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Further Acquaintances by Fay

Word count 21,360

Originally appeared in the Great Room Bookshelf II- 2006

This story is a sequel to “Stagecoach Encounters” written for the 2005 Homecoming Souvenir Fanzine. Without giving too much of the previous story away, Johnny met a young lady during an eventful stagecoach ride in which he was wounded.


Chicken. That’s what it smelt like. But why was there a chicken in his room? Why was there a chicken in his thoughts at all?

Not a real live chicken. A dead chicken. Cooked chicken to be precise. He groaned and he opened one eye. The eye he thought was closest to the chicken.

 Seated in an armchair drawn up to his bed was not a chicken. It was yellow, though. There were no feathers, but it had a head of yellow blond hair. Messy hair, too, which was unlike his tidy big brother. His brother was lying quite untidily, in fact. He was sprawled with both long legs spread apart, the lower extremities disappearing into the cavernous depths under Johnny’s bed.

Scott’s head was propped on one hand, his elbow leaning on the armrest. The pressure of Scott’s head pressing into his hand had scrunched the skin of his cheek into a deep fold, which distorted his partially open mouth by pushing his lips askew. Very genteel snores emanated from Scott’s fish mouth.

The sight of his brother sound asleep, but at his bedside, brought a smile to Johnny’s lips.

He endeavoured to lift his head up to better survey his brother, but pain lancing through him begged him to reconsider his rash move. He could not prevent the groan escaping, which instantly alerted his brother as it broke him from his slumber.

“Johnny!” breathed Scott, sitting up with a jerk and brushing his hand across his hair.

“Hi there, Scott!” Johnny whispered. He was surprised that his voice wasn’t stronger. He coughed and winced again at the agony coursing through him. Perhaps staying still was the safest and most painless option at the moment, Johnny reasoned.

Scott’s grin, hovering above him, was like a salve to Johnny’s wound. There was something about the sight of his lanky brother which always perked Johnny up.


 Johnny nodded. Scott eased his hand beneath Johnny’s neck and helped him lift his head. Johnny took several sips, but then closed his eyes and let the weight of his head drop back into Scott’s hand.

“How are you doing?”

“OK. I’m . . .”

 “Fine,” Scott finished for him. “I wasn’t talking about the standard meaningless response. I want the truth.”

Eyes remaining closed, Johnny grinned weakly.

“As long as I don’t move, I’m fine. Honest.”

 Scott rested his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny relished the contact and felt himself relaxing into the welcoming softness of his bed, before realization hit him. He jerked and paid for it dearly.

“Lauren!” he simultaneously cried out and moaned with the resultant shaft of agony.

“Take it easy, Johnny,” calmed Scott, applying a little pressure to keep Johnny from moving too much and tearing the stitches Sam had inserted.

“Where is she? Is she all right?”

“She’s fine. Don’t panic.”

 The ghost of a smile danced at the corners of Johnny’s mouth.

“Is she here?” he asked hopefully.

 “No. She’s at her aunt’s.”

“Oh.” Johnny’s disappointment was palpable.

“We sent a message to her aunt the same time as we notified Sam,” Scott explained.

Again, a quiet ‘Oh’ greeted Scott’s information.

 What Scott didn’t tell him was that the aunt was on their doorstep poste haste, claiming her niece back to the bosom of her family. Scott had been awestruck at just how mighty those bosoms had been, too.

“She didn’t seem overjoyed at her aunt’s haste,” Scott offered. “I think that she would have preferred to have waited until you were better.”

Johnny’s mouth had definitely broadened into a grin. A remarkably self satisfied grin for someone who had been so ill.

“But her aunt droned on about Lauren imposing on our hospitality and us needing to concentrate on you rather than a houseguest.”

 Scott felt a pang of regret as Johnny’s smile disappeared.

 “Well, at least this way you’ll get a chance to get your strength back and maybe work on a haircut and shave before you see her again.”

Scott was relieved to see Johnny’s mobile lips in action as they framed his even, white teeth. His brother almost beamed in anticipation. Scott was also a little curious, but decided that a little nourishment was the next step before Johnny fell asleep again.

 “Now, Teresa has left some of her chicken broth here. You started stirring about fifteen minutes ago, so she left some heated up for you.”

 Johnny didn’t reply, but Scott was determined to achieve his mission. He removed the cover from the jug and poured some of the broth into a bowl, then turned his attention to Johnny.

“Come on. Let’s get you sitting up a little.”

 Johnny shook his head to protest, but Scott would have none of it.

“Eat some and I’ll leave you in peace!” Scott promised.

Johnny sighed. He didn’t want to eat. He wanted to sleep.

Scott dipped the spoon into the still warm broth, wiped the base of it fastidiously on the side of the bowl and raised it to Johnny’s lips. Not having the energy to argue, Johnny decided to be obedient.

 He sipped and found that it went down quite well. He also discovered that he was hungry, after all.

Scott methodically fed his brother, watching him carefully as his sibling dutifully swallowed. He frowned in concentration, much as an artist ponders the success of his brush strokes.

Johnny’s appetite waned rapidly, but Scott was satisfied that he had consumed at least half the bowl.

“Get some beauty sleep, brother, and then I want to hear all about that young lady you managed to find in your travels.”

Johnny’s eyes were closed, but the crinkling which radiated out from them indicated to Scott the happy thoughts occupying his brother’s mind.


Voices murmuring softly broke through the barrier erected by his tired and sore body.

Johnny prised open his eyes. Murdoch sat in the armchair next to Johnny’s bedside, but his body had swivelled around so that he was looking toward the window.

 Leaning his elegant rear end on the window sill, Scott stood facing his father, arms folded across his chest.

Johnny didn’t stir or draw attention to himself. He merely enjoyed the peace and security of knowing that his father and brother were watching his back while he had been out to it. There was a certain safety in their discussion, too, which revolved around cattle. Cutting out stock, breeding, stud bulls and fence lines.

 It was his grin which drew Scott’s attention.

“Hey, Johnny!”


 The response was quieter, but no less heartfelt.


Murdoch had turned to Johnny when Scott had spoken. He reached out one of his immense paws and ever so gently stroked Johnny’s fringe off his forehead.

“How goes it?”

“Fine,” the usual reply was offered.

“Just what are you grinning at?” Scott demanded.

“You two, but particularly you.”


“If ol’ Harlan could hear his gentleman grandson now, sprouting off about cows and bulls and breeding, he’d have a pink fit. That sort of discussion ain’t fit for polite society. And such a lewd topic would give all your lady friends palpitations!”

 “Well, neither he nor those ladies are likely to hear me from Boston, and that’s just the way I like it!” Scott retorted.

“You’ll get no arguments from me, brother.”

 Murdoch smiled at the banter he had missed so much, then got down to brass tacks. “Do you think that you could manage some food, John?”


 “On what?”

“On whether it’s fit for a man to consume. I don’t want no tame lily livered broth.”

 “It was chicken, not liver,” Scott interrupted.

Johnny’s icy Madrid stare had no effect in quashing Scott’s cheekiness. His brother did not cringe at all, sadly.

“I want something with meat on its bones and a bit of taste to it. I’m starving.”

Scott and Murdoch smiled broadly. Johnny must be on the improve to have his appetite back.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Johnny sighed gratefully.

 “Thanks, Brother.”

“But on one condition.”

 Warily, a tentative frown on his forehead, Johnny grouched.

“What condition?”

 “That you tell me about the lovely Lauren.”

“Ain’t nothin’ to tell.”

The very cockiness of Johnny’s tone implied quite the opposite, bringing a smirk to Scott’s face.

“I still want to hear it, Johnny.”

 Scott exited, leaving Murdoch to see to Johnny’s needs and to make him more comfortable.

The movement evinced a hiss of pain from Johnny.

Murdoch froze as he hovered, uncertainty warring across his features.

 “Is it bad, son?”

Johnny looked into his father’s blue eyes.

 “I’m OK. It’s paining me some, but it’s bearable.”

 Murdoch knew that Johnny would be playing it down to some extent, but he appreciated Johnny’s partial honesty. He did look stronger, however. The pain lines had receded and were not etched so sharply around his mouth as had been evident, even as he slumbered. Only the slightest of temperatures was detectable.

Teresa breezed in, Scott in her wake.

“Johnny! Good to see you awake. You’ve been asleep so long. I’ve brought some beef stew and mashed potatoes. Just make sure that you take your time and chew it well,” she gushed, excited to see Johnny conscious again.

 Johnny smiled warmly.

“Hi. Teresa. You’re a sight for sore eyes. It’s good to see you again.”

She dropped a kiss on his forehead.

“Here, let me feed you,” she offered.

“I’m fine. I can manage by myself. Honest.”

A doubtful frown passed over her smooth skinned face. She stood irresolute next to the bed, holding the tray as though unwilling to delver it to the invalid in case his words were mere bluff.

Scott decided for her, gently prising the tray from her grasp.

Murdoch, in the mean time, decided that Johnny needed more propping up.

“Teresa, could you place those two pillows on the blanket box behind Johnny, please?” Murdoch asked, diverting her thoughts from the food tray.

It worked. She had something else to do which satisfied her longing to nurse Johnny back to glowing health.

“Don’t worry, Teresa. I’ll make sure that he eats up,” consoled Scott as he guided her deftly towards the door. “Perhaps if he has less of an audience, he might do proper justice to your meal.”

 Teresa’s glare of annoyance at being excluded was softened as Johnny praised her cooking.

“Thanks, Teresa,” he called softly. “My mouth’s got a hankering for this stew and my stomach doesn’t want to be left out, either. You did real fine,” he complimented her.

Her genuine smile transmitted her pleasure at his obviously improving condition.

“You’re welcome, Johnny. It’s always good to see you recovering. Just make sure that you do it fast, OK?”

 “OK, Querida.”

 Murdoch watched Scott settle in next to his brother and smiled as well. Seeing Johnny get better from a wound or an illness perked them all up.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, boys.”

Speaking to Johnny, he added further advice.

“Eat, son. You need to rebuild your strength.”

 “I’m trying,” answered Johnny around a mouthful of food he had already scooped up from his plate.

 The door closed softly as Murdoch left. Johnny dutifully concentrated on feeding his hungry stomach, relishing the flavoursome sustenance, which reassured his body and mind that he was home safe with his family.

 Johnny appreciated the fact that Teresa had cut the meat into small, exceedingly tender chunks, which mixed effortlessly together with the potatoes and the vegetables in the gravy. Halfway through, his inclination to eat waned, however. His fork began making patterns with the food. Brown gravy swirled through the creamy, vegetable dotted mash.

“You OK, Johnny?” Scott asked, immediately on the alert that all might not be well.

“Fine. Just can’t manage any more at the moment.”

 Johnny dropped his fork onto the side of the plate and pushed it away. The tray was straight away removed by Scott who plonked it on the dresser.

Johnny’s sigh brea

thed gently into the room. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

“Need anything?” “No, I’m pretty good, considering.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I’m waiting,” prompted Scott.

Johnny’s eyes remained closed. A light smile graced his lips and heralded a warm tenderness in the laughter lines radiating from around his eyes.

“Waiting for what?”

But Johnny knew and Scott didn’t bother elucidating.

A peaceful silence soothed them. Both were aware of how lucky they were to be reunited as a family back home at Lancer. And they were both conscious of how close they had come to losing each other.

 Scott let the quiet envelop them. He was an astute tactician and had earned early respect from his superiors when in the cavalry. He would not let his brother win this time, although he knew that he was facing the grand master in strategic manoeuvres.

One magic blue eye finally opened to cast a searching gaze his way.

“You gonna let a man sleep and recover from his injuries?”

 “No. Not yet.”

 A resolute sigh.

“When, then?”

“When you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain. I managed to organize more than broth to bind your ribs together, don’t forget.”

 Johnny snorted softly, the rush of air lifting several strands of his hair off his forehead.

“Listen! You and me both know that once Teresa and Maria make their minds up over an invalid’s supper, no amount of pleading will budge them. You went downstairs and you got lucky, is all.”

 “I think that you’re the one who got lucky!”

Both deep blue eyes now opened and were greeted by Scott’s broad grin.

“I’m referring to the food department, Brother. Menus and so on,” Johnny replied dryly.

“I know you were, but I wasn’t.”

 “I ain’t gonna get no peace, am I?”


 Even more of Scott’s even teeth were exposed as his grin burst its banks in anticipation.

Scott was surprised, though, that Johnny capitulated. His pang of guilt that Johnny must indeed be sore and tired dispelled almost immediately. His curiosity overrode his concern.

Johnny launched into the narrative. Offering something tangible was the best way, he decided, to get his brother off his back.

“We were on the same stage, as you know. We were held up, as you also know.”

A slight pause followed before he continued.

