A Treasured Heart
by  Kathy S .

“The journey toward the heart is always a journey home.”
--Jennifer James

Disclaimer:    The Lancer name and characters are the creation of others.  This story is written for entertainment purposes only; no infringement of the creator’s copyright is intended.

Teresa admired her reflection in the small mirror over her chest of drawers.  She did not often stop to look at herself and she was surprised at the image staring back at her.  Tentatively, she pulled her brunette hair back and used an ivory comb to hold the locks of hair away from her face.  The comb had been an unexpected gift several months ago from Johnny when he returned from a cattle drive.  She smiled, remembering how the dark-haired man had shyly slipped her the gift, as if afraid she would not want it.  With the comb in place, the reflection smiling back at her looked more mature, and she liked the effect.

Turning away from the mirror, Teresa smoothed the fabric of the calico dress she had donned for dinner.  Usually, she wore pants and a work shirt, so the dress was used mostly on special occasions.  She had been wearing this same dress when Murdoch danced with her at the last church social.  What had he said?  Pretty as cream on peaches.  She colored slightly at the thought, for she did not think of herself as pretty.

She splashed a few drops of lilac essence on her wrists.  Scott loved the lilac scent for some reason and made sure she always had a bottle of the fragrance.  When she had asked him why he liked it so much, he had gone all dreamy-eyed and mumbled something about a lady of mystery.

Well, I’m no lady of mystery.  But this certainly is.  She lifted a necklace from her bed and held it to her throat, returning to the mirror to study its appearance.

She had bought the used necklace this afternoon from a traveling tinker who was passing through Morro Coyo.  The man’s wagon was loaded with bric-a-brac, pots and pans, and assorted tools.  With the supplies from Baldemoro’s packed in the buckboard, there was nothing she needed from the tinker, but the man had waved her over to examine his wares.  He lifted his top hat and showed her a box full of jewelry.  “Young lady such as you should have a brooch or hair ornament,” he had said.

Teresa was keenly aware that growing up without a mother meant she did not have the frilly things that a daughter might receive from her mother.  Her father had tried to raise his little girl right, and Murdoch never let her want for anything, but they were men and did not understand feminine interests.

She sighed and fastened the necklace in place.  The filigree heart hung just below the notch at her throat.  The intricate metalwork had caught her attention as soon as she saw it in the tinker’s box of jewelry.

It had been a fine necklace once.  The gold chain was delicate, and the heart-shaped pendant had an open design.  But it was used, no doubt about it.  There were prongs in the middle of the heart, empty now of whatever they once held.  Her mind raced through the possibilities, and there was the mystery.  Who had owned it?  What did the prongs once hold?  She imagined the clear brilliance of diamonds, or the vibrant green of emeralds, or maybe the fiery red of rubies, clustered together in the middle of the heart.

It did not matter to Teresa that it was missing the central part of the design.  It was still a pretty necklace and a fine luxury she had bought for herself.  She wondered if Murdoch and his two sons would notice it.

As she headed to the great room, she regretted that she was the only woman in the house.  Maria worked for them, but she wasn’t family.  It just was not the same.  What she wanted was someone she could talk with about the necklace and dresses.  No.  I can’t talk to the men about those kinds of things.

Lifting her head, she decided an upbeat attitude was needed.  She had dressed in her finest to display the necklace, and a gloomy face would not be suitable.  Maybe someone will notice.  She breezed into the great room, her skirt swinging, and the whisper of fabric announcing her arrival.  “Good evening,” she said brightly.

Scott, who had been sitting in a chair by the fireplace, leaped to his feet and bowed in an elaborate show of courtesy.  “Teresa, you look splendid tonight.”

Teresa played along with the exaggerated gesture and lowered in a deep curtsy.  “You are too kind, gallant sir.”  Rising, she could not stop from giggling.

“You do look stunning tonight.”  Scott’s eyes fixed on the necklace.

Delighted with his reaction, she twirled around and wished there were music playing for she would love to dance.  When she stopped spinning, she caught Scott appraising her from head to toe.  He seemed to pause at the necklace again.  He noticed!

“What’s the occasion?” Murdoch said from across the room as he left his desk.

