Word count 813
Thanks to Chris Petrone and Terri Derr for the beta.
The nightmare began with that damned revolution, hard-fought and gone wrong; it left Johnny Madrid with dark memories he couldn’t seem to shake. After Garcia’s men surrounded and captured him along with a dozen fighting villagers, he found out what real torture meant. The pain took him to a place where he longed for a quick Mexican-style execution.
And that is where his father’s agent found him, facing a firing squad. A cash exchange for his freedom ended in a gunfight, a few dead Rurales, and him ‘borrowing’ a horse for a quick getaway—that made it almost to Morro Coyo.
After all this time, Murdoch Lancer, the father he’d hated as long as he could remember, wanted to see him. But who woulda thought he had a brother? Well, half brother, but still, no one ever told him one existed—all proper and dandified, with ruffles on his shirt and that hat. He couldn’t help but snort out loud.
“We can stop and shift some of the luggage, if necessary.” The dandy must have heard him.
“I’m fine.” Johnny scooted forward, trying to get comfortable as he perched on a trunk in the back of a wagon, bouncing over the road from Morro Coyo to his father’s ranch. He tried to corral the thoughts stampeding through his head.
They were talking, that Eastern dandy and Teresa, the girl who picked them up at the stage depot.
“Tell me, Teresa. You work for my father?” The Easterner turned toward Johnny. So, what’s with the ‘my father?’ He wondered. It took him a minute to come up with the name the girl had called his newest family member. Scott. It was Scott.
When Scott glanced back at him, Johnny threw him a glare. And he smirked to himself when ‘Scott’ had the smarts to change “my father” to “our father.” With a short nod, he signaled the fancy boy he was catching on.
“I was born on Lancer. My father was the foreman here for fifteen years.” Teresa snapped the reins, and the horses trotted along.
“Was?” Scott grabbed the seat as it lurched.
Big brother’s pretty sharp.
The girl’s voice was shaky when she answered. “Well, he was murdered last November. At the same time, Mr. Lancer was shot.”
“Murdered by who?” Johnny squinted at Teresa as he asked. Glancing over at this new half-brother to gauge his reaction, he didn’t think the man could get his spine any straighter, but he did, and one eyebrow slid up ever so slightly.
Johnny returned his attention to the girl as she said, “Mr. Lancer will tell you that. What he won’t tell you is…. how much it means to him that…. well that you’ve both come here.”
Wondering if he might have jumped from a frying pan into a fire—one smelling suspiciously like a range war—Johnny was also curious as to what Scott thought about all this. He studied his brother for a reaction. In an instant, their eyes locked.
In times past, Johnny sized a man up, could almost know what he was thinking. But this was different and strange—as if the same thought floated between them: Why would he want us here now? And more than that, Johnny was curious. Was it possible, having the same blood meant they might connect in a way he couldn’t explain? More to think about.
He could smell hay and livestock, more so when the breeze picked up; a large herd, good stock, grazed up on the hill. His old man lived the good life, all right.
The buckboard slowed some as they traveled up an incline, and when the ground leveled out, Teresa stopped the horses.
As soon as the wheels stopped rolling, Scott Lancer stood and let out a breath; it sounded like a whistle of appreciation.
“There it is.” Teresa’s voice interrupted the notions running through Johnny’s head. “As far as the eye can see. The most beautiful place in the whole wide world. Lancer.”
Johnny stood too. Seeing the mountains, lakes, and the hacienda below hit Johnny like a punch in the gut. He’d always figured the only reason he’d be on Lancer land would be to kill his old man. But he’d lost the taste for that a long time ago.
He could picture his rich Daddy, pleased as persimmon pudding bringing a beauty like Mama home to all this. But that musta changed quick enough when Mama got pregnant and he showed up. The man hadn’t wanted a Mexican wife and ahalf-breed son.
Johnny closed his eyes. This heaven on earth, the riches of his father’s house, should have been a source of joy. But, instead, the evidence of what his life could have been…only added to his pain.
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