South of the Border
Based on the TV Western Series – LANCER
RATING: PG for sexual innuendo. Don’t get too excited. Think of it as a “hot flash”, or, maybe, a warm one.
He stopped at the border, as the law required, cursing in disgust as the laughter from the man he’d been chasing reached his ears. He’d been so close to catching the villain. What kind of law was it that let men get away with cold-blooded murder just because of a silly line on a map? The man had a large bounty on him because of past crimes. The latest victim had been an old man, with only a few dollars to his name, and he’d been brutally murdered for them. It wasn’t right that Texas law had to stop because the Mexican government didn’t care if murderers took refuge over there. Even in the darkness, he could make out the movements of the man ahead. His anger took over; he’d been trailing the man for over a month now, far from his own jurisdiction, relentlessly pursuing the killer across the desolate lands that made up southern Texas. He wasn’t about to stop now. So, he removed his deputy badge, tucking it into his vest pocket. Just as the man was about to disappear from sight, Murdoch Lancer – a bounty hunter now if anyone asked - urged his horse forward, slowly following just out of sight of his quarry.
The Mexican town of Matamoros was only a short distance from the border with Texas. For that reason, it had more than its fair share of rough characters from both sides. There was no real law there; bandits ruled the town and border, knowing U.S. justices could not follow them to Mexico. Now one had; one who wondered at his wisdom as he eyed the dirty little town, knowing the character of the men who took refuge there within spitting distance of the law they left behind in Texas.
Murdoch stood just outside the batwing doors of the little cantina, taking a careful look inside before entering. He didn’t want any surprises. He was sure the man he had been trailing had gone inside; however, he didn’t see him. Murdoch did see the girl, though, and that’s all she was—a young girl. She couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16, if that old. She was up on a table near the center of the room and she was dancing. Her bright multi-colored skirt was held up high above her knees with one hand as the other hand arched gracefully over her head. The fingers from her free hand were snapping time to the tune the guitarist was playing. Her long shiny black hair framed her small oval face, undulating back and forth across her features, revealing, then covering, her smiling lips. She was enjoying the dance and the attention of those watching, her dark eyes flashing in challenge to them all as her bright red shoes tapped in perfect time to the rhythm of the dance. There was a wild carefree defiance about her, coupled with her grace and beauty, and Murdoch felt himself drawn to her as a moth to a flame. In that moment of time, Murdoch Lancer forgot all about the murdered man in Abilene and the man who had committed the crime, he forgot about his responsibilities to his boss and friend Joe Barker, and he forgot about his dead wife and their infant son now in the hands of the boy’s grandfather, lost to Murdoch as surely as his dead mother was. He forgot everything as he watched the young girl lost in the beat of the music. Slowly, Murdoch entered the cantina and went to stand nearby where he had an unobstructed view of her.
The dance seemed to last forever, growing more sensual and seductive with each passing minute. Murdoch felt as though the girl was dancing just for him, but a quick glance at the other watchers made him realize they all felt the same way. When at last the music stopped, one man tried to make good on the promise of the girl’s dance, reaching up to grasp her wrist to try and pull her from the tabletop. She struggled, yelling obscenities, pulling against him and kicking out. The bartender reached for his shotgun, but Murdoch was swifter. He grasped the man’s arm, loosening the fingers from the girl’s wrist. In one swift motion, Murdoch wrapped his left arm around her waist and lifted her from the table. Holding her secure in his embrace, ignoring her struggle to free herself, and with his right hand on his holstered gun, he said, “I don’t believe the lady’s interested.”
“She ain’t, or you ain’t?” the man responded, standing up to face Murdoch.
The would-be lothario found himself facing a mountain of a man. Murdoch stood well over six foot tall and looked every inch of it to the smaller man. Murdoch was standing relaxed, his posture giving the appearance he was very sure of himself and his abilities with the gun he was caressing at his side. His features were intense, alert, taking the position of everyone in the cantina into account without seeming to do so. Murdoch Lancer certainly looked able and willing to handle any trouble that came his way.
“Does it really make a difference?” Murdoch asked, his voice low and calm, his right hand never leaving his gun. As a sheriff’s deputy, he’d had a lot of practice with these types of situations. It was always best to talk it out if you could, but to be prepared to back your talk.
