Word count 6,322
*No, neither of our boys are getting married, so breathe easy.
*A/R – Johnny is 19. Scott is 23. As with all my stories, if you don’t like a younger Johnny or alternate reality, then please don’t read it.
*Thanks to Terri Derr (Doc), Alice Marie and Diana (Buckskin) for help with the beta
8th in the Riding the River Series
Sunday, December 3, 1871
“Murdoch?” Teresa’s soft voice brought her guardian out of his musings.
Turning, Murdoch smiled at the sight of Teresa walking toward him, a small skip in her step. It was hard to believe the girl he loved like a daughter and had watched grow into a young woman was 18 years old. Harder to believe that in just a few hours he’d be walking her down the aisle.
She stopped in front of him, her face beaming. Throwing her arms around his neck, Teresa kissed him on the cheek.
“Very happy.” She looked around the room. “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”
“Yes. That’s the exact word I’d use. Perfect.”
With Maria at their lead, the ladies of the estancia had spent the week following Thanksgiving preparing for this day.
The women had cleaned and polished and moved furniture. Transforming the Great Room into a wedding chapel had been their greatest achievement. Chairs lined an aisle that ran the room’s length from the step down at the front entryway to the large picture window where Murdoch’s desk usually sat.
A wedding arch draped with satin and lace now framed the window. Trimmed with varying shades of pink and lavender ribbons, it matched decorations throughout the house.
Reverend Joshua Barns would stand under the archway as he presided over the upcoming nuptials. However, it was where a worried Murdoch Lancer had been standing for the last hour, staring out and silently praying his sons were home.
When Teresa saw Murdoch glance out the window again, she stepped back and frowned.
Murdoch tried to hide the worry on his face but knew he’d failed.
Nothing’s wrong. I’m just thinking about today.”
Teresa wasn’t convinced.
“I saw the boys ride out earlier. Where’d they go?”
Murdoch shook his head. “They… just seeing to some ranch business.”
“Murdoch, I’m a grown woman now. I don’t need to be protected. I saw Val and Jack Slade following them. Now, are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“I want to know. Is there trouble?”
“I’m not….” Murdoch started and stopped. Teresa was right. She deserved an honest answer.
“Val came to tell us there were two men in town looking for…Johnny.”
“For Johnny or Madrid?”
Murdoch sighed, “Madrid.”
Teresa covered her face with her hands. “When will it stop? When will they leave him alone?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. I wish I had an answer. Maybe someday, but I’m afraid it will be a long time.”
Memories of last year’s events made Murdoch wonder if ‘someday’ would ever come. Johnny had been famous before his last trip to Mexico. If Harlan’s letters to Scott could be believed, the name Madrid was now well known even in Boston.
Turning, they both looked out the window. Murdoch put an arm around Teresa’s shoulders.
“Shouldn’t they have been home by now? I mean, if something had happened, wouldn’t Val have let us know?”
“Yes, if something had happened, Val would have sent word.”
“Stop right there. I don’t want you worrying about what’s happening in town. You need to concentrate on getting ready for the wedding.”
“Teresa, Jack Slade is there to watch Johnny’s back, and Scott and Val are there to watch Slade’s.”
“I know, but…”
The sound of someone clearing his throat drew Murdoch and Teresa’s attention. Jess Bonner and Clint Stewart stood at the French doors.
“Mr. Lancer,” Bonner spoke up. “We hate to bother you.”
Murdoch glanced down at Teresa, who took the hint.
“I’m going to see if Maria needs any help and then lay down for a nap.”
“I’ll make sure Maria wakes you in plenty of time to get dressed.”
“I want you to wake me when the boys get home.”
“Alright then. Go on.”
Teresa smiled and started toward the kitchen. Stopping midway across the room, she looked at Bonner and Stewart.
“Jess, will you and Clint help Larry later? I’m sure he’s going to be too nervous to dress himself.”
“Don’t you worry none, Miss Teresa,” Clint Stewart responded with a smile. “We’ll make sure Tate’s on time for the weddin’.”
“Thank you,” Teresa smiled and resumed her trek to the kitchen.
