Word count 21,650
Rated NC -17 for adult content
He’d looked forward to today, had longed for the solitude it promised. This last month or so he’d not known what it was to be alone, well not totally alone; there was always someone near by, always someone in fairly close proximity.
At first they’d hovered around him constantly, their concern at times threatening to suffocate him. He’d tried valiantly to hold his tongue but he’d not always succeeded, and had on numerous occasions snapped irritably at them. They had tried to hide their dismay and their hurt feelings but Johnny had seen it in their eyes and had regretted his words instantly. This family thing was all so new to him, all so strange. He wasn’t used to having people fuss over him, he certainly wasn’t used to having anyone care for him, and he sure as hell wasn’t used to having what seemed to be a genuinely ‘concerned for his welfare’ father and brother in his life. It was going to take a lot of getting used to!
For so long there had been no one, and he’d told himself he liked it that way, that he didn’t need anyone, that he was better off without ties and responsibilities, and that true freedom meant being answerable only to himself.
As he’d recovered from Pardee’s bullet, they’d fussed less and hesitantly withdrew their ministration allowing him to regain his independence, albeit at what Johnny had believed an annoyingly slow pace. Still, he was now well on the way to being fully recovered, enough so apparently for the Old Man to decide he could now be left alone for the entire day! He’d had to bite his tongue to stop himself reacting to that observation. The older man had a knack of treating him like a child and it riled Johnny to distraction.
Scott had traveled to Stockton the previous day, obviously delighted to be leaving on his first official business trip for Lancer. Johnny had been more than a little envious, not about the business part, that didn’t really appeal to him, although he knew his father intended grooming him for such things. As he watched his newly discovered brother ride away he’d wanted to be riding alongside, tasting the sweet summer air and sleeping under a blanket of silver stars.
Earlier, right after breakfast, Murdoch had driven an excited Teresa over to visit a friend and her new baby. The Jorgen homestead was a few hours drive away and the patriarch had decided to make a day of it; not planning to return until supper time. Fate was certainly on Johnny’s side today because Maria just happened to have a much needed day off, which left the hacienda empty and quiet, sweet music to Johnny’s ears. He liked his own company; it gave him time to think and the longer he was at Lancer the more he had to think about.
He’d watched the buggy until it disappeared wanting, he supposed, the reassurance that they had truly gone. Satisfied they had no intention of turning back he’d ambled over to the corral to check on the stallion he was still not allowed to ride. Barranca had nickered a welcome and Johnny’s heart had swelled with pride, he’d never owned such a fine specimen of horseflesh before and he couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle. He’d been sorely tempted to disobey Dr Jenkins’ orders there and then, but had grudgingly thought better of it; the crotchety old saw bones was one man Johnny didn’t want to cross! He’d already had a couple of run – ins with the older man over his recovery and had somehow come off worst each time. There may not have been any family members around right now but Johnny knew his father had plenty of spies in his employ, even if they were thinly disguised as vaqueros. He certainly wasn’t willing to take the chance of either his father, or the doctor, finding out he’d betrayed their trust.
Having passed a quiet half hour with his four legged compadre Johnny returned to the house helping himself to coffee and a slice of cake. The cake was good, so good he cut a second slice telling himself as he sat in the unusually empty kitchen it would help tide him over until lunch time, which was still a good few lonely hours away!
A little later as he strolled almost dejectedly into the great room Johnny realized he didn’t have a clue what to do with himself; the solitude he’d so craved was already turning in on itself. Now he had nothing to distract him from the restlessness that had silently encroached upon him these last weeks. The recent enforced confinement was slowly and surely driving him mad with boredom. He sighed in frustration; fighting once more the temptation to leap up on Barranca’s back and find out just what the rest of the world was up to.
Blue eyes searched the room and reluctantly settled on the shelves heaving with a multitude of books, he’d never seen so many books in one place before. His brother and father spent many hours each night engrossed in a book. Johnny shrugged, sadly they held little of the same appeal for him, no, that wasn’t quite true. They did intrigue him; he just wasn’t sure his limited educational skills were enough to get him beyond the first line. Tentatively he reached out and ran his finger up and down the spines of several volumes, finally selecting one and letting it fall open in his hands, totally unprepared for what he found there.
On the inside cover he discovered an inscription, the elaborate scrawl instantly recognizable as his mothers. The words took him by surprise, the sentiment expressed there stunning him.
//She had loved his father! Seemingly she had actually been in love with him once!// that was not how she had portrayed their relationship to their son.
Johnny snapped the book shut, angry, hurt and not wanting to face up to further proof of her lies. With trembling hands he replaced the book and stormed upstairs to his room, slamming the door behind him.
He walked his rage out, pacing back and forth until finally he flopped down onto his bed, the anger spent but not the confusion. Closing his eyes he allowed himself to drift off and escape into the realms of sleep.
Several hours passed and the sun spilled in through the open window, its warmth gently teasing and caressing his face. Blue eyes flickered open and Johnny’s mind returned instantly to the dedication he’d found in the book. He lay still, looking up at the ceiling, trying desperately to push those words and the feelings they evoked aside, but his mind refused to wander very far from the matter, and settled on his father.
Murdoch was a hard man to figure, their relationship was still strained to say the least but Johnny recognized that there was something growing between them and he truly wanted that. The big man had for a long time been simply a focus of hate, now he had found a place in Johnny’s heart and Johnny was having trouble understanding how easily things had changed. There was so much about his father he didn’t know, so many things he wanted to ask but didn’t have the nerve. He was, he knew, simply too scared of the answers he’d be given.
Sighing deeply Johnny realized he needed to do something, something that would occupy his thoughts, something that would stop them from straying into unknown, and most likely, very treacherous territory. Johnny smiled bitterly at that thought. Truth was, his father and mother’s time together was exactly that, at least it was as far as he was concerned. He knew nothing about their relationship and maybe he had no right knowing. What went on between a woman and a man was no one’s business but their own, except…except maybe he, as their son, did hold some sort of claim?
The idea came from out of nowhere and at first Johnny had rejected it completely, but once born it wasn’t about to shrivel up and die. It nagged incessantly at the back of his mind until finally he was on his feet and heading out through the door. He stopped abruptly on reaching his father’s room, his nerve suddenly deserting him. An internal argument began and raged briefly, but Johnny soon found his hand reaching out for the door knob, turning it determinedly and stepping inside a room he’d never once set foot in, well not that he could remember doing so anyway.
Guilt washed over him, he was trespassing, wasn’t he? Invading his father’s personal and very private space? Still, he was here now and he hoped to find something, anything that might give a clue as to how his parents had really felt about each other. Suddenly it mattered to him, it mattered very much.
Troubled eyes searched the room before quickly settling on the bed. According to Maria he’d been born in that bed; he stared intently at the huge, yet finely carved wooden bedstead, wondering unabashed if he’d been conceived there too, or if like he suspected, he’d been the result of a premarital affair or perhaps even a meaningless fling. The latter left an unpleasant taste in his mouth but was, he decided, highly unlikely or so he hoped! The Old Man seemed so straight laced; he did everything by the book. Sweet talking a woman into bed was something he just couldn’t see his father doing, but he could see him marrying a woman who was carrying his child! Murdoch would do the right thing by her whether he wanted to or not. Had that been the way it was? How Johnny wanted an answer to that question.
Sadly Johnny saw his mother in a less favorable light, she’d been free with her affections, too free, and men were drawn to her like moths to a flame. Murdoch had undoubtedly been one of many men burned. A wry smile crept across the handsome face as he realized it was probably his father who had been the one seduced. From what he’d so far learned about Murdoch, and knew of his mother, they seemed an odd couple…the wild and the staid! It must have been one hell of a ride though! Both had tempers, both liked their own way…maybe that was what had forced them apart. Another mournful sigh escaped Johnny’s lips, whatever had been between them was a deepening mystery to their son, and he suddenly felt bereft.
Forcing his attention away from a relationship that more and more intrigued him, he walked over to the dresser. Inquisitive blue eyes fell upon a small box; it looked starkly out of place in what was basically now a very masculine room. Knowing instinctively that it had belonged to his mother Johnny picked it up, tentatively lifting the plush velvet covered lid. A small fortune in gold and precious stones nestled inside along with a dozen or so ribbon tied letters, all addressed to Maria. Setting the box down on the bed he sat beside it turning the letters over and over in his hands. It took a while to make a decision but finally he replaced the letters back in the box and closed the lid. The secrets it contained were not his; no matter how much he wanted, and needed to read the words, he couldn’t, wouldn’t betray the man who had written them.
Standing he solemnly replaced the box, only then catching sight of the figure watching him silently from the open door.
“Murdoch?” Johnny’s blood ran cold “I wasn’t expecting you back yet!”
“So I see.”
Johnny was surprised by his father’s calm air; he expected anger, even rage.
“I was just…just…looking!” Johnny didn’t know where or how to start explaining and he hung his head in shame, feeling all the world like a child who’d been caught stealing.
“Just looking? For what John? What were you looking for?”
Anger inexplicably replaced shame and Johnny’s head snapped up “I was looking for some answers, answers I ain’t ever likely to get from you, Old Man!” Johnny stomped toward the door, pushing past his father, desperate to avoid what he knew could only end in an ugly confrontation. Murdoch’s hand snaked out capturing his arm in a gentle but firm grip, bringing him abruptly to a halt. “Tell me what you want to know?”
The quiet plea stunned Johnny and he turned, looking up at his father; finding no anger in the older man’s eyes only sadness and pain.
“I want to know about you and my mother! I…I don’t think that’s too much to ask?” His voice trembled but he didn’t care, he didn’t give a damn what his father thought of him right now. He needed answers and he knew he’d never get this close to them ever again.
“No, it’s not! I…well I’ve been hoping you would.” Murdoch stated awkwardly.
The comment enraged Johnny, he’d believed the topic a taboo, a belief his father had nurtured with his comments and actions. “You made it clear it was something you didn’t want to discuss!” Johnny snarled, angrily shrugging off his father’s hand.
“True! I didn’t, not until you were ready to listen to my side of things. Your mother had obviously filled your head with…” Murdoch paused briefly before continuing hesitantly “she’d filled your head with lies about me!”
Johnny glared at his father emotions raging inside, his mother had lied about his father. On coming to Lancer he’d soon realized that, but still it hurt to have that painful truth put into words.
“He hates us, Juanito. He threw us out. He did not want a Mexican or her half-breed son. Forget about him. I alone love you.” The bitter, hate-filled words once more echoed unbidden in Johnny’s head, and he stared at his father, confusion and doubt warring with the need to accept the father’s love he could see even now shining in that father’s face. Awed, he stood still, unable to do more than stare at the man now towering calmly over him.
When his comment failed to get the angry outburst he’d expected, Murdoch continued more than a little warily. He’d been anxiously waiting for an opportunity to talk to his son on this very matter but was terrified of saying the wrong thing. It was so important Johnny know the truth. He hoped, believed, it would bring them closer, yet knew it could also turn the boy against him if he didn’t tread carefully around what was such a sensitive issue between them.
“You had no reason to doubt her, I know and…well, I suppose I hoped that given a little time you’d come to realize I wasn’t the ogre she’d painted. I thought you’d be more prepared to listen to me when you got to know me a little better.”
Grudgingly Johnny had to admit his father was right. If Murdoch had openly accused his mother of lying that first day he’d have happily, and unreservedly, punched him in the mouth…he still wasn’t sure he could quell that urge now.
Brushing past his father Johnny walked back into the older man’s room and sat down on the bed, eyes fixed on his father, “I’m listening.”
Murdoch held his son’s cold stare, the blue eyes bored into his giving him very mixed messages; still he couldn’t let that stop him. Sitting down beside his son he pondered over where best to start…at the beginning he supposed.
“I hadn’t planned on marrying again when Catherine died and Scott…well I kept myself busy with the ranch, my every waking hour was spent building this place up. Business trips were simply a means to an end and I’d gone to Matamoras on business, intent on staying only a few days…those few days turned into two weeks! There was a small general store tucked away at the end of the street, but it wasn’t the array of goods that drew me back there day after day, it was your mother.” Murdoch paused nervously; he’d never been very good with words, he was hopelessly inept when it came to expressing himself. Maria was still a very painful memory and suddenly he was no longer so sure he was ready to discuss their relationship, not even with their son.
