Warnings/Spoilers: Alternate Reality
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, Intermedius, and Concludere. Now comes the hard part of living apart.
August 23, 1865
Johnny resisted panicking as Murdoch was lost amongst the dust and the morass of frightened cows. He had no idea what spooked them -- didn’t care. Cipriano, Paul, and Frank could handle the stampede. Murdoch was his worry.
Trusting Barranca to navigate the out-of-control cattle, he concentrated on the area he last saw his father. Johnny knew he was close, but dodging beeves made for a longer trip and poor line of sight.
Through the churning dust, he made out what looked like a leg – a long leg. Angling in that direction, he spotted Murdoch maneuvering himself into the shaky protection of some low lying rocks. Trouble was his father wasn’t there yet, and a couple of steers were nearly on top of him.
Johnny leapt off Barranca. Murdoch was on his knees, pressing his right hand against his back and coughing through the dust. Running up behind him, Johnny took hold of his father’s left arm, using the momentum he had gained to pull the struggling man to the rocks. Heaving Murdoch close to the barrier, Johnny scrambled to shove his father’s legs out of the way – feeling the ground shake as the threat closed in.
“Johnny!” Murdoch called out a warning, but it came too late.
A sudden pain shot up his right leg; Johnny glanced over his shoulder to see a steer had caught the side of his calf, causing his ankle to twist unnaturally. Before another hoof could land on him, Murdoch clutched large handfuls of his shirt and hauled him away from the wild-eyed cows.
Making themselves as small as possible, they waited until the last of the cattle thundered by.
Coughing, Johnny studied his father for a long moment. “Why’d you take up ranching?”
September 22, 1865
Murdoch has decided to advance my education, and letter writing is one of the ways he plans to do so. He does not read the letters I send you, only the practice ones. Most of my schooling was in Spanish. Murdoch and I have a deal. He teaches me how to write a pretty English letter, and I teach him how to write a proper Spanish one.
You are missing all the fun. This ranching business is never ending, always doing and doing. We had a little stampede the other day, and it kind of set us back. Murdoch threw his back out, but it is not serious. Paul, Walt, Maria, and Consuela set him right again. It involved a lot of hot wet towels and some smelly stuff. He is fine, but I think we will be learning that Murdoch back trick in the future. Murdoch would not want me to mention this to you, so keep it to yourself.
It is still hot here. Enough so that falling in the water trough is more than a passing thought. What is it like in your part of the country?
It feels like you have been gone for longer than a couple of weeks. I do not want you to feel bad about this, but Murdoch had a hard time after you left. He worried about you traveling again too soon. I found him wandering the hacienda late at night more than once. He had someone checking daily for wires from you. The ones you sent were enough to settle him down. Especially the one letting us know you had arrived at St. Louis.
The package is the tea Maria and Consuela swear by. We thought you might have used up the batch you took with you. There is also something for your birthday. Happy Birthday, Scott.
Scott set Johnny’s letter aside and pulled out the second letter.
My Dear Son,
I hope this letter finds you well. Sam sends his regards. The other enclosed note contains some research he has done on what will help you with the upcoming cooler weather. I am sure that Boston has many fine physicians, but I urge you to take heed of his advice. He is a truly wise man in his profession.
The ranch has kept us extremely busy. We had some difficulty with frightened cattle, and it resulted in Frank being laid up for a couple of days. Johnny also sprained his right ankle helping me out, but is recovering. Your brother does not consider his safety a priority. He would not want me to mention this to you, so keep it to yourself. Otherwise, all is well here at Lancer with the exception of you not being here.
It is strangely quiet without you. Johnny has a way of filling the silence, even without making a sound, but even he is subdued. I know this is due to your absence. Your telegrams helped.
We will especially miss you on the first of September to celebrate your twentieth birthday. I know you will still be in the midst of traveling back to Boston, but I do hope you will have a moment to do something special for the day.
We all look forward to your return.
Your loving father,
Carefully refolding the letters, Scott slid them back into the envelope after removing Sam’s note. How strange to feel homesickness for a place where he had spent so little time. But it went beyond Lancer itself. He missed his brother and father more than he could have imagined.
Picking up the tea, Scott headed for the kitchen. He’d have a cup while he wrote letters to his family.
October 14, 1865
Johnny couldn’t wait to write Scott and tell him how their father drew women like bees to honey. At first, Johnny was unsettled by all the attention his father received at the dance. Widow women and single women alike flirted with their father.
But he had to give Murdoch his due. He was wealthy, had an impressive ranch, and was the gentlemanly sort. He was a good catch, even if he was old.
October 20, 1865
Dear Murdoch and Johnny,
I hope this letter finds you both well, and the ranch is once again without recalcitrant cattle. However, I know from the short time I stayed there that there is no such thing.
Boston is pleasant this time of year. The leaves are starting to turn colors, and the air is still warm during the day, but colder at night. I am much more aware of the city upon my return than I was after the war. It is beautiful to me once again, and I am grateful to see it so.
I am attending classes at Harvard to finish my education. I thought since I would be back in this fair city that I would take advantage of all that it holds before returning to Lancer. I am enjoying learning again, and the classes are engaging and well-taught.
Through acquaintances, I have discovered which of my fellows did not return from the war. I am saddened by the large number, and feel lucky to have returned at all. The Union is once again together, but it is difficult to see the aftermath in the families of those left behind.
My recent visit with the family physician was most encouraging. He believes that I am on my way to a complete recovery, and he privately agreed with me that my trip to Lancer was what brought about this success. Grandfather maintains that I would have recovered in Boston, but I know that is not the case. Please pass on my regards to Sam, Consuela, and Maria for their excellent care. I do miss them. I also miss the informality of what you have on Lancer, and look forward to my return.
Yours faithfully and affectionately,
“It’s a college in Cambridge. It’s wonderful that your brother has some time to return to his studies.” Murdoch was determined to look on the bright side of Scott returning to Boston. It was difficult though; he missed Scott worse now than he had for the first nineteen years. Then he only had the barest idea of what he had lost.
“Sounds like he’s got a lot goin’ for him in Boston.”
Folding up the letter, Murdoch studied his younger son. Johnny was fidgeting -- after these months Murdoch was learning to read what kind of fidget it was. He had several. It ran the gamut from an excess of energy that needed to be worn off to worry. This was most definitely worry. “He does, but he has stated that he will return.”
