My Anna by Marilyn

Word count: 17,075

Chapter 1

It was one of those hot and sticky mid-summer days; the sky was blue with a hint of gray lining it. What made the heat even harder to bear was the fact that there was not even a gentle breeze to give a body some brief relief from the heat bearing down relentlessly upon the earth. But, as always, the work at Lancer had to go on despite Mother Nature’s cruelty.

Johnny was just finishing up his job repairing part of a downed fence. He’d already shucked his shirt hours ago to make his day a little more bearable. Sweat was running down his tanned, handsome face so he wrapped his bandana around his forehead to stop the sweat from running into his vivid blue eyes and stinging them.

At the moment, he was wishing for a cold beer to wash way the dust he had inhaled during the day, a nice cold glass of Theresa’s lemonade or even a hot bath to ease his sore and stiff muscles. Johnny laughed at the thought of a hot bath on a day like this; maybe he just should find the nearest pond and take a nice, refreshing dip. But both would have to wait for now, so he went on with the task of getting the damned fence done and over with, cussing to himself as he worked.

Johnny had a good view of the road below him, the road which led to the house. Hearing something approaching, he wiped his dusty eyes with the backs of his hands. Glancing down, he spotted a covered wagon. Just coming into view, it was still too far away for him to see who was driving. The wagon was going at a slow pace and he looked around to see if it was the only one.

When he saw that was alone, he felt at ease, getting no feeling of a threat, but inwardly, he was asking himself, “Who in the world would be out and about on a day like this, besides us dumb cowboys?” Laughing, he thought, “If I had any brains, I would be looking for that pond or sitting under a nice shade tree.”

Sighing, he looked again at the wagon that was now passing him.

“Funny,” he thought, “I don’t remember Murdoch saying he was expecting visitors today.” Then again, he thought, you never knew who might show up. “Let Murdoch deal it,” he said to himself.

Deciding to just let it be, he went on about his work. All he wanted to do was get this job done so he could have that cold glass of lemonade and that cooling dip in the pond, which he had decided was the best way to go, considering how he felt right now. He was too tired to go to town for that beer and the hot bath, tempting though it was, didn’t sound like the best way of beating the heat. Besides, he was more hot than sore right now.

So thinking, he went about getting the task done, but what Johnny didn’t know was that the day would be the start of something he never could have dreamed of and one that he would probably never forget for the rest of his life.

********

Theresa was in her garden picking some herbs and flowers for the dinner table when she heard the wagon coming up the drive. Getting up quickly, she ran into the house, entering the great room where Murdoch was going over the books.

“Murdoch, it looks like we have company,” she said in a puzzled voice. “Are we expecting anyone today?”

Murdoch got up, a little stiff from sitting for hours on end. He wished Scott were there to help, but his oldest was away doing business for his father.

“No, honey, I’m not expecting anyone as far as I know,” he said, just as puzzled as Theresa was.

Crossing to the French doors, they looked out to see who was their unexpected visitor was. The wagon was almost to the door when Murdoch’s eyes grew wide and a big smile came across his face. Seeing his expression, Theresa smiled too.

“Murdoch, who is it?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she turned to look back out again, noting that a lone woman was driving the wagon.

Still smiling, Murdoch told her, “An old friend, honey, an old friend.”

Throwing the French doors wide, he yelled to the visitor, ”Anna…Anna Collins, well, as I live and breathe, how are you? I thought I would never see you again!”

Crossing to the wagon, he held his hand out to help the woman down. Anna Collins, Theresa saw, was a very attractive woman in her early forties. With shoulder-length red hair, she had a slender build. About Theresa’s size, she, too, had big brown eyes that went well with her fair complexion.

Giving Murdoch a big smile and a bear hug after he lifted her down, she told him, “Murdoch, you look great! I see that things have been going well for you.”

Looking around the grounds, she told him, “I hope you don’t mind me dropping in on you like this?” with a hint of dismay in her voice.

Murdoch, still getting over the shock of seeing her after so many years, failed to pick it up.

“No, Anna, not at all, I’m just shocked to see you! I thought you were in Denver,” he told her.

“Murdoch!” Theresa said, giving him a look as if to say, “I would like to be introduced!”

Murdoch smiled, then laughed, saying, “Where’s my manners…Anna, I would like you to meet my ward, Theresa O’Brien, she’s been with us ever since she was born here at Lancer. I think of her as my own daughter.”

Putting his arm around Theresa’s shoulders, he gave her a gentle hug.

“Nice to meet you, Theresa. I hope this big lug here is not that hard to be around or to handle?” Anna said, also laughing. She had a warm smile, Theresa thought; her voice was low and very soft.

“There I go again, forgetting my manners, please do come in and I’ll have Maria get us some refreshments,” Murdoch said as he escorted Anna and Theresa into the house.

“How long are you planning on staying Anna, and what brings you here?” he asked, ready to kick himself for being so pushy. She had just arrived and here he was acting like a little kid, asking all of these questions. Seeing that she was tired and very warm, he restrained himself, saying with concern, “Would you like to rest for awhile? I can have Theresa get a guest room ready for you.”

“Yes, I would love to rest awhile, it was not easy handling that wagon and it did take its toll on me. And then, later, I’ll tell you why I’m here.” Anna said. Starting to get up, she had to quickly sit back down.

Hurrying over and taking her hand, Murdoch asked, “Are you OK? You looked like you were going to faint!” Concerned, he felt her forehead.

“I’m OK, it’s just the long ride and the heat, I’ll be just fine after I rest for awhile.” Getting up with Murdoch’s help, she followed Theresa as she led the way upstairs.

“This way, Miss Collins,” Teresa said, motioning with her hand.

“Please, call me Anna,” her visitor said as they made their way to the guest room.

Several hours passed before Anna came back downstairs after freshening up and having a much-needed nap. She had just entered the great room when she was stopped short by both the luscious aroma coming from the kitchen and the sight of a very handsome, dark-haired young man standing by the fireplace. Holding a glass of brandy and giving her one of his most charming smiles, he greeted her.

“Hello,” he said in a low and soft voice.

“Well, hello, handsome, and who may you be?” she asked with a smile of her own and a curious look on her face.

“Anna, I would like you to meet my youngest son, Johnny,” Murdoch said, entering the great room through the open French doors.

“Well, how do you do, Johnny? It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said smiling and holding her hand out to him.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Johnny replied, holding her hand and lightly kissing the top of it like a gentleman.

“I guess living with Scott over the past year must have rubbed off on him,” Murdoch said, smiling at his son’s manners.

Anna looked the clock, surprised she had slept so long, just as Maria announced dinner.

Dinner went very well. Everyone had a pleasant time talking about the day’s work and Anna’s travels, with even Jelly joining in.

Taking everything in, Anna planted every detail upon her memory, determined to remember the laughter, the smiling faces, and the love present during the evening.

After dinner, everyone returned to the great room, having more drinks and talking until the others took their leave, only Murdoch and Anna remaining.

She sat there, not knowing how to get the words out, words she had thought she would never have to say.

Seeing the difficult time she was having, Murdoch encouraged her gently.

“Anna, is there something you need to tell me?” he asked, waiting quietly.

Realizing she was still having a hard getting the words to come, he added, “You can tell me. If there is anything I can help with, please, tell me.

“Yes and no, Murdoch,” she finally said with tears in her voice.

“What do you mean?” Murdoch asked, his voice now full of concern. “Anna?”

He waited for her answer. The one he finally got was not at all what he was expecting.

“Murdoch…I…I’m dying!”

.

Chapter 2

“WHAT!” was all Murdoch could say. He was still in shock after hearing the news that his friend was dying. And coming from her own mouth just made it harder to bear.

No, it could not be, just could not be true. He shook his head, trying to shake loose those thoughts from it. When that didn’t work, all he could think was, ”HOW? WHEN? WHY HER?”

His thoughts were disturbed by a soft voice calling to him. Turning, Murdoch looked back over to Anna.

She was sitting on the couch, calling for him to come and sit by her, which he did. She took his shaking hands in hers as Murdoch looked at her with great concern.

Anna took a deep breath and began, although it wasn’t easy to talk about dying.

“For the longest time, I had not been feeling well, and it seemed to be getting worse,” she said. After a brief pause, she went on. “So I went to Boston, I was told they had the best doctors there.”

Murdoch felt her whole body shake, and he put his arm around her.

“Murdoch, they say I have a cancer.” A lump came to her throat. Clearing it, she continued. “And there is nothing they can do.” She looked up at Murdoch, and saw a face full of sorrow.

He kissed her hand gently and stood up slowly. Walking over to the fireplace, he just stood there, staring at it.

“How long did they give you?” he asked, still looking at the stones.

Not knowing what to say, or how to say it, Anna’s head drooped. Looking at her hands, she replied in a low voice, “A year or so, maybe less.” The last word was barely a whisper.

Standing up, she walked over to the French doors. Looking out at the far mountains, she sighed, saying, “They don’t know how it will happen, or when, for sure. All I know is that I have to do things that I should have done before this.”

“What do you mean?” Murdoch asked, adding, “How long have you known?”

“Less than a year,” was her reply. She turned back to face Murdoch, saying, “What I have been doing since then, is putting my affairs in order, and visiting old friends like you. My dear old friend.” She smiled, but it was a sad smile.