The man eyed Murdoch’s calm demeanor and figured there were other, more willing, partners who would present less trouble. “Reckon not, mister.” He sat down and ordered another drink.
“It’s on me,” Murdoch said, flipping the barkeep a coin. Now, he turned his attention to the girl, releasing her. “Are you alright, miss?”
“Si,” she answered. “And, gracias for your help, but, now, I have no coins to eat tonight.” It was true. The men who had been drawn so completely into the spell of her dance were now busy with other pursuits since Murdoch had stolen the girl from them.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t stop to think….” Murdoch stopped, flustered.
The girl laughed in merriment at his discomfiture. “Come. I will let you make it up to me by buying me dinner.” Murdoch laughed and let the girl lead him to a table in the back of the cantina behind a partition that separated the bar from the dining area. It was late, and they were the only patrons in that area of the cantina. The bartender came and took their order.
“I am Maria, and what is your name, gringo?” Maria asked.
“Murdoch, Murdoch Lancer,” he responded. The offensive term didn’t bother him coming from the smiling girl.
“It is a strange name, this Murdoch. You are not from Mexico, I know. And not from Texas, no?” Maria asked.
Before he knew what was happening, Murdoch found himself telling the young girl all about himself. He told of growing up in Scotland, of the decision to come to America and the crossing from Inverness to Boston. He spoke of meeting and falling in love with Catherine Garrett, of her family’s disapproval, of their decision to marry anyway. Murdoch spoke of their trip west to California, of the hard times they had endured trying to start a ranch, of the land war that had caused him to decide to send Catherine to Yerba Buena (later to be known as San Francisco) to protect her and the coming child. He spoke quickly of his wife’s death in childbirth, but Maria noted the pain in his voice and eyes. She also noted his anger when he spoke of Catherine’s father stealing his infant son and taking him to Boston, of the refusal to give up custody to Murdoch. Maria heard and felt the determination of Murdoch Lancer to obtain the necessary monies to go back to Boston and fight for the child, and she heard him vow to build his ranch into the finest in the region—a ranch to be proud of and to pass on to his son.
“The ranch isn’t much yet,” Murdoch said. “Just a house and a few head of horses, mostly—no cattle now. I sold the herd trying to get money to go east for Scott. But, there’s thousands of acres, and more available. Someday, it will be the finest ranch in the valley. Right now, though, it doesn’t make enough for me to have what I need to fight Harlan. That’s why I’m working as a sheriff’s deputy in Abilene and I do occasional bounty hunting when the reward is high enough. In another six months, I hope to have enough to get Scott.” Suddenly, Murdoch realized it was very late. “I’m sorry, Maria. I didn’t mean to keep you like this. I’m afraid it’s your own fault, though; you’re a good listener.”
“I am also a tired listener, gringo,” Maria said as though in admonishment. Then, she laughed, laying her hand on his arm. “Come, Murdoch Lancer. Walk me to my home.”
It was only a short walk from the cantina to the edge of town, where Maria had a small one-room shack she called home. On the way, Murdoch learned it had been her mother’s place. Maria’s mother had died a few months ago and now Maria lived in the small shack alone. Telling Murdoch of her mother’s death and letting him see her living conditions were part of Maria’s scheme. Murdoch Lancer had a ranch in California. It was only his stupid plan to get custody of his son that kept him from it. The old man in Boston had lost his only child. Let him keep his dead daughter’s son. Murdoch Lancer wanted an empire and sons to inherit it. Then, let him marry and have more sons. That would suit Maria’s ambitions, too. Together, they could have an empire and sons to inherit it. She could never hope to have that here in Matamoros. Texans took their pleasure with Mexican women, but they didn’t marry them. And, the Mexican aristocracy would never marry a girl who had danced—or worse—in a cantina. In Mexico, aristocracy married aristocracy and there was no way Maria would settle for less; she didn’t intend to waste herself on a poor peon. Murdoch Lancer wanted her; Maria knew that. All she had to do was help him realize it. Mixed marriages in California were acceptable to many, especially the gringos, for whom “home” and white girls were a long way away. Murdoch Lancer would see nothing wrong in marrying a Mexican, Maria would see to that—one way or another.
“You must be tired, Murdoch,” Maria said, as they stopped outside her door.
