Kiss Me Cate by MaryB

Word Count 13,460

1st in The Cate Series

The front door of the Lancer hacienda burst open and Scott and Johnny tumbled in, laughing.

“Murdoch!” Johnny called to his father, who was sitting at his large desk, “you gotta talk to this son of yours! He said he’s never…”

He didn’t finish as Scott pulled him up abruptly and nodded at Murdoch, who was staring at a piece of paper with a look of disbelief on his face. An open envelope on the desk identified the paper as a letter.

Scott walked cautiously up to the desk. “Sir?  Is everything alright?”

Murdoch continued scanning the page, oblivious to his sons’ entrance. Those sons looked at each other in concern.

“Murdoch,” Johnny spoke a little louder than his brother had. “What’s wrong?”

Their father slowly tore his eyes away from the letter and looked up at them. “What?”

“What’s wrong, Sir?” Scott repeated.

“Wrong?” Murdoch spoke almost to himself. “It has to be wrong. It has to be a mistake. It can’t be true. But what if…” He shook his head slowly.

Johnny looked at his brother. “It’s like he’s in shock or something.” Then back to his father.

“You’re scarin’ the hell outta me ol’ man. What’s going on?”

Murdoch returned his gaze to the letter he was holding. “I don’t…”

Scott held out his hand. “May I?”

“Yes, yes. You should…”

Scott took the paper and started to scan it.

Johnny nudged him. “Out loud if you don’t mind. I ain’t waitin’ all day to find out what’s goin’ on.”

With a nod of acknowledgement, Scott began  reading, “Dear Mister Lancer,  I am the doctor in a small town called Deermont. I have a situation here that I am hoping you will be able to help me with, assuming I have contacted the correct Murdoch Lancer.  There is a woman here in town who, due to a trauma over 20 years ago, has been living without any memory of her life before that time. She has called herself Sarah Carter all these years. Then a few weeks ago, she remembered two names, Murdoch Lancer and Catherine.  You are the only person I have been able to locate by your name in this part of California. I would be grateful if you could contact me and let me know if you have any information on the identity of my patient.     Respectfully yours,  Dr. Benjamin Miller.”

The three men continued in shocked silence after Scott finished.

“You don’t think…” Scott began. “How is that possible? Grandfather was there! He buried her!”

Murdoch shook his head. “No, he didn’t. He left money for the burial and took you as soon as…” He trailed off again. “It can’t be.”

Johnny had walked over to a map on the wall. “Deermont is only about 3 or 4 days ride from here.”

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Scott said, still stunned.

Johnny looked at the two men who seemed frozen in disbelief. “You’ve still got half a day of daylight left. You go pack and I’ll get the horses.”

The no nonsense tone he used broke through their paralysis, and they both headed up to their rooms. Johnny went first to the kitchen, but not finding Teresa, he continued on out the door to the garden. He found her picking some vegetables.

“Teresa, Scott and Murdoch are gonna need trail supplies for about 4 days. They’ll be takin off right away,” he told her.

She frowned in confusion, but got up, vegetable basket in hand. “Taking off? Where? Why?Nobody said anything earlier.”

Johnny blew out his breath before trying to explain. “Murdoch got this letter about a woman in a town a few days from here that lost her memory a long time ago. They think…they think it may be Catherine.”

Teresa’s eyes were as big as her open mouth. “Catherine?! Scott’s mother?? How is that possible?”

Johnny put his hands on his hips and sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s possible. All I know is that it’s gonna break their hearts all over again if it’s not.” He turned toward the barn as Teresa headed inside. “You might wanna make sure Murdoch has everything packed. He’s kinda shook up,” he called back to her.

She nodded in understanding and went in.

A short time later, they came out to the corral where Johnny was tightening the cinches on two horses.

“You’re not going?” Scott asked.

“Nah, this is your answer to find. I’ll stay here and hold the fort.” Johnny gave him a little smile.

“Thanks, Little Brother,” Scott said sincerely and mounted up.

As Murdoch mounted his horse as well, Johnny walked up by his leg. He stood for a second, looking at his father’s face. “Look, Murdoch, I don’t even know what to wish for you. I just don’t want you to be hurt any more.”