“I know, but a lot can change in a year, and Garrett didn’t strike me as man who’d sit by when he has somethin’ at stake.”
November 15, 1865
I hope this letter finds you well, and that you have managed to stay out of trouble.
Thank you for providing more of Maria and Consuela’s tea. I was almost finished with the last packet. Please convey my regards and gratitude to the ladies.
Grandfather has insisted that I understand the Garrett holdings from the ground up. Admittedly, I do find it interesting. I will enjoy applying what I have learned at Lancer. I believe I will be of some use at least with the clerical aspects of maintaining a ranch.
My studies at Harvard are going well. It is good to be back there, and it continues to remind me of how fortunate I am.
Speaking of fortunate, I have met someone, Johnny, a beautiful woman, Julie Dennison. You will like her –
Johnny stopped reading at that point. Met someone? Another reason to stay in Boston. Johnny would admit that in each and every letter he received from Scott he looked for evidence that would tell him if his brother would return home or not. Scott never failed to say that he was, but there was always some sign that it could very well be the other way around.
“Johnny?” Murdoch stood at the entrance of the courtyard, his own letter in his hand. “I take it you’ve read about Julie Dennison.”
Johnny waved the letter then let it hang between his knees. “Wanna take bets?”
Taking a seat beside him on the bench, Murdoch sighed. “I have to believe he will return. In the short time Scott was here, he struck me as a man who lives by his word.”
“Oh, I believe he’ll come back, but will he stay?” Johnny leaned back to rest against the tree. “Pretty girl? Not sure we can compete with that, and looks like ol’ man Garrett is workin’ on Scott good.”
“You’re my ace in the hole.” Murdoch slapped a hand over Johnny’s knee. “None of that can compete with you.”
Johnny snorted, shaking his head. “You been nippin’ at the scotch?”
His father grinned at him. “No, but I do admit to needing one right now. As much as I look forward to Scott’s letters, they are hard on your old man’s heart.”
Words spoken lightly, but not light at all. Johnny saw the strain in his father’s face. New lines appeared every day, and he wondered if he was seeing what Murdoch had suffered all those years before. Sam had said the loss of family had aged Murdoch before his time, and Johnny could well understand why.
Not easy, all this waiting and hoping and not knowing.
November 18, 1865
Harlan observed his grandson eating his lunch. Scotty was unfailingly respectful and polite, but Harlan felt no closer to him now than he did when Scott was gone. Any communal meals contained only meaningless small talk that a person would employ with a casual acquaintance.
“Do you have any plans this evening?”
“Yes, sir, I am escorting Julie to the Henderson’s this evening.”
“Ah, yes. I had forgotten about that. Julie is quite a lovely young woman.”
“Yes, sir, she is.”
Harlan never thought he would tire of hearing ‘yes, sir’, but he missed the conversations they had shared in the past. “Can't we at least talk, Scotty?”
Scott appeared about to say something, stopped, and then set down his fork. For the briefest of moments, Harlan thought his grandson would leave the table, but instead Scotty looked at him. “I think we've said just about everything that has to be said.”
“Is it possible that we could lose so easily what we had for so many years?” This couldn’t continue to fester. Harlan was determined that they reach an understanding.
“We didn't lose it. You threw it away.”
Is that how Scott viewed it? He was so young and still recovering from his horrific time in the prison camp. He hadn’t truly settled back in Boston yet. “I raised you, Scott. Not Murdoch. I took care of you for twenty years while he was carving out his little empire.”
Scott felt a burning resentment, and pushed it away. Maybe his grandfather could see his way to a compromise, an understanding of sorts. “With all due respect, sir, I’ve tried to show my gratitude.”
“Gratitude? Gratitude is something I don’t want from you, my boy.” The sharpness of Harlan’s tone didn’t bode well.
“You have it anyway. I returned to Boston out of respect for what we once had.”
“Once had?” That startled his grandfather, and Scott wondered how the older man could be so blind. Did he ever truly listen or had Harlan always held to his own agenda regardless?
“If we ever had it.” Scott threw caution aside, and decided to see if he would receive any answers. “I cannot help wondering if keeping me from my father had more to do with hurting Murdoch Lancer than wanting me. Was it a way for you to even the score with my father for the loss of your daughter, even though it was something out of his control?”
“It was in his control! She should never have been out in that wilderness.”
“She went because she loved him. Is that so hard for you to understand?”
“Love? Love resulted in an early death for my only child. If Lancer had cared for her, he would not have taken her from Boston!”
“There wasn’t any taken involved. I believe my mother chose to be with him and that they shared a dream. Otherwise, she would not have gone. And knowing how you felt about my father, I highly doubt you let her go without some argument.” It was so odd to say the words ‘my mother’ aloud. He rarely thought of her as anything other than Harlan Garrett’s daughter, but after meeting his father, she was more real to him. Catherine had to have been stubborn to go against her father’s wishes.
“Of course I forbid it! Catherine had a life here in Boston, the standing and opportunities she would not have out west. I only wanted what was best for her.”
“I’m sure you did, but I think you missed what she needed and wanted, just like you have done with me.”
“You’re young and have survived a horrendous experience. You just need time to settle back into life here.” His grandfather was doing his best to be reassuring, but again he missed the point.
“Grandfather, you deliberately kept me from knowing my father.”
“And it was my right to do so.”
There was no reasoning with his grandfather, and Scott knew continuing this fruitless conversation would solve nothing. He would allow Harlan this time before he turned twenty-one, and would avoid any further discussions such as these. He didn’t want to spend these months in conflict with his grandfather; besides Scott had his answers.
“Well there's time, plenty of time for mending. You'll see, Scotty.” His grandson would come around eventually. They had shared too much to lose it all. He had invested time, energy, and funds to make sure Scott was where he was meant to be. Murdoch Lancer had lost before and Harlan would make sure he did so again.
Although, Harlan had to admit he was troubled when Scott resumed his meal with the now dreaded response, “Yes, sir.”
But he remembered Scott had an assignation with Julie that evening, and was reassured that his plans were coming along. He still had several months to work with and his strategy was proceeding quite well.
December 23, 1865
Merry Christmas, Murdoch and Johnny,
I hope the holidays find you both well along with everyone at Lancer. As always, Boston is socially active around this time of year. It is quite beautiful at the moment with freshly fallen snow. Someday, Johnny, I must introduce you to the joys that are found with winter weather, such as we have here in Boston. I think you would particularly enjoy snowball fights.