“They wanted something that another passenger had. Knowledge of a map and some sort of stashed loot. So they took this man off and went.”

 Johnny’s mouth tightened into a grim line as he remembered further.

“She slapped one of them for manhandling her, so he pistol whipped her. I got so mad, I went for them and they shot me. When I came to, she was tied up opposite me. We were in a shack. Then they threatened to do things to her when they got back. I knew that we had to get away. I was surprised that they left us alone in the first place and we needed to get out while we could.”

He swallowed, his brow wrinkled as he remembered. A drink of water offered by Scott gave him enough of a rest to summon his thoughts and continue.

Shaking his head from side to side, he looked into Scott’s grey-blue depths.

“She’s really something, you know?” Scott nodded. She must be, to be the recipient of Johnny’s praise. It was not something he dispensed frequently.

“She got us out of there. She saved my life. Twice, in fact.”

His soft voice was full of awe and his solemn look seared itself into Scott’s soul. Any woman who would do that for his brother was automatically received into Scott’s heart. And Johnny’s, if Scott surmised correctly.


 “Yep. First of all, she got us out of that shack. We were all trussed up like turkeys for Thanksgiving, too.”

Scott was sceptical. Perhaps his brother was suffering from delusions. “If you were tied up, how did you get away?” he asked, unconvinced.

Johnny bestowed his stunning grin on Scott. “Beats me, but she did it! I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible!” Johnny’s head shook for emphasis.

“So, how did she do it?”

“Well, she sort of did this shoulder stand thing with her hands tied behind her back. Her feet were up in the air. She’s got the nicest turned leg. Slim ankle and muscly on the calf without going overboard. And she had the prettiest pantaloons. Lacy and feminine, but not too frothy, you know?”

 Johnny confirmed with a glance that Scott did indeed know.

 Scott remembered back to the night when she had arrived pantaloon clad, but didn’t dwell where his mind shouldn’t be. He found Johnny’s erratic explanation to be intriguing. Watching his brother, he noticed that he was lost in thought. Carnal ones, if the grin tugging at his lips was any indication.

 “And?” Scott attempted to redirect his waylaid brother. “She used her feet to knock a bottle off a ledge, then she used the broken glass to cut her ropes.”

Johnny gulped, his face distressed.

 “She hurt herself. The glass would slip and it would slice into her. I could always tell, but she kept going!”

Scott nodded and grimaced in sympathy with Lauren’s plight.

 “After she was free, she got us out of there on that horse. And when it was safe enough to stop, she dug out that bullet!”

 Johnny’s mouth was etched in pain. Current or remembered pain, Scott was not sure. Leaning forward, he touched a hand to Johnny’s arm.

“She did a good job, too, Sam said.”

Johnny nodded. “It was hard on her, though.” “Digging out a bullet’s tough on anyone, let alone a woman,” Scott agreed.

“She looked after me real good.”

 Fact and awe were combined in Johnny’s statement.

 “And we sure appreciate it, brother!”

 Scott added his own information.

 “When you both arrived here, she was hanging onto you as tight as she could, but she was so tired. It was like she was frozen in place, but she still kept holding on to you so you didn’t fall.”

 Johnny drank this tidbit of news like a man seizing a canteen in the desert.

“She did?”

“She sure did.”

 A fond smile graced Johnny’s handsome face, erasing some of the pain and easing his drawn features.

“She wouldn’t have left Lancer, either, if her aunt hadn’t arrived on the doorstep.”


“Yes. In fact, I would say that she was mighty disappointed that her aunt came almost as soon as we got word to town.”


 The downward inflection of Johnny’s voice mirrored his disappointment at her departure, even though he had been unconscious at the time. A pause, then his face was suddenly stricken.

 “She had it rough. Was she all right, Scott?” Scott did not ask for details. His smooth face bore a genuine smile.

 “Once she knows that you’re on the road to recovery, she’ll be fine! Her injuries were minor. She was more worried about you.”

 This piece of information seemed to both please and upset Johnny.

“She’s a good looking woman, Johnny.”

Scott’s praise had the desired effect in placating his younger brother.

 “Ain’t she, though!”


 Sam had given reluctant permission to let Johnny get up. Reluctant because he knew that once Johnny was up and about, he would be pushing any limits set him. But Sam gave permission nonetheless. He felt so sorry for Murdoch, Scott and Teresa who were battling a recovering, but bored, Johnny who had enough zest for life to match ten stallions.

 Johnny was pushing his breakfast food around on his plate, a surly expression marring his good-looking features. Growing despondency settled on his as he listened to Murdoch issuing the day’s orders.

“I realize that you won’t be back until lunchtime but in the afternoon I want you to go to the east pasture and check those calves. On the way, take a look at Willow Creek and the lower dam.”

Scott grinned at Johnny. “It’s not the same without you at my side, Johnny. Murdoch’s working me into the ground. I can’t wait for you to get better and join me.”

 “No time like the present,” Johnny responded.

Murdoch’s head snapped up, his brows sharply slanted and his forehead furrowed into cavernous depths.

“Don’t even think about it!” he barked.

 His roar demanded respect and obedience.

 Johnny wasn’t about to give either. “I can go into town with Scott and keep him company. He has to take the wagon, anyway.”

 “Sam said no riding.”

“No riding on horseback on a saddle,” Johnny corrected petulantly.

“It’s still riding.”

 “No, it ain’t. It’s sitting on a bench, just the same as I’d do here at the hacienda. The only difference will be that the seat will be travelling.”

 “Travelling!” contradicted Murdoch. “More like jolting and jarring you! The movement will shake your wound apart. You’re staying here and that’s final!”

 Johnny’s mutinous expression warned of the explosion about to happen. Scott’s quiet voice contained it, however.

 “I think some fresh air is just what he needs, Murdoch. I’ll take it slowly,” Scott promised.

 And the look of gratitude from his little brother warmed the room with its glow. Trust his big brother to comprehend his ulterior motive.

Scott was as good as his word. His took it as easy as he could, avoiding obvious potholes and ruts, but the best of intentions could not prevent Johnny suffering a good deal of shaking and jolting, as Murdoch had predicted.

 Johnny’s mouth became a thin line at the roughest spots. His jaw clamped shut, his facial bones becoming more pronounced the more the wheels lost their purchase on the occasional smooth patches of the road.

From time to time the bumping of the wagon threw their bodies into contact with each other. It felt good. For Scott it reminded him how lucky he was that his brother had escaped the latest scrape he had been in. Their brushing of shoulders brought out his protective instincts.

Johnny was in some pain, but he wouldn’t admit that he had been rather impetuous in his decision to go to town with Scott. But he would admit to himself that he was comforted in a way he would never have expected by the incidental touch of their shoulders.

 Town couldn’t arrive soon enough for Johnny, however.

 Relief washed over him as they passed the first homes. Some were adobe, Mexican style structures in the earth’s buff colours or whitewashed in an insane attempt to disguise the dusty environment. Others were wooden cottages in varying states of repair. Several were painted neatly but the majority were long overdue for a spruce up, paint peeling off in despair after years of exposure to the relentless Californian sun. The straggle of dwellings gave way to the town’s businesses, not all of which were in alignment as the road curved to accommodate some trees which had been left standing in surprisingly unlikely locations.

 It was at the general supply store that Scott stopped. He slowed down as carefully as possible, easing the horses to a standstill. Methodically, he applied the brake, tied off the reins and stripped off his yellow kid skin gloves, finger by separate finger.

This served to give Johnny a breather. He wiped his face on his sleeve in what he thought was a surreptitious manner, but he should have known that Old Eagle Eyes would miss nothing.

“Do you need to go to Sam’s?”


 “Shall I help you down?”


“Do you want to sit on the veranda while I take care of business?”


 “Little Mr Independent, aren’t you?”


 “I’ll hand the order in, then, and keep you company.”

Johnny’s look of exasperation rewarded Scott, who decided that he would see how far his little brother would let him continue to aggravate him.

“I promised Murdoch I’d keep an eye on you. You might faint or something.”

A laconic lopsided smile answered him to start with, before his efforts were again repulsed.

“Scott, if you don’t give some space, it sure ain’t gonna be me with my face breathing the dirt on the road. I’ll be fine for a little while. And Teresa has given me a message to run, anyway.”

“Yes, I know. And I know how much you hate going into women’s clothing stores. How about you grab a beer at the saloon and I’ll do it for you?”

“Have you got more annoying since I’ve been sick, or is it just my imagination?”

“Must be your imagination, Johnny. I’ve never been annoying to anyone that I know of.”

 Scott’s false sincerity saw Johnny truly relax. Johnny shook his head, but grinned broadly and good naturedly.

“You don’t let up easy, do you?”

“Not where my brother is concerned.”

Johnny’s face sobered. He studied the sudden seriousness of his brother’s face.

 “And I appreciate it, Scott. I ain’t always had someone to watch my back. Thanks.”

 “You’re welcome.”

Emotion surfaced in Scott’s response. Johnny knew that Scott had been teasing him a minute ago, but now Scott’s anxiety about Johnny’s wound was palpable in the morning air. He also knew that Scott would be berating himself that he had not been present to protect his younger brother the way he had vowed to do so shortly after Day Pardee’s death.

“I’ll go check out that lace Teresa wanted, then meet you in the saloon, OK?”


Johnny dipped his head and turned to make his way down the street. He only took a few steps when Scott called out to him.

“Hey, Johnny!”

Johnny pivoted and walked backwards for several paces.

“Yeah?” he called back.

“I don’t think you should make any impulsive choices all by yourself. Why don’t you consult Lauren and ask her to help you decide on a suitable style of lace? It pays to let a woman assist in these major sartorial decisions.”

Johnny’s infectious grin was back, plastered all over his mouth and growing by the second.

“Yeah, that’s a good suggestion, Scott. I might just do that!”

 “I’m sure you might, Johnny! Just don’t take too long or I might have to check up that you are managing all right. I’d hate to interrupt any really serious, um . . . discussion. Women don’t take too kindly to having their, er . . . . train of thought interrupted.”

 “That’s a fact, Scott, so I suggest you don’t make any sudden appearances. It mightn’t be healthy for you.”

Scott cocked his head, deep thought lines marking his forehead as he pondered Johnny’s suggestion.

“I’ll take that under advisement Johnny.”

 A knowing smirk followed by a casual salute and then Scott turned to tackle the ranch business.

Johnny walked confidently in the direction of the shop. He crossed the road, dust rising and wafting around his boots as he strode forward to mount the boardwalk. His hands adjusted his rig as he walked, then tugged at his belt, aligning it absentmindedly. They roved to his shirt sleeves and methodically brushed them. His collar was fidgeted with and next his hat was clutched in one hand as he ran his fingers through his hair in the absence of a comb.

 The determined thump of his boots on the wooden planks began to slow and falter. Johnny found himself in the ridiculous situation of standing immobile in front of the shop, next to the door. He swallowed and waited. The doorknob beckoning, but fright detaining.

The fearless and great Johnny Madrid was cowed for one of the very few times in his life. Only this time it wasn’t the threat coming from the whim of a rogue gun ready to take him down which caused this reaction. It was a door, combined with his imagination, creating an obstacle of momentous proportions in his mind.

And it nearly succeeded in stopping him. Until he got a grip on himself, however, bursting in before the delay dragged on, weighted by second guessing.

His momentum propelled him noisily into the shop and into the gigantic chest of Mrs McClelland, a vitriolic widow with a razor sharp tongue sharpened regularly on any unfortunate person silly enough to stray her way. Submerged in her magnificent mounds, he struggled like a fish caught in a net. Finally, placing one hand on each of her shoulders, he recoiled back. He panted in shock after his near smothering. Panting gave way to yelping, as he was walloped by her parasol.

 “Get your groping hands off me, young man! Show some self discipline and keep your desire to yourself!”

“Yes, Ma’am! Sorry! I didn’t see you.”

“How could you not see me?” Her snort of indignation was truly like one of Jelly’s sows.

A good point Johnny conceded in his mind, but it wasn’t his fault if her bulk had ambushed him.

“I was just intent on my errand, Ma’am. I hope I didn’t hurt you.”

“My person has been assaulted!”

 “Well, your stunning hat just captivated me, Mrs McClelland. It is so becoming I was blinded by the sight of it. You look ravishing, not that I had that in mind, of course! I was merely dazzled by your appearance. I hope you can forgive a young impressionable man who knows when he is in the presence of true beauty.”

Johnny bowed, flourishing his hat theatrically in a wide arc.

When he straightened up, Mrs McClelland was standing ramrod straight, staring into his intensely blue eyes.

A transformation slowly took place before his eyes. Her mouth formed a soft curl as she fairly began simpering at him. Her eyelids fluttered knowingly and suggestively.

