A Question of Trust
by Terri

Rated:  PG


Chapter One 

     “Murdoch!”  Teresa came flying into the Great Room, her eyes shining with excitement.  “She’s coming!”

    Murdoch looked at his ward fondly, smiling at her excitement.  Although she tried hard to seem grown up, there were times she still acted like a little girl.

    “Who’s coming?” he asked. 

    She looked at him in disgust.  “Mary!  I told you I wrote her and asked if she could come and spend some time with me.  Remember, I met her in San Francisco when I went there last summer with Audra.  Mary’s father owns a shipping company.”  

    Murdoch smiled and nodded, as if he remembered.  “Oh yes.  So she can come?” 

     Teresa nodded her head excitedly.  “Yes!  Her father finally gave his permission.  He said she could stay until summer.” 

     Murdoch felt a twinge of doubt about a man who would let his daughter stay with total strangers for that long, but his suspicions were eased when Teresa continued.  “She says that Victoria Barkley vouched for you and said that you’d make sure she was properly watched over.” 

     Murdoch sighed.  He really didn’t have time for this right now.  Spring was a busy time at the ranch and he certainly couldn’t properly turn his new responsibility over to anyone else.  Spring round up was just around the corner and they also had a big army contract for horses that Johnny was trying to meet.  Murdoch thought for a moment about telling Teresa to tell her friend to come at a different time, but she looked so happy that he couldn’t do it. 

    Teresa watched her foster father worriedly.  It IS all right, isn’t it?” 

     Murdoch stared at her for a moment and then smiled.  “Of course darling.  When will she be arriving?”

    The girl scanned the letter she held in her hand.  “It says here she’ll be arriving by stage this coming Tuesday.”   She looked up at Murdoch in alarm.  “I don’t have much time.  I’ve got to get everything ready.  I’ve got to clean the house, and think up some menus……..”  She looked around in panic.

     “Teresa, calm down.  The house is just fine, and we can eat what we normally eat.”

    Teresa’s eyes got as big as saucers.  “Murdoch, Mary is a refined lady.  She’s used to the very best of everything.  I don’t want her to think that we have no class.”

     For the second time, Murdoch felt a twinge of doubt.   “Teresa, “he said sternly.  “We are NOT going to change the way we do things because our guest might not approve.  If she’s to be a guest in our house, she’ll have to take us as we come.  Do you understand?” 

     Teresa nodded reluctantly, and Murdoch lightened his tone.  “That doesn’t mean you can’t give this place a thorough cleaning and make a few minor alterations to the normal menu, but I don’t want us to change who we are.” 

   “All right, Murdoch, and thank you.”  She went over and wrapped her arms around him.  “It will be so good to have another woman to talk to for a change.”  

   He patted her hand and hoped he wasn’t going to regret this.  Somewhere deep inside something was telling him that this was a huge mistake. 


     Jelly drove Teresa into town to pick up her guest because all of the other men were busy. Teresa waited impatiently for the stage, jabbering away at Jelly the whole time.  She couldn’t remember when she had been more excited. 

      She had met Mary at a dinner in San Francisco that she had attended with Audra and Victoria Barkley last year.  She had been impressed with the young woman from the beginning, and a little intimidated.  Mary was everything that Teresa was not.  She was sophisticated and polished, and she wore exquisite dresses with gorgeous jewelry.  Teresa hadn’t needed Audra to tell her that the young lady was socially prominent and very wealthy.  

     Even thought they seemed to have little in common, Teresa had hit it off with the young woman.  Mary seemed sad somehow, and eager to make friends. She had listened intently as Teresa had told her a little about the ranch and her family.  During the course of the conversation Mary had talked about traveling to New York and Boston, and even London and Paris.  Teresa didn’t understand what she could possibly be sad about; her life seemed so exciting.  They had exchanged addresses and promised to write each other, but Teresa figured that the young debutante would quickly forget all about her.  

     She had been pleasantly shocked when Mary’s first letter had arrived not long after their first meeting.  Since then, they had kept up a regular correspondence and Teresa felt as if she were a true friend.  Teresa had debated with herself for weeks about whether she should ask Mary to come to visit.  It wasn’t that she was ashamed of her home; Lancer was the most beautiful place in the whole wide world as far as she was concerned.  However, it was certainly not very civilized in this part of the country, and Teresa didn’t want Mary to be shocked by the roughness of the life here.  It was a world apart from San Francisco. 

    In the last several days, Teresa had done everything she could to ensure the comfort of her guest.  The hacienda was immaculate, and she had talked extensively with Maria and the rest of the staff to make sure that Mary was comfortable.  She had also given orders to Maria that the hot traditional Mexican dishes that were served several times a week were banned as long as Mary was staying with them.  The Mexican housekeeper had protested about that, but Teresa had promised sincerely that she would make it up to Johnny. 

     Teresa knew that her greatest challenge was Murdoch’s two sons.  She wasn’t really worried about Scott; he could slip back into the role of a Boston aristocrat with ease, and he had assured her he would be on his best behavior.   Johnny, however, was a different story.  He didn’t care if he was hanging around the saloon with his friends or helping Murdoch entertain the Governor in the Great Room.  He treated everyone the same, and he didn’t understand Teresa’s insistence that he act any different than he normally did. 

    Teresa watched as the stage finally pulled up, and she wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt.  She had tried so hard to make sure everything was perfect, and if Johnny or anyone else ruined it, she would make sure that heads would roll.


Chapter Two

     As soon as the stage pulled to a stop, Teresa got down from the surrey.  She wasn’t as graceful as she normally was; she had decided that she wouldn’t wear pants as long as Mary was here, and she was unaccustomed to wearing a skirt.  She walked as quickly as she dared toward the stage, while Jelly tended to the horses. 

    Several passengers alighted before Teresa saw Mary poke her head out of the door.  Her friend’s face was dusty, her hat was askew, and she had a slightly bewildered expression on her face.  Teresa knew just how she felt; stage rides were never fun.  Rushing over, she called out to her friend.  “Mary!  I’m so glad you’re here!” 

     Mary looked toward the voice, and then clumsily got down from the coach.  She held out her hands to her friend.  “Teresa!  I didn’t think I’d EVER get here.”  She looked down at her dusty countenance with a wry expression on her face.  “I must look a sight.”

     Teresa smiled.  “Don’t worry, you look fine.  It’s impossible to come through a stage ride with every hair in place, believe me, I’ve tried.”

      Mary smiled impishly.  “I know, but I didn’t want to meet those two brothers of yours looking like something the cat dragged in.”

    Teresa laughed.  “Don’t worry.  If we hurry, you’ll have time to get back to the ranch and freshen up long before they’re home.”

     Mary laughed.  “Then what on earth are we waiting for?  Let’s go!”

    Laughing, the two friends walked back to the surrey, while Jelly got the bags.  He couldn’t resist grumbling about getting them, but he was pleasantly surprised that there weren’t too many.  Evidently this girl had some common sense after all. 

    He walked back to the surrey, lugging the bags along with him, and threw them unceremoniously into the back.  Teresa turned and glared for a moment.  “Jelly, be careful.  Miss Terhune might have something breakable in one of those bags.” 

     Mary immediately smiled at the grizzled handyman.  “Don’t worry.  I’m sure if there was anything breakable, the ride on that stage already would have done it in.”  She held out her hand.  “You must be Jelly; Teresa’s told me so much about you.  She said the ranch couldn’t run without you.”

    Jelly’s chest puffed up with pride.  “No, ma’am.  It surely couldn’t.” 

    Teresa smiled at Jelly.  “Jelly, this is my friend Mary Terhune.  Miss Terhune wants to get back to the ranch as soon as possible.” 

     Jelly nodded.  “We have a long ride ahead of us.”   He looked worriedly at the two girls.  Are ya sure ya don’t want ta have a sarsaparilla first?”  Teresa looked questioningly at Mary, but Mary demurred.  “I’d much rather get to the ranch.  I can get something to drink there.” 

     Jelly nodded.  “All right, then let’s get goin’.   

     Mary and Teresa looked at Jelly expectantly until he finally figured out they wanted him to help them up.  Mumbling about ‘helpless females’, he finished giving them a hand up and then crawled into the front seat.  A flick of his wrist sent the well-trained team off down the street toward home.

     They were about fifteen minutes out of town when Mary asked, “How long until we get to the ranch?”

    Teresa looked around, and then replied casually, “Oh, we’re on Lancer land now, but we won’t reach the house for several more hours.”  At Mary’s look of disbelief, Teresa blushed.  “The team is slow.  It’s much quicker on horseback.”

      Mary looked at her friend in astonishment.  “You ride?” 

    For some reason, Teresa felt embarrassed as she nodded reluctantly.

    Mary grinned.  “Good!  Then you’ll be able to teach me.  I’ve always wanted to learn.”

    Teresa smiled back in relief.  Mary was going to fit in here just fine.  The rest of the way home, the two girls talked and traded stories.  Mary told Teresa all about the annual fall cotillion that she and all of the other debutantes attended, and how that life seemed so boring.  Teresa, becoming more at ease because of her friend’s apparent lack of conceit, in turn told Mary about the ranch and the upcoming spring dance.  “I know it won’t compare to the dances you have in San Francisco, but we have fun.”  Teresa explained.

    “I can’t wait, Mary replied.  “And I’m sure it will be just as nice as the ones in San Francisco.”

     Several hours later, the surrey entered the courtyard and pulled up next to the rail.  Jelly hopped down and tied the horses, and then went back to help the women down.  After they were on solid ground, both of the girls stood there for a minute, trying to get the kinks out of their muscles.  After a moment, Teresa led the way into the Great Room, slightly surprised that Murdoch wasn’t there.

    She shrugged, and turned toward her friend.  “I guess Murdoch got called away.” 

     Mary smiled.  “Good.  I’d just as soon wash up before I meet ANYONE.” 

    Teresa smiled in understanding.  “I’ll show you to your room.  It’s adjoining mine, with a bathroom in between.  We’ll have to share.”   She didn’t add that Murdoch had finally added the bathroom at the beginning of the year, after getting tired of hearing the unceasing complaints of both herself and Scott about the outdated bathhouse.  Johnny had sided with them as a matter of principle, but he’d told Scott that the bathhouse was fine with him; it was certainly better than a horse trough. 

     Mary was happy there was even indoor plumbing.  She had heard how uncivilized this part of the country was, and had been regaled with stories of unimagined hardships and violence by her many friends and associates.  She had made up her mind to come to visit Teresa even after learning of the lack of civilization.  But maybe her friends had been wrong.  Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad after all.  And, there were always Teresa’s two brothers, whom she had heard so much about from both Teresa and Audra.  If nothing else, it should be a very interesting visit.


Chapter Three

    The soft knock on her door awakened Mary from a deep sleep.  She hadn’t really been able to rest much since she started her journey, and the soft bed and warm afternoon sun had made her fall asleep almost instantly.  She sat up groggily, confused for just a moment as to exactly where she was.  But Teresa’s voice on the other side of the door reminded her she was at the Lancer ranch.  She got up quickly and smoothed down her dress with her hand.  A quick look in the mirror assured her that her hair and make-up had survived her nap intact, and she went to open the door. 

     “Dinner’s in about a half of an hour.” Teresa said apologetically.  “I was going to let you sleep, but I wasn’t sure if that was what you wanted.  If you’re too tired, you can eat later.” 

     “Nonsense.  That nap was just fine.  Let’s go downstairs so I can finally meet your family.”

     A much refreshed and neater looking Mary followed Teresa downstairs to the Great Room.  Murdoch immediately rose to greet her, as did Scott. 

     Scott started to step forward, but Murdoch was between Scott and Mary, so he got to her first.  “How do you do, young lady, I’m Murdoch Lancer.  Teresa has told me all about you.  I hope you find your stay enjoyable.”

    Mary smiled back at the giant of a man.  “Thank you, Mr. Lancer, I’m sure I will.  And thank you so much for letting me come.” 

     Scott stepped forward and nudged Teresa as he stared at the beautiful blond woman.   Teresa smiled, and then introduced Scott to her friend.  Teresa looked around.  “Where’s Johnny?” 

     Scott shrugged before saying dryly.  “Who knows?  He should be here soon, though.  I’m sure he won’t miss supper.”  The three young people sat down and Scott began asking Mary about San Francisco.  In a few moments, the three of them were deep in conversation and apparently enjoying each other’s company immensely.  Teresa was thrilled to have another woman to talk to, and she wished briefly she could stay here indefinitely.  It was like having a sister.

     Fifteen minutes later, Maria announced supper and Murdoch looked at Scott questioningly.  “Do you know what’s keeping your brother?”

     Scott shook his head.  “I haven’t seen him since lunchtime.  He and Miguel were trying to track down some wayward steers.”

     Murdoch nodded.  “Well, if he’s with someone, we don’t need to worry.  They probably ran into a problem.  We’ll go ahead and eat, no sense letting our food get cold.”

      He led the way to the table, and Teresa kept shooting glances toward the door.  Part of her was worried about Johnny and was hoping he’d come bursting through any minute, but the other half was ready to tear his head off if he showed up at the table without cleaning up properly.  

     Halfway through dinner, Teresa relaxed slightly; the dinner was excellent, and Scott and Murdoch were at their most charming.  Everything was going fine; there was just that nagging concern about Johnny.  Lately he hadn’t been as late as he had been in the beginning; since Murdoch had given him his watch Johnny had made a concerted effort to not be late.  But he did have a way of letting time slip past him, especially when he was working.  And, as they had all found out the hard way, there was always the possibility that the young gunfighter was hurt or in trouble.  That had been the case enough times to make everyone a little edgy until he was home safe.

    After dinner, Scott and Murdoch retired to the Great Room for a brandy and Teresa started toward the kitchen to help with the dishes.  She turned toward her friend.  “I’m going to help Maria a few minutes.  Why don’t you go in the other room and relax?  I won’t be long.”

     “Why don’t I help you?  It would go much quicker.”

    Teresa laughed. “It took forever to get Maria to allow ME into her kitchen.  No, really, go on, I’ll be right in.”

     Mary glanced through the archway into the Great Room, where Murdoch and Scott were deep in conversation, and then looked out the big bay window.  It wasn’t quite dark out side yet.  “If you don’t mind, I’d rather sit outside for a while.  The view is so lovely.” 

     Teresa nodded in understanding.  “There’s a bench in the garden.  Just follow the path around to the right.  I’ll be out as soon as I’m done.”

     In the Great Room, Murdoch watched as their guest disappeared around the side of the house.  “She seems like a very nice young lady.”

     Scott nodded.  “I was a little worried when Teresa told us about her.  I was afraid she might not like it here.  But she doesn’t seem uncomfortable at all.”

      Murdoch smiled.  “No she doesn’t.  I just hope nothing happens to make her change her mind.   Teresa needs someone to talk to besides us.”

      Just then the double doors leading to the patio opened and Mary walked in, looking slightly disgruntled.  Scott immediately stood up.  “Is everything all right?” 

     She stared at him for a moment as she considered the question, and then gave him a small smile.  “Yes, I……..I just got a little cold outside and decided to come in.”   At his concerned look, she smiled wider.  “I’m fine, and there’s nothing wrong, really.”  She moved closer to the fire and stood warming her hands.  Scott and Murdoch watched her dubiously for a moment, and then went back to their conversation. 

       In a moment Teresa came in from the kitchen and looked at Mary with a worried frown.  “Didn’t you like it outside?”

     Mary laughed.  “It was fine.  It’s really very beautiful here. I just explained to your father and brother that I got cold.”

     The front door slammed and a moment later the familiar jingle of spurs told his family that Johnny was home.  Teresa said a quick prayer that he had remembered to wash up before coming in, and when he appeared a few seconds later, she breathed out a sigh of relief.

      Johnny walked over to the fireplace and took the glass out of Scott’s hand before turning his attention to Mary.

       Mary’s eyes got big as Scott introduced them, but Johnny’s mouth just quirked up and he gave her a grin.  “Welcome to our home.”


Chapter Four

    Teresa looked back and forth several times between her friend and Johnny, knowing she had missed something, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what.  Johnny was looking at Mary as if challenging her to say something, and although Mary was doing her best to retain her composure, she was obviously flustered.  After several moments, however, Mary regained her poise.       

     “You have a beautiful home. Mr. Lancer.”  She raised her head and looked at Johnny as if daring him to say anything.

      Johnny smiled at her once again.  “I know. It’s more than I deserve.”

      Teresa’s attention was brought back to Johnny as he made that statement.  “It is NOT!”  She protested.  “I don’t know why you say things like that.”  She looked at him suspiciously, and then looked back at her friend.  “Do you two know each other?”

     Mary immediately shook her head.  “I assure you, Teresa, I’ve never seen Johnny before today.”

    Teresa looked at Johnny.  He smiled and shook his head.  “Nope.  Never seen her before.”   He looked at Mary innocently.  “Of course, we DID have an interesting conversation outside.” 

     Teresa saw Mary instantly blush and wondered what on earth they could have said to each other.  A sudden thought crossed her mind and she turned back to Mary.  “Did Johnny say something that was out of line?” 

    Murdoch immediately stepped in.  “Teresa, I think you know better than that.”  He looked at Johnny as if wanting affirmation that he was right, and Johnny stared back at him before turning to Mary.  “Actually we only exchanged a few words, and I’m sure I didn’t say anything wrong.” 

    Mary ducked her head for a moment, and then turned toward Teresa.  “Johnny most certainly wasn’t out of line.  In fact, he was a perfect gentleman.  I’m sorry if I led you to believe anything differently.”  She turned to include Johnny in her gaze.  “Please forgive me.” 

    Teresa immediately answered.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I’m sorry I got the wrong idea.” 


    As Teresa was talking, Scott noticed that Mary kept her eyes on his brother, and it wasn’t until Johnny nodded slightly that Mary relaxed.  Scott didn’t know what had taken place between the two of them, but he was sure something had.  Now he just had to find out what.  Whatever it was, he knew Johnny better than to think he had been out of line with the young woman.  By all indications, it was just the opposite.  Mary seemed to be asking Johnny for forgiveness.  But what on earth could this refined young lady possibly have said that she felt she had to apologize for?  Scott made a mental note to talk to Johnny alone at the first opportunity.

     The rest of the evening passed rather uneventfully.  The four young people seemed to get along just fine, and there were no more curious looks or suspicious glances to indicate everything wasn’t as it should be.   Finally, just before midnight, and with Murdoch long retired, Mary and Teresa finally excused themselves and headed upstairs.  After giving them several moments to make sure the girls were out of earshot, Scott looked at Johnny expectantly.   “Well?”   

    Johnny looked back innocently.  “Well, what?”

     Scott gave his brother his most intimidating stare, which unfortunately for Scott, didn’t faze Johnny Madrid.  After glaring at his brother for several seconds, Scott admitted defeat and tried a different line of attack. 

   “Well, what did she say that she was so embarrassed about?”

   Again Johnny looked at him innocently for a moment before finally dropping his head.  “It wasn’t anything Scott. Really. Just drop it.”

     “Johnny, it had to be SOMETHING.  Everyone saw the looks you two gave each other, even Murdoch.”  Scott hesitated.  “Did ……something…. happen between you two?”

     Instead of getting mad, which Scott expected, Johnny laughed.  “Yeah, in fact I asked her to marry me.”

    Scott stared at his brother for a second, unsure of what to say.  Finally, Johnny took pity on him.  “Scott,” he said gently, “I didn’t even know who she was until Teresa introduced us.  We only talked for less than a minute when she was outside.”  He hesitated a moment, and then decided he had better make it even clearer. “I was kidding.”

     “Well, something sure happened that embarrassed her.”

     Johnny dropped his eyes and shook his head.  “None of your concern, Boston.  Now let it be.” 

    Scott hesitated, feeling strongly that he was going to regret “letting it be” but acquiescing to his brother’s request.  “All right.  If you change your mind and want to talk about it, I’ll be here.”

   Johnny nodded.  “Thanks, but it wasn’t anything important.”

      Scott went over and picked up a glass.  He got out Murdoch’s private stash of scotch and poured a large drink.  He swirled the liquor around in the glass a few times and then looked at his brother thoughtfully.  “Have you asked anyone to the dance yet?”          

    Johnny shook his head.  “I haven’t decided whether ta ask Lucy or Connie.”  He looked up at his brother and grinned.  “Guess I’d better make up my mind, huh?”

     Scott smiled and nodded his head.  “Yes, you’d better, since the dance is in three days.”  Scott hesitated, and then said casually, “I thought I might ask Mary.”  He shrugged.  “Make her feel more welcome.”

     Scott watched Johnny’s expression carefully for any sign of disproval, but didn’t see any.  His brother nodded and grinned.  “Sure, why not?  Do you know who Teresa’s goin’ with?” 

    Scott shrugged.  “I think Bobby Thomson.”  He looked at his brother again.  “Are you sure you don’t care if I ask Mary?”

      Johnny looked bewildered.  “Why should I care?  I don’t even know her.”

      Relieved, Scott relaxed.  Whatever had taken place between the two of them obviously hadn’t been important, and deep down, he was glad.  He thought Mary Terhune was probably the most beautiful and intriguing lady he had ever met, and he couldn’t wait to get to know her better.


    Chapter Five 

      “Are you SURE you want to drive into town with me?  I won’t be upset if you don’t want to; I’m not looking forward to it myself.” 

     Mary looked at Teresa.  “Of course I’ll go.  It won’t seem as long a ride if you have company.” 

      Teresa shook her head.  “I can’t believe I ruined that hat.  I just hope the store   has SOMETHING that will go with my dress.”

      Mary laughed.  “That will teach you to pick out a dress in the most beautiful, but unfortunately the most unusual, shade you could find.” 

     “Well, I fell in love with that dress and couldn’t pass it up.  Jelly had driven me into Green River and I refused to leave until it was in my hands.  It’s a good thing Lancer has an account at the store there, or I would have made Jelly drive all the way back to the ranch to get some money.”

     “Jelly must do an awful lot of driving.  Is that who’s taking us into town today?”

    Teresa shrugged.  “I don’t know who it will be.   Whoever can get away from their work for a little while is the one who usually does it.”

     Mary smiled a beguiling smile.  “Maybe one of your brothers?” 

     “Any particular one?”  Teresa smiled. 


      Teresa laughed.  “Well, don’t be too disappointed if it’s Jelly again, he’s usually the one that gets volunteered.”

     “You make it sound as if your brothers don’t really enjoy doing it.”

      Teresa shrugged.  “I’m sure they don’t mind spending some time in the saloon, but don’t even THINK of asking any of them to help with the shopping.”

     “Well, I really can’t blame them for that.  Even I get bored with shopping sometimes.”

      “I never do.”  Teresa said wistfully. “But then, there’s not that many places to shop around here.  To get anything really nice I have to go to Stockton.” 

       “I know.  It’s a never ending battle to find just the perfect dress.”  Mary laughed.  “Those men just don’t know how rough a time we have.” 

      Teresa laughed back.  “Well, let’s go show them just how tough we really are.” 

      Mary’s smile left her face.  “Are you ever scared out here?”     

      Teresa hesitated.  “Once in a while, but not too often.  I feel pretty safe here, especially since Scott and Johnny came home.”

     “You said before that they hadn’t grown up together here.”

     “No, Scott was raised by his grandfather in Boston, and Johnny…grew up around the border.” 

     Mary nodded.  “They’re so different.” 

     Teresa smiled.  “Yes, they certainly are.”  She looked at her friend slyly.  “So which one are you interested in?”

     Mary blushed.  “I just met them.”


     Mary smiled and shook her head.  “So, is it as wild out here as they say it is?”

      Teresa laughed.  “Sometimes.”

    “I must admit, I almost didn’t come.  Everyone was telling me horrible stories about how violent and uncivilized it was here.  But you made it seem almost like an adventure.”

      “Sometimes it is violent.”  A shadow crossed her face as she remembered the war with Pardee that had cost her father his life.  “But I wouldn’t live anywhere else.  This place has a way of growing on you.”

    “It must.  It’s hard for me to imagine a man like Scott giving up everything society had to offer to live out here.  It must be something really special.”

     “It is.  But to be honest, sometimes I think the only reason he stays is because of Johnny.”

    “His brother?”

    Teresa nodded.  “They’ve become so close.  I don’t think anything could ever drive them apart.  I know that both of them have considered leaving, but they haven’t because they don’t want to leave the other one.  They had both wanted a brother their whole lives, and it was quite a pleasant shock when they found out the other one existed.” 

     “That must have been some introduction.”   

    Teresa smiled.  “They both came in on the same stage.  Of course, they didn’t have too long to get to know each other before Pardee attacked and tried to take over the ranch.  We almost lost Johnny when Pardee shot him.”

    Mary blanched.  “He was actually SHOT?”

     Teresa looked at her quizzically.  “Yes.”

    “I’ve never known anyone who was actually shot before.  I can’t imagine.  Has anyone else around here been shot?”

   Teresa looked amused.  “Well, from what I can remember, Murdoch’s been shot three times, Scott’s been shot at least five, and Johnny, well, I gave up trying to keep count on him a long time ago.”

     Mary looked in shocked silence at her friend.  “Then the stories are true?”

     “What stories?”  Teresa asked cautiously. 

     “About how wild and dangerous it is here.” 

     “Well it certainly can be.” 

    “I’m glad one of the men is driving us into town.  I wouldn’t want to go anywhere by myself.”  Mary shuddered slightly.

     “It isn’t THAT bad, but Murdoch prefers for someone to escort the women.”

     “Good for him.  I heard all sorts of stories on the way out here.  Outlaws, Indians, gunfighters.”

       “Well, you can’t believe everything you hear.”

     Mary leaned in toward her friend.  “Do you know what one of the men on the stage told me?”   


     “He said that Johnny Madrid lived around these parts.”

      Teresa managed to keep her face neutral.  “Johnny Madrid?”

      “Yes, Johnny Madrid.  You know, the vicious killer.”

       Teresa jumped off the bed and stood facing her friend with her hands on her hips.  “He is NOT a vicious killer, and you shouldn’t believe such VICIOUS gossip.”

      Mary looked confused.  “But everyone knows about him.  I even read some articles about him up in San Francisco.” 

     “WELL, THEY’RE WRONG!!”  Teresa turned and faced the window, trying to get her temper in control. 

    Mary came up and put her hand on her friend’s arm.  “I’m sorry if I said anything out of line.”  When Teresa didn’t respond, she continued cautiously.  “You sound like you know him.” 

     “So do you.”  Teresa replied softly.

      “I don’t understand.”

     With a sigh, Teresa turned and faced her friend.  “Scott grew up with wealth and comfort, but Johnny’s mother died when he was ten.  He grew up alone, and did what he had to do to survive.  If he hadn’t, he would have been dead long ago.”

     Mary still looked puzzled.  “But what does that have to do with Madrid?”

      Taking a deep breath, Teresa continued.  “Johnny didn’t always go by the name of Lancer.”  

    It took Mary a second before she realized what her friend was saying, and then she sat abruptly down on the bed.  “I think,” she said.  “You’d better go into town without me.”


Chapter Six 

    Teresa put her hand on her hip and stared down at her friend.  “You don’t even know him, and you’re willing to condemn him for things that you know nothing about.”

      Mary shook her head slowly.  “I’m not condemning anyone, I’m just shocked, that’s all.  I’ve heard so many stories about Johnny Madrid, and then to find out that he’s your brother……”

    “Johnny is a decent, caring young man.  I’ve found that out since he’s been here.  He’s nothing like you’d expect a gunfighter to be.” 

    “Weren’t you a little…..frightened… when he came here?”   

     “When he first came home, all of us were a little wary,” Teresa reluctantly admitted.  “We didn’t know what to expect and we had heard the stories too.  But Johnny won us over, along with just about everybody in the valley.  We all found out that the stories were mostly just that, stories.  Johnny is one of the most decent men I know.”

     Mary nodded her head slowly.  “All right, I believe you.  It just…took me by surprise, that’s all.”

     Teresa watched her friend warily.  As much as she liked Mary, she wouldn’t tolerate anyone hurting either of the young men she considered her brothers.  Especially Johnny.  He had been hurt enough in his life and she had no intention of letting someone ostracize him because of a past he had no control over. She would be terribly disappointed if she had been so wrong about her friend.   She watched as emotions flickered across Mary’s face and Teresa braced herself for an argument. 

    Finally Mary looked back at her friend and smiled wryly.  “I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t say anything about ‘the wild west’ after dinner the other night.  I almost told all of you then about what the man in the stage said.  I’m glad I didn’t; from what I can tell, Johnny seems like a very nice man, and I wouldn’t want to say anything to hurt him.  I’m sorry, and please don’t tell him what I said; I was wrong.”  She hesitated and then looked at Teresa hopefully.  “May I still go into town with you?” 

    Teresa relaxed.  She should have known that Mary wouldn’t really care, but she was relieved to have her faith in her friend rewarded.   “Sure.  I’ll need a shoulder to cry on if I can’t find a hat.” 

     Mary laughed.  “I’ll need a shoulder to cry on if I can’t get a date for the dance.”

      “I have the distinct feeling you won’t have to cry for long.”

    The two girls went down the stairs laughing, the previous conversation forgotten.   Murdoch was sitting at his desk, doing the never- ending bookwork that went with running the ranch.  He looked up as Teresa and Mary came in to the room.   “Well, you two sure look like you’re in a good mood.   That wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re going shopping, would it?”

     Teresa came over and planted a kiss on Murdoch’s cheek.  “Of course it would.  Why ELSE would we be so happy?” 

      Murdoch shook his head.  “I don’t know why women love to shop so much.  Maybe you can enlighten me.” 

      Mary laughed.  “We’ll tell you our secret if you tell us yours.  Why do men like to fish?” 

      Murdoch looked indignant.  “Fishing is a highly refined science that takes lots of practice and finesse.”

     Teresa giggled.  “Especially when Johnny does it.”

     The indignant look melted and Murdoch chuckled.  “All right, point taken.  I suppose there must be SOME reason you like to do it so much.”

     Teresa spun around.  “Well of course there is.  It’s so we can look ravishing.”  

     “Then my dears, you both have my blessing to do all the shopping you want. Just try to get back by dinnertime, all right?”

     Teresa snuck a look at Mary.  “We’ll try, but you never know.”

      Murdoch laughed.  “I guess I won’t have to worry.  I don’t think you’ll be able to keep Johnny away from the dinner table that long.  You’ll be back on time, I guarantee.”

    “Johnny’s taking us?”  Mary asked quietly.

    Murdoch nodded.  “Yes, he had to go into town sometime this week anyway to pick up some supplies for the new bridge over in the south section.  I told him he could pick them up today.”

     Teresa studied her friend, but Mary didn’t seem bothered by that information.

    “Is Scott coming too?”  Mary asked softly.

     Murdoch shook his head and chuckled.  “Scott volunteered, but he had to finish up with that windmill.  Besides, I can’t spare both of them, even for an all -important shopping trip.”

    Teresa once more glanced at her friend, and was rewarded with a smile as Mary retorted, “Well, I was just hoping that I could be accompanied by two very handsome bachelors.”

    Murdoch smiled.  “Maybe next time.  I’m sure they will have plenty of opportunities to fight for the chance to accompany the two most beautiful girls in the valley into town.”  He glanced up at the clock.  “You two had better get going, it’s getting late.”

    Mary and Teresa walked out to the front of the house where Johnny already had the buggy waiting.  Johnny helped Teresa into the back seat, and then after a moment’s hesitation, he offered his hand to Mary to help her up.  She looked at him for a moment, and then smiled and took his arm as she let him help her into the buggy. She was rewarded with a crooked smile before Johnny climbed into the front seat and flipped the reins on Zanzibar’s back.  The gelding started down the drive at a trot toward the arch, and Teresa glanced once more at her friend.  Mary was staring off into space, a preoccupied look on her face.

     “Mary, what’s wrong?”

     When she didn’t get an answer, she tried again.  “Mary, are you all right?”

    It wasn’t until Teresa shook her friend’s arm that Mary finally responded.  “I’m sorry.  Did you say something?”

    “I asked you if everything was all right.”

     “I’m fine, really.”

   “Are you sure?  You seem worried about something.”

    Mary shook her head absent- mindedly.  “No, I’m not worried.  I was just trying to solve a problem.”

    “Is there anything I can do to help?”

     Mary shook her head once more and smiled at her friend.  “No.  Thanks, but it’s something I’ll have to figure out by myself.” 

     Chapter Seven 

      Johnny drove the buggy into Green River several hours later.  All three of them were tired and glad that the drive was over.  Most of the drive had passed in silence, as the three of them had been lost in their own thoughts since leaving the estancia.  Johnny guided the horse up to the hitching post in front of the mercantile, then jumped down and helped the two girls out of the buggy before securing the horse to the rail. 

    Johnny watched the two girls as they started toward the store. “How long do ya think you’ll be?”

      Teresa turned and looked back over her shoulder playfully as she headed into the mercantile.  “Oh, not long, two or three hours should be plenty of time.”  Mary grinned and grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her into the store while Teresa giggled and waved at Johnny happily before finally disappearing into the building.

       Johnny shook his head as he watched the two girls vanish. He just didn’t understand how women could spend all that time lookin’ at clothes.  He looked around for a moment in indecision, and then headed toward the saloon.  At least he could kill a few painless hours visiting with some friends and having a few drinks.