After Teresa disappeared, the two men turned their attention back to Murdoch.
“Mr. Lancer, we’re are going into town. Tate wanted to go with us, but we told him he’d better stay here.”
Murdoch had a moment of panic. It must have shown on his face because Stewart added, “Don’t worry, we won’t let him come with us.”
“Thank you, but that’s not why I’m concerned. Why are you going? There were only two men. Don’t you think Johnny and Slade can handle them? Not to mention Val and Scott are there.”
Bonner dipped his head. “Two men that Val saw. There could be more. You know better than anyone; not many are going to face Madrid without back up. That’s why Slade told us to head to town if he and Johnny weren’t back by 10:00.”
Murdoch looked at the Grandfather clock. The time was 10:15.
“It’s only 15 minutes…”
“We’ve worked with Slade a while now, Mr. Lancer. When he said 10:00, he meant it. He said if he didn’t have Madrid and Scott back here by then, something had gone wrong.”
Tate stepped into the room from behind Bonner and Stewart. “I’m going with them, Mr. Lancer.”
It had taken months for Murdoch to get Larry Tate to call him Murdoch instead of Mr. Lancer. Now, it seemed they were back at the beginning.
“Larry, no. Absolutely not. Teresa…”
“Teresa would what?”
Everyone turned to see Teresa standing at the end of the aisle.
“I told you I’m not a child. I know what’s happening.” She walked over to stand in front of her future husband. “Larry, if you feel you need to go with Jess and Clint, then go. There isn’t going to be a wedding until everyone is here, anyway.”
“You’re sure?” Tate reached out and put a hand to the side of her face.
“Very sure.” She sighed, “Larry Tate, you bring my…our family home. All of our family.”
“You know I love you, woman?”
Teresa smiled. “No more than I love you. Now hurry back, Mister. You’re getting married this evening.”
Teresa turned and retraced her steps to the kitchen.
Tate was grinning when he looked back at the others. “Damn, I’m a lucky man.”
“That you are.” Bonner slapped Tate on the back. “Now we’re wasting time. Head on out.”
Murdoch watched from the French doors as the three men made their way to the horses.
Had it only been fourteen months since their first meeting? September of 1870 seemed to be a lifetime ago. So much had happened over the last year and there wasn’t a day that passed Murdoch didn’t thank God for Jack Slade.
He’d first laid eyes on the notorious gunfighter a few days ride south of Nogales. The tall, slender man with dark hair and a dark mustache rode into their camp with a dozen gunfighters intent on helping Johnny Madrid get out of Mexico alive.
Once across the border, and out of desperation, Murdoch decided he needed one gunfighter to protect another. That was the day he hired Jack Slade and ten gunfighters, including Tate, Bonner, and Stewart. Men who, at first, drew their guns for money. Later, they drew the same guns for a friend and laid their lives on the line to protect Johnny Madrid and the Lancer family.
Not once had he regretted the decision to hire the gunfighters. Without Slade and his men, his family would never have made it home. If not for Slade, Johnny wouldn’t be alive.
Out of those weeks together, a strange bond had formed between the Lancers and the gunfighters. Slade and the men who’d ridden with him had open invitations to visit the ranch at any time, especially during the holidays.
They’d been expecting Slade and Bonner, but when the gunfighters arrived two days before Thanksgiving, Clint Stewart was riding with them.
“Mr. Lancer, I hope you don’t mind us bringing along another man,” Slade had said as he dismounted.
Murdoch remembered he’d smiled before answering, “Jack, I’ve told you it’s Murdoch and…”
Before he could finish, Johnny ran out of the house, darted past Murdoch and grabbed Slade’s hand.
“Slade, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Jack had his mouth open to respond, but Johnny had already turned to Bonner and Stewart. Within seconds Tate ran across the yard from the barn and tackled Bonner. The four young men were slapping each other on the back and laughing. Soon everyone else was forgotten.
Scott had been in his room when he heard loud voices. Coming outside, he saw Slade leaning against the hitching rail, smoking a cigarette.
