Sequel to Passions in Time
Six weeks after Scott Lancer had been taken hostage by Belinda Carruthers, a carriage followed the dusty road under the great gate of
Lancer, pulling to a stop in front of the white hacienda.
The six weeks had been a time of unparalleled turmoil because of the vindictive behavior of the voluptuous raven-haired woman. When Murdoch and Johnny Lancer had returned to Merced, the younger man had been arrested on the charge of the attempted murder of Scott Lancer. The sheriff had thrown the brunet into a small cell after informing the Lancer men that he had received information that the notorious gunfighter had shot the blond Lancer in cold blood. No amount of protesting by the tall rancher could change the stubborn man’s mind. Privately, the two men believed that the arrest had been engineered by Belinda Carruthers to keep Johnny and his father from mounting a rescue of Scott.
For nearly a week Johnny Madrid Lancer had endured his imprisonment before the sheriff had let him go, saying that a witness had come forward to declare that Scott had made the first move. By the time the two furious men had been able to return to the Curly C, they had discovered that Belinda Carruthers and her prisoner were long gone.
Although efforts were made to discover Belinda’s whereabouts, no information had been forthcoming so Murdoch, Teresa, and Johnny had reluctantly admitted defeat, returning home to Lancer. Teresa had made an effort to resume a normal routine, hoping that would help her menfolk to adjust to the loss of the Lancer son. Not that anyone had given up hope as the raw wound of Scott’s shooting and disappearance would not heal.
Johnny and Murdoch were barely on speaking terms. The hypersensitive gunfighter couldn’t reconcile his part in the tragedy, despite his father’s assurance that he had not been at fault. Adding to the tension had been Johnny’s accusation that Murdoch should never have left Scott in Belinda’s hands without doing something to rescue the blond man. Murdoch had protested, but recognized that his concentration on obtaining Johnny’s release from jail had given the Carruthers woman her chance to abscond.
Knowing none of this, the white-haired man driving the carriage reached over to gently shake the thin blond-haired man at his side. “Scotty, we’re here!” Blue-gray eyes opened painfully, adjusting to the sight of the familiar white hacienda.
Climbing down from the carriage, Harlan Garrett secured the luggage before helping his grandson to shakily step down on Lancer soil.
Slowly, the two men made their way to the stout wooden door; but before Garrett could knock, Teresa O’Brien threw the door open wide. Ignoring the white-haired man, the girl flung herself into Scott’s arms, crying happily. Eyes flooded with tears, Teresa didn’t register the tensing of the young man’s body.
Behind her, two excited voices joined the fray as Johnny and Murdoch emerged from the kitchen. Before they could welcome the missing man home, Scott’s face paled and his body began to tremble violently.
Taking command of the situation, Garrett moved in between the newcomers and his grandson. “Gentlemen and Miss O’Brien, Scott is somewhat overwhelmed right now. Perhaps, he could rest for a few hours before you talk with him?”
Taking in the obviously distressed man’s face, Teresa insisted, “Of course. Scott, why don’t you come with me? Your bed is just waiting for you.” Responding to Teresa’s reassuring tone, Scott followed the young woman into the room he had not seen in six weeks.
In the great room the two Lancers anxiously watched Scott’s departure. Suddenly remembering the presence of the man from Boston, Murdoch whirled on his former father-in-law. “What happened? Where. . .how did you find Scott?”
Harlan Garrett perused the somber faces of the two Lancers and then said, “When Miss O’Brien returns I’ll tell you all I know, but it has been a long, dusty trip. Would it be possible for me to clean up first?”
Sheepishly, the tall rancher showed the older man to the guest room before returning to the great room where he found his disturbed dark-haired son waiting for him.
“Dammit, Murdoch, what’s going on here? Did you see Scott’s face?’
“I know, but we’re just going to have to wait for Harlan to tell us what he knows!”
“But how can you believe a man like that? Don’t you remember the last time he was here?”
“Of course but he did bring Scott home. He could have taken Scott to Boston and we would never have known about it.”
Johnny nodded grudgingly. He just couldn’t bring himself to trust the white-haired curmudgeon.
Ten minutes later Teresa O’Brien reappeared, informing them that Scott had fallen into a deep sleep. Soon after Garrett returned and took a seat.
“All right, Harlan, it’s your show!” announced the patriarch.
