Word count: 1,323
The small line shack was just one of the several set up by Murdoch Lancer in the far reaches of his empire. Men working hard on the range needed a place to spend the night rather than ride back to the bunkhouse, only to make the ride back to the same place and start work all over again. Lancer’s Scottish blood knew that valuable hours could be lost and for the price of a wooden shack and a few amenities, the wrangler was safe and secure for a night or two.
This night Murdoch’s two sons had taken shelter in such a cabin. The rain which had only been annoying early in the day had turned into torrents of wind and water which made the return to the white hacienda a hazard. Better to spend the night and let the sun dry out the mud so that work could resume the next day.
After a cup of coffee, laced with whiskey, and a meal of bacon and beans, the two young men made themselves as comfortable as possible in the bunks which sported mattresses of straw. Tired muscles tried to find their ease, but the damp chill which defied the heat from the iron stove and the scratchy wool blanket made sleep impossible for the younger of the two men. He had intended to ride into Morro Coyo as soon as the work had been completed, but now he was stuck far from a good meal and the welcome warmth of his newest ladylove, Adelita.
Flipping over once more in another vain attempt to find softness, Johnny’s sigh drowned out the soft snore from the bunk across the room. Scott Lancer had dropped off almost as soon as his blond head had touched the mattress. Months of ranch work had hardened the easterner’s muscles and endurance so the late evenings of Boston nightlife were long past.
Unfortunately, even exhaustion could not guarantee undisturbed sleep as Scott’s breath changed from an even rhythm to ragged gasps as a nightmare overtook the slender frame. Nearly falling from the bunk in his effort to escape from his dream, Scott awoke as soon as his brother shook him by the shoulder. It took some time for the cerulean eyes to focus on the dark-haired man standing at his side.
“Musta been a big one, “Johnny suggested.
“Actually, five of them,” Scott replied.
“Moira , Zee, Glory, Barbara and Julie all had guns pointed at me. They wanted me to marry them.”
“Thought that was only in Utah ?”
Scott shook his head. “I don’t mean polygamy. They wanted me to choose one of them, but I. . .I just knew the other four would shoot me as soon as I did!”
“Guess that’s what happens when you’re a heartless ladies’ man!” Johnny chortled.
Awkwardly, Scott rose to his feet to take a ladle of water from the bucket. Scott took a drink and then snorted in derision, “I’m not a heartless ladies’ man. Julie was the only one I was serious about and that was over a long time ago.
“So you were just flirtin’ with the others?”
“Johnny, I’m twenty-seven years old. Do you think I spent all my time in a library? I enjoy the company of women, but I never led any of them on by promising marriage. Even Barbara was more interested in defying her father than in me. He had visions of his daughter being married to Harlan Garrett’s heir, but she just wanted to enjoy herself for a few years before settling down.”
“Know whatya mean. Marriage, like dyin’, can last a long time. Or so I’m told.”
“Johnny, just because your mother and Murdoch didn’t make a go of it, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find someone.”
“Not sure it’s worth the trouble to look!” Johnny protested.
Scott began to laugh with undisguised glee.
The sapphire eyes narrowed with a displeased look. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing except do the names Mattie Cable, Julie Barrett and Laura Thompson mean anything to you? You see a pretty girl who needs help and you fall faster than an avalanche!”
“Well. . . .”
Scott patted his brother on one shoulder. “That’s okay, Johnny. It’s just that I worry that your little weakness will lead you into an irrevocable situation one day. I want you to be happy and not take second best.”
“Guess you gotta point. Good thing I got you around to keep an eye on me.”
“I’m not your duena, brother,” Scott replied dryly.
“You’d look strange in a mantilla at that.”
“Amen. I still remember the fun you made of the hat I wore when I first came to Lancer.”
“Maybe,” Scott conceded, “but I think I’ve finally got the hang of ranch life. In fact, I daresay I’ve done better here than a certain Mr. Madrid would do in Boston !”
“Aw, you’re just worried that there Revere feller’d be out on his horse yellin’, ” Madrid is comin’, Madrid is comin’!”
Scott rubbed one hand over a sore shoulder before he replied, “Considering that’s he been dead for over fifty years, I don’t think that’s likely; but I’m sure the fathers of Boston would appreciate the warning anyway.”
The sapphire eyes blinked and then a huge grin broke out on the dark-haired man’s face. “Guess you ‘n me are alike after all.”
Scott gave him a sheepish smile. “Possibly. Tell you what, we’ll just put it down to being Murdoch’s sons. Let him take the blame.”
“Whooee! Knew all that book learnin’ was good for somethin’. You s’pose we could use that excuse for other things?”
“Not so sure about that, but we’ll keep it in mind. Now, I think we should try to get some sleep. Sounds like the rain has stopped and if the sun comes out, hot and steady, Murdoch’ll expect us to be hard at work.”
“Man never changes, does he?” Johnny observed. “Needs to be like us. What’s the word—flexible?”
“Not easy to do when you’ve got a ramrod down your back.”
Johnny stifled a grin. The image of the tall gray-haired man sitting on a horse in such a condition was so laughable. “Guess that’s one thing you didn’t get from the old man. Can’t see him ever volunteerin’ to help me rob a train.”
Scott bit his lip to keep from laughing. “We’re quite a pair, I’d say.”
“No doubt about it. Guess it’s a good thing you’ve got me to keep you on the straight ‘n narrow.”
“Oh, is that what you’re here for? I thought it was so I could steal your girlfriends!”
“Steal my what?”
“Adelita likes my polite manners,” Scott defiantly asserted.
Johnny launched himself at the blond. For a minute the two young men rolled around on the wooden floor, each trying to get the upper hand. The impromptu scuffling match abruptly came to an end with a yelp of pain from Johnny. “Damn! Gotta splinter in my behind. Feels like the size of one them redwoods.”
Patting his brother’s shoulder in a sympathetic manner, Scott helped Johnny to his feet. “I guess I could take it out—unless you’d like Teresa or Murdoch to do it.”
Johnny snarled. “Don’t be funny, Boston . Just take it out and be careful. I’ve got plans with Adelita tonight.”
“Perhaps she’ll visit you in your bed of pain?” Scott wryly suggested.
Just for one instant Johnny wished that he had his gun at hand, but then he pushed that aside. He couldn’t afford to antagonize his “doctor.”
Fortunately, the sliver of wood wasn’t in too deep so the minor “surgery” was performed quickly and with the aid of a slug of whiskey, the patient felt little pain, at least until Scott poured a drop of the spirits directly onto the wound to cleanse it. The scream could be heard at Lancer.
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