From the corner came a low voice. "You know what I want. Just tell me where it is and you can go back to that big white place you live in."
"You're not going to get away with this! If my brother finds out that you've abducted me. . . ."
"Your brother? You mean that killer Johnny Madrid? I ain't scared of him. He'll be just one more notch on my gun." To Scott's sensitive ears, the ominous sound of a spinning gun cylinder caused shivers down his spine.
"I wouldn't count on that."
"No? 'Sides who says he'd even care enough to do something about you? You're nothin' but a pain to him."
"That's not true!"
"Ain't it? Bet he wouldn't mind having your share of that big ranch though."
"Leave Johnny out of this and just tell me what you want."
"Don't be stupid, Boy, you took something of mine and I want it back. Give it to me and I won't have to aerate your hide with lead."
"You wouldn't do that!"
"No? Maybe it would give me greater pleasure to slice off something with my knife." Suddenly the coolness of a knife blade pressed against Scott's neck "See, it's real sharp. Could slice your windpipe just like a chicken."
Scott had faced Drago's gatling gun and had not flinched, but now he could feel his knees turn to jelly. "You promise? I tell you where it is and you'll let me go."
"Well, maybe I might exact a small punishment first, but you'll be able to walk away from it."
"What? What would you do?"
"This!" For an instant the blond felt nothing and then he knew what the terrible punishment was—a feather drizzled itself along his sensitive ribs and sides. First slowly, then with vigor until the easterner was seized in a paroxysm of laughter which threatened to tear him apart. The tickling went on and on until it turned almost to pain and then stopped.
Gasping for air, the blond could only whimper, "It's in Murdoch's armoire, bottom shelf—your name's on it."
Just before he heard the sound of boots fleeing the scene, he felt a slight tug and the ropes which secured him to a chair parted. It still took him a few moments to untie his hands and remove the blindfold, but as he focused on the room around him, Scott spotted the shirt he had been wearing when this had all begun.
He welcomed the warmth of the shirt as his flesh still displayed goosebumps, from cold and his torture. Straightening his shoulders, he marched calmly out of the small building to head to the great ranch house. Entering the kitchen, Scott found his brother sitting at the kitchen table with chocolate smeared over most of his face. Cerulean eyes stared into sapphire. "Enjoying yourself, Little Brother?"
"You know it, Big Brother. Teresa sure baked a humdinger this time, but she don't spell too good."
"What do you mean?"
"She spelled my name wrong. She had JE T'AIME instead of J-O-H-N-N-Y and she made it in the shape of a heart!"
"That's your name in French. I guess since it's Valentine's Day, she decided to get fancy."
"Oh. Well, she sure did a heck of a job! Say, I guess I'd better go take a bath and get ready for that party tonight. Are we all going in together?"
"I suppose we could, but maybe you better take Barranca just in case Gladys or Mary Lou or Conchita or Rosa or. . . ."
Johnny grinned at the blond man. "Yeah, I sure am popular with the ladies, ain't I? Mebbe one of these days I can give you lessons."
"Thank you, but I think I can find my own date."
"Okay, but the offer's good whenever you need it."
"Uh, since it looks like you're going to be gobbling that cake for awhile, why don't I go take the first bath, and then I'll leave it all to you?"
"Good idea, Boston. You might make somethin' of yourself yet!"
For the next half-hour Scott Lancer indulged in the tub of hot water, soaking away the aches and pains of ranch life. By the time he had finished and had returned to the house, his brother was no longer in the kitchen, although there certainly was evidence of his having been there. Chocolate crumbs and smears of frosting were everywhere along with the unwashed plate in the sink. Shaking his head, Scott started to head for his room when Teresa O'Brien entered through the back door. Seeing the blond, she smiled. "Scott, I hope you are going to be ready on time so we can get into town early. I promised Reverend Baker I'd bring my special French ganache cake in so that it can be the centerpiece for the table."
"I've already taken my bath so all I have to do is get dressed."
"Good. I just hope Johnny doesn't wait until the last moment." Glancing around she saw the remains of the cake and the plate. "Looks like he found the cake I made for him. I wish I'd had enough time to make a fancy one for him too, but he must have enjoyed this one."
"It certainly was nice of you to make one for him and write his name on it."
"It's too bad I didn't have enough heart pans for his and had to use round ones, but at least he should get a kick out the cupid on it. Remember what happened to him at the Valentine's Day dance last year?"
"I certainly do. They still talk about how he pricked his behind and almost jumped out his skin!"
The young woman giggled. "That's the truth and Reverend Baker still thinks he's a two-timer!"
"Well, let's hope this year's party is more sedate." As soon as I get dressed, I'll be out to help you get things ready to go."