     He walked up to the batwing doors and looked cautiously inside.  Scott sometimes teased him about it, but it was hard to break a habit that had saved his life more times than he could count.  Besides, even though he didn’t have to worry about somebody gunning for him as much as he used to, the habit still came in handy.   It had, on occasion, saved him from some very boring conversations with people he didn’t really want to talk with, and a couple of times it had saved him from paying back an overdue gambling debt.

  He looked into the bar and checked out the clientele.   He relaxed when he didn’t see any dangerous characters inside.  Well, one, but he wasn’t really worried about Val.  Johnny pushed the doors open and walked into the saloon.  He strode over to the bar and grabbed a glass before walking over and plopping down into a chair next to the sheriff and comfortably putting his legs up on the table. He reached over and helped himself to Val’s bottle and downed a shot of the sheriff’s scotch as Val watched in amusement. 

     “Problems?”  Val asked.

    “Nope.  Just thirsty.”

    “Uh huh.”

     Johnny filled up his glass once more and sipped the fiery liquid.

      Val watched in amusement as Johnny absent-mindedly drank the scotch he usually avoided like the plague.  “Whatever problems you don’t have wouldn’t have anything to do with that blond that came into town with you and Teresa, would it?”

     Johnny finished his drink and shook his head.  “I told ya, there’s nothing wrong.”

      Val reached over and filled Johnny’s glass once more. “Uh huh.  You stickin’ with that story?”

     Johnny glared at his friend but didn’t reply.

      “She’s awfully pretty.” Val pressed.  “You gonna take her to the dance?”

      Johnny shook his head.  “Ain’t my type,” he said curtly.

      The sheriff’s eyes narrowed.  “Since when is ANY pretty girl not your type?”

      Johnny slammed his glass down on the table.  “Lay off, Val.  I told ya, she ain’t my type.  Now leave it alone.”  He glared at the sheriff.

     The sheriff sighed dramatically.    “All right, I give up…for now.”  He took a sip of his own drink.  “Who is she, anyway?”

      Johnny stared in disbelief at the sheriff’s audacity but finally sighed.  “She’s a friend of Teresa’s from San Francisco.”

      Val nodded.  “She stayin’ for a while?”

     “I don’t know…..  Yeah, I guess.”

      Val looked in concern at his friend.  Anytime Johnny didn’t show any interest in a pretty girl there was something drastically wrong.

     “Are ya sure ya don’t want ta talk about it?”


      “All right, all right.”  He took a sip of scotch.  “What’re the girls doin’ in town, anyway?”

       Johnny sighed in resignation.  Val was worse than a dog with a bone.  “They’re lookin’ for dresses for the dance.  I’m supposed ta pick ‘em up in a few hours.”

      “How can women hang around a store lookin’ at clothes that long?”

      “Beats me.”  Johnny reached over and plucked at Val’s shirt.  “But it wouldn’t hurt you ta spend some time in there yourself.”

       Val snatched his shirt from Johnny’s fingers.  “This happens ta be my favorite shirt. I just have it broke in right so it’s finally comfortable.”

       Johnny snorted.  “It should be.  There’s hardly enough material left ta even feel it.”  He grinned at his friend.  “So who’re you askin’ to the dance?”

        Val shrugged.  “I don’t know.”  He looked at Johnny with a wry grin and raised his eyebrows.  “Maybe I’ll ask that pretty blond since you ain’t interested.”

       Instead of the smile Val expected from his friend, Johnny glumly studied his glass.  “Val, I don’t think she’s your type, either.  Besides, I’m pretty sure she’s already got a date.”

     Val smiled.  “I didn’t think she was your type.”

     Johnny closed his eyes and said quietly, “Lay off, Val.”

     “So who’s she goin’ with?”

       Johnny threw back another shot.  “Scott’s gonna ask her.”

     Val took a sip of his drink.  “You think she’s Scott’s type?”

      Johnny shrugged.  “Ain’t my call.”

      Val watched his friend for a moment before continuing cautiously.  “Johnny, if there’s somethin’ Scott should know about that lady, don’t ya think you should tell him?”

     Johnny shook his head in frustration.  “Look, there’s nothin’ he needs ta know about.  Besides, he’s just askin’ her to the dance, he ain’t marryin’ her.”

     Val grinned.  “Ya never know.”

       Johnny snorted.   “There’s no way my brother is getting’ married anytime soon.” 

      Val grinned and then shuddered dramatically.  “I hope not.  If he and you are out of the running, all them females would be after me.” 

       Johnny snorted again as Val lifted his glass.  “To all three of us staying single for a long, long time.”

      Johnny finally smiled and raised his glass and downed the shot.    


Chapter Eight

      Mary and Teresa spent almost two hours in the store, perusing all of the merchant’s clothing several times.  Finally, Teresa decided on a hat that both she and Mary agreed would compliment her dress.  Mary already had a dress for the dance, but she bought some material to make a riding skirt, and Teresa was surprised to find out that her friend was an accomplished seamstress.  Mary told her that she made almost all of her own dresses. She would have thought that someone in Mary’s position would buy pre-made clothing of the latest style.  It made her think that maybe there wasn’t too much difference between them, and she felt better than ever about asking her friend to Lancer. 

    The sales finally completed, the two girls walked out onto the boardwalk. 

      Mary looked around the town.  “Well, now what?” 

    Teresa shrugged.  “Now we wait for Johnny to get done at the saloon, which may or may not be a short time, depending.”

    “Depending on what?”

     Teresa shrugged, and then laughed.  “Depending on Johnny, and if he finds any trouble.”

    “Does he REALLY get into that much trouble?”

    Teresa smiled.  “No, not really.  Trouble just has a way of finding him.”

         Mary walked over to a nearby bench and sat down, and after a moment’s hesitation, Teresa joined her.  Mary looked at her friend and pointed at Teresa’s purchase.  “So, now that you’ve got your hat, who are you going to the dance with?”

     “Bobby Thomson.  He’s the son of one of the local ranchers.”

    “Is he cute?”

     Teresa shrugged.  “I guess.”

     “Is it serious?”

      Teresa giggled.  “No way.  Bobby and I grew up together.  The first time we met, he pushed me down into a mud puddle.”

     “Well, no wonder you want to go to the dance with him,” Mary said seriously.

       Teresa shot her friend a look out of the corner of her eye.  “So who do you want to go to the dance with?  Scott or Johnny?” 

     “Who says I want to go with either one?”

     Teresa looked at her friend in disbelief.  “Do you really expect me to believe you’re not interested in going to the dance with either Scott or Johnny?”


      “Come on, tell me.”  

       Mary shrugged.  “Actually, I like both of your brothers.”

       Teresa looked at her friend appraisingly.  “You’re not afraid of Johnny anymore?”  

       Mary smiled.  “I think I was very mistaken about him.  He certainly doesn’t seem very dangerous.”

      Teresa laughed.  “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

      Both girls looked up in alarm as a chair crashed through the window of the saloon, followed a second later by a cowboy from a neighboring ranch.  He scrambled to his feet and ran back through the doors.  A moment later, the cowboy came flying out once more, with both Johnny and Val helping him through the window, and this time he lay where he landed.  One of the cowboy’s friends jumped on Johnny’s back and the two of them landed in the street, both of them furiously throwing punches.  Val walked over and grabbed the man by the back of the neck and received a blow to the stomach, doubling him over.  However the move gave Johnny an opening, and he sent his fist into the man’s face, finally finishing the fight.

     Johnny walked over and put his hand on the sheriff’s shoulder.  “You all right?”

     Val nodded breathlessly.  “Yeah, what about you?”

     “Just fine.”

     Val nodded toward the two ladies on the porch.  “It looks like we got an audience.”

     Johnny nodded.  “Yep.”

      Teresa ran out into the street and grabbed Johnny.  “Are you all right?”

      Johnny smiled crookedly.  “It was just a little fight.”

      Teresa put her hands on her hips and glared at her brother.  “You’ve got a cut lip and a black eye.”  She grabbed him by the arm.

     “Well don’t be mad at me, I didn’t put ‘em there.”  He glanced up as Mary approached and he pulled away from Teresa.  “I told ya, I’m fine.  Now are ya ready ta go?”

      Teresa glared at Johnny.  “We’re going over to Sam’s office and get you cleaned up before we go anywhere.”

     Johnny glared back.  “No, we’re not.”

    Mary spoke up.  “Yes, you are!  You’re hurt, and you need some attention.” 

     Johnny looked at Teresa’s friend in disbelief as Val grinned.  The gunfighter shot the lawman an evil look and then turned back toward Teresa.  “What about him?  He’s got a black eye too.”  Johnny mumbled.

     “Well, we’ll just have to fix both of you up.  Now, come on.” Teresa’s tone left no room for argument and she stomped off toward the Doctor’s office.  A moment later a subdued Johnny and Val followed reluctantly behind with Mary following the two men.

    “I didn’t do nothin’, why didja have ta go and get me involved.  I don’t need no women fussin’ over me,” Val grumbled.

     Johnny looked at him incredulously.  “Why did I get you involved?  You’re the one that started the fight!  I was just helpin’ ya out.”

   “Well next time don’t!  I don’t need your help; it ain’t worth it.”

     Mary came up next to Johnny.  “You helped the sheriff?”

    Johnny looked at her quizzically.  “Yeah, why not?”

    “I….I don’t know, I just didn’t think you’d be on the same side, that’s all.”

    Val snorted.  “We ain’t.”

   Johnny glanced at Mary as she looked back and forth between the two men in confusion and he shook his head angrily.   “I’m a gunfighter, not an outlaw.  I don’t kill without reason and I don’t break the law,” he ground out. 

    Val grinned at Johnny.  “Well I don’t know about that, there was that time….”

     “Shut up, Val!” Johnny said angrily.

     Val clamped his mouth shut and looked at his friend in astonishment and then looked at the girl.  She glanced at him for a moment and then looked at Johnny.  “I’m sorry.  It seems like I’m always saying the wrong thing.  Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to imply…..”  She looked up at Johnny beseechingly.  “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

    Johnny stared at her for a moment and then turned and strode after Teresa.

Chapter Nine

     Johnny headed toward his horse, his mind on the work he needed to get done.  He was behind schedule; it seemed like he had been having a run of bad luck lately.  There had been a series of small mishaps and minor accidents plaguing him for the last several days that had put him way behind.  Yesterday, he had ridden all the way out to the north pasture and then found out his wire cutters were missing.  He had been sure he’d left them in his saddlebags the night before, but evidently he hadn’t.  He’d had to ride back to the yard to get another pair, and it had cost him several hours.  He shook his head; he KNEW he’d had them, just like he knew he’d filled his canteen the day before that, but it had somehow been dry when he’d needed it. Evidently Mary’s presence was upsetting him more than he thought.  He’d better get his mind back on work, or Murdoch was going to have a fit.

     “Johnny!  I want to talk to you!”

     Johnny turned and waited as Teresa hurried after him.  He looked at her quizzically.  “What’s wrong?”  

    “I need to talk to you.”  

     “So talk.”  

     Teresa glanced around the yard.  “Privately.”

      With a sigh, Johnny glanced longingly over to where Barranca was tied and motioned his sister toward the garden.  He had a pretty good idea what she wanted to talk about, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.

     When they entered the garden, Teresa walked around nervously, plucking flowers from the various bushes and then absent-mindedly dropping them.  Finally she hesitated a moment, trying to get her thoughts together.  

    “Go on, Teresa, get it said.  I got work ta do,” Johnny drawled.  

   Teresa took a deep breath.  “I want to talk to you about Mary.”  

     Johnny shook his head in resignation.  “What about her?”  

     Teresa hesitated.  “She’s been TRYING to make up to you for whatever happened that first night, and you’ve been ignoring her.”

      Johnny sighed.  “Teresa, I haven’t been ignoring her.”  

     “Well, you haven’t been exactly friendly, either.”  

     Johnny looked down and didn’t say anything and Teresa continued.  “Johnny, Mary really feels badly, and she’s been bending over backward to be nice to you.  Can’t you please give her another chance?”  

   “Teresa, I really don’t care what she does.  I’ve been polite, just like I promised.  I haven’t done anything to upset her or make her feel unwelcome.”

     “Well, you haven’t exactly been friendly, either.”  

     Johnny didn’t look up.  “Did she tell you what she said that first night?” He asked quietly.  

    “No,” Teresa said softly as she studied the roses.  “I tried to get her to tell me but she wouldn’t.  What did she say?”  

     Johnny shook his head.  “Nothin’.  It don’t matter.”  He looked up into Teresa’s earnest face and finally gave her a grin.  “All right, I’ll play nice.”  

   “Johnny, what did she say?”  Teresa’s voice was troubled.  

    Johnny reached over and gave Teresa a kiss on the top of her head.  “It wasn’t important.”  

   Teresa bit her lip.  “If she was out of line…..”  

   “Teresa!  Drop it, OK?  You’re right, I probably over-reacted.  She seems like a nice girl, and you’re right, everyone deserves a second chance; I should know.”

    Teresa studied her brother’s face and finally nodded reluctantly as he grinned at her.  “Thanks, Johnny.  She’s really doing her best to fit in here.”

     “I know.”

      As Teresa walked away, Johnny stood there for a few moments thinking about Mary.   Maybe he had been wrong.  Except for that one comment that first night, when she had mistaken him for a hired hand, she’d been going out of her way to be polite and friendly.  He sighed.  Everybody else liked her, that’s for sure.  Scott had taken her to the dance and both his brother and Mary had seemed to have a great time.  Even Murdoch seemed smitten with her.  He scuffed his toe in the dirt thoughtfully and walked back toward his horse. 

     He had just swung up on Barranca when Teresa called out to him once more.  Resignedly, he turned around and faced his sister as she came toward him.

     “Johnny, I was wondering if you would mind…….If you would…….”  

    “Teresa!  Get it said!”  

     The words came out in a rush.  “It’s just that Mary wants to learn how to ride, and I promised her I would teach her.  But Mary wants to learn how to ride tomorrow and I need some help.  Murdoch doesn’t want us to go off by ourselves, and Scott has to go into Spanish Wells.  Can you help us?  Murdoch said it was all right with him.” 

    When Johnny hesitated, Teresa smiled beguilingly.  “I plan on bringing a picnic lunch for us and I’m making fried chicken and a chocolate cake to take along.”  

    Even with the lure of Teresa’s chocolate cake, Johnny was tempted to ask what the matter was with Scott helping, but he figured Teresa would take exception to the question.  After all, he HAD promised to try harder to make Mary welcome.  With a sigh, he nodded, but he had the feeling he was going to regret it.  

    That evening at supper, Johnny noticed that Scott looked decidedly miffed that he wasn’t going to get the chance to give their charming guest a riding lesson.  Scott kept shooting dirty looks at him like it was his idea.  Finally, Johnny had had enough.  “Look, Scott, if you want me ta take those papers in ta Spanish Wells tomorrow I will.” 

    Teresa put her fork down with a clang.  “Johnny!  You PROMISED you’d help with Mary’s riding lesson!” 

     “Well, Scott here can help you.”  

     “Are you trying to weasel out?”  

    Johnny looked up and caught Mary’s eye.   She immediately dropped her head with a decidedly dejected look, and Teresa glared at him.

       Johnny shook his head.  It seemed like no matter what he did he was going to be in the doghouse.  “Look, I told ya I would help, and I will.  I just thought that maybe Scott would be better at it.  After all, he was in the cavalry,” he finished somewhat lamely.  He looked up, and as expected both Scott and Teresa were glaring at him.  It looked like it was going to be another great day tomorrow.

     With a sigh, he picked up his glass.   “Be out at the barn by eight tomorrow mornin’.  I have ta get some of those horses broke tomorrow afternoon.”  

     Mary and Teresa exchanged joyful glances.  “We’ll be there!”  

      Scott looked at Johnny and scowled.  “Thanks, brother,” he said dryly. He turned to the two girls and attempted a smile.  “Have fun.”  


Chapter Ten  

    The next morning Johnny went out to the barn early to pick out a horse for Mary and to get Barranca and Teresa’s mare, Daisy, saddled. He caught sight of Cipriano’s nephew in the barn, grooming one of the horses.  He had joined his uncle at the ranch almost two months ago, after living in Mexico his whole life, and he was doing his best to earn his wages.  Johnny smiled at the eager young man. “Hola Juan.”  

    Cipriano’s son smiled back at his boss.  “Buenos Dias, Senor Johnny.  Do you want me to get your horse ready?”  

   Johnny shook his head.  “No thanks.  I just have to get a couple of horses ready for the girls.”  

    “Do you want me to help you?”  

    “No thanks, you’ve got enough to do.  I’ll take care of it.”  

     Juan grinned.  “At least you won’t have to be riding fence today.”  

    Johnny snorted.  “And you think that’s a good thing?  I’d rather wrestle steer outta mud holes all day long than escort two females for a ridin’ lesson.”  

    Juan looked at his patron seriously.  “Perhaps I can help with that, senor?”  

   Johnny shook his head.  “Be smart, Juan, and just stay out of it.  You don’t need two irate women after you.”  Johnny turned and appraised the horses in the barn as Juan watched him thoughtfully for a moment before turning and walking further into the darkened building.  

     After a lot of thought, Johnny picked out a flashy looking but decidedly sluggish gelding for Mary.  Since he didn’t know anything about her riding ability, he figured he’d rather be safe than sorry.  He quickly saddled the horses and led them outside.  

  He waited a few minutes, and then realized the girls were running late.  With a scowl, he walked over to the nearby corral and watched the horses he had penned in there the day before and sized them up.  He had to break them this week if he was going to make the contract they had with the army, but he had made an agreement with his Old Man that he’d take care of his regular chores first, and he was running way behind.  He looked up at the house again, willing the girls to come out.  He didn’t have time for this.  He looked thoughtfully at the horses.  Maybe he could figure out a way to end the lesson early.  

    He’d been waiting almost forty minutes by the time Mary and Teresa appeared.  Teresa had apparently lent Mary a riding skirt, and for once, Teresa was similarly attired, instead of sporting her usual pants.  He gave her a knowing smile, and she looked up at him, daring him to say anything.  He just grinned.  “You both look nice today.”  

    Mary smiled back.  “Thank you.  Teresa lent me this outfit.  I didn’t have one of my own; my father would never dream of letting me anywhere near a smelly horse.”  She laughed.  “I guess I’d better not tell him, or he’ll disown me.”  

    Mary looked around.  “Which one do I get?”  She walked over to Barranca and started to pet his nose and Johnny immediately came up and grabbed her away. “Not a good idea, at least if you want to keep all of your fingers.”   

   She looked up in confusion.  “I thought horses were friendly.”  

   “Not all of them.  And especially not this one.  Yours is over there.”  He pointed toward the Buckskin.  She turned and squealed in delight and started to run over to him.  

    “STOP!”  Johnny said, shooting his sister a black look for getting him into this mess.  “You NEVER run around horses, and you don’t make sudden moves or sounds.”

      Mary looked around guiltily.  “Sorry,” she said.

       “Come on.  I’ll show you how to get on.”  She followed him over to the horse and listened carefully as he explained how to mount.  “And don’t forget, ALWAYS check your cinch.”  She nodded, and then with his help, swung clumsily into the saddle. The Buckskin moved nervously for a moment and then settled down.    Johnny heaved a sigh of relief and walked over to Barranca, leaving Teresa to mount by herself.  He figured she did it all the rest of the time; there was no reason she couldn’t today.

    An hour later, the trio stopped their horses under the shade of a tree next to a stream.  Johnny showed Mary how to loosen the cinch and take care of her horse while Teresa took out three lunches from her saddlebags and got lunch ready.  Johnny quickly made sure Barranca and Daisy were comfortable then joined the girls for lunch.

  After lunch, Mary walked over to her buckskin and clambered aboard.  She had hardly landed when the horse snorted and dropped his head to buck.  Mary grabbed the saddle horn and tried desperately to hang on, but the horse started crow hopping and Mary soon lost her balance and fell heavily.


     Two hours later, Murdoch was pacing the living room, stopping occasionally to glare at his younger son.  “You should have been more careful.”  

     “I WAS!  How could I know that old Amos would suddenly go berserk?”  

      Scott shook his head.  “What I want to know is why?  That horse has never put a foot down wrong in his life.”  

     Johnny’s temper got the best of him and he slammed down his drink.  “How do I KNOW?  She probably did somethin’ ta spook him.”  

    “AMOS doesn’t spook!  And besides, that was what you were supposed to prevent!”  

    All three men jumped as the front door slammed.  Jelly walked in.  “How is she?”  

   Johnny shrugged as Murdoch answered.  “We don’t know yet.  Sam’s upstairs with her now.”  

   Jelly licked his lips.   “Who saddled Amos?”  

    Johnny’s head jerked up.  “I did, why?”  

   Johnny bit his lower lip and glanced at Murdoch.  The rancher knew something was wrong and was in no mood for games.  “Jelly, out with it.”

      Jelly hesitated and cast an apologetic look at the youngest Lancer.  “I found this under ole’ Amos’s blanket.”  He held up a small twist of barbed wire.  “Apparently this is what set him off.”


Chapter Eleven  

    Scott walked heavily up to his room.  He had spent the last hour trying to keep his brother and his father from tearing each other’s heads off, and he had to admit, he hadn’t done a very good job.  It was like trying to put out a wildfire with a bucket of water.  No one had meant to blame Johnny for what happened; the problem was, there was no way that barb could have gotten there accidentally and Mary and Teresa were pretty much ruled out. That left Johnny.  Jelly swore he thoroughly cleaned the blankets the night before, and Scott believed him; since Jelly had been here, the tack was always in perfect order.

     Scott sighed.  He knew that for some reason Johnny didn’t care for Mary, but he couldn’t believe his brother would take a chance on hurting a woman.  Sam had told them that her injuries were minor, and that she would be up and about in a day or two, but that didn’t change the reality of what COULD have happened.  With a sigh, he walked into his room and closed the door.  Hopefully everyone’s temper would cool down by morning, and they could come up with some logical explanation for what had happened.  


     A week later, Mary was up and about, and as good as new.  Scott and Murdoch had both questioned her extensively, but she said she really didn’t remember what had happened and couldn’t shed any light on the incident.   With nothing else to go on, everyone was willing to call it an accident and forget about it.  The only one who seemed to still be upset about it was Johnny; and Scott guessed he didn’t really blame him.  Before everyone calmed down, both he and Murdoch had questioned Johnny extensively and looking back, Scott realized they hadn’t been very diplomatic about it.  

     Scott was still at a loss to explain what had happened, and wondered if maybe Johnny had put it there as a joke that had gone seriously wrong.  He shook his head.  He probably would never know.  No one was likely to confess at this point.  He was grateful that Mary was being so calm and understanding about the whole thing, and he admired her willingness to let it go.  The more he was around her, the more taken he was with her.  She seemed like a true lady, but her determination to fit in and her lack of hesitation about getting her hands dirty intrigued him.  She pitched in and helped whenever she could, and she wasn’t afraid of hard work.


     For the next month, Scott and Johnny took the two girls on picnics and outings when their work schedule permitted, and the four of them started to become fast friends.   Mary’s riding had rapidly improved and they took long rides exploring the ranch.  Even now, Scott and Johnny were occasionally surprised by a hidden lake or waterfall.    

      It seemed to Scott that his brother was going out of his way to be nice to Mary since her fall, which was fine with Scott, because he had the feeling the two of them would be seeing a lot more of each other. He wondered briefly if it was because Johnny was feeling guilty about what had happened, and then he himself felt guilty for doubting his little brother.

      The weeks went by, and whatever problem had been between Mary and Johnny was apparently long gone.  Both seemed to be making an effort to give the other one the benefit of the doubt, and seemed at ease in each other’s company.  Scott was glad that his brother and Mary had finally started getting along; because he was fast coming to hope she would be more than just a friend. 


    Johnny pulled his horse to a stop on the hill overlooking the ranch, and watched the men and animals down below.  He felt at peace with himself and his life, but it had taken a long time to get to this point.  He knew that one of the main reasons he felt so content was because of Scott.  As much as he cared for Teresa and respected his father, his brother was the one that kept him here.  He couldn’t imagine what it would be like without his brother at his side, and a few short years ago he hadn’t even known he existed.  

    He spurred Barranca forward and started down the hill.  He hadn’t been doing anything strenuous today, just riding the fence and counting the current crop of new calves, but he’d been in the saddle most of the day and was tired and dirty.  He couldn’t wait to get home and take a hot bath.  Tomorrow was Sunday, and he planned on just taking it easy and hanging around the house.  He was still sore from breaking that bunch of outlaws that he’d caught the previous week.  By working from before sunup to way past sundown, he had managed to get caught up on his work and get that bunch broken and delivered to the army on time, but he was tired and needed a day off.    


    After supper, the young people retired to the Great Room.  Johnny noticed that Teresa seemed a little down, and wondered what was going on.  Mary and Scott started discussing a book they had both read, and Johnny went over and sat next to his sister.  “What’s wrong, Teresa?”

      Teresa snuck a look at Mary and Scott, but both were deeply engrossed with the other one and didn’t look up.  Teresa sighed.  “I don’t know.  It just seems like I’m losing Mary as a friend.  She and Scott are going to take a drive tomorrow, and when I said I’d pack a lunch for us, Scott informed me that he and Mary were going by themselves.”  

     Johnny glanced at his sister, and then he turned and studied his brother and Mary.  He finally allowed the suspicion he had shoved to the back of his mind for the last several weeks to the forefront.  He had the feeling that Teresa wasn’t going to be Mary’s main focus of attention anymore.  But more disturbing, he had the feeling that his relationship with Scott was about to change, and he wasn’t sure if he could just stand by and accept that without a fight.


Chapter Twelve

  It was high summer, and the ranch was desperately in need of water. Most of the water holes had dried up, forcing the cattle to walk long distances to the numerous streams that criss-crossed the ranch, and the graze was taking a beating from both the drought and the wandering cattle.   Some of the surrounding ranches were in desperate straits, and a couple of the ranchers had already called it quits.  Luckily, even in the worst of times Lancer had enough water to survive, but the drought made more work for everybody, and the weather and lack of water had shortened everyone’s tempers, including Scott’s and Johnny’s.  

      The two men were working side by side, clearing a ditch.  They had been hard at work since early that morning, and had only made a little headway against the stubborn thorns and underbrush.  It looked like they’d have to come back tomorrow and finish the job, just one more thing that would put them further behind.  They were hot, tired, and irritable. Scott stopped and walked over to his horse to get his canteen.  Without a word he came over and offered his brother a drink, and Johnny reached for the canteen and took a long swallow.  “Thanks, brother.”  

    Scott nodded and re-capped the container.  Johnny looked at him and grinned.  “I guess water will have ta hold us till we can go into town tonight and quench our thirst good and proper.” 

    Scott shook his head; “Sorry, Johnny, but Mary and I have other plans tonight.”

    “But I’ve been lookin’ forward ta goin’ into town all week.  You and I have been goin ta town every Saturday night for the last couple of years!  It’s a tradition!”

     Scott smiled.  “I guess we’ll just have to come up with some new traditions.”

     “Yeah?  When?”  Johnny asked belligerently.  You’ve been spending every spare minute of your time with that lady.”

     “So what’s wrong with that?  I happen to like Mary.”  

     “Like her?  You’re actin’ like a lovesick puppy around her.  I think you more than LIKE her, brother.”

     When Scott didn’t answer, Johnny continued.  “You’re in love with her, aren’t ya?” He challenged.

     Scott turned and secured the canteen onto the saddle.  “I don’t know…..maybe.”  He turned toward his brother.  “What if I am?  You make it sound like some sort of a crime.”

   “It ain’t no crime, as long as you know what you’re doin’.  It’s just that I’m tired of spendin’ all of my spare time with Barranca.  I keep wonderin’ if I have the plague or somethin’ for all the time you’ve spent with me lately.”

    Scott quirked his eyebrows up.  “Little brother, I do believe you’re jealous!”

   “It ain’t funny!”  

    “I’m not laughing.  Look, Johnny, we still spend a lot of time together and you know it.”

      Johnny snorted.  “Oh, yeah, we have a lot of fun together clearin’ brush and pullin’ stupid cows outta mud holes.  And I have the feeling if you could bring Mary along when you was workin’ you’d get rid of me completely.”

    “You’re over-reacting.”

    “Am I?  Both Val and Sam asked me if we were fighting the last time I was I town.  When I told them no, they asked me if you were sick.  I told ‘em the only sick you were was lovesick.”

    Scott looked at his brother angrily.  “You didn’t.”

    “Why not?  It’s the truth.  You can’t see past the stars in your eyes.  Everybody else might as well drop off the planet for all the notice you give them.”

    “Look, I’m sorry if we haven’t been spending as much time together as we used to, but you don’t have to get mean about it.”  

    “Like I said, I’m just tired of bein’ ignored so you can spend time with that….lady.”  

    “She IS a lady, and a very fine one.”  

    Johnny snorted.  

     Scott’s expression darkened.  “If you have something to say about her, spit it out, otherwise leave her alone.  I’m tired of the little hints and innuendos that you’ve been throwing around.  Get it said, brother.”

      Instead of getting mad, Johnny dropped his head and sighed.  “I just don’t think she’s right for you, that’s all.”

      Scott calmed down and studied his brother.  “Why not?”  

    Johnny shrugged and studied the ground.  “No reason, I just don’t.” 

    “If you have something against her, I need to hear it, but I need to hear more than that to change my mind.”

     “I don’t HAVE any more than that.  It’s just a feelin’, that’s all.”

      “Because of what she said to you that first night?”

       “Yeah, maybe.  Maybe more.  I just can’t put my finger on it.”

      “Or maybe you’re just looking for something to be wrong with her because you don’t want her around.  I’ve seen you forgive a lot of people for a whole lot worse transgressions than a remark or two.  I don’t think you have any reason to be that upset with her for one little inappropriate comment.”

      Johnny looked up in shock.  “She told you what she said?”

      “Yes, she did.  She was very apologetic about it, and said she was sorry.  I believe her.”

      Johnny got very still.  “And you think that it was OK for her to say it as long as she apologized?”

       “Look, Johnny.  EVERYBODY makes mistakes, including you.  If Murdoch didn’t believe in second chances, you wouldn’t even be here.”

      Johnny stared at his brother for a second then marched over to Barranca and swung aboard.  He kicked the horse harder than he normally did, and the Palomino shot away down the hill.  


    Scott watched as his brother disappeared and sighed.  He hadn’t meant to say what he had, it had just slipped out, but he was tired of Johnny’s attitude toward Mary.  For a while things had been better between the two, but since Scott had started spending more time with her, Johnny’s attitude had once more worsened.  He’d have to talk to his brother and straighten him out, because he didn’t want Mary to have to put up with Johnny’s attitude.  Johnny would just have to come to terms with her presence, because if Scott had anything to say about it, Mary was going to be here permanently.

Chapter Thirteen  

     Scott helped Mary up into the buggy and then picked up the basket that Maria had packed for them and set it in the back.  He knew that both Teresa and Johnny had been upset with him when he told them in no uncertain terms that he wanted to take Mary out to the lake by himself, but they hadn’t argued.  He and Mary had been going on quite a few rides together lately, but this one would be special, and he didn’t need any other members of his family along.

      As they drove along, Scott snuck several glances at the lady sitting next to him, and was surer than ever that his decision was the right one.  She was unlike anyone that he had ever met.  The ladies back east had impeccable manners and dressed in exquisite clothes, but there was a sense of boredom about them that only money can bring.  Scot had found that, with very few exceptions, they were shallow, money- grubbing simpletons.  He had enjoyed dating them, but except for one, he had never seriously entertained any ideas of wedding any of them. 

    When he had come to California, he had found that the girls here were much different.  You could hardly call any of them boring, but most were uneducated and woefully lacking in ladylike demeanor.  Again, he had dated his fair share, but none had interested him, until now. 

    Mary was a paradox.  She was ladylike and refined, and yet she seemed refreshingly sweet and willing to learn and take on just about any task asked of her.  Except for that one comment that had been made to his brother, he had seen no sign of snobbish behavior or prejudice.  She was well liked by everyone that he knew.  Everyone, that is, except his brother.  

     The only thing that bothered him about his decision was Johnny’s lack of enthusiasm for his choice.  He didn’t know what was wrong with his little brother, or why he didn’t like her.  He had questioned him at length, trying to learn something tangible, so he and his brother could discuss it, but Johnny kept telling him that he simply didn’t know exactly why he didn’t trust her.  

    After rolling it around and around in his mind, Scott finally came to the conclusion that Johnny and Mary had gotten off on the wrong foot because of a stupid comment that Mary had made, and then Johnny had become upset about his brother’s interest in her.  Scott sighed.  He was sorry Johnny didn’t like her, but he wasn’t going to let his brother’s tastes dictate his decision.  The more he thought about it, the more upset he was with his brother for even trying to stop the romance.

      He had spoken to his father last night, and Murdoch had seemed happy with what Scott had told him.  He valued his father’s judgment of people almost as much as his brother’s, and Murdoch’s reassurance that he had nothing against her did a lot to calm Scott’s nerves and make him confident that he was making the right decision.  The only negative thing about the conversation was when his father asked him if he’s spoken to his brother yet.  Scott had admitted that he hadn’t, and Murdoch had looked troubled.

