news of Boston, leaving Murdoch and Johnny to listen. Scott always tried to pull them into the conversation, and never failed to explain who they spoke about or the situation. He made it entertaining too, but it was awkward. Johnny had no doubt that was exactly the way Garrett intended it to be.
Murdoch was concerned, and did his best to hide it. Scott was pulled in a couple of directions, and Murdoch held back in an effort not to make things worse. But it didn’t matter. Things were worse, and Scott hadn’t the time to know Murdoch, to see what his father was trying to do. So Scott floundered, and Murdoch worried. Harlan just smiled that oily smile of his and Johnny wanted to whack him over the head with the meat platter.
If nothing else, at least the meal would have ended sooner.
Relieved, Murdoch saw Harlan was settled for the night. He wanted to check on Scott before turning in, but found Harlan doing the same thing. Irritated, Murdoch left and decided to look in on Johnny. He didn’t doubt that he would earn an eye roll, but his younger son had done an admirable job of holding in his dislike for Harlan.
An invite to enter answered his knock, and he poked his head in Johnny’s room to see his son standing in the center of his room, eyebrow raised.
“I’m not gonna shoot him. No matter how much he deserves it.” The tone was defensive, and Murdoch couldn’t help the chuckle.
“You are a better man than I.” Murdoch entered, closing the door behind him. Johnny’s mutinous expression turned hopeful.
“That mean you’ll shoot him?”
“Sadly, no. We must think of your brother, not to mention the messy ramifications of such an action.”
“Catch him outside. We’ll just kick dirt over the blood.”
Murdoch choked back a laugh at the very practical nature of his son, and shook his head. “I meant the legal issues.”
“Anybody spend two minutes with that snake and they’d get in line to do the deed.” Johnny’s shoulders dropped. “This isn’t goin’ to end well.”
“No, I’m afraid it isn’t, and I’m worried your brother doesn’t see that.”
Scott felt an enormous amount of relief when his grandfather turned in for the night. His arrival shattered what equilibrium Scott had managed to gain, and he resented it. He was all too aware of what Harlan had done at dinner. While he missed his grandfather, he couldn’t help but resent his presence at this time.
Scott didn’t believe his grandfather would begrudge him this time to know his family, but then again, why didn’t Harlan inform him of his impending arrival?
July 31, 1865
Johnny didn’t see Garrett as an early riser, but he was up and joined them all for breakfast, with more of the same as the night before.
Being shot didn’t start a morning this lousy.
Scott was working hard to include everyone in the conversation. His brother didn’t need to be worrying about Johnny knowing where Beacon Street was, or that Cambridge was located across the Charles River.
No, best to give Scott some time with his grandfather, and it was obvious he missed Garrett as only a grandson could. Though Johnny wondered if there weren’t a whole lot of people in Boston taking a breather without the old man around.
He’d make sure he was around for dinner. The rest of the time Johnny would spend as far away from Harlan Garrett as he could and still be within a day’s ride home.
August 1, 1865
Murdoch brought the hammer down harder than it needed to be -- he wasn’t worried about bending the heated metal into a useful form. This was purely to allow some way to work off his anger.
Working at the forge was something he had done often during the years. Once he had managed to rebuild a broken down wagon after the Pinkertons thought they had found Johnny, only to report the child wasn’t his.
And it wasn’t the first time he used blacksmithing when thinking about Harlan Garrett. Nothing good had come from Harlan’s first visit west so many years ago, and Murdoch was feeling doomed about this visit, too.
August 2, 1865
Scott paused at the bottom of the steps when he heard Murdoch’s raised voice.
"You kept my son away from me for almost twenty years."
"And what could you have done for Scotty? A down at the heels dreamer with nothing."
"He was still my son!"
"But I'm the one who raised him. I'm the one he belongs to."
Discomfited by his unintentional eavesdropping, Scott slipped away. He wanted answers, but he would ask Murdoch, and when they were alone. Harlan had given his reasoning for his past actions, and Murdoch deserved the same consideration. Right now he needed some relief from the friction between the two men, and would welcome Johnny’s easy-going manner.
But Johnny was absent these days, and he knew Harlan’s disdainful treatment of his brother was the cause of it. His grandfather’s behavior was bewildering. Johnny’s understandable. In both cases it hurt.
Scott stopped when his physical state cut through to his mental state. His legs were aching; he looked around startled to find in his frustration he’d hiked up the hill overlooking Lancer.
Closing his eyes, he soaked up the sunshine on his face, listening to the wind rustling through the grass. Here was the peace he sought. Not willing to give it up yet, Scott settled at the base of a tree and released the strain of the past few days.
If Johnny had known how that question would shoot his afternoon all to hell, he would’ve kept his mouth shut.
Scott awoke when the lowering sun hit him in the eyes. Napping hadn’t been in his plan, but it did restore his shaky equilibrium.