 A fat hand patted his arm. The vibrations of her actions transferred up through her body to her multiple chins, which wobbled alarmingly as she moved.

“Why you young scamp! Perhaps I’ll see you next time I’m in town? Come around and I’ll feed you some of my apple pie.”

 “Why, thank you, Ma’am! I’ll keep that I mind if Murdoch ever lets me off the chain.”

“See that you do!”

 Johnny ushered her out, his teeth aching as he gritted them hard to dispel the thought of paying a social call on the old cow. Closing the door with a firm clunk, he turned to face the counter.

What he saw made his stomach leap to his mouth in concern. Behind he counter, leaning heavily on the shelving behind her, stood Lauren. She was trembling visibly. Shuddering, in fact. Was she in pain?

After initial paralysis, Johnny leapt into action. He bolted around the counter in several breathtakingly fluid strides, side wound be damned.

“Lauren! What is it? What is the matter?”

 His arms were around her waist, gently turning her to face him. Her tear streaked face and ragged breathing tore his heart in two.

 “What is it? Did that dragon hurt you? Has your aunt passed away?”

Her mouth was distorted in some sort of private agony. Her lips quivered and her body was experiencing sporadic little convulsions.

“Honey! Tell me!”

Her discomfort appeared to increase and control slipped further from her grasp.

 Johnny began to panic.

“What’s happened? Please be all right!” he prayed out loud. “I’m going to get Sam. Here, come and sit over here and I’ll be right back.”

He started to manoeuvre her over to a straight backed chair next to the counter, but she protested and grabbed his upper arm.

 “No! I’m all right!” she finally managed to gasp.

She did indeed seem to finally regain her normal demeanour and just when he thought that she had recovered from her attack, she seized his shoulders and giggled up a hefty storm of chortles.

Johnny was puzzled. Her comportment was erratic. Things were not normal.

 “Oh, Johnny! That was the funniest thing I have ever seen. That old harridan has made my life miserable since I have been here. She is a bossy old witch and as ugly as sin to boot . . . ” Here she broke into to laughs again, “And she made a pass at you!”

Johnny smiled broadly, a smug smirk of self satisfaction wreathed over his face.

“What’s so surprising about that? Don’t you think I can turn a head or two?”

She fell silent then. Her wide eyes looked at his and right deep down into his core, stripping him bare. And he was conscious of her chest rising and falling rhythmically to the beat of her breathing.

 And silence, other than their breathing, wrapped up their world for a good long minute.

“Oh, I know you can,” she murmured softly.

Her fingers felt light on his shoulders, but even her soft touch burnt two hot spots down through his skin and seeped in to warm his bones beneath. Her face was serious under his gaze, as he searched her for a clue to his next action.

 ‘To hell with clues!’, he thought as his head lowered itself to the magnet attracting him. It was simply too hard to fight off the pull.

He could feel her soft breath as his lips dropped to hers, about to make contact. The sheer physical intimacy of her body just brushing his sealed his fate and stole any reserve he had been battling. His lips plunged the last inch to lock on hers.

But they never reached their destination.

 A shrill order gouged its way across the room and plunged into their private world and space, tearing their heads asunder. “Remove your hands from her this instant, you ravisher!”

Both jumped at the unwelcome and unexpected intrusion as their cosy cocoon was ripped apart.

“What hands?” Johnny wondered.

 Their faces were no longer intimately close, but her fingers clutched at his coat and it suddenly dawned on him that he had one hand on her slim waist and the other was cupping one of her bottom cheeks. He did not remember just when his hand had strayed down there to draw her sensually to him, but he raged at the unfairness of being interrupted from his compelling mission.

 The cheeky face he pulled at Lauren released some of the tension in her pinched features. He leant over to whisper in her ear.

“Caught!” he drawled, “Or almost.” He thrust out a petulant bottom lip, before blazing a grin of promise at her.

Reluctantly, he removed his hands from Lauren’s attractive assets.

 “Ma’am, I believe that you have been unwell. It is a pleasure to see you up and about now,” Johnny soothed oil over the old lady’s brittle attitude.

“That’s right, sonny. I’m up and about now and I’ve got my wits about me to make sure that you keep your distance!”

“Well, that is good news!” he drawled. “Feeling back to normal, are you?”

 “Yes, enough to chase you with my broom if you make any more unwelcome visits.”

 “I wouldn’t dream of it. However, seeing you are feeling so spritely, you’ll be quite all right to take over the shop for a short time while Lauren here helps me discuss some lace for Teresa’s new dress.”

And Johnny grasped Lauren’s hand and drew her to the door.

 “Just hold it right there, young man! Did you hear what I said?”

“Why yes, I did. I’m going seeing you don’t want me visiting.”

Johnny beamed, then tipped his hat at the old lady.

 “Bye, Ma’am!”

And he left with his prize before Aunt Flo could think of some sort of lame excuse to delay them further.


They walked past the throng in the main street. Past perspiring ranch hands heaving supplies with a thud onto dusty buckboards, past the womenfolk ostensibly visiting town for the sewing circle, but in fact arriving for their weekly fare of gossip, and past the assorted buildings providing all the essential services for the area. The saloon, barber’s, general mercantile, the bank, milliner’s, grain feed store, the gazette, stage office and school house all went about their business. Johnny had different business on his mind.

His boots thudded rhythmically, and keeping pace with his were Lauren’s lighter steps.

 Neither said a word, but Johnny’s senses were on high alert. Lauren’s hand was burning hotly into Johnny’s. And Johnny could hear the swish of her skirt and petticoats as they swung from side to side around her fast moving legs. From the corner of his eyes he could see her profile as she strode next to him. Her tilted nose, full lips and clearly defined chin were etched into his vision. And he could smell her.

 The smelt clean and fresh. Like flowers. All scrubbed compared to the last time they had been together. And suddenly Johnny wondered if he smelt clean. Probably not. He had had a bath the night before and had cleaned up a little in the morning before setting out, but he had just stepped off a bumpy wagon where he had spent over an hour in the warm sun. He suddenly doubted the sense of standing too close to her, which is what he had in mind. Perhaps he should maintain some distance? But at least he wasn’t straight in from the range after wrestling some stupid cows which had got themselves stuck in some place even a dumb cow should avoid. Cows could really make a man stink. A cloying, nauseating manure and urine stink. He really should have borrowed Scott’s cologne, even if he kept telling Scott that it was unmanly to put perfume on. And his armpits were starting to get moist as he considered what he should say and what he should do. He could feel trickles of perspiration wending their way drunkenly down his upper arms, making the sleeves of his shirt soggy with the wetness of it all.

 This wasn’t a good idea. He should have waited. Maybe he should have had a bath at the hotel? He could have booked a room and freshened up. The last time they had been together, he can’t have smelt too sweet. He was probably pretty rank, if he thought about it. He had been travelling and he had been wounded. The stench of blood and perspiration had mixed with the smell of desperation as they struggled to survive their predicament. And being ill makes a man’s breath smell. He had probably been breathing foul odours on her the whole time while she was fixing him up and holding him in the saddle. Hot, stale, sick breath was enough to make even the toughest of cowboys turn their heads away in disgust and make them want to puke the reek away.

So why was he being so stupid? What possessed him to grab her and run like this away from the prying eyes of the town? What if she didn’t want to talk to him? Hell, he was just an ex-gunfighter cum newish rancher who had been a useless millstone around her neck when they were captured. HE hadn’t been the hero rescuing her from a fate worse than death. HE hadn’t nabbed the horse and guided her away from the site, away from possible pursuers. What notion had provoked him to seek her out without first testing the waters, so to speak? Johnny Madrid had survived because of his sixth sense and instinct for danger. He must have left both back at the shack where they had been kept prisoner, because they were not anywhere around him at the moment. He was about to put himself, or his ego, into danger without reconnoitring the lay of the land. A cardinal sin in any respectable gun hawk’s or rancher’s book.

 He swallowed hard and as his throat constricted and dried up, his Adam’s apple bobbed painfully without the spit it needed for lubricant. Just what had he got himself into? And how could he escape unscathed?

 But his options ran out as they arrived at the little copse of trees on the outskirts of town. A shaded haven from the relentless sun. An attractive little spot which filtered the odd puff of wind, allowing cooling breezes to thread fitfully through the tree trunks and dark green foliage. A little oasis of peace and coolness and privacy away from the activity in town. A trap, too. Johnny felt like he had walked blindly into a trap. He had created the trap and he had snared himself. And he had no backup plan.

His heart was thudding as his mind went blank and he couldn’t think of the first thing to say to her. So they stood in the clearing in the middle of the trees. They stood facing each other under the branches swaying lightly overhead, creating a dappled light which sprinkled over their heads in a play of light and shade.

 And Johnny couldn’t think how to start.

 So he looked at her clear eyes. Another trap for a man. He studied the way her skin contoured her cheek bone. He noticed some wisps of hair which wafted down under her ears and danced on her neck. And his eyes drifted down her neck to her shoulders which disappeared under disappointingly opaque material. And he noted how her shape changed and swelled out against the fabric of her dress in all the right places, before her body shrunk becomingly in at the waist. And the waist in turn gave way to generous hips before the rest was lost in too many folds of annoying skirts.

Then his eyes drifted back up to her face.

 But she wasn’t returning that gaze. She was carrying out her own inspection, in the direction of his hips. Damn! Maybe he should have taken his gun off? Maybe it was putting her off. She would have no doubt heard all the gory and shocking rumours about his past since her arrival in the town.

He watched her gaze rise, seeming to examine the embroidery on his shirt, particularly where the toggles had been left unfastened. Where his chest was visible between the front seams of his shirt. Where a light thatch of hairs curled up darkly and wilfully over his tanned skin.

He noticed her swallow nervously.

Self doubt flooded his being. Had he misjudged her reaction to him? Her body language? Was she afraid of him, then? She had had plenty of time over the past week to hear all sorts of stories about the unsavoury Johnny Madrid and his questionable past. She would now know all about his sordid background, something she had been unaware of during their ordeal. Maybe he hadn’t given her any choice when he walked out on her aunt. Did she think that he had kidnapped her? He hadn’t asked her, after all. He had taken her hand and pulled her along. But she had seemed willing and she had kept pace, he reasoned. But maybe she had been a bit too scared to protest?

 As he considered this, his eyes once more made contact with hers. They were forthright, and this time they held his gaze. She certainly did not seem scared. Or was she?

His finger reached up to gently trace over her eyebrow and down her cheekbone. The remnants of her injuries remained. Some discoloration was still evident, but her skin was far less starkly marred than it had been.

 And her eyes closed as her head kind of leaned in a little, into his hand. But the little tear which oozed through her closed eyelids was what undid him. It welled out into a full drop and waited, precariously attached to her eyelashes, before it finally burst out of shape and plunged downward. It slowed after its initial dive, then trickled resolutely lower, only to be stopped by Johnny’s forefinger. He dabbed lightly and stared, mesmerized, at the shiny liquid on his finger. That she could stand there so terrified that she could not move, couldn’t even pull back from his hand, upset him immeasurably.

 “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I guess I’ve got used to myself and don’t really see what I am, what others see and what I do that scares other people so much. Please don’t cry!”

And he stood with her tear on his finger, not wanting to wipe it off, as if it gave them a connection of some sort. Knowing that he should step back and give her some space. But he didn’t want to. He was sure damned disappointed that she felt this way. And once again, as he had done so often in his life, he kicked himself for letting someone breach his carefully constructed self protective armour.

Her answer was to strike him. And while he seemed docile and manageable, he guessed. Maybe she thought that now was her only chance.

So, he didn’t restrain her when she thumped him on his shoulder, but he was surprised when she stopped at only one thump. And he couldn’t help thinking that there was no way a woman her size could escape if a man attacked her unless she put a bit more oomph into her thumps. They really were quite useless. Just as well, seeing she made no attempt to run. But she did start yelling at him. But it was an exasperated kind of yelling.

“What sort of a cretin are you, Johnny? Don’t you know why I’m crying?”

 “I’m guessing that you’ve heard about my reputation since you came to town and you are downright frightened to death. You were staring at my gun belt kinda funny,” he commented seriously, with some thought.

“I wasn’t looking at your gun belt! Yes, I’ve heard about your reputation, but I was crying because you are well.”

Johnny was confused, but mostly saddened that she could be disappointed that he had survived after all that she had done for him.

She stamped her foot. Not prettily, but with a lot of annoyance and with a big grooved frown indented into her forehead. It was a stamp that meant business.

 “NO! You survived! You are alive and well, and up and about and even better than that, you are here in town . . .” she ground to a halt like a train which had run out of steam.

 “And?” Johnny was a little puzzled.

“And you are here with me.”

Johnny digested this.


“And it’s a very good feeling.”

 “It is?”

“It is.”