Harlan Garrett glanced around the room, seeing only hostile faces. “I realize that my presence is unwelcome, but I assure you that I intend to leave tomorrow so that I can catch the stage. Now, I’ll tell you what I know. Approximately five weeks ago I received a telegram from Belinda Carruthers, informing me that she and Scott were to be married.”
“Married?” breathed Teresa.
“Yes, Miss O’Brien. You see at one time Belinda Carruthers lived in Boston. She and Scott did go out together occsionally, but then Scott went out with many young women. Then, an incident took place that changed their relationship. I testified against Tobias Carruthers, Belinda’s father, in court. I had proof that he was stealing from his company, but naturally Belinda only believed her father. She tried to use Scott to force me to change my testimony.”
Garrett stopped for a moment to drink some water before continuing. “Not long after that Scott went off to war and Tobias Carruthers killed himself. I was not surprised when Belinda and her brother disappeared from Boston, but I had no idea that the woman intended to punish my grandson for my perceived crime.
“As soon as I received the telegram, I made arrangements to travel to San Francisco where the wire originated from. In addition, I hired Pinkertons to locate them. Unhappily, I arrived too late.”
“What. . .what do you mean, Mr. Garrett?”
Turning to the brown-haired girl, Garrett fumbled for words. “Scotty had. . .had already married the woman, but he was being held on a charge of murder–the murder of Belinda Carruthers.”
An awful silence filled the room.
“It seems that Belinda’s strangled body was found in their hotel room the morning after the wedding. By the time I managed to see Scott, he was almost incoherent and still suffering from his gunshot wounds.”
“How. . .how did . . .why did they let Scott go?”
“First of all, I hired a first-rate attorney, then we offered a reward. Fortunately for Scott, one of the ranch hands who traveled to San Francisco with Belinda decided that the reward was more important than loyalty to a dead woman. He told the police that the ranch foreman, who had been involved with Belinda before the abduction, had killed her in a jealous rage on Scott’s wedding night. Scotty had been heavily dosed with laudanum to get through the ceremony so apparently he was unconscious through the whole terrible ordeal. The police chose to believe the man and let Scott go. For the last few weeks we have stayed in San Francisco so that he could recover.”
The white-haired man searched the faces staring at him before adding, “After Scott became more lucid, he told me that he wanted to return to Lancer as he needed to talk to his brother.”
“Yes, evidently he has much he wants to tell you. That’s why I brought him here. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to lie down for awhile. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
As soon as Garrett left the room, Johnny announced, “I’m gonna go sit with Scott, just he wakes up.”
“Go ahead, Son. I’ll let you know when dinner’s ready.”
As the sun began to sink over Lancer’s mountains, Johnny could smell the faint aroma of dinner being prepared. While his stomach rumbled with hunger, the dark-haired man had refrained from his usual habit of
sneaking into the kitchen to snitch a few cookies.
Staring down at the pale man in the bed, Johnny had almost convinced himself that any moment Scott would open those blue eyes, smile at him and say that it all been a nightmare–that Johnny had never put two bullets into that slender body, that Johnny had never gone to bed with a scheming, vengeful harridan who had used him to nearly destroy Scott Lancer. And then there had been the horror of what had occurred in San Francisco. Johnny just could not imagine what Scott had endured. How could any man experience such things and remained unscathed by them?
“Johnny?” The brunet looked to see Teresa at the door. “Dinner’s ready. Murdoch says you’re to come out and eat.”
“But I think. . . .”
“I’m going to come in with him until you finish.”
“Uh, thanks. I guess I am kind of hungry. Come get me if he wakes up.”
“I will. Go eat.”
The tension at the dinner table was almost palpable with only the two Lancers and Harlan Garrett there to eat. Murdoch especially wished that Teresa was there to make conversation since Johnny seemed to be in one of his brooding moods and that left only Murdoch to talk to their guest.
“Murdoch, I must say that Miss O’Brien is a fine cook. This is excellent beef stew.”
“What? Oh, yes, Teresa does a fine job. We all enjoy her baking too.”
“Yes, I understand that she excels at chocolate cake.”
Johnny’s head snapped up. “How’d you know about that?”
“One evening after Scotty began to feel better, we talked about Lancer and other things. He mentioned that chocolate cake is a staple of the household.”
“Uh, yeah, Teresa does make good cake.”