“I guess I am; I’ve been on the trail a long time. But, somehow, I hadn’t noticed since I got to the cantina,” Murdoch smiled at her.
Maria laughed up at him. “You have much pretty speech, Murdoch Lancer, but do you have a place to stay?”
“I hadn’t planned on staying in Matamoros when I arrived,” Murdoch admitted. “Does the cantina rent rooms?”
“Si, but there is no need. Stay with me,” Maria offered, opening the door.
Murdoch shook his head. “No, that wouldn’t be right. Perhaps I’ll see you later, at the cantina?”
“What is not right about it?” Maria asked, taking one of his hands in both of hers.
“You’re too young, perhaps, to understand,” Murdoch replied gently. The feel of his hand in both of Maria’s filled him with a desire he hadn’t experienced in a long time now.
Maria laughed again, and Murdoch was struck by the musical quality of it. “I am not as young as you, perhaps, believe. And, I do understand. You like me, no?” she asked, stepping forward and pressing herself against him.
Murdoch let himself be led inside.
Murdoch was disoriented when he awoke, not recognizing where he was, but he could smell food cooking. Then, remembrance returned, and Murdoch groaned. The girl was too young; he should have known better. He closed his eyes, trying to will a different reality.
“Good! You are awake, no? Come and eat.” Maria’s decidedly cheery voice beckoned to Murdoch. “There is coffee, too, or whiskey, if you prefer it.”
“No. No whiskey. But, I’ll have some coffee,” Murdoch said, sitting up and dressing. “What time is it?” he asked, seeing the sunlight flooding the one small window the shack boasted.
“It is very late, past noon,” Maria responded, placing two plates of hot food on the table. “But, we were both very tired I think--after,” she added, smiling mischievously at him.
“I’m sorry, Maria,” he said, as he sat at the small table.
Maria laughed, and Murdoch decided he liked the sound of it, feeling it lift his own spirits. “You were not sorry earlier, and I am not sorry now. So, eat,” she said. “I do not have so much that it can go to waste.”
To his surprise, Murdoch found he was quite hungry. “That was good,” he admitted, when he had finished the meal. “And the coffee was just as I like it.”
“Si. I could tell you were a man who would like it strong,” Maria said, clearing the table. She began to wash the dishes and he helped. When they were done, she turned to him and said, “I must go to the cantina now. You will escort me, si?”
“Si. I would like that,” Murdoch replied, bending to kiss her. It was much later before they reached the cantina.
“You shouldn’t be working here,” Murdoch said as they stopped outside the batwing doors of the cantina while Murdoch peered inside.
“I must live, and the pay, it is enough,” Maria answered, moving to go inside.
“But, you’re too young to be….” Murdoch’s voice trailed off as he recalled their earlier activity. He was in no position to judge anyone, least of all the young girl before him.
Maria looked up at him, her eyes dancing merrily. “Yes, so you said before. But, that is not what I do here. Here, I dance only. Men come to watch and there are others for them. Miguel watches out for me.”
Murdoch remembered the barkeep’s moves to help Maria the night before. “Then why did you let me…?”
“Because I wished it so,” Maria said, smiling. Murdoch smiled in return, and then followed Maria inside the cantina to watch over her while she danced. She was his responsibility now, not the barkeep’s, who probably had plans for her of which Maria was unaware. No one would dare touch her with him there, though. Murdoch would see to it.
Murdoch had been in Matamoros a week before he even realized it. “I have to get back, darling,” he said to Maria one morning, holding her close against him as they lay in bed together relaxing before rising for the day.
“Si. I knew this day would come. Will I see you again, Murdoch Lancer?” Maria asked, her voice breaking slightly at the question.
“How can you even ask that of me? Of course you will. But, I have a job to do. I have to let Joe know where I am, that I’m all right. You understand, don’t you?” Murdoch begged for Maria’s understanding.
Maria nodded. “Si, I understand.” She moved the palm of her hand over his chest. “But, you do not have to leave right now, no?”
Murdoch didn’t leave until the next morning. He turned in the saddle to look back at Maria, who was standing in the doorway of the shack, a shawl around her shoulders, her skirt moving softly in the early morning breeze, with her feet bare. She looked like a small child waving goodbye to him. He smiled and waved back. “I’ll be back before you know it, sweetheart,” he called.