The blue eyes now searched his expectantly and the older man forced himself to continue.
“The owner of the store was of quite considerable age, and left the running of the store to his orphaned niece, Maria Mendez!
Maria was like a breath of fresh air, blowing away all the lingering sorrow. I’d grieved for Catherine but I’d never completely let her or that grief go. Maria, she chased away those dark oppressive clouds and brought sunshine into my life again.” Shifting uncomfortably Murdoch paused again, embarrassed by his uncharacteristic openness. Reaching into his pocket to retrieve his handkerchief he dabbed away the beads of sweat collecting on his forehead and stole a glance at his younger son. Instead of an unreadable countenance he saw a face alight with interest, Johnny was hanging on his every word.
“She was in the general store the first time I saw her. Slender, beautiful, she had ribbon tied around her ebony hair, but little tendrils were dangling in her face. She was so breathtaking; I wanted to touch her hair, to be close enough to smell her perfume. I couldn’t believe how she was affecting me. I had never thought I could feel that way again. But she stood there and let me take her in. I couldn’t keep my eyes off those big green eyes, or resist watching the way her bosom rose and fell with each breath. I couldn’t, I….”
Clearing his throat Murdoch pushed on riding on an unexpected wave of courage “Your mother was beautiful, disarmingly so, you know… that…that rare beauty that can actually take your breath away. At first I told myself not to be so foolish; what could she possible see in me? But my attempt at indifference didn’t put her off. In fact, it seemed to make her more determined. She would flirt shamelessly, yet there was an innocence about it. It was as if she’d made her mind up about me, that I was the one she wanted and that all she had to do was make me see it her way.
I suppose my main reservation was her age, she was so much younger than me. To some I was little more than a cradle snatcher but it didn’t matter to her and that was the only thing that did matter. She saw through me, she knew how I burned when I saw her. Young and innocent as she was, she was all woman, and I knew she knew what to do with her assets. Here was a woman who could love a man. But I had to get back to the ranch, there was no Paul then. Maria begged me to stay one more day; there was to be a dance and she wanted so much to go, and she wanted me to be the one to take her. I didn’t take much persuading, she could twist me around her little finger even then.
We spent that night together…” Murdoch whispered almost reverently, the memory too vivid to suppress luring him back in time to relive every sensual detail…
The moon hung heavy in the velvet sky, its weight much like that of an unborn child in its mother’s womb, loving and welcome. Stars splattered the midnight darkness with a fiery glow, paying homage to a majestic silver orb. The gentle embrace of the night breeze stroked the man’s fiery cheek, its touch light and feathery, and full of a lover’s promise. Murdoch straightened his bowtie and turned to offer a hand to the woman who waited to exit the carriage. Emerald eyes sparkled with the same promise of the breeze; crimson lips parted slightly revealing even white teeth. Her cheeks were flushed red to match her full, lacy gown, the neckline of which plunged low revealing a full, dusky bosom. Yet the woman wearing the gown was not timid, and she smiled as the man stared unashamedly at breasts that struggled to break free of the bonds of the lacy material. She was aware of the effect she was having on the man before her and offered a knowing smile in return. With regal bearing she accepted his hand, and stepped lightly from the carriage. Murdoch Lancer turned to enter Don Francisco’s hacienda, his pride in the woman on his arm radiating a single message to all who looked on her; she was his.
The mariachis played a lilting melody, the chords haunting and irresistible. He pulled her into his arms, and entered the moving mass on the dance floor, his arm circling her slender waist and drawing her nearer still. As one they moved, she flowed effortlessly with him, her eyes seeking his and granting him the promise of passion yet to come. The flame ignited in his loins and he fought to resist the urge to pull her even closer. So passed the night, magically, enchanted. At long last they bid farewell to their host, and returned to the carriage. As they sat side by side the fire between them leaped and engulfed them; no longer able to control his desire he brought the carriage to a halt, and drew her near. She came to him willingly, eagerly and as his hands found her breasts she expressed her own passion, urging him onward. His mouth had sought hers, his tongue invading her mouth, demanding and pleading for surrender, then trailing kisses down her throat to her voluptuous bosom.
Their lovemaking had been heated, urgent, as the repressed hunger of the experienced was first sated and then surpassed, as he’d found himself answering the burning desires of the uninitiated, voraciously soothing the aching and undeniable need of the chaste.
Their passion had at some point spilled out from the restrictions of the carriage and into the open expanse of the empty night, wanting only mother earth for their bed. Maria’s soft, ample curves had cradled and cushioned her lover against the cold harsh blanket, yet she’d felt no discomfort as she willingly answered his body’s almost violent demands for surrender. Finally, and exquisitely painfully, her body had yielded beneath him. He didn’t spare her anything then either, plunging deeper and deeper into her treasures, the satin depths milking him through ecstasy to completion, and as his seed spilled into her, his savage unrelenting thrusts drove her wildly over the edge until her own senses exploded. Still, it wasn’t over as his hungry mouth again conquered hers, quieting her, stifling her moans, his dominance serving only to stir her passions again…but this time there was no urgency only the endless night to explore and please each other.
Later as she’d lain asleep in his arms he’d realized he’d done her a terrible injustice. He’d believed her wise to the needs of men, that his possession when it finally came would not be the first. Her flashing eyes and barely concealed body had teased and tortured him mercilessly for days, openly taunting him with the promise only a woman could give. But as he’d taken her he’d been met with the tell tale resistance, heightening his pleasure and need still further…their first night together was one he would never forget…
Jolted back to the present Murdoch found he couldn’t meet his son’s eyes.
“I left the next morning, promising to return a few weeks later. I intended to continue the…the courtship.” Breaking off Murdoch finally looked at his son “I wanted to do things properly.”
It was almost two months before I could return, much longer than I’d promised her but there had been problems here while I’d been away, resulting in time consuming, and essential, work that I had no option but to concentrate on. Once back in Matamoras I headed straight to the store, but there was no welcome waiting for me. My apologies and excuses fell on deaf ears. Maria was so cold towards me, she told me to leave, that she no longer had any feelings for me. Pride had me walk straight out the door. I went over to the saloon and sat in a corner with the intention of drowning all thoughts of your mother in a bottle. Instead I sat looking into an empty glass and realized she was keeping something from me, that she had her pride too and she didn’t want to chance rejection.
Foolish I know, naive at best; but it had never once occurred to me that when I left Matamoras all those weeks before I’d left her pregnant! I kept seeing her face in the glass; she had that distinctive glow Catherine had had when she was carrying Scott. There was no doubt in my mind and I knew what I had to do!”
“What you had to do?” Johnny interrupted, the spell, for him at least, had been broken; he stood and glared down at his father “What you HAD to do?”
“John?” Murdoch stared back unsure of what he’d said wrong.
“You’d got her pregnant and so you HAD to marry her, but you didn’t want to, you didn’t love her and you sure as hell didn’t want the unexpected result of one night spent in her bed!” Johnny yelled as all his fears were realized.
Murdoch was on his feet instantly, horrified that he’d given his son the wrong impression “No! No, it wasn’t like that at all! I meant I knew I had to find her! Tell her I loved her and how much I wanted our child…I didn’t HAVE to Johnny, I could have walked away….don’t you see? She’d made it easy for me!”
Johnny shrugged. Why was it so easy to believe the worst of his father? Why did he want to? All he knew right now was he wasn’t ready yet to give up his anger. “She didn’t think you’d want her, why? Because of me? Because your half-breed bastard was growin inside her! Bedding a Mex was one thing but her having your kid was…”
The blow resounded sickeningly around the room, silencing Johnny as intended, but when it registered with Murdoch what he’d actually done he recoiled in horror and disgust, unable to believe he’d actually struck his son!
“Guess I asked for that!” Johnny stated matter-of-factly, all the time fighting to control the resulting shockwave of emotions.
“No Johnny! I’m sorry, son…but you made it sound so cheap so very dirty…it wasn’t like that, I swear.” Murdoch tentatively grasped his son’s shoulders, pulling him closer to him as anxious eyes carefully examined the angry bruise developing on his face “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Johnny whispered truthfully, the slap had been worthy proof of his father’s need to defend what had been between him and his mother. It was oddly comforting and he wished he knew how to explain that to his father.
Self loathing gripped Murdoch but he knew he had to ignore it now and push on.
“When I didn’t return as planned, she believed I’d run out on her, and convinced herself she didn’t want or need me, and she didn’t, at least not until she saw me again. Only then she was too scared to admit it to me or to herself, I was going to have to persuade her otherwise…
Where the Heart Leads Part 2
They were both very aware of the need to calm down, to settle their emotions before continuing on with what was turning out to be quite a provocative trip into the past. Murdoch had been as open and as honest as he could be, hurting his son emotionally had been his greatest fear. Yet, during a heated exchange he’d actually stooped so low as to hurt him physically, lashing out to silence the boy’s caustic tongue; it was something he would never forgive himself for. Still, Johnny acted like it was nothing, ignoring the discolored swelling that marred his handsome features as if it didn’t matter, as if it wasn’t there.
The older man had suggested continuing the discussion downstairs, away from the room that held both good and bad memories, but Johnny had declined preferring it seemed, to maintain the connection to a past that was slowly being exposed.
They’d sat back down on the bed, the silence welcome between them as neither man felt ready to speak. Finally, Johnny took up where his father had left off. “So you went back to the store?”
Murdoch surprised Johnny with a hearty guffaw “I did indeed! I stomped all the way there. I was angry she’d doubted me, angry she’d tried to fob me off, angrier still that I’d almost fallen for it. By the time I walked in through the door I was ready for a fight, ready to fight for what was mine.
She’d been crying I could tell and I was to blame for those tears. She stood there hands on hips glaring at me, daring me to say the wrong thing and I did of course!
I love you. That… “Murdoch’s voice rose in mock consternation “…was all I said! I thought she’d see the truth in those words but the next thing I knew a poker was flying in my direction! It missed me by inches! I edged closer and she picked up a coffee pot holding it up in the air, a warning for me to keep away.
“I want to marry you, I insisted. Well…” Murdoch chuckled “That damn coffee pot was soon whistling past my ear. Obviously, I wasn’t saying what she really wanted to hear. I stood my ground watching as she looked around, seemingly seeking out something more lethal to throw at me!”
Johnny smiled at the warmth so evident in his father’s voice; his old man was really enjoying reliving this particular memory. He was too, and he waited impatiently as the older man cleared his throat before continuing
“I glanced down at her tiny waist trying to imagine her swollen with our child, then I met her eyes. There was fear there now; she knew I knew her secret. Tears filled those big green eyes and she looked down at the floor, trying to hide them from me. I wanted to pull her into my arms but decided she wasn’t quite ready for that, instead I simply repeated what I’d just said adding something Maria did want to hear…I want both you and the child you’re carrying.
“She was in my arms in an instant. All thoughts of doing me bodily harm seemed to have vanished. I was so relieved; all I could do was hold her close, breathe in the smell of her. She melted into my arms; I could feel her heart pounding against my chest…” There were some thoughts Murdoch just couldn’t share with his son and silently he voiced his next thought //It was one of the most erotic moments of my life, up to that point//
“After a few minutes she backed away from me. She looked so scared, so young. I was struck again by her youth and her passion. Those green eyes were so big, I felt like I was drowning in them.” Murdoch paused, looked at his son. The intensity in the sapphire eyes was so like the intensity he had seen in the eyes of the boy’s mother. Clear and bright, with an enthusiasm that was so infectious.
The next moments had been tense, unpleasant and Murdoch wasn’t happy sharing them with his son, but it seemed Johnny wanted the truth, warts and all, yet how was he to put what was so distasteful even to him now into words…
Maria had paced the floor, agitation clear in her every step. Hands on hips, she rounded on the big man, who could sense the oncoming explosion. “Our child will be a half breed. He will be hated, laughed at. You will hate me for bringing him into your world. I would rather…rather…do something else.” She staggered to a stop, the thought she had expressed as revolting now as it had been brilliant when spoken. The horror of the suggestion shown through her tears as she realized how desperate she had become.