Teresa hurried over to him and took his arm.  Standing on tiptoes, she gave him a peek on the cheek.  “A lady doesn’t need a special occasion to look nice.”

“Quite right,” Scott agreed.

Murdoch looked down at her and she realized he was staring at the necklace.  He looked pensive, almost distant.

“Do you like it?”  Her fingers touched the pendant lightly.

“Yes.  It’s very lovely, just like you, dear.”  His voice sounded softer than usual.

“Thank you.”  Teresa blushed.  He did notice!

Coming from the kitchen, Maria carried a platter of steaks to the table and nodded to Teresa that dinner was served.  As Maria left the room, she whispered, “Muy bonita.”

With a smile, Teresa clung to Murdoch’s arm, letting him escort her to the table.  She stepped gracefully and tried to move the way she imagined a proper Boston lady might.  Scott stood at the table and held her chair, pushing it in for her when she sat.

“Now where is Johnny?”  Teresa knew he had returned to the ranch this afternoon from rounding up strays on the range.  She hoped Murdoch wouldn’t be upset with his youngest son for being late for dinner.  Glancing at her guardian, Teresa realized the older man was lost in thought.  Wonder if he even knows Johnny’s not here.

She turned to Scott to ask if he knew Johnny’s whereabouts, but Scott was studying his glass of wine.  “Scott?”

“Hmm.”  The blond man blinked quickly.  “Yes, Teresa.”

“Have you seen Johnny recently?”

“Umh, he was—“

The front door swung open and a cheerful whistle accompanied the jingle of spurs.  With a grin, Johnny removed his hat and slid into his seat at the table.  “Sorry I’m late.”  His eyes shot over to Murdoch but he shrugged when his father did not respond.

“I was getting worried about you,” Teresa said.  Johnny was so much fun when he was in a good mood and he seemed to be in fine spirits now.  As long as Murdoch doesn’t get mad at him.  She looked at her guardian again, but he did not appear to be paying attention to their conversation.

“You’re looking mighty pretty.”  Johnny’s eyes moved from Teresa’s face and down her throat.  His gaze froze at the necklace.

Teresa smiled and felt warm inside.  He noticed the necklace too!   Then she watched with increasing concern as Johnny’s face changed.  The smiling, light-hearted expression turned dark and angry.  His eyes grew cold and narrowed, staring at her necklace.

She shivered, afraid of Johnny for the first time since he arrived at Lancer.  Is this the way the men who face Johnny Madrid in a gunfight feel?   Her pulse throbbed in a wild beat, and her voice trembled.  “Johnny?”

The dark-haired man slammed his fist against the table, seized his hat, and stormed out of the room.  The sound of the banging door rang in her ears.

“What… what was that all about?”  Murdoch looked around the table.

“Johnny left,” Teresa said in a flat voice.  Her hands shook and she buried them in her lap.

Murdoch pushed his plate away and rose from the table, but instead of following Johnny, he headed toward the stairs.  “Excuse me.  I’ll be in my room.  Must be more tired than I realized.”

When her guardian was gone, Teresa turned to Scott, but he looked as puzzled as she felt.  “What got into Johnny?  And why didn’t Murdoch say something to him?  What’s wrong?”


“I don’t know,” Scott said.  The change in Johnny had happened as fast as striking a match.  Scott had seen it happen before, usually in town when someone from Johnny’s past appeared.  It was a chilling experience to see his brother become hard and bitter that suddenly.

“Do you think Murdoch’s ill?  He left so quickly.”  Teresa’s hands clutched at Scott’s arm.

He smiled reassuringly at her.  “I’m sure he’s just tired like he said.”  Although, Scott had to admit to himself that he had not been paying much attention to either his father or brother.  He was distracted by a trace of a memory that was nagging at his mind, and it had something to do with Teresa’s necklace.

Scott picked up his fork.  “Why don’t we finish our dinner?  Johnny and Murdoch will come back when they’re ready.”  They ate in silence until Scott asked, “Is that a new necklace, Teresa?”

“I bought it from a tinker in town today.  It’s not new, but I like to imagine that some very special lady wore it once.”

“I’m sure you’re right.  It looks quite elegant.”  Scott cast a sideways glance at Teresa.  “Do you mind if I take a closer look at it?”