 He needed more clarification, just to be sure that he had the facts straight.

“So, let me get this straight. You are happy that I’m OK, you’re not scared of me, you weren’t looking at my gun belt and you are all right about being alone with me out of sight of everyone even though . . . even though I’ve got a dubious reputation?”

“Yes, more than all right, in fact.” Johnny nodded.

 “Uh huh.”

“I’ve been worrying all week about you,” she ventured.

 “You have?”

 There was the stamp again. A genuinely exasperated stamp of her pretty foot.

“Why do you speak in questions?”

 “I guess I just want to make sure that I know how you feel about being with me. I wasn’t thinking when I brought you here. I need to know that you’re not angry with me or frightened of me.”

 “Oh, for goodness sakes, Johnny! What do you think? I thought that classy hired guns were supposed to be astute and perceptive!”

Johnny didn’t answer. He stood, plagued with an uncertainty which had ripped his cocksure sense of purpose into a thousand shreds and cast them into the hungry breeze.

And for an instant, Lauren stood still before him, studying his face and the sentiment displayed there.

Johnny Madrid Lancer was rarely taken by surprise, but just occasionally he let his guard down enough for someone to launch a surprise attack. This was one such occasion. Before he knew it, her arms were around his neck and her mouth had affixed itself to his in a swift move rivalling his own speedy reflexes in finesse and exactitude.

This assault was quite different to any other he had experienced, however. Although a frontal launch, it had still sneaked up on him. And he silently chastised himself that he had not seen it coming. He was slipping. But he was really a little too busy responding to the bruising of his lips to worry too much about his failing sixth sense. He could concern himself about that later. At the moment, he wanted to make sure that she didn’t waste her energy on unappreciated efforts.

So, he placed the analysis of Johnny Madrid Lancer’s ability to read people and predict their behaviour on hold. He concentrated instead on not disappointing this obviously passionate woman. He didn’t want her to think that she was kissing a soggy, disinterested hunk of dead skin. He wanted her to know that he was equally full of life and passion. He wanted her to know that if she ever chose to do this again, she would not be let down in any way. And he wanted her to do it again. He wanted her to be sure that she would get a lot of man to handle. A responsive man who would get fired up by her kisses and her touch. And who could fire her up in return.

Consequently, he worked on moving his lips sensuously and expressively. Various skills from his repertoire surfaced. He teased with his mouth as he lightly sucked at her sweet lips, then used his tongue to dance a pas de deux with hers as the two of them savoured this intimate investigation and capitulation.

When he thought that he might lose control, he withdrew his mouth from hers and skimmed her skin with light butterfly wing kisses across her cheek and over to her ear, which he paused to nibble at, his breath to tickle her senses. Then he continued down the side of her neck to the base of her throat.

 He breathed in her scent and dragged his tongue in an undulating movement along the contours of her skin. Her breathing became even more ragged, but punctuated by sighs of bliss which pushed him into a vortex of lust he only just managed not to succumb to. So he stopped. Their eyes met only inches apart. Chests moved in synchronisation as they gulped for adequate oxygen and air to cool their singeing body heat.

A little smile played at the corner of his mouth and was replicated by the crinkling of laughter lines around his eyes.

 “Boy, I think I should tell Sam about you.”

 “Sam? Why?”

 “Your healing powers are a mighty awesome thing to experience.”

“Is that so? Well, I don’t want you to overdose, so I think you’ve had enough for the day.”

 He grimaced.

 “I suppose you are a whole lot addictive, so OK, Nurse Lauren, I’ll do what you say for the moment. But just when is my next dose?”

She laughed back at him, and both of them were aware of the power she wielded.

 “Oh, I’ll let you know, cowboy.”

“You will?”

“I promise.”


But he suddenly crushed her to him, anyway, for a final wholehearted kiss which her token resistance was powerless to dissuade.

“I thought I was in charge of the medicine!” she complained, even though only half hearted.

“Just checking that you got the dose right. I didn’t want it wearing off too soon or I might just pass out and fall over the side of the buckboard on the way home.”

 She giggled throatily, which stoked his fire again.

A minute later, she pulled back. This time, Johnny did not attempt to re-engage her in their passionate activities.

He took her hand, instead and led her to the river bank. They sat companionably side by side, appreciating the soothing gurgling of the water flowing past. Both of them stared into the water which seemed to provide them with a cooling effect over their heated bodies.

 Johnny turned to her, solemn faced.

“I need to thank you.”

 “What for.”

“Well, you could start with saving my life. And you could add several times.”

 “I did what I had to do. What anyone would do.”

“That’s just it, not everyone would have done what you did. In fact, a lot of people wouldn’t have had the courage that you did and a lot would have high tailed it out of there after getting themselves free. They wouldn’t have hung around to help anyone they didn’t know. Especially a . . . ” Johnny stopped.

“A what?”

 “It doesn’t matter.”

 “I think it does.”

Johnny looked down from her frank stare and shook his head.

“A mestizo? Is that the correct word?” she challenged.

His eyes snapped back up to hers. “Oh, I’m a quick learner, Johnny. I’ve used my week and a bit wisely to explore my surroundings and learn some new vocabulary. Those whalebone crushed old biddies who come into the shop are a mine of information and they don’t need any dynamite blasting to reveal their payload. But I make up my own mind about people, Johnny.”

 Johnny only nodded in understanding of the truth of what she was saying.

 “I found out some very interesting terminology and some quaint attitudes to boot from those old crones, you know.”

Johnny smiled warmly at this.

 “I just bet you did! But my point is that you saved me. You didn’t care about my heritage. You thought on your feet . . . or should I make that your shoulders?” he amended with a flash of humour as he thought back to her perilous callisthenics back at the shack, “You got us out of there, you dug out that bullet, you kept me alive, you looked after me, you managed to keep me on horseback and you got me safely home to Lancer. Not too many people have done a quarter of what you did for me.”

His earnestness caught her breath. And so did the underlying loneliness and solitude behind the remark.

“Well, that’s their loss, Johnny. I can’t say the whole ordeal was a pleasure, especially with you being shot, but I’d do it again and do it gladly.”

“I hope you don’t have to.” And Johnny’s ready grin burst forth before he continued. “It’s kinda embarrassing, you know. I sort of regard rescuing beautiful young ladies as a man’s job. It’s a bit hard for a man’s self regard to find the tables turned.”

 As quick as a flash, Lauren had a response ready.

“Well, when a lady finds a handsome man to rescue, she’d be a fool to let traditional gender roles get in the way of preventing her from furthering her acquaintance with the said handsome male.”

Johnny beamed, his even teeth flashing in the middle of his smirk.

 “Handsome, huh?”

“Handsome . . . and you know it!”

“Is that a fact?”

 “That’s a fact. And she’d be praying to the high heavens thanking the good Lord for her fate which put her there at that particular time.’

 “Not half as hard as the needing to be rescued man, I’ll wager!”

 Laughter peeled from both of them. After the tense moments of their dramatic encounter and hardship, and their separation over the past week, it felt good to talk some nonsense. It felt good to be alive. And it felt doubly good to be spending time with someone who just might play an important role in the other’s future.

 Their laughter rolled to a natural finish, then Lauren picked at a leaf from an overhanging branch and twirled it in her hands.

 “I’m sorry I didn’t visit you,” she began almost immediately. “My aunt was bedridden the whole time and I couldn’t leave the shop unattended other than to see in on her. I was going mad with worry, but Sam called in every day to let me know how you were getting on.”

 “Sam called in, did he?”

 “Yes, he knew that I was concerned, so he kept me posted.”

 “He kept me posted, too. He told me that you had your hands full with your aunt and the shop.”

 Lauren nodded in miserable agreement, and was puzzled at Johnny’s wicked grin which appeared out of nowhere.

“She sure looks pretty good now, don’t she? Looks like she could handle herself all right in the shop and maybe give you some time off.”

 And Lauren couldn’t help but agree.

“Unless she has a relapse.”

 “Yeah, but a relapse of what exactly?”

 “I’m not really sure.”

“Well, as long as she stays upright, I guess you are more of a free agent, huh?”

“I guess so, Johnny.”

“That being the case, will you come riding with me on Saturday? I’ll meet you in town and show you around Lancer. You could stay the night.”

 “Your father is fine with that?”

 Johnny smiled his winning smile.

 “He’ll be OK with you staying, but it’s the riding which might cause an argument. He’s like a mother hen, all clucking and flapping when I get hurt.”

“Yes, well just maybe it frightens him when you get hurt and he wants to see you get well fast?”

Johnny’s face took on a sombre hue. He could not deny the truth of her suggestion.

“Yeah, I know, but I ain’t used to people fussing over me. It’s still kinda new.”

“That’s a pity. It should have been your right to have family caring for you all your life.”

She reached over, placing her hand softly on his.

“Well, if you can talk him around, I’ll see you Saturday,” she promised.

“It’s a deal.”

And he leant sideways to give her a kiss. Soft, gentle and lingering, it would have to last until next weekend.

 One thought came to Johnny’s mind as their kiss ended.

“If you weren’t studying my gun belt, just what were you looking at, then?”

 Her cheeks bloomed a becoming rose red which spread quickly down her neck and along her throat.

“Never you mind. They were kind of private thoughts.”

 “You’re not going to give me a hint?”

 “No way!” was her firm response.

Sighing deeply, he hauled her to her feet.

 “Come on, my lady, I’d best get you back before I ruin your reputation.”

It was her turn to be wickedly cheeky.

 “It’s a bit late for that now, Johnny. We spent a night together, remember!”

“But that doesn’t count! I was shot! And I was unconscious for part of it!” he protested.

“You could have been shot and left to dangle from a tree limb hanging over a cliff, and tongues would wag about the shenanigans you could have got up to,” she assured him.

Johnny’s shoulders squared as he stood straight and met her gaze evenly.

“Have people been saying things to you?”

 “Not directly, but they have been hinting.”

 There was that giggle again. Johnny was surprised that she would find this funny.

“I had no idea how many ways people could hint at something without actually coming out and saying it. The last week has been an education.”

 “And just what were they hinting at?”

“Oh, this and that.”

His bland look told her that she was expected to say more.

 “There were hints about sleeping arrangements, toilet arrangements, bathing arrangements, riding double and so on. To be quite frank, I had no idea that elderly women were so obsessed by bodies. Bodies contacting bodies, bodily functions, body shapes, male bodies versus female bodies and the purposes of such!”

Johnny’s bark of laughter interrupted her.

“I guess that I have been missing out by going to the saloon when Teresa comes to town. I might accompany her to buy her dress materials next time.”

“I hope you do.”

The invitation and the promise were there. That was adequate for the moment and would have to suffice until Saturday.


 Johnny and Lauren made their way back. Both were tarrying. Lauren was in no hurry to return to the shop. Her aunt had looked hale and hearty only a short while ago and, if she dared admit it to herself, she had needed to get away from her cloying demands.

 But more to the point, she was enjoying Johnny’s company and his quick wit. She had not spoken to him greatly on the stage, and then after he was injured he had been in no real state to converse much.

Johnny was intrigued by the woman by his side. She had seemed acerbic and brusque when the fates dropped her at his table in the café. She had not been overly forthcoming during the trip, either, although he had been impressed with what he noticed. Her manner with the dog at the way station brought a hint of amusement to his mouth. You learnt a lot about people from the way that they treated animals, he had decided. Those with a mean streak towards animals usually dealt with humans in the same way, cruelly and thoughtlessly and too sadly often, vindictively. In Johnny’s opinion, those who treated an animal with consideration and kindness would generally treat their fellow man the same way.

Lauren had certainly treated him well. Not only had she been resourceful, she had bravely continued to hack through the ropes, even after her skin was decimated and bloodied by the jagged piece of whiskey bottle. She had reacted with determination to rebel against her imprisonment and had been the instigator of their escape. And she could have fled, by herself and much faster, had she left him behind. But she hadn’t abandoned him.

And she was so damned attractive.

 He had kept the picture of her alive in his mind for the past week, but renewed health had not really preserved a true image in his mind. On seeing her again, she was even more compelling a person. He was attracted to pretty women all right and his father had previously alluded to the affinity of Lancer men for pretty women. But he knew that there was more to it than that with her. He just knew.

On reaching the door of the shop, he held it open for her and ushered her through with a broad sweep of his hat. She laughed at his antics, her face flushed with pleasure.

But it took just one sentence from her aunt to wipe her happiness from her glowing face.

 “How dare you!”

 “Pardon?” they responded in unison, before giving each other a light smile to acknowledge their twin answers.

 “You heard me! Have you no respect for convention?”

Johnny felt his teeth clamp together and his jaw tighten. The same story that had dogged him all his life. He wasn’t fit company. He wasn’t good enough.