Murdoch closed the distance between them in three giant strides. Grabbing her none too gently, he forced her face up until their eyes met.
“No, don’t you ever say that. Don’t you ever think that way again. That is not an option. This is my child too!” He thundered, then softly, gently, “He will not be Mexican nor white, only the best of both.”
With a sob, Maria was in his arms once more, her tears, now a blend of relief and joy, soaking his shirt. At long last she was calm, her fears evaporating as surely as the tears. She raised her eyes to his, making no effort to conceal the invitation as she brazenly suggested he follow her to her room. Her mouth sought his, her tongue invading his mouth. With a hunger he had never known he swept her into his arms and carried her to the room at the back of the store…
Murdoch had held Johnny’s gaze as he’d picked his way carefully through that emotionally wrought exchange. There had been only a brief flicker of reaction in the vivid blue eyes, enough to let him know that Johnny had understood and accepted why his mother had said what she did.
Relieved the two of them had come through a difficult moment relatively unscathed; Murdoch took a deep breath and plunged ahead
“I didn’t like the fact we weren’t married, especially with you on the way. Despite how it may seem to you, Johnny, I did respect your mother. I wanted to make her my wife, give her my name, give you my name.”
Johnny nodded his understanding and looked down at the floor; it seemed to his father then that the boy was now trying to hide some emotion, so he reached out and squeezed Johnny’s arm reassuringly, realizing sadly just how very vulnerable the young man was.
“I approached her uncle; it was a very unpleasant experience. Unfortunately, he was vehemently against her marrying a ‘gringo’. He said he’d never give his blessing and that if she married me he would disown her. Maria was distraught; he’d been very good to her over the years. She loved him like a father, still, she chose me, turning her back on all she’d ever known, just to be with me. Murdoch searched his son’s face, his countenance again giving away just how openly receptive he was to his father’s words.
So far he’d been able to share things that could only help heal the boy’s emotional wounds. It was something he so wanted to be able to do; he loved his son so much, wanted desperately for the boy to love him no matter how selfish that seemed because Johnny had loved him once, and being starved of that love had been, and still was, an excruciating pain to bear.
They still had such a long way to go, he had so much to tell his son but it wasn’t all happy, far from it in fact, not that that would be of any surprise to his son. His marriage had been filled with so many exhilarating highs and paralyzing lows, he’d known the usual tiffs, spats and off days that all loving couples experienced in the early days but later he’d been faced with deceit, betrayal and adultery. Could he share the depths of his anger, shame and hatred with his son? Could he share his pain? Could his son accept certain truths? At the end of the day would he have gained some headway with the relationship he wanted with his son, or would he have driven the boy further away, maybe even away from Lancer.
“Murdoch?” Johnny called his father’s name softly, disturbed by the sudden anguish in the pale blue eyes.
“What? Where was I? Murdoch pushed the negative thoughts to the back of his mind and returned to happier times.
“The Padre agreed to marry us; it was a quiet, simple affair. Just the two…” Murdoch looked meaningfully at his son, “three of us. We left Matamoras straight after. There was nothing to keep us there any longer and Maria couldn’t wait to set eyes on her new home.
I’d told her so much about it; I think she thought I’d exaggerated its beauty a little. I had enthused about Lancer, I know, but she wasn’t disappointed when she looked down upon it from the vantage point up on the knoll. She fell in love with it instantly and I truly believed at that point that we would happily live the rest of our lives here together, raising you, Scott and the other children I wanted with Maria.”
”Scott? She knew about Scott?” Johnny asked. If his mother had known about Scott why had she never once mentioned him?
“Yes, I’d told her everything. That I’d been married, that Catherine had died in childbirth, that her father had literally stolen Scott from me. She knew I was working on bringing him home, she knew how much my son meant to me.”
“She never told me about Scott,” Johnny stated quietly, avoiding his father’s eyes. “Why would she keep it from me?”
Murdoch wished he knew the answer, maybe if she had Johnny would have sought him out. Maybe then the boy’s life wouldn’t have been so heartbreakingly lonely and cruel. “I don’t know son, and unfortunately, that won’t be the only question I won’t be able to answer for you.”
Johnny silently cursed his mother. She’d had no right keeping such things from him. He’d had every right to know about Scott just like he’d had every right to know the truth about his father.
Hoping to distract his son away from the hurt Murdoch quickly moved on. “She had me urge the horses into a gallop as we neared the hacienda. I carried her in over the threshold but she demanded I put her down then ran around excitedly, throwing each and every door open. She took hold of my hand and like children we ran through the rest of the house…”
Again Murdoch found himself drifting back; some memories were just too exquisite to ignore. There had been nothing childlike about her reaction on seeing his bed, their bed. Slowly, provocatively she had begun to undo the buttons on her blouse, but her slender fingers moved too slowly and before she had reached the last button he was roughly tearing at the garments that kept him from his prize, his urgency serving to fan his new wife’s desires. In seconds, she was naked and lying enticingly on the bed, his eyes ravaging her perfect form. She had writhed beneath his hands, hands that caressed and stroked and daringly probed. His mouth had driven her wild as he’d nibbled and licked her now very sensitive nipples. Slowly his mouth had followed an electrifying trail to her belly and he’d gently kissed the area that in weeks would begin to swell. He knew he’d have to be gentler with her then but he wouldn’t forego his pleasure no matter how swollen she became. There were ways, ways he’d discovered when Catherine had shared his bed. Their lovemaking had been equally as passionate and neither found they could abstain for long. But it wasn’t Catherine naked beneath him now and he knew he shouldn’t betray his new love with what had passed so as his hungry mouth silenced Maria’s pleas he entered her, almost crushing her with his much larger frame. As he brutally impaled her, he felt her nails digging into his back, with each of his thrusts those nails would dig a little deeper to finally draw blood as they finally convulsed together. Exhausted he had laid his head between her breasts, breathing in the smell of her, reveling in her soft flesh. So entwined in each other, they had fallen into the peaceful slumber only lovers knew…
Where the Heart Leads Part 3
His father had fallen silent again, his eyes taking on the same lost and faraway look as before. Johnny couldn’t be sure but he had a good idea what the memories were that kept stealing his father’s attention. It made him a little uncomfortable, yet at the same time it offered another measure of reassurance; didn’t it prove his parents had had a normal, healthy relationship? At least they had at first. Their marriage had held so much promise, so what had gone so badly wrong? What was it that had come between them? If his mother had run off with another man…if? Teresa said she had, was certain that it was his mother who had betrayed his father. What was it she had said that day? “If anyone was done a wrong Johnny, it was Murdoch Lancer! Don’t hate him for your mother Johnny because he loved her!” The tiny brunette had soundly blasted him, her impassioned plea for understanding reaching Johnny when nothing else could.
Johnny knew in his heart it was true and that led him to silently ask his next question…why? Why had she betrayed the only man to have truly loved her? That question would finally be answered today; at least he believed it would be. The man sitting next to him was slowly opening his heart to him and Johnny felt sure that there was nothing the older man wasn’t prepared to share with him. He suddenly felt a little closer to his father, knew things were rapidly changing in their relationship and for the better too…that last thought suddenly filled Johnny with a sense of dread, leaving him feeling more than a little scared. What if his father was to tell him something he didn’t want to hear, something he couldn’t accept? How would that affect the relationship he so wanted with his father?
“John?” His father’s voice snapped him out of his reverie but he couldn’t shake off his fears and suddenly one question burned to be asked. He blurted it out, the words spilling uncontrollably off his tongue “Did you hit her?”
The question stunned Murdoch; he stared blankly at his son, wondering where on earth it had come from. Then he realized with agonizing clarity that he’d so very recently given his son just cause to believe he could have, although he couldn’t imagine why the boy should ask him that at this point in the conversation. Not that it mattered, it was obviously something his son was desperate to know and something he was equally desperate to reassure him about.
“No!” Murdoch finally answered “Never, I never once laid a hand on her…although… Murdoch’s voice trailed off; there had been times when her actions had driven him into such a rage that he’d wanted to. Looking back he didn’t know how he’d controlled that rage, but he had. Should he tell his son that? “There were times I wanted to.”
“But you didn’t” Sapphire eyes pleaded for more reassurance.
“Do you believe I did?” Murdoch didn’t know how to convince his son to the contrary, and as uncomfortable as he knew it would be, he decided to push his son hoping to find the basis for his questioning. “Did she tell you I did John?”
Johnny shrugged, his mother had never actually said his father had beaten her, but she’d made it clear that she saw all men in the same vane, that they only wanted one thing from her and if they weren’t pawing her their hands would be beating on her. Johnny had witnessed the excesses of both. How did he tell his father that?
Confusion was evident in his son’s eyes, confusion and something else that Murdoch couldn’t quite make out. The boy didn’t seem to know what to say, his continuing silence alarmed his father, but he didn’t know what to do to help his son.
“Please son, talk to me.” The words flew from his lips in desperation and it was with equal desperation that Johnny then jumped to his feet and started pacing back and forth as a memory took possession of him…
/She was scared, had been crying. He shouldn’t have gone to the livery stable but he had known the man wanted to be rid of him, at least for a while. Hesitantly he opened the door, silently listening for the sounds a man and woman would make. Silence greeted him and with a little more confidence he pushed the door wider and slipped inside. He stood there, his small frame bathed in the glow of the fading sun behind him, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light in the dingy shack. At last he could see, his mama sitting at the small table in the center of the room, the man lying on the bed in the corner. Ugly bruises marred her beautiful face and one eye was swollen closed. Fearfully she looked in his direction and met his gaze, her one open eye pleading, desperate. He had watched in horror as the man rose from the bed and moved toward his mother once more. The man was brought up short when he became aware of the small boy watching him.
With a malicious grin he changed direction, and approached Johnny. Frozen by a terror all too familiar, Johnny helplessly watched as the man pulled back one huge fist. In slow motion the fist came at him, Johnny hypnotically awaiting the impact he was sure to come. Then she was screaming, launching herself upon the man’s back, pummeling his shoulders with her small fist. The spell was shattered as Johnny joined his mother in her assault on the man. He shook off first the small boy, the fist at long last finding its mark on the side of the boy’s face. His mother fell in a heap at the man’s feet as darkness claimed Johnny. /
“John?” Murdoch pushed, slowly getting to his feet when his plea again gained no response, and moving purposefully to stand directly in his son’s path. “What are you so scared of Johnny? Me?” The boy was scared, Murdoch was sure of that, but what was he so wary of telling him? The patriarch wasn’t proud of his tactics, he’d deliberately goaded the boy into responding but those tactics had had the desired effect and his son rounded angrily on him.
“I ain’t scared of anything, Old Man! Not of you! Not of no man…not no more!” The tirade stopped as quickly as it had started and Johnny turned away walking over to stare unseeingly out through his window as he realized he’d said enough to start his father guessing at the truth.
Murdoch had instantly recognized the significance of his son’s words. But again he found himself floundering helplessly not knowing what he should be saying to his son now. He was well aware Johnny had been abused, had seen the scars left by the violence inflicted on him as a child. He’d wanted to ask Johnny about them as he’d tended him following the shoot out with Pardee but he knew the boy wouldn’t want to discuss such things with a stranger and that was all he’d been to his son then, a stranger. He wasn’t a stranger now and he needed to know about that part of Johnny’s life…every part of his life just as much as Johnny needed to know about his mother and father’s past. Maybe now wasn’t the time to dig and delve there, but there may never be another opportunity.
“Johnny, there are things I need to know. I need to know about the past too, your past.”
“You know all you need to know!” Johnny snapped not liking where the conversation was leading. “This ain’t about me anyway; it’s about you and my mother.”
“It’s about me, your mother AND you son! For now at least the three can’t be separated.”
“She never said you’d hit her.” Johnny finally acknowledged his father’s question, hoping it would satisfy the older man so they could move on.
“Not in so many words no…” The answer hadn’t given the older man an ounce of satisfaction and he pushed on regardless “But she made me out to be what…cold and unloving, not the kind of man she wanted to be around or to raise her son?”