The warm smile that met his request filled Scott with admiration.  Growing up on a ranch with all its hard work and long hours had not damaged Teresa’s genuine happiness and charm.  “Did I tell you, Teresa, that you are looking exquisite tonight?”

As she held the heart-shaped pendant for him to examine, she grinned.  “I believe you did.”

Noting the details of the filigree metalwork, Scott pondered where he had seen it before.  Probably not this one, but one very much like it.  One with expensive jewels.  He tapped his finger against his lip, trying to recall which of his Boston lady friends might have owned a piece just like this.  Their faces passed through his mind and he smiled.

“You’re looking very far away, Scott.”

Blinking, he glanced at Teresa.  “Suppose so.  I was trying to remember where I’d seen that necklace before.”

“Do you really think you’ve seen it before?”  The excitement in her voice was clear.

“Probably not that particular necklace, but one very similar to it.”  His thoughts continued to wander through the array of females from his past.  No, I just can’t remember.

“I wonder what filled the middle of it once.  I don’t think it was pearls.”

In a flash, he knew.  “I think it may have been diamonds.”

“You remember.”  Teresa pushed her chair back and stood beside him.  “Tell me everything.”

He shook his head at her eagerness.  “There’s really not much to tell.”  Scott collected the memories and rose, unsure how to begin.  He strolled over to the fireplace and glanced at the large plaster “L” on the wall.

“In Boston, in my grandfather’s house, there’s a portrait over the fireplace mantle in the library.  It’s a painting of a young girl, about 16 years old, in a yellow dress.”  He paused, remembering the details.

“Your mother?”

“Yes.  She was beautiful.  Her blonde hair was curled, and she had the bluest eyes.  I used to sit and look at her picture for hours.  Grandfather would tell me stories about her.  About the mother I never knew.”

“I’m sorry, Scott.  This must be painful to think about.”

Scott touched Teresa’s hair briefly.  “No, not really.  Grandfather told me about the necklace she wore in the portrait.  It had been my grandmother’s, a family heirloom.”

“It must have been very valuable,” Teresa said breathlessly.

“The portrait showed it with brilliant jewels.  Three, I think.”  Scott stared into the fire.  “When it snowed during the winter, I would sit on the window-seat in the library and look at the icicles hanging from the roofs and trees along the street.  The sun would shine on the ice with a brilliance like diamonds, just like the jewels in my mother’s necklace.”

He had not thought about that portrait since he arrived at Lancer over a year ago.  Sometimes he felt he was losing what little he knew about his mother.  Teresa’s necklace would help him retain the memory of that portrait.  He smiled at the young woman beside him, looking so anxious.

“Do you suppose this was your mother’s?”

“I doubt it.  Grandfather gave away most of my mother’s things when I was little.  He said it pained him too much to have them around after her death.  I’m sure her necklace was one of those things he gave away.  It’s probably sitting in the jewelry box of some fat Boston matron collecting dust.”  He laughed.

“Scott!”  Teresa stamped her foot.

“Okay, maybe some lovely Boston socialite is wearing it to a debutante ball.”

“That’s better.”  Her face glowed.

Sweet, she’s so sweet, and she deserves better than a second-hand medallion with the jewels missing.  A thought struck him and he started planning how he would do something special for Teresa.  “How about the next time I go to San Francisco, I take your necklace with me.  I’ll find a jeweler and have diamonds added to the middle of the heart.  It’ll look just like the one my mother wore.”

“Oh, Scott, that would be wonderful.”

He saw the tears forming in her eyes and he reached out to give her a hug.  “But first, let’s clear away those dinner dishes.  Then, I better go find that brother of mine.”

“And I’ll see how Murdoch’s feeling.”

Scott watched her saunter over to the table and gather the plates.  She had brought back memories he had carefully tucked away for so long that he had almost lost them.  Maybe I’ll ask Grandfather to send me the portrait.


Sitting in the chair by his bedroom window, Murdoch brooded over his thoughts.  He had watched Johnny gallop away on his palomino an hour ago.  What’s gotten into him this time?  But Murdoch did not stay with that thought for long.  Teresa’s necklace.  Could it be the same necklace?   His reflections were interrupted by a soft knock on the door.