     “Don’t you think that you should at least tell your brother before you take such a big step?”

    Scott’s temper had snapped.  He didn’t know why everyone, including Johnny, thought Johnny had a right to be in on the decision.  It wasn’t his brother’s life; it was HIS.  “No, I don’t.  This is my decision, and I don’t need his permission.”

      “Scott, I wasn’t suggesting that you did.  I was simply saying you should let your brother know your plans.  He’s going to be awfully hurt that you didn’t confide in him.”

     Scott sighed.  “I don’t want to get into an argument with him about it.  I’ll tell him afterwards.”

    Murdoch studied his elder son.  “I thought Johnny and Mary were getting along all right.”

     Scott ran a hand through his hair.  “I thought so too.  They were until I started spending more time with her, and then Johnny started being stand-offish to her again.”

      “What happened that first night? I know he was upset with her, but he wouldn’t tell me, and I never found out why.  Did something happen between them?”

      Scott shook his head.  “Not exactly.  Mary thought he was one of the hands and made a demeaning comment to him.”  Scott saw the warning signals in his father’s face and sought to head off a battle.  “She apologized immediately, Sir, and admitted she was out of line.  She has been extremely polite to EVERYONE since then, including Johnny.   I thought it was over and forgotten, but evidently it wasn’t.”

     “Did Johnny tell you why he changed his mind about her again?”

     “No, he didn’t.  I asked him, and he couldn’t tell me anything more than ‘he had a feeling’ she wasn’t right for me.  Murdoch, I think he’s just jealous of the relationship that Mary and I have.  I don’t think he likes not being the most important person in my life anymore.”  

     “Well, Scott, he has to realize that things change.  He’ll fall in love someday, and he’ll realize just how wrong he was.  The two of you will always be brothers and best friends.  After all, you still spend a lot of time and do things together.” 

    When Scott bowed his head and remained silent, Murdoch sighed.  “Scott, Johnny didn’t trust anyone or let himself care about anyone for a long time.  By his own admission, you were the first person he ever really got close with.  I’m not saying you have to spend all of your time with him, but don’t you think you HAVE been ignoring him a little bit?  Maybe if you gave him some time he would realize things aren’t going to be that much different.  That you’ll still be best friends and that will never change.” 

   Scott nodded.  “You’re right.  No matter what, Johnny will always be my best friend, and nothing can ever come between us.  I have to make him understand that.”


Chapter Fourteen

    Johnny had stayed out late working on clearing a deadfall so he wouldn’t have to go back the next day to finish it up.  He bedded down Barranca and then washed up quickly and went inside to join his family.  He knew he’d already missed supper, and he figured he’d grab a sandwich before he turned in.  Johnny walked into the Great Room and immediately noticed the party-like atmosphere of the Room.  He leaned up against the doorjamb and studied the room’s occupants to try to figure out what was going on.  

    Finally, Murdoch looked up and noticed his younger son.  “Come on in, Johnny!”  Murdoch came over and handed the young man a glass of champagne.

      Johnny looked at the drink quizzically and took a small sip.  He allowed a slight smile to play over his lips.  “What’re we celebrating?”  

       “Oh, Johnny, it’s wonderful!”  Teresa bubbled.

       “What’s wonderful?” He asked cautiously.

       Teresa glanced over at Scott and Mary, who were standing together by the fireplace, and Johnny felt a ripple of unease.

     Scott locked eyes with his brother, and took a step toward him.  “I asked Mary to be my wife, and she agreed.”  

     Johnny froze for a second and then managed to smile.  “Congratulations.”

     Teresa looked worriedly between Scott and Johnny.  “Won’t it be WONDERFUL to have Mary in the family?”

       Johnny smiled weakly at Mary.  ‘Yes, wonderful.”  He raised his glass toward the girl and then drank it down in one long swallow.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn in.  I’ve had a hard day.”  He put the glass down on the nearby sideboard then turned and headed toward the stairs.

    Mary dropped her eyes but Scott was silently fuming.  He wasn’t going to make a scene now, but he and his brother were definitely going to discuss this later.  Johnny had no right to ruin this day for he and Mary.  He turned back toward his fiancé.   “I’m sorry; He must be really tired, I’m sure he didn’t mean to be rude.”

      Mary nodded quietly and tried to give Teresa a brave smile but failed miserably.  Murdoch came up and put his arm on Scott’s shoulder and squeezed.  “It’ll be OK.”  He looked at Mary and put his other hand on her arm.  “I want you to know you’re welcome here, and don’t worry, Johnny will come around.”


       Johnny expected Murdoch or Scott, or maybe even Teresa, to come up and tear his head off.  He knew he’d been rude, but he couldn’t help it.  He was angry with his brother for not letting him in on his plans before the fact, and he was upset that Scott was marrying Teresa’s friend in the first place.  He had done his best to discourage the romance, but Scott was blind and deaf to everyone but Miss Terhune.  He lay awake for a long while and listened to the rest of his family celebrating done below, but he finally drifted into a troubled sleep long after the rest of them were dreaming peacefully.  

      The next morning, Johnny got up early and grabbed a couple of biscuits on his way out to the barn.  He had no intention of staying and having to confront his brother or any other member of his family about his conduct the night before. He knew he should apologize to all of them, especially Scott and Mary, but for some reason, he just didn’t feel like it. The whole thing felt wrong.

     He looked around quickly once he was outside and hurried toward the barn.  Once inside, he breathed a sigh of relief.  Maybe he could get away before Scott was up and about, and he could postpone the argument that was certain to come.

     He realized too late that he had gotten careless.  He should have noticed that Jelly and the rest of the hands were nowhere in sight.  A second later, he heard his brother’s voice.  “Going somewhere, BROTHER?” 

   With a sigh, Johnny turned back toward Scott and waited for the tirade he knew was coming.

     Scott’s hand went to his hip.  “Well?”  

     Johnny looked at his brother for a moment, and then finally dropped his head.  “Scott, I’m sorry.” Scott remained silent, and Johnny hesitated for a moment.  “I know I was out of line, but I just think you’re makin’ a mistake, that’s all.” 

     “But you can’t tell me why; you just have a ‘feeling’ that she’s wrong for me.”

      Johnny sighed once more before nodding reluctantly.

     Scott shook his head.  “Johnny, I’ve always respected your insights into people’s behavior, but this time, I think you’re wrong.  I don’t think you ever forgave her for what was said that first night, and I also think you’re jealous of the time I spend with her.”

     Johnny dropped his head.  “I don’t know anymore, maybe you’re right.  But somethin’ still feels wrong about her.”

       Scott’s expression turned hard.  “Mary is going to be MY WIFE, and IF you and I are still going to have a decent relationship, you WILL apologize to her and accept her as your sister in law.  I WILL NOT tolerate any more slights or rude behavior by you toward her, or you and I will have a MAJOR problem.  Do you understand?”

    Johnny looked up at his brother. “I’ll be polite and I won’t say nothin’ more about it, but I just hope you’re not makin’ a mistake, that’s all.”

    “If I am, it’s MY business.  I mean it, Johnny, BACK OFF!”

    Johnny looked at his brother for a long moment and then made a decision.  He knew his brother wasn’t going to budge on this and he wasn’t going to endanger his relationship with Scott because of a woman.   Scott was right, he didn’t have any real reason not to like her, it was just a feeling.  Maybe this time his instincts were wrong. He hoped so, for his brother’s sake.

    Johnny nodded again. “All right.”  He paused for a moment and then looked at his brother.  “You goin’ to the poker game this weekend?”

    Scott realized his brother was holding out an olive branch, and he relaxed slightly.  “I don’t know yet.  I’ll let you know in a day or so.”

      Johnny nodded once more, then turned and started getting Barranca ready for the day.  Scott watched him silently for a few moments and then turned and went back to the house.  He hoped Johnny kept his word, because if he didn’t it would mean the end of their relationship.


Chapter Fifteen

      Johnny was riding fast toward the arch.  He and Scott had quite a long section of fence to fix, they were still less than half way through, and the day was half over.  If they were going to have any chance at all of finishing up today, they would have to hurry, and this delay wasn’t going to help their schedule.  Johnny had left Scott working while he had headed back to the house.

       Neither one had planned on coming back to the house until suppertime, but their lunch had gotten accidentally squished when Charlie decided to roll in the dirt to relieve himself of the biting flies.   After good-naturedly blaming each other for the life-threatening catastrophe, they had a serious discussion on whether they would starve to death if they didn’t eat until supper.  Agreeing that they didn’t want to take any chances of dying of starvation, they flipped a coin to decide who would make a mad dash to the house to get something to eat for both of them.  

    Johnny had lost the toss, but he hadn’t really cared.  He would much rather be riding Barranca than wrestling the barbed wire that they were using to cross-fence that particular pasture.  He enjoyed the time alone, it gave him a chance to think.   It was a holdover from his Madrid days and even though he loved his family and enjoyed being with them, there were times he needed some space.  The riding gave him the time alone that he needed.  

     He let his mind wander and he thought again about Scott.  He and his brother had been getting along well the last several weeks since Scott had proposed to Mary, but Johnny sensed that there was a barrier between them that had never been there before, even in the beginning.  Johnny was more than a little hurt that Scott hadn’t confided in him about his plans to marry her, but he supposed Scott had a good reason not to.  Johnny hadn’t been exactly welcoming toward the young woman.  

    Johnny had tried to make up for his behavior by going out of his way to be nice to Mary, because even though he still had doubts about her, he cared enough about his brother to at least try to get along with her.  He had to admit, she had been as sweet as sugar to him, accepting his apology with grace, and apparently forgiving him immediately.  He hoped he had been wrong about her.  He hoped that she would make his brother happy.  

     He still was dissatisfied about the amount of time he was able to spend with his brother, and he had the feeling that the upcoming wedding wasn’t the only reason Scott hadn’t been spending much time with him.  He was afraid that because of his lack of trust in his brother’s choice of a wife and his outspoken dislike of Mary, he had permanently damaged their relationship.  By trying to keep his brother close, he had alienated him forever.   

       A knot formed in his stomach as he thought about losing the brother he had come to know and love, and he felt sick when he admitted to himself that if that happened, it would be no one’s fault but his own.   He should have kept his mouth shut and his suspicions to himself, at least then he’d still have his brother.   

    He slowed his blowing horse to a walk as soon as he passed under the arch, and headed toward the yard.  He rode toward the house and jumped off, tying Barranca to the hitching rail next to the kitchen.  

     Teresa and Maria were both busy, and Mary was nowhere around, so after a few minutes he resigned himself to fixing his own lunch.  It took him a few minutes to grab enough food for both he and Scott and stuff it into a sack, and then he hurried back out to his horse. On the way out, he saw Mary working alone in the garden and he waved at her, and then untied his horse and jumped on Barranca’s back, urging the horse into a gallop before he was even mounted.

        As soon as he landed on his horse’s back, he felt the saddle slip.  He grabbed the saddle horn and tried desperately to stay on, but the saddle slipped underneath his horse and Johnny hit the ground.  He landed hard on his side, striking his head against the bottom of a post.   Barranca took off in a panicked run toward the familiar barn, where Juan, who had seen he whole thing, stopped him in his headlong flight.  Juan reassured the panicked animal, and then started yelling for help.


     Johnny woke up slowly and blinked several times to clear his head.  He felt fuzzy headed and disoriented, and it felt like someone was pounding an anvil in his skull.  He looked hesitantly toward the blinding light streaming in through the window and blinked rapidly to try and clear his mind.  Everything was blurry and he was having trouble seeing.  Panicked, he tried to sit up, but a strong arm held him down and spoke reassuringly to him.  

   “Easy, Johnny.  Just relax.”  Johnny continued to struggle for a moment before the familiar voice finally got through to the disoriented man and he lay back. 

      Johnny looked up at his bedroom ceiling in confusion.  “What happened?”

       Murdoch took Johnny’s hand.  “You took a spill.  Sam will be here in a few minutes to check you out.  Just be still and relax.  You’ll be fine.”

     Johnny tried to nod, but any movement sent a jolt of pain through his head, so instead he whispered, “OK.”  After a moment he looked at his father.  “How long was I out?”

     Murdoch looked troubled.  “Almost an hour.”  He smiled weakly as he attempted to make light of it.  “I’m going to have to dock you an hour’s pay for sleeping on the job.” 

     The smile Murdoch was hoping for didn’t appear; instead Johnny looked worried as he tried to remember what happened.  Suddenly, he sprang up, ignoring the bolt of pain that ran through his head. “Barranca!”  

      Murdoch grabbed his son’s arm and pushed him back down.  “Barranca’s fine.”

     “It wasn’t his fault.”

      “I know that, son.  It was an accident.”

       Johnny stared at his father until his eyes fluttered closed.  “No,” he whispered, it wasn’t.”


Chapter Sixteen

       Johnny woke up with a start and waited for the familiar pain in his head, but it didn’t come.  He eased himself up into a sitting position and took a deep breath.  His side still hurt where he’d cracked a rib, but all in all he was feeling pretty good.  Sam had told him in no uncertain terms that he was to stay in bed for at least another couple of days, and in a moment’s weakness, Johnny had promised the old doctor that he would.  As soon as the words were out of his mouth he could have kicked himself, and he’d been regretting them ever since.   If he didn’t get out of this bed today, he just might go stark raving mad.  

      He heard his father’s heavy tread on the stairs, and welcomed the break in the monotony.  Maybe he could con the Old Man into a game of checkers, or better yet, chess.  Chess lasted longer.  He sat up and waited for his father’s arrival.  A second later, Murdoch came in carrying a laden tray and set it down carefully on the edge of the bed.   

    “How’re you feeling?”

    “The same as I was feelin’ an hour ago,” Johnny replied crossly.  “I’m fine.  The only thing wrong with me is I’m bored to tears.”

     Murdoch smiled.  “Here, eat.  That’ll take up some of the time.”

     Johnny shot him a black look before picking up his fork and starting in on lunch.  In between bites, Johnny looked at his father.   “Anything excitin’ happening in the outside world?”  

     Murdoch chuckled.  “Johnny, you’ve only been laid up for two days.”

     “Seems like two hundred,” Johnny mumbled.

      Murdoch looked seriously at his son.  “Sam said you were very lucky.  He said that fall could easily have been fatal.”

     Johnny shrugged.  “Yeah, well, accidents happen,” he replied nonchalantly.

      Murdoch’s eyes narrowed and he lowered his voice.  “Right after you fell, before Sam even got here, you said it wasn’t an accident.”

       Johnny shrugged again and lowered his head.  “What else could it have been?  I guess I just got careless and didn’t check my cinch.  It was my fault.”

      “Johnny, I can’t believe you forgot to tighten your cinch.  You don’t make that kind of mistake.”  

     Johnny looked up at his father.  “Look, I was in a hurry and it just slipped my mind, that’s all.”  

      “Maria and Teresa said you were only in the house a minute or two.  Did you even loosen Barranca’s cinch when you stopped?”

      Johnny kept his eyes on the tray and fiddled with his fork.  “Look, Murdoch.  I’m really tired, and I really don’t remember.  Can we talk later?”

      Murdoch stood up.  “Of course we can.  But we WILL finish this conversation when you’re feeling better. I need to know if someone tried to hurt you, and I think for some reason you’re trying to hide that fact.”

   With a sigh, Johnny rolled over with his back to the door and pretended to go to sleep.  Murdoch watched him for a minute and then walked out, a troubled frown on his face.

     Downstairs, Murdoch sat at his desk and tried to figure out who could have possibly loosened Barranca’s cinch, because the more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that it wasn’t a simple case of Johnny forgetting to tighten it.  He didn’t think that Johnny had loosened it in the first place, and if that were the case, there was no reason the cinch would have been that loose.   Unless, of course, Johnny was right and it hadn’t been an accident.   He looked into the kitchen where Maria was teaching Mary and Teresa one of the favorite recipes.  Maybe one of them had seen something that would help.  

    “Mary, Teresa! Would the two of you and Maria come in here when you get a chance?”  

    Several minutes later the three ladies were sitting in the Great Room, looking perplexed as Murdoch paced around the room, his hands clasped in back of him.  Finally he looked at each of them in turn.  “I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the day that Johnny took his spill.”

     Teresa looked puzzled.  “Why?”

    “I just want to find out what really happened that day.”  He turned toward Maria.  “Did you see Johnny at all while he was here?”

     “Si, Senor.  He came into the kitchen and wanted me to make him and Senor Scott another lunch, but I was in the middle of making a chocolate cake and he told me that was more important; that he would make his own lunch.”  

   Murdoch and Teresa both smiled.  That sounded like Johnny.  He wouldn’t want anything to prevent a chocolate cake getting made.  If he were drowning, he wouldn’t want someone to stop and save him if it meant the cake would be late.  

    Murdoch nodded.  “Anything else?”  

    Maria shook her head.  “No, Senor.  He ran out and that was all until I heard Juan yelling that Senor Johnny was hurt.”

      Murdoch nodded to himself and turned toward Teresa.  “What about you?  Did you see anything?”

     Teresa shook her head in confusion.  “No.  I was sewing when Johnny came running in.  I knew he was in a hurry, because I told him I could make a lunch for he and Scott if he could wait a few minutes, but I was in the middle of an intricate piece and couldn’t put it down right then.  I thought he’d wait, but instead he went back into the kitchen and a few minutes later I heard the kitchen door slam.  It seemed like only a second or two later I heard Juan shouting.”  

    Murdoch sighed and turned to Mary.  “I don’t suppose you saw or hard anything?’ He said resignedly.  

     Mary shook her head slowly.  “I don’t think so.  But I don’t understand what you’re trying to learn.  It was an accident.”

     “Johnny didn’t think so, and to tell you the truth, neither do I.”

      Mary shrugged.  “I thought he just forgot to check his cinch.  To tell you the truth, I was surprised when I found out that’s what happened, because he had been so strict with me about that when I was learning.  He told me he should let me fall, and then I’d remember.”  

    Murdoch stared at her.  “So did you decide to loosen it to make a point?”

    “NO!”  Mary protested in a shocked voice.  “Besides, I wasn’t anywhere near Barranca.  Ask Juan; he came over to give the horse a drink while Johnny was inside.  He was the only one that came near him.”  


Chapter Seventeen

   Murdoch sat at the dining room table and crossly forked some food into his mouth.  He thought briefly of going upstairs and talking to Johnny, but he knew his son was sleeping and didn’t want to wake him.  He had questioned Juan about the cinch and the man had protested his innocence.  Murdoch snorted.  Of course he had.  What else would he expect him to do, confess?   He wasn’t even sure if the man was guilty.   

    One thing Murdoch WAS sure of though.  Johnny had been right.  It wasn’t an accident.  Johnny just didn’t make mistakes like that.  At one time his survival had depended on being careful about details and this one could have cost him his life.   No, someone had loosened that cinch, but for the life of him, Murdoch couldn’t figure out who it could have been. 

     Teresa and Mary were both angry with him for accusing Mary, and had chosen to eat in the kitchen earlier.  They had both disappeared into the garden a little while later without even acknowledging him.   Murdoch sighed.  He was sure he’d hear even more about it from Scott. 

     The trouble was, according to Mary, Juan was the only person that had come near Barranca in the few minutes Johnny was inside the house.  Juan denied touching the horse at all.  He said he had simply offered the Palomino a drink of water and then left.  He hadn’t looked back, and couldn’t say if anyone else had approached the horse.  When Murdoch had questioned the hand, Cipriano had walked up and defended his nephew, saying that no relative of his would do such a thing. Cipriano had been as close to belligerence toward him as Murdoch had ever seen him.  Murdoch knew that he had better tread cautiously.  Either Juan or Mary had apparently done it, but without proof, he wasn’t going to accuse either one, or he just might lose either a son or a good friend.  Murdoch shook his head in frustration and roughly shoved his plate away from him.  Whoever it had done it had better tread cautiously; NO ONE messed with his sons. 

    A half an hour later, Murdoch heard the door slam, and by the sound of it, he had a pretty good idea of who it was.  A moment later Scott appeared in the doorway and Murdoch resigned himself to the fact that his eldest son had obviously talked to the girls.  

     Scott glared at his father for a moment before starting.  “How DARE you accuse Mary of anything!”

      “Scott.”  Murdoch said placatingly.

      “Don’t you ‘Scott’ me!  I’m tired of my family treating my fiancé like some sort of criminal.  Between you and Johnny she feels like she’s not welcome here.  And I’m warning you, if she’s not welcome, then we’ll BOTH be leaving.”  

    “Scott, calm down.  No one wants her to leave.  I just asked her about what happened.”

     “You ASKED her if she’d loosened the cinch to get even with Johnny.  That’s not even subtle.”

       Murdoch sighed.  “Scott, SOMEONE loosened it.”  

      “How do you know that for sure?  EVERYONE makes mistakes once in a while, even Johnny.  Isn’t it possible it was an accident?  Why do you have to insist there’s some sort of conspiracy around here?  Accidents happen.” 

      “Scott sit down and let’s discuss this.”

      “NO, Sir, I have no intention of eating dinner with you tonight.  I just came in to tell you that if BOTH you and Johnny don’t lay off and treat Mary the way she deserves, I WILL be leaving.”  He turned and stalked out, leaving a brooding Murdoch sitting alone at the table.


     The next several days went by in strained harmony.  Murdoch apologized to Mary for accusing her, and he also apologized to Juan and Cipriano.  He figured he was apologizing to at least one innocent party, but the thought that he was also probably apologizing to someone that had tried to hurt his son galled him.

       Johnny had gone back to doing light work, but there was an obvious strain between the brothers, and it bothered Murdoch to see it.  He had made sure that he told Scott that Johnny hadn’t accused Mary of anything, but Scott was still holding himself at a distance from his brother.  Johnny was dong his best to ignore it and Murdoch hoped that Scott would come around soon and things would get back to normal. 


     Johnny rode under the arch and heaved a sigh of relief.  He was tired from working all day, and he hadn’t been getting much sleep.  The rift between he and his brother was bothering him more than he was letting on.  He hoped it wasn’t permanent, but he was pretty sure that he and Scott were going to have a different relationship from now on.  Mary was definitely Scott’s primary concern, and Johnny realized that was normal, but it still didn’t take away the hurt.  He wished he could do SOMETHING to get things back the way they had been before Mary showed up.  

   He walked into the hacienda and made his way into the dining room.  He sat down at the table, and glanced at his family.  No one looked up and a feeling of apprehension settled in his gut.  He played with his napkin while he watched his family continue to eat.  Finally he picked up the napkin and threw it down on the table.   “All right, what’s wrong?”   

     Teresa started sniffling, and then she jumped up from the table, followed closely by Mary.  Murdoch watched as the two women left and then turned toward his younger son.  “You moved old Simon into the new pen this morning.”  

      Johnny nodded in confusion.  He had moved the bull into a new pen so they could repair the old one.  The bull was a first class producer, but he was as mean an animal as Johnny had ever seen.  He was always charging the wall of the pen when anyone or anything walked by, and Johnny had decided to have the old corral reinforced before the bull managed to break out and hurt someone.   “Yeah, so what?”  

     Murdoch continued to calmly sip his soup, but avoided looking at Johnny.  “Evidently you were a little careless.  You didn’t put the extra bar on the gate, and Simon got out.”  

    Johnny blanched.  “Did anyone get hurt?”

     “No people, but Juan had gotten the horses ready for the girls to take a ride, and the bull went after Daisy.”  

    Johnny swallowed hard.  “And?”  

    Murdoch finally put his spoon down and stared at his son.  “She had to be destroyed.”


  Chapter Eighteen  

     Johnny slowly shook his head.  “I could have sworn I put that bar up.”  

      Murdoch looked sharply at his son.  “Are you sure that you did?”  

     Johnny shot a glance at his brother, who stiffened imperceptibly.   Johnny watched him for a few moments, trying to think back on that morning.  Finally he shook his head and sighed.  “No, I don’t remember specifically doing it; I just can’t imagine forgetting something that important.  I’m always real careful with that bull.”

      Murdoch looked troubled.  “I know you are.  We all are.”  

      Scott shook his head.  “Maybe you just forgot.  It would have been easy to do; there was a lot of commotion this morning at the same time you got that bull in his pen.” 

     Johnny remembered back to this morning.  Dewdrop had been squawking and getting in the way, and that darn goose had gotten Simon so worked up he was ready to explode.  He remembered running the bull into the corral, and he remembered shutting the gate, but right about then Dewdrop had come running up and Johnny had swatted at him with his hat.  He had had just about enough of that darn bird; he had been doing nothing but causing problems since Jelly had left to visit his sister the month before.   He had swatted at Dewdrop, and…….. HAD he forgotten to throw the bar?  Had he been that careless?”

    Johnny dropped his head.  “I guess I’d better go apologize to Teresa.”

      Murdoch stood up and put his arm on Johnny’s shoulder.  “She’ll understand; it was an accident.”

      Johnny nodded his head and started to make a comment but clamped his mouth shut instead.  There had been a lot of “accidents’ lately and all of them had involved him.  He didn’t know what was going on, but he was going to be extra careful in the future.  He wasn’t sure if he was just getting careless because his mind was on the rift between he and Scott, or someone was trying to make him look bad.  Either way, it was trouble.   


     Murdoch made his way downstairs and glanced at the grandfather clock in the hall.  It was barely two in the morning, but he hadn’t been able to sleep.  He kept thinking about what could have happened if the bull had gotten out a little earlier or later.  He might very well be mourning Teresa instead of her beloved mare.

     He walked over to the bar and lifted his bottle of scotch. 

     “Couldn’t sleep?”

     Murdoch spun around at the familiar voice.  “What’re you doing down here this time of night?”

     Johnny shrugged.  “I couldn’t sleep either.”

     “Want a drink?”

      When Johnny declined, Murdoch poured a glass of scotch and headed over to where his son sat on the sofa and sank down next to him.  “Want to talk about it?”  

     Johnny shrugged again.  “Not much ta talk about.”  

     Murdoch took a sip from the glass.   “I think there is.  I know something’s bothering you.”  He studied his son for a moment.  “Did you talk to Teresa?”

     Johnny nodded.  “Yeah, she was real understandin’, but it sure didn’t make me feel any better.  I know what it’s like to lose a favorite horse.”

      Murdoch nodded.  “If you’d like, why don’t you take a ride to the Stockton auction and see if you can pick up something special for her?”

      Johnny nodded his head.  “OK, but I’d like to check out that herd I spotted last week.  They were all Palominos, and I know there were a couple of young mares in that bunch.  Maybe I can cut out a horse from that herd.”

    “Whatever you want to do.  I’ll leave it up to you.”

     Johnny nodded absent-mindedly.  “I’ll take care of it, no matter whose fault it was.”

    “You don’t think that bull getting loose was your fault, do you?”

    Johnny dropped his head.  “I don’t know, I guess it could have been.  All I know is it seems like everything I do lately goes wrong.”

     “Maybe it just seems that way.”  Murdoch suggested gently.

      Johnny shook his head.  “No.  I’ve never had this much happen to me before.  It’s like I’m jinxed.  I can’t do anything right; things just keep goin’ wrong.  I either lose stuff after I KNOW I’ve put it away or I fix somethin’ and then it doesn’t work the next day.  Then there was that wire under Mary’s saddle and Old Simon gittin’ out.” 

     “Not to mention your ‘accident’.”

     Johnny looked at his father.  “You sound like you don’t think it WAS an accident.”

     “Do you?” His father challenged.

     Johnny dropped his head.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t at first.”

    “But now?”

     Johnny shook his head.  “I still don’t know.  But if it wasn’t an accident, then who could be doing it, and why?”

      Murdoch watched his son carefully.  “The only two people who seem to be around each time something happens are Mary and Juan.”

    Johnny kept his head down as he thought about the two people.  Finally he sighed and looked up at his father.  “I guess they could have been accidents. At least I hope they were.”  He stood up and stared into the fire for a few moments before turning toward his father.  “I guess I’ll just have to be more careful.”  He shook his head.  “I’m gonna turn in.  I gotta get up early tomorrow to finish that fence line.” 

    Murdoch drained his glass and stood up.  “I think I’ll turn in too.”  He grabbed Johnny by the arm.  “I want you to promise me that if you find out that someone is doing these things and they weren’t accidents that you let us know, no matter WHO gets upset.”  He stared at Johnny for a moment before his son finally gave a brief nod and turned toward the stairs.   

    Murdoch watched his son disappear upstairs and then with a sigh he followed him.  He hoped that whatever or whoever was causing the problems would just go away.  He had the feeling they were in for a rough time, one way or the other.


Chapter Nineteen  

       “What are you thinking about?”

      Scott turned toward his fiancé and smiled.  “Nothing important.”

      Mary grabbed Scott’s arm and smiled up at him.  “Then don’t look so serious.  I thought something was wrong.”

       The man gave her a small smile.  “I’m sorry about the things my father and brother said to you.  They won’t do it again, believe me.”

      Mary gave a little shrug.  “It’s all right, Scott.  I know they were just concerned.”

     “It’s NOT all right, although I’m glad you’re that understanding.  I’m afraid I’m not.”

     Mary pulled his arm slightly toward her.  “I don’t want you being mad at your family because of me.  Just forget about it.  It’ll work out.”

      Scott nodded reluctantly.  “Where do you want to go for the picnic?  The lake or down by the waterfall?”

      Mary grinned.  “Either place is beautiful.  It doesn’t matter.”

       “How about by the waterfall?  It’s cooler there.”    

      “All right.”   She sighed and leaned back in the seat, and Scott let his mind wander as he drove.   It still bothered hum that Johnny had been so suspicious of Mary when she had first come to Lancer.  He knew that his brother’s life had often depended on being able to make snap judgments about people, and that he very seldom made a mistake.  Scott had learned to rely on Johnny’s intuition about individuals, and never questioned him anymore.  That is, he hadn’t questioned him until Mary.

        Was he wrong about her and his brother right?  Was there something that he was too blind to see?  He knew without a doubt he was in love with her, and he prayed that for once Johnny’s famous instinct had failed him, because if his brother WAS right, he didn’t know what he would do.

      He thought about all of the accidents that had happened lately.  Murdoch had been adamant that they weren’t accidents at all, but mishaps that someone had carefully planned.  Scott wasn’t sure that was the case.  Accidents of all types were common on a large ranch like Lancer, and he didn’t think there had been more than usual.  However, it DID seem like Johnny had been involved in, or fallen victim to, a disproportionate number of the mishaps.

       He glanced at Mary, who was humming quietly beside him and he shook his head to himself.  No, she COULDN’T be behind any of those incidents.  If anyone was at fault, his money was on Juan, but so far nothing could be proven. The only incident that really couldn’t have been an accident was the wire that had been placed under Mary’s saddle. Cipriano had insisted his nephew couldn’t have put the wire there, or the horse would have bucked right away.

       Scott had pointed out to him that the wire was found between the layers of blankets, not next to the horse’s skin, so it WAS possible it had been there earlier, and just taken that long to wear through.   Cipriano had simply glared at him and stalked off, and Scott had decided to drop it, even though he was pretty sure Juan had done it.  He knew positively that Teresa and Johnny were innocent, and he felt ashamed that he had insinuated to his brother that he could have done it.  Scott had apologized to Johnny profusely and his brother had seemed to forgive him.   He knew his brother would never hurt a woman, or for that matter, a horse. 

     But the idea that Mary would pull a stunt like that and take a chance of getting seriously injured was ridiculous. He glanced over at her and watched her as she looked around at the scenery as they drove.  She turned to him with a pretty smile.  “I can’t believe how beautiful it is here.  It seems as if there’s a pretty picture around every bend.”

      Scott smiled.  “There is.”  He studied her for a moment.  “By the way, where do you want to go on our honeymoon?”

     Mary blushed and shook her head.  “I don’t care.”  She turned serious for a moment.   “I would like to stop in San Francisco and show you where I lived and let you see my father’s business.”

     “I would like that very much.  He can come to the wedding, can’t he?”

      Mary nodded.  “He said he would be here the first week of October.”  She smiled, “He wants to meet you before he gives his permission, even though I’m of age.”  She looked at Scott impishly.  “You’d better make a good impression, because I have no intention of not marrying you, Scott Lancer!”

     Scott smiled back at her.  “Don’t worry; I’ll be on my best behavior.  I have no intention of not marrying you, either.”

     She shook her head.  “We have SO much to do before then.  I don’t know what I’d do without Teresa helping me.”

    Scott chuckled.  “Teresa is good at organizing.  With both of you working on it, I’m sure everything will be perfect.”

      Scott pulled the buggy up next to the rocks surrounding the waterfall and helped Mary down.  The two of them spread a blanket on the grass next to a pool and sat down next to each other, watching the waterfall.

   “It’s so peaceful here.”  Mary murmured.  

   “That it is.  I wish we could build our house right here.” 

     Mary looked at his for a moment.  “Are we going to live here, at Lancer?”

      Scott looked back at Mary in surprise.  He hadn’t even thought about it, he had just assumed that was where they would live.  “That’s what I was planning on.  Why?  Don’t you want to?”