“Me neither, Son. Thank you. We’ll let you know what we find.”

Johnny patted his leg and nodded, stepping back as they kicked their horses into motion. He stood and watched them disappear into the distance.

Teresa came up and stood by him. “Everything’s going to change, isn’t it?”

He draped his arm around her shoulders. “Either way it goes, you’re probably right.”

“We’ll have to be there for them both if they come back and…” she trailed off.

“You’re right about that too, Querida.” After another glance at the horizon, they turned and went back into a suddenly emptier house.

Father and son made camp that night in silence. Finally after Scott had pushed his food around on the tin plate for several minutes, he said, “I want to wonder and ask questions that I know you don’t know the answers to any more that I do…and yet I’m…hesitant… to put any of it into words.”

Murdoch sighed and set his own uneaten meal down. “I know exactly what you mean. We can only wait and see.” He looked at his son for a moment. “What Johnny said about not getting hurt, you know, there’s no way to avoid some pain if it’s not her.”

“I know. And there’s no way to avoid some pain if it is”.

They stopped on the outskirts of Deermont two days later, having pushed hard to get there. But now that they were here, their resolve was slipping away, nervousness taking its place. They sat on their horses, up on a hill, looking down at the small town.

“I guess the place to start is the doctor’s office,” Murdoch worked hard to keep his voice steady..

“That makes sense. There are  not  many buildings to choose from. It shouldn’t be hard to locate.” Scott had mastered keeping a tight rein on his emotions a long time ago.

They continued to sit for a moment more, then with a mutual grimace, they nudged their mounts forward. As Scott had surmised, it didn’t take long to find the office. With shaking hands,

Murdoch tied his horse to the rail. When Scott joined him on the boardwalk, he took a breath and opened the door.

A man  sitting at a desk, looked up at their entrance.

“Dr. Miller?” Murdoch took his hat off as he spoke.

“Yes,” the man confirmed. “May I help you?”

“My name is Murdoch Lancer. This is my son, Scott. You wrote to me about a woman..?”

The doctor stood and hurried over to them, with his hand extended in greeting. “Yes, yes. I expected perhaps a letter. I take it by your presence that  you may know something.”

Murdoch opened his mouth to speak, but stopped and swallowed instead. “I…possibly.”

Dr. .Miller could see the man was in distress of some kind. “Here, sit down, sit down.” Murdoch took him up on it, but Scott shook his head at the chair the doctor offered him. “Now, then, what do you ‘possibly’ know?”

Murdoch took another breath. “Twenty five years ago my wife gave birth to our son…” a nod at Scott “…in a town not far from here called Carterville. She was travelling with her father. I received word that she died. By the time I arrived my father in law had taken my child home to care for him. I was shown a grave… Doctor, her name was Catherine.”

“Good Lord!” the doctor exclaimed. “You don’t think…?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Murdoch shook his head. “It seems impossible, yet…I had to be sure.”

“Surely, given the evidence you had at the time this is someone else. Perhaps she knew your wife and heard your name…” Dr. Miller seemed very hesitant to accept the, admittedly slim, possibility.

 “What is her current condition?” Scott asked, trying for even a little more information to go on.

“In your letter you said she had only remembered the two names, Catherine and Murdoch. Has she recalled anything else since then?”

“A bit,” the doctor said. “She spoke of ships.”

The Lancers exchanged glances. “My mother grew up in Boston,” Scott informed him. “Where there are plenty of ships.”

“Hmmm,” the doctor said, stroking his chin in thought. Then he leaned forward and folded his hands. “I can only imagine what you are thinking and feeling right now, Mr. Lancer. But my concern is for Sarah, or…” he paused. “I am her doctor and I have known her for many years.”

“The last thing I want is to cause any problem for her,  no matter who she is,” Murdoch assured him. “Perhaps  I could see her without her being aware. If it’s not her we can leave and cause her no distress.”

Dr. Miller thought a moment. “Perhaps. She’s at the hotel now, serving dinner. It might be a good time. If she is busy enough that she wouldn’t notice you… Yes, come this way.” He stood  and led the way out, only pausing for his hat, and to write his destination on a chalkboard hanging by the door.

