Thank you Chris and Terri for the beta.
In response to Lancer Writers ‘Fear’ Challenge May, 2021
A tag for The High Riders/Homecoming.
Word count: 960
“He’s looking good, Kyle. Find out if Cipriano thinks he’s ready for moving the herd to the south pastures.” Murdoch Lancer leaned on the corral gate and watched Kyle Barton take a new cow pony through its paces. Every minute or two, he gazed toward the Lancer Arch. It was the ranch yard entrance—a monument of sorts to his life’s work. And his eldest son, Scott Garret Lancer, would soon ride through that very structure to see this land for the first time.
Dust boiled in the distance. Murdoch tensed and straightened. One of the three of the men standing lookout over the compound moved protectively toward him. How shameful, this need to safeguard your own home because of a man like Pardee. The guard backed off when he saw it was a Lancer hand who’d slowed to walk his mount through the arch.
“Damn this cane.” He limped over to the hitching rail and recognized Hank as the rider came closer. Glancing to the rise, he looked for a wagon, not seeing one, he hurried as fast as his injury allowed toward his employee to find out why he rode in alone.
“Hank, everything all right?”
“Fine, sir.” He dismounted and turned back to Murdoch. “Miss Teresa wanted me to ride ahead. Both your boys came in on the same stage. She said you’d wanna know.”
“Johnny? Johnny was on the same stage with Scott?” Murdoch gripped the rail post. That didn’t make sense. “You’re sure?”
“Saw ’em myself.” Hank mopped sweat from his brow with his neckerchief. “Should be here in an hour or so. They was loadin’ the wagon when Miss Teresa sent me out.”
“Thanks for riding ahead to tell me. Cool your horse down. Cook has pork for lunch today. Had some myself.” Murdoch patted Hank’s shoulder, then headed for the comfort of his desk and chair inside the massive adobe structure he called home.
Maybe he’d been too quick to recommend the pork to Hank. The barbecue that smelled and tasted so good earlier now seemed greasy and too spicy to settle. It was hard to tell what churned the most, the pain rolling around in his belly or the thoughts pounding through his head. Sweat ran down his back as his forehead turned wet with drops of moisture. Murdoch pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his head. While his body sweated, his mouth had gone dry. Seeing a few swallows of cold coffee remained from earlier in the day, he reached for the cup, and his hand trembled. It wasn’t worth the effort. The bitter liquid may have eased the dryness of his mouth, but the brew only added to the rolling of his stomach.
The great Murdoch Lancer, still limping from a bullet in the back. Would they think he was a crippled old man? Damn Pardee who’d killed Paul and almost finished him. Had he called his boys home only to stop a bullet–be wounded or murdered by these land pirates?
Murdoch picked up some folded papers, tapped them on the desk. A partnership agreement— he stared at them for a beat, and stuffed them in a leather wallet. Placing it inside his vest pocket, he contemplated what signing those documents might mean for his life’s work. Dividing these hundred thousand acres and all that Lancer entailed with his boys, no, with two men he’d never really met could be disastrous.
Scott might be no more than an Eastern dandy, and certainly, he knew nothing of ranching. Would his military experience be more than desk service? Knowing Harlan, he had intervened to keep the boy doing paperwork. In fact, he hoped the man used every means at his disposal to keep Scott safe from the bloodshed and inhumanity of war.
And then there was Johnny. He did know something of Johnny. Who didn’t? Johnny Madrid, fastest gunfighter in the Southwest. The man to hire if you had trouble with men like Pardee. Murdoch’s snort ranged somewhere between amazement and disgust. Could that be why he decided to call the boy home? Is it what Johnny would think?
What might they think of each other? What if they hated him and each other? Lord, his mind was running away with him. His back spasm started high, near the wound, and moved lower. Grabbing his leg when a hard pain trailed from his hip to the ankle bone, he almost groaned out loud. The sharp-edged hurting of Pardee’s bullet finally eased to the ever-present ache. The throb, it distracted him as it cleared his head.
Murdoch picked up two Daguerreotypes and held one in each hand.
Catherine. Her eyes. He loved those clear blue eyes. They reflected a soul filled with clarity and purpose. Never showing hesitation, she took every situation in stride and moved forward—his beautiful girl, her eyes shining with intelligence and determination.
And Maria. The fire in that woman’s temper—how he loved to watch her get fired up. The beauty of her energy; it saved him. There was something about her fire which pleased him, made his heart beat faster. How he would love to see it even now.
Muchachos! Murdoch heard the wagon and the vaqueros yelling their welcome for his boys as they came home at last. These sons, who he was about to meet, were strangers to him. He had plans to change that—plans for a partnership and hopefully much more. He was a survivor, and he would call the tune now like he always had. Yes, these were his sons.
Fear left him, and hope for the future took its place. There was a knock at the door. He answered, “It’s open.”
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