“I’m glad you came, Anna, and told me…what are you going to do now?” he asked, hoping she would stay at Lancer.

“Well, Murdoch, that’s why I’m here, to see you, and to ask for your help.” She walked over to the couch and sat down, looking up at him.

“As I said, I was visiting friends. You were the last one, and now I want to go home.”

As she explained to Murdoch, home, for Anna, meant an old big house along the shoreline in southern California, the place where she had lived with her long dead husband, Leo. She had moved away shortly after his death, and had lived in Denver ever since. The house was still there, as friends had taken care of it for her. Never having had the heart to sell it, she now hoped to see it one last time…and to have it be her final resting place.

“What can I do to help?” Murdoch asked, regret in his voice.

“What I need from you, my dear friend, is your help in getting me home.” Sighing, she added, “It’s getting harder for me to handle the wagon, and I don’t think I can make this trip alone,” she said frankly.

“I was hoping you could spare someone to help with the wagon.” She looked up at him, hope in her eyes.

Giving her a concerned look, he replied, “Wagon? Why go by wagon?”

She stood up, a little shaky, but able to stand without help.

“There is still a lot I want to see yet, Murdoch! If I travel by train, or stage, I’ll miss a lot, I just don’t want it to fly by me,” she said, hoping he would understand, which he did.

“Murdoch!” she said. Going up to him, and looking into his eyes, she asked, “Who ever you get to go with me, I beg of you, PLEASE, do not tell them of my condition,” she said with pleading eyes.

He just nodded, thinking to himself that he knew whom he needed to go with her.

Morning came, and after breakfast, Murdoch asked Johnny to take a walk with him. He needed to ask something of his son.

“Johnny,” he said, pausing, then adding, “John, I know you have been doing the work of two men, since Scott’s been away, and you have been doing a great job.”

Johnny’s face took on a bewildered look as he listened to his father’s praise.

“Now, I need to ask you to do one more thing to do for me,” Murdoch added.

Unsure that he really wanted to hear the answer, Johnny took a deep breath, asking, “What is it, Murdoch?”

“It’s about Anna, Johnny, she asked me for help to get her home. She needs someone to go with her,” Murdoch explained to his son.

“And?” Johnny asked

“And I was hoping you would,” his father replied, waiting for an answer from his quiet son.

“Why me, Murdoch?” he asked instead.

“Because, Johnny, you’re the only one here that I can trust with this job.” Murdoch told his son in a pleading voice.

Johnny sighed and gave him a sly grin. “I have the feeling that I really don’t have a say in this, now do I? Truth is, I like Anna, and I wouldn’t mind a break from the ranch.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t,” Murdoch replied, with his own sly grin. Johnny just nodded and started to walk away, not getting far before Murdoch hollered after him.

Johnny turned to face his father. In a soft voice, Murdoch said, “Thanks, son, this means the world to me.”

With that, Johnny smiled and walked away, leaving Murdoch with his thoughts.

Was he doing the right thing? Sending a sick women on a trek like this, was he out of his mind? God knew he could not stop her, no, not Anna. He remembered her from way back before Johnny was born. She was hot-headed at times, stubborn, but then again, she could be the most loving person he ever met. He laughed to himself, as he thought of a certain young man who was much like that.

He also thought, laughing, of the memory of her husband, trying to control her when she got her dander up. And now here she was, sick, dying, and on a quest to go home to her final resting place. His heart sank at the idea.

But at least she will be in good hands, he thought. Johnny’s.

.

Chapter 3

A few days passed and Murdoch kept his word to Anna, saying nothing about her illness to anyone, not even Johnny. As he readied the wagon for their journey, Johnny made sure the wheels were sturdy, for when they hit rough ground.

He made sure they had plenty of supplies; he knew there were very few towns along the way. And most of all, he made sure they had enough weapons and ammo. Johnny’s survival skills and his gun, were the reasons Murdoch had chosen him to escort Anna home. Johnny knew it, and hoped that he would not have to use either of them.

“How’s it going, son?” Murdoch asked Johnny, as he was loading the last of the supplies. “Need any help?” he added, smiling at the young man.

“Nope, I’m just about done,” Johnny replied and smiled back at his father..

Johnny was looking forward to this trip. He was in need of a break, having been over-worked since Scott had left to look over some bulls that Murdoch was interested in purchasing. Besides, he liked Anna and wanted to help. He had the feeling that she was going to need him. He didn’t know how but the feeling was there. And Johnny was not one to ignore those feelings. So he had had no problem saying yes to the trip. Tomorrow would come soon enough, to find out what was going on.

Tomorrow! Tomorrow was the day Murdoch would see his friend for the last time. He tried to talked her into saying a little longer, but Anna wanted to get going as quickly as possible. He understood that, but it did not make it any easier to say goodbye.

“How long did you say it would take to get there? he asked his son.

“Oh, I’d say about one to two weeks, if the weather holds up,” Johnny told his father.

“Johnny.” Murdoch paused briefly, then asked, “Are you sure you’re ok with this?” Johnny looked at him, wondering what he meant. Seeing his son was confused, Murdoch went on to explain. “I mean Anna, she can a handful at times!”

Johnny just laughed and said “Murdoch! Sure, I’ll be just fine,” adding, “I’m not going to let any women get the best of me!” He gave his father one of his most dazzling smiles. It lit up his handsome face

“Well, don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning, then,” said Murdoch. Giving Johnny a slap on the back, both made their way into the house.

Morning came too quickly for some. Soon it was time to say goodbye. After a quiet breakfast, who all is headed outside to bid farewell to Anna and Johnny. With the wagon ready to go, Johnny gave it one last look-over to be sure. Satisfied, he joined in telling his family good-bye.

Farewells came hard for Anna, as she had grown to love this family called Lancer. Now she had to say goodbye to them. She wished this were just a nightmare, one she’d wake up from soon. But she knew she was only fooling herself.

In the midst of all the tears, hugs, and good wishes for a safe journey, Murdoch pulled Anna to the side. Out of hearing distance, he asked in a quiet voice, “Are you going to tell Johnny at some point in your trip?”

He paused and then continued. “John is a very smart young man and he will figure it out, that…that you’re sick.” Murdoch looked at Johnny and then back at her, waiting for her answer.

“Well,” she paused for a brief second and said to him, ” Well, if he does figure it out, so be it. I just don’t want him feeling sorry for me, and treating me like a child. That’s the last thing I want on this trip.” With that, she started to walk towards the wagon, when Murdoch stopped her.

“He’ll be angry,” he said.

“Then let him be angry,” Anna replied.

“Anna, Johnny would understand, I know him well enough to know he would respect your wishes,” he said, pleading.

“NO, Murdoch!” She said angrily. “It’s what I want, PLEASE, Murdoch, let it be.” Turning, she continued to walk toward the wagon, where Johnny was waiting to help her up. Murdoch just sighed and shook his head as he followed her.

Once Anna was aboard, Johnny turned to his father, now standing beside him. “Well, Murdoch, I’ll see you in a month or less, if all goes well.” Once again, he gave his father one of his warm, dazzling smiles. Murdoch put his hand on his son’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Have a safe trip, son. Take care of yourself.” Murdoch replied, squeezing his son’s shoulder again. “See you when you get home.”

Then he looked over at Anna, adding, “John! Please take care of her too.”

Johnny just gave him a warm smile and nodded, hopping aboard to take his seat next to Anna. She was smiling down at Murdoch, a smile he would never forget.

They were almost out of view of the hacienda, when Anna turned to take one last look at it, and its surroundings.

Taking it all in, remembering the Lancer’s smiles, and the love they all shared. She still wished she could wake up from this nightmare and that all would be fine, but she could not kid herself anymore. This was real and she had to face it. She was going home, home to die.

She thanked God that she was not making this last journey alone, grateful for the young man sitting next to her. Still looking back, those she was viewing growing steadily smaller as the wagon drove off, she smiled. A lone tear ran down her cheek, as she whispered, so softly that only she could hear, “Goodbye, my dear old friend”.

And the journey began.

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Chapter 4

They had been on the trail for three days now and Johnny was pleased by the way things were going. They were making good time and there been no signs of trouble; he hoped it stayed that way. One woman and one man alone did not stand much of a chance against bigger odds. But then again, this was Johnny …

The days had been hot and dry and the cool nights were a welcome relief from the heat that bore down on them. Still no rain in sight, which was good as it would only slow them down. But both did wish it would rain, if only for a break in the weather. Rain right now would feel so good on their hot and tired bodies.

Anna was starting to feel the effects of the trip. Her body cried out for a hot tub and a soft bed. She felt every bump they hit, more so than before. Sometimes she wondered if she were doing the right thing. Maybe she should have taken the train or stage, but she was on her way now so she’d just have to stick it out.

She was grateful for Johnny’s know-how in finding the right spots to camp. Always by water and plenty of shelter, she noticed, wondering if it was a skill that he had to learn at a young age and if it were a skill that had kept him alive all these years.

She felt safe with Johnny, safer then she ever felt before. There was something special about this young man that intrigued her. Their nights had been filled with talk and laughter. She loved his laugh and that smile that just lit up his face.