A soft snort halted Murdoch’s reading.
Laughing, Murdoch lowered the letter to look at his son sitting across the kitchen table from him. “I grew up with snow, and it can be enjoyable.”
Johnny shivered and gestured to the letter. “I’ll take your word for it. Read the rest.”
December 24, 1865
Feliz Navidad, mi hermano
Scott scanned the rest of the lengthy letter only to realize it was all in Spanish. He pulled out the short note that accompanied it.
Merry Christmas, Brother,
It is time you learned the language of the land out here. Many of the vaqueros do not speak English, and you will find it useful.
If you are curious about the letter, you will learn. I wrote some interesting things, and I sure did not let Murdoch read it. You may want to get right on that. Your Christmas gift will help.
Opening the wrapped package, Scott discovered a book on the Spanish language. Grinning, he spread out the letter and started looking up the words. He would save his father’s gift for tomorrow.
“What were your holidays like, Johnny?” Murdoch wasn’t sure what possessed him to ask, but he hoped his son had experienced some pleasant ones.
Sitting on the ottoman in front of the fire, Johnny turned to face him. “When mama and my step-father were alive, we celebrated some. Nothin’ big, but we observed the day, went to mass, had a special meal. After they were gone, I didn’t give the holidays much thought. Most times they just sorta passed me by. It was a good time to find odd jobs for a day or two since folks wanted to be with their families.” Johnny tilted his head to the side. “What about you?”
He should have known Johnny would twist the question back to him. “I spent time with the hands on Christmas Eve day. Once Paul arrived, he always made sure to include me with his and Theresa’s dinners or we had dinner here. They’ll join us tonight.” His gaze settled on the crackling fire. “Christmas Day I spent alone.”
When Murdoch looked back at him, his father’s eyes carried a bleakness Johnny didn’t like. “I tried at first, but I was grieving too much to think about the holidays. After that, it just didn’t seem right to celebrate with anyone else. I always had gifts for both you and Scott. I think some of them are in storage. Scott’s I sent for the first few years, but I stopped when I thought he wasn’t receiving them.”
It was hard to believe that he had once hated this man. “Once Scott is back, we’ll have to dig ‘em out. I want to see what you got us.” Smiling, Johnny gave Murdoch a light slap on his knee; and it was enough to remove that look from his father’s eyes, but they still held a touch of sadness. It wasn’t hard to guess why, and Murdoch confirmed it a moment later.
“I‘d hoped your brother would be with us this year.”
Scott looked at the lavish decorations throughout the house and the finely dressed crowd within it. There was no doubt that Harlan Garret knew how to entertain. Business associates and rivals alike descended on the house – like locusts. Amused, Scott thought the adage of peace and good cheer among these men just that: A saying. They weren’t bad people, but a holiday celebration was used more as a business advantage and had little to do with the season. He wondered what Lancer looked like and smiled, because next year he would know.
January 3, 1866
Johnny was more than a little surprised when Murdoch poured up two drinks after they finished dinner, handing him one. His father usually limited him to beer, and if he was lucky, it was cold.
Murdoch raised his glass in a silent toast; a toast to what Johnny had no idea. But Murdoch had a pleased look as if they had made a tidy profit, or all the fencing was done, or something. What was so special about today?
“One year, Johnny.”
Then he got it. He never had kept track of the dates, but a man looking for his son and finding him? That date might stick out in a father’s mind. It was one year ago that Johnny and Murdoch had met up in a rundown saloon in a dusty little border town.
Grinning, Johnny lifted his glass. “One year, Murdoch.”
January 5, 1866
Scott smiled at Amelia Lawson as she set the tray beside him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She handed him the cup, and folded her hands in front of her. “Jack swears by that tea. Said it worked a miracle on his ague; and I must say when I was feeling peaked, I had some, and the next day I was right as rain. Would you inquire as to what the ingredients are, sir? Perhaps we could duplicate it here. At this rate, we’ll go through your supplies much too quickly.”
“I will, and I should have thought of it myself.” Scott tugged the blanket tighter around his shoulders, and immediately Amelia fed another log into the fire. He couldn’t help smiling at the over-protective tendencies of the staff. He had come home chilled earlier, and found himself hustled in front of the fireplace with Harrison calling for ‘Scott’s tea’.
Johnny would have loved it.
January 14, 1866
Murdoch was late.
Once again, Johnny paced to the barn doors to peer out at the rain saturated landscape. Two days of this weather and Murdoch had left over a week ago with plans to return yesterday.
Well, yesterday was yesterday, and no Murdoch. Paul had assured Johnny that with the weather there was a very good chance that his father had holed up somewhere to avoid putting himself or his horse at risk.
He paced back inside.
Common sense was all well and good -- it sure didn’t stop Johnny from wondering where the ol’ man was. Paul could talk all he liked, but Murdoch said he’d be home Saturday. Johnny knew well enough when Murdoch said he was going to do something he did it, and this was the first time –
Paul stepped into barn, rain pouring off his hat and slicker. “Hey, Murdoch’s back!”
Johnny stopped, dropping his chin to his chest. He absorbed the overwhelming relief, took a deep breath, and went out to greet his father.
January 16, 1866
Curiosity was a strong motivator as Scott translated the letter Johnny had sent him with his Christmas gift. Wanting to savor the experience, he had translated the words, but kept them out of context to allow reading the Johnny epic in its entirety.
His little brother had no sense of shame, and Scott was grateful he was alone when he read it.
Their father obviously had no idea what his younger son was up to when he was away from Lancer, which was probably a very good thing. Johnny would have to show him some of those establishments once Scott returned to Lancer.
January 18, 1866
Yawning, Johnny entered the kitchen to see Murdoch seated at the table drinking a cup of coffee.
“Happy Birthday, Johnny.” His father’s smile was warm and happy.
Startled, Johnny’s teeth snapped together. “Birthday?”
“Yes, son. It’s your birthday today.”
“Huh. Guess it is. Haven’t thought about that in awhile. Thank you.” Johnny finished tucking his shirt into his pants, as he walked to the stove to pour himself a cup of coffee.
“I’ve thought about it every year.” Murdoch was studying the cup in his hands. Looking up, his smile returned. “I almost slipped up last year and wished you a happy day for your sixteenth. You had bought new clothes, and we had dinner at that nice restaurant. It felt like a celebration to me.”
Johnny did remember that day. “Here I thought Ross was just pleased not to be walkin’ around with me all scruffy lookin’.”