He was late for dinner, which was fine since meals were uncomfortable affairs for the last couple of days. He didn’t hurry. But once he came around the side of the barn, he wondered what he had missed.
Murdoch was snapping out orders to a few of the hands working with horses in the corral. The horses were prancing around, affected by the mood of the people around them. His grandfather was also there and seemed agitated.
Did Murdoch and his grandfather’s conversation get out of hand?
Johnny was standing just outside the open gate holding Barranca’s reins, watching Murdoch and Grandfather exchange heated words. Approaching him first looked like the safest way to get answers.
“Johnny?” he whispered, not wanting to bring attention to himself.
Johnny’s relieved expression as he spun about puzzled Scott.
“Oh, Scott, you’ve riled the old men up a little.” Johnny waved to Murdoch and his grandfather.
Startled, Scott looked around once again. This was about him?
“You’ve been gone for hours.” Johnny was keeping his eyes on the two bickering men. “Murdoch’s been a little… anxious. And your grandfather’s been…obnoxious.”
Before Scott had a chance to respond, Murdoch noticed him, and dismissed the men before walking to Scott and Johnny.
Towering over Scott, he demanded, “Where have you been?”
This wasn’t going to go well. Scott wouldn’t see the worry behind Murdoch’s gruffness and anger.
When no one could locate Scott within the last few hours, Johnny had watched as Murdoch went from concerned to outright fear as Scott’s absence continued. Garrett nattering in the background, placing blame hardly helped matters.
It did make Johnny reconsider shooting the man.
Murdoch had decided to search for his missing son, and Johnny had been grateful for that decision. Scott had never been gone so long from the hacienda without letting someone know where he was.
Now watching his brother stiffen his spine upon being confronted by an angry father, Johnny could only watch Murdoch unravel and his brother stubborn up.
“You’ve been gone for hours. Do you have any idea how worried everyone has been for you?” Murdoch hissed.
Scott met Murdoch head on. “I can take care of myself, sir.”
“I think we both know that isn’t true.”
Johnny winced as Scott paled at those words, his jaw tightening as if forcing himself to remain silent. Nope, this wasn’t going to go well, and Johnny couldn’t see any way to fix it.
Murdoch must have realized what he said. Johnny watched as the anger drained out of him and right into Scott.
“Son.” Murdoch showed obvious regret as he reached out to Scott.
Dodging the touch, Scott spun around and with long-legged strides headed for the saddled horses inside the corral. He closed in on a beautiful, half-broke, black stallion Johnny had introduced to a saddle only a few days ago.
No, he wouldn’t. Oh, yes, he would. Johnny rushed after his brother, but too late to stop Scott from yanking the reins from the fence and mounting the stallion.
The stallion reared onto his back legs, encouraging anyone close by to move out of the way. Scott adjusted his seat to bring the black down and urged the horse into a gallop.
Johnny quit his headlong rush to stop Scott, and watched as horse and rider sailed over the fence without breaking stride -- he figured his brother might know a thing or two about riding.
Murdoch stopped just a step in front and to the side of Johnny as they watched Scott leave in a cloud of dust.
“Scott might’ve misled us a little about his ability to ride.” Johnny pushed his hat back on his head, a wide, delighted grin on his face.
“He’s going to get himself killed.” Murdoch couldn’t share in his son’s elation just yet – even when he felt like it—the worry wouldn’t let him. “He’s not well enough yet.”
“You made sure he knew that, Murdoch.” Johnny’s tone was mild, but there was no mistaking the reproach sliding underneath.
Dropping his head, Murdoch rubbed his face with his hands. “It was the worst possible thing I could have said to him.”
“Yep,” Johnny agreed as he took Barranca’s reins and mounted. Murdoch looked up, and Johnny was clearly choking back on laughing in his old man’s face. “You said someday I’d be chasin’ after him.”
Shaking his head and feeling a failure as a father, Murdoch watched his younger son gallop after the older one.
In the background Harlan was urging the hands to go after ‘Scotty’. Murdoch would love to slap the older man until he never used that particular diminutive again.
“Harlan, shut up.” And for a few blissful moments, he did.
Scott burned with equal parts fury and humiliation. His innate honesty admitted that his father was right. The anger left to be replaced with a loss for what he once was and doubted he would ever be again.
The powerful black demanded his attention, and he gave into the thrill of riding such an excellent mount. With very little encouragement on Scott’s part, the horse tossed his mane, and responded with more speed.
Scott smiled from the sheer exhilaration, deciding family could wait. He wasn’t giving this up for anyone.
Johnny watched his brother and the black settle into an impressive run. Barranca was more than ready to give chase and catch the stallion ahead of them. He allowed the Palomino to set the pace while he kept an eye on Scott for any signs of losing control.
There weren’t any.