     Mary hesitated, and Scott thought he knew the reason.  “Don’t worry, my brother and father won’t interfere, and they WILL be nice.”

      “I know.  They’ve both apologized and been as nice as they could be.  I just always thought I’d be living in a city.”

     Scott frowned.  He’d had enough of city life in Boston.  He’d sworn he’d never go back to that life.  He shrugged uneasily.  “Is that what you want?  Won’t you be happy if we stay here?”

     Mary looked at him for a moment and then smiled.  “Of course I will.  It really doesn’t matter where we live.  I just hadn’t thought about it before now.”  She grinned impishly.  “Besides, you and Johnny have turned me into a regular country girl.  I probably have forgotten how to behave properly anyway.”

    Scott grinned and wrapped his arms around her.  “I hope so.”

Chapter Twenty     

    Murdoch impatiently waited for Johnny to get home.  He couldn’t believe that his hot-tempered son had actually done what he had threatened to do the night before at the supper table, but it appeared that he had.  No, dammit, he couldn’t have!   

     Murdoch spun around and walked back toward the desk, glancing out the huge window for a glimpse of his son.   The roadway out to the arch remained deserted, and Murdoch marched over to the liquor cabinet and poured another shot.  He swallowed it down in one long gulp, then slammed the glass down on the counter and resumed his pacing.  

    After he calmed down, Murdoch decided that Johnny wasn’t really trying to kill Wade; that he just had wanted to scare him and he had gotten a little too close.  The problem is, Val had seen what had happened, and now Johnny was in real trouble.  Over Wade’s protests, Val had left after Murdoch promised Val that he would make sure Johnny came into town and turned himself in as soon as his son came back.

       He was glad that no had been around to hear Wade when he had come over from the Rocking M.  Jelly had driven Teresa into Spanish Wells to get supplies, and they weren’t expected back until well after supper.  Mary had been resting upstairs for most of the afternoon; she had begged off of the trip to town with Teresa, saying that she had a headache, and Murdoch hadn’t seen her all day.  Cipriano had taken a crew of men up to the north pasture to work on a dangerously clogged stream, and wouldn’t be back until after dark.  The one person he wished WAS here was Scott, but his older son was nowhere around and no one had seen him all day.  Murdoch wasn’t looking forward to confronting Johnny alone, because he was afraid Johnny would blow up and leave.

       Johnny was supposed to have ridden out to Black Mesa to check out some horses he had spotted there earlier when he had captured the Palomino mare that he had broken and given to Teresa, but Wade had informed Murdoch that wasn’t what his younger son had done at all.  For the last several years, Murdoch and Wade Martin had engaged in what was as close to a feud as possible without actually resorting to violence, but apparently Johnny had crossed that line today.

      Last night at the dinner table Murdoch had complained long and loud about Wade’s disrespect for the Lancer boundaries.   Every month, Lancer hands would have to cut out a suspiciously large number of Rocking M cattle that had supposedly wandered onto Lancer land, and herd them back across the fence line. 

     For some reason, no matter how often the boundary fence was checked, new sections came down frequently.  There were times that one hand had to be assigned exclusively to that fence line in order to keep it in good shape. 

       The week before, that hand had been Johnny.  He had finished up and said that if any cows got through the fence line after he had fixed it, he would eat his hat.  Unfortunately, the very next day, Juan had reported that a large herd of Lancer steers had wandered onto the Rocking M.  Murdoch had immediately sent some hands to bring them back, but in the meantime, Wade had galloped up to the house, cursing and threatening, and insisting on compensation for all of the graze used by Lancer cattle.

   Murdoch had kept a tight rein on his temper and pointed out to the man just how many times Rocking M cattle had grazed on Lancer grass, but Wade was unimpressed.  He had said that that was in the past, and he expected to be paid for the damages done NOW.  Murdoch had refused, and finally Scott and Johnny had helped him off of the ranch, with more enthusiasm than diplomacy.

    That evening at supper, Johnny had told them all, that if Wade came anywhere near the Lancer boundary, he would shoot him.  Murdoch had figured that Johnny was just spouting off; he knew his son better than to think he would shoot ANYONE without a darn good reason, but at least according to the evidence, he had been mistaken.

    Wade had ridden up to the Lancer hacienda with a bandage wrapped around his head and accompanied by a very quiet Val.  Wade had accused Johnny of shooting him and trying to kill him.  He said the only thing that had saved him was that his horse had spooked and dumped him, and he had rolled down a hill out of sight of the gunman.  Murdoch had been extremely skeptical until Val had spoken up.  Apparently, Val had been on his way out to the Rocking M to listen to Wade’s complaint about the broken fence of the day before, and had seen the gunman.   

    Val looked at Murdoch, but wouldn’t meet his eyes.  “I was quite a ways away, but it had to have been Johnny.”

   Murdoch’s eyes narrowed.  “Why?”

    Val sighed.  “Because he was ridin’ a palomino, and had on that red shirt of his and black pants just like Johnny wears.”

    Murdoch shook his head.  “You weren’t close enough to see this person?”

    “No, not close enough to make out the face.”

    “It could have been anyone, Val.  There is more than one palomino, and I’m SURE that Johnny isn’t the only one to wear a faded red shirt.”

   Val nodded and glanced at Wade’s smug expression and then looked back at Murdoch regretfully.  “You’re right about that, Murdoch, but there’s no one around here that can make a shot like that with a handgun, and not many that can ride like Johnny can.”

     Murdoch’s forehead furrowed.  “What do you mean?” 

   Val blew a breath out through his cheeks.  “Well, the shot was made with a handgun from at least two hundred feet away, and it came within an inch of blowin’ Wade’s brains out.  The bullet went right through his hat and left a crease in Wade’s head.  Then, when he saw me, Johnny turned and flew hell-bent for leather down a cliff.  That horse hit that incline goin at a dead run and never slowed up.  Any other horse and rider I know of woulda been dead.  I was gonna go after him, but I had trouble getting’ my horse down that hill at a walk.”

   Murdoch swallowed hard.  It sure sounded like Johnny, but there was one small problem.  His son wasn’t a murderer.

Chapter Twenty-One

     Murdoch finally heard the sound he had been waiting for, but was still dreading.  He turned toward the door as it slammed open and Johnny walked into the house, accompanied by Scott.  Hope sprang into his heart at the sight of his sons.  “Have you two been together all day?”  

    Scott shook his head.  “We just met coming in, why?”  

   At Murdoch’s obviously deflated look, Johnny glanced sharply at his father.  “What’s wrong?”

     Murdoch hung his head for a moment, wondering where to start.  He walked over and poured himself another drink, and held up the bottle in offering to the boys. 

      Scott walked over, grabbed a glass and held it out while Murdoch poured a healthy shot into it, but Johnny stayed where he was.  “What’s wrong?” Johnny asked again, more sharply this time.

    With a sigh, Murdoch turned toward his younger son, but was unable to meet his eyes and abruptly turned back toward the window.  “Wade Martin came by today.”

    Johnny’s hackles immediately went up.   “What did that no account snake in the grass want THIS time?”

     Murdoch bit his lip as he turned once more and fixed his younger son with a stare.  “He said that you tried to shoot him.”

     Scott watched as Johnny froze and stared back at his father.  “And?”

     Murdoch swallowed hard.  “He says you tried to kill him.  Somebody put a bullet through his hat and put a pretty good furrow in his scalp.”  

    Johnny snorted.  “Well, that should tell ya I didn’t do it.  If I was gonna kill the son of a bitch, there woulda been more than a crease in his head.” 

     Murdoch continued watching his son, and Johnny realized this wasn’t over yet.  The gunfighter dropped his head.  “Do you think I did it?” He asked softly. 

    Murdoch took a deep breath.  “No, but Val does.”  

     Johnny’s head snapped up.  “WHAT?”  

     Murdoch shook his head.  “He saw the whole thing.” 

    “He saw the whole thing?”  Scott interjected.  “Then how could he think Johnny was responsible?”  

    Johnny shot Scott a grateful look as his father continued.  “He saw a rider about two hundred feet away.  A rider that was on a Palomino horse and wearing black pants and a red shirt just like Johnny’s.”  Murdoch’s voice trailed off.  “You’re not wearing those clothes today,” he murmured.

     Johnny looked confused.  “No.”

     Murdoch’s eyes narrowed.  “Where are they?”

      Johnny shrugged.  “In the laundry room I guess.  I wore them yesterday and I doubt if Teresa’s washed them yet.”

     “Murdoch, ANYBODY could get the same color clothes.”  Scott interjected.  “They wouldn’t have to use Johnny’s.”

    Murdoch sighed.  “I guess.”  He shook his head.  “Val said that Johnny is the only person he knows around here that could have made a shot like that.  Also, when he went to chase the man, the rider spurred his horse over a virtual cliff at a dead run.  Again, Val thought that pointed to Johnny and Barranca.”

       “Barranca’s not the only Palomino around here, and I ain’t the only one ta wear that color clothes.” Johnny protested.

      Murdoch nodded his head wearily.  “That’s what I pointed out to him.  But there’s still the matter of that shot.”  He looked at Johnny.  “How many men that you know that could make a shot like that?”  When Johnny glanced at Scott, Murdoch clarified, “With a pistol?”

      Johnny’s head dropped as Scott spoke up.  “Maybe he didn’t.”

       Both his father and brother looked at him.  “What do you mean?”  Johnny asked.

     Scott shrugged.  “What if the person DIDN’T make the shot?  They COULD have missed what they were aiming at.  Just because Martin was hit in the head doesn’t mean that was where the rider was aiming.”

     Murdoch’s brows furrowed.  He hadn’t thought of that, but Scott had a good point.  That still didn’t get Johnny off the hook, however.  Reluctantly, Murdoch fixed his gaze on his younger son.  “Johnny, I have to ask you……”

       “NO! Murdoch, you don’t!”  Scott interjected.

      Johnny smiled at his brother and then turned toward his father with a trace of a smile.  “Like I said before, if I had been after him, I wouldn’t a missed.”

      That wasn’t exactly the reassurance Murdoch wanted to hear, but he nodded his head.  “All right, then we have to find out who was behind this.”  He looked at Johnny apologetically.  “I had to promise Val that you’d ride into town and give yourself up.” 

    Johnny shook his head in disbelief.  “Val REALLY thinks I did it?”

    Murdoch shrugged.  “I don’t think he wants to, and I’m sure if we can come up with another explanation, he’ll jump on it.  But it’s hard for a person to discount what they saw; or what they THINK they saw.”

      Johnny nodded slowly.  “As long as the two of you believe me.”  He glanced back and forth between the two men for reassurance, and saw the answer in their eyes.  He grinned slightly.  “Is it OK if I grab a bite to eat first?  I really don’t like Val’s idea of food.”

   Murdoch nodded, and Johnny headed for the kitchen.   Scott looked around.  “Where’s Mary?”

    Murdoch shook his head.  “She’s upstairs resting.”

    Scott looked surprised.  “Still?”

   Murdoch looked at his son apologetically.  “She could have come down, I really haven’t paid attention.  My mind was on other things.”

   Scott nodded.  “I’m going upstairs and make sure she’s all right before I leave.”

    “Leave?”  Murdoch asked.

     “I’m going to ride into town with Johnny and then go back to where it happened and see if I can find out anything.” 

      Murdoch glanced out the window.  “It’ll be dark soon.”

      “If it’s all right with you, I’ll spend the night in town.  You never know; I might hear something.”   Scott called over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs.

    “All right.”  Murdoch answered.  “I’ll probably ride into town tomorrow morning and talk to Val and see if we can get this straightened out.”   Murdoch went over to the window and stared out.  He hoped Scott managed to find out something, or they’d have an awfully hard time getting Johnny out of this mess. 

     Scott rapped softly on Mary’s door and a moment later she opened it, still looking tousled from sleep.  Scott smiled as he looked at her; she was still one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.  “Are you all right?” He asked softly. 

    She nodded.  “Yes, my headache is almost gone.  I thought I’d come down and join the family for supper.”

    Scott immediately frowned.  “I won’t be here.  I’m going into town with Johnny, and won’t be back until tomorrow.”

     Mary frowned.  “Is everything all right?”

     Scott sighed.  “I hope so.”


Chapter Twenty-Two  

     Two hours later Murdoch watched as Scott and Johnny rode through the arch toward town and he felt a knot of dread in his stomach.  Ever since the boys had come home he had worried he’d lose them once again, especially his impulsive younger son.  So far, he had been lucky.  He just hoped his luck hadn’t run out and that Johnny would be returning.  The charge against him was a serious one, and if he were convicted, Johnny would face a long prison sentence.

      He had to admit, Johnny had taken the news better than he had expected him to, and he had the feeling it was because of Scott’s calm support.  No matter how angry they were with each other, Murdoch knew that nothing could ever permanently come between the two, and he knew that when it came right down to it, they trusted each other completely.  He was ashamed of himself for having doubts, but in many ways his sons were still strangers to him.  They knew each other far better than he knew either of them.   He stared thoughtfully after the two riders, and then turned and went to the door.  Even though Scott had pointed out the obvious, that whoever did this wouldn’t need Johnny’s clothes, Murdoch decided to have a look anyway.

    A half of an hour later, Murdoch stood in Johnny’s room, wondering where on earth the clothes could be.  He had torn the laundry room apart, and then come upstairs and done the same with his son’s room, and the familiar clothing was still nowhere to be seen.  He shook his head in frustration; the articles HAD to be here somewhere.  Grumbling at the sounds his back was making, he leaned over and looked under the bed.  Nothing.  He glanced at his son’s saddlebags, and he fought a battle with himself.  He KNEW they wouldn’t be in there, but his conscience still demanded that he check. He heaved a sigh of relief when they weren’t inside.

   Murdoch slowly made his way downstairs, wishing Teresa were home so he could ask her about the missing items of clothing.  They couldn’t have just disappeared, and Murdoch thought that finding them just might be the key to getting his son released. At least he hoped it would.  He sighed deeply.  He hated himself for checking, but he decided to go out and ask Cipriano if he remembered just what Johnny was wearing when he left that morning and also if he had seen anything that might explain the missing clothes.  Even though in his heart he knew his son was innocent, his sense of honor insisted he check out every possibility.

     Any doubts he had about the previous incidents being accidents began to disappear.  SOMEONE was behind this whole mess.  Murdoch didn’t know who it was, but whoever it was, he intended to make sure they NEVER hurt his family again.  For Scott’s sake, he hoped it wasn’t Mary, but the thought that it might be Cipriano’s son was equally distasteful.  Maybe it was someone else, someone who WANTED one of them to of them to look guilty.   Murdoch’s eyes narrowed as he followed that train of thought.


    Val brought the tray into the cell and set it down.  Johnny managed a weak smile and picked up his fork.  After a few moments, and a deep sigh, he started to eat.  Val watched him sympathetically, knowing how much being locked up bothered his friend.  Val turned and left the cell, purposely leaving it open.  He might have to keep Johnny in jail, but there was nothing to say he had to keep the door closed.  Johnny glanced up and smiled.  Leave it to Val to bend the rules. Suddenly his breakfast tasted better, and he dug in.

   Val walked over to his desk and sat down heavily.  It bothered Val to think that he might actually have to testify against his friend.  No matter WHAT the evidence seemed to point to, he knew Johnny better than to think he would gun somebody down in cold blood, no matter HOW mad he was at them.

   Scott had loyally slept in the neighboring cell until early this morning, when he had gone over to the café to get breakfast.  Scott had questioned the lawman at length about where the incident had occurred and what exactly had happened, but both Val and Scott realized that any evidence that Scott found would be much more believable if Val went with Scott. 

   Val agreed to ride out with Scott and try to find out what happened, but he hated leaving Johnny locked up alone.  He didn’t think Wade was stupid enough to try anything, but Val had the feeling SOMEBODY was out to get his friend.  Val looked up at the big clock on the wall and realized Scott would be back any time.  He thought for a moment, and then came to a decision.  He opened the desk drawer and took out Johnny’s pistol.

  Johnny looked up as Val approached.  He glanced at the sheriff’s hands and his eyes got big.  “What’s that for?”

     Val looked decidedly uncomfortable.  “Here.  Put this under your pillow.  Until I find out what’s goin’ on, I don’t want ya ta be a sittin’ duck.  Just don’t tell ANYBODY that ya got it, or I might just have ta join ya in that cell, and we’d probably kill each other before too long.” 

    He shoved the pistol at his friend, and Johnny grabbed it gratefully.  “Thanks, Val.”

    Val nodded.  “Just remember what I told ya.”

     Johnny turned and stuffed the gun under his mattress, then came over to the door just as Val was shutting it.  “Sorry, Johnny, but I can’t leave it open while I’m gone.”

    Johnny nodded in understanding, but he still felt a moment’s panic when the door clanged shut.  He went back over to the cot and sat down, hoping Murdoch would get here soon and he’d at least have somebody to talk to.


Chapter Twenty-Three  

     Scott and Val got back late that afternoon.  They had run into Murdoch on the way into town, and he told them he had just left Johnny and that he was in a reasonably good mood, considering.  They all knew just how much Johnny hated to be locked up.  Murdoch had planned on staying until Val got back, but Johnny had finally told him to go home.  He knew his father’s back was hurting from sitting that long, and he figured Scott and Val would be back soon.  Murdoch had finally reluctantly agreed, but he felt better when he saw the sheriff and his older son heading back toward the jail.  He felt even better after Val told Murdoch what they had found, and Murdoch heaved a sigh of relief.  It looked like Johnny would be home tonight after all. 

     Scott and Val rode their horses up to the hitching rail and dismounted.  Scott had insisted on stopping at the hacienda and getting Barranca on the way back into town and he tied up both Charlie and Barranca outside the jail. They walked inside and found Wade Martin sitting at Val’s desk with his boots up and a shotgun in his lap.  Val looked back and made sure Johnny was all right before laying into Martin.  “What’re you doin’ here?”

  Wage smiled at the sheriff.  “I was just makin’ sure this dangerous criminal didn’t try nothin’.”  He glared at the sheriff.  “Where were you? You were takin’ an awful chance of him getting’ away.  His old man’s been here most of the day; he coulda broken Madrid here out anytime.”  Martin shook his head.  “You’re mighty sloppy, sheriff.  It’s a good thing I was here or he’d probably be long gone.” 

    “Just why ARE you here, Wade?”  Val asked tiredly.

    Wade stuck his chin out and looked belligerently at the sheriff. “The circuit judge is due here next week.  I wanted to file a formal complaint against Madrid here.”

    “His name’s Lancer,” Scott ground out.

      Martin shrugged.  “Whatever. It don’t matter what name he goes by, he’s still a killer, and I aim ta see him hang.”

      Val smiled as he walked over and grabbed the shotgun out of Wade’s hands.  “Sorry about your luck, Martin, but you’re gonna hafta find somebody else ta blame. We found the tracks of the horse that went down that incline, and it wasn’t Barranca.  The tracks went off in a different direction, and not far from the trail we found these.”  Val held up a familiar pair of black pants with conchos running down the sides.

     Wade’s face turned red.  “That don’t mean nothin’.  Madrid coulda changed clothes.”

     Val shook his head.  “Like I said, the tracks don’t match.  They’re from a smaller horse.”

     “So what?  He was ridin’ another horse.  It don’t prove nothin’.”

     “It does to me.”  Val said.

      Wade’s face got redder.  “You identified him yourself!  You said it was Johnny!”

      “I said it LOOKED like Johnny.”

     “And now, all of a sudden ya changed your mind?”

      “I TOLD you, Val said angrily.  “The evidence clears him.  I’m satisfied it wasn’t him that was doin’ the shootin’.”

      Wade shot Johnny a dirty look and then turned and looked at Val.  “I never liked you much, sheriff, but I never figured you could be bought.”  He turned toward Scott.  “How much did it cost ya, Lancer?”

     “Get outta here before I lock you up!”  Val shouted as he gave Wade a shove out the door.  “Next time I hope whoever shot at ya don’t miss!” 

      Wade slammed open the door, cursing loudly, and Val watched him until he’d mounted his horse and ridden out of town.

     Val walked back and opened the cell door.  Johnny came out and looked back and forth between Scott and Val.  “Thanks,” he said simply.

     Scott reached over and punched him on the arm.  “That’s for keeping me away from Mary yesterday and today.  Next time, you’re on your own.”   

      Johnny smiled at his brother, and then turned to Val.  “Do you have any idea who did it?”  

      Val shook his head.  “Nope. We lost the tracks after only a quarter mile or so.  We tried ta pick ‘em back up, but we couldn’t.”

    Johnny sighed.  “Well, I guess we’ll find out who did it eventually.”

     “What do you mean?”  Val asked.

      Johnny shook his head.  “I don’t think whoever is doin’ this is gonna quit till they get what they’re after.”

     “And what is that?”  Scott questioned.

     “I wish I knew.”  He looked thoughtfully at his brother for a second, and then broke into a smile. “Come on, let’s get home.  I thought I just might starve to death eatin the slop in this jail.”  Johnny avoided Val’s lunge and hightailed it out of the door, with Scott following along behind.  Johnny stopped on the sidewalk and took a deep breath as he looked around.  He had only been locked up for one day, but it had seemed like forever. Johnny grinned when he saw Barranca, and he walked over and stroked his horse’s coat thoughtfully.  He started to say something, and then decided against it.  With a sigh of frustration, he swung up on Barranca and headed out of town with his brother.

     “I don’t know who could have done it.”  Scott said as they rode along.  “It just doesn’t make sense.”

    Johnny shrugged.  It didn’t make much sense to him, either.  “Did anyone see anything unusual?”  Johnny ventured.

      Scott shook his head.  “No, but there was no one around to see anything.  Murdoch and Mary never left the house, Cipriano and Juan were working in the north pasture all day and never left it, Jelly and Teresa went in to Spanish Wells, and the only company that Murdoch had was Wade Martin and Val.”

    Johnny slowed Barranca down to a walk as what his brother said registered.  “How do you know?”  Johnny asked softly.

     “How do I know what?”

     “How do you know everyone was doing what you just said they were?”

    Scott looked bewildered.  “I asked each of them.  Murdoch talked to everyone too, for that matter.”

    Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt and stared at his brother.  “Scott, I know who did it.”


Chapter Twenty-Four  

     Scott pulled Charlie to an abrupt halt and stared back at his brother. He felt the first tendrils of fear licking at his heart.  Part of him didn’t want Johnny to answer, because he had the feeling that by the time this conversation was over, he just might lose his brother. He HAD to know what was going on in Johnny’s mind, though.  Pushing away the fear, he kept his eyes locked on his brother.  “Who?”  

    Johnny met Scott’s eyes and reluctantly motioned toward a nearby tree.  “Let’s talk.”

    “Johnny!  WHO?”

     Johnny ignored Scott and turned Barranca, heading toward the tree, where he dismounted and started pacing jerkily back and forth.  Scott watched his brother for several moments with a sickening feeling in his stomach, and then Scott forced himself to ride over.  He slowly dismounted and faced his brother.  Hesitating for several moments, he stared at his brother, and then finally repeated his question. 

  “Who do you think did it?”

   Johnny shook his head, “Scott,” he said pleadingly.


     Johnny sighed and turned and looked out over the landscape.  He took a deep breath, wondering if Scott would even listen to him, but it didn’t matter; he had to tell him, or he might lose his brother forever.


    “NO!  She wouldn’t do something like that!”  Scott turned in fury toward his brother.  “She COULDN’T have done it, and not just because I don’t want it to be her.  Johnny, it doesn’t make sense, and you know it.  Whoever did it was an expert rider and probably an expert shot.  Val said so himself. He watched the rider spur HIS horse down that slope at almost a dead run.  Either you or I would have had trouble doing that, and we’ve been riding a LOT longer than Mary. As for the shot that hit Wade, she’s never even picked up a gun. It’s impossible that she could have made a shot like that!  It COULDN”T have been Mary!”

     Johnny hung his head.  “Scott, I saw her.  I saw Mary riding that day.  She was on Teresa’s new mare, and she was near where Val said the attack took place.”

    “Was she wearing your pants and shirt?”  Scott ground out.

    “No, Scott, she wasn’t, at least not then.  But she WAS there, and she WAS riding a palomino that just happens to look a lot like Barranca.”

      Scott turned away.  “That doesn’t mean anything.”

     Johnny moved until he was staring at his brother’s face. “Doesn’t it, Scott?  Then why did she lie about it?  Why didn’t she just admit she’d gone riding?  Nobody would have cared.”

   “I don’t know, but there has to be a reasonable explanation.”

     “Like what?”

   “I DON’T KNOW!  But Mary can’t ride as well as the attacker could, and she sure as hell can’t shoot!  It COULDN’T have been her!”

   “Look, Scott, I don’t have all the answers, but I DO know that she’s not what she seems.”

    Scott glared at his brother.  “What do you mean?”

     Johnny shook his head.   “Nothin’.  Forget it.” He turned away and started toward Barranca.

     Scott grabbed Johnny’s arm and turned him around.  “I’m NOT going to forget it, now what do you mean?”

     Johnny dropped his head and wrapped his arms around himself.  “Did the things she say to me that first night seem like something a lady as sweet as she seems to be would say?” He asked softly, without looking at his brother.

    Scott felt his temper start to flare. “She IS sweet, and she apologized for that SEVERAL times!   I’ve never heard anything out of her mouth that wasn’t proper since then, and neither has anyone else.”  He stared at his brother. “Are you telling me that YOU have?”  He challenged.

   “No, Scott, I haven’t.  But a person doesn’t change just like that. She was totally out of line that first night, and you know it.”  Johnny sighed.   “At least I hope you do.  It sure didn’t seem ta bother you that much.”

  “Of course it bothered me, but it just didn’t seem THAT bad.  Not bad enough for you to hate her for it!”

    “I DIDN”T hate her.  I just swore a long time ago I wouldn’t let ANYBODY talk ta me like that again, and it bothered me that you didn’t seem ta care about what she said to me.”

    Scott sighed.  “Johnny, I know what she said wasn’t exactly proper, but sometimes someone who has been sheltered all of their lives has a distorted view of the real world.”

   “Are you speaking from experience?” Johnny asked quietly.

    Scott dropped his head.  “Maybe.”

    Johnny studied his brother. “So when you first met me, is that what you thought I was, too?”  Johnny dropped his head.  “Or is that what you still think?”

   “What?  That you’re a hired hand?”

     Johnny stared at his brother.  “No…” he said slowly, “That I’m a filthy Half Breed.”  

     Scott drew himself up.  “She didn’t say that.”  

     “Yes, Scott, she did.”  

     Scott whirled around and studied the bark on the tree.  “That’s not what she told me.”    

     “Yeah, well I can understand why.”

      Scott hit the tree with his fist. “I don’t believe you.  Mary wouldn’t say something like that.”

     Johnny shook his head and sighed again.  “There are other things, too.”

     “Like what?” Scott asked belligerently.

     “That day I fell.  Mary HAD been by Barranca.  I saw her just walking away from him when I opened the door of the kitchen.  She denied that, too.”

     Scott dropped his head.  “She was probably scared to death.  Murdoch came right out and accused her.  She was probably afraid to say she’d been near him.”

      Johnny studied his brother, and then finally nodded.  “OK, Scott.  I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.  Forget everything I said.”  Johnny turned and grabbed Barranca’s reins then leaped up onto his horse.”

      “Johnny, WAIT!”

        Johnny stopped and turned back toward his brother “For what?  I’m telling you that I KNOW Mary has been tryin’ ta get rid of me, or at the very least make me look bad, and you don’t believe me. You haven’t believed one thing I said.  You think I’m just tryin’ ta screw up your life.” He shook his head.  “No, Scott.  You’ve made you choice. I won’t say anything more about it.   I just hope you’re happy.”  He spurred Barranca toward home.


Chapter Twenty-Five  

     Johnny blindly rode toward home, furious with himself for saying anything to his brother about Mary.  He knew Scott had a blind spot when it came to the girl, and he should have expected his brother to defend her.  He NEVER should have told Scott that he suspected Mary.  What he should have done was keep his big mouth shut. 

     He rode into the courtyard, jumped off of Barranca and handed him to the waiting Juan, then strode into the estancia, still angry and upset.  He headed for the stairs, but was stopped by his father’s voice.

    “Johnny!  Thank God you’re back!  I saw Val and Scott on the way home, and they told me they had found evidence to clear you.” 

    “Yeah,” Johnny flatly replied as he continued on toward the stairs.

     “Johnny, wait!  What’s wrong?”

    “Nothin’.  Now I’m tired and I want to go get cleaned up, ok?”  Johnny strode up the stairs, and Murdoch heard the door slam behind him.  With a sigh, Murdoch went over and looked out the window, hoping to see his oldest son.  Scott would tell him what was going on and why Johnny was so upset.   

   An hour later, Maria called the family for dinner; Johnny was still in his room and Scott still hadn’t come home.  Murdoch didn’t know what was going on, but he knew that something was drastically wrong.  He heard Teresa and Mary heading toward the dining room, and he reluctantly stood up to join them.  He would find out soon enough what was going on, and he was afraid that whatever it was just might tear his family apart.

     Mary looked around in bewilderment as she sat down.  “Where’s Scott?”

     Murdoch slowly shook his head.  “I’m not sure.”

     Mary studied him.  “Is he still in town with Johnny?  He promised me he would be back tonight for dinner.”

    “Johnny’s home.”

     “He’s home?”  Teresa squealed in delight.

      Murdoch gave Teresa a quick smile, and then studied Mary as he nodded; his eyes narrowing as he saw the expression that flickered across her face.

     “Surprised?”  He asked her.

      Mary shook her head in confusion.  “No…Yes.  I thought that he…”  Her voice trailed off.

     “He what?”  Murdoch snapped abruptly.

      Mary looked from a confused Teresa to a suddenly belligerent Murdoch.  “Nothing,” she whispered.

     “What do you know about this?”  He growled.


      “Murdoch!  What’s wrong with you?”  Teresa cried as she jumped to her feet. “Why are you accusing Mary?  What’s going on?”

     Murdoch stared at Mary for another second, and then glanced back at Teresa.   Finally he dropped his head and sighed.  Even though he had a feeling that Mary knew more than she was telling, he decided it wasn’t worth the risk of accusing her at this point.  He had no intention of alienating his son by accusing his fiancé, at least not until he had proof. But heaven help her if he ever got that proof.  If he found out that she had tried to hurt any of them he wouldn’t mince words, no matter what it cost.

     “Sorry,” he grumbled.

     Mary and Teresa exchanged glances, and the two women glumly turned their attention back to their plates.  After several moments, Murdoch threw his napkin down and excused himself from the table, stomping into the Great Room and heading toward the bar.

    Teresa glanced at Mary, who was toying with her food.  “What was that all about?”

    Mary shrugged.  “I have no idea.  It seems as though your father and brother think I’m behind all of the things that have been going on here lately.”

     Teresa continued to stare at her friend.  “Are you?”

      Mary brought her eyes up and glared furiously at Teresa.  “NO!  And I can’t believe you of all people are accusing me.”

     Teresa returned Mary’s stare.  “Both Johnny and Murdoch are pretty good at reading people, and neither one of them usually jump to conclusions about anyone.”

    “Well, they’re wrong this time!  I don’t know what Johnny has against me, but he’s been trying to turn all of you against me, and apparently he’s succeeding.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn in.”  She stood up and Teresa reached over and grabbed her arm.  “If they are wrong, I’m sorry, and I’m sure they’ll apologize as well.  They’ve both been under a lot of strain lately.”  Her voice softened.  “But if they’re right, they’ll be the least of your worries.”

     Mary jerked her arm away from Teresa and without a backward glance, turned and walked up the stairs, quietly shutting the door behind her. 

      The next morning, breakfast was a silent affair.  Scott hadn’t come home, and both Johnny and Murdoch were in a black mood.   The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife, and the two men refused to look at Mary at all.  She bravely tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but failed miserably.  Teresa tried to get a conversation going, but no one was in the mood for small talk, and she finally gave up.

     Just as they were finishing, the kitchen door flew open, and Scott walked in, a haunted look in his eyes.  Looking at each of the people sitting at the table in turn, his eyes rested on his fiancé, and a small smile appeared on his lips as his eyes lingered for a second before moving on to his brother.  The smile faded and he looked toward the Great room.  “I have something to say, and I would appreciate it if you would all join me in the other room.”

      Mary got to her feet and immediately followed him into the Great Room, but the rest hesitated.  They all felt that what Scott was about to say would change all of their lives forever.  Finally, Teresa got to her feet, followed by Murdoch.  Johnny remained sitting until his father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and squeezed slightly.  Johnny looked up and sighed.  Even if he was about to lose his brother, at least his father was still apparently on his side.


Chapter Twenty-Six  

      Scott walked agitatedly around the room, waiting for his family to join him.  Last night had been the worst night of his life, even worse than any that he had spent in the prison camp during the war.  Last night he had realized that no matter what he decided, he was going to lose one of the most important people in his life.    He knew that he had to make a decision, and that he would have to live with that decision the rest of his life.  If he made a mistake, there would be no turning back, no way to take the decision back. 