“Kids,” Slade laughed. “Nothing but a bunch of damned kids and, I swear, Madrid’s the biggest one of all.” Then turning to the two older Lancer men, he held out his hand. “Murdoch. Scott, you doing alright?”
As Johnny’s laughter filled the air, Murdoch replied with a chuckle, “It’s been quiet here since you and Bonner left. I have a feeling that’s going to change.”
Glancing at the four young men now wrestling with each other, Scott replied, “It’s good to see you, Jack, and yes, I agree they are a bunch of kids.”
And that was all there was to that. Slade, Bonner, and Stewart settled in as if they’d always been there.
Now, Slade was in Green River with Johnny, Scott, and Val. Bonner, Stewart, and Tate would soon join them. Until they all returned, all Murdoch could do was wait.
“Keep your head down!” Johnny yelled, his voice partially drowned out by gunfire.
“What?” Scott responded, hearing his brother yell.
Johnny raised his head just enough to see where the last shot came from before he fired. Then looking toward Scott, he yelled again, “Keep your damn head down.”
A bullet pinged off the top of the water trough Scott was hiding behind.
Scott’s eyes were wide as he hit the ground, realizing what Johnny was trying to tell him. Looking toward Johnny’s position, he saw his brother shaking his head and mumbling something he was sure he didn’t want to hear.
When Val rode out to the ranch early that morning, Scott knew it wasn’t good. They’d tried to talk Johnny out of going to town to face the two men. Murdoch, Val, and Scott had ganged up on Johnny while Slade and the others stood back waiting to see what happened.
Only after Johnny agreed to let him and Slade go with him did Val relent. Murdoch argued a few more minutes but knew that he was fighting a losing battle without Val to back him up.
Scott remembered hiding a smile. When Murdoch and Val joined forces, his little brother didn’t stand a chance. Johnny had grumbled more than once that having two Papas calling the tune was a pain in his ass. Scott knew no matter how much Johnny fought it, the boy loved having the two men caring about him.
They’d ridden into town with Johnny in the lead.
Dismounting near the Sheriff’s office, Scott’s boot hadn’t touched the ground before he heard Johnny’s slow drawl, “Scott, you stay here.”
Scott’s initial response of, “I can take care of myself” warranted stares from all three of his companions. He was willing to argue the point with Johnny and Val. However, the look Slade gave him made him rethink his rebuttal.
“Alright. I’ll stay here.”
“Let me go ahead and let them know you’re here if they don’t already know.”
Johnny nodded his agreement as Val strode down the boardwalk. Less than a minute later, Val walked out of the saloon and headed back to his office.
“Well?” Johnny asked.
“They said for you to be in the street at noon.”
“That’s what they said.”
“Damn,” Slade muttered.
“What’s wrong?” Johnny asked.
“I told Bonner and Stewart to ride in after us if we weren’t back by 10:00.”
Johnny shook his head. “This just keeps getting better and better. I hope like hell Tate don’t decide to tag along.”
“Murdoch wouldn’t let that happen. Not today.”
“You’d better hope not,” Scott added. “If that boy isn’t at his own wedding, I wouldn’t want to face our sister.”
“I’ll fix some coffee while we wait,” Val offered. “Come on in.”
Johnny groaned as Val walked past him and into his office.
Slade frowned. “His coffee still as bad as ever?”
They still had an hour to wait when the door opened.
Sam Jenkins stepped into Val’s office and froze. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of four guns pointed at him. Only after the weapons were holstered did he dare continue into the room.
“Sorry, Sam.” Val reached for the coffee pot and poured a cup.
Sam gladly accepted the coffee. He took a sip and grimaced before setting the cup aside.
“I was in Spanish Wells when I heard about the gunfighters in town.” Sam looked at Johnny and smiled. “Knowing you, I figured I’d better get here.” Then his eyes lit on Slade. “Jack, it’s good to see you.”
“Doc, how are you doing?”
Sam shook the extended hand.
“Busy.” Sam looked around the room. “I take it I’m too late for the fight?”
“No,” Scott answered, “you’re early. The two fools didn’t want to meet Johnny until noon.”
“So, you’re waiting. Mind if I wait with you?”
“No, Doc. Have a seat.”
