Passion in Time by S.

Johnny Madrid Lancer leaned back against the seat of the stagecoach he had been riding in for hours.  Normally, the dark-haired young man would have been riding his palomino, Barranca, but the golden horse had developed a strained leg and with the long traveling distance to and from Saltondale, Johnny had opted for the stagecoach–a choice he had regretted five minutes after the stage had pulled out on the first leg of its trip.  The only consolation on this part of the journey was that he was finally alone after days spent with humanity’s smelly dregs.  He had not had the good fortune to encounter even one woman under the age of 50 or less than 200 pounds.  But now he was less than an hour from Merced where he was to meet up with his brother, Scott, for the trip back to Lancer.

Scott had also been on an errand for their father, Murdoch Lancer.  Johnny could only hope that his brother had been more successful in acquiring mineral rights than he had been.  Of course, since Martin Lucas was originally from Rhode Island, maybe he could be persuaded more readily by another New Englander.
 

Sitting there, eyes covered by his hat, Johnny let his thoughts dwell on his sibling from the East.  Their relationship had had is ups and downs at the beginning and then had leveled out as trust had developed between the two men.  Then, the appearance of Drago, Violet, and Chapel at the white hacienda had thrown a burr into the relationship.  Since the moment that Drago had taken himself off, money-in-hand, there had been a reticence about the blond, a backing-off from the family and especially from Johnny.  Scott had even attempted to apologize for the results of the arm-wrestling, however, Johnny Madrid had a healthy ego so he hadn’t been too distressed by what had happened.  He knew that his superior skills with fist, gun, and charm more than made up for the little incident.  Content to let Scott work through the problem on his own, Johnny had said no more to the blond.
 

The brunet’s descent into sleep rudely ended when the stage began to sway heavily from side to side, jostling the young man against the latched door which swung open at the weight flung against it.  Struggling to remain inside, Johnny clutched at the frame as the coach begin to tip to other side, sending it into a roll as it moved down a small incline. 

Slamming against a boulder, the stagecoach upended its passenger once again, flinging him out the wide-open door as his body skidded across the hard-packed earth.  The slide ended just short of an outcropping of rocks, but unfortunately one of the smaller piece gouged a gash in the hard Lancer head before sending him into an abyss of darkness.
 

Some time later, Madrid’s eyes opened then quickly closed as the sun’s brightness hit the sapphire orbs.  “Just lie still, Mister.  My men will get you into the shade and then we’ll check you out,” whispered a feminine voice. Groggily, Johnny tried to grab the hand which was probing at his throbbing head.  Hissing with pain, Johnny felt the world turn black again as strong hands lifted his body.
 

The next time he awoke, it was to find himself in a soft bed. Gingerly, moving his head, he found the pain not unbearable, but his stomach lurched as he shifted about in discomfort.  Hearing the door open, Johnny lifted his head slightly.  By his bedside stood a petite girl with black hair and amazing green eyes.  “So, you decided to wake up, Mr. Madrid?”
 

“Uh, yeah, ‘s’pose so.  Where. . .where am I?”
 

“At my ranch, near Merced.  Your stagecoach went into a small ravine.  Luckily, I was riding nearby with some of my men.”
 

“Uh, yeah, thanks.  Just one thing.  You say my name’s Madrid?’
 

“That’s right–Johnny Madrid.   Don’t you remember?”
 

“Sounds kinda right, but my head hurts like the devil.”
 

In a cooing voice, the girl reassured the injured man.  “I’m sure you’ll remember more soon, now why don’t you go to sleep?”
 

“Think I will, but will you tell me your name?”
 

“Sorry, my name’s Belinda Carruthers.  You were coming here to see me.”
 

“Why?”
 

“We can talk about that later.  Go to sleep now.”  
For the next twenty-four hours, Johnny slept a good deal of the time, but finally felt up to getting out of bed to have dinner with Belinda Carruthers.  Sitting across from the lovely young woman, the dark-haired man regretted not being able to remember why he had come to see the voluptuous girl.  As if she had read his mind, Belinda asked, “I suppose you’re wondering why you were coming to see me?”
 

“Well, yes, Miss Carruthers, I guess I am.  I think I’m beginn’ to remember some things.  I know you’re right and my name is Madrid, but after that things are kinda hazy.”
 