   He had thought a lot about his brother. His brother.  He had wanted a brother his whole life and he had finally gotten one.  He smiled.  In his wildest dreams, he had never imagined having a brother like Johnny.  They had become close almost immediately.  It didn’t matter if they had come from totally different worlds, it didn’t matter that they were as different as night and day.  They were brothers, and neither one had ever questioned it.  The trust had come almost immediately, and even though they had both had trouble adjusting to their new lives, they had never had trouble adjusting to each other.  Scott believed in Johnny completely and had never doubted him. Until the last month or so, Scott never thought he would.   

     Scott had spent the rest of the night thinking about everything that had happened, and thinking about his feelings toward Mary.  He had dated numerous women, both in Boston and here.  He had even thought he was in love with a few.  But Mary was different from the rest; she was like a breath of fresh air to a drowning man. She had made him feel more alive than any other woman ever had.  She was an enigma; demure and proper one minute, wild and exciting the next.  He was in love with her.  Hopelessly and completely in love. 

     The problem was, he loved his brother, too.

     He had to make a decision between the two people he loved the most in this world.   He knew he couldn’t have both; it would be an impossible situation.  Johnny would never trust Mary; he had made that perfectly clear. Was his brother right?  Was Mary trying to get rid of Johnny for some unknown reason?

      Scott shook his head.  It just didn’t make sense.  Both Johnny and Mary had insisted that they had never met each other; there was no reason for Mary to try to get rid of his brother.  On the other hand, there was no reason for Johnny to try to make Mary look bad either.  But some of the things that Johnny had told him didn’t quite make sense to him either.  Why hadn’t Johnny said something specific about his concerns earlier?

      Scott slammed his fist down against the back of a chair.  For all of his attempts to try to make a rational and informed decision, he knew the decision had already been made.   It had been made the day before, when Johnny had accused Mary of trying to kill him.  It didn’t matter what his mind told him, it didn’t matter what the evidence said, he had to listen to his heart. 

     He looked over at Mary who was looking out the window toward the hills beyond.  He felt his blood quicken as he watched her.  The last several weeks, he had known that he had been waiting for a woman like Mary his whole life.  He continued watching her until his attention was drawn to his father, slowly coming into the Great Room.  He felt a momentary flush of guilt.  He knew how much this whole business had hurt his father, and would probably continue to hurt him.

    He glanced at Teresa as she came into the room, looking bewildered and apprehensive.  She was totally innocent in all of this, but he knew that she would be guilt ridden over what had happened for a long time to come.  He wished he could spare her the pain of what was about to happen, but he knew that she had a right to hear from him what his decision was.

   With a sigh, he let his gaze wander to the entrance of the dining room, where his brother was leaning against the doorframe, watching everyone.  The two men stared at each other for several moments until Johnny finally heaved a sigh and pushed himself away from the wall.  He walked casually over to the sofa and sat down, his expression closed and still.  Scott smiled sadly.  As usual when his brother was about to face a difficult situation, Madrid was firmly in place.  

     Scott started pacing once more, unsure of how to start. Finally he turned and faced Mary.  “I want to apologize to you for not telling you this in private, but I felt that what was happening affected every person in this room, and every person here has a right to know the truth.” Scott dropped his head.  “You have a right to know that certain… charges… have been made against you by members of my family.” 

   Mary’s head came up and she stared at Murdoch and then Johnny in turn.  Both men returned her gaze as Scott continued, “Mary, I want to ask you a few questions.  Is that all right?” 

  Mary nodded silently and looked at Scott with complete trust.  He nodded slightly, and then continued, “You told all of us that the day Johnny fell off of Barranca that you had never left the garden the short time he was in the house.  Is that right?”

   Mary nodded. 

   Scott dropped his head and then glanced at his brother and sighed.  “Johnny said he saw you by Barranca when he came out of the house.”

    Mary jumped to her feet.  “That’s a lie!  I NEVER left the garden!”

    Scott watched as his brother glared at her and then continued.  “He also said he saw you out riding Teresa’s mare the day Wade was shot.  The day you said you were upstairs asleep all day.”

     All eyes in the room turned toward Mary, whose cheeks turned pink as her eyes shot daggers at Johnny.  This time her voice remained reasonably calm.  “I was upstairs asleep the whole afternoon.  I never left the house.” 

     Scott stared at her and Mary turned toward him in disbelief.  “You don’t believe him, do you?”

     “Well, Scott, do you?”  Johnny asked quietly.

      Scott turned toward his brother and closed his eyes.


   Chapter Twenty-Seven  

    Scott brought his gaze up and stared at Mary.  “Yes,” he said simply.  I do.”  

   The color drained out of Mary’s face and she looked at Scott in shock as he continued.  “Johnny’s my brother, and I trust him with my life.  He’d never do anything to hurt me, and there’s no reason for him to lie about this.” 

    Johnny watched his brother and he couldn’t stop a smile from forming on his lips.  He had been almost certain that Scott would side with Mary and the relief was almost overwhelming.  He had walked into this room certain he was going to lose his brother, and instead Scott’s loyalty to him was proven once more.  It made him feel guilty that he hadn’t had more confidence in his brother, but he knew he’d never doubt Scott’s faith in him again.  The smile got wider as he realized just how lucky he was to have a brother that he could trust completely and who trusted him without question.  

    Mary looked at Johnny and saw the smile, and it infuriated her.  She turned back toward Scott.   “Why can’t you believe ME?”  

    “I already told you, Johnny’s my brother.  I don’t know why you did what you did, but I believe Johnny when he says you were trying to get him out of the way.”

      Mary shook her head in shock.  “I haven’t done ANYTHING!  Why won’t you believe me?  I told you before that I didn’t have anything to do with it.  He’s LYING!  How can you believe him!  You love me!”

      Scott shook his head sadly.  “I did, and no, Mary, he’s not lying.”

      “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

       Scott sighed.  “Yes, I do.  I spent all night last night going over it in my mind, hoping that somehow I could come to a different conclusion.  That somehow if I tried hard enough that I could come up with some other answer.  Believe me, I wanted to.  I never wanted to be more wrong in my life.”  He dropped his head and sighed.  “But the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that there WAS no other conclusion.”

      “There is if he’s lying, and he is!  Why won’t you believe me?  Did you ever stop to think that maybe HE’S trying to get rid of ME for some reason?”

      Scott shook his head.  “No he’s not.  Johnny wouldn’t do that.”

     “Yes he would!  He HATES me!  He’s hated me from the first day I was here.”

      “Maybe. And from what I hear, he has every reason to.   But he doesn’t hate me.”  Scott locked eyes with his brother.  “He knew how much this would hurt me, and he would never do that to me.”

      “But he HAS hurt you, don’t you understand!  You LOVED me!  He destroyed that.   Don’t you see, we could have been happy together, and your brother ruined everything because of his accusations!”

       “Johnny didn’t ruin ANYTHING, you did.”  Scott replied harshly.

       “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!  What do I have to do to convince you of that?”

      Scott shook his head.  “You can’t.  It’s too late.”

      Mary sat down abruptly on the couch.  “I thought you loved me,” she whispered.

      “I did love you, and I trusted you.  I thought we could be happy together, but I was wrong.  I’m just glad that Johnny told me the truth and kept me from making the biggest mistake in my life.  What you did was inexcusable.  You tried to hurt my brother, and I can never forgive you for that.”

       Scott turned toward Teresa.  “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask your friend to leave.”

       Teresa was staring at Mary angrily.  “She’s not my friend, and she obviously never was.”  She looked from Scott to Johnny.  “I’m sorry I asked her here in the first place.”

       Mary looked frantically around, and her gaze fell on Johnny.  “It’s YOUR fault!  YOU made him hate me!  You made them ALL hate me!  WHY?  What did I do to you?  You had no RIGHT!”

      Johnny remained silent and returned her stare as Murdoch stood up and looked angrily at Mary.   He remained staring down at her as he tried desperately to get his temper under control and failed miserably.  “We welcomed you into our home, and treated you like one of the family.  And in return, you betrayed all of us.  You betrayed Teresa’s trust in you. She thought you were her friend, and you were nothing but a conniving…female!”

     Mary shrank back into the couch as Murdoch’s voice rose.   “I still don’t know exactly what you said to my son that first night; he’s too much of a gentleman to tell me.  But for your sake, I’m glad he didn’t tell me, or I just might forget you’re a lady, and I’m using that term loosely.”

     Murdoch turned and walked away for a few steps before turning and staring at her again.   “And as for the rest, I don’t even know where to start.  You lied to all of us, Scott most of all.  You betrayed the trust of a man who loved you and you hurt him deeply.  You hurt all of us, and you should get down on your knees and thank God that Johnny wasn’t hurt because of all of your treachery, or so help me……….”

    Johnny grabbed his father’s arm.  “That’s enough, Murdoch, she’s not worth it.”

     Murdoch nodded at his son and then looked back toward Mary.  “I’ll tell Cipriano to drive you into town in one hour.  I believe there’s a stage leaving at noon, and I want you on it.”  He turned and walked out of the room, followed by Johnny and Teresa.

     Mary watched them in disbelief, and then turned toward Scott. “I DIDN’T do it!  Please believe me!” she begged.

     Scott stared at her for a moment, and his hand started to come up toward her face before he forced himself to stop.  His eyes hooded over and he turned abruptly on his heels and walked out of the room.

     Mary watched her ex-fiancé walk out of her life, and then with a sob, she turned and ran up the stairs.  


Chapter Twenty-Eight  

   That evening, Scott remained in his room while the others ate a silent dinner.  Teresa kept shooting guilty looks at both Johnny and Murdoch as she tried to choke down her meal.  Murdoch ate mechanically, but the expression on his face let both Johnny and Teresa know that his thought were miles away. 

    Johnny pushed his food around for a while, and then finally slammed his fork down and stood up.  Murdoch looked at his son sympathetically.  “It wasn’t your fault, John.”  

   Johnny turned toward his father.  “Then why does it feel like it was?”

     Murdoch sighed.  “Because you were the one that made Scott admit to himself what was happening.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you, and it was hard for Scott to hear.  It’ll take some time for Scott to get over this.”

      “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”

       “Of COURSE you should have.  Don’t you think your brother had a right to know just what kind of woman Mary is?  How do you think he’d feel if you hadn’t told him and she wound up hurting you?”

        Johnny shrugged.  “Probably about as bad as he feels right now.”

        Murdoch sighed.  “Son, there was no easy way to tell him, but you did the right thing.   You just have to remember that he’s not mad at you, he’s just mad.”

        Teresa sniffed.  “I’m SO sorry I brought her here.  I wonder if Scott will ever forgive me?  I wonder if any of you will.”  Teresa turned toward Johnny.  “She almost got you killed.  I’m sorry.”

     Johnny shook his head crossly.  “It wasn’t your fault.  You sure didn’t know what was gonna happen.  Nobody did.  Now I’m gonna go up and talk to Scott and see if we can get this ironed out between us.”  Johnny walked out of the dining room and headed for the stairs.

     Murdoch watched him apprehensively.  He had been relieved that Scott trusted his brother enough to take Johnny’s word about what had been happening, but he was afraid that Scott still might be resentful.  Murdoch guessed he couldn’t blame his son if he were.  He had been dealt a hard blow, and it would take time for him to get over it.  He just hoped it didn’t damage the boys’ relationship.


   Johnny walked up the stairs and knocked lightly at Scott’ door.  Usually he’d just barge in, but he wasn’t sure just what kind of mood his brother was in, and didn’t want to make him more upset than he already was.  When he didn’t get an answer, he tried again, and then he finally pushed the door open.  Scott was sitting by the window, looking out at nothing.  Johnny had done the same thing too many times to not know that Scott was deeply troubled.

    “Hey, Scott.  Can we talk?”

    Scott nodded his head mutely, and Johnny approached and sat nervously on the edge of the bed.  He tried to think of what to say, but only one thing seemed right.

   “I’m sorry.”

    “It wasn’t your fault.”

    Johnny dropped his eyes.  “I’m still sorry you got hurt.”

    Scott sighed and looked at his brother.  “I would have gotten hurt a lot worse if you hadn’t said anything.”  Scott turned toward his brother.  “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

    “I DID!  Remember?”

    Scott shook his head.  “You told me you didn’t trust her, but you didn’t say anything specific.  Why didn’t you say something about her being by Barranca before you fell?”

     Johnny sighed.  “You hadn’t been real acceptin’ of the fact that she might have had somethin’ ta do with it.  When I told you before that I didn’t trust her, ya got pretty mad.  Besides, I didn’t have any proof that she had done anything, and I didn’t want ya mad at me for nothin’.”

      “And what about what she said about you that first night?”

    “Scott, I’ve been hearin’ stuff like that my whole life.  It sure wasn’t anything new, and I didn’t want ta make a scene and ruin things for Teresa.  I didn’t figure Mary would be here that long. And she DID apologize, more than once.  I thought maybe she’d just been repeatin’ somethin’ she’d heard, and she’d change her mind when she got to know me.  It’s happened before.”

    Scott dropped his head and stared at the floor. “Why didn’t you tell us right away that you’d seen her out riding the day of the shooting?”

    “Because I didn’t think it was anything unusual.  She and Teresa go ridin’ all the time.  I just got a glance at her, and at the time, I figured Teresa was with her.  It wasn’t until I heard that she told you she’d been in the house all day that I knew she was tryin’ ta hide somethin’.  It was then that I knew she’d been lyin’ all along.”

   Scott shook his head.  He still wasn’t entirely satisfied with his brother’s answers and thought Johnny just might be hiding something, but he did believe him.  “All right.”  Scott stared down at the floor.  “Did Val arrest her?”

     Johnny shook his head and smiled.  “No.  Jelly said Wade was in town, and Wade said he didn’t believe a girl would do it, and he wouldn’t press charges against her.   He was probably still hopin’ he could get me arrested.  Anyway, she’s on her way back to San Francisco.”  

   Scott nodded.   He still cared enough about her to not want her to go to jail, even though she probably deserved it.    

   Johnny hesitated and then asked the question he had been dreading.  “Are you mad at me?”  



    Scott held up his hand.  “I’m mad at you, but you did what you had to do, and I’m also grateful.”  Scott sighed.  “Actually, right now I don’t know HOW I feel. I’m hurt, mad, relieved, miserable and about ten other emotions all rolled into one.”  Scott turned and looked back out the window.  “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you earlier when you said you didn’t trust her.  It would have saved both of us from a lot of hurt.  Next time, I promise I’ll listen.”  

    “Let’s try and make sure there ISN’T a next time, ok?”  

    Scott smiled wanly.  “I’ll do my best.”  

     Johnny bit the inside of his lip as he watched his brother.  “Are we ok?”

      Scott smiled at his brother.  “Yes, we are.  But I’d like to be alone for a while, all right?”

     Johnny nodded.  “OK.  See ya tomorrow.”

     Scott nodded and Johnny turned and walked over to the door before stopping.  “Scott, I AM sorry.”

     Scott nodded.  “I know.  You did what you had to do.”

    Johnny watched his brother for a moment, and then turned and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him.  He wasn’t feeling entirely better, but Scott had at least reassured him that he hadn’t lost his brother.  He knew how hurt Scott was; it would take time for his brother to get over what had happened.  He thought that his brother probably still loved Mary, despite the fact that Johnny had convinced him she was guilty.  Johnny knew from experience that it took time for love to turn into hate, no matter what someone did.  Scott still probably had feelings for Mary and was a little confused about that.  It would take time for Scott to sort out his feelings and come to terms with what happened, but Johnny had no doubt that he would.

     Johnny walked into his own room and shoved the door closed.  He walked over to the window and looked out into the same blackness that his brother had been staring at.  Mary was gone, and the danger was over, but for some reason he still felt apprehensive about what he had done.  He mentally shook himself; everything was fine and he and Scott would soon be back to their easy camaraderie.   There was nothing to worry about.  He looked over at the bed and sighed.  Maybe tonight he could get some sleep; he hadn’t slept well for a long time.

     Two hours later, he was still sitting in the chair, looking out at nothing.


Chapter Twenty-Nine  

      Scott watched from a small plateau as his brother chased down a wayward steer on Barranca.  They were moving a herd into a different pasture, and Scott was tired and dirty.  He and Juan had followed a few strays up into a canyon, and after a difficult ride, they had finally gotten them moving in the right direction.  Juan had taken the steers back to the herd while Scott had followed some tracks that led into a side canyon.  He had lost the trail in some rocks, and finally given up and come back to join the drive. 

        He took his hat off and ran a dirty hand through his grimy hair.   Grimacing, he pulled his shirt away from his sweaty chest, and then in resignation he shoved the hat back onto his head, and took a deep breath before preparing to join the rest of the men.   The light mist that had just started was enough to turn the grime on his clothes to mud, and he couldn’t wait to get home and take a nice hot relaxing bath. As long as he had been here, he still hadn’t gotten used to being dirty, and he hoped he never would.

      He looked over at the pasture where they were taking the herd, and was relieved to note that it was only a mile or so away.  With any luck, he would be home in time to take his bath before dinnertime.  He looked up apprehensively at the sky.  If they didn’t get the herd moving soon, he wouldn’t need a bath.  It looked like they were in for a real downpour.

     As he watched his brother, a smile came to Scott’s lips.  He had made the right choice last month, and he knew it.  It had taken him quite a while to realize that basic truth, and then to accept it.  He had been blind when it had come to Mary, and he owed his brother more than he could ever repay.  He knew how difficult it had been for Johnny to tell Scott the truth, but he had done it anyway.  He had told Scott about Mary even though he had been afraid of ruining their relationship.  Scott admired his brother for what he had done, and certainly wasn’t mad at him, although for some reason Johnny acted like he expected Scott to be angry.

      Ever since Mary had left, Johnny had been quiet and a little withdrawn.  Scott had talked to his brother privately several times since that day, to reassure him that he wasn’t holding a grudge, but for some reason, Johnny seemed to be avoiding him.  It almost seemed as if his brother was trying to hide something, but Scott didn’t know what.  He wondered if Mary had done something that Johnny didn’t want him to find out about.  He sighed deeply.  He would have to pin his brother down and talk to him soon, because he wanted his old brother back; he wanted their old relationship back.

        As Scott’s mind wandered, he watched the herd with unseeing eyes.  He thought of Mary and still felt his heart break as he remembered the way she had left.    Even though he knew he had done the right thing, it still hurt.  Knowing what lengths Mary had gone to in order to hurt Johnny should have hardened his heart against her completely, but that hadn’t happened.  He felt guilty about still having some feelings toward her, but he couldn’t help the way he felt.  The thought of Mary still sent his heart racing.    Even though his mind told him that he should hate Mary, his heart told him something different.  He shook his head.  It didn’t matter how he felt about her; he would never see the lady again.

        He was snapped back to the present as bolt of lightening flashed nearby, and a clap of thunder rumbled in the sky.  Scott flinched involuntarily at the sound, and Charlie shifted uneasily beneath him.  He reached down and gave his horse a reassuring pat, then looked quickly down at the herd.   The cattle were milling around uneasily, and he could hear his brother shouting orders to the men as they tried desperately to stop a stampede.  He watched as the men circled the herd, shouting and swatting a few steers with their lariats to keep them from bolting.

       For a moment, Scott thought that it would work.  The steers were still lowing uneasily, but the men were holding them.  Then a bright flash tore across the sky, followed almost immediately by another deafening boom.  For a moment, the scene below was frozen in time.  Everything seemed to stop and the silence was deafening.  The next second, all hell broke loose as the cattle broke into a run.  The din of hundreds of cattle pounding across the land drowned out the thunder as the cattle swarmed across the pasture. The bellowing had stopped, and the cattle made their run in silence except for the clattering of their horns and the pounding of their hooves.   The men were trying to turn the herd, running their horses next to the panicked cattle and slowly making their way to the front of the group.  Scott looked desperately for Johnny, and saw his brother racing Barranca into the middle of the stampede, trying to reach the leaders before the cattle could get a good start. 

      Scott watched with his heart in his mouth as his brother fought his way to the front of the herd.  Finally, Johnny reached the front, and he reached down and beat the lead steers with his rope, slowing them slightly, and gradually the cattle started to turn.  The other men were at the sides, and kept the animals turning, trying to turn the animals back on themselves to stop the run.   Scott started to breathe a sigh of relief, and then caught his breath as the palomino stumbled and then scrambled frantically to keep his feet.  He saw his brother grab the saddle horn in a desperate effort to stay in the saddle.  The herd seemed to sweep the man and horse along, with Barranca and his brother still fighting to stay upright in the churning mass of horns.   He watched for another second, and then despite the drizzle that had started, the dust billowed up, obscuring both the herd and his brother.


Chapter Thirty  

      Scott sat frozen for a second, watching the maddened beasts rampaging across the pasture, taking his brother with them.  Then he furiously spurred Charlie down the ridge after the disappearing herd.  He followed the cattle blindly, trying to keep himself from thinking about the aftermath of the only other stampede he had ever seen.   That stampede had occurred about four months after he had first arrived at Lancer and was indelibly etched in his mind. 

     They had been moving the herd to the railroad line and had been on the trail for three days.  Scott had still been uncomfortable with his role as a wrangler and wasn’t quite sure of just what had been expected of him.  All of the hands had made it a point of telling Scott one tall story after another, and unfortunately, he was just ignorant enough of western culture and wildlife that he had fallen for some pretty tall tales.  By the time Johnny and Murdoch had warned him about stampedes and had told him horrific stories of past drives that had ended in tragedy, he was inclined to think they might be exaggerating and hadn’t taken them completely seriously.  He was sure that hundreds of rampaging cattle could cause damage, but the things they had told him seemed a trifle exaggerated.

     The drive had gone smoothly until they had tried to get the herd through a small gap between two barbed wire fences.  The thirsty cattle, heading toward water, had crowded through the opening, impatiently shoving some of the weaker steers into the wire next to the break.  Some of the cattle began getting their feet tangled and started struggling and bellowing.  As more steers got tangled, the panic spread, and within seconds, the whole herd was thundering back in the direction they had just come. The three riders who had been riding drag were taken by surprise, and Scott watched as they struggled to keep their horses from going down among the churning hooves.

    An hour later, the herd had been stopped, and the wranglers had once more regained control.  The three hands were missing, and Murdoch had asked Johnny and Scott to go back and look for them.   He and Johnny had ridden slowly along the path that the cattle had taken, trying to find the missing men, when Johnny had drawn Barranca up short.  He stared at the ground for a moment and shook his head.   Scott glanced down, not seeing anything at first, and then he had focused on some bloody bits of something.  It took him a moment before he realized that he was looking at all that was left of one of the riders.  The most they had found that day was a couple of the horses, cut to pieces.  In all, three horses and three men had died a horrible death that day, and Scott had finally believed his brother and father about just how dangerous herding cattle could be.

     Scott unwillingly dragged his mind back to the reality at hand.  He swallowed hard, and prayed that his brother had somehow made it out of the mass of maddened steers.  He forced himself to study the ground, and hoped fervently that he wouldn’t find anything, at least at Charlie’s feet.  Despite the thunder, the rain hadn’t gotten any harder, and Scott hoped it would hold off, at least for a while.  

      He went almost a quarter of a mile before he caught sight of a bloody body lying half hidden by a rock outcropping.  He spurred Charlie toward the rocks, praying the whole way.  A horse was down next to the man, but it was impossible to tell the animal’s color.  

   Scott jumped off of his horse and flew toward the body.  The clothes were so torn and bloody that he couldn’t tell at first if it was Johnny or not.   Whoever it was had dark hair and was approximately the right size and Scott felt panic start to engulf him.  It wasn’t until he grabbed the body and frantically turned it over that he saw that it wasn’t Johnny, but Juan. 

   He felt a moment’s relief, and then immediately felt guilty for being grateful that another man had fallen victim to the sharp hooves.  He knew how much this would affect Cipriano.  He started to lay Juan back down, when suddenly the young man’s eyes fluttered open.  Scott startled, and then spoke reassuringly to the young man.

    “Take it easy.  Help is on the way.”

      Juan stared at Scott in confusion for several seconds before trying to wet his lips and then attempting to say something.  “Water,” he finally groaned.

     Scott laid the man carefully back down, and hurriedly got his canteen from his saddle.  He tore off a shirtsleeve, and wet it. He wiped some of the blood off of the man’s face and offered him some water.

     Juan worked to swallow a sip or two, then sank back, exhausted.  He tried once more to say something to Scott, but Scott shook his head. 

        “Don’t talk.  We’ll get you to Sam, and you’ll be fine, just rest.”  Even as he said it, Scott knew it was a lie.  The man would never survive; he was too badly injured.  Scott didn’t even know how he had stayed alive this long.

      Juan licked his lips once more.  “Johnny.”

      “What about Johnny?”

      “Tell him…” Juan closed his eyes, and Scott thought he was gone, but a second later, the eyes opened again.

       “Tell him…  I’m sorry.”

        “For what?”  Scott asked in confusion.

       “For everything.”

       Scott shook his head in confusion, and Juan tried valiantly to finish.  “It was me all along.”

       “I don’t understand.”

      “Tell him I’m sorry. It was me…   I’m sorry.  Please forgive me. It was me.”

       What was you?”

      “I put the wire under Mary’s saddle…and…I loosened Johnny’s cinch and …I…I…did … it wasn’t Mary, I…I…did it… I…I’m sorry for everything,” he whispered.  

    Juan’s head lolled sideways, and his sightless eyes rolled back in his head.  Scott remained motionless for an eternity as Juan’s words seeped into his brain, and then he sat down hard as he realized just what Juan’s confession meant.


Chapter Thirty-One  

     Scott closed Juan’s eyes and then stumbled to his feet.  He couldn’t believe what Juan had just told him, but he also knew in his heart that the man wasn’t lying.  He had seen the pain in Juan’s eyes as he had told Scott what he had done.  Scott didn’t know why Juan had done the things he did, but at this point, it didn’t matter.  What DID matter was that apparently his own brother had lied to him.  Not only had he lied, he had accused the woman Scott loved of horrible things that she hadn’t done.

      Scott thought back to the day he had kicked Mary out of his life. He had said hateful things to her because he had believed Johnny.  She had pleaded with Scott to believe her, but he had refused; they all had.  He and the rest of family had refused to believe her, simply because Johnny had told them to.  He had used their trust in him to get Mary out of their lives, and Johnny had sat there, smugly smiling at Mary’s pain.

      Scott felt his temper starting to rise.  He fought to retain his composure, but it was a hopeless task.  He had never been as mad at ANYONE as he was with his “brother” right now.  He had believed Johnny; he had trusted him beyond all reason, and his brother had betrayed him.  Scott didn’t know yet just what he was going to do about it, but he thought that his relationship with his brother just might have suffered a fatal blow.

     Scott swung up into his saddle and spurred Charlie a little harder than he meant to.  The horse took off, and Scott pulled back on the reins and then reached down and patted the horse’s neck. He spoke softly to him, trying to calm Charlie down, even though Scott was seething inside.  Finally, the horse responded, and Scott followed the trail and continued to search the landscape for his brother.  He hoped Johnny wasn’t badly hurt, because he wanted to bloody his knuckles on his brother’s face.

        He was beginning to think that Johnny had miraculously escaped injury, and as angry as he was, Scott was still thankful.   He could tell that he had almost caught up with the herd, and he had seen no sign of his brother or Barranca.  Up ahead, he could hear the bellowing from nervous cattle as lightening continued to streak across the sky, and the yells of the men as they tried to keep them contained.   

   As he got closer, he could see the men circling the herd.  He looked for his brother, but Johnny wasn’t around, and his worry returned.    He caught sight of one of the older wranglers and rode toward him.  

   “Tom! Where’s Johnny?”  

     Tom didn’t take his eyes off of the herd, but simply pointed over his shoulder toward a stand of small trees.  Scott rode in the direction the wrangler had pointed, and finally saw his brother propped up against a tree, with Cipriano hovering over him.  Despite his anger, Scott felt a moment’s relief that his brother was alive, and worry that Johnny was obviously hurt. 

   Scott pulled Charlie to a stop next to the tree and stepped off.  Johnny looked up at his brother and gave him a lopsided grin.  “Hey, Scott, where ya been?  Ya missed the fun.” 

    Scott averted his eyes from his brother and looked at Cipriano.  “What’s wrong with him?” He asked curtly. 

     “His leg is badly broken, Senor.”

      “Has someone gone for Sam?”

      “Si, Senor, and Julio went to get the chuck wagon to take him back to the ranch.”  

      “I told ya, I could ride,” Johnny grumbled.

     “Shut up, Johnny.  You’re in no shape to ride, and believe me, I’m not in the mood to have to argue with you right now,” Scott growled.

      Johnny closed his mouth and studied his brother.  Something was bothering him, that was for sure, but he was glad Scott didn’t want to argue because he sure didn’t feel like it either.  He really wasn’t feeling very well, and was fighting desperately to stay conscious.

      Scott looked up at Cipriano, and then walked over to the older man.  He hesitated a second, and then put his hand on the Segundo’s shoulder.  Cipriano stiffened, knowing instinctively what Scott was about to tell him.

      “Cipriano, I’m sorry, but I found Juan about a mile back.”  Scott dropped his head. “He didn’t make it.”

     Cipriano looked at Scott blankly for a moment, and then dropped his head in grief.   Scott kept his hand on his friend’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry.”

      Cipriano nodded woodenly, and Scott saw tears falling from the man’s face.  Scott glanced over at his brother.  Johnny’s head was lowered, and he knew that, as usual, his brother was trying to hide his feelings.   Scott knew that Johnny and Juan had been friends; at least he thought they had been. After what Juan had said, he was no longer sure.  Right now, he was no longer sure of anything.  Now was not the time to figure it out, however.  There would be plenty of time later; Scott would make sure of that.

         Julio drove the wagon up to the tree, and Scott stood up.  He looked over at the Segundo.  “I need to help the men with the cattle.  Would you ride with Johnny back to the ranch?  I’ll take care of Juan.”

     Without waiting for an answer, Scott turned and walked back to Charlie.

     Johnny watched his brother in confusion, not understanding why Scott wasn’t going to return to the ranch with him.  “Scott!”

      Scott hesitated only a second, and then squaring his shoulders; he mounted Charlie and rode away from his brother without a backward glance.

      Johnny watched his brother ride off, and for some reason, he had the feeling that he had just lost his brother.  A moment later Johnny lost the battle to stay conscious, and he slumped against the tree.    


Chapter Thirty-Two  

      Sam came downstairs to an anxiously awaiting Murdoch.  Sam nodded his head and put Murdoch out of his misery.  “He’ll be fine.  His leg isn’t broken, but it was sprained and his hip was badly dislocated.  I put it back into place, and it should heal just fine.  He also broke a couple of ribs, but I wrapped them, and those will heal by themselves. Jelly and I had to put that hip back into its socket, so despite his protests I gave him something to knock him out.  He’s resting now, and he should sleep until morning.”  

    Murdoch took a deep breath in relief and smiled at his old friend.  “Drink?”

    Sam nodded and walked over to the sideboard, where Murdoch poured them each a drink of imported brandy and then motioned to the sofa.  The two men sank gratefully into the plush cushions, and Murdoch glanced sideways at the Doctor.  “Are you sure he’s all right?”

       Sam smiled at his friend.  “Yes, Murdoch, he’ll be fine.  And from what I hear, he’s pretty darn lucky.  Like I said, it was badly dislocated, but I don’t think there’s any nerve damage.  IF he behaves himself and stays off of it, it’ll heal just fine.”

      Murdoch sighed glumly. “IF he stays off of it.”

      Sam laughed.  “That, my friend is your problem, I did my part.”

      Murdoch snorted.  “I think you got the easy part.  Getting Johnny to take it easy will require an act of God, and even that might not work.  Just how long do you expect me to work this miracle and keep him off of it?”

     Sam shrugged. “I don’t want him putting any weight on it for at least two weeks.”

     “Two weeks!!”  Murdoch yelled in disbelief.  “That’s impossible!  There’s NO WAY he’s going to stay in bed for that long.”

       “Murdoch, calm down.  Even I know that would be impossible. I didn’t say he had to stay in bed.  He can probably get up in a few days, with lots of help and some crutches.  But he’ll have to stay quiet for the whole time.”

      Murdoch raised an eyebrow at Sam.  “Uh huh.”

     “I mean it, and I’ll be sure to give Johnny the usual lecture.  But this time, he’ll HAVE to listen to me.  If he uses that leg too quickly, it could pop back out and then he’d need surgery.  He HAS to give those tendons and muscles time to heal.  If he doesn’t he could end up with a crippled leg.”

      Murdoch nodded glumly.  “Don’t worry; I’ll make sure he behaves, one way or the other.”

     Sam nodded.  “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll have lots of help.  Jelly was already hovering around him, and Teresa was sitting by his bed.  The two of them together were planning his whole recovery.”  He looked around.  “Where’s Scott?”

     Murdoch hesitated for a moment before answering slowly, “Cipriano said that Scott stayed out to help with the herd.  He should be here shortly.” 

      Sam nodded, but he was troubled.  Whenever either of the boys was hurt or in trouble, the other was sure to be close by.  In fact, close by wasn’t an entirely accurate description.  More like joined at the hip.  Something was wrong if Scott chose to stay out with the herd instead of accompanying his badly injured brother back to the house, but Sam kept his thoughts to himself.  One glance at Murdoch’s face told the Doctor that his friend was well aware that something wasn’t right.