Scott paused beside Murdoch and squeezed his arm. Their eyes locked for a moment, then they followed the doctor out.

It was a short walk to the hotel. As soon as they entered they could hear the quiet conversation and smell the meal from the dining room. The doctor motioned them both into a sitting room off to the side. He then peered through a fringe curtain separating them from the diners.

“She’s talking to some folks at the far table. It is probably a good time.”

Murdoch walked to the curtain and pushed the fringe out of his way. He had to see clearly. The  blond woman was easy to pick out as she was the only person serving the patrons. She leaned over to speak to the customer at the table, then stood up and smiled at something they said. Murdoch’s air went out of him in a gasp. “Cate!”

Hearing the sound, she looked over in his direction. He ducked back, barely able to catch his breath.

 Frowning, she walked over and stepped around the archway curtain. “Dr. Miller!” she exclaimed. “Have you come for …” She glanced at the men with him. Then she stared “…for…” Her hand flew to her mouth and her eyes went wide. “Murdoch!!” she gasped. And fainted.

Murdoch and the doctor both dove to prevent her from hitting the floor. Together they eased her down onto a loveseat.

“I was afraid of this,” the doctor said angrily. “The shock…” She took a deep breath , interrupting him, and opened her eyes. She pulled herself back up to a sitting position. “Sarah. Take it easy.”

Murdoch knelt down and reached for her. “Catherine…”

The doctor frowned at him. “Give her some space, man.”

“She’s my…!” Murdoch began.

Scott put a hand on his arm and spoke  quietly. “Murdoch, give her a moment.”

The woman in question looked directly at them at that. “Murdoch?” She touched his face in wonder. “Murdoch. My Murdoch!” She closed her eyes. “Say it, my love.”

Murdoch smiled. “ Catorina  a ghraidh.”

Scott could only stare in wonder at the scene.

“A gra…?” the doctor attempted to repeat.

“Scottish for ‘darling’,” Catherine told him dreamily. “It’s what he said to me on our wedding day.” She frowned. “And the day I left. What happened, Murdoch? Why are we apart?”

“I’m not sure this is wise to take things this fast, Sarah. You need time…” the doctor began.

“It’s Catherine,”  she told him firmly. “ And I’ve had too much time. I want my life back.” She turned back to Murdoch .  “Tell me.”

Murdoch joined her on the loveseat and took her hands, to the annoyance of the doctor. “I was told…I received word that you had died giving birth to our son. I was even shown a grave and told it was yours.”

“Died! No wonder…” she blinked. “Son. Our son. Oh, Murdoch  did he..?”

Murdoch stood up and put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Scott.”

Catherine stood up slowly and Scott took a step closer to her. Her hands moved,  but didn’t quite touch him, perhaps afraid to break the spell. “Scott.” Slowly and carefully she reached out and pulled him into a gentle embrace. “Scott.   Of course. We had it all planned out. Scott Andrew for a boy. Annabell for a girl.”

Scott pulled back  in confusion. “Andrew? It’s  Scott Garrett.”

Catherine turned an accusing look on Murdoch. “You changed it?  To that?”

Murdoch  cleared his throat. “Harlan, ah, cared for Scott. It’s a long story.”

Catherine looked back at her son. “Cared for him.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Scott agreed.

Her face lost the amazed expression  of a moment ago. “In Boston.” She stated stonily.

“Yes, ma’am” he repeated.

“Did he put you through school , too?” Scott nodded, confused by her tone. “Well, I bet he loved that. Finally had his Harvard boy, did he?” She suddenly shook her head a little, as if to clear it, frowned again and sat back down on the seat.

“I told you to take it slow,” the doctor admonished. “This is too over whelming all at once.”

“You’re probably right,” Scott agreed. “ Maybe if she did something familiar …”

“Good idea,” the doctor nodded.

“Familiar,”  Catherine said, then brightened. “Of course. Dinner. Let me serve you dinner.” She stood and started toward the dining room. “I can serve my son and …” She turned back and looked at Murdoch. “It’s been so long. What are we?”

Murdoch grinned. “Starting fresh.”

Catherine smiled  back at him gratefully. “Follow me.”