“Well, there was that too.”
Johnny caught the teasing glint in his father’s eyes as he took another sip of coffee. It was clear it never mattered to Murdoch what Johnny looked like or was like at the time. He was just determined to find him, which made his son’s birthday more important to Murdoch than the day was to Johnny. He could live with that.
“So what’d you get me?”
Happy Birthday, Brother!
I hope this day finds you well, happy, and celebrating. Today, I plan to raise my glass in a birthday toast to you.
From Murdoch’s letter, I was given the impression that he plans to celebrate your birthday whether you wish to or not. I do not think you will be able to sway him on this. Nor do I think you should. Enjoy this day, Johnny. I wish I were there to celebrate it with you.
Johnny set the letter aside and focused on the plain wrapped package that Murdoch had held until his birthday. He knew that he would like anything that Scott sent him. Receiving a birthday gift from his brother was novel idea all on its own.
“Emily and Troy are attending Nathan’s dinner party this evening.” Julie took a sip of her tea before setting it down on the table.
Scott had hoped and planned on their lunch outing preempting any conversation about attending another party.
“I’m sorry, Julie.” Scott folded the napkin and set it by his plate. “I’m not available this evening. I’m sure Emily would be delighted to have you join them. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t attend.”
He could see she wanted to ask him what his plans were, but she never pushed. “Is everything all right?”
Smiling, he reached across the small table and grasped her hand. “Everything is fine. I have a small matter that I wish to take care of tonight.”
Hours later, Scott let his grandfather know he was retiring early and headed to his room. He pulled out the bottle and glass he had secreted away earlier in the week.
Scott poured a glass, faced southwest and raised his tumbler.
“Happy Birthday, Johnny.”
January 29, 1866
Murdoch leaned against the back doorway listening and watching the activities in the kitchen. When Scott’s letter arrived regarding the tea, Johnny had gone to Maria and relayed Scott’s question.
Maria handed Johnny paper and pencil and shooed him to the table. She dictated the directions to prepare ‘Scott’s Tea’ while Johnny transcribed them in English. Amused, Murdoch watched as Consuela started packing a much larger box of the tea to be mailed.
Within thirty minutes, Scott’s tea was boxed with a detailed list of herbs, portions, and directions enclosed.
Thanking the two women, Johnny caught up the package and headed for the door. “Hey, Murdoch. I’m gonna go send this off.”
“Barranca’s saddled and waiting.” Murdoch grinned at the surprised, pleased smile that crossed his son’s face.
“Always thinkin’, ain’t ya?” Johnny slid his hat on.
“Need to keep up with you.”
Murdoch walked with his son to the corral where Murdoch’s horse stood, saddled and ready, beside Barranca.
Johnny peered out from under his hat. “You comin’ with?”
“Thought I might.”
“Good, you can buy me a drink.” Johnny deftly avoided the lazy swing of Murdoch’s hand, and thrust the box into his father’s arms before vaulting onto Barranca. He reached down for the package. “Come on. I’m thirsty.”
Murdoch laughed, handed his son the package, and shook off the melancholy that usually arrived with Scott’s letters. Johnny typically found a way to shake it out of him -- today was no different.
February 5, 1866
Scott cursed as the icy slush worked its way into his boot, feeling the cold slide down into his instep. Shaking the snow from his footwear accomplished little, and he resigned himself to walking the rest of the way to his grandfather’s house with a frozen foot.
Burrowing his chin further into his scarf to protect his face from the wintery mix of snow and sleet, Scott trudged on. He wondered if his brother and father were having a better day than he was.
Johnny would have done anything to not return home with blood all over, but a quick wash at the creek had done nothing to get rid of the mess he had made of himself. Damn head wounds. Itty-bitty nick and blood all over.
Maybe he could sneak into the house before Murdoch saw him. Johnny dreaded that certain fearful look his father got anytime he came home in lesser condition than when he left.
Walt took one look at him and caught up Barranca’s reins. With a grateful smile, Johnny headed for the back door. He could see a light on in the great room, and hoped Murdoch was working at his desk, as was his usual habit during this time of day.
No such luck. Murdoch was at the stove pouring up a cup of coffee, and there it was - the look. Johnny held up his hand.
“I bumped my head; it knocked me stupid and bled all over. Looks bad, but it isn’t. I’m fine.”
Murdoch smiled, setting his cup down. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“I can do –”
And he should have known better. “Yes, sir.”
But if this helped Murdoch, it was a small enough price to pay. And truth be told, he didn’t think he’d ever stop appreciating someone willing to fix him up, much less his father.
February 17, 1866
Harlan watched as his grandson brought his books and papers closer to the study’s fireplace. The wind had been bitter cold, and as usual during this winter, Scotty had returned home chilled. In his own mind Harlan could acknowledge that the Boston winter was difficult for the young man. Even spending most of his time indoors, whether attending class or at home, the coldness still managed to reach him.
Harlan knew if it wasn’t for that damnable concoction that came from Lancer, Scotty would have suffered from several respiratory ailments. Even this far away, Murdoch still had influence. The doctors here were some of the finest in the world, and yet Scotty went by the recommendations of the small town country doctor out in California.
But in this, Harlan would allow Murdoch his due. His grandson was much improved from a year ago. The healthier he was the more Scotty would realize what the advantages were by remaining in Boston.
March 4, 1866
With relief, Johnny headed outside after spending the evening with Murdoch updating the books: Ledgers that tracked the entire goings on at Lancer. Johnny always figured either you had money or you didn’t. But his father had made his point about the value of a good bookkeeping system.
With so many people dependent on the ranch, it wasn’t the same as a single person having money in their pocket. He found it overwhelming to be responsible for so many folks. Too many things could happen that would affect everyone.
When did he go from only worrying about himself to worrying about a father, an absent brother, and every other person that worked on the ranch? In less than a year?
It was more than a little annoying.
March 9, 1866
Happy Birthday, Murdoch,
I hope this day finds you, Lancer, and everyone well. Your gift is from a Scottish craftsman, a truly fascinating gentleman. I have spent considerable time with him, and he has told me much about Scotland. His stories about your land of birth were quite remarkable. I am curious about your thoughts of your old home, family, and why you immigrated to America. All these questions I shall ask you over dinner some evening when we are all together again. I have no doubt that Johnny will also be interested in hearing your stories, if you have not already told him.