Scott and the stallion were slowing down. Scott wasn’t going to have the stallion exhaust himself, and he saw his brother reach out to pat the horse’s neck as they slowed to a walk.
Johnny reined Barranca in to walk beside the pair, and Scott gave him an inscrutable look.
Johnny figured the first move was his. “Well, Boston, you sure can ride.”
“Yes, I can.”
“When’s the last time you were able to?”
Scott looked away. When he spoke, his tone was flat. “The day the Confederates captured my cavalry unit. They shot my horse.”
Didn’t that just explain all sorts of things, Johnny thought, feeling like he stepped into the middle of a bramble brush.
“Damn, not the best memory to have. You miss ridin’?”
“More than I can say.”
“You’ll have to join Barranca and me when we head off.” Johnny could show him some of the places he found since Harlan invaded.
“Are you sure?”
“What do ya mean?”
“I mean ever since Grandfather arrived you’ve stayed away.”
Johnny stopped a grimace. His brother didn’t show it, nor did his tone indicate it, but he‘d hurt Scott with his own mixed-up feelings.
“Scott, your grandpa don’t like me much.”
Now Johnny did grimace, and he would have done anything to avoid the glare Scott was shootin’ his way. He was good at ‘em.
“Figured you had enough goin’ on without me being around.”
Scott let out an exasperated sigh, startling his mount. His hand reached to sooth the animal, and then that glare was right back at him. If Johnny wasn’t so stubborn, he might have squirmed a little.
“Johnny, that didn’t help.”
“I get that now, but I didn’t want to make things worse for ya.”
“And I appreciate it.” Scott rolled his shoulders and settled back into the saddle. “Why do you feel the need to get away?”
“When you go on your rides.”
“Didn’t say that.”
“Johnny, I’d probably understand.”
Humor struck him, and he laughed. “Yeah, you probably could.”
Scott made an impatient gesture with his hand, and Johnny leaned back in the saddle. “Sometimes I don’t feel like I belong at Lancer. I want it to be home, but a part of me wants to ride away.”
Looking straight ahead so he wouldn’t have to see Scott’s face, he attempted to put his wayward thoughts in some order. “Before Murdoch found me, I was on my own. I decided when and where I went. If I didn’t like where I was, or it was gettin’ bad, I rode out. Never left anythin’ behind that I cared about. Nobody’s expectations to worry about ‘cept my own.
“Now there’s the old man, and he worries in a funny way. Gets all bossy and strict. Annoys the hell out of me and makes me feel like a naughty little kid at the same time. Know what I mean?” Johnny asked, meeting Scott’s eyes.
“Think I do now.” Johnny hoped that was a touch of humor in Scott’s voice.
“Hardest part is I don’t want to disappoint him.” There it was out, and it didn’t feel like he’d gutted himself.
“Brother.” There was a deep heartfelt sigh at his side, and he looked to see understanding on Scott’s face. “That’s always the hardest part.”
Johnny’s shoulders slumped. “Well, damn.”
And Scott laughed: A full, deep throated, belly-laugh. The likes of which he’d never heard from his brother. Johnny waited until the chuckles died away before imparting news his brother might welcome.
“He’s feelin’ all sorts of sorry right now. You’ll be able to use that for awhile. Maybe get him to ease up on the reins a little.”
“Noticed that, did you?”
“Noticed, and lived through it myself.” Johnny grinned, and then turned serious. “I’d once thought I’d be the last person to defend Murdoch Lancer, but he cares, Scott.”
“I know, but I’m not used to having a father.” Scott hunched his shoulders. “I convinced myself I didn’t need one if my own didn’t want me. I’m still figuring out what to do with him.”
“If you do, I wouldn’t mind a few pointers.”
Scott laughed, then sighed. “I owe Murdoch an apology.”
“Don’t think he’s none too proud of his own part in this.”
“I usually don’t let my temper get the best of me.”
Johnny thought it probably best if he didn’t say how relieved he was to see his brother’s temper. Scott struggled in the last week with his recovery. Harlan hadn’t helped. There hadn’t been any noticeable improvement, and it had to have occurred to his brother that he may not get any better. It worried Johnny.
But that glimpse of temper he had seen in Scott the first time they met was back and staying. Oh, the polite Boston gentleman was there, but Johnny didn’t think that made any difference. He was looking forward to seeing what else Scott kept buttoned down.
“Don’t hurt to let it out now and again, but can you cut the old man some slack today and head back?”
“I’m hungry anyway.”
“That’s hardly surprising.” Scott turned his mount towards home.
Watching Scott ride ahead, Johnny allowed the words out under a relieved breath. “Yeah, well, Murdoch wasn’t the only one who was worried.”
Scott thought Johnny hadn’t meant for him to hear that last statement, but he appreciated that he had a brother to worry about him. Somehow it was different with Johnny -- several things were different with Johnny.