As they settled at a table, the doctor nodded at Scott. “That was a good idea, young man. Give her something she knows to get her equilibrium back. How did you know to do that?”

Scott spoke carefully, “In the war, people were often dazed and overwhelmed. It helped them to do something  familiar.”

“Yes, well it did seem to help,”   he looked at Murdoch, “but you have to be careful. This is way too much for her to absorb in one evening. She…”

He was interrupted by Catherine placing a platter of food on their table. “There we are, gentlemen, the special of the day.”

Scott smiled in genuine pleasure. “It looks wonderful.”

Murdoch could only look at Catherine. “Yes it does. Special indeed. Can you join us?”

 “For a moment.”  She sat down . “Do you have rooms, yet?”

“No, we just arrived in town and went straight to see Dr. Miller. He brought us over here.”

“Well, we’ll have to get you settled.”

Scott watched them gaze at each other for a few more moments before interrupting. “Do you live near here?”

“Yes,” she told him. “I have a small house just down the street.”

“Perhaps, when you are finished for the evening, you would allow a gentleman or two to walk you home?” Murdoch asked, sounding a bit like an infatuated schoolboy.

“I would like that very much,” she assured him.

Later that evening, as they stood at the hotel door, ready to leave, Murdoch held her wrap out for her. “Your shawl, madam.”

“Why thank you, sir,” she said, draping it over her arms. It had the sound of comfortable, familiar teasing.

The doctor was frowning. “I’m still not sure, S…Catherine.”

“Dr. Miller,” Scott took the man’s hand in a grateful handshake.  “You have been an invaluable aid to our family,  and I appreciate your concerns. I know where your office is, and rest assured that if my mother expresses any ill effects we will not hesitate to fetch you at once.”

Unable to argue with that, the doctor grumbled, “Very well. Good evening.” And with a last look at Catherine, he opened the door and went out.

Catherine sighed after him. “He’s been a good friend.”

“I’m glad you’ve had friends here,” Murdoch told her. He held out his arm. “Shall we?”

The three of them walked down the quiet street, Catherine in the middle with an arm hooked in each of theirs. As she had said, her cottage was not far, and before they knew it she stopped in front of a gate.

“This is it,” she opened the gate and looked back at them. “Come in for a cup of coffee?”

“I would like that very much,” Murdoch assured her.

While she went to the kitchen to make the coffee, Scott and Murdoch started a fire in the fireplace and sat down on the couch to wait. They looked at each other, but could only shake their heads in wonder.

“Here we are,” she entered, carrying a tray. Setting it on the low table, she poured them each a cup. “I’m sure you would prefer a good Scotch, but I don’t have any in the house.”

Scott  grinned. “It seems the lady does know you, Sir!”

Catherine took a token sip of her own cup and set it back down. She settled back comfortably on the couch. “So. The long story. How did we get so lost?”

“What do you remember?” Murdoch asked her.

She thought a moment. “It’s so strange. Yesterday I didn’t know any of this and now it’s all slipping back into my mind. Like wine pouring slowly into a glass…. What I remember. The ranch. Expecting.”   She nodded at Scott. “There was trouble.”

“Landgrabbers,” Murdoch confirmed. “A brewing range war.”

 “Yes. You were so worried. And I felt I was distracting you from what needed  done.”

Murdoch shook his head mournfully. “I have always felt so guilty about sending you away….

“No!” she objected. “It was my home too. I had to do what I could. It was the only way I could help. Taking one worry off of your mind and letting you focus. That was the only reason I agreed to…”  She stopped and looked at Scott.

“Agreed to…?” he prompted.

“Go with my father,” she finished. “We’re not exactly close.”

Scott’s brows went up in surprise. “He adores you!”

She shook her head. “He adored who he thought I was. Who he wanted me to be.” She turned back to Murdoch. “That’s all I remember. Saying goodbye to you. I don’t even remember having my baby.”

Murdoch reached over and put his hand gently over hers at her sad tone. “Give it time. Perhaps it’s pouring in slowly to help you absorb it all.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand. “So let’s continue so I have something to absorb. You said you received word?”