In a soothing tone she replied, “That’s only to be expected with a wound like yours so I might as well tell you the truth.  You’re a gunfighter, Mr. Madrid, and I hired you to help me.”
 

“A. . .gunfighter?  Me?”
 

“A very good gunfighter, one of the best, and there’s a man in town who insulted me.  He tried to get me to marry him and when I refused he started causing trouble.  I need you to. . .to take care of him for me.”
 

Johnny sat there silently for some time, letting the words float through his mind.  Soon the thoughts were joined by images of himself drawing down on first one man and then another.
 

The pale look on Johnny’s face moved Belinda to ask, “Are you all right, Mr. Madrid?  I don’t expect you to go after him until you feel
better.”
 

“Uh, it’s just that I’m startin’ ta recall shootin’ some men.  I guess I must be what you say.
 

“I’m sure it must be disconcerting for you, but why don’t we eat and then you can rest?  Don’t even think about what I’ve paid you to do right now.”
 

The rest of the evening was spent in talking and then Belinda played the piano for an hour.  After that, Johnny went to his room to sleep.  He had just fallen into a pleasant doze when the door opened.  Johnny caught the fragrance of lilac before a warm voice and an even warmer body knelt by the bed.  “I know you’re head must hurt, Johnny.  Let me rub it for you.”  The touch of Belinda’s soft hands felt heavenly as Johnny reached to take her enticing body into his arms.  “Does that feel good?” Johnny didn’t bother to answer as he kissed the woman deeply.  Not questioning her presence, the brunet asked Belinda to stay with him.
  
The next morning when the young man awoke alone, he thought maybe he had dreamt their encounter; but when he went downstairs after dressing, Belinda Carruthers made it abundantly clear that it had not been a dream.  In fact, for the next two days the lovers were rarely apart.  In fact, she made it obvious that Johnny Madrid would be welcome to settle at the Curly C–once he had fulfilled his contract.
 

The day after that, Johnny Madrid was given a horse, a description and a name for the man who had been harassing Belinda.  Riding into Merced, Madrid intended to take care of business quickly and then return to the waiting arms of Belinda Carruthers.  No man could be allowed to insult the woman who shared his bed.  Perhaps, he might even ask Belinda to marry him when this was all done.
 

In town Scott Lancer waited impatiently for his brother to show up. He knew that Murdoch would be furious at the delay.  At first, he hadn’t been too worried because he had been delayed himself due to a run-in with two old miners named, Barker and Cox, and their mule, Parson.  When Scott’s horse had thrown a shoe, he had reluctantly stopped at their cabin hoping to find an anvil and forge.  Instead, he had been forced to lead the horse and ride the mule!  After sending the mule back to the miners, Scott had found himself a room and prepared himself to wait for his missing brother.
 

After several days, Scott felt that he had explored every inch of the small town.  In fact, he was beginning to believe that Johnny had forgotten to stop here and had just gone on to Lancer–either that or he had met a girl!  Grumbling to himself about inconsiderate brothers, the blond was heading down the street to get something to eat when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
 

“You Scott Lancer?”
 

Scott swiveled to see a dark-haired man, hand lightly caressing his weapon, standing in front of him.  “It’s about time you got here, Johnny.  I’d just about given up hope.”
 

“I said, are you Scott Lancer?” curved the tight lips.
 

“Johnny, I’m tired of this town and I don’t want to play games.  You know who I am so let’s get you a horse and head to Morro Coyo.”
 

“Ain’t goin’ nowhere with you, and if you wanna live much longer you’ll leave now ‘n won’t bother Miss Carruthers again.”
 

Scott’s blue eyes flooded with bewilderment.  “What’s the matter with you, Brother?  Who’s Miss Carruthers?”
 

“You’re the one who’s sick, Boy.  My name is Madrid and I ain’t got no brothers.”
 

“Johnny, I. . . ” Scott stepped forward as if touching the other man would end this strange encounter.  Johnny’s hand reacted automatically.  The gun cleared the holster with grim efficiency, pumping two bullets into the blond’s slender body.
  
Johnny Madrid Lancer gazed calmly down at the bleeding man.  “Told you to leave town.”  Then the gunfighter walked over to his horse, mounted, and rode back to the Curly C.
 