Johnny nodded; he’d grown up believing his father to be no better, perhaps even worse than the other men who had shared his mother’s bed. Men who willingly took but didn’t give, men whose needs she would fulfill and who’s ill treatment she would bear because it meant food in their bellies and a roof over their heads.
He didn’t want this man, who he’d obviously been so very wrong about, to know those things, but more importantly he didn’t want him to know just how much he’d despised him, blaming him for the life they had been forced to live.
“She didn’t leave me because I treated her or you badly son, do you believe that?”
Johnny turned around and met his father’s troubled eyes knowing how important his answer would be for the older man. “Yeah, I believe that.”
Once again the memory claimed him; it hurt even more knowing it hadn’t had to be that way.”
/Consciousness exploded into the darkness, violently and agonizingly it made its presence known. Rolling to his side, Johnny emptied his stomach and lay panting, waiting for the ground to cease its bucking. With a barely stifled groan he looked where his mother was laying face down, her arms at an impossible angle. He crawled to her side, tenderly rolled her into his arms and caressed her cheek. “Mama, mama?” He softly whispered her name. The whisper entered the darkness where she languished, coaxing, pleading, begging for her return and out of a mother’s love for her child; she found the strength to make the journey back. One eye opened, and focused on his small face, “Juanito, are you alright?”
“Si, mama, si,” he answered, silent tears coursing over the bruise on his face. /
Grasping the chance of another answer to one of the great many questions Murdoch had spinning around in his head he broached the subject Johnny had obviously been avoiding. “Did she ever hurt you?” There it was, out in the open and he dreaded the answer.
“No.” Johnny stated as convincingly as he could do with all the emotions surging through him at that point. He saw the flash of anger in his father’s eyes and knew the older man didn’t believe his answer for one minute.
“I don’t believe you!” Murdoch reached out and grasped his son firmly by the shoulders, he wanted the truth; he didn’t need protecting from that.
“She didn’t, not the way you mean but…”
“But what?” Murdoch ventured softly; they were getting a little closer to the truth.
“She said she loved me but she…she let them… There was no escaping the truth…
/”He will be back, Juanito. Help me up. I must clean up this mess.”
“No mama, you are sick. Let me help you to bed.”
“NO. He can not find us this way. You know what he is like. You must leave before he… before he…”Tears spilled down her cheeks as the door opened. /
The dark head bowed, embarrassed and ashamed, his mother had so often out of fear he supposed, stood by and just looked on as her men ‘friends’ would knock him around…knock him around! Yeah he’d got the odd backhander for his sass but there were times when it had gotten a whole lot uglier and a damn sight more painful!
She’d told him not to aggravate the men, to keep out of their way and he’d tried to hold his tongue and he’d spent many a cold night shivering in some alley or stable while his mother entertained yet another man. At those times he’d felt betrayed and unwanted by his mother and that had hurt…so yes she had hurt him and badly. If he told his father that, then wouldn’t he be betraying her, her memory?
He felt torn between the two of them even though she was long since dead. Dead! His words couldn’t hurt her now; and didn’t he owe the truth to the living? Slowly he met his father’s eyes and with relief saw complete understanding there.
Murdoch knew he couldn’t push his son any further, for now he’d leave it go but he wanted…had to know about the abuse, and Johnny would tell him when the time was right, he was sure about that now.
It was an awkward moment, the silence between them heavy and uncomfortable and they needed desperately to get passed it, Murdoch decided his son would benefit from a little time alone
“My mouth’s dry with all this talking, why don’t I go make us some coffee, I’ll be right back.”
With that Murdoch left the room, Johnny breathing a sigh of relief when the older man disappeared down the hallway. Things were getting too tense, too personal…but hadn’t he wanted it to? He’d asked his father to bear his soul but he hadn’t bargained on baring his own too.
Down stairs Murdoch busied himself preparing the strong black brew they both had a liking for, trying desperately to block the violent images that kept coursing through his mind, but the images were too stark, too ugly and in the end his growing rage overwhelmed him and he slammed his fist into the wall cursing his wife for what she had exposed his son to.
Where the Heart Leads Part 4
He cradled his rapidly swelling hand close to his chest, pain beginning to make itself excruciatingly evident. He studied the grazed and bloodied knuckles, wincing as he began the painful job of straightening his fingers.
“Let me see.”
The concern filled voice startled Murdoch and he wondered just how much Johnny had witnessed of his anger induced eruption. “There’s nothing broken.” The patriarch insisted as his son carefully inspected the damage.
“Sit there.” Johnny gestured over at the table then began to rummage in one of the kitchen cupboards, looking for the small box of medical supplies that was kept there for mishaps and emergencies.
Murdoch obeyed meekly, an unfamiliar emotion and warmth gripping him as his self-inflicted injury was gently tended to by his son.
“Why?” Johnny finally broke the silence.
“Because it seemed like a good idea at the time!” Murdoch ground out, surprised when the comment brought a grin of amusement to his son’s lips.
“Not one of your better ones though?”
Murdoch found himself grinning back “No!”
Silently, it was agreed they would forget the incident, Murdoch aware his son had guessed his reasons for losing control, and Johnny acknowledging his father’s actions for what they were.
“Was it any different here, then? The hacienda I mean?” Johnny finally asked, eager to get his father back on track.
Murdoch sat back in his chair, running his good hand through his hair as he pondered on the changes that had taken place since Maria’s arrival at Lancer. The first thing that sprang to mind was the bed. Once Maria had realized her husband had shared it with another woman she’d wanted a new one, convinced it held memories and emotions she would have to compete with.
Murdoch hadn’t understood his wife’s concerns, and being the canny Scott that he was, he didn’t think the expense justifiable. He’d lived to regret that belief. It had led to their first ever argument on only their second day at Lancer as man and wife! And what an argument it had been, his first real glimpse of the fiery temper his wife possessed, starting in the very bed concerned and ending a couple of hundred yards away in a very different kind of bed, a bed of hay!
She had ranted and raved at him, her words a stimulating mixture of English and Spanish. He had moved to intercept her when her eyes fell on the wash basin on the dresser. Firmly grasping her wrist he had pulled her close, his arms circling her waist and holding her captive, their faces mere inches apart. Certain of his victory over the tempest which raged, he had softened his grip, and was surprised to find his hands grasping empty air as she twirled out of reach. Quicker than he ever believed possible her hand had found its mark, the sound of her open palm meeting his face like a thunderclap. Horrified they had stood in stunned silence, the echoes of the slap reverberating around them, their breathing harsh and labored. With a cry of remorse she had bolted from the room, slamming the heavy door in her wake.
He had found her in the barn, in an empty stall. Her sobs had long since ceased but still her breathing was quick and labored. Silently he had knelt beside her, his arms open and inviting. She had fallen into his embrace, burying her head in his chest. They had sat entwined in each other’s arms as time stood still; the only sound the harmonious pounding of their hearts. Finally, she had raised now dry eyes to his, her lips slightly parted. He had bowed his head, his lips claiming hers, and found them warm and hungry with a hunger that matched his own.
That’s how it had been between them, that first year at least, each and every impassioned argument cumulating in passion of a very different kind. What it was to be young and in love, and he’d loved her in every way possible, with his heart, his mind and his body, and she had loved him back. She was sustenance for his soul, a delicacy for his bed and an all encompassing warmth that fueled every beat of his heart.
Murdoch scolded himself, he was wandering down that path of very private memories again, but he could never think of Maria without spending some time there. He wished he knew how to explain the depth and the intensity of love he and Maria had once shared, it could only help his son but Johnny would discover that for himself one day. At least he hoped he would, if life hadn’t scarred him too deeply, if past hurts didn’t prevent him from opening his heart and sharing it completely.
“Your mother… she wanted her own things around her, things she had chosen herself. There were so many things that spoke of Catherine’s presence, too many reminders of what had been and Maria…”
“She was jealous of Scott’s mother?” Johnny interrupted. He’d never really thought about his father’s first wife, perhaps selfishly he’d never even given her a second thought, his mother taking precedence. Now suddenly Catherine Lancer was very real and a complication he’d never considered.
“No, not jealous, but insecure yes.” Murdoch replied, at least that’s what he’d always believed.
“Insecure?” Johnny pushed, was there a difference?
Murdoch shifted uneasily, setting down his empty mug as he found himself faced with reliving grief long passed. “I’d not known what to do with Catherine’s things. Six months had passed before I could face going through her personal belongings. I packed them all up and reluctantly stored them in the attic. They were too painful a reminder of what I’d lost but I hadn’t been able to throw anything away; I couldn’t bear to lose anything else of her. I had one picture of Catherine, I kept it on my desk, that and the furniture she had brought into our home the only tangible links left me, apart from Scott, and he was agonizingly beyond my reach too.
We’d been home a week or so, slowly settling into married life and with a cattle drive just weeks away I was inundated with work. Maria understood and happily threw herself into being a rancher’s wife. Cipriano’s cousin used to come in and keep house for me but she was more than happy to relinquish some of those chores to your mother. Maria enthusiastically worked her way through every room, cleaning, rearranging, simply giving everything her own personal touch. She treated everything with respect but still she made it clear that some things she would never be comfortable with, and that once the profits from the drive rolled in we would be spending some of it at least on making the hacienda ‘hers’.
I didn’t understand at first, not how she felt, not fully anyway. Not until I came home one afternoon, and found in her in the attic…she’d opened every one of the trunks, gone through the contents and was actually wearing one of Catherine’s gowns, one I’d bought her! The anger rose from nowhere and I shouted at her, demanding she take it off.
I’d frightened her I know, she’d never seen me angry, not really angry like I was there, and it wasn’t just anger, it was hurt. She glared at me just as angry, just as hurt, and demanded to know why I’d kept Catherine’s things, why I’d hidden them all away…why they were so sacred.
I told her; rather I yelled at her, that it was no business of hers, that she had no right going through Catherine’s, things that she wasn’t to touch them ever again! Maria stared at me for the longest time, like she didn’t know me, then took the dress off, carefully, reverently and began packing it away. I told her to leave it that I would do it.
She walked passed me, head held high but not looking at me. I could tell there were tears in her eyes but I ignored those tears, she was hurting and upset but I just let her go. I found myself alone, only then did I start to think about what I’d said and why I’d said it.
I’d been shocked to see her in that dress, my mind had spun with images of Catherine, of the last time she had worn it and suddenly I felt I’d betrayed her. Suddenly I felt guilty for loving someone else, for loving another woman as equally and as deeply as I’d loved her. It was as if Catherine was in the room with me, demanding some redress. I could smell her perfume, I could feel her presence. I looked around half expecting…hoping to see…” Murdoch met his son’s intense gaze finding confusion and fear in the blue eyes, just like he’d seen in Maria’s eyes that day.
“But she wasn’t there, only her memory lived, and I realized that if I’d betrayed anyone it was your mother. I’d let her think Catherine’s memory was more important to me than she was.
Johnny sighed but made no comment; he knew what it was like to feel second best, at least he did where his father was concerned.
“I followed her to our bedroom and found her frantically throwing her clothes into a case, obviously desperate to get away from the insensitive fool she’d married. I watched silently from the door. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, her cheeks flushed, a determined pout on her face, her long raven hair cascading down around her shoulders. She looked so very beautiful. How could I have hurt someone I loved so much so badly?
I wasn’t prepared to let her go; of course, I just didn’t know how to make her want to stay. Finally, as she slammed the lid down on the case I shut the door, blocking her exit. I knew I had a lot of explaining to do but I wasn’t sure she was prepared to listen.”
Murdoch sighed deeply, remembering the fear that had gripped him that day, the memory an uncomfortable one but one he had to share with his son. He closed his eyes and began to work his way though it…
“We have to talk Maria.”
“We have nothing to talk about Senor Lancer. Now get out of my way.” Maria attempted to move around the huge man standing between herself and the only escape from the room. As she moved he moved with her, two dancers who never touched, yet were hopelessly caught in a passion that burned with anger and pain. Huge hands reached out through the waves of hurt, and captured her slender shoulders, pulled her close, and while her mind resisted the pressure of the embrace her body betrayed her and sought his comfort. With a sob she buried her head in the massive chest, breathing in the smell of the man holding her, aching and longing to be needed and loved as Catherine had been.