Sam walked over and sat down next to Scott, putting his medical bag on the floor beside him. He watched Johnny move to the window and look out.
When Val and Slade went to stand beside Johnny, Sam quietly asked, “What did Murdoch have to say about this? I mean, with the wedding being today.”
“He’s not happy about it.”
“I would think not.”
Scott smiled. “Murdoch was totally against Johnny riding in today and was holding his own until Val abandoned him.”
Sam cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“Val was all against Johnny coming also. Usually, Murdoch and Val together can rein him in. For some reason, Val started to agree with Johnny, which left Murdoch alone in his argument.”
“Why do you think Val changed his mind?”
“I think he could see Johnny was getting upset. We all knew it was a losing battle from the start. Johnny would have ridden in by himself, and Val didn’t want him riding in mad. Murdoch gave in once I agreed to come along with Val and Slade.”
The sound of Johnny’s laugh drew their attention to the three men standing at the window.
“He’s alright now?” Sam asked.
“Yes. At least, I believe he’s alright. The two gunfighters wanting to postpone the fight until noon threw him, but he’s seemed to have calmed down.”
Slade’s laughter joined Johnny’s.
Scott and Sam looked up in time to see Val put a hand on the back of Johnny’s neck. Johnny turned his head to look at his friend and smiled.
“Val’s good with the boy,” Sam commented.
“Yes, he is. There are times even now, though, I feel Murdoch’s jealous of the connection the two have.”
“Does Johnny know that?”
“I don’t know. If Johnny does, he doesn’t let on. I have noticed he tries to spend equal time with both of them. He’s started calling them the two Ps.”
Scott smiled. “Two Papas.”
Sam laughed. “I can see where it would take two fathers to keep him on the straight and narrow. Does he resent having two men telling him what to do?”
“Yes, the two Ps and me. Don’t forget I get to claim big brother privilege in guiding him through his youth.”
To this remark, Sam laughed loud enough to bring Johnny over to stand in front of them.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Brother, nothing at all.”
Before Johnny could respond, they heard the sound of horses on the street and Slade cursed, “Damn.”
“I told you Bonner and Stewart would be along. Seems someone else is with them.”
Johnny tore across the room, opened the door, and stormed outside. Bonner, Stewart, and Tate were dismounting when Johnny reached them.
“Tate, get back on that horse and head back to the ranch.”
“Damn it, boy. You’re getting married today. You get yourself hurt or killed and ….”
“Teresa knows I’m here. She sent me to bring you home and in one piece if I can. I’m not leaving town without the rest of you. And stop calling me boy. I’m a year older than you.”
“Tate, you and me had this conversation before. You’re not cut out to be a gunfighter.”
“I’m not as fast as you, but I know how to handle a gun. Don’t forget I rode with Slade.”
Johnny glared at the man. The same glare would have sent most men scurrying away, looking for a place to hide.
“Don’t look at me that way. It doesn’t work. Scott told me you wouldn’t hurt family, and I’m family or as good as.”
“Scott told you that, did he?” Johnny turned his glare on his brother.
Scott dipped his head slightly. “Johnny, he’s a grown man. You can’t tell him what he can and can’t do.”
“Hell, you do it to me all the time.”
“You’re not full grown yet.”
“The hell I’m not. What….”
“That’s enough,” Val stepped between the brothers. “Johnny, calm down. Scott’s right and you know it.”
“Don’t interrupt. Now, Tate’s staying and that’s the end of that.” Then turning to Tate, Val added, “You’ll stay back with Scott and watch our backs.”
As Tate started to protest, Slade spoke up. “Tate, you do as you’re told. There are only two men and Madrid can handle them. If anything happens to you today, it will break Miss Teresa’s heart and none of us want that.”
Tate nodded. “Alright, but if it looks like there are more than two…”
“Then, you can help.”
“We figured you’d be back at the ranch long before now,” Bonner said.
“We would have, but they want to meet Madrid at noon.”
“How the hell do we know? They just do.”
“It’s almost that now.” Sam pulled out his pocket watch and opened the case. “Five minutes to twelve.”