“Joe, I’m sorry for not letting you know where I was, but I just couldn’t help myself. I haven’t felt so alive in years,” Murdoch explained to his boss and best friend, Sheriff Joe Barker. “I’m going to ask her to marry me. I want you to be my best man, Joe.”
“Are you daft, Murdo?” Barker exclaimed. “You’d throw away your job on some Mex you’ve only known a week? Think man!”
The smile froze on Murdoch’s face, his eyes narrowing and turning icy. “I love her, Joe.” His voice held a warning for his friend.
Barker realized his mistake and tried to placate his friend. “Even if that’s true, Murdo, think what it means, man! You’re an American—a gringo to them! Worse, you’re the law here in Texas. They’ll never accept you there.”
“We’ll live here,” Murdoch responded.
Joe shook his head. “That’s worse than living in Mexico, Murdo, even this far north in Texas. You may have got a taste of the war between Mexico and the United States there in California, but it’s got a long bloody history here in Texas. People here will never accept that Mex—even if she’s your wife, and that’s the truth of it, Murdo.”
“There’s got to be a way, Joe,” Murdoch said, his voice begging for help.
“The only way is for you to take her with you back to California, if you’re bent on marrying her,” Joe answered.
“So, even you won’t back me, is that it?” Murdoch said, his voice hard with disappointment.
Barker bristled at the words. “I’ve backed you plenty of times, Murdo, but this ain’t no gunfight. Listen to me, Murdo. People ain’t gonna accept her—or you, neither—if you marry her. They’ll run you out of Texas, and me, too, if I tried to back you. Then, where will you be? Or me? Won’t neither one of us have a job. How can you hope to get Scott back then?”
Joe’s words stung Murdoch worse than a slap in the face would have done. For the past few weeks, he’d forgotten his quest to get custody of Scott from Catherine’s father. Garrett was a very proper Bostonian, who was also very prejudiced, Murdoch knew. Marriage to Maria would make it doubly difficult, if not impossible, to get his son back, Murdoch realized for the first time. “What can I do, Joe?”
“You just met the girl, Murdo. There’s no reason to believe she’s expecting a ring from you, is there?” Joe asked.
“We’ve…. But, no, I’ve never mentioned marriage to her, Joe,” Murdoch replied.
“So, why not forget the girl, Murdo? It’s best to get out before she becomes trouble for you. Get Scott back first. Then, if you still want the girl, go to Mexico and get her and head to California as a family. I hear tell they’re more forgiving of whites marrying Mexicans out that way—on both sides,” Joe proposed.
Joe’s advice had made sense to Murdoch. Still, he wanted to tell Maria of his plans. He felt he owed her that much. Barker didn’t approve, his gut telling him nothing but trouble would come of it. “Murdo, it will be over a month since you last saw her. Do you really think she’s just been sitting around waiting for you to return? That’s not the way of saloon girls—you know that. She won’t even be able to pick you out of a crowd, Murdo.”
It was late, but Murdoch knew Maria would still be working, unless…. He shook his head, refusing to give in to Joe’s accusations. Those accusations had stayed in his head all the way from Abilene to Matamoros, but Murdoch knew Barker was wrong; he just knew it. Murdoch heard the music and stopped at the batwing doors, peering in to see Maria on the tabletop, as before. Murdoch’s eyes drank in the sight of her. As his eyes met Maria’s, the movements of her dance became sultrier—the dance of a lover for the one she loved. Murdoch moved through the doors in a daze. When the music ended, Maria jumped from the table into his waiting arms. “Maria! My Maria!” he exclaimed before capturing her lips with his.
Later, their lovemaking had an intensity Murdoch had never experienced before, not even with Catherine. In fact, he wasn’t sure Catherine knew much about the relationship between a man and woman before they were married. On their marriage night, she had been frightened despite his efforts to calm and prepare her. After that, she had been accepting of their relationship, but never invited it in the uninhibited manner Maria did. Then, when she became pregnant, Catherine had used it as an excuse to stop their lovemaking, saying she wanted to protect the baby.
“What are you thinking that you frown so hard?” Maria asked.
Her question interrupted Murdoch’s thoughts of the past. “What? Oh, nothing.”
“It must be something,” Maria insisted.