“Yes, I do dare!” Johnny replied, rage punctuating each word. “I needed to thank the woman who saved my life and I wished to do so privately!”

 “I was actually addressing Lauren.

Have you no idea about protecting your precious reputation? It has already been sullied by your escapade last week. You should be distancing yourself, not compounding your social gaffes by flaunting social etiquette!”

 Johnny’s head swung to regard Lauren.

 “Aunt Flo, I have not compromised my reputation whatsoever. This is the first time that I have seen Johnny and we had some matters to discuss. May I suggest that you not meddle in my affairs!”

 Johnny swung his head the other way as Aunt Flo replied, her vehemence evident in her rigid body posture.

 “While you are staying under my roof, your affairs are also mine!”

 Johnny’s head focused back on Lauren to await her reply with interest. He did not have long to wait as her anger burst forth before his eyes had barely alighted on her.

“May I remind you, Aunt Flo, that I am of age and as such can make up my own mind as to whom I wish to frequent.”

 It was here that Johnny decided to intervene before his head swivelled off his neck.

“Ladies, please! I think that it is admirable that your aunt cares so much for you, Lauren. And I am certain that your aunt does not mean to treat you as a minor. She is no doubt still anxious after your brush with death last week. I’m sure that she doesn’t mean to tell you what to do.”

He did his swivelling act and looked from one to the other, then walked up to Lauren’s aunt.

“Ma’am, it’s a pleasure to see you recovered and I look forward to seeing your continued good health.”

Bending over slightly at the waist, he reached for her hand and kissed it lightly, his Latin charm oozing from every pore of his presence. He completed his performance with a disarming smile, before turning to Lauren.

 Equally chivalrous, he reached for her hand. This time the kiss was not quite so light and not nearly so brief, and his fingers lingered holding hers.

 “And you, my dear, I will see you Saturday for that ride. Murdoch and Scott are anxious to get to know you.”

The dazzling smile he bequeathed her shone brightly with positive energy. The wink he directed her way was hidden from Aunt Flo’s view, as was his intention. It was an intimate gesture meant only for her.

And he left, just poising at the door to wave a casual salute to the two of them.

 An indignant “Well, I never!” reached his ears as he closed the door firmly on the consternation he had created. Consternation for two distinctly different reasons.

 Johnny was stepping on air. Lauren had agreed to a date for Saturday. He contemplated his favourite places to ride and his favourite sections of Lancer. Maybe he could butter Maria up enough to get her to rustle up some really special food. Johnny did not want to do things by halves. He wanted this to be special and he didn’t know exactly what salacious gossip had been delivered to her to gorge on from all the ‘well meaning’ old dragons in town. She might be having second thoughts by then. He hoped not, but undoing the damage of fallacious remarks could be a delicate job.

 His mind running riot with possible impediments and more fanciful outcomes, Johnny approached the batwing doors of the saloon. At his favourite back table sat his brother, loosely lounging on a bentwood chair as it tilted back against the wall. Raising his beer in greeting, Scott took a swig. He licked his lips, but couldn’t hide the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. The irritating smirk stayed there as Scott pushed off the wall and seized the beer jug. Taking an empty glass, he poured Johnny a cool offering topped by a white head of froth.

 Johnny nodded in thanks at his brother’s forethought. Hooking a chair with his foot, he swivelled it around so he could straddle it and lean his forearms on the chair back.

“Thanks, Brother!”

 “You’re welcome. How has your morning been?”

 “Fine, thanks.”

 “I hope it wasn’t too strenuous.”


“I saw you go for a walk with Lauren. How is she?”


 “You didn’t tire yourself out, did you?”


“Well, I hope that you didn’t bore the good lady stupid with the variety of your conversational gambits, Johnny. ‘Nope’ and ‘Fine’ can grate after a while, you know.”

 Johnny took a cooling sip and sighed as the first beer he had tasted in several weeks glided refreshingly down his throat.

“I didn’t hear her complaining any.”

 Johnny’s voice was full of smug humour and sparked boyishly live energy in his eyes. Scott grinned fully now.

 “Perhaps I should call on her and demonstrate the true art of genteel conversation? I’d hate her to miss out on a most satisfying life skill.”

 Johnny put his glass down with precision, then raised his sapphire blue eyes to the blue grey of his brother’s. His voice was matter of fact and totally self assured. Scott could even have called it cocky.

“Scott, I ain’t never left a woman wanting for satisfaction and I sure ain’t about to start now!”

 Scott laughed, relaxed and happy. Bantering with his brother was always a precious time for him. He found out more from his brother in these moments than at almost any other time. And their bond was sealed further with a warmth and humour that Scott had really not expected to feel for another man after the cruel and often violent exposure to human failings which he had witnessed during the war.

The men downed their beers, totally at ease with each other and enjoying the pleasures of brotherhood. All the more precious since Johnny’s near miss with tragedy less than two weeks ago.

 The jug provided a second beer and just enough lubricant to keep the dust at bay until their arrival back at Lancer.

By unspoken accord, they both finished their drinks, adjusted their hats snugly on their heads and headed out to deliver the supplies back to the ranch.


 Saturday didn’t come soon enough for Johnny. He had filled in his days with Jelly doing some very light odd jobs such as mending tack and fixing the corral gate. He enjoyed the old codger’s company, and he appreciated the warmth underneath the exterior grumpiness.

 Sam had visited and had allowed him a horse ride on the Saturday providing he didn’t do any galloping. A gentle pace was allowed, but that was all. Johnny wasn’t happy with Sam’s edict, and neither was Sam. Realizing that he had at least been given the opportunity of seeing Lauren alone, Johnny kept his counsel and resisted making too much of a protest. Sam, knowing Johnny’s penchant for the fast and the furious, was not happy that he had succumbed to Johnny’s plaintive look of desperation. He just hoped that if he allowed Johnny a little slack, he would at least respond with some degree of common sense.

So, Saturday afternoon saw Johnny setting out both to enjoy his freedom as well as the delights of some female company. And not just any female company at that. This woman had grit. And a sense of humour. And other undeniably charming feminine charms.

He grinned broadly at the promise of the afternoon. A light wind ruffled his raven wing hair and cooled his warm skin. Wanting the sun on his face for a bit, he allowed his hat to dangle drunkenly down his back from the hat strings around his neck. Barranca snorted with impatience for a good run, but he held the stallion in check. He knew he wasn’t as strong as he had made out to Sam, and didn’t want any falls to spoil the day.

Clouds decorated the azure blue sky, casting the occasional shadow over the pasture. The different greens of the trees contrasted with the even more different shades of greens and near greens of the paddocks, and in the background was another palette of nature’s colours. Yet more greens were interspersed with blues and mauves and browns. Lancer was truly paradise to Johnny. God, how he loved the place!

 He arrived at their meeting place at the road fork on the edge of town and dismounted while waiting. Ground tying Barranca, he allowed the animal to nuzzle the ground in search of tasty treats while he alternately sat on a conveniently fallen log or paced, depending on how much the anxiety had built up before he caved into nervous energy.

 Hoof beats finally beat a rhythmic cadence on the hard packed ground, heralding a rider approaching. As she came into view, his heart thudded and a broad smile lit up his face and eyes, eradicating the worry lines which had embedded themselves in his usually smooth skin.

 She was almost off the horse before it had stopped and was in his arms before he knew it. He had intended to take it easy and get to know this lady slowly, so he could find out all the subtleties which made up her complex personality, but his good intentions flew out the window as she flew into his embrace. He lifted her up and twirled her around, her feet off the ground. They both whooped in happiness, decorum taking a back seat to delight.

Depositing her on terra firma, he stayed close, their bodies touching lightly as he kept his arms around her waist while she looped hers around his neck. The protests of birds, disgruntled at the interruption to the peace of their day, and the distant lowing of cattle wrapped their meeting place. Closer, the horses had nickered in greeting and snorted the occasional expulsion of air through their nostrils. And at the core, Johnny and Lauren were silent apart from their quick breathing. Johnny brushed a strand of hair from her face and gently curled it around her ear in a soft caress. He did not speak, relief that she had not stood him up simply taking away the words.

It was Lauren who broke the silence.

“Cat got your tongue or did you just damage your wound again in that energetic greeting?”

 Johnny looked down. Not a good idea, as it brought his line of sight onto her bodice, with her delightfully rounded breasts pulling the fabric taut. He looked up again, screwing his mouth up in chagrin.

 “I just didn’t know if you would show or not. I was beginning to think that you had changed your mind.”

She shook her head.

 “No, I didn’t, but Aunt Flo sure worked on me. When she gets a bee in her bonnet, she just doesn’t stop buzzing with words. If they had a nagging competition at the next fair I swear that she would nag and badger her opponents into surrender before you could draw and fire in the shooting competition.”

 Her words were accompanied by dramatic eye rolling and gestures as she complained about her aunt’s tongue. Johnny laughed with relief and also with amusement at her frankness.

“So just what in particular has Aunt Flo got a bee in her bonnet about?”

 She looked at him, then tilted her head. A light smile graced her lips.

 “Let’s go for a ride first, then sit and talk. I really need to experience some open air after being cooped up in the shop for most of the past two weeks. Do you mind?”

Johnny’s grin answered her.

 “You’re a lady after my own heart!”

 He held her mare while she mounted, then after two preparatory hops, slid into his own saddle on Barranca.

They headed for Lancer, taking their time, mostly just trotting and walking their horses in order to give them the chance to chat, but occasionally breaking out in a canter. This was as fast as Lauren would go. Even though Johnny could tell that she was quite a capable horsewoman, she refused any further turns of speed and Johnny had to wonder whether it was because she was being cautious on her unaccustomed mount or whether she was removing temptation for him to race at an all out gallop. He somehow thought that it was the latter. Maybe Sam had had a word in her ear, breathing fire and brimstone about Johnny needing to take it easy and not taking any strenuous risks.

 She seemed fascinated in this part of the ranch. It was a genuine interest, Johnny decided. He felt so proud showing her the ranch his father had created from scratch with his own hands. The very same ranch that he and Scott now worked, the manual labour uniting them into a common purpose. The work had bonded these two men from disparate pasts. Now, they were not only brothers, but best friends. Things were not always harmonious at the ranch, particularly between Murdoch and Johnny, but they were getting there. What bemused Johnny is that on viewing the Lancer land he was starting to feel the same inordinate feeling of elation experienced by his father. His enthusiasm did not go unnoticed by Lauren, who threw back some pithy comments at the starry eyed look in his eyes when he spoke about the ranch.

After an hour of sightseeing and conversation, Johnny led them to a quiet brook on the property. Shielded by deep green foliage, the banks provided them with a shady and private retreat from the world. Deftly untying the knots keeping his bedroll from unravelling, Johnny flapped it to open it out fully to provide a picnic rug. From his copious saddle bags, he retrieved a lunch pail containing apple cake and some strawberries from Teresa’s garden. A bottle of lemonade appeared from the other side, along with two mugs.

Pouring them both a drink, he then placed the bottle in the water to keep cool.

Picking up his cup, he offered her a toast.

“To a very brave lady. Thank you.”

 He chinked his mug against hers and took a slow sip. Lauren, however, did not move immediately to drink hers.

She seemed to have trouble with rogue tears, this woman. He swallowed then reached over to wipe it gently from her cheek.

 “Hey, you’re leaking again!”

 Her laughter greeted this remark before she, too, sipped the cool liquid.

“I’m just glad that you are all right and that we got out of there OK. I guess while you were recovering, I was blocking from my mind how it all could have gone wrong. Seeing you here, makes me realize how lucky we both are, I guess.”

She stopped for another sip before adding another thought.

 “And I guess I am still in a state of shock that you survived my surgery. Just admiring my handiwork, I guess. I’m pretty proud of my efforts, you know!”

 “So am I. Maybe you have missed your calling?”

 “I don’t think so. That one time was enough to tell me that I couldn’t bear to see people suffering so much. Fabrics are easier to sew and much less gory, gaudy and shocking.”

 “Remind me to get you to tell Scott that some day,” laughed Johnny at a perplexed Lauren.

“Pardon? I’m not with you,” confessed Lauren.

 “Never mind, Lauren. But Scott will get the connection,” replied Johnny evasively as he considered his brother, his brother’s aversion to Johnny’s loud shirts, particularly his variety of rose red ones.

”How about we talk about something other than what happened? When I think of your injuries, I get pretty scared. Things could so easily have turned out differently.”

 “Sure, how about you tell me about Aunt Flo, then?”

“She’s my great aunt on my mother’s side. When she wrote saying she needed some help because she had been ill, I thought I’d come out here. I needed a change of scenery after my sister’s death. So, I’ve offered to help her with the business for a while and look after her if her health plays up.”

“I’m sorry again about your sister. I can’t imagine what it would be like if something happened to Scott.”