Standing on the boardwalk outside the Sheriff’s office, Johnny tightened his gun belt and checked his Colt.
The town clock struck twelve.
Johnny straightened his hat, then turned and headed along the boardwalk toward the saloon. He was halfway there when Val took a deep breath and said, “Well, come on then. I’ll take the left side of the street. Slade, you take the right, and Scott, you and Tate…”
“I know. You want us to stay here,” Scott responded.
“Damn right,” Slade drawled, sounding almost like Johnny.
Scott watched Slade and Bonner cross the street.
Seeing movement on the roof of the Mercantile, Scott started to yell a warning and caught himself. The image of Slade spinning around and shooting him was enough to convince Scott to keep quiet.
Grabbing Stewart’s arm, Scott pointed to the roof. Stewart nodded his understanding.
“Tate, you and Stewart stay here. I’m going after Val.”
Scott saw the batwing doors of the saloon swing open. As expected, two men stepped onto the boardwalk and then into the street.
Johnny stepped off the boardwalk and made his way to face them.
Scott was so intent on watching his brother he didn’t see Val stop. Bumping into Val’s back, both men almost ended up on the ground.
“Scott!” Val’s voice was louder than he planned. Looking at Johnny’s back and seeing he hadn’t broken the boy’s concentration, he lowered his voice, “What the hell….”
Scott pointed. “I saw someone on the roof of the Mercantile.”
As Val’s eyes went to the roof, his hand went to the butt of his Colt. They both saw the movement at the same time.
“I see him,” Val responded.
Another movement caught their attention. A curtain moved in the upstairs window of the hotel.
“Two?” Scott whispered.
“Could be more.”
Val glanced at Slade and Bonner. The gunfighters were still watching Johnny and hadn’t notice Val stop.
From down the street they could hear Johnny address the two gunhawks.
“I heard you’re looking for me.”
Scott didn’t have to see Johnny’s face to know he’d smiled.
“You two got names?”
“Yeah. Names Campbell, Ray Campbell,” the taller of the two men announced. “This here’s Bill Foreman.”
Johnny nodded. “Now that’s out of the way, what do you say we get this over with. I have a wedding to get to.”
Campbell laughed, “You sure are in a hurry to die.”
“No, but you sure as hell seem to be.”
Scott could see Foreman scan the street. “You got help, Madrid?”
“Don’t need any. They’re here to make sure you two are the only ones showing up at this dance.”
“Find something funny?” Johnny drawled.
“Not a thing,” Foreman responded as if he’d given something away.
“So, which one of you want to start…”
“Johnny! Look out!”
At the sound of Scott’s voice, Johnny drew his Colt and spun to his left. At almost the same instant, a shot rang out from the hotel.
Johnny rolled to his right as a bullet hit the ground in front of him. Campbell and Foreman were firing as they headed for cover.
Scott dove for the water trough and returned fire. All around him bullets were flying. Chancing a look at his brother, Scott saw Johnny spin away from the shot that hit him in the right side.
“Are you alright?” Scott yelled. When there was no response. “Johnny! Are you alright?”
Johnny looked up and nodded, mouthing the words ‘I’m fine.’
Scott shook his head. ‘Sure, you are.’
For the next few minutes, gunfire echoed along the street.
Finally, it was quiet.
Slade was the first to break cover. He stood and looked back toward the jail to make sure Tate was alright. Not seeing the younger man, Slade stepped into the street.
On the opposite boardwalk, Sam hurried to where Scott and Johnny sat side by side. It looked like the brothers were arguing, and Johnny kept pushing Scott’s hands away.
Bonner appeared beside him. “You alright?”
“Yeah.” Slade nodded, looking down at the graze on his leg. “Go check on Stewart and Tate.”
As Bonner hurried toward the Sheriff’s office, Val crossed the street, still holding his gun. “You see who was in the hotel or on the roof?”
“We got the one on the roof. He’s probably still up there. As for the hotel, I didn’t see him, but we put enough bullets in there we should have hit someone.”
“What about Campbell and Foreman?”
“Not sure where they went.” Slade glanced around, seeing neither of the men. “Madrid hurt?”