Instinctively, Murdoch knew better than to tell Maria he had been thinking of his dead wife. His gut clenched. If he couldn’t tell Maria that, how was he going to tell her he was going to Boston for Scott before seeing her again? “Yes, well, I was just thinking about how it won’t be long before I have to go back,” Murdoch answered.
“Then, I should be frowning, too, no?” Maria laughed, sitting up. “Come. I will fix you something to eat. You just got here, so we will not think about your going back until that day, yes?”
Murdoch knew he should tell her that they wouldn’t be seeing each other for a very long time when he left after this visit, but seeing her lithe young form Murdoch’s thoughts turned to more than food. “Yes. Let’s not think about that now,” he answered, pulling her back down to him.
Later, Maria got sick fixing Murdoch’s breakfast, and he made her go to bed, helping her undress and covering her up with the quilt. He tenderly cared for her, holding her when she became sick, pressing a cool cloth to her neck and helping her clean up. “Here. Try to drink this,” he said, holding a cup of cool water to her lips. She took a few sips and laid back. He checked her forehead. “No fever. Is there a doctor in the town?” Maria slowly shook her head. “Then, I’ll go get someone to help take….”
“No! No! Please! Don’t leave me!” Maria cried.
“All right. All right. Shhhhhh,” Murdoch promised. While Maria slept, he went to the market to get some meat for a broth, then came back and cleaned up the unfinished breakfast while the broth simmered. After, he sat by the bed watching Maria as she slept. In sleep, she looked impossibly young and he once again chastised himself for their relationship. It had to end; she was much too young. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t tell her that he was going to Boston, Murdoch thought. After he had custody of Scott, he could continue to California and never see Maria again.
The thought brought pain, but Murdoch still wasn’t sure he loved Maria. Why did he feel they had any future together? Maria seemed to enjoy their relationship—a relationship without ties for either of them. And, Murdoch knew he wanted Maria—at least, physically—but could he keep her? Would he want to, after the long separation to come? Could she, would she, wait while he went to Boston to get Scott? Even an older woman would find such a wait too long, and Maria was no more than a child. What would be her reaction to raising another woman’s child? She had seemed sympathetic when he’d told her of Scott, but that didn’t mean she would be willing to raise Scott as her own. And, Murdoch knew he wanted Scott more than he wanted marriage with Maria right now. Still, he wanted her; wanted her to know she was his. Was that lust, or love? Did it matter? Would it matter in six months? It was an impossible situation; one that Murdoch didn’t want to think about anymore. He closed his eyes and tried to blank it from his mind.
Murdoch snapped awake, wondering how long he’d slept. He quickly glanced over at Maria. Her eyes were open and looking at him, their expression unfathomable. He smiled and she smiled back. “Feeling better?” he asked.
“Si. I’m fine. You must be tired, sleeping in that chair. Come lie with me,” Maria said, patting the bed.
Murdoch shook his head. “You should try to eat something, if you can. I have some broth ready. Care to try it? I’ll warn you, I’m not much of a cook.”
“I will try it, if you wish it,” Maria agreed. The broth was good and she was able to finish it all, feeling her energy returning. “I feel well now, Murdoch. Gracias,” she said. “Come now. Lie with me.”
“Maria, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Murdoch began, remembering his earlier thoughts. On the other hand, he’d probably never see Maria again, Murdoch reasoned.
Maria threw the quilt back, piling it at the foot of the bed, smiling as his eyes moved over her. “Come,” she repeated, patting the mattress in invitation. Against his better judgment, Murdoch got undressed and into the bed beside Maria. He took her tenderly, and then lay chastising himself afterward as Maria slept. Why was he still here? Why didn’t he just go? He knew the reason; he couldn’t take his eyes off of Maria, could think of nothing else when he was with her. Even now, so shortly after….
Murdoch looked at Maria; her features relaxed, a smile on her face, even in sleep. His eyes took in her young supple body that had just given him so much pleasure. He frowned. Was it his imagination, or was Maria’s body filling out? She had been lean as a colt when he first met her despite the hardness of frame and muscles of a dancer. Now, her body was fuller, softer…. His breathing became harsh as the implication struck home. He felt an urge to wake Maria, to demand an answer. But, if it was true, she needed her rest more than ever. He pulled the quilt up over them and made himself comfortable, willing morning to come.