Sir, I know this is your day, but I wanted you and Johnny to be the first to know that I plan to formally ask Julie to marry me. I have it on good authority that she will accept. You shall soon find yourself with a daughter-in-law. I am looking forward to you and Johnny meeting her.
Best wishes on your day.
Murdoch ran a hand over the bridle Johnny had hand-braided, and given to him for his birthday. Beside it, laid the finely crafted wallet Scott had sent along with the news of a future daughter-in-law.
Murdoch took a very deep breath, and let it out bit by bit.
May 15, 1866
Spring. Scott breathed in the warmer air, and felt his muscles relax in the sunshine. Sunshine that reminded him of California, the way it radiated down, and soaked into him, dispelling the chill. The openness of it all, and the sound the grass made in the wind, a different version of the ocean with the same hypnotic beauty.
The need to stand on the hill overlooking Lancer was a familiar one. He would be there again. With practiced ease, he tucked the want away.
May 20, 1866
Johnny snuck into his darkened room with every intention of getting a couple of hours of sleep before dawn. Maybe he’d catch a siesta sometime in the afternoon if he needed it. Murdoch was due back from his trip to Sacramento sometime today, and he wanted to spend some time with his father.
The second he closed his door behind him he knew he wasn’t alone.
“It’s just me, Johnny.”
So much for sneaking in. Looked like he was going to spend some time with Murdoch earlier than he had thought. Sighing, he relaxed and looked towards the chair where his father’s voice had come from.
“If there was one advantage to seeing you and Scott again as young men, it was avoiding having that awkward conversation that my father had with me when I had discovered the joys of the fairer sex. What could I possibly tell you that you don’t already know?”
Johnny couldn’t stop the smirk, or hide it when Murdoch lit the lamp. “Yeah, you’re probably too late with that one.”
Blowing out the match, his father looked long and hard at him -- enough that Johnny actually fidgeted.
“Do I need to worry about any unknown grandchildren?”
“Are you sure, Johnny?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I wasn’t goin’ to have no kid grow up like…” He didn’t want to finish that.
“Like you did?” Murdoch finished.
“I made sure, Murdoch.” Johnny met his father’s look straight on.
“Thank you, Johnny. I do want you to be careful, but know that should something happen, I don’t want you to hide it from me.”
“I won’t.” And Johnny was surprised that he meant it. “This is awkward, Murdoch.”
Smiling, Murdoch’s shoulders relaxed and he settled back in the chair. “I actually enjoyed it. Think I’ll do the same with Scott when he comes home.”
May 26, 1866
Julie smiled up at him, radiant, and lovely. She fit him, and Scott knew they made a handsome couple waltzing together on the dance floor. Tonight, they would announce their engagement, and Scott couldn’t be more pleased.
He certainly knew his grandfather would be.
Somehow, Scott knew he could make this all work. Julie was concerned with her father’s health and the faltering family business. However, Scott, as an engagement surprise for his future fiancé, had taken steps to shore up Dennison’s business, and one of those was to hire a competent manager. Emmet Crawford was more than competent. This was a man who enjoyed the challenge of taking a business that was teetering on the edge and making it solvent.
Perhaps Scott’s actions could be viewed as interference or high-handed, but he wanted to relieve that worry from Julie, making it clear that the Dennison’s were family. Charles Dennison had been a very good businessman -- ill health had side-lined him, and poor choices had been made. Scott liked his future father-in-law, and wanted to do this as much for him as for Julie.
Charles was improving, but he would never be the robust man he once was. Heading a company would only drain him, and this was the most feasible answer.
And Scott had every intention of keeping his promise to Murdoch and Johnny. With Julie’s main concerns laid to rest, she would go with him to California. More than anything, he wanted the woman he loved to meet his family.
Tonight, he would tell her.
Johnny sat on the corral fence staring off to the east. A habit formed soon after Scott’s departure, and one he engaged in more often on Saturday nights when the hands couldn’t talk Johnny into joining them. Johnny always informed Murdoch when he was going and Murdoch acknowledged and accepted that his son was an adult with the same choices to make.
The past week had been unrelenting in one crisis after another, and Murdoch rarely had a moment with Johnny. Tonight the ranch was quiet; the type of evening Murdoch always enjoyed, but even more so when he could spend it with his son.
“Hey,” Johnny greeted as Murdoch folded his arms over the fence.
“Nice out here.” Murdoch looked over his shoulder.
Johnny grinned down at him. “It smells like manure.”
Murdoch was surprised at the laughter that burst out of him
“So it does, but it’s still nice.”
Johnny nodded and looked off again. “Yeah, it is. Like it when it’s quiet like this.”
“Is that why you don’t go into town?”
Johnny shrugged. “Sometimes.”
The sudden flash of insight took Murdoch’s breath away. Johnny stayed for him. Not enough to make it obvious, but he stayed for him.
“I miss your brother.” Murdoch laid a hand over Johnny’s knee, and his son looked down at him, eyes unreadable. “I wonder how he’s managing the cold. If he’s remaining healthy, because I doubt he would reveal that to us.”
“Wouldn’t want us to worry.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“You worried about him gettin’ married?”
“Scared to death,” Murdoch admitted with a sigh. “I want him to be happy, but I so much want him to come home.”
Silence, then Johnny laid his hand over Murdoch’s.
Somehow, Scott had misplaced Julie. He had left her to pick up some drinks from the buffet table. When he returned she wasn’t there. Throughout the night he had noticed an increased tension in her, but marked it down to the impending engagement announcement. Now he wasn’t so sure, and sought her out to determine the cause of her unease.
If there were issues, they needed to be resolved now. And, it would be a perfect time to let her know that the Dennison business was in competent hands.
He found her in one of the small sunrooms far from the ballroom, staring out one of the windows. Her reflection showed a troubled woman.
“Julie?” There was no mistaking the glitter of tear tracks on her face when she glanced over her shoulder. Familiar with the sinking sensation that his happiness was about to be torn to shreds, he set the glasses down and joined her at the window. Leaning against the sill, he watched as she took a deep breath and met his gaze.
“I’m sorry.” She wiped at the tears on her face and sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Perhaps it would be best if you tell me why you are apologizing.”
“I cannot marry you.”
Well, he had expected the blow, but that didn’t make it any easier to take.
“May I know why?”
“I lied to you.”
“You don’t love me.”