He didn’t push the horses, stopping whenever he felt they needed to rest. On these short breaks, he would check the wagon every time, to be sure it was holding up. And he was always keeping a watchful eye out for any kind of trouble that might come their way. So far, they had been lucky. Most of all, he kept an eye on Anna.

He knew something was wrong with her. He just did not know what yet. But he was not going to push it until she was ready to tell him. Whatever it was, he had a bad feeling about it. He looked over at her and saw she was looking a little pale.

“Do you want me to stop?” he asked, softly.

“Why?” she replied, her voice dry and weak.

“Oh, I thought we could use a break and stretch our legs,” he told her, waiting for an answer. When she said nothing, he added, “If you want to continue, we can, but we are making good time. So I don’t see how it would hurt to stop for a spell,” he said, looking over at her.

She turned to look at him and smiled. “Sure, why not? If you think it’s for the best.”

Fact was, she was grateful for the break. Johnny turned the team and headed toward a bunch of trees off the side of the road.

He pulled the wagon to a stop and went around to help her down. Her legs were a little shaky so he carried her to a log lying under a shade tree. When she was seated, he went to fetch the canteen and handed it to her. She looked up at him, noticing the concern in his deep blue eyes.

“I’ll be fine now,” she said, after taking a drink. “Why don’t you tend to the horses?”

She gave him a smile. “Go on, I’ll be OK.” She didn’t want him to fuss too much over her. The fact was, even though she was holding up just fine, she didn’t know ho much longer she could keep her condition from him.

“Are you sure?” he asked. She just nodded and he turned to see to the horses. Once he left, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the tree, lost in her thoughts.

Johnny stood there and stared at the wagon; his thoughts were somewhere else. They were with Anna. This woman was something else. After three days with her, he felt differently about her. Differently than when they first met back at Lancer. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. He really felt at ease with her. And that feeling he had felt before was still there, the feeling that she needed him. He just couldn’t shake it. Whatever was wrong, he vowed to be there for her.

An hour passed and Johnny decided it was time to go. They had a few hours of daylight left and he wanted to get further ahead than they were. There was no water and decent shelter here, otherwise he would have chosen to camp for the night. But for Anna’s sake, he had no choice but to push it in order to find the right camping spot so as to ensure their safety for the night.

He was headed back to where she was sitting and was stopped short by the unwelcome visitor beside her. She had her eyes shut so she did not see it. He made his way closer as quietly as possible before he called to her.

“Anna, don’t move,” he said very softly. She heard her name and opened her eyes. She saw his hand reach for his gun; confused, she took a quick glance to where Johnny was looking and froze. Within a split second, the rattler’s head was gone.

She just sat there and stared at the young man who just saved her life. Her heart, pounding in her chest, let her know she was still alive. She began to shake and put her arms around herself to try and make it stop. Her breathing was fast and she looked up at Johnny with a cry for help in her eyes.

He was at her side within seconds. Pulling her gently into his strong arms, he spoke softly in her ear.

“Anna, it’s OK…it’s OK…it’s dead, it can’t hurt you now,” he told her as he stroked her head gently with his strong hand. After a few minutes of listening to his sweet, soft voice, she started to relax. Anna looked up and Johnny smiled. “Are you OK now? We really have to get going,” he told her softly, still holding her gently. She smiled back at him, touching his cheek briefly, and nodded.

Sleep did not come easy for either of them that night. Their thoughts were running wild .Thoughts that confused them. Here they were alone out in this wilderness, one man and one woman. Different from each other, then not so different. Where was this going? What was happening here? This is not right, is it? This was just supposed to be a trip home and nothing more. They were starting to have feelings for each other and it was scaring them.

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Chapter 5

“Shhh! .Johnny said, trying to pay attention to their unwelcome guests, while still listening to what she had to say. Anna was trying to ask what was happening but Johnny just stayed quiet and kept looking towards the wagon. Seeing that she was not getting any answers from him, she did as she was told. Remaining quiet, she sat back down beside him, behind the thick brush that hid them.

There were three of them–three Indian braves. Johnny figured that they were on a hunting mission. But now, the Indians were in their camp, looking around for the owners of the abandoned wagon. The smallest of the three was in the wagon, searching for any food and clothing left behind while the other two were scouting around for the horses and the owners.

Johnny could hear them talking but he was too far from the wagon to make out what they were saying. He told Anna to please be quiet and to be still. Both their lives depended on her listening to him, as he knew that there could be more Indians than just these three. Johnny had no time to try and hush up a woman, especially one like Anna, who, at times, had to have it her own way. This, however, was not one of them.

Earlier that day, Johnny noticed that Anna was starting to tire a little more each day. She wasn’t going to ask to stop as she wanted to get home and she was being stubborn about it. But since they were still making good time, Johnny decided to call it an early day. He knew she needed the rest. Looking around, he spotted what he was looking for and pointed it out to Anna.

“What do you say?” He asked, pointing to a bunch of thick trees off the side of the road, adding, “looks like as good a place as any to camp,” he said with an grin.

“You’re the boss,” she replied, a little annoyed. But then again, she was also grateful he was being just as stubborn as she was. She needed his strong willpower to get her through this and home. Truth was, she didn’t think she could make it any further today, anyhow..

The camp site had a lot of thick trees and brush that could be used for cover, if needed. And Johnny could hear a stream close by. Before he set up camp, he wanted Anna to rest first, so he looked for a shaded spot for her to sit down. Besides they had time, so he thought.

“Sit over here for a spell, OK?” He said. ,concerned, as he guided her over to the tree and helped her to sit down under it. He handed her the canteen and when he was sure she was OK, he added, “I’m going to see to the horses, I won’t be long.” He smiled softly at her and she smiled back.

“OK! Hurry back,” she replied and touched his hand gently. Johnny smiled at her again and went to take care of the team. Looking back to make sure she was OK, he saw that she had leaned her head back and closed her eyes. He let out a big sigh and continued on.

He led the horses to the stream and let them drink their fill. While waiting, Johnny dunked his dark head into the water to try and wash off some of the dust and to cool down his hot and tired body. Suddenly his head popped up and his vivid blue eyes widened. He heard voices in the distance. After listening closely, Johnny could tell by their voices that they were Indians.

Quickly and quietly, he led the team back toward the camp site. He looked around for a place to hide the horses, and when he found the right place, secured them and made his way back to camp and Anna.

Her eyes were still closed when he approached her. Johnny put his hand to her mouth and her eyes flew open.” Shhh, he said in a soft voice. “I want you to get all the food you can carry, and be very quiet about it.. He wasn’t going to let them get away with any of their food and water. If they survived this visit, they were going to need them.

“Johnny! What’s wrong?” she asked, a little shocked to see the expression on his face.

“Indians! “He replied..

Her eyes widened with terror. Seeing this, he took her in his arms, saying .”It’ll be OK, if you do what I tell you. Now go and get the food.”

Anna didn’t move and he pleaded with her, “Please Anna, go do what I told you to do.”

After a few seconds, she did as he told her. It took everything she had to go to where Johnny pointed and to hide herself.

He went quickly to the wagon, untied the water barrel, and carried it to a spot where it would be undetected. He was grateful that it was half-full. After hiding the barrel, he looked around and listened to for the unwelcome guest that he knew were coming. Johnny was also grateful that they had not started a fire as it would have been a dead giveaway that someone had recently been there.

Satisfied, he made his way to Anna, hidden behind a thick clump of trees and brush. She saw him coming, sighed, and smiled When he got closer, she ran out to meet him, falling into his arms. Johnny led her back to the brush and they both sat there, waiting for their company to come and hoping they’d get out of this alive.

It seemed like the braves had been at their camp for hours but in reality, it had only been minutes. It was getting harder by the minute to wait for them to go. Gun in hand, Johnny was trying to see and hear whatever was happening out there. But Anna’s nearness was making it hard for him; she was so close that he could feel her heart pounding against his ribs..

Knowing that he had better stay with her, he leaned down and put his free hand against her face, which was very warm. In a hushed voice, he said, “Don’t worry, It’ll be OK. I’m here, nothing will happen to you.

Looking up into his deep blue eyes, Anna knew he was right. Taking his hand in hers, she kissed it, then smiled up at him saying mutely that she believed him..

After a few more minutes, the braves decided to leave, taking what they could carry with them but leaving the wagon intact. They gave up their search for the horses and the people who had been in the wagon, mainly because it would be getting dark soon

“Is it over?” she asked hopefully.

“It seems to be, but wait here, I’ll check it out”. replied and started to get up.

“Johnny!” she said. “NO!, Stay here!” she begged..

“It will be fine… stay here until I get back, OK? ” he said, leaving her there while he went to make sure were no other surprises lurking about..

With the horses hitched back up and the supplies reloaded, Johnny knew it was no longer safe to stay there. They had to get further down the road and find another campsite for the night. He thanked God the wagon had been spared and that they were getting out with their lives.

Night came. They were lucky to find another spot before darkness fell and they settled in for the evening. If wasn’t the best spot Johnny could have hoped for but after being forced out earlier, it would have to do. There was no pond or stream but the place did have cover. He set up camp while Anna rested. .