     Sam changed the subject.  “Tell Cipriano I’m very sorry for his loss.”

       Murdoch nodded.   “We all are.  Juan was a good man, and Cipriano is a good friend.  I feel very badly for him.”

       Sam nodded, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say.  Ranching was a hard and dangerous business, and men were hurt and killed regularly.  He and Murdoch both knew that it could just have easily been Johnny or Scott that had lost their life, but thankfully, this time at least, it wasn’t.  

        Sam stood up reluctantly.  “Well Murdoch, thanks for the drink, but I still have a few stops to make, so I’d better get going.”

        Murdoch put down his drink and stood up, offering the Doctor his hand.  “Thanks, Sam, once again.  I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

       Sam snorted. “Heaven forbid that it would occur to any of you to try to stay healthy.”

       Murdoch laughed. “Don’t look at me, I do my part.”

     “Sure you do.”  Sam walked to the door.  “I’ll be back here in a day or two to check up on Johnny.  If he starts running a fever or there are any other problems, let me know.”  

  “I will, and thanks again, Sam.”    

    Sam shut the door behind him and stepped out into the courtyard.  He was almost to his buggy when he heard a horse approaching.  He looked up and saw Scott coming home, an angry look on his face.   When the young man got closer, Sam spoke.

      “Hey, Scott.  I’ve been expecting you.”

      Scott looked flatly at the Doctor.  “And why is that?”

     The young man’s answer took Sam back for a moment, and the doctor studied Scott carefully, noting the closed off expression.  “I figured you’d want to find out how Johnny is.”

       Scott shrugged wearily.  “How is he?”

      “He’ll be fine, he…”

      “Good.”  Scott brushed past the doctor and headed toward the house, leaving a bewildered, and very worried, Sam standing by his buggy.

      Scott walked resolutely into the house and slapped his hat onto the hat rack.  He hung his holster next to his hat, and then turned to go up the stairs when his father’s voice stopped him.  Reluctantly, he turned and walked into the Great Room.

     “Scott, are you all right?”

     “I’m fine, Sir.  The cattle are safely in the new pasture.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go clean up before dinner.”

      “Johnny will be all right.”  Murdoch told him in a subdued voice.

      “I know.  I talked to Sam outside.”

       Murdoch shook his head.  “You don’t seem too concerned.”

      Scott shrugged.  “Sam said he would be fine.”

       Murdoch stared at his son for a moment.  “All right, what’s wrong?  And don’t tell me nothing.”

        Scott turned to go.  “I really don’t want to discuss it right now, Sir.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going upstairs.” 

      Murdoch watched as his son climbed the stairs, and heard Scott’s footsteps walk purposefully past his brother’s room.   Murdoch turned and went back to the sideboard and poured another drink.  


Chapter Thirty-Three  

    The next morning, Scott came down to breakfast and found his father still sitting at his desk.  From the looks of things, Murdoch hadn’t gone to bed all night.  For that matter, Scott hadn’t slept, either.  He had sat up all night, once more going over the things that had happened, trying to make sense of them in his mind.  Once more, only one thing made sense.  This time, however, the pain was worse than it was before.  This time, he was gong to lose his brother, but there was nothing he could do about it.  Johnny had taken the decision out of Scott’s hands when he had lied about Mary.    

    Early in the morning, he had walked into his brother’s room and stared down at the sleeping form.  He felt a tug on his heart when he saw just how badly his brother was hurt, and his first instinct was to sit with him; to protect him, just like he had always tried to protect his little brother.  Then he remembered just what his brother had done, and he hardened his heart.  He didn’t know if he had a brother any more.  It would have to be Johnny that mad things right between them, and he wasn’t sure if his brother would. 

    Now the question was, did he still have a father?  Scott took a deep breath, dreading the upcoming conversation, but knowing that it couldn’t be avoided.  ”I need to talk to you, Sir.” 

    Murdoch looked at his son in dread.  He was afraid he didn’t want to hear whatever it was that Scott had to say.  “Go on.”

       Scott stood, waiting until the right words came.  He had thought about what he was going to say all night, had rehearsed it in his mind, but he was still finding it difficult. He decided to start at the beginning.  “I was with Juan when he died.”

      Murdoch looked at Scott in surprise.  “I see.”

      “No, Sir, you don’t.  Before he died, he… he told me things.  He confessed to things.”

     “Like what?”

     Scott took a deep breath.  “Like to putting the wire under Mary’s saddle, to undoing Johnny’s cinch.  Everything.  He said he was responsible.”  Scott’s voice cracked.  “Johnny lied.  It was Juan all along, Murdoch.  Mary was innocent.”

      “We don’t know that for sure.”

      Scott jerked his head up and stared at his father.  “I just TOLD you what Juan said.”

     Murdoch shook his head.  “He was dying.  Maybe he meant something different.  Maybe you misunderstood him.”

     “NO!  I DIDN’T misunderstand him!  I heard every word!”  Scott started pacing, then turned and stared at his father.  “Why is it so hard for you to believe that Mary is innocent?”

      “Because your brother wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

       Scott felt his temper getting ready to explode at his father’s calm demeanor.  “Well, apparently, SIR, he did.”


      “So you think I’M lying about it?”

       “I didn’t say that.  I just think there’s more to it.”

      “Like what?”

       “I don’t KNOW, but you can be sure I’d be checking it out before I called Johnny a liar.  But I also can’t believe Juan would do those things, anymore that I can believe your brother would lie about it.”

     Scott dropped his head for a moment, trying desperately to keep his temper in check.  “According to Juan, he was the one that did those things, not Mary.  Johnny lied to me; I trusted him, and he used that trust to make me get rid of a woman he didn’t like.”

      “You have no proof of that.”

      “Neither did Johnny, but that didn’t stop him.”

       “Scott, there has to be a logical explanation.”

      “Unfortunately, Sir, there is.  My brother lied to me.” 

       “For what POSSIBLE reason?”

      “He didn’t like her.  It was as simple as that.  He didn’t want her around, especially when he thought I would be marrying her and she would be staying.”

      “I’ll never believe that.”

       “So you’re taking his side over mine?”

      “THERE IS NO SIDE!  I’m just trying to find out what really happened, just like YOU should be doing, instead of just crucifying your brother!”

      “Like we crucified Mary?”  Scott asked quietly.

       Murdoch shook his head.  “I WILL not believe that your brother lied to you…to us.   We need to find out the truth.”

      “I just TOLD you the truth, but you refuse to believe it!”

         Murdoch slammed his hand down on the desk. “I will NEVER believe it!”

         Scott stared at him for a long moment, and then he made up his mind.  “Apparently what I think doesn’t matter.  I KNOW what Johnny told me, and he point blank assured me that he KNEW Mary had done those things, and I believed him.  I didn’t insist on proof because I THOUGHT I could trust my brother not to jump to conclusions and to not hurt me.  Apparently I was wrong.  Your son lied about what was happening, and you’re going to stick your head in the sand and refuse to believe the truth, simply because you don’t want to admit your son is a liar. Well that’s fine with me.  For your information, I plan on going to San Francisco and begging Mary to forgive me.  I doubt if she will, but IF I can convince her to, I am going to marry her.”

      “Scott, you need to think about this.”

      “I already have.  I have done nothing BUT think about this.  I’ll be leaving in the morning, and I’ll wire you when I find out what’s going on.”

      Murdoch looked at Scott worriedly.  “When will you be back?”

     “Back?  Do you think I would expose Mary again to the kind of treatment that you and Johnny subjected her to?”

      “Scott, if Mary is innocent, both Johnny and I…”

       “That’s just it.  IF Mary is innocent.  The problem is, she’ll NEVER be innocent in your eyes.  I don’t know WHY you believe Johnny over me.”

      “I don’t.  But I DO believe him over Mary.”

      “I did too, and it was the biggest mistake I ever made, but I’m going to do my best to fix it.  I’ll wire you from San Francisco.  IF I’m successful, I’ll let you know when the wedding is, if you still care to come.”

       “Scott, I don’t want to lose you over this.  At least consider coming back here to discuss this before you decide to leave permanently.  Hopefully, we can work this all out.”

    Scott dropped his head, but didn’t reply.  He hated leaving Lancer, but he wouldn’t make Mary stay here with Johnny after he had treated her so badly.

       Murdoch sighed.  “Are you at least going to talk to Johnny before you leave?  Hear his side of it?”

        Scott’s head shot up, anger tingeing his voice.  “I already HAVE heard his side of it, and I really have nothing to more to say to him.  Now if you’ll excuse me, Sir, I have to go pack.”   Scott turned on his heel and strode from the room, leaving Murdoch alone with his thoughts.


Chapter Thirty-Four

     The next morning, Murdoch trudged wearily up to his son’s room.  Like Sam had promised, Johnny had slept all night, and had slept through Scott’s leaving.  Murdoch shook his head.  He had tried to get his older son to stay, but Scott was as stubborn as they came.  Once he made up his mind about something, he wouldn’t budge, and he had made up his mind that his brother had lied to him and consequently that Mary was innocent.   

    Murdoch had tried to convince Scott that maybe Johnny had made a simple mistake, but Scott wasn’t about to be placated, and Murdoch had to admit that Johnny certainly hadn’t left much room for doubt about what he thought about Mary.  Johnny had been very emphatic that he KNEW Mary was the cause of all of the problems, and they had all believed him.  Murdoch sighed.  He still couldn’t believe that Johnny would lie about it, but after what Scott said about Juan’s confession, he certainly couldn’t explain it, either. 

   He just wished that Scott would have stayed and talked to his brother.  Maybe together they could have come up with a logical explanation.  Scott had made it clear, however, that he had no intention of talking to his brother about ANYTHING.  Murdoch fervently hoped that this wasn’t going to be a permanent rift, and that as soon as Scott calmed down, he would feel differently.  He knew the two of them needed each other, and if they lost the special bond they shared, both would be losing a lot more than a brother.  

   Murdoch wasn’t sure whether to be grateful that Johnny had slept through Scott’s departure or not.  He knew if Johnny had caught wind of Scott’s leaving, hurt or not he would have been out of that bed in a heartbeat.  Maybe Johnny could have somehow talked Scott into staying.   Murdoch sighed.   The boys were so close; at least they had been.  

     Murdoch hoped that by the time Scott reached San Francisco, he would have thought a little bit more about what had happened, and possibly would change his mind about Mary’s innocence.  Even though Murdoch had no proof and Juan had apparently confessed, he still couldn’t believe Johnny had been vindictive enough to hurt Scott like that.  There HAD to be a reasonable explanation.

      Murdoch had turned what Scott had said over and over in his mind.  He still couldn’t believe that Juan would do anything to harm the family, but he knew Scott wouldn’t lie about it.  He was tempted to ask Cipriano about it, but if Juan HAD betrayed the Lancers, he knew Cipriano would certainly know nothing about it, and Murdoch didn’t want to cause his friend more pain than he already had.  For now, at least, he wouldn’t discuss it with the Segundo.

      He wanted to discuss it with Johnny, but he was afraid that once his younger son learned that his brother had taken off, that would be the end of reasonable discussion.  Johnny’s temper would kick in, and getting ANYTHING out of his son would be next to impossible.  He just hoped he could keep his son off of his feet long enough for that leg to heal before Johnny went storming to San Francisco after his brother, because Murdoch knew that was exactly what was going to happen.


   Johnny drifted awake, his eyes fluttering against the bright light streaming in the window.  He let his other senses kick in before he opened his eyes, a habit that had stood him in good stead over the years.  Even in his confused state, however, he knew he was safe.  It was a good feeling; one he hadn’t had for most of his life, and he was grateful for it.  He finally opened his eyes, and saw the familiar room and the more familiar figure of his father standing over him.

      “How do you feel?”  Murdoch asked softly.

      “I’m fine,” responded Johnny automatically.

       Murdoch nodded as he felt his son’s forehead.  “You don’t have a fever, but Sam said you need to rest.”

     Johnny winced as he struggled to sit up, but his father reached over and held him down.  “You’ve got a couple of broken ribs, and you need to stay still.”

       Johnny reluctantly lay back down.  “What about my leg?”  

     “It was dislocated.  Sam says you’re going to have to stay off of it for several weeks.”

      Johnny tried to bolt upright again, but his father anticipated that reaction to the news and held him down.   “Sam said if you’re careful, you can get up in about a week, but you can’t put any weight on it.”

      Johnny relaxed and nodded slightly, then looked around, remembering what had happened right before he had passed out.  “Where’s Scott?”

      Murdoch hesitated, and the alarm bells went off in Johnny’s head, and he once more struggled to sit up.  “Where is he?”

     His father once more pushed him down as he answered.  “He’s fine.”

     “Where is he?”  Johnny repeated.

      Murdoch watched his son for a moment, and then sighed.  “He went to San Francisco.”

       Johnny looked at his father in confusion.  “Why?”

       Murdoch dropped his head.  “He went to ask Mary to marry him.”

       Johnny’s mouth dropped open and he stared incredulously at his father.  “But…I told him what she did.”

      Murdoch studied Johnny before explaining.  “You know Juan was killed?”

       Johnny ducked his head.  “Yes, but don’t change the subject.”

      “I’m not.  Apparently, Juan confessed to Scott that HE had done the things that…we accused Mary of doing.  Scott decided we were wrong about her, and went after her to ask her to marry him.”

      Johnny stared at his father.  “You mean that he decided that I was wrong about her, don’t you?”

     Murdoch’s head dropped.  “I tried to tell him that there was a reasonable explanation, but he didn’t want to wait.”

       Johnny slammed his fist into the pillow.  “I THOUGHT I had convinced him she was no good!”

      Murdoch studied his son.  “Johnny, what Juan told Scott, was it the truth?”

    Johnny dropped his head and Murdoch felt his heart drop as he watched his son’s reaction, and he slowly closed his eyes as he waited for the answer he didn’t want to hear.


Chapter Thirty-Five

   “Was it the truth?”  Murdoch asked again.    

   “I don’t know,” Johnny admitted to his father. 

   “What do you mean, you don’t know?”  Murdoch’s voice rose appreciably.  “You TOLD us she was the one behind all of the problems.  We ALL treated her very badly because of what you said.  Are you telling me now that you weren’t SURE?”  

   Johnny shook his head slowly.  “I guess I wasn’t sure she had done it all, but Murdoch, I KNOW she was up to no good.”  

     Murdoch made an effort to lower his voice.  “Johnny, HOW do you know that, if you have no proof?”  

    Johnny shrugged, and then winced as his ribs protested even that simple movement.  Murdoch handed him a glass with some Laudanum in it, but Johnny shook his head.  “No, I’m all right.” 

   “Please, son,” Murdoch asked plaintively.  “Tell me why you’re so sure.”

     “Because readin’ people is what kept me alive all those years!”  Johnny snapped, his eyes coming up to meet his father’s.  “I couldn’t afford ta make a mistake.”

       “Are you telling me you NEVER made a mistake?”  Murdoch asked gently.

      Johnny dropped his head once more.  “Of course I did.  But not many.”  His eyes came up defiantly once more. “And I ain’t makin’ one now!”

       Murdoch shook his head.  “Are you SURE that your own personal feelings haven’t slanted your view?”

      Johnny glared at his father.  “Is that what you think of me?  That I’d hurt my own brother ‘cause I didn’t like someone?”

       It was Murdoch’s turn to drop his head.  “No.  But I just can’t understand why you can be so sure when you have no proof.”

       “Neither can I,” Johnny said softly.  “But I am.”

       “What about Juan?  Did you know about him?”

      Johnny’s features darkened.  “NO!”  He looked at his father.  “Did you ask Cip about it?”

     Murdoch shook his head.  “I know Cipriano wouldn’t know anything about Juan’s trying to hurt you.  If he knew, he would have stopped it or at the very least, he would have told us.  Unless you want to ask him, I’m not going to tell him about what Juan said.  I’m not going to cause him any more grief.”

      Johnny nodded.  “That’s fine with me.  I just want to forget about it.” 

      “So you had no idea he was trying to hurt you?”

     Johnny shook his head, his ribs and leg starting to hurt.

      “Johnny, if you were wrong about Juan, isn’t it possible you were wrong about Mary?”

      Johnny stared at his father for a second, and then slowly closed his eyes as he realized the point his father was trying to make.  HAD he let his own feelings interfere in his judgment?  Had he ruined Scott’s chance at happiness because he hadn’t liked what she had said to him that first night, and he didn’t want her around?  Had he been that petty?  He sighed deeply as he tried to convince himself that he hadn’t been, but he wasn’t very successful.


  Scott arrived in San Francisco and immediately went to the Grand Hotel off of First Avenue.  He and Murdoch had stayed there numerous times when attending Cattlemen meetings, and he preferred to stay somewhere that he was familiar with.  The hotel was luxurious, but not too ostentatious.  It was also fairly close to the downtown business section, where he was sure he’d find Mary’s father.  

  If Mary had told her father what had happened, Scott would probably be met with a shotgun, but it was the only way he had of contacting his former fiancé.  He didn’t know her address.  

      Scott unpacked and lay down on his bed, his hands under his head, and gazed at the ceiling.  He felt horrible about the way he had treated the woman he loved, and didn’t know if she would ever forgive him.  If he were in her place, he didn’t think he would.

        He would have to convince her that he was truly sorry and that he’d never doubt her again, but he’d have to do more than that.  He knew she would never want to return to Lancer, and he couldn’t blame her.  Every member of his family had treated her rudely, and he wouldn’t ask someone he loved to be put through that again.  If Mary agreed to marry him, he would either stay here in San Francisco, or they would move back to Boston.  Scott knew he could make a good living either place.  As a way to make amends, he would leave the choice up to his wife.

     Scott felt a sudden surge of sadness at the thought of not going back to Lancer.  He had fallen in love with that place, and the people on it.  He shook his head.  He had been surprised that after a short period of mistrust, he and Murdoch had hit it off so well, but they had.  They thought a lot alike, and Scott normally knew what the older man was thinking.

     A sad smile graced his lips as he thought about his brother.  Johnny, on the other hand, was a wild card.  He almost never knew what he was thinking, even though they had become so close.  His brother was always full of surprises, and just when Scott thought he had him figured, Johnny would prove him wrong.

     Well, Johnny had certainly surprised him this time, and it certainly wasn’t a good surprise.  He had never thought his brother would do something so underhanded, and it bothered him to think he had misjudged Johnny so badly.   Scott sighed.  Maybe he was being too harsh on his little brother.  Maybe Johnny had really thought Mary had done it.  For now, he guessed he would give him the benefit of the doubt, but he would NEVER trust him like he once had, that was for sure, and his brother had BETTER give both he and Mary a VERY heartfelt apology before Scott would even talk to him again.  Whether he and Johnny would ever be friends again was solely up to his impulsive little brother.


Chapter Thirty –Six          

     Scott spent the next morning looking for the shipping company that Mary had told him her father owned.  He was given fairly detailed directions to a well- to -do business section nearer the docks.  It wasn’t a long way, so Scott decided to walk.  He hoped the fresh air and exercise would help clear his head.  As he walked, he kept going over Johnny’s concerns.  The fact that his brother so obviously disliked Mary bothered him, but there was nothing he could do about it.  His brother was wrong this time and Scott wasn’t going to let his brother’s mistaken feelings destroy his own life.

      He hoped that Johnny and Mary would someday be on better terms, but he was under no illusions about his own chances of ever going back to Lancer to stay.  He sighed deeply.  He’d hate to give up that life.  After a short period of acclimation, where it seemed as if he’d never fit in, he had settled into the routine and found he enjoyed it.  Even the tough physical labor had been welcome.  He had never before done manual labor, and he found he experienced a sense of pride in the work he did; something he never felt after doing a day’s worth of books in an office.  He felt as if he were really accomplishing something when he looked out at the ranch with its buildings and fences and cattle, and he knew he had helped to make the ranch what it was today.

     He would definitely miss it, and he would miss his family, even Johnny.  Probably mostly Johnny.  He shook his head.  He just didn’t see where it would ever be the same between them again.

      After walking for over an hour, he finally found the massive building with the name ‘Terhune Shipping’ on it. After he located it, he sat in the park across the street from the office for quite some time, trying to get up enough courage to go in. He wasn’t sure what he would say to Mary’s father, let alone Mary.  He knew that if he were in their shoes, he certainly wouldn’t be very welcoming.

     Finally, after sitting for almost an hour, he resolutely got to his feet and strode into the building.  By the time he reached the reception area, he had almost lost his nerve, but he decided that putting the meeting off wouldn’t help matters any. 

    A very bored looking receptionist looked up as he approached.   “May I help you sir?”

   “I wish to talk to Mr. Terhune please.”

   “Your name, sir?”

   Scott hesitated only a second.  “Scott Lancer.”

    Her eyes widened for a moment, and then she got up abruptly and went into an inner office.  Scott thought once more about turning around and leaving right then and there, but he decided to see it through.  He just hoped that Mr. Terhune wasn’t armed.

    A moment later, a large man in a suit strode from the inner office.  He held out his hand to a wary Scott.

    “Scott Lancer!  Pleased to meet you finally! Mary told me so much about you.  I’m Albert Terhune, Mary’s father.”

    Scott managed not to look too shocked as he returned the man’s handshake.  He hadn’t been sure what to expect, but a warm welcome certainly wasn’t one of them.  

      “Come inside my office, young man, and we can talk a while before we have dinner.”  Mr. Terhune turned toward his secretary.  “Cindy, you can go home early. I won’t be conducting any more business today.   Mr. Lancer and I are going to talk for a while.”

     Scott cautiously followed the man inside the office, feeling for some reason like a fly being enticed into a spider’s web.  Mr. Terhune motioned toward a bottle of brandy on a magnificent sideboard, and Scott took a step toward it, glancing around at the sumptuously furnished office as he did so.    He turned toward the older man just as Terhune shut the office door behind them and turned to face Scott.


     Murdoch stepped into his son’s room just as Johnny was trying to get his feet on the floor.  With a sigh, the older man stepped toward his son, and tried to ease him back into bed. 

      “Johnny, you know what Sam said.  You can’t put any weight on that leg for a while, or it might pop back out of place.  And if that happens he said the tendons and ligaments holding your hip in place might never get strong enough to hold it and your hip might keep dislocating.  Is that what you want?”

      “No!”  Johnny said with a disgusted sigh.  “But I’m not going ta sit here and let Scott make the biggest mistake of his life, either.”

     Murdoch continued exerting pressure on his son until Johnny finally lay back down.  Murdoch shook his head.  “I think we’ve interfered enough in your brother’s business.”

     Johnny glared at his father.  “You think I was wrong.”

      Murdoch shook his head as he covered Johnny back up and handed him a glass of water.  “No.  But I can’t guarantee you were right, either.  Not without proof.  And until we get that proof, I’m willing to give Mary the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of Juan’s confession.”

       Johnny shook his head in frustration.  “Murdoch, I KNOW Mary’s up ta no good.”

       Murdoch stared at his son.  “Johnny you might be right.  But for now, and until we find out for sure you ARE right, I want you to drop it, understand?”

       “Even if it means Scott gettin’ hurt?”

      Murdoch sighed.  “Scott’s a big boy.  He can handle himself, and if we keep interfering, we BOTH are going to lose him for good.”

     Murdoch watched as Johnny dropped his head.  “I mean it, Johnny.  I want your word that you won’t interfere any more.  Not unless you get solid proof, understand?”

      Johnny sighed deeply.  He didn’t think he’d ever be able to get the proof his father was requesting.  How could you prove somebody just wasn’t the right wife for your brother?  He knew Murdoch was right about one thing, though.  If Johnny kept accusing Mary and trying to stop the wedding, he would lose his brother forever.   Johnny still had a bad feeling about it.  He just hoped he wouldn’t lose his brother forever anyway.


Chapter Thirty-Seven

       Scott stopped and stared as the older man smiled at him disarmingly. The man didn’t seem to be a threat, but Scott couldn’t believe that Mr. Terhune could be that gracious to a man who had literally dumped his daughter.   Scott slowly went over to the bar and poured a glass of brandy for himself, while Terhune went to his desk and came up with two cigars, offering one to Scott.  

   Scott shook his head, and Terhune put both of the cigars down on the desk and smiled at Scott.  “I’m glad to finally meet you.  Mary told me all about you and her stay at your ranch.  I must say, I was deeply impressed with both.”  

   “Thank you, sir.”  

   “I’m grateful to you and your family for inviting her into your home.  It is SO boring here for her, and I’m afraid she is tired of Europe.  She was actually excited about the time she spent in the ‘wild west’.  

    Scott nodded, uncertain of what to say.  He expected the fireworks to start anytime, and had no intention of being caught unawares.  Finally, he decided he could put off the reason for his visit no longer.  “Mr. Terhune, I was wondering if I could speak with Mary.”  

    The businessman nodded in surprise. “Of course.  She and I are going out to dinner tonight, and I insist that you join us.”  

   Scott shifted uncomfortably.  “Perhaps it would be better if I spoke with Mary privately first.”  

    Mr. Terhune chuckled.  “I see you’re worried about my daughter’s temper.  Let me assure you, Mary will be most pleased to see you.”  

   Scott’s eyebrows went up questioningly.  

    Mary’s father shook his head.  “All young people have their little quarrels, and you and Mary are no exception.  I’m sure that whatever it was that made you argue is long forgotten.  The important thing is that you not let one misunderstanding destroy your relationship.”  

    Scott looked at Terhune in disbelief.  He certainly didn’t want to admit to the man just how rude he had been, but he couldn’t believe Mary had led her father to believe it was a simple misunderstanding, either.  “Did your daughter tell you what we argued about?” He asked cautiously.  

   Mr. Terhune shook his head.  “No, but she assured me that it was very minor, and that you would be along anytime to apologize.”  Terhune chuckled again.  “Let me give you some advice, young man.  I’ve learned over the years that the best and easiest course of action is to apologize, even if you have done nothing wrong.”

    Mary’s father came over and clapped Scott on the back. “We will be dinning at the Phoenix Club this evening at eight.  I will tell Mary you will be joining us.”  He winked at Scott.  “And if I were you, I’d bring some flowers.”

     Scott nodded numbly and shook Terhune’s hand before turning and leaving the office. He walked across the street to the park, and sat down on the bench to think.  The meeting certainly wasn’t anything like he’d expected it to be, and for some reason that bothered him just a little bit.  He didn’t know why Mary had apparently misled her father, but maybe she was just trying to spare him the gory details.  The more he thought about it, the more sense that made.  No matter HOW close Mary was to her father, she was probably deeply ashamed of the way she had been treated, and hadn’t wanted to go into details about it.

      Scott sighed.  He’d find out tonight just how right Mr. Terhune was, but Scott would just about bet he’d wind up wearing at least part of his dinner, and he couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it.  He thought back to the things he had said to Mary that last day, and he was deeply ashamed.  He had treated her shamefully, and he didn’t deserve her forgiveness, no matter how much he wanted it.  He just hoped that he could convince her how sorry he was, and assure her it would never happen again.  Even if she wanted no more to do with him, he at least owed her that much.

       That evening, Scott took meticulous care with his appearance, and as an added precaution, he stopped and purchased a huge bouquet of flowers.  He felt a little silly carrying the flowers into the restaurant, but if it would help to keep Mary from killing him, he would do it.  It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he had relied on flowers to defuse an irate female’s temper, but it WAS the most important time.

       Scott hired a carriage to drive him to the restaurant, even though it wasn’t very far and he would have preferred to walk; but gentlemen did not walk to dinner dates, and he had to get used to doing things the proper way once again.   As he sat in his carriage, he thought once more about the different life he had led at Lancer, and a wave of homesickness flooded over him.  He banished the thought with difficulty; now was not the time to be thinking of the past, he needed to think of the future.

     The carriage dropped him off right in front of the restaurant, and Scott asked the driver to stay; if things didn’t work out, this would be a very short visit.  He straightened his coat, and with a deep breath, he stepped into the restaurant.  A small man with an immaculate white coat stepped up to greet him.  “May I help you, sir?”  

       Scott nodded, his eyes scanning the interior.  “My name is Scott Lancer, and I’m supposed to be meeting the Terhunes for dinner.”

      The Maitre’d nodded his head.  “They have already been seated and are expecting you.  This way, sir.”

       Scott followed the waiter, his eyes hunting for Mary’s familiar blond hair.  At last the waiter stopped in front of a table, and Scott’s eyes met Mary’s green ones.   Time froze for a moment as the two young people stared at each other, and then Mary averted her eyes.  “Scott.”  

   Scott knew from her tone of voice just how she felt about him.


Chapter Thirty-Eight  

     Murdoch held the telegram in his hands, and stared out the big French doors.  He knew he should feel happy for his son, but for some reason, all he felt was disappointment.  He had dreamed of the day when the three of them would live on the ranch together, and he could watch his grandchildren grow and become part of the ranch.  Now it looked like he would never see that take place.  Scott was marrying a lady and would probably stay in San Francisco, and he had the horrible feeling that without Scott here, Johnny would soon be leaving, also.  

   He looked down at the piece of paper one more time, and then glanced at the stairs.  Johnny was still not supposed to be up and about, and even though his son had been following Sam’s orders, the leg still seemed to be bothering him. Murdoch wondered if it was really his leg that was hurting his younger son, or the rift between his two boys. 

  With a sigh, he went over and poured a glass of brandy, and after a moment’s hesitation, he poured another.  He took a healthy swig and then refilled his glass.  He knew he could put it off no longer, and with another sigh, he headed for the stairs.  He halfway hoped Johnny would be asleep, but when he knocked lightly, his son immediately answered.

     Murdoch pushed the door open with his shoulder, and walked over to the bed. Johnny had been up earlier, but had overdone it, as usual, and when Murdoch had seen the pronounced limp he had ordered his son to go lie down.  It was indicative of just how much SOMETHING was hurting his son that he hadn’t argued, but had obeyed his father without a murmur.

     Johnny was lying in bed staring out the window, and Murdoch came over to the bed and handed Johnny one of the glasses.  His son looked up in surprise, and then slowly took the glass.  He studied Murdoch’s face, and then took a drink of the brandy.  “What’s wrong?”

      “Nothing’s wrong.  In fact, something is right.”  Murdoch said the right words, but his tone wasn’t very convincing.

    Johnny looked at him sharply.  “Then why do you sound like you’ve just lost your best friend?”

     Murdoch shook his head slightly, and handed Johnny the wire.  Johnny continued looking at Murdoch for a moment before reaching for the paper, but he knew before he read it just what it contained.  He scanned it quickly, and then handed it back to his father without a word.

     Murdoch dropped his head.  “I have to send a reply as to when we’ll be arriving for the wedding.”

     Johnny stared back out the window, all of his emotions fighting for supremacy, but he was unwilling to let any of them out right now.  Instead, he slipped on the familiar mask of Madrid and once more felt in control.  Murdoch saw the change and blanched, knowing his job was now much harder.  

   “I thought we could go three or four days early and stay at the Grand Hotel.”  

    Johnny continued to stare out the window, and Murdoch tried again.  “We’ll take the big carriage instead of the stage, that way we can stop anytime we want to.  It’ll be more comfortable for all of us.”   

   Johnny turned and pierced his father with his gaze.  “You don’t have ta worry about my leg.  It’ll be just fine.”  

   Murdoch was still amazed at just how well his younger son could see through any kind of deception.  “It isn’t just for your leg; my back has been bothering me, and it will be much more comfortable for Teresa.” 

   Johnny nodded.  “Then you two go ahead and take the carriage.  I’ll take care of the ranch while you’re gone.”  

   Murdoch froze, unable to believe what he was hearing.  “You’re not going?”  

    Johnny slowly shook his head.  “Nope.”  

   Murdoch stared at his son.  “Johnny, Scott’s your brother.  He wants you there, and you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t go.”  

    Johnny turned and looked at his father.  “I’m not gonna go and pretend I approve, ‘cause I don’t.  And Scott couldn’t care less if I’m there.  The only reason he invited me is because it was the ‘proper’ thing to do.”  

   “Johnny, that’s not true, and you know it!”  

    Johnny stared at his father.  “Do I?”  

   “You’re angry with your brother right now, but if you let this come between you, you’ll regret it.”  

     “Well Scott shoulda thought about that before he left without even sayin’ a word ta me, now shouldn’t he?”  

   Murdoch sighed deeply.  “I’m not condoning Scott’s behavior, but he was hurt and upset, and very, very confused.  He probably thought it would be better for him to leave and calm down a little bit instead of confronting you and saying something he’d regret later.”  

     “He coulda at least said good-bye,” Johnny whispered.  

    Murdoch dropped his head, realizing just how much his younger son was hurting.  “Yes, he could have.  But are you going to let one little mistake ruin your relationship with your brother forever?” 

     Johnny stared at his father.  “Two.”  

    Murdoch looked confused.  “Two what?”  

   “Two mistakes.  He shouldn’t be marrying that lady.  I don’t care WHAT Juan said, she’s not what she seems.  I been thinkin’ about what you said, and I KNOW there’s somethin’ wrong.  It ain’t my imagination.”  

    Murdoch sighed again.  “Look Johnny, you may be right, but if you keep insisting that Mary’s wrong for him, the two of you will never be on good terms.  Right or wrong, it’s his decision, and NOBODY has the right to interfere.”  