They didn’t talk as they rode back to the hacienda. The stallion was prancing about and was a pure joy to ride even at a walk, and now having rested, was more than ready to run again. So was Scott.
Glancing at his brother, Scott urged the stallion into a gallop. He grinned hearing Johnny’s excited ‘whoop’ and settled over his mount’s neck for the race back to Lancer.
Murdoch couldn’t stop himself from pacing back to the doors to look out to the main road, hoping to see his sons returning. Harlan was off somewhere, and Murdoch was grateful for the man’s absence.
How could he have thrown Scott’s weakness in his face? Letting his fear turn to anger was no excuse, and could only hope Scott allowed him the opportunity to make amends.
Noticing some of the hands pointing off down the road, Murdoch turned and his heart leapt into his throat. His sons were racing back to the hacienda. Murdoch rushed outside, aware of others gathering around him.
They were beautiful and wild, his sons. Pushing aside the worry that started this mess to begin with, Murdoch took a deep breath and watched them ride. Different and yet so much alike in other ways, and he had to remember with both to not hold on so tight or he would lose them.
Johnny rode curled against the neck of Barranca urging him on. Beside him, Scott was leaning over the stallion’s back with a straighter posture and precision that spoke of many years of riding.
Part of him wanted to vent his anger at seeing Scott risking himself this way, but his son’s form was too controlled and experienced to label as risky. The larger part of him decided to stand back and enjoy his sons being boys.
At the last moment, the two of them reined in their horses, sending a cloud of dust billowing over everyone. The grin and the laughter they shared was a far cry from the emotions of a short time ago. Relief flooded through Murdoch.
As they dismounted, Murdoch could see Johnny was a little concerned as he watched Scott. Although he tried to hide it, Scott was tired from the ride, but the despondency Murdoch had noted the last couple of days was no longer present.
A couple of hands came forward to take the horses from his sons, commenting on the race as they did so. His boys grinned, well pleased with the show they provided.
They were walking towards the hacienda when they noticed Murdoch waiting and watching them. Scott kept his pace until he stopped in front of Murdoch. Johnny came to stand at his side.
Murdoch put his hands in his pockets to prevent them from clutching Scott. “You’re just in time for lunch.”
Johnny patted his concave stomach. “I’m starved.”
Once the hands returned to their work, Murdoch thought this was the best time to extend his regrets.
Scott beat him to it. “I apologize, sir, for worrying you earlier.”
Holding in a sigh, Murdoch focused his complete attention on Scott. “Scott, thank you for your apology, but it isn’t yours to give. I’m sorry, son. You shouldn’t have to account for where you are every minute of the day. You’re a grown man, and I handled my worry badly.”
Glancing at Johnny, he included him in the next part. “I had this idea I wouldn’t worry about the two of you as much once you were under my roof. I was wrong, and I haven’t years of experience to draw on. I don’t know what I would have been like if the two of you returned to Lancer any later in life.” Murdoch had a feeling he would have turned into a hard and cold man.
Scott glanced at Johnny. “Thank you, sir. I think we can both appreciate the situation you have been in.”
Murdoch decided it was time to change the subject and smiled. “Cavalry?”
“What did you think of the stallion?”
Scott’s smile said it all. “He’s a fine animal.”
“Scotty! Are you all right?”
How could he have forgotten about Harlan?
“I’m fine, sir. You out of everyone here should know I can handle a horse.” And Scott managed to say just the right thing to defuse his grandfather’s worry and acknowledge their history. It was enough to mollify Harlan, and Murdoch had the impression Scott was well practiced in doing so.
Relieved, Johnny started on his meal, listening to Murdoch and Scott discuss the horses on the ranch, throwing a comment in now and then to keep the conversation lively. Harlan, for once, wasn’t contributing much to the conversation. He listened, ate, and looked thoughtful. While it made Johnny suspicious, he ignored if for now.
Scott’s appetite looked to match his.
He didn’t think Scott even realized how much he was eating. When Johnny added additional food to his plate, he gave Scott some too. Murdoch noticed and in what was a habit by now, they tracked how much Scott ate. In spite of ol’ Harlan perched like a buzzard on the side, Johnny figured this was one of the best meals the Lancers enjoyed.
They finished off the meal with coffee and cake, and it became apparent that Scott was now more than a little tired. Johnny wanted to suggest he rest and he knew Murdoch was itching to do the same, but neither wanted to wreck the contented mood.
As ever, Scott was aware of his own needs. “I think I’ll rest for at time. It has been awhile since I’ve enjoyed such a ride, and I’m out of shape for it.”
Murdoch nodded. “Maybe taking a daily ride will help with that.”
Johnny grinned. Murdoch was coming along just fine.
August 3, 1865
The previous day’s upheaval helped Scott to regain his balance and make some decisions.