As soon as Madrid rode out of town, two men rushed over to the fallen blond.  Taking one glance at the bleeding man, they picked him up, rushing him to their town’s doctor.  Philip Gordon had been a surgeon in the Confederate Army, where for four years he had tended the broken bodies of young men.  After Appomattox, the war-weary man had gone west, hoping to forget the carnage.  Certainly, he had found a measure of peace as well as a wealth of experience in the varied injuries and women who needed help to deliver their babies.
 

Happily, Merced was usually quiet so Gordon had had to deal with only a few gunshot wounds, but the sight of the bleeding body on his table inadvertently brought back those horrifying memories.  Shaking off his dread, Philip Gordon set to work to save the man whose life was in his hands.
 

Across the street, the two men who had been so prompt to help Scott were in the saloon, discussing the shooting.  “‘S’pose we should try to
find out if that young feller has kin.  ‘Spect they might wanta be with him when he breathes his last.”
 

“Now, Harry, the Doc might pull him through.  He’s pretty good for a Reb.”
 

“Jud Wells, that was Johnny Madrid doin’ the shootin’.  You know a man like that don’t miss.”
 

“Johnny Madrid, you sure?”
 

“‘Course.  I was standin’ close by and I recognized him,” insisted
Harry Dobbs
 

“But didn’t you hear that Madrid settled down on a spread up near Morro Coyo?  Got a new name ‘n everythin’.”
 

“Well, if he goes around shootin’ folks, he ain’t changed much.  Can you remember where this place is?”
 

“Seems like it was that big place Murdoch Lancer’s got, north of here.”
 

Harry Dobbs lower jaw dropped open.  “But. . .but I just ‘membered that Madrid asked the stranger if his name was Scott Lancer.”  
“What?  Then, we better get over to the telegraph office and let his pa know.  He’s got a long trip ahead of him.”
 

The telegram, notifying Murdoch Lancer of his son’s shooting, put two people in motion immediately.  Teresa O’Brien quickly packed their bags for the trip to Merced.  During the grim ride, Murdoch tried to keep a positive outlook, but the curt words about Scott’s condition didn’t lend themselves to a great deal of hope.  In fact, Murdoch Lancer could only hope that by now Johnny was with his brother so that his older son was not alone.
 

The tall rancher had not understood why the telegram had not been from Johnny himself, but decided that he might have been delayed in meeting Scott.  If so, Murdoch was nervous about his dark son’s reaction.  He just might take it into his head to avenge Scott’s shooting.
 

Arriving at the doctor’s office after the long, tiring ride, Murdoch escorted the young woman inside.  Hearing the bell, Philip Gordon emerged from the room to find a tall gray-haired man and a small brown-haired woman waiting for him.
 

“Doctor, my name’s Lancer.  I believe my son is here?”
 

“Yes, Sir.  I’ll take you in to see him.  I got the bullets out, but he’s developed a fever and has been delirious for a good part of the time.  He keeps yelling about someone named Johnny.”
 

“That’s his brother.  I take it he hasn’t been here?”
 

“Not at all.  Now, would you like to see him?”
 

Murdoch and Teresa followed the doctor inside, only to find the disheveled body of Scott Lancer shifting about in the bed.  Without a word Teresa quickly sat down by him before dipping a cloth in the nearby pan.  Carefully wiping the pale face, she murmured a few soothing words.  Turning back to Gordon, Teresa matter-of-factly stated, “I’m sure you must have other duties, Doctor.  I’ll be glad to take over Scott’s care.  This won’t be the first time.”
 

“Uh, well thank you, Miss, uh, Miss. . . .”
 

“O’Brien.”
 

“Teresa’s my ward, Doctor.  She is quite capable in matters like this.”
 

“Excellent.  I do have two patients who are nearing their time and I didn’t want to leave Mr. Lancer alone.”
 

“Uh, Doctor, could I talk to you a moment?”
 

“Of course.”  Philip Gordon followed the tall man into the outer room.
 

“Doctor Gordon, what can you tell me about how my son was injured?”
 

