An extended scene for Juniper’s Camp
Disclaimer: TPTB own them I don’t…or this is what would have been the closing of Juniper’s Camp when it aired.
Many thanks to Kit for the beta read and spot on tweaks. I don’t know if I should be scared that we think so much alike or if y’all should be scared that we do.
Author’s note: This story was born from discussions Binnie and I had about Jim Harper and his attitude. Young Johnny alert, if you don’t like stop here.
Setting the last scene: Teresa walks off to gather clothes, Scott leaves the room, Johnny and Melissa share a kiss in the archway to the Great room and she walks off.
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Aching inside, Johnny watched Melissa walk off. The old feeling of melancholy tugged at his heart as he drew in his bottom lip at the corner of his mouth; wincing at the rough treatment to lips that still tingled from a kiss. He wasn’t in love with her…or at least he didn’t think he was but he sure would like the chance to get to know her better. There wasn’t much hope of that happening since he had the same problem as her, by law he had yet to reach his majority.
His normal graceful saunter morphed into a somber shuffling as he scuffed his boots along the floor, passing by the dining table and making his way to the kitchen. Then there was that other problem: he was under no illusions that Jim Harper wouldn’t find him even more inappropriate for Melissa than he had the dastardly Bobby Cooper.
The scent of chocolate quickened his steps to the kitchen, the resiliency of youth already at work as he spied Mamacita’s seven layer chocolate cake. Grabbing a fork, knife and saucer, he had already decided by the time he placed the slice of cake on his plate that it was just as well; for despite her intentions of marrying Bobby, Melissa really didn’t strike him as the settling down type. The girl wanted to be her own person, make her own way. She had a wild spirit that yearned to break free of all the fetters that ever held her back. Fetters? Hell I’ve been spendin’ too much time with Boston. I’m startin’ to sound like him.
Sighing contentedly as the chocolate from his first bite of cake melted and coated his tongue; thoughts of Melissa were replaced by the anticipation of a Saturday night trip upstairs at the saloon. The pink tip of his tongue darted out to suck the tantalizing bits of chocolate smeared around his mouth. And that reminded him of Sweet Sue; she always had a box of chocolates in her room. I sure hope Sue is workin’ this weekend.
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The hinges on the heavy oak door squeaked as Murdoch slowly pushed it open, gesturing for Jim Harper to precede him into the Great room.
“How about a drink?” The big Scot offered, closing the door carefully. I’m sure I told Jelly to oil those hinges.
“A measure of your Glenlivet would go a long ways towards restoring my sensibilities,” Jim replied, pausing as he sniffed loudly and huffed in an aggrieved manner; “Every stop out here, no matter how upscale looking the establishment, all they had was rot gut. Never mind it was in a bottle with a quality label; my sophisticated palette was not fooled.”
Grinding his teeth at the return of the haughty attitude, Murdoch refused to rise to the irritant. “I must admit I am somewhat surprised you agreed so readily to Melissa’s proposition.” Crossing the room he stopped at the drink cart, frowning as Jim took his seat.
Dropping down into Murdoch’s favorite leather chair, Harper fastidiously brushed unseen lint and dirt from his coat sleeves. A pinched look appeared on his face. “I agreed. I just neglected to tell her I would be hiring someone to keep tabs on her, so if there’s a next time I won’t be caught off guard.”
Battling the bitter taste of anger forming in his mouth and causing a throbbing ache to build in his head, Murdoch released some of the pressure by snatching up the Glenlivet decanter; noisily clinking it against the other crystal containers in his annoyance. He tightly gripped the neck of the ornate bottle; barely resisting the urge to toss it at the other man’s head. “May I ask why you agreed if there were going to be secret stipulations? You could have taken me up on the invitation for Melissa to spend some time here.”
The splash of liquor into the tumblers was the only sound as Harper considered Murdoch’s words; the man slightly confused by the hint of antagonism he felt radiating from his friend. Then, deciding it was nothing more than residual tension from the entire fiasco – that foolish boy, encouraging Melissa to leave to be with Cooper -- he accepted the glass. The situation took an ugly turn when he finally spoke.
“Well, I guess in a sense I'm choosing the lesser of two evils.” Sipping his drink, he smacked his lips in smug satisfaction. He didn’t even attempt to hide the smirk or the burst of contemptuous laughter.
The hair rising on the nape of his neck, Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. His voice was deceptively soft. “And what evil is that?”
Slowly inhaling, Jim sat up straighter, his eyebrows arched as a condescending sneer contorted his mouth; his words sour. “I detected something between Melissa and that youngest boy of yours.” His pronunciation of the word boy left no doubt he had measured Johnny and found him lacking.
Murdoch’s clutch on his tumbler tightened; the tips and knuckles of his long fingers going white from the pressure. “Excuse me,” he ground out. “You consider Johnny to be evil?”