With a soft, tearful laugh, she ran her hand over his upper arm. “No, not that. Scott, out of everything that was the one thing I find I have not lied about.” She smiled, and he knew she spoke true. “I do love you, and because of that, I can’t go through with this.”
“What is this?”
“Your grandfather asked me to play the romantic decoy to keep you in Boston. He threatened my father’s business, and I was so frightened of what that would do to him, that I agreed to Harlan’s plans to keep you here.”
Odd that Scott wasn’t surprised. He didn’t feel much of anything at the revelation except relief. Relief that he no longer had to chose between one family and the other. In spite of everything, Scott had held some worry about leaving his grandfather. But now?
There wasn’t anything left. Scott just felt tired.
“So if you love me, why didn’t you just go through with it?” He was curious—they could have made the marriage work
“You are a good, honorable man, and I want to live up to that.” This time her hand drifted down to enfold his. “If it had not all started as a sham, I would marry you.” Her grip tightened for a moment. ”You deserve so much better than this.”
“And if I tell you I still love you?”
“Don’t. Not yet. Maybe someday when there has been some distance between us I will arrive on your doorstep at Lancer. If you still welcome me, then we’ll go from there.” Her smile was wide and genuine. “I would love to meet this wild brother of yours, and your father who is taller than anyone. I would like to see Lancer in all its openness and I’d love to see you there. I have a feeling it suits you better than the artifice of this world, and that is the Scott Lancer I would like to meet.”
Scott swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. “I'm grateful to know the truth. Thank you.”
Squeezing his hand, she reached up with her other hand to stroke his cheek. “Would you mind if we went home?”
“Of course not.” In fact there was nothing he wanted more. Julie slipped her arm in his, and they turned to leave only to be stopped by Harlan Garrett standing in the doorway.
“You foolish child.” He shook his head, his expression cold.
Julie stiffened beside him, but didn’t turn away. “Mr. Garrett, I’m not so certain who is the foolish one in this room.”
“Grandfather, I’m taking Julie home.” Scott pulled Julie with him deciding a confrontation at the Bishops’ would serve no purpose. He looked enough like an idiot. He had a sudden wish that Johnny was here with his irreverent humor to make it better.
Scott missed him.
“Scotty, this is a mere-”
“Not now. Please, sir. I’ve heard enough tonight.” In the carriage, he would reveal his engagement gift to Julie, and with bitter humor he realized it would be entertaining to stymie Harlan Garrett in this one thing. His grandfather hated to be outwitted in business, and that is what Scott had done. Harlan had spoken of hiring Crawford for years, but was dismayed at the man’s tendency to make business deals advantageous for all parties concerned.
And that, Scott thought, was the highest endorsement he could bestow the man.
June 22, 1866
Dear Murdoch and Johnny,
Thank you for your missive detailing the recent events at the ranch. As ever, they are informative and entertaining.
I imagine it is quite hot there at this time of year. Maria and Consuela are no doubt spoiling you with the delicious lemonade that only they seem capable of making. Have I told you that I have woken in the middle of the night craving a glass? It’s true. I have even spoken about it at length to Julie. She indulges me for the most part.
I am close to finishing my classes at Harvard due to spending more time on my studies as of late. Johnny, I hope you do not mind, but I have collected numerous books for your own education. Some are from the classes I elected to take, and others I thought would be of interest to you or to the both of us. There is so much I would like to share with you.
Murdoch paused to see Johnny’s reaction. He was concerned that Johnny hadn’t had the educational opportunities that Scott was fortunate to access with ease.
“Never thought of anyone gettin’ books for me.” Johnny looked pleased. “Wonder what they’re about.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what he has collected.” Murdoch found his place in the letter again and was shocked by the next line.
There has been a change in my future plans. Julie and I have dissolved our engagement by mutual agreement. It was not the right time for us, and there were circumstances that made continuing with our plans to marry difficult. I am very grateful to Julie Dennison for being a person of integrity. She is a wonderful woman, and we remain the best of friends. Someday I hope you will meet her.
Grandfather has furthered my instruction of the Garrett holdings, and I continue to learn a great deal from him. He has accomplished so much in his area of expertise, but I know it is not the occupation for me. All I have learned has value, and it pleases him to see that I have a talent for accounting. However, I will never be the businessman that he is.
Thank you for your recent letters. They cheered me when I was in a rather low mood. Please pass on my regards to everyone.
Murdoch was worried in a different way now. His son had been so happy with Julie. What could have happened?
“Think ol’ Harlan had something to do with the engagement being called off?” Johnny was staring at the letter Murdoch still held in his hands.
“Why would he? It was to his benefit having Scott marry someone from Boston, who most likely would want to stay in Boston.” Murdoch skimmed through the letter again, hoping it would provide an answer this time. Nothing.
“So, I’m thinkin’ I’ll see some of this Boston Scott’s been talkin’ about.”
Murdoch met Johnny’s eyes. “We’ll pick you up some suitable clothing along the way.”
July 1, 1866
Scotty’s twenty-first birthday was fast approaching, and Harlan knew he had lost ground with keeping his grandson with him. He would have to move along with his plans to convince Scotty to remain in Boston for his own good, as well as Murdoch’s.
July 10, 1866
From their hotel window, Murdoch looked out into the sweltering night, and then over to his sleeping son. Things were coming full circle. He had failed all those long years ago when he went to Boston to bring Scott home. His older son understood the reason why his father hadn’t fought for him, but that didn’t absolve Murdoch.
Once again he was returning to Boston to claim Scott, even if he was claiming a grown man. The fact that Johnny was included this time around only made the trip that much sweeter.
July 21, 1866
Scott was a little surprised that his grandfather asked him to have dinner with him that evening. Strained was the best he could describe their relationship as of late. Everyone in the house could feel it, and Scott was doing his best to keep things civil.
Both of them remained quiet until the main course arrived. Once they were left alone in the dining room, Harlan aimed an apologetic smile his way. “Scotty, I am sorry we have had difficulties these past months. I do wish your relationship with Julie had continued.”
“For whose benefit, sir?”
“For yours, Scotty. I know you love her.”
“Yes, I do. However, the foundation of our relationship was based on a lie, and it failed before it started.”
“Yes, of course. Nonsense.” Scott speared a slice of potato. If they were there to rehash old and hurtful news, he was at least going to finish the food this time around.
“Scotty, I was attempting to find a gentler way for you to decide to remain in Boston. Having someone to love and live out the rest of your life with was a better option than exposing the truth about your father.”