“Truthfully, Sir, I’m not the one to ask.  I heard some firing out on the street and then Harry and Jud carried your son in here.  I thought he wouldn’t survive the removal of the bullets, but he’s stubborn.  I’m really beginning to think he might make it we can get his fever down.”  
“I certainly appreciate all you’ve done.  Could you tell me where I could find this Harry and Jud?  I’d really like to talk to them.”
 

“This time of day, they’re most likely at the saloon,” the physician explained.  “They’re both short and have gray hair and beards.  In fact, they look like they could be brothers, except Jud wears this God-awful hat that looks like it’s been through a stampede.”
 

“Would you tell Teresa where I’ve gone?  I’ll be right back.”
 

“Certainly.”
 

Murdoch Lancer walked slowly across the street.  He had no trouble spotting the two men as Gordon had accurately described them.  As a matter of fact, the maligned hat was even worse than stated.  Moving over near them, he casually offered to buy them a drink.  Never one to pass up free liquor, Harry Dobbs downed one shot glass before even thanking his benefactor.  Jud Wells wasn’t far behind, but did delay long enough to ask, “Thanks Stranger.  I like to know the name of the man whose liquor I’m drinkin’.”
 

“I’m Murdoch Lancer.  I live near Morro Coyo.”
 

“You’re the feller we sent the telegram to!” breathed the grizzled man with the crumpled hat.
 

“Uh, yes, I wanted to ask about that.  Dr. Gordon said that you helped my son so I just wanted to thank the two of you.”
 

“You’re mighty welcome, Mr. Lancer.  That boy of yours is lucky to be
alive.  Not many men have stood up against Johnny Madrid and lived to
tell about it.”
 

A great shudder shook the tall frame.  “Johnny Madrid?  But that can’t be!”
 

“Yeah, me ‘n Jud wondered ’bout that.  But I heard him plain as day say his name was Madrid.  Your boy seemed to know him too.”
 

“Do you. . .do you know where this Madrid went?”
 
 “Not sure but he headed south out of town.  By now, he’s probably clean to Mexico!” 

Lancer stood there silently for a moment before he purchased a whole bottle of the amber liquid, passing it over to the two men.  “Thank you for your help and the information.  If you think of anything else, I’ll be over at the doctor’s office.”
 

Watching the big man go out the swinging door, Harry nudged Jud.
“Looked kinda sick, didn’t he?”
 

“Well, jest how would you feel if’n one of your boys tried to kill t’other?”
 

“Guess ya gotta point there!  Now, let’s finish this here bottle.”
 

Murdoch Lancer returned to Dr. Gordon’s office, his thoughts in a maelstrom of confusion.  Why would Johnny shoot Scott?  There just seemed to be no reasonable explanation.  Deciding not to tell Teresa what he had discovered, Murdoch forced himself to concentrate on his older son’s welfare for the time being.
 

Some miles south of town Johnny and Belinda were wrapped around each other in bed.  Whispering seductively in Johnny’s ear, Belinda caressed his strong back, “I hate to get up, Lover, but I do have a ranch to run.”
 

“Aw, you can stay here a few more minutes, can’t you, honey?”
 

Running her hand through his black hair, Belinda nibbled on one shoulder.  “Tell me again how you killed that Lancer scoundrel.”

Johnny grinned.  “You’re a real spitfire, aren’t you?  I already told you.  I put two bullets in him.”
 

“And you watched him die, didn’t you?” the woman inquired gleefully.
 

Madrid hesitated as Belinda’s green eyes narrowed.  “Johnny, you did make sure he was dead, didn’t you?’
 

“Well, I, uh. . . .”
 

“Did you or did you not make sure Scott Lancer was dead?”
 

“I didn’t want to hang around, but I left him bleedin’ in the street.” 

Angrily, Belinda rose from the bed, throwing on a lacy negligee.  “I paid you to make sure he was dead!”
 

“By now he is!”  Why don’t you come back to bed?” insisted the gunfighter.
 

“No!  I’m not going to give you any loving until you make sure he’s dead!”  The small woman stood there defiantly, much as a redheaded queen had done at Tilbury in 1588.
 

Exasperation clouded the sapphire eyes as Johnny gazed upon his feisty lover.  “All right, will it make you happy if I go into town and make sure he’s dead?”
 