“Grandfather, I plan to stay here for awhile.” There wouldn’t be a good time to announce that to his grandfather, and since they were alone in the great room, Scott decided now was as good a time as any. Harlan looked away from the books on Murdoch’s shelf, his face sympathetic.
“I’m sorry, Scotty, but I can’t allow that.” Harlan folded his hands behind his back, while Scott stared. “Not this time.”
“Not this time?” Scott repeated the words struggling to remain focused on his grandfather, while his heart started to pound.
“You insisted on enlisting and look what happened. I will not allow anything of the sort to happen again.”
“This is hardly the same thing.” Striving to understand, and shoving down his annoyance at that expression on his grandfather’s face, Scott took a deep breath to settle the panic that was taking root. “I want time to know my father and brother. Surely, you understand that?”
“I understand it isn’t safe for you here. I understand Murdoch Lancer could not protect Catherine, nor do I expect he can protect you. I understand Murdoch’s half-breed son is a gunfighter who went by the name Johnny Madrid and made a living with his gun.” Harlan went on in that relentless gentle tone, shredding Scott’s dreams as he went. “You have a legacy waiting for you. One I have spent years building, and I will not see it wasted. I can and will make life difficult for Murdoch Lancer if you insist on staying here.”
Scott gripped the back of the blue chair, and turned to look into the stark face of his brother who arrived through the French doors.
No, no, no.
Johnny had heard. Shame washed over Scott. Heat, then such cold his knees nearly buckled. Harlan stepped to his side, while Scott could only stare into the unfamiliar flat expressionless blue eyes of his brother.
“I’m sorry, Scott.” Harlan was kindness itself. “I thought they informed you, as you are family.”
“Wasn’t important.” Johnny’s tone was as flat as his eyes. “It’s in the past.”
“I should hardly think to make one’s living killing people is merely regulated to the past.” Scott recognized the timber of Harlan’s voice. The smooth, easy tone he used when closing a profitable business deal. At someone else’s expense. Scott never thought to hear it while his wishes were being torn to shreds.
“Johnny –” Scott couldn’t get his voice to work. It came out a mere whisper, but Johnny’s eyes never left him.
“Later.” His brother shut him out and left.
Johnny meandered out to the veranda, and with great restraint didn’t run. He wanted to run. He wanted to be sick. Instead he walked past the herb garden to ‘Scott’s spot’ and stood shaking in its center.
Should’ve told him. Should’ve told Scott who he had for a brother. Would’ve been better comin’ from him. Not that oily, snake voiced Garrett.
Shouldn’t have left Scott like that. His brother’s face shocked and pale. Looked like he was barely hangin’ in there, but he couldn’t stand there while Harlan made a mess of everything they had built. Maybe it wasn’t built entirely on the truth, but they deserved a chance.
He should’ve shot Garrett. Buried his body so deep the coyotes wouldn’t find it.
Harlan’s arm went around Scott’s waist, startling him. His grandfather was not a demonstrative man.
“Come, sit down. I know it is distressing to hear such dreadful news.”
Scott shook himself out of his stupor, gazing at the man who raised him. How astonishing to realize he didn’t know him.
“You want to keep me from my family.” Scott did sit. He needed to. “I’d say that is distressing.”
Harlan blinked. “No, my boy, I’m sorry I had to be the one to inform you of Johnny’s disreputable profession, but I am your family. Do not let a passing fancy let you forget that.”
Now it was Scott’s turn to blink. “Passing fancy?”
“I understand the attraction. It’s exciting to be in new surroundings, and with such rather colorful people, but you have spent all of your life in Boston. That is where you belong.”
“Grandfather, I love it out here.” Harlan patted his arm.
“Of course you do now, but you are much better than all of this. You have been raised to socialize with the elite, not rabble such as this.”
There was no chance Scott could keep his mouth from parting at the inanities Harlan Garret was spouting at him. The utter disregard he had for Scott’s choices…
His breath caught. “Grandfather?”
“Yes, Scotty.” He smiled that kind, tolerant smile.
“How long have you known I had a brother?”
Murdoch swiped the dust off his pants and headed for the pump. He didn’t dare enter the house with this much dirt on him. While he wouldn’t admit he was afraid of Maria’s wrath, he also didn’t see any sense in incurring it.
And he would stick to that reasoning.
He frowned, wondering where Johnny was, hoping he had better sense to wash up before entering. Thought he would’ve met up with him here. Glancing into the house, he felt uneasy when he spotted Scott sitting in the blue chair, only his blond hair visible, while Harlan moved another chair close to him.
His first instinct was to find out what was going on, but he didn’t want to intrude on Scott that way. Murdoch had no problem barging in on Harlan, but his son deserved more respect than that.
Knowing Johnny, he’d probably come to the same conclusion and went around to the kitchen. Murdoch decided to do the same and if he could perhaps hear some of the conversation, well, that wouldn’t be intruding -- just very bad manners.