Johnny and Anna sat beside the campfire and ate their dinner, trying to get their wits about them . The day’s events still had them on edge . After a few hours. Anna finally fell asleep, leaving Johnny alone with his thoughts. Watching her sleep, he wondered about this women who was tugging at his heartstrings, beginning to put two and two together.

But Johnny was too tired from the day’s events, the heat, and the soreness of his own body to think much more about it. His eyes were getting heavy so he lay down beside the fire, looked up at the stars for a while, then closed his eyes. .

He finally let himself drift off, listening to the sounds of the night. His last thoughts were of tomorrow. Tomorrow, he thought, yes, that’s when he’d finally get some of the answers he needed. So thinking, he fell into a deep sleep.

.

Chapter 6

A new day came and with yesterday’s events behind them, they continued on their journey. As the day went on, Anna was taking in all she could, the sights, sounds, everything as she did every day since they’d left Lancer. Remembering all the good and trying to forget the bad. She had lived a good life and was very grateful for that.

She was also studying Johnny. She glanced over at him and was taking in his profile, that strong handsome profile. This young man sitting beside her was a blessing sent to her by God..

Without him, she wouldn’t have made it this far. He saved her life twice now and she would be forever grateful to him. Johnny was making it possible for her to go home; she was scared, scared of dying alone and far from home. It was the only real place she could call home. When she had lived there with her late husband Leo, he had made it home for her and after he died, she hadn’t had the heart to stay there. Now Johnny was taking her home again.

She turned back to look at him again and realized he was deep in thought. She wondered what he was thinking about. She never met a man like Johnny before; there was something special about him. Oh, Murdoch had told her about Johnny’s background and it didn’t bother her one bit, she seen gunfighters before and Johnny was nothing like them. Maybe that’s what was special about him, she thought to herself. All she knew was that this young man sitting next to her was pulling at her heart strings too and it pleased her.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked

“Oh! Nothing much.” he replied, and lying.

Fact was, he had a lot on his mind but it he was going to wait until tonight to talk to her and get the answers he wanted needed to know. This woman sitting next to him was playing games with his mind and now his heart and he was going to find out why. The more he thought about it the more it became clearer to him. All Johnny wanted to know why she couldn’t tell him. Tell him that she was sick.

Night came and Johnny and Anna sat beside the campfire. Neither one was talking. Both just stared into the fire, deep in thought. Johnny let out a sigh, he had enough of thinking. He wanted to do some talking. He knew now that Anna was sick, very sick, and now he needed to know is, when? When she was going to die, is what he needed to know.

“Anna, can I ask you something?” He asked, breaking the silence.

“What do you want to know?” she replied, quietly, staring at the ground.

He was silent for a few minutes and then he blew out a breath and asked the question.

“How long do you have?” The words were barely a whisper.

Her head popped up and there was total shock on her face. She stood up fast and almost fell over; Johnny’s head was down so he didn’t see it. She walked over to the wagon and turned away from him, shaking her head in disbelief.

She couldn’t believe it, He knows”, she thought to herself. And now she would have to face it; face him. ‘But how can he?’ She asked herself. Murdoch was right, he did figured it out and now she would to look into his angry eyes.

“Well? How long do you have, Anna?” came the question again in his soft voice.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about ” was her replied, Still remained facing the wagon, unable to look at him.

Johnny just sighed and said “You know what I’m talking about, Anna.” He paused, then added “The signs are all there, I’d just can’t understand why you thought you had to hide this from me?” When he saw he wasn’t getting an answer, he stood up and looked over at her.

“I can’t believe it took me this long to figure it out that…that you’re sick” he sighed and dropped his head.

“Well, you figure wrong,” she finally said, and added,” I’m just very tired it’s been a harder trip than I thought it would be. I’ll be just fine,” she said, trying to convince both him and herself but Johnny was no fool.

“I don’t believe you,” he said

She just stood there, not saying a word; she knew she couldn’t fool him any longer. It was getting harder to keep this up as he stood there and pleaded with that soft voice if his. Johnny was confusing her, why wasn’t he angry? she asked herself. His voice was soft, caring and there were no hint of anger in it.

“Tell me, Anna, tell me why you had to keep it from me, ” He pleaded.

“I can’t!” was all she said.

“You can’t? Or you won’t?” said the soft voice, a little closer to her this time.

She was trying to not to give in to his pleas; she had to be brave and she didn’t want his pity. But the sound of his voice was making it so hard. She made up her mind, she had to face him. Swallowing hard, she turned around and what she saw was not pity in those deep blue eyes of his. What she saw was compassion, confusion and there were something else, too.

Anna looked over at him. Suddenly, all of her fears disappeared. Her heart was racing and the tears she tried to keep hidden came flowing down her cheeks. When Johnny held out his arms, she ran into them crying.

Johnny held her as she cried for the first time since she’d heard the diagnosis. It felt like a weight was being lifted off of her afterwards, she was spent. Feeling her legs giving out, Johnny carried her over to the fire and gently put her down. Seating himself next to her, he held her in his strong arm

They began to talk. Anna told him everything, including how she didn’t want his pity nor to be treated like an china doll that break

He told her that he was here for her, vowing that he would do whatever it took to make sure she got home. Gently stroking her head and listening to her breathing, he was suddenly overwhelmed him by a thought and fell quiet.

“NO! ” he thought to himself “NO!, This isn’t right, this isn’t right!” Closing his eyes, Johnny let a sigh that caught Anna attention. Looking up, saw that he was struggling with his though

“Johnny!” Anna said to him.” What’s wrong?” she asked.

He gently pushed her from him. Getting up, he walked over to a tree and sat down there, saying, “It’s not right!”

She went over to him and asked again, “What’s not right?” looking into his eyes, she said, ” Tell me, Johnny,” as she touched his face with the back of her hand, taking in his feature

He just looked down, “YOU! ME! It’s not right.” he answered her, in barely a whisper.

“Why is it not right, Johnny?” she asked as she smiled at him, still caressing his face.

There was no answer for a few seconds and then he said in a whisper, looking up at her. “Because you’re my father’s friend and it’s not right,” His heart was heavy with his feelings for this woman; they were killing him inside. He closed his eyes, trying to make to them go away.

“Johnny! ” came a soft and warm voice; “Johnny!” He opened his eyes and found himself looking into a pair of gentle brown eyes with nothing but love in them, love for him. She touched his face and he took in every bit of it in, unable move or to say a word as he looked into hers. She traced his face and his soft, full lips with her fingertips, then leaned down and kissed him.

Johnny felt like his heart was about to burst. He had never met a woman who made him feel like this, at least. not since Mattie. But Anna was here and it was killing him. He knew it wasn’t right.” Why,?” he asked himself, “Why is this happening? Why now? And why with her? He knew Anna was dying and that he’d have to tell good-bye. But his heart is telling him to love this woman.

With Mattie, he’d never has the chance to say good-bye, he never seen a face he could remember. The only memory he had was her touch and the love they’d shared for such a short a time. It was hard for him but he pulled himself back up and went on. Now Anna was here, an older woman, but she was beautiful, with her long red hair, big warm brown eyes and a smile that could melt a mans heart.” Those are the things” Johnny thought, “That I”ll remember about her..

Her kiss was warm and soft and Johnny didn’t resist; there was no way he could . They were alone and only God was watching them. The feelings he’d had before were gone, replaced with knowing and love for this woman. He’d made a vow to her and no matter what it took after this, Johnny planned to keep it. For now, though, Anna needed him and he needed

The love they shared was special, the love of two people drawn together on a journey home. For Anna, it was her last journey and for Johnny, it was one he’d never forget.

As they sat there in each other’s arms , eyes closed, not wanting this night to end, the sky opened up and a gentle rain fell on the Earth and them

.

Chapter 7

It had been close to two weeks now since they left Lancer and Anna was starting to feel relieved. She was almost home; she could almost smell the ocean and see the white sands of the beach. She also felt her health slipping away from her a little more each day, too. But she was not going to give in yet, not when she still had too much to do.

The last few days, she had daydreamed of home as they traveled while the nights were spent talking and laughing and sitting by the campfire with a handsome young man. Johnny had been so patient, so loving and he respected her. As they sat by the fire, they shared loving embraces and tender kisses and stared at the stars. Anna would tell him of her travels and he would just listen.

With an couple more days ahead of them, Johnny checked over the supplies. Seeing that they were getting low on the things they’d were going to need, he headed for the nearest town. He also thought that it would do them both a world of good since it would be the first town they’d visited since leaving Lancer. There had been no need to do so until now..

Beside, Johnny wanted Anna to see a doctor, he had noticed that she was getting more uncomfortable. He could see pain in her eyes although she tried to hide it. Johnny knew pain when he saw it, he thought the doctor could give her something to help cope with the discomfort for the rest of the trip. The need for Laudanum, in that little brown bottle he knew so well, saddened him when he thought of Anna having to take it, If she would take it, he thought to himself. Pushing that thought away he asked Anna a question.

“Do you know what we are going to do once we hit that town?“ he said with a wide grin.

“No, what are going to do?” she asked back.

“Well, after we get the supplies, we are going to get rooms, soak in a hot bath, and then I’m going to take you to a fancy dinner.” He paused and looked at her, adding, “Now how does that sound?”