“Murdoch,” Teresa called, her voice muffled by the heavy wooden door.  “I bought you a sandwich and some coffee.”

He smiled with tenderness at his ward’s concern for him.  “Come in, Teresa.”

She opened the door, balancing a tray in one hand.  Her face appeared worried.  “Are you feeling sick?”

“No, dear.  I’m sorry I left.  It’s just…”

Teresa set the tray on Murdoch’s lap and looked down at him.  “What’s wrong?”

He reached out and squeezed her hand.  His eyes went to the necklace again, then to her face.  “You are something else, Miss Teresa O’Brien.  You grew up into a beautiful young lady while I wasn’t looking.  What happened to that scrawny young foal that was all legs and braids?”

Teresa beamed, but put her hands on her hips.  “You’re not changing the subject on me like that.  What’s wrong?”

He was so proud of her.  She had a fierce loyalty and gentleness to her.  Paul, you should be pleased.  She’s turned out better than either one of us could ever have hoped.

“Have a seat.”  He waited while Teresa settled on the edge of his bed.  The coffee smelled good and he took a sip, mulling over what he should say, whether he should say anything.  His eyes wondered back to the necklace.  Even in the dim light cast by the oil lamp, he was sure about the necklace.  This has to be the same one.

Teresa’s fingers played with the gold chain.  “It’s this.  Isn’t it?”

With a weak smile, he nodded.  “It was Catherine’s.  She had it when I met her, and she wore it on our wedding day.”  He paused and looked out the window.  “She was so delicate, like a leaf trembling on an aspen.  I brought her out here, took her away from Boston and the fancy life she’d always known.  She brought a few things along with her.  The necklace was one of them.”

Darkness crept deeper into the corners of the room, and Teresa rose, turning up the wick in the lamp to chase the shadows back.  Without making a sound, she returned to the edge of the bed.

“Catherine loved it here.  She adored the green hills and wanted to raise a family.”  His voice broke.  “When she died, there was so little left of her.  Scott was in Boston with Harlan and I was here alone.  Sometimes I would hold her necklace and think about how she loved the spring with all the new growth, the buds on the trees.”

“I’m sorry, Murdoch.  Do you think this was her necklace?”

“I don’t know.”  Murdoch puzzled over the thought.  “Where did you find it?”

“I bought it in Morro Coyo today from a traveling tinker.  But if it was Catherine’s, how did he get it?”

Murdoch sighed and set the tray on the floor.  He walked over to the bedside table and lifted the photographs of his two wives.  Each of them was beautiful to him in different ways.

“Teresa, when I married Maria, I didn’t have much.  Any money I made from the ranch went to pay bills and buy supplies or livestock.  Maria…  Maria was full of life and deserved nice things.”  He thought about his second wife’s smoldering beauty and spark of energy.

He chuckled.  “She had a temper.  Johnny inherited her temper.”

“And maybe some of yours too,” Teresa said lightly.

“Now, Teresa.”  Murdoch raised an eyebrow at the young woman.  Seeing her in the warm lamplight, she looked so mature.

“When Maria saw the necklace, she fell in love with it.  I gave it to her.  Don’t know if I should have, but she looked beautiful wearing it.”  In his mind, he pictured Maria adorned with the necklace, her raven hair falling over the curve of her dark shoulders.


He put the photographs back on the table and cupped Teresa’s chin in his hand.  “When Maria left with Johnny, she took the necklace too.  I hadn’t thought about it in years, until I saw it tonight.”  He turned away and retrieved the cup of coffee.

“If it hurts you to see it, I won’t wear it.”

“Nonsense.  You look lovely with it.  I want you to wear it.  That necklace has always been worn by the beautiful women in my life, and I want you to continue that tradition.”

“Thank you.”  Teresa slipped off the bed and edged toward the door.

“Come over by the lamp,” Murdoch said, suddenly curious about something that seemed to be missing from his memories of the pendant.  As Teresa moved closer to the light, he realized what it was.  “The gems are gone from this.”  He looked at Teresa, but she shrugged.

“That’s the way it was in the tinker’s box.  Do you remember what kind of gems were in the center?”