“My late wife, Scott’s grandmother, made an excellent chocolate cake. Of course, she rarely had time to make them, but I remember the one she made for Catherine’s first birthday,” Garrett remarked wistfully. “My daughter was impetuous even at that young age. She attempted to jump from my arms into the cake. Fortunately, my wife had not used candles, but it took the two of us some time to remove the frosting from those golden ringlets. Anna made Catherine’s cake every year until she died.”
Before anyone could comment, Teresa emerged from Scott’s room. “Johnny, could you come in? I think Scott’s having a nightmare.”
Dropping everything, Johnny jumped up, rushing into the bedroom.
Murdoch watched his son go with consternation.
“Don’t be too concerned, Murdoch, Scott has experienced frequent nightmares since this happened. I’m sure they will fade with time, once he feels safe. He had similar dreams when he returned from Libby Prison.”
“From what I’ve heard about that hellhole, that isn’t surprising, is it?”
“No, indeed, but then war is a nightmare itself, in my opinion.”
“Is that why you opposed Scott going into the cavalry?”
“One of them. Actually, it was more selfish than that. . . .If you’re done with your dinner could we go out on the porch? I feel the need to stretch my legs and there are a few things I would like to tell you before I leave tomorrow.”
“Of course. I think it’s time we talk.”
For a few minutes the two men walked out under the blanket of stars. Breathing in the cool night air, Harlan stopped his slow amble. “Murdoch, I’m not under any illusion that you and I will ever be anything but antagonistic towards each other. We’ve both made mistakes, but in the long run it’s Scott who has been hurt.”
“So, what’s your point?”
“When I saw Scott sitting in that cell and realized what could happen if he was to be found guilty of that woman’s murder, I was desperate. I knew that my fear of losing him when he went to war or here to California had only led up to that moment. So, after he was freed, I decided it was time for you and I to talk.”
“You made that difficult by your behavior the last time you were here.”
Shifting uncomfortably, Garrett acknowledged the point. “I can’t deny that. There is no excuse for what I did, especially in that it nearly cost Scotty’s life. I just lost control of reason. Scott is all I have in the world. I would do anything, including kill, to protect him. You . . .you at least have Johnny and Teresa.”
Murdoch stood there silently, waiting for the old man to continue.
“One evening Scott told me how he loved to look up at the stars here at Lancer. He said that he knew that those same stars were looking down on his mother’s grave. I confess, I tried to stop him from bringing up those memories. He couldn’t possibly understand the grief I felt that day–and the joy of holding his warm, small body in my arms. Then, he told me that out here, he could feel Catherine’s presence. It was then that I realized what I had done in my profound grief. Murdoch, I know you think of me as a selfish man and I suspect you’re right, but I’ve finally realized that here is where Scott needs to be–at least until he decides differently.”
Hesitating, Murdoch finally replied, “I’m not quite sure what to say. I’m just grateful that Scott wants to stay here because I haven’t always made it easy for him. He should not have to choose. He’s a part of both of us.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that. Now, I believe I should go to sleep. These old bones need to prepare for that stage ride.”
“Good night, Harlan. I’ll see you before you leave.”
“Good night, Murdoch.”
Before going to bed himself, Murdoch Lancer stopped by Scott’s room, quietly opening the door. Smiling at the sight of his younger son sleeping on a blanket on the floor beside the bed, Murdoch walked into the kitchen to give Teresa an abbreviated version of his talk with Harlan Garrett, before heading to bed himself.
In the morning, Teresa prepared some biscuits and coffee for their guest, who had sat down at the kitchen table, opposite the young woman. “These are wonderful biscuits, Miss O’Brien. I remember the ones Miss Nicholson used to prepare. Scott would wolf them down while still hot.”
“Thank you, Mr. Garrett. I’ve already started to plan my campaign to fatten him up.”
“Excellent. Perhaps some cherry pie might do the trick.”
“Oh, I know. Just as soon as he’s up to eating it, I plan to make a whole one just for him!”
Wistfully, Garrett replied, “I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.”
“Did. . .did I say something wrong, Mr. Garrett?”
“Not at all. It’s just that I was remembering one time when Miss Nicholson baked a cherry pie and left it in the kitchen to cool while she went out shopping. Scott came home from school, saw the pie and started to eat it. He didn’t know I had come early to dress for a dinner engagement so he jumped like a frightened rabbit when I walked into the kitchen–but he didn’t drop the pie.”
“Did you punish him?”