Maria laughed when Murdoch gave voice to his suspicions the next morning. “How can that be so? We have not been together so much, I think.”
“Long enough, my dear, and we’ve done nothing to prevent it. You’re so young, and I should have taken the responsibility, but I didn’t,” Murdoch answered. “Is there someone you can talk to and ask? Someone who could tell you for sure?”
Maria nodded. “The man who runs the store here, his wife will know. They have many children.” She looked up at Murdoch, her eyes laughing. “But, you worry about nothing.”
There was a different look entirely in Maria’s eyes when she returned. “Well?” Murdoch asked.
“It is true, Murdoch. I am with child,” Maria answered. “What am I to do? I cannot continue to work at the cantina. How will I live? Where can I go? A child who is not Mexican and not white! It will be killed, and me, too, I think, if I stay here. What can I do?” She was crying and on the verge of hysteria.
“Maria! Maria!” Murdoch exclaimed, pulling her to him. “You worry about nothing. I won’t let anything happen to you or our child, do you hear me? I won’t let the two of you pay for my mistake, do you understand?” He held her away from him for a moment. “Marry me, Maria. Now—today! We’ll go away from here. I told you about California. We can go there. Mixed marriages are common there. Please, Maria,” Murdoch pleaded.
Maria continued to cry, not letting Murdoch see her smile of triumph as she rested her head against his chest. There had been no words of love for her or the child she carried, but love did not matter; it was not why she wished to marry Murdoch Lancer. Maria nodded her head against Murdoch’s chest, accepting his marriage proposal.
The priest in Matamoros was not willing to marry them because Murdoch was not Catholic, so they traveled together back across the border and were married in Texas. Barker had voiced his objections, but, in the end, had been one of the witnesses when the circuit judge came through the town and married them. Barker’s concern was still evident, though, when he stood beside the small wagon as Murdoch and Maria prepared to head to California.
“I can’t help but feel you’re making a mistake, Murdo, not going to Boston for Scott first. I could take care of Maria, and you could be back in time for the baby to come,” Barker said, not missing the momentary flash of anger in Maria’s eyes.
“Thanks, but no, Joe. I can’t take that chance. Garrett will put up a fight; I know that. There’s a good chance I’d be delayed getting back in time and not be here when it’s time for the baby to be born. I don’t want to risk that. Besides, you said it yourself before; it could be dangerous for Maria here even with you to protect her. So, it’s best if I get Maria to the ranch and settled first, Joe. Once the baby is here, we can go to Boston together. With a new wife and child, what judge could deny me custody of my son?” Murdoch reasoned with confidence.
“I hope you’re right, Murdo. I sure do. If you need me for anything, well, let me know,” Barker said. He didn’t share Murdoch’s confidence that a Boston judge would recognize Murdoch’s marriage to a Mexican as even legal, let alone as providing a suitable home for Scott, especially when Garrett got done dragging them through the mud. Barker still felt Murdoch should have waited to marry Maria until after his custody of Scott was secured, but the little she-devil had won out by getting pregnant. Barker admired Murdoch for marrying her; he didn’t have to, but Murdoch Lancer was an honorable man. Barker didn’t like Maria Lancer, though, and it had nothing to do with her being a Mexican, either. He recognized a schemer when he saw one. The girl probably had a hundred reasons to marry Murdoch Lancer—none of them doing with love for Murdoch or the coming child, or he’d missed his guess. Barker watched with uneasy eyes as the wagon disappeared from view.
Maria didn’t like anything about the ranch when they arrived, especially the two-room cabin Murdoch had built when he and Catherine had first settled there. She insisted that Murdoch immediately begin work on a larger house to be built in the style of the grand haciendas of Mexico, something fitting for the magnificent ranchero that Murdoch would build for them and their sons she argued. As the work progressed, Murdoch began to worry about the amount of funds it was taking—funds he had worked hard to save to go to Boston and get custody of Scott from Garrett. With so many funds going to the hacienda, Murdoch wouldn’t be able to buy the amount of cattle he would have liked to start his herds and make the ranch pay for itself.