Val spun around. He started to cross the street when he heard Johnny grumbling, “Stop fussing, Sam. It’s just a scratch.”
Val smiled. “If he’s complaining, he can’t be hurt too bad.”
Jack and Val turned to see Bonner waving at them.
“Slade, it’s Tate and Stewart.”
“Oh, Lordy, if that boy….” Val sputtered as he took off running with Slade one step behind him.
Scott and Johnny heard Bonner’s remark. They were up and heading back along the boardwalk with Sam trying to keep up.
“Where’s Tate?” Johnny asked.
Jess Bonner pointed to the alley beside the Sheriff’s office.
Midway along the passageway, they found Stewart standing over Foreman’s body.
“We saw them cut through the alley next to the saloon,” Stewart explained. “Figured we’d head them off. I got Foreman. Tate went after Campbell.”
“Are you alright?” Scott asked, seeing the blood on Stewart’s left arm.
“I’m alright. He just winged me.”
“Which way did Tate go?” Slade asked.
“Turn left when you get to the end of the alley.”
Running along the passageway with Val in the lead, they turned left and kept going. The sound of gunfire brought them to a halt.
Johnny pushed past Val.
Leaning against a wall was a grinning Larry Tate. A few feet away sat Campbell, holding his left shoulder.
“I got him,” Tate announced proudly.
Val moved forward to check Campbell.
“He’s gonna be alright. Bonner, help me get him into a cell. Doc can look at him there.”
Bonner pulled Campbell to his feet. “Come on.”
“I need a Doctor,” Campbell grumbled.
“You’ll get one after.”
“After Madrid, Slade, and Stewart.”
Campbell raised his head and looked around. His eyes fell on Slade.
“You’re Jack Slade?”
Slade glared at the man who’d tried to kill him and his friends. With a cold slow drawl, he answered, “So they tell me.”
Campbell looked back at Johnny. “Just my luck.”
“Yeah,” Val laughed as he pushed Campbell along, “I’d say you’re lucky. You faced down Johnny Madrid and Jack Slade and you’re still alive to talk about it.”
Campbell stared at Johnny. “Next time, Madrid, we’ll finish this.”
“It is finished.
Campbell shook his head but said nothing more.
Sam arrived in time to see Val and Campbell disappear. He looked at each of the men standing in the alley. Johnny’s right side was still bleeding, as was Stewart’s arms, and Slade had blood on his left leg.
“I want all three of you in my office.”
Johnny turned to look at Tate. He started to say something, then changed his mind. Walking over to his soon to be brother-in-law, Johnny threw an arm around Tate’s shoulders.
“Tate, you did good.”
Tate grinned. “Thanks.”
“But the next time I tell you to stay put. I mean, stay put. If you’d gotten hurt…”
“If I got hurt, then I got hurt. Johnny, you’re not responsible for everything that happens to any of us. I decided to go after Campbell and I’m still here. Now, I think we’d better get all of you fixed up because I have a woman waiting back at Lancer I plan to marry today.”
With that, Tate turned and walked away.
“Well, I guess he told me.” Johnny laughed. “We’d better get over to Sam’s office.”
The men returned to Lancer with Sam herding them into the house. Larry immediately went to talk to Teresa.
Maria, with her hands on her hips, stood outside Teresa’s door.
“You can speak to the chica through the door.”
“No. You talk through the door, or you wait until after you are married. It is bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”
Larry knew when to give in.
He tapped on the door. “Teresa.”
From the other side of the door came an anxious, muffled voice. “Larry, are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m alright and so is everyone else.”
“You’re sure. Johnny’s not hurt, is he?”
Tate put his head against the wood trying to decide whether to tell her or not. His delay in answering was his undoing.
“He is hurt, isn’t he? How bad?”
“Not bad. A bullet grazed his side. Sam fixed him up in town. Oh, and Stewart was hit in the arm and Slade caught one in the leg, but Sam’s…”
“I know Sam’s fixed them up.”
“Yeah, Sam’s taken care of them. Everyone’s fine.”
There was silence between them for a moment.
“Teresa, I really wish I could see you right now.”