The tension in the room thickened, their attention so completely focused on each other they missed the soft whisper of fabric against plaster coming from the darkened hallway. Stunned, Johnny slid down the wall just outside the entrance to the Great Room; drawing his knees up against his chest and cradling his chin against his tightly crossed arms.
Realizing the big man’s temper was simmering, ready to perhaps boil over, Harper attempted to defuse the situation. But for all his education and extensive vocabulary, he chose the wrong words. “Like it or not Murdoch, Johnny has not reached his majority yet, either. No good would come of a relationship between our children. That’s the evil I’m talking about.”
Murdoch -- not yet over his resentment toward the pompous man who had begged him to send his sons off to rescue Melissa; the same man who had neglected to tell his boys the truth regarding Melissa’s ‘infatuation’ – advanced; towering above the man seated in the chair. Then he became still; very still. Carefully sitting his drink on the table next to the chair, the overly cautious movement helping him to control his temper, he planted his hands on the chair arms; effectively trapping Harper by the sheer will of his intimidating presence. His face just inches from Jim’s, he hissed, “I think you need to clarify that!”
Flustered by Murdoch’s closeness, Harper blurted out his true unadulterated thoughts; the words coming with great indignation. “It’s apparent Johnny hasn’t had the same type of upbringing. Just what kind of guidance has the boy had?” Swallowing audibly as Murdoch’s face took on a deep crimson color that clearly radiated his building rage; Jim blustered on and uttered the words that would drive the infuriated father over the edge. “He speaks like a common border tramp;” he scoffed, “and his clothes are hardly the style the son of the valley’s most prominent rancher should be wearing.
“For God’s sake, Murdoch; be reasonable! He was a gunfight…” His last word stalled, choked off by the tight grasp of a strong calloused hand twisting his collar like a noose about his neck.
An enraged roar rent through the house; summoning the occupants to the Great Room. Johnny scrambled to his feet, and stumbled down the single step. Teresa and Melissa pounded down the stairs and Scott rushed in through the French doors.
They all arrived in time to see Murdoch snatch Jim Harper by the neck and drag him bodily out of the leather chair. His left hand joined his right as he lifted the smaller man into the air. Dangling at the end of the big Scot’s massive arms, Jim’s arms flailed about wildly; his legs pumping furiously as they sought solid ground, the action causing his pant legs to rise and to reveal the white spats at the top of his low cut, black leather boots.
Spun in the air like a whirling Dervish, Harper’s legs flew out and connected with the small side table, the second sweep of his feet toppling the crystal tumblers. The splashing of liquor against the floor and the sound of shattering glass joined the strangling noise of Jim’s fearful gurgle.
“Papa,” Melissa shouted, her trembling hands rising to press against her pale face.
In tandem, Scott and Johnny headed toward their father. Johnny, having been closer, reached him first. Knowing what had caused the altercation; Johnny sidled right up against his dad and placed his hand on his chest, concerned by the thunderous beating of Murdoch’s heart. “He ain’t worth it, Papí. Let it go. I don’t give a damn what he thinks of me.”
Slowly lowering the other man to the floor, Murdoch turned, staring into the blue eyes of his youngest. Shame washed over him as he realized his loss of control had been witnessed.
Straightening his clothes with exaggerated movements, Jim Harper sealed his fate. “Well, it seems your son has more manners than I gave him credit for.”
Johnny felt the whoosh of air as his father moved with lightning quick speed. The dull thud was heard by all as Murdoch’s enormous fist connected with Jim’s mouth. The force of the blow propelled the other man backward, his arms wind-milling as fought to retain his balance. The heels of his boots struck the bricks of the hearth, and down he went, spitting blood and teeth down the front of his white shirt.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Murdoch spoke; the words whisper soft. “You’re dead wrong about one thing, Harper. It would never work between our children -- not because of their youth -- but because my son is too good to be a part of your family.”
The tension in the room dissipated as Melissa began to laugh; the sound growing as she clapped her hands. She nodded appreciatively in Murdoch’s direction, and then turned her gaze on her father. “I knew one day you’d be knocked off that pedestal you put yourself on.” Smiling, she canted her head; her eyes drawn first to Johnny, and then to the giant of a man standing at his back. “Thank you,” she murmured. Momentarily, she dipped her chin against her chest; her eyelids fluttering before she raised her head again and smiled. “And thank you.” This time, the words were aimed at the youth.
Shrugging, Johnny, returned the girl’s smile; the grin widening to crinkle the skin at the corner of his eyes. His cheeks colored a bit, and he suddenly found himself staring at the toe of his right boot. “I don’t want to be a part of any family but this one,” he murmured; “not for a long, long time.”