    “EVEN if it means he gets hurt?”  Johnny stormed.

    “WE don’t know that’s what’s going to happen.”  

    “I do.”  

    Murdoch started to lose his temper with his stubborn son. “No, you don’t.  You THINK that’s what will happen, but you don’t know for certain, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.  You need to put away this childish behavior and be glad for your brother.  Now I’ll wire him back today and tell him we’ll be there in one week!”   Murdoch strode across the room and jerked the door open.  Before he could get into the hallway, however, Johnny’s voice stopped him.

    “You tell him that’s when you and Teresa will be there.  You tell him that my leg still hurts, and I ain’t goin.”

    “He won’t believe that and you know it.”  

   Johnny shrugged.  “He won’t believe anything I say, so what difference does it make.”


Chapter Thirty-Nine  

  Scott was in a foul mood.   He had received Murdoch’s carefully worded reply that afternoon, and Scott didn’t need anyone to interpret it for him.   Murdoch had stressed that he and Teresa would be arriving a week or so early, and were looking forward to seeing Scott and Mary.  Then his father had almost casually mentioned that unfortunately Johnny’s leg was still too sore for him to travel.  Scott knew that a bum leg wouldn’t keep Johnny from doing ANYTHING he wanted to do, and his brother’s excuse was like a slap in the face.  He had been angry with his brother before, but now he was furious.  Scott had made the first overture of peace, and Johnny had more or less told him exactly what he thought of both Mary and Scott.  

   After his arrival in San Francisco, Scott had calmed down enough to think things through, and he had come to the conclusion that Johnny had probably just made a mistake.  His brother and Mary had not started off on exactly the right foot, and Scott had suspected that the incident the first night had colored Johnny’s whole perception of the lady.   No matter what Scott had said before leaving, he had known in his heart that his brother wouldn’t do anything vindictive, especially to one of his family.  Johnny probably thought he was protecting his big brother, and Scott had been willing to overlook it and try to make things right between them.  

   Now it appeared Scott would have to re-think his whole relationship with his brother.  If Johnny was petty enough to hold a grudge and not attend the most important event in Scott’s life, then their relationship had never been what Scott had thought it had been.  He had been mistaken about everything.  Whatever doubts Scott had about Mary’s innocence vanished, and instead he began to wonder to just what lengths Johnny had gone to make Mary look bad.  He had always doubted that Mary had said what Johnny said she did that first night, and now he was almost sure that Mary’s version of the incident was correct.   Now he figured that maybe his brother had told him she had said those things to make Scott angry with her and Johnny’s own story more believable.          

   Scott shook his head. As much as he’d miss it, it was probably just as well that he was leaving Lancer.  He felt as if the whole time he had been there, he had been living a lie. He had thought he and Johnny had trusted each other, but apparently Scott had been mistaken about their relationship. He was just glad he had found out before he had lost Mary forever.  

   Scott thought back to the night he had met Mary in the restaurant with her father.  He had been apprehensive, to say the least.  He couldn’t believe that Mary would be willing to forgive and forget, at least not without major groveling on his part.  The reception she had given him had shocked him, to say the least.  She hadn’t acted the least bit angry or put out, and she had welcomed him as if the incident at Lancer had never occurred.  All of the other women he had known would have bitten his head off at the very least, and he once again knew that Mary was a very special lady and he was exceedingly lucky to be marrying her.  

   He was looking forward both to their wedding and their life together.  The only black cloud was Johnny’s stubbornness in accepting his sister in law, and no matter how angry Scott was, Johnny’s behavior still hurt.


   “Did you get anywhere?  Murdoch asked his ward as she came down the stairs.  

   “NO!”  She replied in a huff.  “He is, without a doubt, the most STUBBORN, MULE-HEADED, OBSTINATE.....”

    “Teresa!”  Murdoch warned.

   “Well I can’t help it.  Doesn’t he know how much this is going to hurt Scott?”

    Murdoch shook his head in resignation.  “Johnny’s hurt by Scott’s behavior, but I never expected him to be that childish.  It’s like he wants to hurt Scott back.  I’ve never seen him act like that, and now I’m wondering if what he said before about Mary...”  His voice trailed off as he realized he was thinking aloud.  He looked at Teresa and she was watching him, her eyes wide.  He shook his head.  “Never mind, sweetheart.” 

     Teresa dropped her head.  This whole mess had confused her, and she still felt guilty because she was the one who had brought Mary here in the first place.  She was glad that Scot was happy, but she still regretted that Mary had ever come into their lives. Since her friend had arrived, it seemed as if they had gone from one catastrophe to another, and Johnny refusing to attend his brother’s wedding just might be the one that destroyed their family for good.  A tear fell silently down her cheek, and Murdoch came over and put his arms around her.  She hugged him back and smiled tentatively at him.  He wiped the tear away, and smiled down at her. 

   “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this.  The boys care too much about each other to let this come between them indefinitely. They’ll work it out.”  

    Teresa nodded, but this time she wasn’t entirely convinced that Murdoch was right.  

   Murdoch watched as Teresa went back upstairs, and he sighed softly.  He had done his best to reassure the girl, but in his heart he wasn’t sure if the rift was going to be repairable.  Both of his sons had done things that would be hard for the other to forgive, and with Scott leaving Lancer for an indefinite period of time, there may not be a chance for them to work things out.  He was afraid that the family that he had fought so hard to reunite had just suffered a fatal blow.  He shook his head.  He was glad that Scott was happy, but deep down he wished that Scott had never met Miss Terhune.


Chapter Forty  

    Johnny watched from his upstairs window as Murdoch and Teresa climbed into the carriage.  Teresa had been bustling about all week getting ready for their trip, and Murdoch had been almost as bad.  Both of them had finally given up on trying to make him go with them, and had studiously avoided him since then.  He knew they were both angry with him, but Johnny had no intention of going and giving his blessing to something that he knew was a huge mistake.  

   He watched as Cipriano loaded the luggage and several boxes on board, and Johnny sighed.  He had also chosen to forego purchasing a wedding present for the happy couple, another decision that had earned him dark looks and downright frowns from both his father and sister.  

   Just before leaving, his father had come upstairs one last time to see if he could change Johnny’s mind.  

   “Johnny, are you SURE you won’t go with us?”  

   Johnny shook his head.  “Nope.”  

    Murdoch sighed.  “You know that attending your brother’s wedding is something you’ll never be able to do again.”

   Johnny snorted.  “Don’t count on it.”  

   Murdoch’s temper had started to flare at that comment.  “I think you are behaving extremely childishly.  This is going to hurt your brother very badly, and I think you should reconsider.   You need to think about Scott.”  

     Johnny slammed his fist down on the bed.  “I AM THINKING about him!”  

   Murdoch let out a long sigh.  “Johnny, it’s Scott’s choice.  The least you can do is call a truce for this one day and show up.”  

   Johnny shook his head and looked out the window.  “Have a nice trip.”  

   Murdoch started to say something, and then shut his mouth and headed out of the room.  He turned around one last time, but Johnny was still stubbornly looking out of the window, and Murdoch slammed the door hard enough to make the pictures on the wall shake.  


   Johnny watched as the carriage lurched away from the house.  He knew that his father was still very angry, but that was all right, so was he.  He watched until the carriage disappeared over the hill leading to town, and then slowly stood up.  He stood cautiously on his leg, and bent it a few times to test it.  For once, he had obeyed the old Doctor, and even babied it longer than Sam had advised, so his leg had darn well better be all right. 

    He went to the landing and slowly made his way downstairs, pleased because he could detect no weakness or pain.  He smiled.  Give it a day, and he’d probably be eating those words.   He had a tough couple of days ahead of him.   Going into the kitchen, he made a sandwich and found some cookies that Teresa had obviously made before she left.  He smiled sadly; she must be really mad at him, because she hadn’t even offered him any of the cookies.  He grabbed a handful and left the house, quietly shutting the door behind him.

      He knew Cipriano would be working in the fields and probably wouldn’t see him, but he didn’t want to get caught by anyone else, either.  Johnny had told Murdoch that his leg was still pretty sore, and his father had reluctantly left Cip in charge while he was gone.  He told Johnny that if he felt better he could get up and give the Segundo a hand. 

  Johnny looked around cautiously, and then snuck into the barn.  He went over to Barranca’s stall and quickly groomed the Palomino.  While he worked, he thought about what he was going to do.  Actually, he didn’t have a plan, other than trying to make sure that his brother didn’t get married.  He figured that if Mary had lived in San Francisco all of her life, any dirt that she had on her could be found there.

   For obvious reasons, he didn’t want anyone to know what he was going to try to do.  Murdoch had been on his side at first, but when Johnny had admitted that he couldn’t supply any proof that Mary wasn’t what she seemed, his father had told him to drop it.  Murdoch was now convinced that Johnny was wrong about Mary, and so was Teresa.  Of course, Scott was too.  If he was going to find out anything, he’d have to do it without their knowledge, and the only way to do that was to not let them know he was there. 

    Johnny still wasn’t sure what he would do if he couldn’t find anything.  He knew that Mary was no good for his brother, but he didn’t want to lose Scott, either.  He supposed if he couldn’t find the information he wanted, he would attend the wedding and try to at least be civil. 

 Johnny sighed.  If he couldn’t find anything, he guessed he would have to admit defeat and accept Mary as his sister in law. If that happened, he prayed fervently that just this once, he had been very wrong about a person.

   He saddled Barranca, and pulling the cinch tight he swung aboard, waiting for his leg to protest, but it didn’t say a word and Johnny smiled.  Maybe Sam knew what he was talking about when he kept telling Johnny to take it easy after an injury.  He MIGHT just listen to the old man next time.

  He headed off of the ranch, cutting across country and going a slightly different way than Murdoch and Teresa.  He had thought about following them in case they ran into trouble, but he knew the chances of that were slim.  Instead, he opted to try to hurry and get to San Francisco before them.

  With any luck, he should get there one week before the wedding.  He had one week to try to find SOMETHING that would convince Scott that Mary wasn’t the angel he seemed to think she was, because Johnny had NO intention of spending the rest of his life trying to be nice to Mary.

Chapter Forty-One

     “What’s wrong?”  Mary put her hand gently on Scott’s shoulder.  “Having second thoughts?” she asked coyly.                                                

   Scott shook his head and smiled at her.  “No. I just wish my brother was coming.”  

   Mary’s features darkened for a moment, and then she smiled.  “Do you think it would do any good if I asked him?”  

    Scott snorted.  “No,” he sighed.  “I feel so badly that he treated you like that. That we all treated you like that.”  

    Mary turned away from him so he couldn’t see her face.  “It wasn’t your fault, and I’m sure Johnny was just trying to protect you.”  

   Scott nodded.  “Maybe, but I still don’t know how you can be so forgiving.”  

   Mary shrugged as she picked up a small vase and studied it intently.  “I know how close the two of you are.  I don’t want to do anything to ruin your relationship.”

   “Johnny’s already done a good job of that.”  

    “Have you decided if you want to work in my father’s company?”  She asked, changing the subject.

     Scott shook his head.  “I really don’t know anything about the shipping industry, but your father said he’d teach me.  It sounds promising.”

      Mary nodded and smiled.  “I would SO love to stay here.”

      Scott stood up and took her in his arms.  “Then that’s what we’ll do.”

      Mary averted her face once more.  “What about Lancer?”  She asked casually.

      Scott shrugged.  “What about it?”

    “Well, if you’re not going back there, are you going to sell your third?”  

   Scott shook his head.  “I hadn’t really thought about it.  I guess I’ll have to ask Murdoch and Johnny what they want me to do.  It would be rather difficult to keep me on as part owner, with me living this far away.”   

      He looked at Mary quizzically.  “Why do you want to know?”

    “No reason.  I was just wondering.”                                                                           

   Scott nodded.  “Right now, we have more pressing matters to take care of.  At your father’s request, I went to several churches today, but I am having a hard time finding a pastor who will marry us on such short notice.  Your father said that he already asked the pastor at the church you regularly attend, and he has other commitments for that day.” 

   Mary nodded.  “I’m afraid so.”

   “Maybe we should change the date.”                                              

   “NO!”  She looked worriedly at her fiancé.  “Maybe you can find someone else.   I don’t want to wait one more minute.”  She went over and put her arms around him.  “You’ll find someone tomorrow, I know you will.”

   Scott sighed.  “I’ll do my best.”  He took her in his arms and gave her a kiss.  “I’ll find someone,” he whispered.   


Johnny pushed both himself and Barranca fairly hard.  So far, his leg was holding up fairly well.  It was sore, but it wasn’t weak, and Johnny made a mental note to thank Sam.  Johnny decided that maybe next time he would listen to the old doctor.  Johnny smiled; he just might give the good doctor a heart attack if he did that, maybe he’d better not.  

   He rode into San Francisco four days later.  He had made better time than he had planned, and he was afraid he’d need every minute.   He found a small hotel in a slightly older section of town and checked in.  It wasn’t shabby by any means, but he knew Murdoch would never stay in it, especially not when Teresa was traveling with him  

   He took his gear in and made sure Barranca was taken care of, and then left the hotel on foot.  He wasn’t sure exactly where to go, but he figured since Mary’s father owned a shipping company, the docks just might be the best place to start.  He had heard some pretty wild stories about the waterfront in San Francisco, and he had taken the precaution of carrying lots of weapons.  Besides his Colt, he had a derringer in his sleeve and a knife in his boot.  He wasn’t going to take any chances of getting shanghaied.  No one knew where he was, and if he disappeared, his family would never know where to look for him.  He grinned to himself; worse yet, there would be no one to stop Scott and Mary from getting married.   

    He strolled down toward the water, and stopped in at several bars.  He’d have a drink or two, ask a few questions, and then move on.  He was careful not to drink too much; he needed a clear head to stay out of trouble.  Several men that he talked to knew about the Terhune Shipping Company, but Johnny didn’t find out any exciting information. By the time nighttime fell, he still hadn’t found out anything that would help, and he decided to change his strategy.  He thought he’d head back to the hotel and tomorrow he would try to find out where Mary and her father lived.  Maybe one of the servants could tell him something.

      As he walked along, he realized that he was being followed.  He halted, and the footsteps behind him stopped, too.  He stood still for a few moments, looking around to see if there was anywhere he could seek safety, but the docks were deserted except for an occasional bar.  Johnny knew that going into a bar was probably more dangerous than confronting his stalkers in the open, so he continued walking, listening carefully behind him.  He staggered a few times, to give the impression that he was drunk, and he heard the footsteps quicken.  

  He slowly drew his Colt from its holster, and staggered once more.  He cocked his head slightly, and knew that whoever was following him was getting very close.  From the footsteps, there were three of them, and they were all fairly heavy.  He knew he could stop all three of them with his gun, but he was hesitant to fire it.  He didn’t want to take any chance of being arrested and spending several days in jail.  He didn’t have time.

     He waited until the men were almost upon him before turning around and leveling the gun at the middle man.  The three skidded to a stop, obviously surprised that he was armed and not quite as drunk as they thought he had been.  The four men appraised each other for a moment, and then Johnny heard a sound behind him and he knew he’d made a mistake.


Chapter Forty-Two

       “I wouldn’t boys,” came the voice from behind Johnny.  

     Johnny kept his eyes on the men in front of him, but darted a glance at the man that came up and stood next to him. He shook his head at the coincidence but didn’t let his concentration waver.  

     “You boys want somethin?” Johnny asked the three men in a quiet voice.

     The would be attackers didn’t take long to make up their minds that there was probably easier prey out there somewhere, and they quickly melted away.  When Johnny was sure that they were gone, he turned toward his friend.  “What’re you doin’ here Pete?”

     Pete shrugged.  He really didn’t know himself.  He had come to San Francisco, intending to head on up to Alaska where they were finding gold, but he hadn’t shipped out yet.  Truth was, he didn’t know if he really wanted to go.  He had spent most of his life down around the border towns, and he enjoyed the heat.  He wasn’t sure if he could take the cold climate of Alaska.  Even San Francisco was awfully chilly, especially down here by the waterfront, but he had several friends who were sailors, and he was staying with one of them until he decided what to do.

  “Buy ya a drink?  Johnny asked.  He didn’t want to take too much time, but he knew he couldn’t get anything more accomplished tonight. 

    Pete nodded, “Sure, Johnny.  By the way, what’re YOU doing up here?”

     Johnny laughed.  “Long story.  I’ll tell ya what.  I’ll tell ya my story if you tell me yours.  Deal?”

     Pete laughed too.  “Hope you have a lot of money.  This is going to take some time.”

     Johnny shook his head.  He was sure it would.  He always thought that Pete had missed his calling.  His friend had once studied for the priesthood, but had changed his mind. Johnny had met him several years later, when Pete was working as a bounty hunter.  Johnny laughed to himself.  He was a lousy bounty hunter, but he would have made a darn good priest. Heaven only knew what his friend had been doing since then.  


    An hour later, both men had pretty much satisfied the other’s curiosity and were starting to talk about other things.  “So, you never told me what you were doing here,” Pete asked. 

     If Johnny hadn’t had quite so much to drink, he probably wouldn’t have told Pete the real reason, but as it was he told his friend the whole story.  He was tired of everyone doubting him, and he knew Pete would understand.  He was right.  Pete thought that the best thing to do was to find out everything he could about Mary and go from there.

     Johnny nodded.  “I plan on going back to that company her dad owns and findin’ out where she lives.  I figured maybe some of the servants would know what’s goin’ on with her.”

   “Sounds like a plan.  They might not talk, though.”

    Johnny shrugged.  “Then I’ll keep askin’.  I can be awful stubborn.”

     Pete laughed.  “Don’t I know it.  Look, Johnny, I’m staying about a half mile from here at 131 Evans Street.  If I can help you, let me know.”

    “OK.  If I can’t find out what I want tomorrow at Terhune Shipping, I just might look ya up.”

    Pete stared at Johnny.  “Terhune shipping?”

    Johnny returned his friends stare.  “Yeah.  You know anything about it?”  

    Pete shrugged.  “Not a lot, but some.  My friend who I’m staying with worked there until about six months ago.  Then he was fired.”  


    Pete rolled his whisky around his glass.  “Don’t know for sure, but the rumor was the company was going bankrupt.  A lot of men were laid off.”

    Johnny’s eyes narrowed.  “Bankrupt, huh?  Maybe that’s why she wants ta marry Scott.  She figures she’ll get her hands on some money and save the company.”

   Pete shook his head.  “That still doesn’t explain everything you told me, though.  Like why she wanted you out of the way.”

     Johnny sighed.  “I don’t know, but I’ll bet Mary didn’t tell Scott about the financial shape of Terhune Shipping.  I think I’m definitely gonna have a talk with as many people as I can about Miss Terhune.”

    “Look, Johnny, be careful.  Why don’t I go with you tomorrow, just in case?  I’m not doing anything important tomorrow anyway.”

  Johnny studied the man for a moment, and then shrugged.  “Maybe.  Tell ya what, why don’t ya meet me at the Regent Hotel tomorrow mornin’, say about six.  We’ll go pay a little call to Terhune shipping and see what we can find out.”

  “All right, I’ll be there.”


     Johnny walked slowly back to his hotel, his mind working furiously to unravel the mystery.  He was certain she hadn’t told Scott about the possible bankruptcy, because he had mentioned to Murdoch that he might stay in San Francisco and work for her father. Maybe she was hoping Scott could save the company.

      If Mary thought that Scott was bringing a lot of money to Terhune Shipping, she was badly mistaken.  Since Scott had refused to go back and live with Harlan, the old man had effectively cut Scott out of his will.  Scott had some money of his own, of course, but most of it had been invested in the ranch. 

      He chuckled.  He wondered if his brother had bothered to tell his fiancé that one little fact.  Mary knew that Scott came from a very wealthy Boston family, and was apparently Harlan Garret’s only heir.  She probably figured he also had a lot of money from Lancer.  Johnny’s guess was that she was marrying him at the very least so she could continue to live in the lifestyle she was accustomed to, and at the worst, she was gong to try to use Scott’s money to help save her father’s shipping company.

    Johnny was going to try to find out all he could tomorrow, and then he was going to find Murdoch and tell him what was going on.  He certainly wasn’t going to confront Scott at this point, but he was sure that once he told his father that little bit of information, his father would take care of the rest.  Johnny just hoped he could come up with some more solid proof tomorrow.  He smiled.  If his methods didn’t work, he was sure that Pete’s would.  That man could talk the birds down from the trees.  

Chapter Forty-Three  

  The next morning, Peter showed up and banged on Johnny’s door before he was even up.  Johnny rolled over and looked at his watch, and grumbled when it read only five.  He reluctantly got to his feet, and stalked over and yanked the door open.  “Don’t you know how ta tell time?” He groused.  

   Pete bounded in.  “Couldn’t sleep.  I haven’t done anything exciting for quite a while, and I couldn’t wait to get started.”  

   Johnny plopped down on the bed and glared at his friend.  “I’d forgotten just how enthusiastic you are.”  

  “And I had forgotten what a grump you are,” Pete smiled.  

   “ANYBODY would be a grump at five in the mornin’.”  

   “Come on, Johnny.  We’ve got lots of work to do today.” 

   Johnny spared his friend one last glare before hauling himself to his feet, but he knew it would have no effect.  Pete was just too pleased with himself.  As Johnny shaved and dressed, Pete bounced around the room and continued the conversation from the night before.  Gradually, Johnny became a little more talkative, and by the time the two men went down to breakfast, Johnny was actually in a good mood.  

  Immediately after breakfast, they headed for Terhune’s office. Pete was familiar enough with the area to know exactly where it was, and he assured Johnny it wasn’t far, so the two men elected to walk.  

   “How’re you planning on doing this?”  Pete asked.

    “Doin’ what?”

    “Finding out the information that you want to know.”

      Johnny shrugged.  “Hadn’t thought about it.”

      “You can’t just go in and ask, you know.”  He shot a look at his friend as Johnny started to smile.  “And you can’t threaten to shoot them, either,” Pete finished.

    “Well then, what in the heck am I supposed to do?”

     “Leave it to me,” Pete suggested.  “I guarantee I’ll get you your information.”

     Johnny started to protest, but then gave in.  Pete was a born con man, that was for sure.  Johnny smiled; maybe he wouldn’t have made such a hot priest after all.


   They stopped outside of the office, and Pete gently pushed Johnny over to a nearby bench.  “Just wait for me here.  I’ll find out where Mary lives and be out here in ten minutes.”  

   “Can I time ya?”  

  “Most definitely, and if I’m not out in ten minutes, I’LL buy lunch.”  

  Johnny chuckled.  “If you’re not out in ten minutes WITH the information, you’ll buy lunch.   I fell for that one down in Nogales, remember?”  

   Pete shrugged and then smiled wryly.  “OK.”  

   Pete disappeared into the building and Johnny walked across the street and paced back and forth under a large tree.  Pete wasn’t in any danger, but Johnny still felt apprehensive.  He knew that if Scott found out what he was doing, his brother would shoot him.  Murdoch too, for that matter.  He knew they wanted him to drop it, but for some reason he couldn’t.  There was just too much at stake.  

  Eight minutes later, Pete came bounding down the steps, and motioned Johnny to follow him as he headed down the street.  A block later, Johnny finally caught up. 

  “What did you find out?”

  “The Terhunes live at 83 Hillside Way.  It’s up ahead about two miles.  And…  Mary is out shopping with Scott all day today.  No one is home but the servants.”

   “So how did ya find that out?”

   Pete shrugged.  “The receptionist is a VERY pretty young lady.”

  Johnny swatted his friend with his hand.  “I coulda sweet talked her.”

  “Yes, you probably could have, but you probably would have forgotten all about getting the information.”

   Johnny smiled.  “You’re probably right.”

   As they climbed the hill leading up to the house, Johnny glanced at his friend.  “So what kind of a plan do ya have for getting’ this information?”

   Pete shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I’ll have to wait until I get there and then figure something out.”

   “Well this time, I think I should get ta talk to the girl.”

   Pete shook his head. “All right, if you insist.  Just remember what we’re here for.”

    The two men arrived at the house and rang the bell.  A very old and very homely maid answered the door, and Pete smiled and motioned for Johnny to say something.  Johnny glared at his friend.  “How did you KNOW?”

    Pete laughed and then turned to the maid.  “My dear, we are from the church and need talk to Miss Terhune and Mr. Lancer to find out just what types of arrangements they want to have made for decorations and such.  Do either one happen to be in?”

    The maid looked startled. “The church?”  She asked.

     Pete hesitated, wondering if he’d made a mistake, and decided to be direct.  “Is there a problem?”

    The maid shook her head as she looked at them.  “No, sir, it’s just that I’m Catholic.  No one’s here right now.”

    Pete relaxed, realizing the lady probably thought she’d never seen two more unlikely looking priests.   “Do you know when they’ll be back?” 

    “No, sir, but probably not until late.  They usually eat out.” 

    “I see.”  Pete sighed dramatically. “We really need to talk to someone.  “Do you think we could ask you some questions?”

    The maid shrugged, “I’m very busy, but I guess I could answer a few questions.  What do you need to know?”

    Pete looked lost for a moment, and Johnny took over.  “Do you know how many people are coming to the wedding?”

    “Well, I don’t know for sure, but probably not many.”

    Johnny looked startled.  He had assumed the wedding would be large.  “Why not?”

    The maid shrugged.  “The groom is from out of town, and the Terhune’s don’t have that many friends.”

    “Why not?”

    “Well, Mr. Terhune doesn’t associate with anyone.”  She looked around guiltily.  “He’s at the track all of the time.”

     “He has a gambling problem?”  Pete asked quietly.  He smiled at the maid.  “Believe me; your secret will be safe with us.”

    She looked around again and then nodded.   “He’s almost lost the house and the business several times.  In fact, the only reason he didn’t is because of his daughter.  She was able to get some money and pay off his debts.”

    “Where did she get the money?”  Johnny asked softly. 

    She looked at him knowingly.  “Now where do MOST women get their money? She got it from her man.”

     A door in the back of the house slammed loudly and a man’s voice called out.  Johnny knew they had been caught.


Chapter Forty- Four

     Johnny turned toward Pete.  “I’ll see ya later.  No sense you getting’ your ears blistered, too.”

      Pete looked back at his friend doubtfully.  “Are you sure?”  

     Johnny nodded, and Pete turned and headed for the door just as a man walked into the room.   His eyes glanced at Pete as he left and then focused on Johnny.  “Johnny!  What are you doing here?”

     “Where’s Scott?”

      Murdoch shook his head.  “He and Mary are out taking care of last minute arrangements.  Now what are you doing here?”

     “Murdoch, I need ta talk to you.”  Johnny glanced at the maid who had started into the kitchen.  “Can we go for a walk?”

      Murdoch nodded his head, and then looked at Johnny critically.  “What about your leg?” 

     “It’s fine,” Johnny said impatiently.  “Come on.”

     Murdoch followed his son outside, and Johnny started walking toward the nearby park.  Johnny was trying to figure out a way to say what he had on his mind diplomatically, but he finally gave up and just blurted it out.

    “Mary is just marrying Scott for his money.”

   Murdoch stopped in his tracks and stared at his son.  “You don’t know that.”

   “Yes, I do.  His shipping company is on the verge of bankruptcy, and Mr. Terhune has a major gambling problem.  The maid said they’d come close to losing the house  several times because of it, but that Mary managed to get the money from Scott to save it.”

   Murdoch looked at Johnny critically.  “Scott never said anything about giving her money.”

   Johnny snorted. “Do you really think he would?”

  Murdoch shook his head.  “Johnny I believe we already discussed this.  You need to stay out of Scott’s affairs.”

   “I just told you she was just after his money!”  Johnny exploded.

   “AND I’M telling you to stay out of IT!”

    Johnny looked at his father in disbelief as Murdoch continued in a calmer voice, “Johnny, you don’t KNOW that’s why she’s marrying him.  She could love him and just happen to need money, too.  It has to be Scott’s decision, and I think we’ve interfered enough.”

    “He doesn’t know about this!”

     Murdoch shook his head.  “DO you REALLY think Scott would have given her money with no explanation?  Especially that much money?  Scott’s no fool.”

    “Yeah, well I’m not so sure of that anymore.”

     “JOHNNY!  I have had ENOUGH!  I’m sorry that you don’t like Mary, but I am not going to risk losing Scott because you have a funny feeling about her.  I am NOT going to listen to this any more, and if you ever even HOPE to be back on good terms with your brother, then you had better DROP IT!  DO you understand me?”

     Johnny looked up defiantly at his father for a moment, and then dropped his head.  “Fine.” He ground out.  “Just don’t come cryin’ ta me when that bitch breaks your son’s heart AND his wallet.”  

   Johnny watched as the storm clouds gathered on his father’s face, and decided he wasn’t going to stick around for the storm.  He turned abruptly on his heel and stalked off.   “I’ll see you back at Lancer,” he called out over his shoulder.

      Murdoch watched his son leave and shook his head sadly.  He wouldn’t tell Scott he had seen Johnny; not if his younger son wasn’t planning on attending the wedding.  He didn’t know why Johnny was being so stubborn about this, but he was afraid that Johnny had just put the final nail in the lid of the two brother’s relationship.


   Johnny walked for several blocks before he started to calm down, but he was still angry.  He couldn’t understand why neither his father nor brother could see what was so very clear to his eyes.  He KNEW that Mary was no good, he just couldn’t prove it.  He snorted to himself; even if he could prove it, Scott and Murdoch would probably turn a blind eye to the proof.  He thought about finding his brother and having one more talk with him, but Murdoch was right; Scott was in no mood to listen, and all he would do was alienate him further.  No, he had to keep his mouth shut, but he sure wasn’t happy about it.

   “You OK?”

   Johnny glanced up and found Pete watching him carefully.

   Johnny laughed sarcastically, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

    “I assume that was your father?”

    Johnny nodded glumly.  “If I keep this up though, he might not be my father for long.”

    “Johnny, are you SURE about this?”


      “Then we have to make sure your brother doesn’t marry her.”

    Johnny shook his head.  “My father’s right.  If I interfere any more, Scott will never forgive me.  As much as I think he’s makin’ a mistake, I don’t want to lose my brother over it.”

   “Maybe he doesn’t have to know.”

   “What’re you talkin’ about?”

     Pete grinned at him.  “Remember down in Fronteras that time Dusty insisted that he was going to marry that saloon girl?”

    Johnny chuckled.  “Oh, yes, I remember.  And I ALSO remember his reaction after you’d interfered.  You still have that scar?”

     Pete nodded.  “Yep, but it was worth it.”

    Johnny shook his head.  “If I pulled a stunt like that, I don’t think Scott would be content with just hurtin’ me.  Besides, this ain’t Mexico. It wouldn’t be that easy.”

    Pete shrugged.  “It could be done.”

    Johnny thought about it for a moment, and then shook his head again.  “I think I’m gonna have ta let it go.”

     Pete stared at his friend.  “Will you be able to live with yourself if you do?”

     Johnny stared back into his friend’s eyes.  “I don’t know.  But I’m afraid Scott won’t be able to live with me if I don’t, and right now, I’m more worried about that.”

     Pete nodded in understanding.  “It has to be your decision, but you’d better really think about it, because if you let it go, the chances are you’ll lose him anyway, one way or the other.”

    “I know,” he sighed.  “Let me sleep on it, and I’ll let ya know if I decide ta do it your way.”  He clapped his friend on his back.  “In the meantime, I’ll buy ya a beer.”

    Pete smiled.  “You’re on.”


Chapter Forty-Five  

   Johnny stood outside the church, wondering again if he had made the right decision.  He knew in his heart that Mary was at the very least wrong for Scott, and at the most she was out to do him harm, but his suspicions weren’t enough to prove anything, and he didn’t want to lose Scott.  He knew his big brother was already angry with him, and it would take a long time for them to get back the trust they had once shared, but Johnny was hopeful it would someday happen.  His features darkened.  He was sure Mary would do her best to prevent it, but Johnny wasn’t about to let her keep him away from his brother forever.  Someday, the truth would come out, with or without Johnny’s help, and for now Johnny decided to back off from trying to prove anything.

     Johnny looked down the street, wondering where everyone was, and wondering again if he would even be welcome at the wedding.  He was sure that Mary didn’t want him here, but he didn’t care what she thought.  He had made up his mind to be polite to her for Scott’s sake, but the only person’s opinion that counted in his mind was his brother’s.  Johnny looked nervously up the street once more and finally saw a carriage approaching.  He stepped back slightly, not knowing who was inside the carriage, and not wanting a confrontation with Mary.

     The carriage pulled up to the church, and the driver opened the door and helped Teresa out.  Johnny relaxed slightly and stepped up and took his sister’s arm and was rewarded with a huge smile.  Murdoch stepped out next and grinned in relief at the sight of his younger son.

    Johnny tensed as he watched his brother step down, and the two men locked eyes.  Johnny knew it was up to him, so he spoke up.  “Am I still invited?”

     Scott stared at his brother for a moment, and then stepped toward him and gave him a hug.  “Thanks, Johnny,” he whispered.  “I was so afraid you weren’t coming, and I need you here.   I’m sorry I left without talking to you.”