“Sounds like an plan, Mr. Lancer, lead on.” They both smiled and laughed.

By late afternoon, they made it to a town good-size town whose streets were busy with residents getting last minute business done before the shops closed up for the night. Seeing that, Johnny made his way to the general store for the supplies he wanted, preferring to load up now so that they could get an early start in the morning. With that done, they headed towards the hotel.

It was a nice hotel, well kept, and the lobby was nicely decorated with big, comfortable-looking chairs, bright in color, a light red rose color. The end tables were full of newspapers and books; a lot of them were dime store novels for the guests to read. One of the guest there was reading one entitled *Johnny Madrid, Terror of the south*, which described the way he dressed and the way he wore his gun. Basically if filled the reader with all sorts of lies about Johnny’s life as a gunslinger.

As Johnny and Anna entered the hotel, all eyes were on them, including that eyes of the man who, glancing up from the book, and now found himself looking directly at the gunslinger he’d just been reading about. The man quickly got up and left the room. His departure didn’t go unnoticed by Johnny but he decided to let it be for the moment. Johnny and Anna checked in, and headed upstairs to their rooms.

After their baths, which felt Heavenly to their sore and tired bodies, they got dressed up as best as they could, considering they only had traveling cloths. Meeting downstairs in the lobby they required as to the best place to dine. The clerk told them of a very nice place a few blocks down the road. They thanked him and began to make their way there. As they left the hotel, Johnny felt eyes watching him from the shadows. As all he wanted was to sit down to a quiet dinner with Anna, he decided not let it bother him too much

As they both sat there, enjoying their dinners and talking, the stares of the others diners warned them that they made an odd couple. there, Both wearing their public faces and seated at the opposite sides of the table. Johnny soon noticed the man from the hotel walking in. Seemingly very nervous but with a sly grin on his mousy face, he was followed by the local sheriff, a big man with grayish hair and a scar across his bro.

“Madrid!” came the deep and loud voice from the Sheriff as he walked up to the table where they were sitting.

Both Johnny and Anna looked up at him and Johnny said “NO! Sheriff, it’s Lancer.” looking over, Johnny saw that Anna was not surprise by this.

“Well, whatever name you call yourself, I know who and what you are” said the sheriff loudly.” This is a peaceful town and we don’t need your kind here.” he said, pausing to look at Anna. “ And what,” he asked, pointing you Johnny’s companion,” are you doing in the company of this fine Lady?”

Johnny went to speak but Anna spoke up first.

Suggestion: “First off, Sheriff, you don’t know me and secondly, Mr. Madrid is in my employ.” She said with an sternness to her voice. She continued, saying,” I’m on my way home. I hired Mr. Madrid for my protection and we were discussing our plans until you rudely interrupted us. So if you don’t mind.” she said, turning back to Johnny who was trying to suppress his laughter.

“Well, OK! But I don’t want any trouble from you, Madrid!” replied the sheriff. He tipped his hat to Anna, who just smile.

“You’ll get no trouble from me, Sheriff” Johnny replied, holding his hands up.. The Sheriff turned and walked out. Shaking his head at the mousy- faced man, who immediately followed the Sheriff out the door. As soon he was out of sight, they both smiled at each other, laughing quietly, unaware that they were bring watched from the shadows outside the window. The unknown watcher paid particular attention to Johnny.

It was getting late and Johnny saw that Anna was tiring, suggestion: so he got up and walked around the table, holding his hand out to her with a dazzling smile.

“Mrs. Collins, may I escort you to the hotel?” he asked.

“Why, yes, you may, Mr. Madrid” She replied with one of her own beautiful smiles.

They left the restaurant to make their way back to the hotel and Johnny felt the unseen eyes on him again. At Anna’s door, they stood for few minutes. making sure no one was around, Johnny leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips. Feeling her face, he realized It was much too warm. Concerned, he’d told her he wanted her to see the doctor before they left in the morning. She just nodded , kissed him and went into her room. sighing, Johnny thought, “This woman is something else!” Seeing that she was safely inside, he made his way to his room.

Johnny stopped in front of his room, then decided he’d get a beer before turning in. Looking back looking at her door, he figured one beer wouldn’t hurt anything. Heading downstairs and out into the street, he was suddenly grabbed him by two pairs of hands and pulled into an alley.

He received one hard blow to his back and then one too his gut before being thrown to the ground and kicked. His three attackers stared at him as he tired to get his breath back, taking great pleasure in the beating they’d just given him.

“That was a warning, Madrid.,” said the biggest of the three, as he rubbed his hand.

“You better get out of town by tomorrow, or there will be more where that came from.” said the second, laughing. “Not so big without you gun, are ya?” Johnny reached for his gun and realized it was gone.

“What.. did I.. do to.. you?” Johnny asked, taking short painful breaths as he spoke.

“Yor’re a killer, Madrid. And we don’t want your kind in our town.” The first man said.

The third man spoke up. In a sharp voice he said. ” I think we were too easy on him, boys. Why don’t we give him a little more to think about?” The others nodded in agreement .The three men moved towards Johnny when they heard the click of a gun. Turning, they saw Anna holding Johnny’s lost gun on both hands.

Unknown to them, Anna had been looking out her window, which faced to the street and had seen the two of the three grab Johnny .In a panic she had run downstairs to the sheriff, who made it plan he didn’t intend to her his hands dirty. Giving him a disgusted look, Anna had gone to help Johnny herself. Finding his gun lying where one of the three assailants had tossed it she pick it up.

“Look what we have here, boys, ” said the big one, pointing to Anna

“Hey Madrid! Looks like you have a woman coming to your rescue!” All three of them let out a harsh laugh, as Johnny looked up and saw Anna standing there holding his gun. A thought came to him.

“That’s my gun she has and it has an real touchy trigger“, he said, stopping to catch his breath.” So I wouldn’t get to close if I were you, she looks very nervous. It just might go off.” Seeing his wink, Anna knew just what he meant.

“You heard him, now back off!” Ana said. Her body was shaking, making the gun was unsteady, “Move away, or it just might go off!

“Now lady, give me the gun and you won’t get hurt,” said the second man, trying to grab the gun from her. Just as he went for the gun, it went off. The bullet hit him in the leg and he fell to the ground, screaming in pain. The other two just looked at her in shock as Johnny smiled.

“Now, if you don’t want the same, I suggest you get the hell out of here and take your friend with ya.” She told Johnny’s assailants. Grabbing their fallen friend, they quickly left Johnny and Anna alone. Anna smiled at Johnny and let the gun fall to her side. She was looking pale and as Johnny went to get up to go to her she collapsed to the ground.

“ANNA!”

.

Chapter 8

Johnny sat in the waiting room and kept looking over at the door where Anna was. Its been over an hour since he brought her here after she collapse in the alley he had just enough strength to pick her up and carry her. He was sore form the beating up nothing he couldn’t handle. He was more worried about Anna then his own self right now, he didn’t like the way she just looked when she collapse. Then he had to smile, she sure had guts to stand there like that holding his gun. He was proud of her he thought to himself, then his thoughts was disturb by the opening of the door.

“Well Doc? Johnny asked with hope in his eyes.

“She’s a very sick woman, Mr.? “The Doctor said to Johnny with a puzzled look.

“It’s Lancer. Johnny Lancer.” he replied and said “yes I know she is sick, I was taking her home before. before it was her time,” the last word was barely a whisper.

“Well, Mr. Lancer, she took a turn for the worst” Johnny just looked at him and the Doctor continued, “The cancer she told me has had sped up, its increasing and I really don’t know how much time she has left. It could be weeks or days it’s hard to tell. He paused and then asked,” How long will it take to get her home?” looking at Johnny and saw sadness in his eyes.

‘I figure at least two more days” Johnny replied and asked, “ Can she make the rest of the trip?

“It’s up to her, she made it this far I think she could make it home, if you say it’s only two days travel. I’ll give her Laudanum for the pain, that should make it easier for her.” He went over and got that little brown bottle that Johnny knows so well and hand it to him.

“Can she leave tomorrow?” Johnny asked. The quicker they leave, the quicker she’ll be home.

He made vow and as no intention of breaking it.

“I don’t see why not, she’ll rest tonight and she be ready to go by morning” then he added “Now let’s take a look at you” Normally Johnny would buck at being fussed over, But he knew he had to be in shape for Anna. She relied on him to get her home. “Well it’s not too bad, no broken ribs, You’ll be sore for a few days, but you’ll live.” He told Johnny and smiled at this young man before him. He thought to himself “This is the feared Madrid?” What the Doctor saw was a very caring young man, and it seem that he cared very much for this woman is his care.

Morning came early for Johnny as he stayed by Anna’s side all night and fell asleep in the uncomfortable chair by her bedside. He woke before she did ,and he kissed her gently on the forehead and whisper to her softly in her ear” I’ll be back soon “and then left. He had one more thing to do this morning before they headed out.

*********

Murdoch Lancer sat backed in his chair, holding a glass of brandy in one hand and the telegram in the other. He sat there looking out the big window lost in thought, the message in the telegram kept going over and over in his head. He thought to himself “ why didn’t I have to guts to tell him” He looked down and read Johnny’s words again.