“Harlan wired me from Carterville. He said Scott was born and you were ill. By the time I got there, he was gone with the baby and as I said, I was shown your grave. The midwife told me that he had left a large sum of money for a headstone but had not stayed for the burial.”

Scott felt compelled to offer some defense of his grandfather. “Grief stricken, perhaps?”

Catherine shook her head. “Angry at me for dying and leaving him again.  But I don’t understand. Obviously I was not actually dead. What happened?”

“We can make a guess. You may have been so weak that he thought you had passed. When the townspeople found you were alive, I can only assume the sum of money he had left them was too much to give up. So they never contacted him. I was so devastated when I arrived, I couldn’t tell you if they acted guilty or not”.

She squeezed his hand again at the word devastated. “But to ruin our lives for a few dollars!”

“Probably more than a few,” Scott  guessed. “And people have done far worse for far less.”

She put her face in her hands for a moment.

“Cate?” Murdoch asked worriedly.

She shook her head once again. “So much time wasted.”

Scott smiled at her. “We’re together now. And the enormity of that fact is still sinking in.”

“Yes,” She cocked her head at him. “You certainly sound more like a Bostonian than a Californian. How much time did you actually spend there?”

He looked at his father. “That’s the long story Murdoch spoke of.”

“Murdoch?” she questioned his use of the name.

Scott shrugged. “I forget how it must sound to others. I assure you I mean no disrespect by it.”

“Cate,” Murdoch cautioned, knowing they were getting close to very emotional information.

“Maybe we should…”

“Murdoch Lancer !! If you go squeamish on me now, so help me, I will…” she huffed out a breath in frustration.

Scott barked a laugh at the outburst. “Well, we can’t have that. Whatever it is.”

“Alright,” Murdoch agreed. He took a moment to decide just how to explain it all. “As I said, Harlan took Scott to Boston. I thought it wise to leave him in your family’s care while I pulled myself together, pulled the ranch together. Made a home to raise a child in. By the time I had

done so and contacted your father…”

“…He wouldn’t let you have him.”   She pursed her lips in disgust. “I know my father. So how old were you when you finally came home?”

Scott paused before answering. “Twenty four.”

“What! But that’s…”

“Last year,” Scott said.

“I don’t understand? Why?”

Murdoch tried to speak more calmly than he felt.  “I tried to claim him over the years but I didn’t have the means to fight his lawyers.”

“Lawyers,” she moaned. “He went that far.”

Scott forged ahead. “For my own good , Grandfather felt it best that I know nothing of  my father’s attempts to see me or even contact me. I grew up my whole life believing that he blamed me for your death and didn’t want… a reminder.”

“So you were there under his ‘care’ all that time.”

“Mostly. I left Harvard to join the Army.”

“A lieutenant,” Murdoch interjected proudly.

“A field promotion,” Scott explained. “But I saw too much. Death, destruction, want , prejudice, horrors…and very little of the glory I signed up for. By the time I came home, I barely knew who I was, let alone what I wanted. I finished school and slipped into my assigned role in the Garrett empire. But I was empty. If I had had the courage to look outside of myself I’m sure I could have found some worthwhile endeavors. But I didn’t . I filled my emptiness with drinking, and gambling and socializing. In short, I was a cad.”

“Oh, Scott,” she said, accepting him and all that he was with that one word.

“Then Murdoch decided to evade Grandfather completely and sent a Pinkerton agent to contact me with an invitation to come and meet him. I came.” He paused in his narrative to give his father a grin. “Best decision of my life.”

Murdoch smiled back at him. “It wasn’t instant and it wasn’t easy , but we became a family.”

“I admire Murdoch a great deal and am proud to be his son,” Scott continued to explain. “It was merely so awkward at first that we settled on using his first name, and now it’s just the way it is.”

Catherine sat back for a moment, then leaned forward and clasped both of their hands. “Both of my men, so alone for so long…”

“So were you,” Scott pointed out.

“Yes,” she agreed. “There were a few men that I considered,  a couple that actually asked, but I never felt settled enough, not knowing… I could never get rid of the feeling that I had a life somewhere, waiting for me.”

Murdoch looked down at that. “Ah, Catherine…”

She looked at his discomfort and realized what he was about to say. “Oh. I…. well, I was dead, wasn’t I? You …had to move on, didn’t you?”