“I know. I want to see you, too. I love you.”
“And I love you.”
Maria stepped forward to put herself between Tate and the door.
“You go now. You will see her soon.”
Two days after her 18th birthday, Teresa O’Brien, dressed in a flowing white gown, nervously stood on the veranda near the front door waiting for Murdoch to come for her.
Peering through the French doors earlier, she wanted to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be.
She’d always dreamed of a big wedding at Lancer. Even before they’d set the date, she’d had her guest list ready. Remembering the day she’d shown it to Larry, Teresa was so excited she’d talked and talked, not realizing he’d gone quiet.
“Larry, what’s wrong?”
“I know you want your wedding to be special, but there are almost two hundred names on here for the wedding alone.”
“Yes, I want everyone to come.”
Larry sighed. “Sweetheart, I don’t have any family coming, only a few friends.”
“I know.” She put a hand on his arm.
“And you know who they are?”
“Yes, of course, Jack and Jess and…” A panicked look showed on her face.
“And the one person who’s going to be there for both of us, Johnny.”
“Johnny doesn’t like crowds.”
“No, he doesn’t, and for a good reason. Teresa, Johnny may be a Lancer now, but he’s always going to be Madrid.”
“We need to talk to the family.”
“Yes, we do.”
That night they sat down with the entire family, including Val, Sam, Cipriano, and Maria. Teresa explained what she had planned for the wedding. Johnny’s reaction was immediate. He crossed his arms over his chest and stepped away.
“Johnny, we’ll change the plans. Don’t worry.”
“Teresa, it’s not fair you don’t get the wedding you want. Look, Slade’s gonna be here. Him and me will stay out of the way.”
“Absolutely not!” She was on her feet. “Having a big wedding isn’t as important as having my family together to share the day. We’ll have a small wedding and a big reception afterward.”
Teresa looked at Larry, who nodded, “Go ahead.”
“Johnny, Larry and I’ve talked it over and I know Murdoch,” she looked at her guardian, “may not like it, but if you and Jack want to wear your guns, you can.”
Murdoch started to object and stopped himself.
Johnny smiled at her then, a heart-melting smile that made her want to hug him.
“Thanks, querida. I’ll talk to Slade when he gets here, but are you sure?”
“Very sure. We just want you there with us. Both of you. It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have our whole family to share the day.”
Johnny had talked to Slade. She had no idea what the two had worked out. Although neither looked to be carrying a gun, she’d learned long ago Johnny was always armed.
With the plans falling into place the only thing left unresolved was a wedding dress. It was Murdoch who came up with the solution.
“Teresa, have you decided on a dress to wear?”
“I thought I’d alter my mother’s dress. I found it in a trunk where Daddy kept some of her things.”
“Would you consider…,” he hesitated. “I have Catherine’s wedding dress and I was wondering if… Sweetheart, you’re the only daughter I’ll ever have. I know Catherine would have loved you as much as I do. I would consider it an honor if you wore the same dress she did on our wedding day.”
He’d held the floor-length Victorian-style dress up for inspection. Made of the finest white Italian silk, the dress had a V neck and a form-fitting bodice with delicate lace and pearls. The skirt was at least five feet across and covered in yards of satin ribbons and bows. The dress’s back had a full bustle and a silk train that looked to be at least six feet long.
“Harlan had the material imported from Italy, and it took almost a month to make.”
Murdoch laid the dress down and picked up the long lace veil, intended to cover the bride down to her waist.
Tears filled her eyes when she looked at Murdoch.
“I love it and I love that you want me to wear it, but it’s too much. In Boston, in a large church, yes, but for California here at Lancer. It’s too much.”
He smiled. “I suppose you’re right. Catherine was beautiful in the dress, but as I remember, she tried to tell her mother and Harlan it was too much for even Boston. She wanted to trim it down and remove some of the bows and ribbons. Of course, Catherine’s mother wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Do you think Scott will mind? It was his mother’s dress. Maybe you should save it for….”
“I’ve already spoken to Scott. We both agree you should wear it. That is, if you want to.”
“Would you… I mean do you think she…” she sighed. “I’d be honored to wear it, but ….”