“Maria, please,” Murdoch had pleaded, “please give me a chance to explain. It’s not what you think.”
“I can not do this, Murdoch. I can not compete with the past, with her. She is gone yet she is still here, in this house, in your heart.”
“No, darling. There is no other. That chapter of my life is closed. I have begun a new chapter, here with you. I was afraid I was betraying Catherine …and Scott, when in fact I was betraying you. My life is here with the living. I only just now realized how dead I had been. But you saved me Maria. You made me feel so alive again. I can never thank you enough for your gift to me, but if you give me a chance I will spend my whole life showing you.” Murdoch paused to swallow the mysterious lump that had formed in his throat and to catch his breath. Small droplets of sweat had broken out on his forehead like the fine spray from the ocean as the waves of emotion had poured forth.
Stunned by the intensity of his fear of losing her, he had gripped her tender shoulders much harder than he had intended, yet she uttered no complaint. The emerald eyes remained fixed on his face, studying, weighing, searching. Satisfied with what she found in his eyes, her valise fell from her limp hands, the dull thud as loud as a gun shot…a ghost, real or imagined, now exorcised.
“My love for Catherine hadn’t died with her, but I’d realised and Maria had accepted that I could keep Catherine’s memory with me without it ever coming between us.
“What was Catherine like?” Johnny asked wanting for the first time to know something about Scott’s mother, realizing he supposed like his mother had done that day that she hadn’t been a threat, only a much cherished part of Murdoch Lancer’s past.
“Catherine?” The question had both surprised and pleased Murdoch. The boy had every right to know about her too, her son was quickly becoming someone very important in Johnny’s life.
“Catherine was kind, so very gentle but equally strong and determined, and she was quite fearless…brave enough to marry me against her father’s wishes. He didn’t think I was good enough. I knew I wasn’t. We both knew she deserved better but she didn’t want better; she wanted me and the promise of building a life out here. Harlan never forgave me for dragging her half way across the country, away from him, away from civilization. In doing so, I’d destroyed many of his dreams.
But Catherine had her own dreams and she knew I shared them, she wanted children and she wanted so much for them. She was convinced she was carrying a boy, had chosen the name Scott just weeks into the pregnancy, she had even convinced me it was a boy and I couldn’t wait to hold my son in my arms…I knew in my heart that our son would grow into a fine man one day… a man I would be proud to call son!”
“Unlike me!” Johnny whispered bitterly.
Murdoch stared helplessly at his son. He’d hoped to avoid this particular conversation until he’d earned some credibility in Johnny’s eyes, yet he’d foolishly led them both right into it, “John, that’s not true, I know that’s what you believe but…”
“I know you look at me differently…” Johnny snapped “that you treat me differently…that you don’t know what to think of me…” Those words had hurt, cut so very deeply when his father had spoken them; the Old Man hadn’t questioned Scott’s loyalty that day!
“John…” Murdoch clasped Johnny’s arm as the younger man made to stand, recognising the restlessness as brewing anger. He wanted to prevent it spiralling out of control, but it seemed the dam had already been breached as Johnny pulled himself free to stand directly in front of Murdoch, posture and tone both hostile as he challenged his father
“You don’t like what you see, you can’t accept what I am, what I’ve done. You look at Scott and you see a man you’re proud to call son…you look at me and you see a killer…”
Where the Heart Leads Part 5
Silence, heavy and brooding had fallen between father and son; Johnny was the first to break eye contact, the tortured blue depths seeking something, anything, other than the mix of emotions present in the older man’s eyes. There was no escaping those emotions, they simply mirrored his own and his seethed and surged, roiling nauseatingly inside, causing his heart to pound painfully in his chest. His mouth became agonizingly dry, preventing him from swallowing the painful lump forming in his throat.
He stood head bowed, wrestling with the urge to cut and run, unable to believe he’d actually voiced the beliefs that plagued and haunted him. Beliefs he couldn’t quite fathom the importance of, beliefs he had certainly never wanted aired in the cold light of day. Another can of worms had been thoughtlessly torn open; and he found himself in a place he didn’t want to be, facing truths he didn’t want to hear.
He’d never cared what people thought of him before; he’d never been close enough to anyone for their opinion of him to matter. He’d struggled with his feelings toward his father from their very first meeting, hatred and suspicion vying with longing and curiosity, the latter inexplicably gaining the upper hand. Johnny had for so long wanted, or so he had believed, vengeance on the man who had fathered then abandoned him, yet presented with the opportunity he had found it the very last thing on earth he wanted to do.
There was still so much he didn’t know about the rancher, but he’d witnessed and learned enough since his arrival at Lancer to build up what seemed a fair and accurate picture of the man. He had, albeit grudgingly at first, found himself liking and respecting Murdoch Lancer for who and what he was, a good and honest man. Suddenly, it had mattered what this man thought of him, but Johnny knew he’d done very little in his life to make such a man proud. Then there was Scott, educated, well spoken, impeccably mannered, able to keep a respectful tongue in his mouth as far as their father was concerned Scott…stand a half – breed, disrespectful, gunslinger with a dark sordid past along side a man like that and…well, Johnny couldn’t really blame his father for seeing him differently, for not trusting or respecting him. Still he craved that trust, that same respect, and the pride so evident in the Old Man’s eyes when he looked at his older son.
Johnny could sense those same pale blue eyes on him now, and wondered how they saw him at that very moment, and what thoughts were going through the Old Man’s head. He’d certainly given him enough to chew on, ample ammunition to start a verbal war, but he didn’t want to argue with his father. He didn’t want this to spiral into another heated exchange; above all else he didn’t want to give his father another opportunity to be disappointed in him.
//Too late// he told himself he’d opened his big mouth, hadn’t thought about the damage the words could cause, and in doing so he’d probably lost all the ground they’d gained today.
//Say something Old Man// Johnny silently pleaded, suddenly desperate to get the confrontation over.
Murdoch had been appalled by what he saw as a heartfelt accusation; how could his son believe such a thing of him. Yet he knew how desperately insecure Johnny was, how worthless he imagined himself to be. There were some things even a man as insensitive as he didn’t need telling, the boy’s sass and bravado might hide a multitude of fears and uncertainties but the blue eyes were incapable of lying, and Murdoch had, over these last few weeks read the unpleasant truth there. He’d not known how to reassure his son, had been convinced any attempts by him to persuade Johnny otherwise would be met by denial and hostility. Now he found himself presented with such an opportunity and he was scared, so very scared of failing his son.
Johnny’s posture said it all, his head bowed to hide the emotions on his face, blue eyes locked on the floor avoiding the questioning gaze of his father, as if scared his soul would betray him there. Restless fingers drummed a steady rhythm on one thigh while the other hand rested against the Colt, unconsciously seeking the only security afforded him since his mother’s death.
To his father it was a heartbreaking sight and Murdoch had to fight the urge to wrap his arms around his son, certain Johnny would detest and resist such contact with him. Instead he forced his voice to remain calm, determined there would be no raised voices or misunderstandings, desperate for his son to be able to look him in the eye without fear of revulsion or rejection.
“John, sit down.” Murdoch gestured to the chair beside him “I want you to listen to me, really listen so you not only hear, but more importantly, understand and hopefully accept what I’m about to say.”
The older man waited with baited breath as Johnny reluctantly sat back down, but not in the chair he’d just vacated along side his father, instead choosing to sit in a chair that clearly placed the greatest distance between himself and the older man. Murdoch sighed realizing how great the divide was between them again, and just how very desperate he was to put that right. Once again he found himself on treacherous ground, unsure of his footing and fearing safe and impregnable territory out of his reach. He leaned forward in his chair, arms resting on the table, consciously trying to put himself physically nearer his son yet hopefully remaining at an acceptable distance in Johnny’s eyes.
“Looking back I know those were very unfair, and more to the point, highly inappropriate words for me to use that day, but at the time I really didn’t know what to think of you. You were distant, secretive and so very cold, and yes, I know you had every right to be…and so under the circumstance I knew I couldn’t take your loyalty for granted. I was asking you to risk your life for me, a complete stranger, someone you hated. I believed I was asking the impossible from you; no one was more pleased than I to find out I was wrong.” Murdoch waited for the sapphire eyes to meet his; aware he had Johnny’s full attention.
“I suppose I do look at and treat Scott differently, but only because you are so very different! Like chalk and cheese! And to be honest Johnny, a lot of it has to do with the fact I know where I stand with Scott. I’m never quite sure where I stand with you. I never know how you’ll react to a question or a comment, or if you’ll follow an order I give you…I’m just very wary of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, of making things more uncomfortable between us, of making you dislike me more than you already do!” The blue eyes fell away from his then and Murdoch realised he’d struck a nerve. The boy must still hate him, the confirmation was, although half expected, still devastating but the patriarch was determined to carry on. This was about his son’s needs, not his, and right now Johnny needed to know his father accepted his past, loved him as equally as his brother, and was very proud of both his sons. Johnny would probably disagree with some of the things Murdoch was about to say but he was determined to state the situation as he saw it, reasons but not excuses, for what Johnny believed.
“I seem to be forever on the defensive around you. I can’t seem to help it. I suppose it’s instinct…self -defence, deflecting the anger…some of the things you say! It’s like you’re goading me, deliberately pushing me into reacting, and I have done I know. Sometimes I feel I’m playing right into your hands, that you want me to make it impossible for you to stay and that scares me Johnny. If you want to leave that much then there’s nothing I can say or do to change your mind. I’ve tried hard to remain indifferent; I suppose that could have given you the wrong impression too, made you believe I don’t care, when in truth it’s only because I do care so very much. I’ve made mistakes with you, I know. I’ve said the wrong thing many times too, but never intentionally, I just don’t know how to talk to you. Sometimes it comes out all wrong, or you take it the wrong way, and then you have something else to hold up against me. It’s not what I want John. I want to make it right between us but I don’t know how and you…you don’t make it easy for me. Sometimes I look at you and I despair, I don’t know what’s going on in your head, how you see and feel about your place at Lancer.”
Murdoch paused nervously fingering the bandage on his hand. “What I do see and what worries me is the anger you have toward me. I have to wonder if you’ll ever be able to let it go! If you’ll ever accept me in your life…because I want to be part of it John. I’d like to think it’s not too late!” Murdoch paused again, eyes desperately seeking some reaction from his son, but the boy remained seemingly impassive, eyes, countenance, all hidden from view.
“It’s too late for a lot of things I know.” Murdoch conceded, his heart constricting painfully as his mind replayed the host of images he’d formed on learning of his son’s past. The Pinkerton report was a dark and unbelievably ugly rundown of the path his son had taken, the events that had shaped his life, the choices he’d been forced to make before he was old enough to even begin to understand their consequences. “I can’t change the past, but I can tell you how much I regret not being there for you and that as much as I hate what you had to do to survive I do understand and accept that part of your life. But I’d like to think you can put that life behind you now, that it served its purpose, it kept you alive and eventually brought you home…where you rightly belong.”
Clearing his throat Murdoch hesitated, so very wary of making his next point. “But, if I’m completely honest I also see an enemy in Madrid. I’m terrified of what he could ultimately take from me. I’m scared that, that part of you, will lead you away again or cause me to lose you to a bullet…I couldn’t bear for that to happen, John.”
Again Murdoch’s impassioned words met with no response, and for a brief moment he felt panic rise. Pushing it down and away he stood, and moved purposefully to sit beside Johnny. Mere inches separated them, yet he felt no nearer his son, and he searched desperately for a way to reach him.
“I see a great many things when I look at you, Johnny but I don’t see a killer. There are some things that make me uncomfortable yes, the vulnerability you try so hard to hide and your unease around me, but only because I know I’m responsible for both. Mostly I see your mother and the love we shared. I see the little boy I loved and once held in my arms, the brave young man that boy became, a man who’s prepared to risk his own life for a just and worthy cause. I like the man I see. I admire the qualities he possesses, compassion, honesty…qualities that life as harsh and as cruel as it’s been to him failed to quash. I see his faults…stubbornness and pride and realise he got them from me. What I’m trying to say is when I look at you, I see the son I lost but never stopped loving, a young man I love very much and have only the greatest pride in. Someone I wish would just once let me be the father he needs, the father I want so much to be…”
Silence again filled the room. Murdoch held his breath, only releasing it when he noticed the drops of moisture splashing steadily down onto his son’s thighs. He swallowed hard, then leaned in toward his son pulling him into a long over due embrace.