Murdoch was able to hire some vaqueros from Mexico, though. With them, he was able to round up some herds of wild horses, break them, and sell them to settlers coming into California in search of the gold that had recently been discovered. Still, it wasn’t enough to replace the savings he had made in Texas working with Joe that had been earmarked to get custody of Scott. There was barely enough now for travel for himself to Boston, let alone for Maria and the baby. Few funds would remain for hiring a good lawyer, something Murdoch knew he’d need against Garrett. Murdoch thought briefly about panning for gold himself, but knew he couldn’t leave Maria alone at this time. He was confident that something would work out about Scott. It had to; Lancer was Scott’s heritage, too.
Murdoch voiced his concerns to Maria, hoping she would understand and sympathize, maybe cut back on the spending for the new hacienda. Instead, he didn’t miss the look of anger that flashed in Maria’s eyes at the mention of Scott and Catherine. He put it down to the changes a woman goes through as she progresses in her pregnancy and sought to reassure her in any way he could. He soon learned, though, that the only thing that placated Maria was if he didn’t mention Catherine or Scott at all, especially Scott. Maria was busy making plans for her son (she was confident it would be a boy) to be the heir apparent to what they were building. Murdoch felt there was plenty of time to set her straight once he got Scott home. After all, he and Catherine had filed the claim for this land, and their son, Scott, was a rightful heir, too. Scott would always be his oldest son no matter how many children he and Maria had together. Still, it worried him somewhat about what type of mother Maria would make for Scott if she disliked him without ever having seen him. “I’ve never seen him, either, but I still love him. But, of course, he’s my son—not Maria’s,” Murdoch reasoned with himself, but he now knew his Mexican wife had a temper as hot as the land from which she came and, not for the first time, it worried him.
Scott wasn’t the only thing Maria was angry about, Murdoch found out. She was beginning to hate her pregnancy, too. She was confined to the ranch, as the roads were far too rough for a pregnant woman to travel into town during the rainy season. When Murdoch suggested they curtail their relations to ease her, she exploded, accusing him of thinking her ugly and growing tired of her already. He hastily assured her that wasn’t the case; that he had never thought her more beautiful than now, carrying his child. It was just that he remembered Catherine had wanted to curtail their relations during her pregnancy. At the mention of Catherine, Maria turned on him again. It had been a terrible argument and Murdoch knew he was right about just what a temper his young wife had. In the end, they made violent love and were blissfully happy afterward, as newlyweds should be, Murdoch thought, feeling somewhat relieved.
They moved into the hacienda before it was complete because Maria insisted she wanted their son to be born in the grand house that was to be his heritage. It was none too soon, because they hadn’t been in the hacienda a week before Maria felt her labor begin. She was panicked; the baby was at least a month early. Frantically, she called for Murdoch, who immediately sent to Morocoyo for the doctor that had recently moved there. Seeing the panic reflected in the father’s eyes, Dr. Sam Jenkins had immediately sent Murdoch from the room, not letting him return until he knew they were only moments from the birth. After a long, hard, complicated labor, the child was born. He was underweight, but otherwise seemed healthy, Jenkins assured Murdoch and Maria. “We know he has a good set of lungs,” he smiled as he laid the crying baby in the arms of his mother.
“I have nothing for him,” Maria fretted as the baby nuzzled her.
“That will come,” Jenkins assured her. “In the meantime, Elena here should know what to do. The little fella won’t go hungry. Do you have a name for him yet?”
“Si. John, for my father and Murdoch’s father, too,” Maria answered proudly. Murdoch had told her his father’s name was Ian, Scottish for John, when they were discussing names for the baby, and Maria’s father had been named Juan, Spanish for John. “We will call him John, since he will be a true Americano.”
“A fine choice. You get some rest now, my dear. I’ll be back tomorrow to see how you and John are doing. In the meantime, complete bed rest. Understood?” Maria nodded, and Jenkins prepared to leave.
“How is she really, doctor, and the boy?” Murdoch asked as he escorted Jenkins to his buggy. He couldn’t rid his mind of the fact that Catherine had died following Scott’s birth.
Jenkins, having since been told the reason for Murdoch’s earlier panic and current worry, hastened to reassure the new father. “She’s young and healthy, Murdoch. Don’t worry about her. Maria should make a full recovery. Give her some time. And, John is fine, too. Once Maria starts producing milk, he should pick up weight fast. Now, go enjoy your family.”