“But you’d have to alter it?”
“Do you mind?”
“Not in the least.”
For almost a solid week, Maria worked on the dress. Discarded were yards of silk from the wide skirt. Lace and pearls to match the bodice replaced bows and ribbon. Next to go were the puff sleeves, the bustle, and the long train. The final touch was to trim the veil so that it only went to the shoulders.
When Maria finished, the dress once worn in one of Boston’s largest and most expensive weddings was perfect for Teresa.
As the hour of the wedding approached, Maria helped Teresa dress. Once the veil was in place, Teresa looked at herself in the floor-length mirror.
Turning slowly she faced Maria.
“Well, what do you think?”
Teresa spun around in circles and then looked at the mirror again.
“I can’t believe it. It’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen or worn. Thank you for fixing it for me.”
Maria smiled, tears welling in her eyes. She stepped back, looking at the child she’d help raise. This was the little girl, who for 18 years had been her hija, her daughter, as much as she’d been Senor Paul’s or el Patron’s.
“Tan hermosa. Mi pequeño. Tan hermosa.” (So beautiful. My little one. So beautiful)
“Maria, I so glad you’re here. I don’t think I could have gotten through the day without you.”
“Nina, I would not want to be anywhere but here with you. You have been my joy from the day you were born. I could not love you more….”
Unable to control her tears, Teresa hurried across the room and into Maria’s outstretched arms.
“You’re the only mother I’ve ever known. Thank you for always being there for me. Te amo, Mamacita.”
“And I love you, my little one, mi hija. Never forget you are loved.”
They’d cried then, both of them. Arms around each other, they’d cried for what had been and what was to come—knowing that no matter what, they would always be mother and daughter, madre and hija.
“Are you ready?”
Caught up in her memories, Teresa hadn’t heard Murdoch’s approach.
Teresa nodded, tears in her eyes.
“Are you sure, sweetheart?”
“I’m sure. I just wish…”
“Daddy…I wish daddy…”
“You wish your daddy was here?”
“I always dreamed it would be him walking me down the aisle. I know he’d be happy knowing you’re the one doing it, but I wish he were here.”
“He is. Don’t doubt for one minute Paul’s not here. He would be so proud of you.”
“Thank you, Murdoch. For everything. I love you.”
Murdoch wiped a tear from the corner of Teresa’s eye. “And I love you. Now…?”
Teresa took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “I’m ready.”
The soft strum of guitars and violins playing the Wedding March filled the Great Room.
Only the front seats represented the groom’s or bride’s side of the aisle. Beyond that, seating was a free-for-all.
Sitting on the groom’s side of the room, dressed in a well-fitting black suit and wearing a tie, was Jack Slade. Next to him sat Jess Bonner and Clint Stewart, both looking as uncomfortable as Slade felt. On the bride’s side sat Scott, Val Crawford, Sam Jenkins, Cipriano, and Maria.
Reverend Barns waited under the archway in front of the picture window. To his left stood the groom, Larry Tate, and the best man, Johnny.
Everyone stood and turned to look toward the far end of the room. There was a chorus of ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ from those who filled the room.
With Teresa on his arm, Murdoch began the slow walk down the aisle. When they reached the arch, he leaned down and kissed Teresa on the cheek before placing her hand in Larry’s.
With the words, “Everyone, please take your seats,” Joshua Barns began the ceremony. “Welcome. On behalf of Larry and Teresa I want to thank you for coming today. Your being here is not by accident, for each of you holds a special place in their lives either individually or together. Today two separate lives, two families, two roads traveled, merge together into one surrounded and embraced by love.”
Later, Teresa and Larry would admit neither remembered precisely what transpired during the service. Larry said he remembered Johnny poking him in the ribs to accept the ring but beyond that…only the last words ‘You may kiss the bride’ registered with him.
For Teresa, the words she’d remember best were ‘With this ring.’ Looking at the simple band placed on her finger, she thought of what it represented. With no beginning and no ending, the golden circle symbolized never-ending love. The same love Teresa felt when she looked at the family and friends surrounding them today.
TBC – Dark Journey- Coming Soon
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