"Fine. I'm just going to get the cake where I hid it and then get dressed myself."
Two minutes later a crying Teresa O'Brien knocked on Scott's door. "Scott, my cake's gone!" she wailed. I put it in Murdoch's armoire so Johnny wouldn't see it and it's gone!"
"Oh dear, do you think. . .do you think he found it?"
Teresa's brown eyes opened wide before she raced out of the room towards the kitchen pantry. There on one shelf was the round cake that she had prepared as a surprise for Johnny. "I'm going to kill him! How did he find it?" Hands clenched she started for Johnny's room, but was met in the doorway by Scott.
"Teresa, I know you're upset, but first of all you have to think about what you're going to do for the party."
"The party! Oh, Reverend Baker was counting on me to bring my cake!" Tears started to drip down her cheeks. "What am I going to do?"
"Well, I have an idea, but we're going to have to get busy if we want it to be ready in time for the party."
"Anything. I just can't let the Reverend down. He's hoping to auction off the cake to make money for the orphans."
then, here's what we'll do."
Three hours later Scott Lancer and Teresa O'Brien finished the final decoration of the ganache cake. By using Johnny's cake as a base, adding more ganache, fresh frosting and some decorations, the new cake was even more beautiful than the previous one had been.
Staring at it with pride, Teresa hummed with delight. "Reverend Baker should love this one, but how did you know how to do all of this, Scott?"
"Well, sometimes I helped SPIN in the kitchen and one time the cake she planned to serve to our guests had an accident so she improvised and well, I just kind of did too."
Teresa leaned over to give him a kiss. "Well, thanks for all of your help—and for saving Johnny's neck. Now, we both better get dressed or we're going to be late!"
"Speaking of Johnny, I wonder where he is? I haven't seen him since early this afternoon. Maybe he fell asleep or something."
"Well, go tell him to get ready because it will take me only a few minutes to get dressed!"
"Right, Teresa." The blond Lancer walked down the hallway to the door of Johnny's room. From behind the door he could hear a faint moaning sound. Opening it quietly, he entered to find Johnny lying on his bed moaning and groaning. "Scott, you gotta get a doctor. I'm real sick! Oh, oh, oh!"
"Uh, this wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that you ate all of that cake, would it?" the blond inquired.
"Well, it was just so damned good. Why didn't you tell me to stop eatin' so much?"
"Johnny, you're a grown man—I think. How could I stop you?"
"Just shoot me and put me outta my misery!"
"Oh dear, it doesn't sound like you're going to be able to go to the party tonight?"
"No! I'll be lucky to be alive in the morning!"
"Well. I wish I could stay here with you, but I've got to make sure that I get Teresa into town so she can deliver her cake."
"Ohhhh! Don't mention that word!" protested the sick man.
"Well, you just lie here and rest and I'll be sure to tell Rosa, Conchita, Gladys, and Mary Lou how sorry you are that you couldn't attend. I'll do my best to stand in for you."
"Th-thanks. You're a good brother. Now, just let me die in peace."
A smiling Scott Lancer walked into his own room, dressed quickly and then met Teresa in the kitchen. After putting her special cake in a sturdy box, the two headed to the carriage that one of the hands had left in front of the house and departed for the party.
The Valentine's Day party of 1872 was a smash success. The bidding had been spirited for all the cakes in the auction, but the highest bid had been for Teresa's ganache cake. The winner had then generously turned the cake over to the orphanage to have as a special treat. Both Scott and Teresa had participated in nearly every dance so they were a happy, footsore pair when they finally returned to Lancer. Before heading to bed, the young girl gave the blond one more kiss. "Thanks for bidding on my cake. I just hope none of the orphans get a tummy ache from it. It was pretty rich."
"Oh, I'm sure that they'll make sure that none of the children eats more than a small piece—unlike a certain person I know."
Teresa giggled. "Well, since it sounds like he had the grandfather of all bellyaches, I guess I won't say anymore to him, but he had better behave himself from now on!"
Cerulean eyes peered into brown. "What are the chances of that, do you think?"
"About the same as Johnny catching a turkey up in his turkey trees! Well, I'd better get to bed. Murdoch will be back tomorrow and he'll be expecting a big dinner if I know him."
"Night, Teresa. See you in the morning."
Instead of heading to his own room, Scott went to Johnny's door, opening it slightly. Peeking in his saw that the younger man was asleep, but there was a sour smell in the room. "Hmm, it would seem, Little Brother, that you might have discovered there are many ways to be tortured, besides tickling," he murmured. Then Scott shut the door and went to bed to fall into dreamless sleep.