“Murdoch…stop…almost there…stop…. Anna is very sick….stop…..I‘m staying with her till she needs me no more ..stop. Don’t know when I’ll be home…. Stop. Johnny “

The words *No more* struck at Murdoch’s heart, He knew that Johnny would find out and he would be the gentleman and stay with her. His Son had a big heart when it came to helping people and in this case Anna was in dire need. But now he’s having regrets in not telling Johnny about Anna’s illness before they left. How could he be so stupid to put his Son through that ordeal and not think it wouldn’t affect Johnny in some kind of way. Not after Scott’s words to his Father on the subject hit him.

Scott arrived home two days after they Johnny and Anna left, the business of the bull was taken care of and Murdoch was pleased and after supper he called a family meeting. He had to tell them what’s going on and thought he had better get it over with before the questions began to fly at Johnny when he got home. So he began to tell about Anna illness.

Teresa was dumb founded, she took an real liking to Anna and the tears just started to flow down hers cheeks” OH, Murdoch , how awful the poor woman” Teresa cried and put her hands up to her face” What she must be going through, knowing she’s dying” She continue to say sobbing.

Jelly just sat there staring at the floor not knowing what to say he just sighed and shook his head mumbling to himself. Then a thought came to him and blurred it out “Boss, What about Johnny, does he even know?” was his question to Murdoch and Scott and Teresa both looked over at him waiting for the answer.

“NO!” was the answer they got and all eyes looked at him in total shock. “Not yet, I think, Anna doesn’t want him to know” He added.

“And why not?” Scott asked breaking his silence and staring at his Father “Why not tell him then keeping him in the dark like that, you know Johnny doesn’t like us doing that to him.” Scott was saying.

“I know Scott, I know, but it was Anna’s wish not to tell him she didn’t want to be pity and treated like an doll that would break.” He paused for a second the continued” Anna was always a stubborn woman and did things her way if she could, and didn’t depend on others” He paused for an second and said “till now.”

“You just describe Johnny” Scott thought to himself and then his thoughts were on his Brother and said ”And what about Johnny, Sir?” he asked his Father “What about his feelings, do you think it was fair to him not telling him and having him find out when its too late” Scott just was beside himself, he was more worried about his brother then Anna for whom he never met.

“Johnny is strong Scott, he can handle it and not let his emotions get in the way.” He told his Son, but wasn’t quite sure he believed those words himself.

“I’m not too sure on that, Sir, After all Johnny is only human and what he is doing right now can affect him in many ways” He paused and paced the floor and thought of his brother and how many times he had to handle death and this case was special and it just might affect him deeply

“Just just don’t think it’s fair not telling him, you don’t know how he will handle it..” He added looking out the window.

Murdoch looked at his, Son, he knew what his next question would be and answered before he asked. ”And if you are wondering why I sent Johnny instead of one of the hands, is because he’s the best choice there was “ He told Scott now who was facing his father.

“Because of his gun!” Scott stated angrily and turned to walk out the door but before he did he turned back and said to his father “ Sometimes you think that’s all Johnny is worthy of *His Gun* and never really thought of him as a person who can be hurt in more ways then one.” With that Scott walked out slamming the door behind him.

Now Murdoch sat there with the telegram in his hand looking out the window and thinking of those words Scott said and now realized that how true those words are. Johnny is human and how can he not be affected by what he was asked to do. Sure he did tell his son to take care of himself but he never really thought of the emotional part. Now all Murdoch can hope for is that when Johnny comes home, there would some way he can make it up to his Son for being so thoughtless towards him.

.

Chapter 9

After carefully helping Anna up to the wagon and getting last minute instructions from the doctor, they were on their way again. Johnny wanted Anna to lie down in the back so she could get some more rest, but she wanted to sit up front with him. She did look better then last night so he let her, although he did put his foot down, saying that if she was to get too tired, she was to go and lie down even if he had to hog tie her. She laughed at that, saying “Yes, sir,” and they both smiled and headed out.

Anna was quiet all day; she was holding up pretty well so far and didn’t have to take any laudanum yet, for which she was grateful. She didn’t want to spend the rest of the trip sleeping; she wanted to enjoy Johnny’s company. She looked over at him and he was smiling as he was thinking. She loved his smile, it just lit him up, made those blue eyes of his twinkle and his dark features stand out. She’d thanked God every day since she went to Murdoch for help. It was as if God was giving her one last gift, the gift of Johnny’s love. Her love was the gift she was giving in return. But was it fair to Johnny? She asked herself.

“Johnny, can I ask you something? She needed to know, so she decided she would ask.

“Sure, what is it?” he replied.

“Are you going to be all right when…when I’m gone?” she asked, so softly that he had a hard time hearing her.

Johnny just sighed, he really didn’t know how to answer that truthfully, but he had to keep a brave front up for her. So he replied.

“Yes, I’ll be Ok, I’m a big boy, I can handle it.” he said with a slight grin.

Anna let out a soft sigh and made up her mind, saying, “Johnny, once I get home and settle in, I want to you to go home.” She looked him and continued. “I don’t want you to be with me when it’s time, it’s not fair to you to watch me die. I want you to go home and remember me as I am now.” She looked at his face and saw nothing but hurt in those blue eyes of his.

“NO! NO, I’m not leaving you, I’m staying with you and that’s that.” He said sharply and pulled the wagon to a stop. He looked at her and said, “Look Anna, I didn’t come this far just to leave you alone. NO, I’m going to stay with you,” he said with pleading eyes.

He didn’t want to leave her to die alone; no one deserved that and he couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye like that anyway .To him, his way was a final goodbye instead of not knowing if she was or wasn’t gone yet, that would be the worst kind of pain to have to live with. Knowing the love he had for her would pull him through, he was determined to stay with her no matter what she said.

“Johnny, I can’t put you through that, please, will you go home?” she said. But it seemed it was not doing any good to argue with him

“NO! Anna, I’m staying with you and that’s final.” With that said, he snapped the reins and got the horses going, adding, “Now let’s get you home.” The loving smile he gave her brought tears to her eyes. She thanked God again for giving her Johnny.

Night came and they were both grateful. Johnny was still quite sore from the beating he’d gotten back at that alley and Anna was feeling very worn from the day. She knew that in one more day, she would be home and hoped that she would be able to take care of everything else that needed to be done. They sat beside the campfire, taking in its warmth, staring at the stars and enjoying each other’s embraces. Before long, Anna was fast asleep in Johnny’s arms.

He looked down at her and smiled, listening to her breathing against his chest as he softly ran his fingers through her long red hair, taking in the smell of her. He still couldn’t believe she had asked him to go home, not after he had made his vow to her. “NO WAY,” he thought.

He said to himself, this was a special love, they had a love one that comes once in a lifetime. Even though theirs was going to be short lived, he wasn’t going to walk away from it. He knew his heart would hurt, knowing he’d have to deal with it like all the others times he had faced hurt but he’d gotten through it. He hoped that this time would be the same. He closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

With a good breakfast and a restful night behind them, they were soon on the way again. Anna was wishing this day was over and tomorrow would arrive, for tomorrow she would see her home again. She began telling Johnny about her home and he could hear her pain in her voice. Pain she was now starting to feel.

“Wait till you see, Johnny, it’s beautiful, it had rows of flowers all around, flowers of many colors.” She paused and tried to smell them in her mind before continuing. The house lies up along the shoreline with palm trees all around it and the grass is so green. You can see the ocean so clearly and hear the waves and feel the hot sun on your face along with a breeze to cool you at the same time. And the sunsets are beautiful, Johnny, wait till you see it. “

Johnny just looked at her beaming face and smiled. Putting his hand on her face, he gently rubbed it.

“Tomorrow, I’ll see it tomorrow,” he said softly and added with concern, “Why don’t you go and lie down for a spell? “

She shook her head and he said, “Come on, please, it will make you feel better. I know you’re in pain. I can see it, so please take a little of this.” He handed the laudanum to her the bottle, she took a small sip and gave it back to Johnny. Then he finished saying to her. “Now, go lay down. OK?

She touched his gentle face and kissed him. Going into the back, she fell asleep in minutes.

As Anna slept, Johnny rode along with his thoughts, thoughts of his own home, Lancer, and all of his loved ones there. He thought of all the people he’d come to love, and what of it felt like to really have a home. After so many years of being by himself, with no one to care about. No one to care about him. Even now, the thought of dying alone scared him, although he would never admit it. But, he thought that was Madrid’s way, and I’m Johnny Lancer now. Now he had a home, a family and he counted his blessing every day.

Anna was one more blessing he was grateful for in more ways then one. To have the honor to love this woman, and be loved by her back was somdthing he knew he would never forget. They had been brought together by the fates, as Johnny saw it. He would never turn his back on her. He had vowed to be there for her as long as it took. Anna had showed him more then he ever knew in his lifetime, and he knew he would cherish it for long as he liv.

Before he knew it, it was late afternoon. Emerging from his thoughts, he started to look for a place to camp for the night. Anna had slept most of the time, which he knew she needed so he had just let her sleep, knowing she’d be mad but so be it. Here he was, now calling the tune. He had to laugh at that thought and smiled, wondering what old Murdoch would have to say about that.

Night came and as always, they sat by the fire, talked and held each other like all the others nights they’d shared. Both knew that their journey was almost over and a new one was about to start.