The strong arms of his father wrapped around him, and in spite of the long-nurtured, long-held life sustaining anger, he felt himself succumbing to the embrace, craving the security and love the arms afforded him. With no reluctance, no regret, he tentatively returned the embrace, holding his father as he had once dreamed of holding him. Afraid to breath, to even think, he held his father, enjoying the contact with his sire. No, not his sire, his father. An unknown feeling of warmth, love and security flooded Johnny’s being, his very soul. He felt the past with all its lies, all its hurts, all its pain, sliding off his shoulders and heart like winter snows melting in the spring.
The hot ice in Johnny’s soul, long fueled by anger and hatred, joined with the agony of memories still raw and bleeding, as the warmth of his father’s love thawed his frozen emotions. A heavy sigh evaporated the last of the turmoil and he relaxed deeper into the massive chest. A large hand gently stroked the ebony hair, the silky locks sliding through the fingertips. At long last, Johnny timidly pulled away, lifting tear stained eyes to search the elder man’s face.
“You really want me to stay?” he whispered, peace and hope lacing his words.
“Yes,” Murdoch stated, squeezing his son’s arm gently, desperate to give deeper credence to his simple but heartfelt words. “I want you to stay.”
Where the Heart Leads Part 6
Despite their new found understanding there had been a few awkward moments as both father and son tried to compose themselves. Johnny hated the fact he’d broken down in front of his father, not that he regretted it or felt any shame; he just wished he’d handled it all a little better. There were things he’d wanted so badly to say, but he hadn’t dared break the healing and nurturing spell the Old Man’s words had slowly but surely woven around him. It seemed to Johnny now that it had all been a little one sided, that some of the things his father had said deserved an acknowledgement at least, but how did he begin to thank his father for making him feel ten feet tall! How did he thank him for opening his eyes and making him see what he’d been so blind to before? He could never find the words needed to let his father know just how high his heart soared, finally free from the burdens that had weighed it down or how his soul overflowed, its hunger at last sated.
He was again aware of his father’s attention and hesitantly met his gaze. The older man held his empty mug in his hand, gesturing meaningfully with it. “I could do with a refill!”
“Me too.” Johnny grinned, jumping to his feet eager to find something to occupy his restless hands and overly active mind; he needed to do something mundane to bring him back down to earth. The silence between them was now an easy but pensive one, and Johnny wondered where they would go from here. Setting the coffee pot down on the table he found himself saying the first thing that came into his head, asking something that had been constantly niggling at the back of his mind, “How come you’re back so early?”
“I was wondering when you’d get around to asking me that!” Murdoch teased.
“You checking up on me, Old Man?” Johnny teased back.
“Actually…” Murdoch sipped on his coffee enjoying the lighter moment with his son, “I was sent home! The new mother has a fever and is not up to visitors, but Teresa’s going to stay a few days to help out. Although…” Murdoch grinned, “I admit I was a little worried I’d find you exercising that horse of yours!”
Johnny leaned back in his chair, eyes twinkling, happy in the knowledge his father really did care about him, “I did think about it.
The patriarch chuckled, “I’m sure you did, so what stopped you?”
“I gave you my word I wouldn’t.” Johnny stated, suddenly feeling very self conscious along with a great need to study the contents of the mug clasped tightly in his hands.
“Yes you did, and I didn’t mean that I questioned it.” Murdoch hurriedly added, painfully aware he’d blundered again where this son was concerned.
“I know,” Johnny replied instantly just as eager to make his point clear. “I just wanted you to know that…that just because I haven’t shown you any real respect, it don’t mean I don’t respect you… because I do.”
Startled by his son’s admission Murdoch found himself momentarily speechless, he had his son’s respect! But as much as that meant to him he wanted so much more. He was more than happy to settle for that, for now of course, but told himself he’d earn the boy’s love no matter what he had to do or how long it took to get it.
Setting down his mug Murdoch gently squeezed his son’s forearm, the only acknowledgement he was capable of giving at that moment. Sometimes words weren’t necessary, sometimes words weren’t enough but he knew he was going to have to find the right words to continue on with the talk he was having with his son. They had strayed a long way from the emotive topic that had begun their journey through the past, and Murdoch was in no hurry to return to Maria, knowing he would have to relive some of the most painful times of his life. Maybe he could put it off a little longer by asking Johnny a question that his earlier outburst had brought to mind. What he really thought of his brother? Did Johnny resent Scott in any way? His older son had led a privileged life, while Johnny had fought tooth and nail to survive on a daily basis; Scott had had every comfort known to man. From what he’d gathered from his sons’ interactions so far they seemed to be forming a friendship, but was it borne out of necessity or a blood tie?
“Johnny. What do you think of Scott?” Murdoch knew it was blunt and to the point, and from the look on his younger son’s face totally unexpected but he’d not known how else to phrase it and wanted it said before his courage deserted him.
“Scott?” Johnny searched his father’s face unsure what Scott had to do with things all of a sudden then realizing with some unease that he’d been responsible for throwing his brother into the mix. His earlier comment had obviously given his father food for thought. The thing was… he wasn’t sure how he felt about him, not really. He was still getting to know him, still getting used to the fact they shared the same blood. Still, now that he’d been asked that question he found himself acknowledging a few things he’d decided somewhere along the line.
“I like him.” The words rang with sincerity. “It was a shock at first, finding out I had a brother…half brother, but I’m getting used to the idea now.” Johnny grinned. “I’m getting used to him too, even if he is kinda bossy.” The blue eyes danced with mirth. “I think the big brother things gone to his head a little.”
Murdoch smiled at the affection evident in his younger son’s voice, genuine affection for a man he barely new but who he had obviously already found a place in his heart for. The smile faded quickly as he watched his son’s face suddenly cloud over.
“Just wondering what he thinks of me!” Johnny’s troubled thoughts drifted back over the weeks to his first meeting with his brother…
The stage lurched forward, dumping Johnny unceremoniously into the lap of the unsuspecting dandy. “Didn’t mean to mess up your clothes,” Johnny drawled.
Johnny shifted to his left, squeezing his frame into the small wedge between the blonde man and the preacher. The ten mile ride into Morro Coyo seemed interminable; the jarring of the stage combined with the cramped seating arrangement taxing his all ready taut nerves. If not for the ever present Madrid, Johnny would have considered shooting someone or something to end the torment. The less than dignified position he now found himself in tested his resolve, his patience, and Johnny concentrated fiercely on remaining calm and collected.
At long last the stage labored to a halt, the spent horses standing with hung heads, blowing heavily; Johnny could fully sympathize, he felt much the same way.
The young gunhawk turned his attention to the blonde easterner, curious as to what he could possibly be doing in the wilds of the west. Allowing the hint of a smug grin, Johnny chuckled to himself softly, and was rewarded with a scathing glare from the other man. The easterner returned the stare and Johnny was inwardly impressed with the blonde man’s confidence as he refused to drop his gaze. Admiringly Johnny acknowledged the fearlessness of the blonde man. //Perhaps he will find a way to survive here, after all…if he don’t get himself killed that is. //
Casually Johnny accepted the proffered saddle now being hoisted from the luggage rack. He settled it comfortably upon his left shoulder, taking every precaution to leave his gun arm free and clear.
“Mr. Lancer?” The feminine query quickly captured his attention as his eyes found the beautiful owner of the voice.
That greeting had been the first indication they were in any way connected, the first time either man had become aware of the other’s existence. It had rocked both their unsuspecting worlds, yet Scott had seemed to accept the situation much quicker than he, or at least he seemed to have done. The older man hadn’t seemed at all put out on finding out he had a brother, not after the initial shock, instead he seemed intrigued and had made every effort on the way back to the ranch to make conversation with Johnny, conversation Johnny had reluctantly taken part in. Thankfully, Teresa’s enthusiastic chatter had lightened those tense moments on the journey to Lancer.
Since that day Johnny had learned a lot about his older brother, and so far he’d found no reason to dislike or mistrust him. In fact his admiration for the tall blonde grew daily, along with several other emotions that worried Johnny. He had shared very little of his past with Scott, only parting with facts he felt comfortable in telling, and facts so obvious he’d had no choice but to confirm. Scott knew he was a gunfighter, ‘The’ Johnny Madrid, but he knew no details and Johnny didn’t want him knowing anything that might cast a shadow on his brother’s opinion of him, at least not until Scott had had chance to make up his own mind about him. Maybe then the older man would be more accepting of his less than savory past. He’d found a brother he didn’t want to lose him…
Scott had not offered a visible reaction when he had observed Johnny’s prowess with a Colt less than a week after the two new members of the Lancer family had arrived at the hacienda. Instead he had calmly stood by, a blade of grass sticking nonchalantly from his mouth, hands hooked in his belt. Johnny had not acknowledged his presence, choosing instead to focus on the targets in front of him. After carefully going through his ritualistic drawing and firing exercises he had proceeded to clean the colt, only then casting a glance at his brother. Scott had moved to stand beside him, his hand extended as he requested an inspection of the odd looking weapon.
“Ya never touch another man’s gun, Boston. Could get ya killed,” Johnny advised.
“You wouldn’t kill me, I’m your brother.”
Johnny had looked sharply at the older man, prepared to offer a fiery retort of his own, and was brought up by the gleam of laughter in Scott’s eyes. For a moment the retort had balanced precariously on Johnny’s tongue, to be replaced by an answering grin.
There was something about Scott; something Johnny couldn’t quite put his finger on but whatever it was it had a calming, steadying influence on him. Scott had an ability to make him feel an equal and there weren’t many men of his standing who had ever done that!
Johnny caught his father’s inquisitive eye and realized the older man had been waiting for some response.
“I guess Scott’s still tying to figure me out?” Johnny searched his father’s face, a little apprehensive of what the older man’s answer might be.
“Scott would certainly like to know more about you,” Murdoch stated “he’s also willing to let that happen at a speed you’re comfortable with.”
Johnny smiled shyly as he read the hidden meaning in his father’s words. Scott knew he had to earn his trust and it seemed he was more than willing to do so.
Murdoch knew it was time to move on; Johnny and Scott would work things out in their own time, right now was his time to form a bond with Johnny…form a bond or repair a bond time and separation had broken? They had been so very close once, he’d loved his son long before he was born and that love had been sealed the first time he’d held him in his arms…
“You know I was sitting right here…well pacing the floor actually, the very minute you were born!” Murdoch’s eyes swept around the kitchen as he moved the conversation on decisively. The sapphire eye’s lit up with renewed interest and Murdoch knew he’d made the right decision…
“You were in no hurry to be born, I was worried…scared I’d lose Maria like I’d lost Catherine!”
Maria’s labor had been long and arduous and for Murdoch, having lost his first wife in childbirth, a terrifying ordeal. Maria, their present and much cherished housekeeper was by then in their employ and had banished him to the downstairs but he’d been well within earshot of his wife’s agony.
Where the Heart Leads Part 7
“You were so small!” Murdoch stated, the wonder in his voice bringing a smile to Johnny’s face. “I was scared to hold you but Maria, she insisted. She eased this tiny squirming bundle of noise into my arms and left you in my care while she took care of your mother.
“You were deafening!” The older man chuckled at the memory “I didn’t know what to do with you and you seemed to sense that and cried all the more! But then, well, I suppose it was instinct, a father’s instinct, whatever it was it took over. I couldn’t bear to see your tears and I tightened my arms around you, hugged you close against my chest…against my heart and began to talk to you, welcoming you into my world. You soon quieted down…” A wistful smile crossed Murdoch’s face “…and we sat together me and you, getting to know each other. Just like now!”