Murdoch spotted Johnny as he rounded the corner, and was about to call out, when his younger son’s body language sent parental instincts screaming.
Johnny’s hands were fisted at his sides, and he was staring off at the setting sun, but he wasn’t seeing it. There was a dullness to his expression that set off more alarm bells as Murdoch joined him.
“Johnny?” Murdoch kept his voice soft, and his son made a slow turn to face him.
“Oh, hey, Murdoch.” He looked away again.
Nerves jangling, Murdoch placed a cautious hand on his shoulder. “What’s going on, Johnny?”
“That ol’ man just told Scott who I used to be.”
Who he used to…? Fury swept through Murdoch so hard, he felt his body shudder. Johnny blinked up at him, and Murdoch realized how brutal the grip had become on his son’s shoulder. He unclenched his fingers, and rubbed the bruised shoulder as an apology.
“Are you all right, son?” Now was not the time to rail against Harlan Garrett. He’d save it for later. Not much later. Just later.
Johnny nodded, letting his hat slide off his head to hang down his back. “Yeah, just wishin’ I would’ve told Scott myself. Should’ve come from me, and I meant to… there didn’t seem to be a right time.”
“I know, and that is a mistake we are both guilty of, even if we had the best of intentions.”
Johnny let out a small, sad chuckle. “Didn’t know this family stuff was such hard work.”
Murdoch pulled Johnny in for a tight hug, smiling at the surprised ‘oof’ Johnny let out. He swallowed hard when his son’s arms came around to grip him tight.
A cry of absolute rage made them jump -- they bolted toward the house.
Harlan Garrett had miscalculated. A rare misstep for him, but then the circumstances were not of his natural element. Scott was on his feet and incandescent in his anger. Harlan was unsettled by the emotion directed at him.
Scott was always such a polite, obedient child, his enlistment the only true argument they ever had. Oh yes, he was quietly stubborn, and often Harlan would have to work around it, but he was not about to lose his grandson again. Scott would be made to see the error of his reasoning.
Scott had to calm down first. Harlan didn’t recognize the man before him, and for the first time he acknowledged his grandson had become a man in his own right.
Harlan Garrett would prevail. History would not repeat itself.
“Years! Years you’ve known I had a brother and you kept it from me!”
Murdoch and Johnny slid to a stop at the great room archway. Self-preservation kicked in, and Scott’s fury could be felt like a physical blow.
Harlan rose to his feet, holding up placating hands. “Now, Scotty, I hardly considered Murdoch’s half-breed off-spring as fit-”
Scott roared, and Murdoch’s fury matched his older son’s. It was the gentle restraint of his younger son’s hand on his arm that stopped him from wrapping his own around Garrett’s neck.
No, wait.” Johnny’s eyes never left the scene in front of them. “I wanna see this.”
Murdoch didn’t think it was possible to love his sons more than he already did, and found that as a father he could. The elder son was tall, thin, and so stunning in his anger; the younger son shorter, dark, and with a quirky sense of humor that came out best in the most inappropriate of times.
“Are you so blind? He’s my brother!”
“Whom you barely know!”
“And whose fault is that?”
“No, how dare you keep all this from me? You knew there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done to have a father who wanted me.”
Murdoch’s heart stuttered; his breath caught. Scott’s voice dropped to an eerie, calm tone that was worse than the previous anger.
“You knew how I wished for a sibling to play with, to share with, and you kept that from me.” Betrayal vied with desolation in Scott’s expression. “How could you?”
And Murdoch didn’t know what to do. Scott was breaking in front of his eyes, and he didn’t know how to make this better.
“Hey, Boston.” Johnny strolled into the room, placing his hands on his hips. Scott shuddered, and their eyes met.
“Johnny.” Scott took a deep breath, closing his eyes, trying to pull himself together. “I’m sorry-”
“Nothin’ you need to apologize for.” Johnny tilted his head to one side, noting the way Scott’s hands shook. “I should be the one doin’ that.”
Scott shook his head, frowning. “For what?”
“Should’ve told you what I was.”
Scott looked down and choked on a laugh. “Oh, Johnny, I-” Looking up, he shook his head. “That doesn’t matter.”
Johnny rocked back on his heels. “Doesn’t matter?”
“You did what you did, and I’ve had to do the same. You think I’m going to judge anyone by their past?”
“Scotty, I hardly think it compares-”
Scott swore and drilled his grandfather with his eyes. “Would you like to know your grandson crawled on his hands and knees to get food? Would you like to know the heir to the Garrett legacy spent hours of humiliation in a solitary cell, and nearly begged to be released? Should I share it all? Right here, right now?”
Johnny almost felt sorry for Garrett. The old man looked horrified, and truth be told, so was Johnny.
Scott’s despair had Murdoch moving before he realized, and again Johnny caught his arm.