Tomorrow, Johnny would have her home. Then, they could prepare for their goodbyes.

.

Chapter 10

It was noon by the time Johnny stopped. Anna needed to rest and eat something. She didn’t want any of the breakfast that Johnny had made for them. Anna just wanted to get going and with home so close, she didn’t want to waste time getting there. But Johnny wasn’t going to let her skip lunch; besides he was still a little sore himself from the beating. He needed to rest too.

“We are stopping for a spell whether you like or not,” Johnny told Anna who was pouting and being unreasonable.

“Can’t we just go a little further then stop?” she asked, very annoyed.

“No! Anna, it won’t hurt to stop a spell. ” he replied impatiently continuing.” we’ll get there, I promise. I want you to rest and eat something. Okay?”

Johnny glared at her, and she knew that he wasn’t going to back down. The truth was, she was hungry and terribly tired, but she just wanted to get home. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take.

Johnny found a nice spot where Anna could sit and rest while he tended to the horse.

She sat watching him– going about what were now the daily routine and taking care of her as well; even though all she was doing was making it harder for him. “How selfish can I be? she thought to herself. ‘Johnny is doing his best to get me home. He knows what he’s getting himself into now and it will be hard on him when I’m gone… and all I can think about is myself…’

“Johnny!” she said softly and called him over to her. “Come on over here.”

“Yes, what is it?” he asked with concern. ” Do you need the Laudanum?”

“No, no, I Just need to do this, ” she replied and pulled his head down to her, kissed his lips gently and said to hi, ” I just want you to know how much I really love you.

“I know you do, and I love you too!” he said looking into her eyes.” I think we’d better get going. Here let me help you up,” he added. As he was helping to her stand, Anna felt weak and collapsed. Johnny quickly caught her in his arms and she went limp. He gently sat down with her; his heart was now racing with fear.

“Anna? Anna?” Johnny called her name softly in her ear, as he held her closely to his chest.

She was pale and not moving and it was scaring him. ” Anna, talk to me! Come on, we’re almost there! You want to see home, don’t ya? ” He pleaded with her to open her eyes, as he was softly rubbing her face with his hands. A few minutes went by; her eyes started to flutter and then they opened up slowly.

“That’s my girl, he said and heaved a sigh of relief. out You had me scared there,” he added as she looked up at him. Her color was coming back and she wanted to get up. “Now wait a minute. Just sit and wait till you get your legs back, okay? Johnny said and kissed her on the forehead. She relaxed back into his arms and he cradled her soothingly. After a few minutes had passed, she felt that she could go on.

“I’m ok now,” Anna said and with a smile, adding, ” I must have gotten up too fast but I’ll be okay. Can we go?”

Johnny looked her over with concern. ‘This woman who never ceases yo amazes me,’ he thought.

“Are you sure?” he asked, looking down at her with deep blue eyes that seemed to see into her soul.

She smiled up at him and touched his cheek and replied, ” Yes, I’m sure, help me up now.”

He picked her up instead and carried her over to the back of the wagon sat her down there. He made sure she her stayed put.

“You just lie down, and don’t give me any lip about it, ” he said to her firmly and adding, ” I want you to just take a little this and get some sleep. I’ll wake you when we get real close to home.” He handed her the little brown bottle but she shook her head and gave it back him.

“No! Johnny, I’m not going sleep… not this close, “She told desperately. “I will lie down, but I want to be wide awake when we get there. Please, Johnn,… no Laudanum.”

“Well, Okay, but you just stay in there and lay down,” he said, giving in to her plea.

Johnny closed the back of the wagon and tied it off. He walked back to the front and climbed up onto the seat, glancing around at her once more before getting the wagon going. ‘Please God,’ he thought silently. ‘Not too soon…not too soon…’

As the day went on, he knew they were getting closer to her home. Was that the ocean he could smell? He felt that cool breeze coming inland, and knew it would not long now before he would have Anna home. He looked back and saw that she had indeed fallen asleep. He really did not want to wake her too soon, but now that they were within a few miles, he pulled the wagon to a stop and climbed in the back.

“Anna, Anna, ” he whispered as he gently shook her awake. He bent his head low over her and kissed her forehead, stroking his fingers down her face. “Wake up sleepy head, we’re almost there,” he added, speaking softly into her ear.

Brown eyes fluttered open and looked into vivid blue, joined by the smile she had come to love. She rubbed her eyes and sat up.

“We’re… we’re almost there?” she asked sleepily, and then looked at Johnny as he nodded. She threw her arms around him, almost knocked him out of the wagon. Then she got up and started to climb to the front and was saying. “where… Where is it?

“Whoa, now,” Johnny told her, helping her get seated up front. ” I said almost there. Can you smell the air, the salt air…the salt air? “And the feel Ocean breeze?”

Anna sat there and breathed in the fresh sea air… felt the cool breeze…

“it’ll be just a few miles now, so sit back and relax; okay? he continued.

Anna’s heart was pounding. She was almost home…

After an hour or so, Johnny pulled the wagon to a stop and there it was- as big as day. They sat there side by side, holding each other’s hands and looking out at the sight before them. Big, blue green, ocean. The smell and breeze was stronger. The call of the seagulls and the sounds of the waves crashing along the beach was heaven to Anna’s ears. She stood up and pointed to an area. Johnny nodded and got the wagon going.

Anna sat back down and hugged his arm as they went on… She was home.

.

Chapter 11

“Wait till you see it! I’ve been in touch with my friends and they have told me it was kept up as much as possible, “Anna was telling Johnny.” I know I’m expecting a lot but, no matter what it looks like now, it will always be home to me.” Johnny just put his arm around her, kissed her gently and smiled at her.

Finally they were there. Anna looked at her home. She couldn’t believe she was back… and the tears ran down her face like a tap water… it was exactly as she had left it.

The house structure was made of red bricks. It was two stories high, with off white trim around the windows. The grounds around the house had also been kept up. The garden was alive with flowers- so bright and colorful. The windows were washed and shining, so shiny that they gleamed from the reflection of the sun going down over the ocean.

They both stared at the sunset. Anna held Johnny so tight he could hardly breath while saying to him, “Look at that sunset, Johnny!” Anna looked up into his loving blue eyes. “Thank you for bringing me home, my love.”

He looked down at her and said, ” I told you I would, and I did. Come on, let’s get you inside.” Johnny helped Anna down from the wagon and started to walk towards the house.

Some of Anna’s friends were at the house doing some last minute things for her before she arrived.

One was Harriett Rogers, an old classmate and the other two were Jason Everett and his wife Martha. Harriett was looking out the window when she spotted Anna coming up the walk with a handsome young man. She smiled with envy. ‘Anna always did managed to find the good looking ones.’ She thought to herself.

“Anna! I’m so happy to see you made it home,” said Harriett.” How are you feeling? How was the trip?”

“Everything went just fine, Harriett, ” she replied and looked at Johnny. ” Thanks to this young man here. I would like you to meet my escort, John Lancer.”

“Well, John, we would like to thank you so very much for bringing our Anna home,” said Jason, extending his hand and shaking Johnny’s as his wife eyed the young man from head to toe.

“Yes, thank you very much, ” Martha said to Johnny as she gave her hand to him.

“It was my pleasure to escort this lady home,.” Johnny told the group with one of his dazzling smiles.

“Shall we all go inside?” asked Harriett.

Anna’s breath was taken away as soon as they were inside. The interior of the house was as she had left it too- the furniture and drapes, even woodwork that Leo put so much into when he was alive… everything. Shaking her head, she looked at her friends and wondered how they had done this.

“Harriett, How did you keep it up so well?” she asked her friend.

“Well, promise you won’t be upset?” she replied. “In order to keep it up, my dear friend, we had to rent it out.”

Anna looked puzzled and replied, “Rent it out? Why?”

“We didn’t have the money we thought we would have and, with you being gone so long…” She paused for a few seconds. ” So we found good tenants and they also took care of it. As you can see for yourself, everything is as it was and we made sure of that.”

Anna went up to her old friend and gave her an hug. “No, I’m not mad, everything is as I remember it. Thank you so much,” She told Harriett and added,… “all of you.”

Anna took Johnny’s arm and escorted him around. She showed him different rooms of the house. Every room was brightly decorated, with flowers on every table. Johnny was taking in every detail as he walked along with her. He thought to himself, ‘This woman had very good taste, just like a young lady I know,’ and gave a slight chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” Anna asked him, as they came to a stop by a long staircase.

“Oh, I was thinking of Teresa,” he replied to her, adding, “She would love it here. There is so much she could have fun with. If you know what I mean?”

“I do believe you’re right. She would have fun with all of this, ” Anna agreed with Johnny and chuckled herself.

The others had joined them by the staircase and wondered what the joke was. Anna explained to them about Teresa’s fascination with always wanting to change this and that. It was the impression she had gotten from the young lady even the short time she knew her. They all shook their heads in amusement of at the story.

Anna was still holding Johnny’s arm as she was talking to her friends when he felt a slight tug.

He looked down, and seen that Anna was about to give out so he decided to intervene.

Johnny spoke up, looking her with concern. ” Maybe you should go lie down. you look tired.”