Murdoch frowned.  His memories were fading with time.  “I’m not sure.  It was a long time ago.  Maybe emeralds.  When I think of Catherine and Maria, I recall green.  Maybe I’m just thinking of the green of spring and life that was so much a part of them.”

Nodding, Teresa fingered the heart medallion and turned to leave.  “Why don’t you eat your sandwich, Murdoch?”

“Teresa, I’d like to take you to Sacramento when the branding is done.  We’ll find a jewelry shop and have some emeralds or whatever you want added to the necklace.”

“I’d like that.”  Her voice sounded strained, as if she was fighting back tears.

When the door closed behind her, Murdoch returned to the two photographs.  She’s as sweet as cream on peaches.  You’d both like her.  She’s the daughter we never had.


Slowly, Johnny led Barranca to the barn.  He had walked the last mile back from another one of his wild rides to chase away the demons of his past.  Telling himself he was walking to cool off the palomino, he knew it was really to kill the last of his anger.  But it was not working yet.

Inside the barn, he struck a match and lit a lantern, before lifting the saddle from the palomino’s back.  “How about a good brushing, compadre?”

The horse ambled into its stall and dropped its muzzle into the water bucket.  “Easy there, Barranca.  Not too much at one time.”  Johnny removed the bucket and picked up the grooming tools.  “I’d be mighty sorry if you got sick over some old necklace.”

He began brushing, and with each stroke, he tried to settle the emotions that kept rising to ensnare him.  The rhythm of the movement intensified and the golden coat flinched under the brush.  “Guess I ain’t fit to be around tonight.”

Johnny spun around at the creak of the barn door opening, his hand smoothly pulling his pistol from its holster.  At the smell of lilacs and the swish of fabric, he slid his gun back into the gun belt and returned to brushing Barranca.  “Mighty late to be up, Teresa.”

“I was waiting for you.”  Her voice vibrated with emotion.

He sensed it and knew what it was instantly.  Fear.  She’s afraid of me.  Johnny hung his head.  The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Teresa.  It’s that damn necklace!

“Johnny,” Teresa started tentatively, “are you upset with me?”

“No.”  He bent and lifted the palomino’s leg, using a hoof pick on the accumulated mud.  How could he tell her it was the onslaught of memories the necklace triggered that made him burn with regret, anger and misery?  He heard the rustle of Teresa’s dress as she moved through the straw.

“Then what is it that made you ride out tonight?  You’ve been gone all day and must be hungry.  You left without dinner.”

His stomach was rumbling and he felt the emptiness, but not as bad as he had known many times in the past.  Brushing the dirt from his hands, he left Barranca’s stall.  “You reckon there’s anything left?”

Teresa nodded and looked at him with a wide-eyed expression, like a doe startled in the woods.

“I’m sorry.”  Johnny kicked at the straw and reluctantly glanced at the heart-shaped pendant again.  “You look too pretty to be in a barn.  You’ll get your dress dirty.”

“It’s the necklace.  Isn’t it?”

Johnny’s head shot up.  How could she know?  He grabbed the lantern, blowing the flame out.

“Your mother wore this necklace.”  Teresa’s voice was strangely confident in the darkness of the barn.

With a sigh, Johnny moved to Teresa’s arm and guided her to the door.  “She loved that necklace,” he said softly.  “Wore it all the time.”  He remembered his mamá dancing for the men in the cantina, the sparkles of the necklace glistening against her heaving chest.  He recalled her in the dimness of whatever hovel they were living in, stroking the chain tenderly.

Outside the barn in the moonlight, Johnny could almost imagine the glitter of those sparkles around Teresa’s neck.  He reached for the pendant and touched the empty prongs.  The pain of memories swirled through his mind.  “It had the prettiest sparkles—my mamá always called them her sparkles—here in the middle.”

“What happened to them, Johnny?”

He turned away, but Teresa stepped around to face him.  He wrapped his arms across his chest and lowered his head.  “When the times were roughest, when there was no food and our clothes were tattered beyond patching, she would tell me to…”

“What?  What did she tell you?”

“She had me pry one of the sparkles out and sell it.  My fingers were small, but strong.  I would pull until my fingers were bleeding…  My mamá, she would cry the whole time.  She loved that necklace.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny.”