Her mouth betrayed her grief and she struggled briefly to maintain her equilibrium.

“Sarah was my older sister and we used to do most things together. She’d let me tag along. She’d look after me and boss me around, but we liked the same sorts of things. She told me that big sisters had to look after little sisters. That was her role and she took it seriously. That’s why her death hit me so hard. She was always there, and now, because of that worthless piece of slime, she’s not.”

Her lips pulled tautly to prevent them wavering, but her chin trembled in sadness.

The parallels between Sarah’s relationship to Lauren and Scott’s similar attitude to his brotherly duties did not escape Johnny. His heart ached for her that she had that supportive contact cut short so prematurely. He pulled her over to lean on him. He patted her back as she gave in to the tears, huge drops which welled up and flowed freely. Her shoulders heaved and sobs racked her frame as she clutched the lifeline that was Johnny. One hand was around his shoulder, while the other grasped a fistful of his shirt, creasing it thoroughly.

 His rocking and quietly uttered words of comfort finally soothed her. With a sniff and a hiccuping sob, she sat straighter, away from his embrace. Finding a handkerchief in a pocket, she gave her nose a hearty blow and dried her eyes.

 “Well!” she exclaimed. “I haven’t gone riding with you to leak water all over you. Let’s change the topic, shall we?”

 Johnny nodded his heads in acquiescence. He recognized that she needed to get onto a topic not so dependant on her past.

 “Well, what did your aunt Flo have to say about me? Not good news, I’ll bet.”

She dipped her eyes to her mug, running her finger around the edge and pondering her response before she again raised her eyes to his.

“Where would you like me to start?”

 “Wherever you feel like. At the beginning?”

 “OK, then. She said that you were a gunslinger and a killer with a more than suspect past. She said that you have only been here two years and that beforehand you were busy raising hell on the border towns and in Mexico. Your body and soul are corrupted by a life on the fringes of humanity. You had no hand to guide you so you ran wild and consequently lack the proper morals, ethics and etiquette of the more gentlemanly locals.”

Here, Johnny’s snort of derision was highly audible, but it did not interrupt her serious recitation oh her aunt’s comments.

“Therefore, I couldn’t possible consider meeting you unchaperoned. I needed to consider my reputation, already seriously tarnished by that sadly ‘unfortunate’ night I spent with you. If I wanted not to be treated as a social leper, I needed to put the whole event behind me and foster relationships with the more acceptable talent in the neighbourhood. If, however, I sought your company out, I would be an outcast, not welcome in any respectable home in the area.”

 Johnny was shocked. Not at what she had said, but at the way that she had not dissembled in any way. Not many people, let alone women, would call a spade a spade and tell it like it is.

“Well, I’m glad you sugar coated it for me. I don’t know if I could have taken the unembellished truth!”

And he grinned his devastating grin to let her know that he was not upset at her frankness.

 “So, why did you come, then?”

“I told you before. I can make up my own mind and judge people the way I see fit. You’re not any of those things, Johnny.”

 “What if I was?”

“If you were, there were extenuating circumstances and I don’t think for a moment that it is as cut and dried as all that. The vague facts are there, but I know that there is another side to it. You’re no murderer.”

 “How do you know that I am not planning to do you in right now?”

 “Because I know. Simply that.”

 “A person’s instinct can be wrong, you know.”

 “Not in this instance,” she replied firmly, “So, why don’t you tell me a bit about your past? Then I won’t be relying on one of the many distorted versions of the truth doing the rounds in town.”

 So Johnny talked and they ate the cake sporadically. He told her about his childhood, his Mama, his hate for Murdoch as a child, and his gun hawk days after his mother’s death. Then he moved on to his homecoming, his meeting with Scott and Murdoch and then end of Day Pardee. And she was a good listener, only interrupting very occasionally.

Quiet seemed to descend on the valley after he had finished. Sometime during Johnny’s retelling of his past, he had ended up prone on his stomach, leaning on his elbows. Lauren had also ended up horizontal, but on her side, her head cupped in her hand and supported by her elbow on the ground.

Both were lost in thought, Johnny in past memories and she in empathy for the hardships he had endured.

“You know something?” she quietly said in to the fading light.

 “No, what’s that?”

“I’m just wondering how you turned out to be the man you are with everything that happened to you.”

He turned his head, his eyes regarding her kindly.

“It wasn’t that bad. Just sounds it.”

 “It sounds it and it WAS it!”

Reaching out his hand, he traced a line along her upper arm.

“I got it good. I’m alive and I got a home, which is more than I expected at my age. And I’ve got me a family. Scott, Murdoch, Teresa and Jelly. I’m a lucky man.”

She shook her head, bemused at his slant on reality.

 “You sure got a positive outlook on life!”

 “There’s no point in wasting energy and pain on what can’t be changed. You just gotta take life, live it and get the most out of it. It mightn’t be here tomorrow.”

 Lauren’s astute eyes and ears discerned the impetus behind his attitude and her admiration grew even further.

 “I like your way of thinking, Johnny.”

“Is that all you like?”

 The words had left his mouth before he could prevent them. In annoyance at his own clumsiness, he suddenly moved to start packing up. His question was gauche and he was embarrassed at the lack of his usual finesse. She didn’t answer, which further confirmed his belief in the ineptness remark. She let him finish tidying up after their picnic, and it was only as he held her horse for her to mount that she spoke.

Holding the reins in one hand, her foot on the stirrup, she leaned into him just before she mounted. With her lips close to his ear, she answered with a silky huskiness.

“No, that’s not all I like . . . and you know it!”

His ear rang with her words and burned with the warmth of her breath on his skin. Involuntarily, he reached up to touch his ear, hoping vainly to retain her words, her warmth and her meaning.

But then she was gone, laughing at him over her shoulder as he stood at first rooted to the spot, before scrambling to hop on Barranca. He whooped and gave chase before she could attain too great a lead. Her laughter mocked him just out of reach, so he spurred Barranca on to lessen the distance. Although the chase was exhilarating and liberating, it was over almost before it began, for despite Lauren’s teasing, she knew to hold her horse in check to prevent it galloping too far, and more importantly, to prevent Johnny from breaking out into full speed. He caught her up easily, and they both laughed with the pleasure of it all. Slowing their paces, Johnny regretfully directed them homeward to the ranch before it got too late. He wanted to give her time to freshen up before supper and he sure didn’t want to spark of one of Murdoch’s famous temper tantrums if they were late. It had been a good day and Johnny was feeling the most content he had been in some time.


 After seeing to the horses, Johnny hoisted both their saddle bags on his shoulder and headed for the hacienda. The last time they had headed for the front door together, circumstances had been remarkably different. He only felt a slight discomfort from his wound now, but more importantly he was entering his home under his own steam . . . and with this intriguing woman. He was looking forward to presenting her to his family more formally and was quite excited, if he paused to think about it, at the prospect of sitting down to dinner both with his family and with Lauren.

 Opening the door for her, he ushered her through as Murdoch’s voice reached the two of them. But he was talking to someone else in the room.

 Stepping down into the Great Room, their glowing smiles faded. Murdoch was in his favourite armchair by the fire. A comfortable chair which had moulded itself to his contours over the years and which never welcomed anyone else quite so enthusiastically or comfortably.

 Scott stood near the fireplace. One strong arm leant on the mantelpiece and he had crossed one foot in front of the other. His clothes were immaculate as always and he had obviously just recently emerged from the bath tub, his hair slightly damp still and his deep blue shirt still crisply ironed and wrinkle free. It was the look on his face which drew an appraising glance from Johnny. His expression was grim. Smouldering even.

And the cause was doubtless the third person sitting in the room. Prim, proper and ramrod straight, Aunt Flo sat in the centre of the couch, a glass of sherry in her right hand. She held it as all fastidious women did, between her thumb and forefinger, with her little pinky sticking out, seeming to strive to escape the rest of the fingers on her hand. Her nose was decidedly slanted upwards, nostrils flaring and pinched, and her mouth was squeezed tightly into prune wrinkles. Extraordinarily arched eyebrows greeted the new arrivals.

Silence descended into the room as appraisals were made and thoughts stifled before they tumbled out with disastrous consequences.

“So, you defied my orders and went out for the day. Unchaperoned, I might add!”

 Lauren fairly bristled. Johnny could feel the tension soaring through her as she stood by his side, but barely touching.

“Good evening, Aunt Flo. What a pleasure to see that you have managed to get out for some fresh air today. But what is this about orders? I was not aware that when I offered to come out here to visit you and help you out that I was enlisting for the army!”

 Her frosty reply to her aunt’s greeting kept all three Lancer men stilled. Not wanting to interfere in their family business, they waited to see what would develop. They did not need to wait long.

 “I warned you about the inappropriateness of going out for a ride unescorted.”

“But I was escorted, Aunt Flo.”

“You know precisely what I mean. You are flagrantly ignoring convention by spending the afternoon alone with a man, and not just any man at that!”

 All three Lancers stiffened at what they perceived to be a slur on Johnny’s character, but before any of them could say or do anything in defence of Johnny, Lauren was quick with a riposte.

“Yes, for once we are in agreement, Aunt Flo. Johnny is not just any man!”

Aunt Flo blushed, unsure just how Lauren intended her remark.

“I suggest you remember yourself, young lady.”

“I’m sorry. You are quite right.”

 Lauren turned to the men.

“How remiss of me. It is so good to see you again, and under much better circumstances. I’d like to thank you so much for having me stay the night. It is very much appreciated.”

 Johnny took this as his cue. Clearing his throat, he took her elbow.

“Murdoch, Scott, I’m sure you remember Lauren.”

Appreciating the blast of fresh air she exuded, both men jumped forward to take her hand and wish her welcome.

“Lauren, we can’t thank you enough for what you did for Johnny. You were not only brave, but Sam says that you are a fine surgeon,” Murdoch greeted her.

“I’m simply glad that I was there and able to help.”

“And we couldn’t agree more strongly,” chimed in Scott, taking her hand to kiss it and then cuffing Johnny lightly around the ears.

 “He’s a bit of a pest, but I’ve grown accustomed to him and wouldn’t like not to have him around. Besides, my workload would double and I’d end up with no free time at all!”

 For the first time, the Murdoch and Scott heard her laugh and witnessed a more relaxed and happy expression on her face. This cemented the impression they both had that this young lady held a special attraction for Johnny.

 “Johnny! You’re back!”

 On seeing Johnny, Teresa quickly placed some plates on the table and hurried over.

 “And Lauren, it’s good to see you again! Did you have a good ride?”

 “Yes, Johnny showed me around the western part of the ranch, then we had a picnic by one of the creeks. Johnny said that you and Maria made us the cake and lemonade. Thank you so much. They were delicious!”

“You’re welcome! It’s good to stop for a breather and take some refreshment. I had my doubts that Johnny would let you stop at all. Once he starts riding, it’s hard to get him off his horse!”

 “He behaved himself, actually. Sam told me that he wasn’t to do anything too strenuous and he followed doctor’s orders.”

 “That’d be a first!” muttered Scott so that everyone could hear.

 “Well, I can follow orders if I need to. I just don’t like to,” grinned Johnny. “Besides, this staying put is driving me mad. I’m hoping Sam will let up on me next week.”

 “So am I,” Scott intoned solemnly. “It’s about time you got off your rear end and gave me a hand with the chores!”

“Need some muscle to help you out, do you Scott?” teased Johnny.

“That, and I miss having someone to boss around!” Scott’s retort drew exaggerated eye rolling from Johnny, but giggles from the girls.

Murdoch, relishing the boys’ foolishness, gave a soft chuckle. “Lets’ just leave it up to Sam, shall we boys? He’s the professional and I’ve never known him to be wrong.”

“But he sure does fuss!” grumbled Johnny disconsolately.

 “Well, everyone, dinner will be in thirty minutes,” interrupted Teresa. “How about you all clean up and organize yourselves?”

“Thank you, darling,” uttered Murdoch. “Flo, let me assist you to your buggy while they clean up,” suggested Murdoch.

 “Oh, no! It is far too late now. It will be dark by the time I arrive back in town. I fear that I will need to spend the night here. I couldn’t possibly travel back now.”

 Deafening silence greeted her proclamation. Nobody really knew what to say, until Lauren spoke up.

 “Nonsense, Aunt Flo, if you leave now, you will be fine.”

“Oh, goodness me no, my dear. I get nervous at dusk!”

Her assertion depressed them all. Good manners and etiquette demanded that she be offered a room for the night, but no-one could quite bring themselves to do it.

It was Johnny who spoke, glancing ruefully at Lauren in the process.

“Well, I guess that you had better spend the night. We have plenty of guest rooms.”

 “Goodness, there is no need to mess up another room. Lauren and I can share a room. That way we will not cause any trouble.”