Smiling sweetly, Belinda approached the bed.  Letting Johnny’s calloused hands untie the transparent robe, Belinda licked her lips saying, “Thank you, Sugar, but you don’t have to leave right this minute.” Johnny grabbed the woman, covering her with his body.
 

By the end of the day both Murdoch and Teresa were exhausted from the effort to keep Scott in bed.  His delusions seemed to be terrifying as he tossed and turned trying to escape from his unseen enemy.  Dr. Gordon had been called out by one of the women who was expecting so the burden was on the two visitors from Lancer.   Finally, the blond had seemed to settle down with the aid of a light draught of laudanum.  Seeing Murdoch’s drawn face, Teresa had encouraged him to go over to the hotel to procure rooms for the two of them so that they could take turns at Scott’s bedside.  The tall rancher had reluctantly agreed.  He knew that both of them would need sleep sooner or later.
 

As soon as Murdoch had left, Teresa took advantage of the fact that Scott seemed to be sleeping peacefully to go into the Doctor’s kitchen to make a cup of tea.  The bubbling brew would help to revive her for the long night ahead.
 

As a result, she did not hear or see the dark-clad figure enter through the window of Scott’s room.  Johnny Madrid stared down at the pale man he had seen only once before.  “You sure are a stubborn cuss, Mister,” he whispered almost to himself.  “Fancy you tryin’ to tell me we’re brothers.  What use would I have for a varmit like you?
 

To his astonishment, a groan emerged from the man on the bed.  Not wanting the girl he had seen to come running, Johnny snatched up a blanket from the foot of the bed.  This time he would make sure that Belinda’s tormentor would not bother her again.
 

Advancing on the restless figure, the brunet stopped as a beam of light pierced the darkness from the outer room. Murdoch Lancer entered to the startling sight of his younger son trying to smother his older son.
 

With a speed that would do justice to any gunslinger, Murdoch drew his weapon.  “Put it down, Johnny!” he ordered.
 

“Now, just who might you be, Old Man?”
 

Consternation flooded the rancher.  “I’m. . .I’m your father.” 

The bellow of laughter which met that statement unnerved the older man.  “It’s true!” he protested.  “You and Scott are brothers.  Don’t you remember?”
 

Madrid stood there arrogantly.  Gesturing towards the man in the bed, he remarked, “He tried to tell me somethin’ like that too. Didn’t believe him neither.”
 

“But it’s true.  The three of us jointly own our ranch!”
 

“So, now I’m a ranch owner?  Tell me another one, Old Man.  I’ve been alone all my life and I like it that way. Just . . .”

Before the man in black could finish his statement, the attention of the two men was diverted by Teresa O’Brien in the doorway.  Seeing his chance, Johnny threw the blanket at Murdoch, catching his gun which went off before it fell to the floor.  Madrid started to draw on the now-vulnerable man when he was met with a splash of hot tea in the face.  Momentarily blinded by the liquid, he wasn’t prepared for the vicious backhand given him by his father which dropped the younger man heavily to the floor, totally dazed.
 

After picking up his gun and taking Johnny’s from his holster, Breathing heavily, Murdoch stood over his dark-haired son.
 

Fearfully, Teresa stepped nearer her guardian. “Murdoch, what was Johnny doing?”
 

Putting an arm around her shoulders, he replied, “It’s okay, honey, maybe Johnny willl be able to tell us when he wakes up.”
 

But any thoughts of Johnny Madrid were drowned in the anguished scream that rent the night air.
 
 
 THE ENDEpilogue 

Teresa flew to Scott’s side, followed by Murdoch.  Between the two of them, they managed to get the sweating, tormented man to lie back against the pillows.  Turning to grab the wet cloth, Teresa saw the swaying figure of Johnny Madrid, standing there trying to focus on the two people by the bed. Grasping for Murdoch’s arm, Teresa frantically whispered, “Murdoch! Johnny’s awake!”
 

The tall rancher leveled his gun at his son.  “Madrid, just take it slow!”
 

Sapphire eyes swiveled towards the voice.  “Why. . .why are you holding a gun on me?”  Taking a step towards the bed, Johnny stopped when Murdoch pointed the gun at his heart.  “Dammit!  My head hurts like hell and you wanta shoot me!”
 

Teresa quietly interceded, “Johnny, do you know your name?”
 