     Johnny nodded and hugged his brother back.  No matter what happened, he knew he was doing the right thing.  He would do anything for his brother, and he knew Scott felt the same way, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with that trust.

     Scott smiled at the outfit Johnny wore. It proved to him just how much his brother cared about him, because Johnny NEVER wore a suit or tie unless threatened with dire consequences, but this time he had made the sacrifice on his own.  Scott was relived that Johnny had shown up, because no matter how angry Scott had been at his brother, he wanted him here on this important day.  He knew that whatever Johnny had said, he had done it to protect him, and even though he knew Johnny was mistaken, he appreciated the loyalty.  After leaving Lancer, he had thought long and hard about Johnny’s actions, and he realized that he could trust Johnny to never do anything to hurt him.  By attending the wedding, Johnny had just proven it once again. Even though Scott knew that Mary and Johnny would never be best friends, he thought that maybe there was hope that Johnny and Mary could someday live at Lancer together.  The thought made his day a little brighter.

   Scott grinned at his brother once again.  “Would you be my best man?”

   Scott watched as his brother’s smile faltered for a moment, and he realized that the happy thoughts he was thinking a moment before were probably an impossible dream, and in all likelihood he would never again be able to live at Lancer. 

   Johnny recovered quickly, and at last nodded, but his hesitation was not lost on Scott.    “Sure. I’d be glad to.”

    Scott also hesitated in answering, wondering if he should have asked his brother when he was obviously so against the union.  Finally, Scott nodded back, but both brothers knew exactly what the other was thinking, and the thought saddened both of them.

    Murdoch had watched the exchange between his sons, and he too was frustrated that his boys should so obviously be at odds.  He wanted so much to knock some sense into both of them, especially Johnny, but now was not the time.  This was supposed to be the happiest day in his older son’s life, but he had the feeling that the exchange he had just witnessed had at least taken some of the joy out of the day for Scott.  He couldn’t do anything about it now, but when he was alone with Johnny, he planned on having a few choice words with him. 

    With a sigh, Murdoch turned toward Teresa and offered her his arm.  “Shall we go inside?”

    Teresa glanced once more at Scott, and then nodded and let Murdoch escort her into the church, her emotions swirling.  She was glad that Scott had found someone to love, but because of Johnny she still had some doubts about her friend.  She knew that if Johnny proved to be right she would never forgive herself for introducing them, and she prayed fervently that this time Johnny was wrong.  She also hoped that Scott would change his mind and come back to Lancer to live, but after seeing the exchange between the brothers, she doubted that would happen.  She had never thought ANYTHING could come between those two, but she was obviously wrong.  Even though she knew she should be happy for Scott’s sake, she felt like crying.   Even if Johnny WERE wrong, she wished she’d never brought Mary to Lancer.  Then her family would all still be at home where they belonged.

     The church bells began to ring, and Scott and Johnny stared at each other, needing to say something, but neither one knowing just what to say to make it right between them.  Finally, Scott turned and entered the church, and Johnny followed along behind.   Before he entered, Johnny looked heavenward and said a short prayer that he had made the right decision, and then took a deep breath and followed his brother.


Chapter Forty-Six

     Johnny followed his brother into the cool church, and looked around curiously.  There was still no sign of Mary, but he saw several ladies sitting in the first row.  Sitting on the opposite side, also in the first row, were Murdoch and Teresa.  There were only a few other people in the church, which surprised Johnny.  He would have thought with Terhune’s business connections the building would have been packed.  Johnny shrugged, maybe they hadn’t invited anyone.  

   Scott walked up to the front of the church and then stopped by the rail that protected the alter.  Scott turned to his brother and handed him a small box.  Johnny took the box and opened it, revealing a large diamond ring.   Johnny’s eyes opened wider when he realized the obvious cost of such a piece, and he hoped again that he had done the right thing by not saying anything more to his brother until he found something definite to tell him. 

   Johnny studied his brother and realized Scott was nervous.  No one else could probably tell, but Johnny could.  He took Scott’s arm and squeezed it slightly, flashing him a grin at the same time.  Scott gave him a rather sickly smile in return, but his grip on Johnny’s arm was firm. 

   Johnny watched as a few more people were seated, and then the minister approached from the side of the church.  He nodded solemnly at Scott and Johnny, and Johnny felt Scott’s grip tighten for a moment and then his brother let go and turned toward the back of the church. 

    The organist started playing and a moment later, Mary started down the aisle, accompanied by her father and another young lady approximately Mary’s age.  Johnny glanced at Scott and saw a smile forming on his lips, and Johnny dropped his head.  He wished he could be happy for his brother, but he couldn’t.  He had to admit though, that Mary looked absolutely stunning.  He sure couldn’t fault her looks. 

    Mr. Terhune walked slowly up the aisle and then handed his daughter off to Scott, who stepped forward and took her hand.  They locked eyes for a moment, and then Mary dropped her head demurely and stood next to her husband to be as they all turned and faced the Reverend.

    Murdoch sat and listened to the wedding ceremony with mixed feelings.  He was certainly glad that his son had found someone to love, but the knowledge that Scott would not be returning to Lancer, at least not in the foreseeable future, was depressing. Johnny’s warnings were also very much on Murdoch’s mind.  He had never known his younger son to be totally wrong about anyone before, but he was fervently hoping that he was this time.

    Murdoch watched as his sons stood together by the alter, and was proud of the two young men.   He hoped that today’s ceremony wouldn’t mean the end of their friendship.  He noticed that Mary was studiously ignoring Johnny, but that could simply be nerves.  She seemed to have eyes for no one but Scott.


    Johnny stood by his brother, only half listening to the ceremony.  He caught Mary’s eyes once, and saw a look of triumph on her face as she stared back at him.  He returned the stare, his face a mask.  He knew that someday he would be able to have the satisfaction of showing his true feeling toward her, but he would wait until he could do it without alienating his brother.  Someone had told him that revenge was a dish better enjoyed cold, and he was sure he would find out if that were indeed true. 

      The Reverend droned on, and it wasn’t until he asked if there were any objections that time seemed to stop.  Both Scott and Mary were staring at him, and Johnny figured Murdoch and Teresa were probably staring holes in his back, too.  They all seemed to be waiting for him to say something, but he had no intention of destroying his brother’s trust in him.  He shook his head slightly, and Johnny saw Scott’s shoulders relax and his brother nodded back at him.

         Johnny thoughts turned to what he should do after the ceremony.  He thought if he tried hard enough he could probably figure out what Mary was up to, but he wasn’t sure if he should. It might be better for Scott to figure it out on his own.   That way, he couldn’t blame Johnny for being the bearer of bad news.

       His brother nudged him and Johnny looked at his brother apologetically.  His mind had been wandering once more.  Scott held out his hand and it took a moment for Johnny to realize that he wanted the ring.   For just a second Johnny thought that he had lost it, but a second check of his coat pocket produced it and Johnny handed it somewhat reluctantly to his brother.

     The preacher started reading the vows, and Johnny felt his own heart clench.  He knew that his brother meant every word, but he was just as convinced that Mary didn’t.   He was afraid Scott was setting himself up for a broken heart, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

     When the preacher uttered the words; “Till death do you part”, Johnny felt a chill go down his spine and he looked away for a moment.  A second later, Scott and Mary were pronounced man and wife, and Johnny sighed deeply as his brother embraced Mary and gave her a kiss.  Johnny’s eyes wandered toward his father and sister.  Teresa, as expected, was crying, and Murdoch was sitting stone faced and staring at his eldest son.  Johnny let his eyes wander over to where Mr. Terhune was sitting, and realized the man had the same look of triumph on his face that his daughter had given Johnny earlier, and Johnny knew without a doubt that Scott should never have married Mary Terhune.  Johnny was right when he had wanted to prevent the marriage, and he shouldn’t have worried about how angry his brother might be about it.


Chapter Forty-Seven  

       Murdoch sat at his desk and watched as his younger son trudged into the house.  With a sigh, he turned to greet Johnny when he entered the Great Room.

      “Everything OK?”

      Johnny nodded wearily.  “I made sure the bridge was taken care of, and the fences in the north Pasture are secure.  I’ll go into town tomorrow and pick up some supplies.”

      Murdoch shook his head.  “That’s not what I meant. Are YOU OK?”

     Johnny shrugged, “Sure, why wouldn’t I be? Look, I’m tired and I’m gonna turn in.”

     “It’s Saturday night.  I thought you’d be going into town.”

     Johnny shook his head.  “No.  I want ta get the supplies picked up tomorrow, and there’s no use makin’ two trips.”

     Murdoch nodded and Johnny turned and headed for the stairs.  “Aren’t you going to eat?  Teresa kept supper warm for you.  It’s on the stove.”

     Johnny shook his head and called over his shoulder without slowing down. “I ain’t hungry.  I had a big lunch.”

     Murdoch sighed, louder this time as he watched Johnny disappear up the stairs.  His younger son had changed since Scott’s marriage six months ago.  He no longer was interested in doing much except working.  Murdoch couldn’t remember the last time Johnny had gone into town for a drink or just to socialize.  He was quieter, and much more serious.  When Scott had been at home, Murdoch and Johnny had argued almost constantly, but those arguments had also stopped with Scott’s marriage to Mary.  A year ago, Murdoch would have welcomed that change, but now it frightened him.  Murdoch couldn’t figure out whether it was because Johnny was making more of an effort to get along, or because he just no longer cared.

   Scott’s leaving had hit everyone hard, but Johnny most of all.  Murdoch suspected that Johnny had had very few close friends in his tumultuous life, and Scott had been his best friend as well as his brother.   Murdoch was afraid that Johnny had been hurt by Scott’s lack of trust, but apparently Scott’s trust in Mary had been justified.  In the letters Murdoch had received Scott had never indicated that there were problems of any kind between them.

        Murdoch was happy that Scott and Mary were getting along so well, but he couldn’t help but be a little saddened that Johnny had been so wrong, and had lost so much because of his belief.  Every day Murdoch half expected to wake up and find Johnny gone.  It seemed as if all the joy had gone out of his younger son’s life, and Murdoch knew that Johnny certainly wasn’t happy.  Murdoch wasn’t sure if it was the loss of his brother or the guilt that he had been so wrong about Mary that was eating at him the most, but something most definitely was bothering him.


    Johnny lay on his bed, looking out the window.  Sleep was impossible, as it was so often nowadays.  It seemed that his mind refused to let him rest, and only by working himself into exhaustion could he sometimes be tired enough to escape into sleep.  Before when he had a problem, he would talk to Scott about it.  His big brother had been one of the few people that Johnny had trusted completely.  Johnny had told his brother things that he would never tell another living soul, but he couldn’t exactly talk to his brother about what was bothering him this time.  

    Johnny sighed.  The guilt that he felt was eating him alive, and if something didn’t happen soon, he didn’t know what he would do.  He knew now that he had been wrong about Mary, and if that were the case, he had made a horrible mistake.  He knew that his brother would never forgive him for his terrible deception.  He needed to talk to Scott and confess to what he had done, but he didn’t have the nerve.  

  He knew the longer he waited, the worse it would be, and it certainly wasn’t fair to either Scott or Mary.  He shook his head; he just didn’t know how he could have been THAT wrong about her. HAD he let his personal feelings overshadow his intuition?  He just didn’t know any more.  All he knew for sure was that because of his stubbornness and stupidity he had lost his brother, and that he would never get him back.  

   He sighed once more.  He decided he would have to tell Scott, and he figured the best way was probably to take a trip up there and apologize to his brother and Mary in person,  He wished he could do it by letter, but that was the coward’s way out, and he wasn’t a coward.  He would face his brother and Mary and admit what he’d done and face their wrath.  He knew it would be the end, but at least then maybe he could stand to look at himself in the mirror.  

  The only question in his mind was whether he could even stay at Lancer.  He would have to tell Murdoch and Teresa what he had done, too, and they weren’t likely to forgive him, either.  What he had done was inexcusable.  He had managed to destroy the trust he felt they had for him, and he had done it decisively.  Even if Murdoch allowed him to stay, he knew his father would never fully trust him again.  It would be better if after he confessed to Scott he just disappeared.  At least then he wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in their eyes every time he looked at them.  

   The round up was starting in another week, and Johnny decided he didn’t want to leave his father short handed. The ranch was having enough problems right now without Murdoch having to hire another hand.   He would wait until after the round up to tell his father he wanted to go to San Francisco, and then he would be gone for a while.  He wasn’t sure if he could tell Murdoch what he had done to his face, but he would try.  It couldn’t be worse than facing his brother.  

   Finally, Johnny slipped off to sleep.  Deciding to come clean about what he had done was a relief, and for the first time in a long while, he slept peacefully.  


Chapter Forty-Eight  

   Murdoch noticed immediately that Johnny seemed like he was in a better mood.  He was almost happy when he took the wagon into town to pick up supplies. Murdoch hoped that whatever had been bothering his son, he had finally come to terms with it. Losing Scott was bad enough; Murdoch didn’t think he could take it if he lost Johnny too, and that was just what he was afraid was going to happen.  Johnny was gradually becoming more distant, but if he was losing his son, he was gaining a top hand.  Johnny did nothing but work, and Murdoch hadn’t been able to fault anything he had done for a long time.  Murdoch shook his head. Now that Johnny was doing what Murdoch had always hoped he would, he didn’t think it was so great.  He’d rather have his son back.  

   Murdoch was hoping that after the round up the three of them could take a trip to San Francisco.  He missed Scott, and he was sure that Johnny and Teresa did, too.  Maybe it would be a first step toward becoming a family again.  Murdoch still clung to the hope that someday Scott would return to Lancer.  Murdoch knew that Scott had planned on staying here until he had met Mary; maybe he would change his mind and come home.  Murdoch was bound and determined to try and talk him in to it, that was for sure. 

     Johnny returned with the supplies in the early afternoon.  Murdoch sighed when he saw the wagon approaching; he had told his son to stay in town and relax for a while, but Johnny had obviously picked up the supplies and come straight home.  He would have to do something about his younger son’s attitude.  He shook his head; he never thought he’d have to scold Johnny for being too responsible and not enjoying himself, but it seemed as if that was exactly what he was going to have to do.  Johnny needed to relax, and Murdoch would see that he did even if he had to break his leg to do it.

       Johnny pulled the wagon up into the yard and started to unload.  Murdoch walked out to give his younger son a hand, and saw the tension in the young man’s face immediately.  “Something wrong?” 

    Without a word, Johnny handed his father a letter from Scott.  Murdoch took it and saw that it had been opened and looked at Johnny enquiringly.

    Johnny shrugged.  “It was addressed to all of us, so I opened it.  Didn’t think you’d care.”

     Murdoch nodded, and began to read.  A smile started forming, and soon had engulfed his whole face.  “He’s coming home.”  

   Johnny nodded, but didn’t stop his work.  “That’s the way I read it, too,” he said flatly.

    Murdoch studied his younger son.  “You don’t seem too happy about it.”

   Johnny stopped and stared at his father.  “He didn’t say he was comin’ ta stay, and he ALSO didn’t say that Mary was comin’ with him.  That means that somethin’s wrong.”

  Murdoch quickly opened the letter and scanned the contents.  “He doesn’t say anything’s wrong.  Maybe his not mentioning Mary was just an oversight.  I’m sure they’re both coming.”

  “I doubt it.”

    Murdoch sighed at his son’s pessimism.   “Well, the important thing is he’s coming home.  If something’s wrong, I’m sure we’ll be able to fix it, TOGETHER.”  He stared at Johnny until the young man reluctantly nodded.

  “Yeah, I guess.”

   Murdoch wasn’t thrilled with his son’s answer, but he knew that under the circumstances, it would have to do.  “When you’re finished unloading, why don’t you come inside.  Maria’s made some fresh lemonade and there are some sandwiches on the table.  I believe there’s also some chocolate cake.”

    “No thanks.  I’ve gotta go and help Cip with that dang bridge that’s down again.  I might be late, so don’t wait supper.”

   Murdoch continued watching him for a minute, and thought seriously about ordering him to relax for a while, but he knew that would just start a fight, so he let it go.  Maybe things would be better when Scott came back.  Reluctantly, he turned and went back into the house to tell the good news to Teresa.


   Johnny put the supplies away blindly, not even thinking.  All he could think about was that his brother was coming home, and there was most definitely something wrong.  Johnny didn’t need to be a mind reader to know what it was that was wrong.  They had somehow found out about his deception.  He felt panicked; he wasn’t ready to face his brother yet, but it appeared he’d have no choice.  His time was fast running out.

   Johnny was under no illusions.  He knew that whatever trust his family had had in him was going to disappear as soon as Scott walked in that door.  He couldn’t blame them; they were right.  He had erred, and badly.  By trying to help his brother he had managed to destroy the one relationship that he was trying to save.  He threw the last sack of flour into the pantry and slammed the door.  Damn it!  Why couldn’t he have just left well enough alone?  Why didn’t he just let it go instead of sticking his nose where it didn’t belong?

  As he rode out to where Cipriano was working, his mind was going over all of his options.  He figured he could take off now, and that was exactly what his mind was screaming at him to do, but somehow he couldn’t do that.  Scott deserved an apology and not one in a letter.  His brother deserved a chance to tell Johnny just what he thought of him and his little deception.  With a sigh, Johnny realized that he only had a week or so left before his world fell apart.  Scott would be here before the round up, and it looked like Murdoch just might have to handle it without him after all.   There was a good chance his brother would shoot him, and Johnny wouldn’t blame him one little bit.


Chapter Forty- Nine  

    Johnny sat on the hill overlooking the hacienda and watched the house below.  The buggy carrying his brother had arrived over two hours ago, and Johnny figured that was plenty of time for Scott to tell the family just what Johnny had done.  He knew he should go down, but he didn’t want to.  He took another long look around, knowing it could well be the last time he’d see the ranch, and then he nudged Barranca down the hill.

    It was really a bad time for him to be leaving, cattle prices had been way down last fall, and they had decided to keep almost all of their stock to sell this year, betting on a better market.  Money had been tight, with no money coming in and a larger payroll for the more hands necessary to take care of the extra cattle.  If they didn’t get decent prices this year, they could lose the ranch.  Johnny hated leaving when Murdoch might need him, but he doubted if he’d have a choice.

     He figured after Scott got through with him, Murdoch would probably ask him to leave.  Johnny had already packed a bedroll with what he planned on taking, and he had enough money to buy more supplies when he was off of the ranch. He’d hate to leave this place, but he knew he’d destroyed whatever chance he had of staying, and he had no one to blame but himself. 

      He rode into the yard and started to head Barranca toward the barn, but then he stopped.  If things got too ugly he might want to take off quickly.  He turned Barranca back toward the house and tied the horse at the rail just outside of the Great Room.  Johnny stood outside the door for a long moment, trying to get the courage to go inside.  He didn’t remember ever being this scared before facing another gunfighter and he realized that the people in this house could hurt him a lot worse than any pistolero could.  

     With a sigh, he resolutely grabbed the door and pushed it open. Murdoch was seated in his favorite chair, and Scott and Teresa were sitting on the couch.  As soon as he walked in, Scott tensed and stared at him.  “Johnny.”

     “Scott.”  Johnny nodded at his brother and went over to the bar and poured himself a drink.   

      Scott dropped his head.  “I’ve been waiting for you.  I have something to tell all of you, but I wanted you here before I said anything.”

     Johnny felt sick.  He had hoped that Scott had already told Murdoch and Teresa what he had done.  He had figured Teresa would probably be in her room crying by now.  Instead, Johnny had to stand here and watch the looks of disgust and disbelief on Murdoch and Teresa’s face as Scott told them the ugly truth.  Well, he would listen to what Scott had to say, and then he would leave.  They wouldn’t have to put up with him any more.

     Johnny remained standing until his father motioned him over to a nearby chair.  Johnny preferred to stand; he felt too vulnerable sitting down, but he reluctantly took the seat that his father had indicated. He would let Scott tear him apart; his brother deserved at least that satisfaction.   He tossed back the drink and gripped the arm of the chair with his other hand, waiting for the ax to drop.

     Scott took a deep breath and brought his eyes up to stare at his brother.  “Johnny, I know you were against this wedding from the start.  You told me that you didn’t trust Mary almost from the beginning, and I didn’t listen to you.  I thought you were over reacting or just plain mistaken. .   Even when you came up with more reasons why I shouldn’t marry her, I ignored them.  When Juan confessed, I believed that you had made up most of the things you had said about her.  I thought Juan’s confession proved that she was innocent and that you were wrong.    I’m sorry.  You were right all along.  Can you ever forgive me?”  

   Johnny stared at his brother in stunned disbelief. He was so sure that Scott was coming here to take his head off that it took him a moment to comprehend what his brother was saying.  It certainly wasn’t what he had expected, and a glimmer of hope began to insinuate itself into his mind.  Maybe he hadn’t screwed up as badly as he thought he had.  Maybe, his brother wouldn’t even be too mad about it. 

   Murdoch sighed loudly.  “I’m sorry, Scott, if things didn’t work out between you and Mary, but at least you found out before it was too late.”

    Scott snorted and shook his head.  “I’m afraid it’s a little more serious than ‘not working out, and it IS too late.”

     Johnny felt his heart grow cold.  If Mary were pregnant, his brother WOULD kill him, no matter what.  It was the one thing Johnny had been so worried about.

     “What do you mean it’s too late?”  Murdoch asked.  “Is Mary…with child?”

     Johnny’s heart stopped for a moment, and then his brother shook his head.

       “No, she’s not with child, I’m afraid it’s worse than that.”

     Johnny’s heart started beating again, and he managed to ask the question.  “Then why is it too late?”

    “I’m afraid that by marrying Mary, I’ve jeopardized the ranch.”

     “What?”  Murdoch asked.  “How could that have anything to do with the ranch?”

      “Mary is suing me for a divorce.  She has plenty of friends that will testify untruthfully that I was cruel to her, as will her father. I, on the other hand, have no friends in San Francisco to testify to how Mary was actually treated.  Her family is also good friends with the top divorce attorney in San Francisco, who has a LOT of influence with the local judges.   According to my lawyer, she WILL get at the very least half of everything I own, and that includes my third of the ranch.  Unfortunately, my money is virtually gone, and unless you have the money to buy her out, we’ll have to sell the ranch.”  Scott hung his head.  “I’ve ruined everything, and I’m more sorry than you know.”


Chapter Fifty  

   Murdoch shook his head.  “She can’t do that!”

   Scott nodded wearily.  “I’m afraid she can.  She’s nothing but a conniving…” he glanced over at Teresa and hesitated before continuing, “…witch!”

   Murdoch took a deep breath.  “What happened, Scott, and start at the beginning.”

   Scott sighed deeply.  “It started right after the honeymoon.  As soon as we returned to San Francisco, she started buying everything in sight.  I let it go for a little while, but then I asked her to slow down.  After all, I really wasn’t sure just what I was going to do yet.  Her father had asked me to join his company, but I’d already received a nice offer with one of the brokerage firms.  I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”

       “Anyway, she wouldn’t listen.  The money kept flowing out of my account like water.  I even went so far as to close accounts at the stores, but the wedding announcement had been in the papers, and everyone knew she was my wife.  No matter what I said, I was still responsible for her debts, and she just found new stores that would give her credit.”

     “Finally, with a lot of persuasion on her part, and the fact that the other offer was mysteriously withdrawn, I decided to join her father’s business.  I had only been there about a month when Mr. Terhune came to me and said that they were trying to buy a new ship, but the loan was taking longer than planned.  If they purchased this ship, they could beat out the competition and make an enormous profit.  He asked if I would consider putting up the money and becoming a partner.”

     “Well, I THOUGHT I was being careful.  I insisted on examining the books, although I realize now that he kept two sets.  He gave me the ones he wanted me to see.  He also took me to several businesses where Terhune shipping seemed to have unlimited credit.  I realize now the whole thing was an elaborate set up.  I gave him the money, but no ship arrived.  He kept stalling and coming up with excuses, and in the meantime, Mary was still spending.  It was like trying to stop a leak in a dam by sticking your finger in it.”

    “Finally, I confronted Mr. Terhune, and he admitted to me that he had used the money to pay off debts that the company had run up.  He reassured me that the loan for the ship was still forthcoming, and that the company would be in sound financial shape.  I didn’t believe him, and I asked for a private auditor to examine the books.  He refused.  Because we had signed the partnership papers, I went to court to gain access to the books.  The court ordered Mr. Terhune to turn over the books, and he tried to pawn off what I knew were fake ones once again.

     “Needless to say, Mary was livid that I had dared to take her father to court.  Both she and her father were telling me and everyone else that I was the cause of all of the problems with the company.  Mary was totally on her father’s side.”

    Scott looked at Johnny and shook his head.  “It was about then that I realized that you were right, brother.  She had only married me for my money.  I don’t believe in divorce, but I was on the verge of filing when she informed me that she already had, and the reason she had listed was mental and physical cruelty.  I was furious, and unfortunately, she had given me that little bit of news in a very crowded restaurant where everyone knew us.  Needless to say, I made quite a scene, and I realized afterwards that she had done it purposely.  Like everything else, it had been carefully orchestrated.”

    “I immediately went to a lawyer, and after studying everything and talking to Mary’s lawyer, he told me that I didn’t have a chance.  Mary and her father had too many witnesses that would swear that I abused her.  He said that she would probably wind up with everything I had.  If I was extremely lucky, she would only receive half.  I didn’t have to worry about the rest of my money, Mary and her father had already run up debts to take virtually all of that, but she knows I am a third partner in Lancer, and she is going after that, too.”  

  “I finally was able to have the real books for Terhune Shipping audited; the company is bankrupt.  Thankfully, the money I gave Terhune paid off the creditors, but the company is broke.  What little money I have left will go toward paying off my wife’s enormous debts to the stores and other business establishments.”  

   Scott dropped his head.  “After she filed for divorce, I confronted her, and she admitted everything.  Of course, we were alone, so I can’t prove any of it. I also found out that she has been married before, twice.  She did the same thing to her other husbands.   She said she had planned the whole thing; coming here and marrying…”  Scott grinned wryly, “…one of us.” 

  Johnny looked up in surprise as Scott continued.  “She found out that I had some money from my grandfather, so that’s why she picked me.”  His face darkened as he looked at his brother.  “That, and the fact that you were too smart to fall for her.”   

    Scott dropped his eyes, unwilling to look his brother in the face.  “Plus, she admitted that she thought you were a hired hand that first night, and she said what you said she did.  I’m sorry, Johnny.” 

   Johnny nodded, and Scott continued. “She wanted to make sure I left Lancer, and Teresa had told her that I would never leave because you and I were so close.  That’s why she tried to get rid of you, one way or the other.  She had to make sure I went to San Francisco for her plan to work.”

    “But Juan confessed!”  Teresa cried.

     Scott nodded.  “Juan was the one that put the wire under Mary’s saddle; he probably thought he was doing us a favor. Anyway, somehow she found out.  She told him she would tell us what he’d done, and he was frightened that we’d make him leave.  She blackmailed him into untying Johnny’s cinch.  She convinced him it was a harmless practical joke, because everyone knows that Johnny ALWAYS checks his cinch.”  He looked at Johnny.  “He never meant for you to get hurt.  After that, she had more to blackmail him with and he was too frightened to refuse.”

     Scott dropped his head once more.  “I am SO sorry.  I’ve ruined everything.  He brought his head up and looked at Murdoch.   “Does Lancer have enough to buy her out?” He asked hopefully.  “I promise that I’ll pay every penny back somehow.”

     Murdoch slowly shook his head.  “We’ve had a bad year. There’s not enough in the bank, and we’d have to put the ranch up as collateral for any loan.  If we needed her permission…” his voice trailed off and he shook his head again.

     Scott looked at Murdoch and saw that his father looked stunned.  They were going to lose the ranch, and it was all his fault.


Chapter Fifty-One  

   Scott glanced over at his brother, and was startled to see him trying not to laugh.

    “What’s so funny?” Scott asked indignantly.

     Johnny couldn’t contain himself any longer, and the laughter burst out of him as the others watched him in disbelief.

     Murdoch looked at his son and shook his head.  “I don’t think this is a laughing matter, John.”

      Johnny laughed harder.  “Oh, yes it is.”  He looked at his brother.  “All this time, I thought you were comin’ here ta kill me for what I’d done, and now I find out maybe I didn’t screw up too bad after all.”

     “What ARE you talking about?”  Scott asked.  “I TOLD you that you were right.  You had every reason to suspect Mary.”

     Johnny nodded.  “I was beginning ta doubt it myself, I’ll tell you that much.  I thought I’d messed up pretty bad, and I thought you’d hate me.”

     Scott shook his head.  “Johnny, I would never hate you, no matter what.  I was worried that you couldn’t forgive me.  My actions were inexcusable.”

     Johnny shrugged.  “Yeah, they were, but a pretty woman can do that sometimes.  Make a man forget what’s right or wrong, turns him into a fool.”  He looked at his father.  “Isn’t that right, Murdoch?”

     Murdoch colored slightly and just shook his head at his younger son as Johnny continued.  “I still did somethin’ that you MIGHT be upset about, though.”

     “And what’s that, little brother?”  Scott asked suspiciously.

    Johnny contemplated him for a moment.   “I tell you what.  I’ll forgive you for actin’ like an ass, excuse me Teresa, like an idiot, if you promise to forgive me for what I did.”

     “And what was that?”

     Johnny shook his head.  “I want your word first.”

   Scot stared at his brother for a long moment, and then slowly nodded his head.  He knew that whatever Johnny had done, it had been done with his best interest at heart, and he knew that he would forgive him even without Johnny’s ultimatum.  “I promise.”

     Johnny nodded and then looked at his father.  “You too, Old Man, I want you’re word that you won’t shoot me.” 

     “Johnny, just spit it out,’ Murdoch said impatiently.

    Johnny took a deep breath and then told them.  He watched as Scott’s face registered shock and disbelief.  Scott shook his head.  “You mean…?”

     Johnny nodded as he waited for Scott’s reaction.  He saw his brother start to draw himself up indignantly, but then Johnny got help from an entirely unexpected source.  Murdoch started chuckling, and then Teresa joined in.  Finally, Scott dropped his head and his shoulders started to shake.  Johnny relaxed as he watched his brother break into laughter.  Scott finally looked up at Johnny.  “All right, you’re forgiven, but don’t EVER do that again.”

    Johnny laughed.  “Don’t ever make me HAVE to, and we’ll be fine, brother.”


The End   


    Mary and her father sat at a table in one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco. Businesses jumped at the chance to give them credit with the Lancer name involved, and soon, Mary knew she would have even more. She figured that with one third of Lancer, she could live in style for quite a while.

      She looked over at her father and smiled.  She might not give him the money this time. After all, he would only gamble it away.  Maybe this time, she would take the money and travel to Europe.  Of course, that would leave her father to pay his own bills, but that wasn’t really her problem. 

      She almost regretted divorcing Scott Lancer; of all of her husbands, he was the most attractive.  It was too bad that she needed the money more than she needed him.  She shook her head regretfully.  Maybe she would meet someone else worth her attention over in Europe.  Maybe even royalty.  Scott Lancer would soon be forgotten.  

     As she finished her wine, she glanced up and saw a familiar face.  It took her a moment to recognize him however; as he certainly wasn’t dressed as he had been the last time she had seen him.  She caught his eye and motioned for him to approach the table.

     Pete looked up from his dinner and saw Mary Terhune studying him from across the room.  He grinned to himself; he had received a wire from Johnny telling him that what they had done was no longer a secret, and Pete couldn’t wait to break the news to the lady.  He sauntered over to her table and sat down without being asked.

    “Reverend, how good to see you again,” she said, pointedly looking at the gun strapped low on his hip.

     Pete smiled.  “I’m afraid it’s not Reverend.  In fact, it never was.  Actually, I’m just a friend of Johnny’s, and he said to give you his regards.”

    Pete quickly got up and out of the way of the explosion that was sure to come when the lady figured out just what that meant.

    Mary sat in shock.  Surely that man had been joking.  As she sat there trying to figure it out, the waiter approached and handed the bill to her father.  “The check, sir.”

    “You were TOLD to put it on our tab,” Mr. Terhune said imperiously.

      “Yes, sir, but you no longer have credit here or anywhere else, for that matter.  It seems that Mr. Lancer has made it clear to everyone that he is not responsible for any debts incurred by either of you.”

     “He can’t DO that!   My daughter here is his WIFE!”

    The waiter shrugged.  “Apparently not, sir.  Now do you have the money, or do I need to call the manager?”

     Mr. Terhune looked at his daughter with a sick look on his face.  “Mary, do you have any cash on you?”

    Mary shook her head numbly.  “All I have is my credit.”

    The waited nodded.  “If you’ll be so good as to follow me, I might have the solution.”

     Mr. Terhune and Mary followed the waiter into the kitchen, where he pointed to a huge pile of dishes.  “When you’re done, you can mop the floors.”  The waiter turned to leave.  “By the way, if I were you, I’d try to make sure no one saw you leave; there are dozens of creditors just waiting to talk to you.”

    Mary looked at her father in disbelief, and then sat down at the table.  “He wouldn’t do that,” she whispered.

    Mr. Terhune glared at his daughter and handed her a towel.  “Just shut up and dry.”



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