 Lauren was stricken. White lines of annoyance radiated from her mouth and her body posture was as rigid as the Lancer Arch. She clenched her hands into tight fists, but seemed incapable of speaking.

The other occupants of the room were equally taken aback by the woman’s brazen effrontery. They groped in their minds for a plausible way to get rid of her, but could think of nothing workable. It was Johnny who filled the void. Everyone else was happy to take the coward’s way out and stayed silent, hoping someone else would think of something clever to say which would deviate this woman from her all too transparent path.

“Oh, ma’am, I wouldn’t suggest sleeping with her. You know, that time we spent the night together was a nightmare. It’s bad enough being shot and suffering such agony, especially after she dug the bullet out without any anaesthetic, but is was the snoring which really took its toll. It was like lying down next to the Cross Creek afternoon special. Lots of hissing and snuffling and whistling. You won’t get a wink of sleep. I know I didn’t. I really wouldn’t advise it, Ma’am.”

Johnny’s head was shaking from side to side, a sorrowful look on his face as he emphasized the miserable memories he hoped to convince her of. As Johnny had started to speak, Lauren had opened her mouth to comment, but the light had dawned and she wisely stayed silent, allowing Johnny to continue with his saga of nonsense.

 Scott suddenly found his voice.

“When I was a prisoner of war, do you know that some men were driven mad by the sound of snoring? When you want to go to sleep and all you can hear is snoring, you sort of focus on it. It seems to get louder and sneaks out to attack you just when you think the person is going to settle down. Our captors managed to get some top secret information from some of the sleep deprived prisoners. It’s a perfect torture method. Deprive someone of sleep and they will become willing to spill the beans on anything.”

Scott turned to Johnny, commiseration painted sympathetically on his face.

“I’m impressed that you pulled through, Brother. I can see that the most attractive option could have been to succumb to the wound, pain and loss of blood.”

 “Well, I guess us Lancers are made of stern material, Scott

Johnny’s bland and stoic face seemed to consider his ordeal and near death by proximity to snoring.

Teresa, quick on the uptake, added her thoughts before Aunt Flo could comment.

“I have already made up Lauren’s room, but it does catch the early morning sun . . . and that darned rooster’s crowing. There is another guestroom downstairs which is cooler in the morning because it is on the west side and it is as far away from Rocky the rooster as you can get. I think that you will be much more comfortable there. I’ll arrange it after supper. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to wash up, do so now!”

Quite efficiently and with a no nonsense approach that was hard to argue with, Teresa had Aunt Flo organized.

 The wind taken out of her sails, she became flustered and mumbled some thanks before Teresa set off to set the extra place at the table.

Supper was not the meal that Johnny had hoped for. In between imbibing on Murdoch’s exquisite wines, Aunt Flo held the floor as she expounded on the merits of her niece. But worse, she directed herself at Scott. The woman was determined that if her niece were to make a decent match out in the wilds of California, it would be with the Lancer son she deemed to be the more eligible.

“My dear, did you hear that? Scott was a lieutenant in the cavalry. My goodness, he must have been real officer material to be promoted so young. His superiors must have recognized his qualities at an early age.”

“Yes, Aunt Flo, I did. Mr Lancer must be very proud of Scott, as we all are,” Lauren commented.

And Lauren followed this assertion with a surreptitious squeeze to Johnny’s hand, which lay resting on his thigh. Johnny felt compelled to add his own praise of his brother … and simultaneously an answering squeeze to Lauren’s hand.

“We’re all real proud of Scott, Ma’am. It’s not everyone who gives up a safe and privileged way of life to fight for his beliefs.”

 Scott accepted the compliments with humility, but could not let the situation pass without mentioning his younger brother.

 “If you want to meet someone who fought for what was right when he could have just walked away, then you should consider what Johnny did for the poor and downtrodden in Mexico. He could have turned his back at any time as many others did, yet he chose to put his life on the line time and time again.”

 Johnny studied his wine glass, rotating it softly, to a thunderous silence from Aunt Flo who was busy taking a hefty gulp of her own wine. After some time though, he glanced up at his brother and gave a tiny salute with his glass at his brother before taking a sip.

Teresa joined Scott in praising Johnny.

“Murdoch hired the Pinkerton’s to find Johnny and he was literally snatched in front of a firing squad. He was a hero to too many, and the rurales wanted to make an example of him. He was too dangerous to the corrupt officials and they needed to get rid of him. We bless the Pinkerton agent’s timing every day.”

“I’m sure you do, my dear, but one really must consider the whole nature of life in Mexico. Any man in front of a firing squad is not going to be squeaky clean, anyway. Besides they are a corrupt, heathen bunch down there. I prefer not to think about their petty squabbles.”

 Aunt Flo effectively closed the topic, took a more delicate sip than before of her wine and turned to Scott again, cutting off Murdoch’s intended answer in defence of Johnny’s heritage.

 “So tell me about Boston and your time at Harvard University, Scott,” she encouraged.

Scott caught his father’s eye and took up where he thought Murdoch was heading.

 “Well, while I was living in the lap of luxury with every amenity, Johnny was fighting the very same corrupt society you just mentioned. He was a victim of circumstance, but this should not lessen the very courage it took for him to survive down there. I was in blissful ignorance of the difficulties he faced in his life, but I look back now and squirm at the meaningless frivolities which constituted my week’s activities. And while I engaged in the theoretical hypotheses of the philosophers, Johnny was engaged in the reality. I consequently do not feel overly proud of my years there.”

“But you accomplished studies to a high level and passed rigorous examinations.”

“Yes, I did, but once again, the pursuit of, say, the knowledge of Latin may have been an enjoyable exercise for me, but it was hardly a useful skill to acquire. Ultimately, the best knowledge can often be learnt by life experiences. Harvard was not truly representative of the lifestyle of your average American.”

 Scott continued, giving only a sketchy outline of his life there, inwardly fuming that she could again denigrate Johnny and have no desire to find out more about him.

 Aunt Flo was in her element.

“Lauren, dear, did you ever hear such a thing? That anyone with so much money, and I mean buckets of money, would actually go and study at college? And Harvard, no less. And all the time he could have just sat back and enjoyed the prestige his wealth brought him. It must take a special man to make his own mark in the world, don’t you think, Lauren?”

 “Indeed so, Aunt Flo. And it must be in the make-up of these Lancers. Scott was determined to make his own way in the world and Johnny had no choice BUT to make his own way in the world. They are quite a pair.”

 And so the evening continued, with Scott the obvious target for some serious matchmaking by Aunt Flo, much to his embarrassment and the aggravation of the other diners.

Murdoch plied her regularly with some more wine, but surprisingly the woman could hold her liquor. He was hoping that the alcohol would have some sort of somnolent effect on her so they could bundle her off to her room, but this was not evident until nearly an hour after they had all left the dining table.

 It was Teresa who pounced at the right time. Noting that Aunt Flo was finally becoming heavy lidded, Teresa offered to show her to her newly made up room, obviating the necessity for Lauren to sleep in the same room and bed as her aunt. She firmly accompanied Lauren’s now rather unsteady aunt to her room under the guise of showing her the amenities, while at the same time waving to Lauren and Johnny that they should make good their escape for a breath of fresh air while they could do so unscathed.

They disappeared fast and headed for the corral. Lauren leaned on the railing, her back to him and did not turn when he spoke.

“Hey, are you all right?” he enquired.

It was only as she turned her head and he glimpsed first her profile and then her face full on, that he saw how upset she was.

 “Hey, what’s the matter?”

“What do you think?”

 “Well, I wouldn’t be asking you, if I knew.”

 Lauren sigh a despondent sigh and looked sadly at Johnny.

 “Aunt Flo. She’s a cattle stampede all on her own. She took over the dinner conversation. Heck, she shouldn’t have even been here for dinner. She wasn’t even invited. And she put you down all evening. And now she’s staying the night. I’m just so furious with her!”

 “Look on the bright side, at least she’s not sleeping in your room! And Scott has sure had his ego flattered. If she’d praised him any more, I swear his angel wings would have lifted him upstairs without the need for taking the stairs!”

“Yes, Scott sure did seem to take it well. But he wasn’t comfortable, you know. He didn’t like her putting him up on a pedestal.”

 Johnny considered her, his head tilted on its side.

“Yeah, I know he was embarrassed and annoyed, but he’s still gonna have fun over the next few days telling me how good he is! But seriously, he’s taken what she said with a grain of salt. He and I are fine. Don’t you pay no mind to your Aunt Flo’s ramblings and wishful designs.”

“That’s a big ask!” She sighed again, still uncertain about the negative effect her aunt had cast over the dinner table conversation.

“But I do need to thank you for saving me tonight. Sharing a house with her in one thing, but I am not too keen to share my room or my bed!”

“Well, we work as a team here. Teresa and Scott had a hand in it, too, you know!”

 “Is it true?”

 “Is what true?”

 “That I snore?”

Johnny looked at her, amused.

“Not that I noticed. If you fell asleep that night, I didn’t hear a sound. You didn’t really think I meant what I said, did you?”

She shuffled awkwardly, before giggling.

“I really wasn’t sure. I didn’t think that I had fallen asleep that night at all, as I was looking after you, but then I wondered if I might have dozed off in exhaustion. And if I was asleep, I wouldn’t know that I was snoring.”

 “You got no complaints from me on that score.” Johnny paused, deep in thought. “I WAS unconscious for a bit, though. Maybe you do snore. I guess we’ll never know . . . unless we experiment in some way.”

His face was composed into a serious expression as he made this suggestion.

“Why, Johnny Lancer, I think that you have just made me an indecent proposal!” she exclaimed, then grinned back at the cocky grin which had burst out on his face.

“Ain’t nothing indecent about spending time with a pretty lady!”

 “Well it won’t be tonight!” she replied firmly, blushing hotly in the evening dark. “I am going to hit the sack . . . alone!”

“Can’t blame a man for trying,” he commented, knowing full well she would not have obliged him and that he really wouldn’t have wanted her to at this stage, anyway. “Well, come along then. I’ll escort you safely to your room, and hit the sack myself . . . in blissful peace and quiet.”

 His laughter was interrupted by an ‘ooph!’ as she firmly dug him in the ribs with her elbow, after taking good care to do so on his good side.


Nothing short of stunned described the sentiment of the Lancer clan as they made their way to the kitchen for breakfast. Aunt Flo was already ensconced in a chair and was being waited on by an unusually sour and dour Maria. They had all been hoping that she would be suffering a hangover and that they would then be left to partake of a leisurely breakfast together.

“Well, how do you think that you are all going to get to church on time if you sleep in so late?” she chastised them all.

Murdoch had not intended to go to church this particular Sunday, but thinking on his feet and noting the thunderous expression on Johnny’s face, he cut in quickly.

“Why, we have plenty of time, Flo. You just eat up and I’ll have your buggy and horses readied. If I tie Champion to the back, I’ll be able to drive you in” he offered. “Well, that is kind of you Murdoch, but it would make more sense for Lauren to accompany me. That way her dress won’t get all mussed up for church.”

“Well, Lauren is going to ride out to the northern perimeter with Johnny to check on the fence there, so they won’t have time to go to church today.”

”What! Johnny has no time for church? I presuming that you are jesting.!”

“No, Ma’am, I am not,” stated Murdoch firmly, as he reached over to slather some butter and jam on a biscuit. “I need Johnny to check the fence today so we can work out the supplies we need to purchase in order to repair it.”

“So, you would have him work on the Sabbath against the good Lord’s wishes?”

“Well, he wouldn’t actually be doing the repairing, so I don’t think that the good Lord will hold a little reconnaissance against him.”

“Well, I will! And I will not have Lauren’s soul tarnished in the same manner.”

Lauren added her own weight to Murdoch’s argument for Johnny’s surprise ranch chore that morning. In similar vein to Murdoch, she took a biscuit and smothered it purposefully with butter and honey.

“Aunt Flo, my soul is just fine. All it needs is a little fresh air! And Johnny shouldn’t be riding alone just now. He’s not quite fit enough.”

She took a generous bite and chewed in pleasure.

“Maria, these are the best biscuits I have ever eaten!”

“Gracias!” replied Maria with a smile of affection which softened her features.

Murdoch issued orders for his horse and for the buggy to be prepared, then set about his own breakfast. He decided that he would need some sustenance if he was to survive the drive into town with this overbearingly bossy woman.

 Breakfast over, Murdoch manoeuvred her into her buggy with some alacrity. He bade his family goodbye in record speed, and whisked her out through the arch before she could come up with some excuse to join the younger members of the family for the day. With effort, he blotted out her mindless prattle and creative digging into Johnny’s past, and endured the journey into town, hoping that Johnny was aware of just how big a debt he owed his long suffering father.