“Cate,” he began, then sighed. “I was so alone. I threw myself into building the ranch, hoping to build enough wealth to fight for Scott, but I was dead inside. Then on a trip to Mexico, I met…I met Maria.  She was fire and life and taught my heart to feel again.”

Catherine swallowed, but nodded for him to continue.

“We married quickly and had a son. John. Then…I lost her.”

“She..?”

Murdoch shook his head. “I lost her love. Shortly before Johnny turned two she left and took him with her. I searched Mexico for years. But I couldn’t neglect the ranch if I had a prayer of claiming Scott. It was the worst years of my life. I had to choose between my sons. I went home and worked like a madman to build Lancer. Eventually I had enough to hire Pinkerton agents to track down Johnny and lawyers to fight for Scott. Neither was ever successful… until last year.”

“It took that long? But you found him?”

“Yes,” Scott smiled in memory. “We arrived on the same stage – never knowing we were brothers. Never knowing we even had a brother!”

Catherine wasn’t sure she wanted the answer, but she had to ask, “What happened to Maria?”

“She died when Johnny was 10 or 12 years old. He…he raised himself on the streets. He’s had a hard life and had to fight to stay alive…. But he came. And underneath all of the anger and bravado we discovered an amazing young man.”

 “My little brother is one of  a kind,” Scott agreed, “I don’t know how he learned his gentler side, but once he agreed to stay and be a rancher he seems to give more than he gets.”

Catherine smiled at Scott’s obvious attachment to his brother. “I  gather you two are close.”

“It’s been the joy of my life to see them together,” Murdoch said, then took her hand.  “Matched only by walking into that hotel this evening and seeing you alive.”

Scott watched them gaze at each other . He put down his coffee cup and stood up. “Well, as much as I would like to soak up the miracle of having two parents, I probably should let you have some time to sort things out.”  He walked over to the door.

Catherine followed him and took his arm, turning him towards her. Gently she reached around him and pulled him into another embrace. “Oh, Scott.”

 He held her for several long moments, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears threatening to flow.  Finally he pulled away, blinking rapidly, and cleared his throat. “Just to know you and actually touch you should be miracle enough for a lifetime. I would  be greedy indeed to wish for more.”  He looked over at Murdoch , “Don’t forget my promise to the good doctor, Sir. I’ll see you at breakfast…And for the record, I’m a rather greedy person. Good night.” Putting his hat on, he opened the door and walked out into the night.

Catherine turned back to Murdoch with raised brows. “Breakfast!”

Murdoch grinned. “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

She came back over and sat on the couch and looked at him seriously. “I suppose it would be wise to take it slow and not try to describe a lifetime in one evening. But…”

“But I’m afraid of letting you out of my sight,” Murdoch finished.

She nodded. “I rather think I’m as greedy as my son,” she said, marveling at the word. “Tell me more. Tell me what Lancer is like. How big is it now?”

“One hundred thousand acres,” Murdoch told her, the pride reflected in his voice.

“Oh, my! That’s larger than our wildest dreams! However do you manage it all?”

“I admit, it is easier now with the boys there. I don’t know how I did it alone all that time.”

“You did it by over working yourself,” she said knowingly.

Murdoch smiled. “Probably.  Although I did have good help for a lot of  those years. Paul, for one.”

“Paul O’Brien?” she asked happily. “I remember him! Is he still there?”

“No, he was killed in another land war. That was when I decided to try once more to contact Scott.  And coincidentally it was  about that same time that the Pinkertons finally located Johnny in Mexico.”

“I’m sorry about Paul.” Her tone was somber. “I recall him being a good man.”

“Yes, he was. I still miss him. His daughter Teresa is my ward.  Paul and I raised her and we had a standing agreement that if anything should happen to him I would take her in. She’s been like a daughter to me in all but blood her whole life.”

“And how are she and the boys?”

Murdoch laughed. “They love her and she adores her big ‘brothers’. Of course they tease and bicker like children sometimes.”

Catherine chuckled softly at the picture. “I can’t wait to meet them…” She paused. “I’m making assumptions.”