Murdoch took great joy in his son. Jenkins had been right about Johnny, as Murdoch had begun calling him. He couldn’t resist carrying the boy around with him and taking him out to show to the hands or to friends and neighbors who stopped by to congratulate the couple. Murdoch decided Johnny was going to look like Maria, except for his eyes. The color of Johnny’s eyes was the same as those of Murdoch’s mother—a deep violet blue. And, there was a birthmark on his back that matched one that ran in Murdoch’s family. There was no doubt Johnny was his son, Murdoch concluded with some satisfaction.
When had he started doubting it, Murdoch wondered. When had he started looking for proof that Johnny was his son? Was it because Maria had become pregnant so quickly? Too quickly for the child to have been his, maybe? Then there was what Joe had said: “Do you really think she’s been sitting around waiting for you to return?” After all, they had only been together a few days before he had gone back to Abilene. It was over a month before he saw Maria again and learned she was pregnant. Could there have been others in the time he was away? Or, was it because he had long ago figured out Maria couldn’t be as innocent as he had at first believed? He had known that first night that he was not the first lover she’d had. And, he was no fool; Maria was too well versed in the ways of a courtesan, knowing far more about how to please a man than a young innocent girl should. As he picked his son up to bring him to Maria for his midnight feeding, Murdoch decided it didn’t matter. The boy was obviously his, and Maria was his now for always. That’s all that mattered anymore, wasn’t it?
Murdoch heard Maria softly singing to Johnny as she rocked him back and forth, nursing him as she sat in the rocking chair placed next to the bed. Murdoch never failed to get pleasure from the sight, wishing, silently, that he and Catherine had been able to enjoy similar times together with Scott. A longing for Catherine surged up within him so strong that he almost called her name. He had loved Catherine, loved her with all his heart. He felt again the pain of her loss in his life, his chest tightening as he fought for control. He had lost so much—his wife and child in such a short space of time. It was more than he thought he could bear. Still, he had Maria and Johnny. That thought should have helped, but didn’t, Murdoch realized. Murdoch was beginning to fear he didn’t love Maria; that he had only used her to satisfy his needs, that he wouldn’t have gone back to her after getting custody of Scott if Maria hadn’t gotten pregnant with his child—the thought reinforced by the knowledge that he and Maria had barely touched since Johnny’s birth.
Again, a powerful wave of longing for Catherine washed over Murdoch—Catherine, not Maria. The woman in the chair rocking their baby should have been Catherine. Catherine with her pale blue eyes—almost gray—looking at him from up under the lock of blond hair falling over her forehead. They had been so happy together. He watched his son nursing contentedly at his mother’s breast, smiling at the sight, seeing another sitting there.
When Johnny had finished nursing and was asleep, Maria laid him in the cradle Murdoch had originally made for Scott (though Murdoch had not dared tell Maria that bit of information), rocking it back and forth a couple of times to ensure Johnny slept. She turned and caught the look in Murdoch’s eyes as he watched her; she saw the longing there. “It has been a long time, my husband,” she said. Instead of rearranging the folds of her gown at her breasts as she usually did, Maria raised her nightgown and let it drift to the floor then got in bed beside Murdoch. Tonight, he didn’t turn away, drawn by memories of another wife.
Their lovemaking had a violence borne of their long separation, each of their bodies highly strung, a mere touch all that was required to elicit strong sensations of desire. It was quick but fulfilling for them both, their energy soon spent in each other, sapping their strength, leaving them as ashes after an intense fire. “Catherine!” Murdoch sighed as he rolled away from Maria, instantly falling asleep.
There was no sleep for Maria. She wondered how she could have been so hot a moment ago only to feel so cold now. She arose and put on her gown again, and then sat in the rocking chair staring at her husband, who slept so peacefully with a smile on his face. How dare he? How dare he call that gringa puta’s name after making love to her? She looked over at Juanito, also sleeping so peacefully, then back at her husband, and a dark light entered her eyes. Oh, he would pay. Murdoch Lancer would pay and pay dearly. Not yet; no, not yet. She would wait, wait until the wound she would inflict would be mortal. Yes, Murdoch Lancer would pay, knowing another had what should be his. He would pay with the thing he valued most, Maria thought, glancing again at Juanito. She, Maria, would see to it.