The next few weeks saw Johnny and Lauren meet up whenever possible after work. Their time alone was reduced a little as Johnny became fit for active chores on the ranch, but they were nevertheless creative in finding some precious moments together.

Aunt Flo’s negativity and condescension continued, but just occasionally Johnny’s charm worked its way through the iron lady’s haughty armour. She had thawed slightly late one afternoon after he arrived to fix her store roof. A deluge that morning had damaged some stock when the roof sprang a leak. Several leaks, in fact. It was Teresa who had informed him after she had returned home from town. Armed with a hammer, nails and new shingles, he had turned up and after helping to clear some stock out of the way, he had set to work. It went against every grain in her stiff body, but she had thanked him and even offered him a drink of lemonade for his efforts. A drink that he made sure that he sniffed before consuming. It didn’t pay to be too careless.

 Johnny conceded that she was a hard nut to crack. His natural charm had not had its usual effect. Quite frankly, his charisma had been a total failure. Most women would have been simpering at him by now, batting eyelashes and casting coy glances his way. They would certainly crack a smile. But not Aunt Flo. At least not where he was concerned. It was a different kettle of fish when she met up with both Scott and him in town. An effusive side to her burst forth like a flower racing to unfold each petal as the sun’s rays hit it, but that flower closed and shrivelled up as soon as Scott was out of sight.

Johnny was pragmatic. It didn’t really matter what Aunt Flo thought. It didn’t matter that she had her sights set on Scott as a match for Lauren. It was Lauren who dominated his thoughts, but it sure would be easier if Aunt Flo softened just a little towards him. Lauren was having to be very strong to assert her independence, but Johnny didn’t see why every outing had to create a battle of wills and words.

One thing, at least. Aunt Flo had given up foisting her imaginary illness on Lauren as guilt trip. Lauren aimed to help her aunt out, but not be bonded by an unnecessary and contrived obligation.

And had they but known it, Aunt Flo was gradually and begrudgingly coming to terms with Lauren’s headstrong attitude. Secretly, she admired her niece’s feisty nature, but it wouldn’t do to divulge this and give the girl an undue sense of her own importance.


Johnny was mulling over the past few weeks as he waited in line. He was not normally one for waiting patiently, but his mind was pleasantly taken with day dreaming about Lauren. Occasionally the sour expression on Aunt Flo’s face reared its ugly head, but basically he managed to chase those thoughts away and concentrate on his planned picnic next Saturday and calling in on Lauren after he had finished his banking business. It would be a surprise visit. Murdoch was to attend to the banking, but had come down with the ‘flu, so Johnny had snatched the opportunity to go to town with unseemly haste. With Murdoch under the weather and some good luck coming his way, a protracted stay in town might not be noticed.

 He was finally nearing the head of the queue, so he grudgingly broke from his reverie and organized his thoughts around the banking transaction he was to make. It was then that the hairs stood up at the back of his neck and he slipped into alert mode. Looking around, he noticed that two people were at the counter. One was Mrs Trevaskis and the other was Theo Parker. They were going about their usual business in every way. Mrs Trevaskis was as slow as always, milking the contact time with the available clerk, Zac Greenslade. She had been widowed for a decade and made it her goal in life to seduce the forever prevaricating Zaccariah Greenslade. A slip of a man, he was dwarfed by her bulk and forceful personality, but oddly, he seemed to blush engagingly whenever she was nearby. Unfortunately, he stopped short at openly returning her blatant affections. Theo was a grim faced man, punctilious to a fault, and offered no frills. What you saw was what you got, with no time wasting. Johnny could see that he was in his usual hurry to get away. His unease did not centre on the counter.

 Casually, he looked around. Behind him was Emma Solomon, the minister’s wife and a cowboy he didn’t recognize. The cowboy was in need of a shave, and his clothes were in need of a good soaking. He had been on the trail, that much was obvious. Johnny could not see his eyes, and that worried him for some reason. There was something slippery about this man. In reaction, Johnny’s right hand reached down to his thigh. It hovered, waiting to see if anything was to eventuate.

 He groaned inwardly, as the door opened and a well known face entered. Aunt Flo bustled through the door, all business and determination. She took her position at the end of the line, behind the cowboy, before she realized who was three people ahead of her. A curt nod was signalled, but she made no effort to openly move forward to say hello after he had greeted her.

The door opened again to admit another, larger cowboy who appeared to have been travelling. Studiously avoiding his colleague, he looked around the room, eyes darting incessantly. Johnny’s sixth sense was screaming. He did not like the look of the two men, and it wasn’t just because they needed a bath. They were trouble. His gut told him so.

 Theo made his way out, striding purposefully after a farewell to Johnny in passing. Johnny shuffled forward along with the others, but his senses were totally tuned in to the two cowpokes. Mrs Trevaskis finished her business, and left the bank, accidentally brushing against Johnny’s arm in passing.

“Ooh! I’m so sorry for bumping you,” she crooned. “No harm done, I take it?”

 “Not at all, Ma’am,” Johnny assured her.

 She patted his arm, her fat, sweaty hand lingering over his shirt, the heat seeping through uncomfortably into his flesh. And Johnny seriously wondered if her finger was caressing his arm ever so lightly. It gave him a slightly nauseated feeling, so he gave her a firm good-day with a nod of his head thrown in to discourage her attentions and to encourage her departure. But her cloying closeness threw him, despite his heightened senses. So much so, that he was not able to react with the speed he was renowned for when the cowboys made their move.

Aunt Flo was grabbed from behind and a gun thrust hard against her forehead as the other man drew on the room as a whole. Aunt Flo squealed a strangled cry, which petered out to a whimper. Her eyes, bulging in fear, sought out Johnny’s. That she expected him to do something was obvious, but with that gun against her brain, Johnny’s options were severely limited.

“Get against the wall or this woman gets it and you’re all next!” snarled the man holding Aunt Flo.

 The room was in silence apart from a strange raspy wheeze coming from Aunt Flo in between her whimpers. The bank clients and workers were frozen to the spot, gaping at this violent turn of events. No one moved, terror gripping them and depriving them of their motor functions.

“Move!” the man screamed, digging the gun harder against Aunt Flo’s head and making her cry out in fear.

A shuffling movement exploded from the bank’s patrons as they finally hastened to obey, fearful of the consequences if they delayed any further. Backs against the walls, they did not need to be ordered to raise their hands. The robbers smirked in satisfaction. All was going well, and soon they would be rich beyond expectation.

 Time was suspended as the group waited for the next events to be dictated to them. Hands up, Johnny watched the proceedings, waiting and hoping for an opening to make a move.

 One of the men, the one unencumbered by Aunt Flo’s presence, made his way behind the counter and approached Zac. Zac was in a lather of sweat. He wiped his hands on his pants and then pulled out an enormous polka dotted handkerchief to wipe his forehead, which was beaded with sweat. The fact that he was shaking was visible from where Johnny stood herded with the other customers.

 Johnny had a sick feeling in his stomach that Zac was a loose cannon which was about to inadvertently have its fuse lit. Johnny glanced at Aunt Flo. The woman was clearly terrified. Her look at Johnny beseeched him to do something. Anything. He looked back at Zac. Yep, he was about to crumble. It was not yet evident which form it would take, but it was imminent.

Then it happened. Johnny watched as Zac made his poorly judged move. His hand groped under the counter and both robbers seized on his suicidal action. The one closest to Zac raised his gun, while the one holding Aunt Flo swiveled his pistol away from her head and towards Zac. In a fluid movement which seemed to end before the eye translated that it was happening, Johnny cleared his gun from his holster and fired before the latter man could aim at Zac. He was falling dead to the floor with a hole drilled into his temple as Johnny was already turning to the other assailant. Johnny fired twice, spinning the grubby cowpoke as he spiraled downwards. Delayed by his shot at the first man, it was not, however, immediate enough to prevent Zac being shot at such close range. The clerk screamed, clutched his shoulder, looked at the blood and fainted dead away. As he slumped downwards with gravity’s pull, Johnny lithely hopped the counter by placing one hand on the flat surface and effortlessly sailing his legs over. He checked the second cowboy, who had also gone to meet his maker, eyes already glazed and distant.

 Snatching a bandana from the neck of the deceased cowpoke, Johnny wadded it to make a pad to press on the wound.

“Mrs Solomon!” Johnny called. “Go fetch Sam! Hurry!” Johnny turned to the other teller, Percy O’Donoghue, who was standing, uselessly, staring at the fallen bodies. “Percy! Keep this on Zac’s shoulder to stem the blood until Sam gets here!”

Following orders, Parcy relieved Johnny of his position on the floor beside Zac. Deftly, Johnny scooped up both robbers’ guns and placed them over the counter, before turning his attention to Aunt Flo. She was standing there, her face still registering horror at the carnage she had witnessed from such impossibly close quarters. She was spattered in blood and brain matter and was rapidly going into shock.

 Johnny retrieved his own bandana from his pocket. Using some water from the carafe on a desk behind the counter, he moistened it before approaching Aunt Flo.

 ”Here, let me,” Johnny spoke soothingly, as he began dabbing at her face to clean off the blood spatters and clumps of tissue. He spoke to her the whole time in his low, melodic voice, reassuring he that she would feel as right as rain after a good hot bath and a cup of tea. The bandana was not large enough to deal with the copious residue, however. Scouting around he found a hand towel in the back office. He dampened it with more water from the carafe, and was able to wipe her face more thoroughly. He brushed at her dress, removing the excess from the more obvious stains. Next, he poured a hefty wallop of brandy from the decanter in the office into a small glass.

 “Drink up!” he ordered.

Aunt Flo was still frozen.

 “Down the hatch!” he insisted.

Aunt Flo did as instructed. The alcohol hit her immediately. Her face suffused a deep red as the brandy burned its way down. After a grunt of surprise, she coughed and spluttered. The alcohol did the trick. It seemed to have an effect in breaking her out of her reverie. Looking at Johnny, her eyes misted in tears and her lips began to tremble. She wrung her hands and she clutched them to her chest.

“Johnny!” she gasped, the tears spilling over. “You saved my life! Oh, thank you! Thank you so much, my dear, dear boy!”

Before his brilliantly honed gunfighter’s reflexes could stop her, she flung her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest. It was all too much for her. Great heaving sobs racked her body as her terror, relief and gratitude spilled out. It was impossible to disengage her, attached as she was like a tick to a cow’s hide, so Johnny patted her back and smoothed her hair muttering all the right things to comfort her. They stood in the middle of the floor, as the growing crowds began to mingle around them for a good gawk at the dead bodies splayed starkly on the bank floor. And Aunt Flo continued to heave racking sobs and to hiccup great gulps of air as her tears soaked through the material of his shirt and drenched the skin beneath. Like a dam unleashed in a furious storm, her outpouring of emotion didn’t look like ending any time soon.

 But suddenly, a voice could be heard above the din of the sightseers, not because of its loud nature, but because of its proximity. A dulcet and charming voice which released all the tension from Johnny’s rigid shoulders. The voice broke through Aunt Flo’s noisy suffering as hands pried the woman loose from Johnny. Aunt Flo turned to Lauren’s welcoming arms and continued to heave out her distress.

 Lauren uttered soothing phrases and looked over her aunt’s shoulder at Johnny, a frown of worry creasing her face.

”Are you all right, Johnny? Did you get hurt?” she anxiously enquired.

“No, Querida. I’m fine. Your aunt had a tough time, though.”

 Aunt Flo’s crying eased quite suddenly. She pushed away from Lauren and fossicked in her reticule for a handkerchief which she dabbed at her eyes.

 “He saved me, Lauren. That wonderful young man of yours saved me and stopped anybody else from getting hurt. I have never seen such speed and accuracy. Incredible! It was like they were dead before Johnny even moved. All I saw was a blur. An extraordinary feat. And so brave with him outnumbered two to one.”

Lauren and Johnny gaped at her and then at each other. Had they heard right? Had Aunt Flo said something nice about him? Had she been positive?

Johnny ruminated over what she had said. “That wonderful young man”. Things were looking up.

 Lauren contemplated her words as well, focusing more on the end of the sentence. “That wonderful young man of yours.” She liked the sound of that. Johnny and Lauren grinned broadly at each other.

“Come on, Honey, let’s get your aunt home and a nice cup of tea into her,” suggested Johnny.

So they stood either side of Aunt Flo, each with an arm around her as they left the bank.

Catching Lauren’s eye, Johnny gifted her with a cocky wink, acknowledging his relief at the arrival of a new era in his relations with Aunt Flo . . . and her niece.



Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Fay directly.



8 thoughts on “Further Acquaintances by Fay

  1. I just found the Acquaintance series and throughly enjoyed them. 2006 was a long time ago I’m afraid there won’t be a further instalment.


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