“Teresa, you gone crazy too?  Name’s Lancer, just like him,” pointing at his father.  Now what’s goin’ on and why’s Boston in bed?”
 

Two great sighs of relief filled the room.
 

A grinning Murdoch walked over to put his arm around the dark man.  “Welcome back, Son.  You really had us scared.”
 

Rubbing at his aching jaw, Johnny protested doubtfully at the statement.  “You sure got a strange way of showin’ it.”
 

“Sorry about that, but you weren’t quite yourself.”
 

“What?  I don’t understand.”
 

“What’s the last thing you remember?”
 

“Uh, guess it was bein’ in that damn stagecoach, just before it went upside-down.  What happened after that?”
 

Taking a deep breath, Murdoch suggested, “Why don’t we go over to the saloon and have a drink?  Teresa will stay here with Scott.  I’ve got a lot to tell you.”
 

After taking their seats at one of the corner tables in the saloon, Johnny sipped at his beer while Murdoch took a healthy gulp of his whiskey.  “Son, I’m sure you’re not going to like what I’m going to say, but just hear me out.  Evidently, you hit your head or something when the stage crashed and for some reason you forgot about your life at Lancer and reverted to being Johnny Madrid.”
 

“Guess it coulda been worse.”
 

“It’s a lot worse, believe me.  I don’t know the whole story because we didn’t get here until we received the telegram about Scott.”
 

A deep look of anger filled the blue eyes.  “What the hell did Scott get himself into anyway?  He was just supposed to wait for me.”
 

“As much as I can figure, he did, but Johnny Madrid called him out and shot him twice.”
 

Johnny’s fist came up and around, catching his father squarely in the jaw.  Grabbing the older man by his shirt, he spit out, “That’s a lie!  I didn’t!”
 

Cautiously, Murdoch wiped away the trickle of blood at his mouth.  “Johnny, do you think I wanted to tell you that?
 

Johnny let loose of the older man before sinking back in the chair.  “Did. . .did Boston say I did it?”
 

“He’s been out of his head with fever since we got here so he couldn’t say anything about it one way or the other.”
 

“That’s why you hit me then?  You just found out what . . .what I did?”
 

Murdoch took another gulp of the whiskey which burned fiercely against the cut.  “No, it wasn’t because of that.  You disappeared after the shooting and then tonight you came back. . .to finish the job evidently.”
 

“How?” 

“I found you standing over Scott with a blanket.  You were going to. . .smother him.”
 

Johnny Lancer’s face paled before he jumped up to head out to the back alley.  Following behind slowly, Murdoch gave the young man a measure of privacy.  When the retching stopped, Murdoch offered his son a clean handkerchief to mop his face.
 

In a rasping voice Johnny asked, “Can we go back now?  I gotta tell him how sorry I am.”
 

“I don’t think he’ll be able to hear you.”
 

“I gotta try anyway.”
 

The two men walked slowly back to the doctor’s house.  Opening the door, they found a startling sight.  On the floor was the battered body of Philip Gordon.  Kneeling down, Murdoch thankfully felt a faint pulse.  Then his jerked up, “Teresa!”
 

Thrusting open the door they found the young woman gagged and tied in a chair.  Removing the bandana, Murdoch quickly untied the knots so the girl could throw herself into his arms.  Crying, the Teresa wailed, “Scott!  They took him!”
 

Johnny came closer.  “Who took him?”
 

“I don’t know.  Four men came in, tied me up and then put Scott in a blanket and left.  I heard some kind of noise out in the other room and then quiet.”
 

“That must have been when the Doctor came in.”
 

“Is he hurt?”
 

Murdoch nodded.
 

“Then I’d better go help him.  What are you going to do?”
 

The two Lancers looked at each other.  “First of all we’ve got to figure out where those men took him and why.  Johnny, are you sure you don’t remember why you went after Scott?’
 

Sweat glistened on Johnny’s face as he strained to remember.  “I keep getting’ this flicker of a girl’s face, but that’s it.”
 

“All right.  First, let’s go help the Doctor and then you need to get some sleep, Son.  Maybe a good night’s sleep will help you remember.”
 

Grumbling, Johnny went out with Murdoch to carry the injured man up to his bed.  “I’ll keep an eye on him, Murdoch.  You and Johnny need to go to bed,” insisted Teresa.
 