/The startling blue eyes stared up at him; the tiny fingers wrapped tightly around one of the big hands. Murdoch stared in wonder and amazement at the small gift of life in his arms. It was miraculous that he could love the child so easily, so completely, and at first sight, and it was that love which now made his heart sing. He raised his eyes to find Maria watching him, her emerald eyes luminous with joy, the power of their love evidenced by the small bundle now balanced securely in the man’s arms. As their eyes met, their love collided, and they were unable to resist the current of emotions so raw and powerful, and now manifest in the small infant. /
“I was overwhelmed; I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I couldn’t believe you were here, that you were mine, that we had created something so…so perfect! I didn’t think it was possible to love your mother more than I did, but after what she’d just suffered through to give me a son my love for her grew even deeper.” Murdoch shifted uneasily; his love for Maria had intensified with Johnny’s birth. Maybe it was because he’d been so scared of losing her, and possibly their child, whatever they had both become so very precious to him that day and he’d sworn to keep them safe. Safe! He’d not been able to hold onto either of them, let alone keep them safe!
“Maria, look at him. He is beautiful. You are beautiful. I never thought I could love this way again but I do, and I swear I will die before I let anything harm either of you,” Murdoch had vowed. The memory of his broken vow flooded his heart and soul, the anguish as real and painful as the day he had discovered his wife and child had disappeared. A grimace of agony racked his soul and was mirrored in his countenance.
Johnny moved swiftly to his father’s side, his hands reaching out to the older man and grasping his arms. Fear and instinct had driven Johnny but he allowed it to direct his footsteps, moving easily with a new found confidence and love for the older man. “Murdoch! Are you ok?” He felt his father shudder, tangible evidence of whatever emotional torment gripped him.
“She…she almost destroyed me! She brought me to my knees and all I’d ever done was love her!”
Johnny stared helplessly at his father, the depth of the older man’s despair and confusion horrifying him. The tormented blue eyes found his “I still don’t know what I did wrong; we were happy, the three of us. That first year after you were born, the happiest of my life.”
“You don’t have to tell me any more Murdoch.” Johnny heard himself saying, his father’s anguish served to suffocate his once desperate need. “You loved her, that’s all I ever wanted to know!”
The pale blue eyes searched his, the grief he saw there suddenly turning into anger.
“Yes I did…but in the end that wasn’t enough for her!”
Johnny didn’t know how to respond to that, he was aware of a chilling change in his father’s mood. He eased himself back onto a chair, releasing his grip on the older man, his gaze settling on the floor.
“What exactly did she accuse me of?” Murdoch demanded, realizing that his son could answer some of the questions that had haunted him for the past twenty years.
Johnny shrugged, unwillingly to share what he now acknowledged to be lies; if he was honest he was scared of the older man’s reaction, knowing it would only serve to hurt him even more.
“What did she tell you?” Murdoch’s voice echoed around the kitchen, bouncing off the four walls with its intensity.
“She said you’d thrown her…us out!” Johnny stated softly finally meeting his father’s eyes.
“Is that it? That’s all, no reason for why I supposedly did that?”
“No!” Johnny lied, regretting it instantly.
“You’re lying!” Murdoch accused quietly but there was no missing the disappointment and anger behind the words.
Johnny cringed inwardly, his father’s disappointment in him hard to bear.
“SHE lied to me too!” Murdoch stated bitterly his tone turning even more bitter with the next words to pass his lips “You’re just like her!”
The words, meant as a damning comparison were received as such and Johnny hung his head unable to look his father in the eye. Why? Because he’d been lying to his father all along! He’d lied about everything; it had been easier to say the words he knew his father wanted to hear than hurt him with the truth…and the truth would hurt him badly.
//”Juanito, you do not understand. We can not go back!”
“Why, mama? Why can’t we? I miss papa.” The small hand clung fiercely to the woman’s arm as the young six year old boy pleaded, tears streaming down the up-turned face.
“He is muy mal, Juanito. Muy mal hombre. We can not go back and he must never find us. He will hurt us, Juanito. Do you wish to see him attack me ? Do you wish me harm?” She enquired softly. Her raven hair swung forward, breaking free of the ribbon that had secured it, kissing his face with its soft embrace. Mesmerized by the silky curtain, he was only vaguely aware of her words. Abruptly she grasped his shoulders, the contact violent and painful. Gasping from the sudden torment he sought to back away. Her arm halted his retreat, her voice ferocious, demanding. He brought his attention back to his mother, struggling to focus as she shook him none too gently.
“We shall speak of this no more. We shall not go back. I will not allow him to hurt us again. We shall not be beaten in body or spirit ever again.”
“Papa would not hurt me,” the boy argued, his voice firm, defiant.
“He would hurt you, Juanito. Did I never tell you of his anger? His temper? Do you not remember that he killed a man who was simply protecting us? Would you have him kill me? Or worse yet you?” She raged without control, her accusations pummeling him, crushing him, each word a blow like a knife through his heart, tearing away the tender flesh of his innocence, leaving him a trembling mass on the floor. He laid on the floor at her feet, sobbing his loss, his father, his youthful belief in love and family. At once she was beside him cradling him against her ample bosom.
“Shh, Juanito, be quiet now. I am sorry, son. I did not want you to know but there was no other way. We shall speak of this no more. I am your only family and I shall take care of you. Shhh,” she crooned as she held him tightly, “No one can love you as I do. No one can make you happy as I can,” she whispered against his silky hair.//
“LOOK AT ME!” Murdoch raged gripping his son’s arms and shaking him, his injured hand forgotten.
Johnny’s head snapped up. He burned with shame and something more, hatred. She had stolen his innocence with her words, her thirst for vengeance. Now the truths he’d hidden from his father and tried so hard to hide from himself were about to come between them but if his father truly saw him like his mother then it wouldn’t matter, not any more.
“The stories would change, she wasn’t a very good liar, she was convincing alright but she’d forget what she’d already told me, but I didn’t forget. I wanted to, I tried to and I believed some things above others…some things I couldn’t believe…some things I didn’t want to believe.” Johnny stared into his father’s eyes, watching the anger there slowly dissipate.
The older man slowly gaining control of his emotions. Johnny had to wonder for how long, how long before his father again gave way to his anger and pain. The huge hands suddenly fell away from his arms as if realizing for the first time their aggression.
“Johnny!” Murdoch began. He knew he wasn’t prepared for what his son was about to tell him, knew he’d pushed his son into revealing things the boy had strove desperately to protect him from. Suddenly it didn’t matter what lies Maria had told his son, it didn’t matter because Johnny knew and accepted the truth.
Johnny ignored his father, if the old man was that desperate to hear the truth then he would be happy to oblige, at last able to lay his heavy burden down. He stood and walked over to the window, blue eyes staring off into the distance, unable to look at his father as he quietly spoke his next words. “She said you’d forced yourself on her…that you’d raped her!” Johnny shrugged as he admitted, “She never actually told me that, but I heard her use that excuse for my existence many times.”
Murdoch closed his eyes in horror, numbed by the extent of his wife’s betrayal, not only of him, but their son.
Turning back to face his father Johnny smiled wryly. “But get a drink inside of her and she’d tell a completely different tale, accuse you of simply growing bored with her, and that another woman warmed your bed. Her favorite…or at least it seemed to be, was that shame drove you apart. You were white and wealthy, and she wasn’t welcome in that world and neither was her son. I suppose she thought that one the easiest lie to believe. I preferred to believe that story, it made more sense. It rang true to a half-breed kid I suppose.
“She hated me that much” Murdoch spoke his anguished thought aloud.
“No,” Johnny replied as he suddenly found himself making sense of things he’d never understood before. “I don’t think she realized how much she loved you, not until it was too late, not until it was impossible for her to come back. I think the lies were her way of dealing with the mistake she’d made; it was easier to blame you than to own up to what she’d done. It was easier for her if I blamed you, too. In the end I don’t think she knew what the truth was herself.”
“I would have taken her back,” Murdoch insisted, desperate his son believe that.
“I could forgive her anything.” Murdoch stated. That had been true once, hadn’t he forgiven her adultery…no matter the cost to his pride, let alone his heart, but he couldn’t forgive her now, not for all the needless and seemingly calculated hurt she’d inflicted on his son.
“Us knowing the truth…that’s all that matters now, isn’t it? We can put this behind us now and move on.” Johnny insisted
“But you still have questions! There are things you don’t know”
“I know enough.” Johnny didn’t want to put his father through anymore anguish.
“No, those questions will always be between us Johnny! I told you I don’t know what went wrong and I don’t, not really, at least there’s not one instance I can blame. But suddenly me, Lancer, just weren’t enough for her and she…I think you need to know this son!”
Johnny simply nodded; he did need to know everything.
Where the Heart Leads Part 8
Murdoch was scared his emotions would again get the better of him. He had, so he reminded himself, good reason to worry, he’d not done a very good job of controlling them so far! He’d lashed out at his son both physically and verbally, turning his anger and pain on the only truly innocent party in the mess that had once been a loving and happy family. Now he was faced with telling his son things that after twenty years still had the power to hurt him, personal, private things, things he’d never shared with anyone else, things a father should never have to share with his son. Yet the boy wanted to know everything, especially the events leading up to…to the beginning of their nightmare! It had been a nightmare for all concerned, a twenty year long nightmare for Johnny and himself! He had to wonder though and the thought did trouble him, what his true intentions were. Did he really believe total honesty would help his son, or was he doing this for more selfish reasons? Was he really wanting to turn the boy against his mother so he would be more accepting of him? He wanted his son’s love, he wanted his affection, he wanted his son to accept him for what he was, a man who had failed his son. Johnny again sat beside him, waiting patiently for him to begin, the sapphire eyes offering silent encouragement, giving him permission to say the words that would almost certainly hurt him.
”You were about one the first time I’d been away for a few days on business but had come back earlier than expected. I found you in Maria’s care. Your mother was, or so she had told Maria, visiting a neighbor who was sick.
Your mother seemed shocked, rather than surprised to find me home; she seemed uneasy, anxious, but denied anything was wrong, insisting she was simply tired. I didn’t think anymore about it, nothing seemed to have changed. She still…” Murdoch paused remembering their lovemaking that night, it was as passionate as ever, more so but it always was when they’d been apart. Looking back he knew it was simply guilt, she’d been with another man that day.
”A few days later I was out checking the line shacks, I found a shawl belonging to your mother in one, along with a man’s jacket. I didn’t know what to think, I told myself it meant nothing but…I couldn’t shake off this feeling that something was very wrong. The next day I was out that same way again, not where I was supposed to be, not where I’d told your mother I would be.
I waited for hours, then just as I’d persuaded myself to go home, that I was being foolish…she…I watched her ride up to the shack alone, a little while later a man appeared. I’d never seen him before…he followed her inside. I waited scared of what I’d find but finally I forced my feet toward the shack, all the time telling myself there was a perfectly good reason for them both to be there. But…” Murdoch paused as the still very vivid image of his wife’s infidelity played in his mind. “She was willingly giving herself to another man.”
He stared intently at his son, seeking some reaction but there wasn’t the merest flicker in the vivid blue eyes. “Something broke inside me; I don’t remember exactly what happened then but the next thing I know your mother’s screaming at me to stop. I’d half killed the man with my bare hands!” The horror felt at that realization still shocked Murdoch. “I looked at her, half naked, tears running down her face; sobbing hysterically…I wanted to hit her too. I wanted to hurt her like she’d just hurt me…instead I told her to get dressed, that she was coming home with me.”
Murdoch swallowed hard as he tried to rein in his emotions.
”We rode home; I couldn’t bear to look at her. She kept telling me how sorry she was, that it had meant nothing, that it wouldn’t happen again, that she’d never meant to hurt me…” Meeting his son’s unwavering gaze he found himself admitting something he’d never openly acknowledged to the boy’s mother “But she had hurt me Johnny, hurt me in a way I can’t put into words not even now.
The next few weeks were hell, we didn’t speak. We lived separate lives. I slept on the couch, telling myself I didn’t want to be any where near her, that I didn’t want her, not now she’d betrayed me with another man. But I still loved her and…” Murdoch searched his son’s face; Johnny was his son, their son, but he was also a grown man…surely he’d understand what he was about to say…that he’d see it from a man’s point of view? “I did want her and one night, after I’d downed some courage I found myself climbing those stairs determined to take back what was mine.”