“Scott.” Johnny in the soft, smooth voice that Murdoch swore could charm anyone and anything. No wonder the horses took to him. With just his voice the tension in the room dropped. “We don’t need to hear nothin’. Not ‘til you’re ready to tell us. If ever.”
Scott’s whole body shuddered again, and this time Johnny gave a nudge for Murdoch to move forward.
Scott gave a hopeless shrug and looked at him. “I’m going to have to leave.”
Murdoch embraced his older son, and locked his knees when Scott sagged in his arms.
Harlan watched bitterly as Murdoch stepped in and played the father. Damn the man. Scotty was his.
“Scotty will be leaving with me.”
“Harlan.” Murdoch looked over Scott’s head, running his hand over the blond hair. “Not now. Please.”
Harlan knew he would win. Scotty was his, and they would leave this dismal country behind. He had over a year to convince his grandson that his place was in Boston. He could afford to be magnanimous now.
“We’ll speak of travel arrangements later, Scotty.” Harlan met flinty blue eyes that were at odds with the boyish face across the room. Johnny Lancer didn’t say anything, but the steady gaze spoke volumes.
Harlan dismissed it. A mere boy was not worth his time. He left the room assured of his success. Scotty would come around.
Making sure Garrett left first, Johnny sidled up to his family. Scott was shaking, and Murdoch had him in a good hold. Johnny remembered the feeling of those long arms wrapped around him. Brief though it was, Johnny would always appreciate the comfort they gave.
Murdoch wasn’t too bad at this father business.
And it was a messy business right now. Ol’ Garrett, he couldn’t see what he didn’t want to see even at the expense of his grandson, and that was one thing he’d never understand. His mother loved him. He didn’t doubt it, but he was coming to the conclusion that she had been a selfish woman, and that realization came hard.
Looked like Scott was getting the same lesson.
Murdoch maneuvered Scott over to the couch, and eased him down. Johnny poured a glass of scotch, and handed it to their father who accepted it with a grateful smile. Johnny sat down on the low table, his legs tangling with his brother’s, while Murdoch sat down alongside Scott and held out the scotch.
Scott latched onto to the drink, giving a wry salute. “To our loved ones, whoever the hell they may be.”
They all ignored the way his hand trembled, waiting as he took a healthy swallow. Scott leaned back into the couch and looked at the glass in his hand. “This is very good scotch, sir.”
Murdoch smiled and removed his arm, but he kept a hand on his son’s leg. “Scott, you don’t have to go. You’re old enough to make your own decisions. I have the means now to contest Harlan’s guardianship of you. We’re in California; it makes a difference.”
Scott’s sad, grateful smile was answer enough. “Thank you, sir. There’s a large part of me that wants to take you up on your offer, but we both know to do so would only cause this situation to become intolerable. Aside from that, I owe grandfather for his years of care.”
“You owe him nothin’.” Johnny’s look was dark and furious. “He wouldn’t have had to care for you if he hadn’t taken you away.”
“I know, Johnny.”
Murdoch wanted to know. too.
“Because I adored my grandfather; he was everything to me when I was growing up. I know he fostered those feelings, but that can’t all have been a lie. I need time to show him he will still be part of my life even if I’m here at Lancer. I don’t want to choose, even knowing what he’s done.”
“You don’t trust him.”
“No, no I don’t.”
And it was painful to hear Scott admit that.
Johnny leaned forward, elbows on knees, hands hanging in between. “You doin’ alright there, brother?”
A deep sigh. “Johnny, however did you stand it?”
Johnny snorted. “I’ve only begun to accept it.”
“I thought I knew him. I thought if I explained how much it meant for me to remain here, he would relent.” He looked at them bewildered. “I never even suspected he lied all these years.”
Johnny watched Scott shore himself up, and caught Murdoch’s uneasy look.
“Why didn’t you come for me?”
Murdoch stiffened. “Scott, this is perhaps not the best-”
“Stop.” Scott’s harsh voice made Johnny jump. It looked like there was no derailing his brother from this conversation. “Just tell me why.”
Murdoch looked pained, and took a deep breathe. “I came for you when you were five years old. I was at your birthday party, and I planned on taking you back with me.”
Scott shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”
“So what happened?” Johnny figured it was time they got it all laid out. Seemed they only messed themselves up by waiting.
“Harlan was your legal guardian, and he threatened to drag you through the courts if I contested his status.” Murdoch rubbed his jaw. “I didn’t want to put you through that.”
Murdoch grimaced, but didn’t look like he’d sidestep the question, more like he knew they wouldn’t like the answer. “When I returned home, Maria and Johnny were gone.”
Too much made sense, and Johnny wished Murdoch wouldn’t continue, because he knew the answer. From the look on Scott’s face, he did too.