“Don’t worry about us, honey.  Keep an eye on Dr. Gordon.  He deserved better than this.”
 

“Yes, he’s a fine man.  Now go get some sleep.”
 

Putting down two blankets on the floor in the room which Scott had used, the two Lancers were asleep almost instantly.
 

Then just as dawn was coloring the sky, Teresa excitedly woke the two men.  “Murdoch, wake up!  Dr. Gordon woke up for a few minutes.  He told me the men who took Scott work for a woman named Belinda Carruthers.”
 

Now wide awake, Murdoch frowned.  “Never heard the name.  How about you, Johnny?”
 

Flushing brightly, Johnny admitted, “Yeah, I think I do.  She lives south of town.”
 

Murdoch did not take the time to inquire further.  “Right.  Then let’s get going.  We need to find Scott before they do anything else.”
 

Teresa gave both men a hug.  “Be careful and bring him back.  I’m just glad they didn’t take it into their heads to kill him right there in the bed.”
 

Murdoch waited until he and Johnny were outside before commenting, “That’s what worries me.  Why did they take him?”
 
 After acquiring two horses, the two rode out in search of the third Lancer.
  
Less than hour later Murdoch and Johnny rode up to the gate stating that they were on Curly C property.  “Murdoch, you’d better let me handle this.  I’m the reason Scott’s in trouble and. . . .”
 

“Johnny, you may have been the instrument, but there has to be a reason
that these people want Scott and I’m going to find out what is.  You stay here.  I’ll go talk with this Belinda Carruthers.”
 

Before the tall rancher could ride through the gate, a volley of gunshots tore up the ground in front of them.  In their effort to maintain control of their horses, they missed the approach of the woman in question.
 

“Well, if it isn’t Murdoch and Johnny Lancer.  Welcome to the Curly C, gentlemen.”
 

Johnny just stared at the raven-haired woman who gave him a look of disdain.
 

“Miss Carruthers, we’ve come to get my son, Scott.”
 

“Well, I didn’t suppose you came just to see me,” the woman dimpled at the two.  “But unfortunately Scott Lancer is in no condition to go with you, even if he wanted to.”
 

“What’d you do to him, you bitch?” the brunet growled.
 

“Why, Johnny, you didn’t talk like that when we were in bed together.”
 

Murdoch tried to control his flush as he commented, “Perhaps, we could talk to Scott and then he could tell us that?”
 

“He’s still under the weather, but don’t worry, he’ll be fine–as long as someone doesn’t do something stupid like trying to take him away from the Curly C!  Who knows what might happen to him then?” she questioned innocently.  “Now, I suggest you gentlemen go back to your ranch so I can take care of mine–and Scott.”
 

The voluptuous woman flipped her hair and then walked into the house as six men took her place, guns drawn.
 

“Johnny, let’s go!” announced the patriarch.
 

“Murdoch, you can’t let Scott stay here!”
 

“We can’t do him any good if we’re dead.”
 

Reluctantly, the two Lancers rode off towards Merced.
 

Looking out the window, Belinda Carruthers smiled as she watched her foes disappear. Turning, she walked over to Scott’s bed and sat down.  “Well, Scott honey, they’re gone.  Now, we can get on with our plans.  I can hardly wait to be Mrs. Scott Lancer.  As soon as you’re feeling better we’ll go to San Francisco, get married and have a wonderful honeymoon.”
 
 “You. . .promise?  You. . .won’t. . .hurt them?” 

“Scott, darling, I told you as long as you. . .cooperate, they’re safe. After all, they’re going to be my in-laws.   I’ve been waiting to be your bride for so many years.  I just wish Daddy could see his little girl all grown up and married.  Oh, that reminds me, the first thing I want to do after we’re married–after the wedding night, of course–is to send a telegram to Harlan Garrett, telling him about his new granddaughter!  I’d love to see his face when he reads it. Now, you just go back to sleep, Sugar!”  Kissing the blond on the forehead, Belinda trilled a small laugh of triumph before leaving.
 

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Scott clenched his fists. “Before I marry you, Belinda, I’ll either kill you or myself,” murmured the distraught young man as he escaped into sleep.


 THE END

This story will be completed in the sequel, Retribution

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