He’d entered their room expecting some resistance but she was as eager for him as he was for her. He’d been anything but loving though, taking his pleasure and neglecting hers, even so they’d awoken the next morning in each other’s arms…and this time their lovemaking had been just that.
”I put it behind me, forgave her…”
”Just like that! It was that easy!” Johnny exclaimed.
”Yes…maybe too easily. I don’t know but…”
Jumping to his feet Johnny glared down at his father unaccountably angry at the older man. “She must have been something special between the sheets Old Man!”
Appalled by his son’s comment Murdoch lunged to his feet, the momentum sending his chair crashing to the floor. “Shut up!” he growled menacingly, his temper flaring dangerously. “Don’t talk about your mother that way!”
”My mother!” Johnny mocked scornfully “She was nothing but a whore and YOU… the first in a long line of fools to fall for her and her lies!”
”No!” Murdoch bellowed, his rage finally ignited, he seized his son by his shoulders forcing him violently backwards and into a wall.
//He felt the blows raining down on his unprotected face and body. The thought of defending himself as fleeting as any kindness the man could show. With a heavy sigh, he crumpled to the floor as the man’s fist found his jaw yet again, the breath leaving his lungs in a loud whoosh, his legs no longer capable of supporting his fragile weight. As he laid on the dirt of the shack he waited for the darkness to claim him, but it was not to be, nor was the man satisfied with the damage he had inflicted. The toe of his boots sought Johnny’s unprotected tender ribs, the man grunting with the effort. Spent at last the man took his last pleasure in a well placed kick to Johnny’s head, then turned to Maria. With a sadistic grin he grabbed her, drew her painfully to him, his left hand ripping the tattered remains of her gown. Evilly he speared his fingers into her moist womanhood, as his mouth bent to painfully grab her dark bosom. With a sudden motion he had turned Maria over and as she writhed beneath him he took her from behind, each thrust deep and without mercy. His appetite finally sated, he took a long pull from his bottle then collapsed on the makeshift bed//
Johnny had been about ten then, had walked in on something he shouldn’t and had earned himself a beating. By that time his mother didn’t give a damn about what he saw or what was done to him. He’d become an inconvenience, a burden, men wanted his mother whether it be for one night or a little longer but not one of them had wanted another man’s kid and they’d soon become tired of providing for him, too, then they’d move on. She’d begun to resent him for that, hurling cruel hurtful words at him especially when alcohol had loosened her tongue. She’d accused him of being like his father…a millstone around her neck.
But he’d loved her no matter what she’d said to him with the forgiving and accepting love of a child, and pathetic fool that he was he still did. At the same time he now found himself hating her for what she’d done to his father, for hurting him in the heart and soul crushing way only a woman could.
Murdoch had said she’d almost destroyed him, had brought him to his knees yet he would have taken her back. He had truly loved her…and she’d run from that steadfast love and loyalty into the arms of men who had no conception of love…brutal sadistic pigs who’d used her and him too…
As the past and the present merged into one excruciating act of violence, he helplessly looked up into the pain-filled eyes of his father and felt the older man’s grip tighten painfully on his shoulders.
”I loved her.” Murdoch whispered.
”I did too.” Johnny’s head bowed as he tried to hide his tears “But she didn’t love either one of us did she?”
Johnny’s anguish cut through Murdoch’s ire and realizing what he’d just done, he was again filled with remorse. It was so easy to take his anger out on the boy, so easy to react to his mouth and…again Johnny seemed so accepting of it. And why wouldn’t he be? Hadn’t he grown up surrounded by, and on the receiving end, of such violence? Sickened by his actions Murdoch told himself he was no better than the men who had abused his son.
Instantly loosening his hold he moved his hands to each side of his son’s face, gently tilting it upwards.
”Yes she did Johnny, but not enough…not enough to leave you with me, not enough to bring you home when she’d realized she’d made a mistake. She loved us, John, just not enough.”
The words washed over him failing to soothe and reassure as intended as more memories from his past assailed him, memories too vivid to quash. Suddenly his father was too close, the contact too intimate. “Get your hands off me,” Johnny growled, and heart thundering in his chest, he watched as his father backed away his hands dropping to his sides.
”I’m sorry! I was angry but I shouldn’t have…” Murdoch tried to apologize but he knew there was no excuse for his actions.
”Sorry!” Johnny sneered “You sound just like her! Only she’d be apologizing for THEM, for what THEY did to me. She’d promise me she wouldn’t let it happen again but you know something Old Man…it always did!”
”John…” Murdoch took a step nearer his son, there was pure loathing in the boy’s eyes now but Murdoch was sure it wasn’t intended for him.
”Don’t!” Johnny warned pressing himself further up against the wall, his hand caressing his gun.
”Johnny?” Murdoch didn’t believe for one minute his son would draw on him but was it him Johnny was seeing?”
”They couldn’t stand the thought of having a half-breed around but I had my uses…”
Johnny’s breath caught on a sob and he wrapped his arms around himself tightly, bowing his head to hide his shame.
Murdoch swallowed hard, he’d known Johnny had been beaten and had had some suspicions about what else the boy had endured but faced with the confirmation he was stunned, horrified and unsure of what to do. He wanted to hold his son but Johnny had made it clear it wasn’t what he wanted…but then maybe Johnny didn’t know what he wanted, or what he needed, and one thing Murdoch did know was that his son needed his father right now. Slowly, tentatively he stepped towards his son.
Johnny’s eyes were glazed, sightless, yet Murdoch knew his son was watching his approach, lost in the past. With whispered reassurance, Murdoch again placed his hands on his son’s shoulders, felt the boy flinch as if struck but yet stand his ground.
Slowly, lovingly, he drew the boy toward him, into his warm embrace, “Shhh, Johnny, I’m not going to hurt you. No one is going to hurt you. The past is gone. Let it go.” The slender shoulders tensed, Murdoch feared his son would once again reject his love, but the boy’s defenses crumbled, crashing like waves on the sand, his emotions at long last free, the longing for expression fulfilled. Tears came then painfully, harshly, their release cleansing his soul, his heart.
Minutes seemed like hours, the clock in the hall, the only sound in the great house, beating a staccato rhythm in time with their heartbeats. Finally, Johnny raised tear-stained eyes, acceptance and peace glistening in their depths. Without hesitation Murdoch lifted a gentle hand to his son’s cheeks, wiped away the remaining tears and was rewarded as the boy stood still, calm under his hands.
Timidly Johnny smiled up at his father, the walls between them standing no more. Nothing remained but their mutual love, understanding, and the knowledge that Maria had failed. She had sought to divide them, deny them the relationship they deserved, yet her efforts had been in vain, love had found a way.
”We can start over, son. We can make a way where there wasn’t one. I want this more than life itself. I want my son back. Please tell me I haven’t lost him.” Murdoch’s grief filled words bridged the gap between what had been and what could be.
With hope for the future shining in his blue eyes, Johnny placed his hands on his father’s shoulders. “Yes sir, I want my pa. I think we have finally found each other.”
Where the Heart Leads Epilogue
It had been one very long and exhausting day and as he climbed into bed he did so with a great sigh of relief. Both his mind and body ached but it was a good sort of ache, the sort you get after a hard day of honest toil. He smiled to himself as he first pummeled his pillows then snuggled down in between the sheets, finally at ease with his surroundings.
Fidgeting just a little he soon found his comfortable spot and on doing so decided that this had to be the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept in, and as he had always been on the move, never stopping in any place very long, the bed he’d spent the most ever time in. The sheets were always clean, he inhaled deeply and silently confirmed that they were not only clean but sweet smelling too, and as always pressed with the utmost care and attention by the doting Maria. The best thing about the bed though was that it was his. Yes his! His bed, in his room…in his home…and all around him HIS family. He’d never had anything to call his own before, well not since his mama had died. Since then, since he’d been on his own, his gun and his horse had been all he’d had to turn to and they were all he’d ever dared put his trust in. It wasn’t going to be that way anymore though. He had a father and a brother now and although he still wasn’t quite sure how the family thing worked he knew with a little effort it would.
For the first time since arriving…since coming home, he could imagine himself waking up at Lancer each and every morning. It was a good thought, a reassuring thought, one that warmed him deep inside. Until his…what would you call it? Talk? Discussion…no, it had been more than that; he hadn’t quite bared his soul to the Old Man but he’d certainly aired some of its dark recesses. Anyway he hadn’t been sure he wanted to stay until today. Now he was sure and he just hoped nothing would happen to change that.
There was he knew, and his mood darkened a little at the thought, still so much more to be told, secrets to be set free, demons to be exorcised but not yet, not until he felt ready and his father understood that. He was under no illusions; he knew there were still difficult times ahead. His relationship with his father had in just one day evolved into something stronger, something deeper, something more intimate than he could ever have believed possible but he wasn’t foolish enough to believe that it would all be plain sailing from now on. At least he knew the inevitable stormy seas were navigatible now. He realized he and Murdoch were very much alike, too alike maybe, and that was a sure fire recipe for the occasional disaster. Yet, he liked the fact he’d inherited so many of his father’s traits, good or not so good, it made him Murdoch’s son and he was proud of that, proud to be a Lancer and his father was proud of him! Boy, it felt good to have that thought spinning around in his head. For so long he’d harbored the opposite belief and he’d accepted the fact grudgingly, but hearing the truth, and more importantly believing it, made him feel good. For the first time ever he felt he could be respected for something other than his skill with a gun. Johnny Lancer…rancher…yes he liked the sound of that!
He still had questions to ask; his father had hinted at the fact his mother had had more than one affair, and he still knew nothing of the gambler she’d up and run away with but now he knew he could ask his father about those things, and he would. He’d just give them both a little time to heal. What they had discussed had opened old wounds and rubbed salt into some of them but it had been a cleansing experience, and given a little time those wounds would close for good this time.
Another thing he wanted to hear about was how his father had searched for him. He wasn’t sure why exactly, and he knew it would prove painful especially for Murdoch, but still he wanted to hear his father say those words…I looked for you, I tried to find you.
Sighing Johnny decided it was about time he got down to the serious business of getting some much needed sleep. His father would expect him at breakfast and he didn’t want to oversleep and disappoint the older man. The light rap on his bedroom door startled him; the hour was late and his father had retired a while before him. He’d expected the older man to be asleep by now, maybe he had something more to say to him?
Johnny hauled himself up in bed as his father peered around the door.
“Were you asleep?”
“No, something wrong?” Johnny asked the now approaching figure, the lamp held in the bigger man’s hand illuminating and casting flickering shadows on the four walls surrounding them.
“No. I just thought you’d like to read these.”
Johnny stared at the ribbon tied letters his father held in his hand and shrugged. He wanted to but just like earlier that day when his father had caught him looking at them it just didn’t seem right.
“There’s nothing there I’m ashamed of son! Nothing I don’t want you to see. I’ll leave them with you.”
Murdoch placed the letters on Johnny’s bed and turned to leave.
The patriarch smiled and added a little hesitantly “You know there are a lot of things up in the attic, things of your mother’s, your things. I kept everything. If you want to take a look up there…if there’s anything there you want son.”
“Yeah, I’ll take a look.” Johnny’s eyes shone with enthusiasm, that was something he’d not expected, something he’d not even thought about but now he knew of their existence he was filled with an almost childlike excitement. Suddenly a thought came to mind and he found himself blurting it out, “You still got Catherine’s things up there?”
“Yes!” Murdoch answered, the realization hitting him like a thunder bolt. “Your mother insisted I keep them for when Scott, for when he came home!”
“Maybe the three of us should take a look up there together?”
“Yes, I’d like that son.”
Johnny held his father’s gaze, a silent acknowledgement passing between them before Murdoch turned and left the room.
Plumping up his pillows again Johnny sighed in further contentment. Yes, there still remained questions between them, questions which would require answers but there was also time. A feeling of warmth the like of which he had never known flickered within his heart, the flicker became a flame, warm and all consuming it flowed through his limbs.
With a contented sigh he snuggled deeper beneath the sheets. Truly there was no place like home…
Lacy & Seren 2005
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