“You see that bottom piece?  That was the first one.  After I couldn’t get it out with my fingers, I had to use a knife.  See how it’s bent?  The knife slipped and cut my finger.  There was blood all over, but that sparkle came out.”  He sighed.  “We had food and clothes and a roof over our heads for months."

In the moonlight, Johnny saw the tears trickling down Teresa’s cheeks.  He reached out and wiped them away.  “Don’t cry, Teresa.  That necklace kept us alive.  When the sparkles were all gone, she still loved it and would never let me sell it.  Even though, I begged her.

“I wish you could have seen her.  My mamá had a fire.  She could light up a room.”  He smiled at the pleasant memories, and then he recalled the final time he had seen the necklace.  “She was wearing it when she died.  I had to run, so I didn’t see her buried.  Always thought she would be buried with this necklace.”

“I bought it from a traveling tinker,” Teresa said.  “I wonder how he got it?”

“Someone must have stolen it from my mamá’s dead body.”  The anger swelled in him again, and his jaw tightened.

Teresa reached behind her head and unfastened the gold chain.  She held the necklace toward him.  “Here, Johnny.  Please take it.”

His eyes searched her face, lost in the innocence and generosity that stared back at him in the pale moonlight.  His tension eased and he gave her a half-smile.  “No.  It belongs to you now.  Put it back on.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded and watched Teresa return the necklace to its place around her neck.  “Looks real pretty on you.”  His voice threatened to fail him.

“Thank you, Johnny.  It means a lot that you want me to have your mother’s necklace.”

“Hope you like it as much as she did.”  He took another look at the pendant on Teresa’s neck and gingerly touched it.  “Reckon there’s any way to add more sparkles to this?”

Her eyes bore into him, and he frowned.  Then, she hugged him harder than she had ever done before.

“Oh, Johnny.”  Her voice sounded choked.  “I’m sure we can make it just like it was when your mother had it.  Do you remember what color the sparkles were?”

Johnny tried to recollect.  He had held the medallion each time he removed one of the sparkles.  What color were they?  Frustrated, he lowered his head again.  “I’m sorry, Teresa.  Sometimes when I remember things from the past—the unpleasant things—they are just black and white, like there wasn’t anything colorful there.  I only remember my blood all over those sparkles, but they were sure pretty when my mamá wore them.”

“I’m sure they were.”  Teresa took his arm and pulled him toward the house.  “You must be hungry.  Let’s get you something to eat.”

Mamá sure was pretty with her sparkles.  Just like you, mi hermosa bonita.  Johnny let Teresa lead him inside and his anger disappeared, replaced with a warm, overpowering emotion he did not know how to name, but it felt good.


Teresa walked into the great room, holding onto Johnny’s arm.  Murdoch and Scott were sitting by the fireplace, and they rose to greet her and Johnny.

“I tried to find you, Little Brother,” Scott said.

“Just needed to work a few things out,” Johnny replied.

“Everything okay, Son?”

“Yes.”  With a grin, Johnny snaked his arm around Teresa’s shoulder.  “Well, it is if you left me some dinner.”

Teresa glanced from one man to the next.  Each one was smiling and it filled her with relief.  “Anybody else want something to eat?”  She laughed when they all nodded.  “Then have a seat, and I’ll be back in a few minutes with a late night snack.”

She headed toward the kitchen, but stopped to gaze at the three Lancer men.  How could I have been so silly to complain about being surrounded by men?   She loved them all and thought about how love bound them together.

Fingering the pendant, she pondered how Catherine had brought the necklace west because of her love for Murdoch.  He had shared his love and the necklace with his second wife.  Maria had loved it so much, but she sacrificed its precious stones so Johnny could survive.  Now, she wore the necklace, secure in the love she felt from the three men in her life.

And I was afraid they wouldn’t notice.  As she continued to the kitchen, Teresa knew what she wanted to do with the necklace.  On the next trip to San Francisco or Sacramento, we’ll have a jeweler add a jewel for Scott, a gem for Murdoch, and a sparkle for Johnny—a brilliant diamond, a vibrant emerald, and a fiery ruby.  She would treasure the heart forever.


February 2003


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