“Your father is a murderer, and I have the proof.” His grandfather ate a braised carrot before continuing. “A number of years ago, when you were a child, your father presented something of a threat to me. As a cautious man I took steps to protect myself. I had the Pinkerton Agency investigate him.”
The potato went down with difficulty as his grandfather relayed a detailed story about his father, a man name Degan, and his offspring.
The Pinkertons were thorough.
“Why haven’t you done anything with this evidence?” While panicked at what this meant for Murdoch, there was also the growing suspicion of what was required of him.
“Scotty, as much as I despise the man for what he did to Catherine, she did choose him. I could not allow her death to be meaningless, and he is your father.”
“If Julie was not enough for you to remain in Boston, I have a more convincing reason. Protecting Murdoch Lancer should be sufficient enough. I do this for your well-being, Scotty. Do not force me to take steps that will only make things difficult.”
“Yes, sir. I wouldn’t want to make things difficult for you.”
“Scotty, be reasonable.”
“Yes, I’ll do my best.” In his precise way, Scotty removed the napkin from his lap and folded it before laying it on the table. “Sir, let’s be entirely clear here. To keep my father safe, I must remain in Boston.”
“May I continue to correspondence with him and my brother?”
That was a sticking point, but he had planned for that. “No, Scotty, I think that would only make your decision more difficult. Cutting off all ties is the best for everyone.”
“Yes, I can see how you would think so.”
“In time, things will be as they were.” A few months at Lancer couldn’t change everything they had built through the years.
“No, they will not.”
“I must congratulate you. You’ve thought of everything and planned it down to the finest of details.”
Harlan knew there was a good chance Scott would be unhappy, but his demeanor was worrisome. “I know you are a little upset right now.”
“Yes, a little. Did your plans take into account any chance of keeping a relationship with a grandson. Or is that another casualty in your personal war with Murdoch Lancer?”
“It’s Scott.” He stood from his chair. “I’m finished… with dinner.”
No, this was all wrong. “Scotty, I am your grandfather!”
His grandson walked away from the table. “No, I doubt you truly ever were. You were, and have only ever been, Catherine Garrett’s father.”
Harlan watched his grandson’s retreating back and fought down the sliver of panic. Scotty was staying in Boston. He would come to understand. They just needed time.
It would all work out.
Scott closed his bedroom door leaning his back against it. Raising his trembling hand in front of his face, Scott gulped in some air. It wasn’t often he was so angry that he shook, but his grandfather caused it in the majority of those rare occasions.
After a deep calming breath, Scott regained his equilibrium and strode to his writing desk. Removing a piece of parchment and nib from the drawer, Scott began to make a mental list. First and foremost, he would set up an appointment with his lawyer, Jacob Redding, an acquaintance who had also survived the war and had returned to enter his father’s practice. Neither Jacob nor his father had any connections with Garrett & Associates. He could count on their discretion.
It would mean divulging all the humiliating aspects of this tale, but Scott had survived humiliation before and would do so again if it meant knowing his father and brother were safe. He had no doubts that Harlan would go after Johnny next if it would somehow prevent Scott from leaving Boston.
In his desperation, Harlan Garrett was slipping, and Scott needed to exploit that. He dipped the nib in the inkwell and began to write.
August 27, 1866
Johnny looked around the busy train station. There were way too many people for Johnny to feel comfortable. Not to mention the type of clothing he had to wear to blend in. Guess a body had to grow up in Boston to gain an appreciation for it. Not that there wasn’t a lot of interesting things to look at, but he was here for Scott.
Murdoch had insisted that he conceal his gun and that just felt wrong; he kept touching it in his coat pocket to make sure it was still there. “Where to next, Murdoch?”
“We’ll find a hotel once I send a wire off to Paul.”
“We goin’ to see Scott tonight?” Johnny had to ask, but he doubted they would. He picked up his bag in his left hand.
Picking up his own bag, Murdoch looked thoughtful and then resigned. “As much as I’d like to, we need to know what is going on. I don’t want to make things difficult for your brother in these last few days before he turns twenty-one. I don’t think Harlan will let that stop him from keeping Scott with him.”
“You think he’ll try somethin’?”
They headed for the telegraph office.
“I think he probably already has.”
Murdoch was surprised to find a wire waiting for him. According to Paul, Scott’s lawyer was attempting to contact him on a ‘most urgent matter’ and would look forward to a quick response. Showing up at the lawyer’s doorstep tomorrow would have to be quick enough. He would have worried that something had happened to Scott except the wire had thoughtfully included ‘Scott fine’ on it.
“I don’t get it. Why’d Scott have a lawyer contact you instead of doin’ it himself?”
“Often business is taken care of by lawyers. Scott probably has reasons to keep things discreet and is allowing his lawyer to handle everything.”
“You think this has somethin’ to do with Garrett.”
“Yes, I do.”
August 28, 1866
Jacob hadn’t heard back from Murdoch yet. Where was his father that he hadn’t responded to the telegram? Was Johnny all right? Was there trouble on the ranch? Scott paced the length of his bedroom unable to sleep.
Good directions brought Murdoch and Johnny to the establishment of Redding & Redding within an hour since leaving the train station. Upon entering the austere office, he discovered a handsome young man in the outer office. Murdoch noticed his left hand was missing.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Johnny checking the place over. It was a habit he believed his son would always have.
“Good morning, sir. May I help you?”
“Good morning. Yes, I’m looking for Jacob Redding.”
He walked towards them, extending his hand. “I’m Jacob Redding. How may I be of assistance?”
Clasping the lawyer’s hand, Murdoch gestured toward himself and Johnny. “Actually, you have been trying to reach me. I’m Murdoch Lancer and this is my son, John.”
The only sign of surprise on Redding’s part was a wide-eyed blink as he shook Johnny’s hand. “This is indeed a pleasant surprise. Please come into my office, and I will tell you what this is regarding.”
Once they were seated and coffee in hand, Jacob got down to business. “Scott approached me about this matter several weeks ago. Please know whatever you say to me is confidential. As you may know, Scott’s grandfather is pressuring him to remain in Boston and take a position with Garrett & Associates.”
“Yes, we’ve suspected as much.”
Redding pulled out a sheet of paper and prepared to write. “Mr. Garrett has threatened to expose you to the law for the murder of a Mr. Degan in 1846, unless Scott remains in Boston and ceases all relations with you and his brother.” He nodded towards Johnny.