“I didn’t know what to do. By the time I arrived back here, I made up my mind I would fight for you. I wanted my family together. I wanted you boys to grow up as brothers. I wanted so much.” Murdoch’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “But Maria had taken Johnny, and I didn’t know where. Scott, you were safe. At least I knew that much, and God forgive me, I made a choice.”
Silence reigned -- it wasn’t uncomfortable. Scott drank his scotch; Johnny stole a sip and made a face. Murdoch watched. It grew dark and they didn’t bother to light the lamp. It was peaceful.
“Sir?” Scott rolled the now empty glass between his hands. “Did you ever write me beyond that one time?”
Murdoch was so tired of the truth, and yet, what other answer was there to give?
The glass stilled in his hands, and Scott nodded. “I’ll leave my solicitor’s address with you.”
Scott looked up, and Murdoch felt his weariness match that of his son. “I probably don’t want to know how often, do I?”
Murdoch was saved from answering when Maria entered the room. She greeted them in Spanish, scolded them for sitting in the dark, and asked about dinner.
“Come on, boys; let’s get cleaned up for dinner.” Murdoch rose, and Johnny took the glass from Scott while Murdoch offered a hand to pull him up. Johnny said he would ‘be there in a minute’.
Murdoch was sure he didn’t want to know where Johnny would be spending that minute.
Finished with his walk outside, Harlan entered his unlit bedroom, and halted when the jingle of spurs were heard. Looking over his shoulder, he spotted Johnny sitting on the windowsill.
“What are you doing in here?” Harlan refused to be rattled by a mere boy, and continued on with his evening routine.
“Came to ask a question.”
“And you think I’ll answer?” Harlan couldn’t believe the cheek of this boy and in irritation snapped the first match he was using to light the lamp.
“Nah, but you’re hurtin’ Scott. I’m just wonderin’ is it more to get back at Murdoch, or is it that you think you’re doin’ the right thing?”
Harlan waved a dismissive hand. “Go on, boy, we have nothing to discuss.”
“See, now I think you do believe you’re doin’ right by Scott, but if you can stick it to my ol’ man, so much the better.
Harlan lit the lamp, and looked over his shoulder at Johnny whose face remained hidden. “Murdoch Lancer is no concern of mine.”
A soft chuckle. “Oh, I think you’re lyin’ there. If he wasn’t a concern, you wouldn’t have come runnin’ to take Scott back.”
“Scott knows where he belongs.”
“Yeah, he does, but I don’t think you’re ready for the truth of it.”
Harlan shook is head, beyond irritated with himself for engaging in a conversation with this uneducated boy, and his uncouth manners. “Leave this room.”
Johnny Lancer rose, and in that deceptive, slow grace stopped in front of Harlan, blue eyes gleaming in the low light of the lamp.
“Won’t ever understand folks that claim to do what’s best for their kin, but in the long run hurt them.” Johnny smiled a sad, understanding smile. “Don’t know my brother as well as I’d like; but he don’t deserve what you’re doin’ to him, and I’m sorry for you, Garrett, because in the end, you won’t like the results.”
“Are you threatening me?”
Johnny dipped his head, and patted Garrett’s arm in conciliation. “If I was threatening you, you wouldn’t feel the need to ask.”
While Harlan sputtered through his outrage, Johnny slipped out the door.
Murdoch sat in front of the fireplace, staring at the long dead coals. The evening was too warm for a fire, but he would have appreciated the comfort of it. He had the sensation of being ripped apart, much like that long ago injury when a stubborn steer manage to gore his side with a horn. Painful, but Catherine was there to nurse him, making it manageable. Now, no Catherine with her sweet touch, no-nonsense practicality, and unwavering support that allowed him to become what he dreamed.
God, he missed that woman.
Having her father here brought that deeply buried desire back to the forefront, unlike Scott who only reminded him of the best of Catherine. So like his mother with that gentle understanding, when Murdoch confessed why he left his son to be raised by another.
He would have to talk to Johnny, sooner rather than later. Of all the worst scenarios, to make that confession in front of his younger son was one he hoped to avoid. Now, having it done, perhaps it was for the best. No more half-truths or secrets. Johnny would know he was wanted, and that was important. Scott understood. Murdoch saw that, and the forgiveness that went with it.
His sons were better men than himself. Far better.
Scott was sprawled across his bed staring up at the ceiling. As wrung out as he was, he made no attempt to ready himself for dinner, which was going to be very late with all the drama from earlier in the evening.
Emotional outbursts were exhausting. No wonder he didn’t engage in them more often. A soft purposeful jingle of a spur, and Johnny entered, making himself comfortable in the chair.
“Wish it could’ve been different, Boston.” Regret filled the soft voice, and Scott smiled.
“Wish it could be different, Johnny.”
“You comin’ back?”
“Yes. I need you to believe that, Brother.”
“I can do that.”
Continues in the sequel, Epilogos