“Of course! He was only allowed to eat half the pie, while I ate the other half! I’m sure Miss Nicholson suspected what had happened to her missing pie, but she never said anything. Neither Scotty or I ate much dinner that night.”
Looking into the twinkling, faded blue eyes, Teresa grinned, “So now I know where Scott gets it from!”
“Actually, Miss O’Brien, he gets it from the Preston side. His grandmother was a unique woman. I wish he could have known her.”
“I’m sure she was. Would you like another biscuit?”
“No thank you, my dear, I should go say goodbye to Scott and leave. Stages wait for no man. Oh, but if you ever want to visit Boston, I’d be glad to have you come and cook for me.”
Laughing, Teresa handed him a parcel. “Here are some fresh-baked cookies for your trip.”
“Thank you, Teresa, that is very kind of you.”
Garrett then stopped in to see Scott for a moment. “He’s still asleep, Mr. Garrett. Do you want me to wake ‘im?
“No, that’s all right, Johnny, he needs all the sleep he can get and we
said our goodbyes before we left San Francisco. Would you mind helping me carry my bag out to the carriage?”
The dark-haired man followed him into the great room where Garrett stopped. “Actually, Johnny, my bag is already in the carriage. I just wanted to ask you to take care of Scott for me.” At the look of annoyance in the sapphire eyes, Harlan continued, “I know you will because it’s obvious you care about him, but he told me that he was concerned that what happened in Merced had destroyed what the two of you had together.”
“You mean because I. . .I shot him?”
“Not exactly. I just know that he felt he had to come back here to make it right.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry, I’ll take good care of him–as far as he lets me!”
“That does sound like Scotty. Now, I believe it’s time for me to go.”
Johnny returned to Scott’s room as soon as he heard the carriage drive away. Entering the room, he found cerulean eyes focused on him. “Hey Boston, your grandfather just left. He came to say goodbye but you were still sleepin’.”
“I’ll. . .I’ll write him later.”
“You hungry? “I’ll bet Teresa has biscuits out in the kitchen.”
“Not right now, thanks. “Johnny, did Grandfather tell you what happened in San Francisco?” the blond questioned anxiously.
“Are. . .are you angry?”
“Dammit, of course I’m angry. I just wish I could have found you first.”
“I’m. . .I’m sorry. I just couldn’t let. . .she told me you were all dead.”
“Boston, what are you talkin’ about?” I’m angry that she used me to hurt you. What can I say to make you forgive me?”
In a halting voice, Scott whispered, “Is that what you think I want-for
you to grovel for forgiveness?”
“Not exactly, but. . . .”
Struggling to sit up, Scott rubbed unconsciously at his wounded shoulder. “Johnny, you’re my brother. I’ve tried to accept you for who you are–all of you–the strengths and the weaknesses. I’d like to think you’d do the same for me.”
“Well, sure but shootin’ you isn’t the same as the time I grabbed a piece of your pie.”
“No, it isn’t, but if you let this come between us then I guess we didn’t have much there in the first place. I asked Grandfather to bring me back to Lancer so that we could try to repair the damage…Belinda’s revenge did. Are you willing to try or are you going to go into your moody, brooding ‘I don’t need anybody’ behavior?”
“Dammit, Scott, that’s not fair!”
“I’m sick of playing fair, Johnny! You’ve got to decide what it is you want–to be the victim of a sadistic, vengeful woman or somebody who’s strong enough to get past that–and help his brother do the same.”
Johnny Madrid stood there, fists clenched, then the fists relaxed.
“So, what. . .what do you need me to do?”
“I’m too tired to talk about it this minute, but later, we can work it out between us. It’s enough to know that you’re not disgusted with me and that you’re. . .willing to give us a chance, Little Brother.”
“Scott?” but the blond’s blue eyes had closed again. Seeing that his brother was asleep, Johnny decided to head for the kitchen to gobble down some biscuits.
In the bedroom, Scott’s head swirled with images as sleep overtook him–the sight of Johnny pulling the trigger of the gun aimed at his chest, the pain of knowing himself to be Belinda’s prisoner, and finally the worst of all In his drug-fogged delirium Scott could hear the maniacal screams from Belinda, taunting him that at the precise moment they had exchanged vows, his family had been slaughtered by some of her men. Scott could see himself putting his hands about her neck and. . . . Waking, his body drenched with sweat, Scott shivered under the blanket. It had only been another hallucination, like so many others.
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