Now that was a name Murdoch was not expecting to hear. “Degan?”
Murder? Johnny blinked, and looked at his father’s stunned profile. Seemed he and Scott weren’t the only one with secrets.
Murdoch turned to Johnny, his expression thoughtful and a little pained. “Degan.... I knew him, Johnny. It happened a long time ago. I had received word that Scott's mother was seriously ill. I rode steady for about two days, cutting through the badlands. It was about ten miles outside of Cartersville where the canyon narrowed, that he started gunning for me.”
As Murdoch told the rest of the story, Johnny couldn’t see where murder came into it when Degan was the one who tried to bushwhack his father. He wasn’t the least surprised by Redding’s next question.
“Was the law informed?”
“I went to Sacramento, made my statement to the Federal Marshall. I was cleared. I thought that was the end of it. I guess other people had different ideas.”
“I will wire Sacramento and obtain the needed verification. Mr. Lancer, I wouldn’t worry about this. I believe Mr. Garrett chose what part of the past he wanted Scott to hear.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Johnny shifted in his chair, and ran his hands down the arm of the chair. “What’ll you tell Scott?”
“The truth, once I’ve heard back from Sacramento.” Thoughtful, Redding fidgeted with a letter opener. “I know this is difficult, but it might be best not to see Scott just yet. From what he has told me, the situation with his grandfather is… delicate. He is taking steps to ensure that Mr. Garrett has no way of bringing harm to either of you.”
“Harlan is desperate.” Murdoch was only saying what Johnny was thinking. “We’ll wait until Scott’s birthday. We can give it that long.”
What were a few more days compared to the months they had already waited?
August 28, 1866
Scott settled the books in the small steamer trunk. He looked forward to showing them to Johnny along with all the other odds and ends he thought they would need at Lancer. He knew his father had more than enough, but he wanted to bring a little of Boston with him.
The wrapped photographs were next.
“Scotty, what are you doing?”
Looking up, he saw Harlan standing in his open doorway. He could have closed the door, but he wasn’t hiding his actions this time around.
Closing the trunk, he stood and headed for his bureau. “Packing, sir.” Removing clothing, he stacked it on the bed to sort into piles to determine what fit best in the cases he had available.
“Packing! I believe we had an agreement.”
Stopping with socks in his hands, he faced Harlan. “I have a counter proposal for you.”
Stepping into the room, his grandfather narrowed his eyes. “Counter proposal?”
“Yes, if you leave my family alone, I will remain in contact with you. If you persist, I will depart and you shall never hear from me again. To protect my family, I won’t go to Lancer, but there are many places in this world where a man may go.”
“Do you think I won’t give Murdoch Lancer to the law if you pursue this?”
There was no enjoyment haggling with his grandfather in the manner of someone brokering a business proposition. “You could try, but since there is a ruling determining that my father acted in self-defense, you won’t get far.” He set the socks on the bed and gave his full attention to Harlan. “You thought I wouldn’t verify your claim?”
“You have kept me from the truth through the years. It pains me that our relationship was built on a foundation of revenge.” Scott watched comprehension dawn in his grandfather’s eyes and knew he had won.
But with any victory there was loss.
He had lost.
For all his planning and plotting, Harlan had missed thinking through the consequences if he failed in keeping Murdoch Lancer out of his grandson’s life. He loved his grandson, but spent the bygone years focused on the past when he should have concentrated on the present and what he did have.
“Twenty-one years ago I lost your mother. I do not believe I have ever recovered from her loss.”
“You have spent your life blaming others for that loss, and have done her memory a disservice, sir.”
“You have no idea what it’s like to lose your only child.”
“No, I do not. I hope I never do. But you made certain that Murdoch Lancer did.”
Ah, his Scotty did well with words. His Scotty? “Have I lost you over this?”
“I’m not sure, sir. You might have just misplaced me for awhile, but that is entirely up to you.”
September 1, 1866
Scott took off his shoes and socks, then removed his tie, tossing it on his night table. Distracted, he unbuttoned a couple of the top buttons on his shirt before tugging it out of his pants to hang loose before collapsing on his bed.
Harlan’s belated self-revelations had caused his grandfather to alternate between secluding himself away or making awkward attempts at amends. His birthday was tomorrow, today actually, and Scott’s plans were in place. For all his machinations, in the end it was Harlan Garrett who defeated himself.
Disheartened, Scott groaned and covered his face with his hands.
Frowning and attempting to place the noise, Scott rose.
Curious, he opened it to peer down into the small back yard.
“You wanna come on down, Brother?” There was no mistaking the voice or the relaxed stance that was all Johnny, even if all he could see was the outline of him.
“I’d better before you break something.” Heart pounding, Scott didn’t bother with his shoes as he light-footed out of his room and down the back stairs. The kitchen was quiet as it should be at this time of night, and he slipped out the back door to avoid alerting anyone.
This reunion was just for them.
There was enough light to see his brother’s welcoming smile. Scott closed the distance; his steps silent as he walked over the dew covered grass. Johnny rocked back on his heels and laughed.
Scott felt the jagged edges caused from the past week smooth away. Disbelieving, Scott reached out to grasp the very real shoulder of his brother; Johnny’s hand immediately came up to close around Scott’s wrist.
“Hey, Johnny, you’ve grown a few inches.”
“Seein’ as how the ol’ man reaches the treetops, and you nearly do, thought it best.” Johnny’s smile grew; his hand tugged Scott’s wrist. “Wouldn’t want to get trampled on.”
Scott grinned. “And where did you leave our father?”
“He didn’t.” Scott started at the low voice. He and Johnny parted as Scott followed his brother’s gaze to see Murdoch step out of the shadows. “I just leave the breaking of windows to your brother.”
Scott wanted to laugh, to cry, and to yell all at once, and didn’t. “You came.”
Murdoch reached out a hand for him to shake, and Scott welcomed the warm, roughness of that hand. “I wasn’t going to miss another birthday.”
“Boston, it’s past midnight.” Johnny tapped Scott’s arm. “Happy Birthday.”
Two pairs of eyes gleamed in the dark, and Scott read all the longing and hope in them.
“Happy Birthday, Scott.” Murdoch’s hands settled on his shoulders. “Are you ready to go home?”
Johnny bumped his shoulder with his, and Scott caught the scent of wild grass and sunshine.
“Yes, I am.”
Lancer was thousands of miles away, but when his sons’ brilliant smiles turned his way, Murdoch was already home.