“Yes, I’m a little tired. Would you please help me with my things?” she asked Johnny politely.

As Johnny went to get her personal belongings, Anna told her friends there was no need for them to stay any longer; assuring them that she in good hands and not to worry. They all lived close by anyway, so they agreed and bid their goodbyes.

After helping Anna get settled in her bed, Johnny kissed her gently on the lips. He told her he was going outside to take care of the horses, and he would be back in a bit. She only smiled at him and closed her eyes and was fast asleep within seconds.

Johnny stood there looking at this beautiful woman. He marveled at her courage. She was home now, but still had one final journey to take. And he would be here for her when that journey came to an end.

.

Chapter 12

The days flew by fast, faster than they would have liked. Anna was getting weaker by the day and she had thanked God that she was able to her affairs in order. Life had been good to her in many ways, a few regrets and some very happy memories. One of those happy memories was Johnny.

Here was a young man who devoted himself to her. had never once left her side. Johnny loved her, protected her. He had guided her home with his own courage, a courage that would help her at the end.

Anna had lived the way she wanted and had never took any bull of anyone. She was a very stubborn woman and a very loving one too, as Johnny had found out. Although she was ready to die, it still scared her deeply. She cherished every minute and second that ticked by.

Johnny admired her courage and the journey she took. He still laughed at the image of her holding his gun on those three men in the alley, and the look on her face when the gun went off…accidentally. He smiled at the thought of her telling off that sheriff. It was like she was a mouse taking a bite out of a cat.

And now, here she was facing something even more daunting… and he had no power to stop it.

He’d faced death so many time over and never knowing if it would come today or tomorrow. If he was honest with himself, he had to admit that it scared him, but he couldn’t let it get in the way of his profession. He had taken one day at a time and knew death would have come quick and hopefully painlessly.

Now, he would gladly give up his life in exchange for hers. The life of a gunfighter for the life of a woman, who still had a lot to give to this world. What better exchange could there be?, But he knew that was not to be. It saddened him deeply. ‘There is no justice,’ he thought to himself.

Harriett and the Everetts came over now and then, to see how she was and they stayed a day or two to help Johnny out. After a few days had gone by, he said told them that he could handle things from now on and thanked them. The truth was that he wanted time alone with Anna, not knowing how much time he had left with her. Oh, he was very grateful for the help and all but now it was time for them to leave.

“Are you sure?” Harriett asked Johnny

“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you for all your help, but Anna doesn’t want to take all your time up,” he lied as he was walking them to the door.

“Well, if you do need us for anything, you know to find us,” Jason said to Johnny and smiled at the young man before him. He had had a long talk with Anna one day, and he’d asked her about Johnny. She had told him about their relationship and that it was what she wanted. She told Jason, knowing that the others would not understand but knowing that Jason he would and he did. He was like a brother to Anna so he honored her last wish and kept quiet about Johnny and her.

“Johnny,” Martha said in a soft voice. “Please be strong for her. She needs you now more than ever.” She gave him a nod and Johnny looked at her, puzzled. Martha reached up and gave Johnny a kiss on the cheek, whispering in his ear, “Thank you again for being here for her, and for loving her.” Then she turned to walk over to her husband.

As they all rode off together, Johnny let out a big heavy sigh. They were finally alone again. Turning and making his way upstairs to check on Anna, he thought to himself, ‘Now what ? How am I’m going to handle this?, I have to be strong but my heart is telling me to scream. To scream at God for doing this to her… and me.’ He sucked in a deep breath as he reached her door, smiled and walked in.

The days continued to go by too fast. But this time, it was only the two of them alone and enjoying each other as much as possible. During the day, they would walk along the beach when Anna was up to it. Or they would sit on a blanket and watch the waves come in and out, listening to the calls of the seagulls as they swooped by, so low you could almost touch them.

They would have dinner outside on the veranda, and watch the sunset over the ocean. Johnny was amazed by the beauty of it and Anna was taking it all in. She let the cool breeze off the water cool down her warm face; she’d listened to the sounds of the sea. It was like a lullaby to her. All this time she rested her head on Johnny’s strong shoulder.

“I think we’d better go in now,” he said to her softly, pushing the hair out of her eyes as they sat there looking at the moon.

Anna was quiet and he looked down and found that she was asleep. Johnny very carefully picked her up, carried his love into the house and up to her bed. Once she was settled he sat by her side, and stayed there all night like just as he did had for the last few nights. He got very little sleep himself but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to leave her side. After a couple hours, his body betrayed him and he fell asleep.

The morning came and the cool breeze off the ocean was gently blowing in from the window. Johnny woke up as it hit his face. He rubbed his eyes to get the sleep out and looked down and found Anna was not in her bed. He looked around and saw that she was sitting in a chair, rocking back and forth, looking out the window.

“Why, didn’t you wake me?’” He asked as he walked over to her. Kneeling down beside Anna and putting his hand on her face he thought that it felt extra warm this morning. “Are you Hungry? Do you want something to drink?” Johnny whispered in her ear as he leaned his head against hers. His heart ached for he knew it would be soon.

“No! I want you to hold me though,” she replied and looked at him with sad eyes .He picked her up and held her. They sat there together staring out the window, not saying a word but just looking at the sun rise higher up into the sky.

By late afternoon Anna condition had worsened. Being stubborn as she was, she didn’t want a doctor to come and tell her what she already knew. One look at her eyes and Johnny knew what she wanted. So he picked up his love and carried her outside. With every step he took he felt his heart break in to little pieces.

They sat on the veranda and watched the sun starting to set as he cradled her in his arms, rocking back and forth. Johnny spoke ever so softly in her ear and she listened to his sweet voice.

Anna looked up at him and smiled, saying to him in a very weak voice, “It’s ok, my love, I’ll be fine.” She touched his handsome face for the last time. She looked into his blue eyes and saw so much sadness and yet love for her. It was too much to bare.

Anna gasped as she held his hand tightly, and she told him. “Johnny! I love you.” It was barely a whisper.

“I know. I love you too now rest,” he answered, his own voice breaking up as he spoke. Holding her closer to him, Johnny’s heart broke as he felt her slip away in his arms. Just as she took her last breath he kissed her tenderly on the lips and said “Sweet dreams my love…my Anna” and he cried.

.

Chapter 13

Spring has arrived and with that it brought new life to Lancer. The hills were greening, the trees were budding, and spring flowers were starting to bloom. Soon there would be other forms of new life. The newborn calves would add to the size of the herd.

Life is a precious thing and not to take for granted, as one ex-gun hawk had found out.

Johnny sat in his favourite spot up on the hill overlooking Lancer. Lancer–his home… a home he had once thought he would never have. Now, he is counting his blessing every day since his return a year ago.

From a world of hate, death and loneliness and into a world full of love and family. Now… there was nowhere else he would rather be.

It has had been over four months now since Anna had passed on, and Johnny had come home. It was had been a lonely ride back and he had done a lot of thinking along the way. Thinking about his life then and now, and his family, hell he tried to think of everything he possibly could except for Anna, but with no luck. Not even Madrid could hide her away inside him, it was impossible.

After the funeral, he had stayed for a few days longer to make sure everything was settled the way she had wanted it. When it was time to leave he took one last look at the ocean she loved so much. Listening to the call of the sea, he closed his eyes and locked in the sounds of it in his head and heart. With a heavy sigh he bid farewell to the sight in front of him and left for home.

Anna had made him promise to go on and be happy and have his own family one day. He knew she was right and hoped to find someone like her someday, but he knew he it would never happen. No one could never ever come close to his Anna.

Johnny never did tell Murdoch of his feelings for Anna and he never would. He knew his father would frown at that. He was in no mood to hear his fathers’ rantings about of the sin of loving an older woman.

He thought about telling Scott, thinking he would understand, but he had decided against it. He just came home, told them of her passing and that was that. Not saying a word to anyone. The less they knew the better, he thought.

And he kept his feelings to himself all winter, trying to be cheerful and join in on conversations and such, but he always excused himself and went to his room or took walks or long rides around the Hacienda. The spark in those blues eyes of his was not there as it used to be. And it scared them.

Both Scott and Murdoch tried to get him to talk, but instead all he said was “I’m fine.” They all knew he was deeply affected by this somehow and thought it would be best if they let him work it out his own way.

Now that Spring is was here and new life was all around him, Johnny was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face, breathing in the fresh spring air and being alone with his thoughts. He thought of her and how much he missed her, and as the tears flowed down his cheeks he didn’t even attempt to wipe them away.

As he sat there, the air suddenly got warmer and he felt someone there with him… but where. He looked around and didn’t see anyone. He didn’t even get that sensation he usually had when he felt something was not right.

Then a soft familiar odor filled the air. It was the smell of the sea and he looked up and saw her.

Anna was staring down at him, not saying a word, just smiling at him with that sweet warm smile. He smiled back and went to reach up for her, but she slowly faded away and then she was gone. Suddenly Johnny’s heart felt lighter than it had felt in months, and the tears had vanished as if she had wiped them away. Right then and there he knew he would be okay.

Still in a daze, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder and heard his father’s voice saying to him, “you alright, Son?”

Johnny just smiled, still looking up at the sky. He said to his father “I’ll be just fine… now.”

.

~end~

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