“Oh, Cate,” Murdoch took her in his arms as he had been longing to all evening. He kissed her long and lovingly and then held her to him. “I want you at Lancer with me.”

“I never want to be separated from you again,” she said passionately. She pulled away enough to look up at him. “But we can’t just pretend the past twenty years didn’t exist.”

“Believe me, Cate. I know all about picking up the pieces and creating a family after twenty years apart,” he assured her.

“I guess you do at that. But I don’t.” He started to object but she stopped him,  “ I’m not saying I don’t want to. I’m just saying it won’t be instant and it won’t be easy. We’ve grown into two totally different people than the ones who said goodbye that day.” She looked down for a moment. At her hand. At her bare, ringless, hand. “What are we Murdoch? We were husband and wife. But I was declared dead, and you married again. I don’t know where that leaves us.”

Murdoch sighed. “If you want our legal status, we would have to consult a lawyer.  If he would even have a precedent for all of this.  I suppose we have to decide for ourselves what we are to each other.”

“Involuntarily alone.” She smiled. “Starting fresh, as you said.”

 “So I did.” He took her hands in his. “ Come to the ranch, Cate.  We will take it as slow as we need to. Get to know all of us. Let us get to know you. Take the time to know for sure what you want to do.”

She  cocked her head and placed a hand on his heart.. “That’s easy enough to say sitting here.”

“Do you want it in writing? I Murdoch Lancer promise not to…”

“A contract!” she said , pulling back away. “No, thank you. I may be a Garrett but I do not live my life by business deals. Your word is enough for me.”

“Alright, Miz Catherine. I give you my word I will not pressure you into any decision. We will give it time. Scott is right. Seeing you alive is miracle enough for now.” He paused. “Is courting you considered pressure?”

“Absolutely not.”  She smiled mischievously. “But it better be as good as the first time.”

Murdoch woke the next morning momentarily at a loss as to where he was. Other than on a very hard floor.  Then  he looked down at the blond head leaning against him and it all came back. Catherine, his Catherine was alive!  It had not been a dream after all – unless he was still dreaming.  He kissed the top of her hair.

“Mmm,” she murmured sleepily.

“It’s morning,” he whispered. “And you didn’t vanish.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at him. “Neither did you,” she answered with a smile. Then her eyes widened. “Morning!! I have to be at the hotel!” She scrambled up off of the floor. “I have to change and fix my hair and…” she stopped at the sight of his laughing eyes. “What is so funny about me oversleeping?” she demanded.

“Nothing. It’s just that anything you do is going to make me happy from now on.”

She leaned back down and gave him a quick kiss. “Has anyone ever told you that you are a sentimental fool?”

“No,” he assured her. “That is one thing I am not typically accused of.”

With a little laugh, she hurried out of the room to ready herself for the day. After a minute, Murdoch went to get up himself, and found quite a crick in his neck and back from sitting on the floor leaning against the couch all night. Next time he would pick a more comfortable location for the two of them.  And that thought had him grinning from ear to ear.

With a clean dress and hair freshly brushed, Murdoch escorted her back to work. Once inside she started for the kitchen, but called back over her shoulder, “ Breakfast begins at 7:00.”

“We’ll be down,” he promised. After she disappeared through the swinging door, he went quietly  up the hotel stairway. He opened the door as carefully as he could, but he needn’t have bothered.

 Scott was mostly dressed and shaving in front of a small mirror. He looked at his father’s reflection. “Good morning! Sleep well?” he teased.

“A gentleman never tells,”  Murdoch answered with a wink. “Actually we fell asleep on the floor talking.”  He held his back and stretched. “Which I will surely pay for.”

Scott grinned and finished shaving. He carefully cleaned his shaving kit and put it away. As he was putting on his shirt, he said hesitantly, “I was wondering…?”

“What?”

“In all of that talking last night, did you happen to explain more about Johnny?”

Murdoch looked surprised. “Not really, no. Why?”

“You probably should,” Scott told him. “They sell those damn novels in the lobby.”

“Oh, no,” Murdoch groaned. “Not ‘Madrid, Guns in the High Sierra’ .”

“No, actually this one was called ‘Tales of John  Madrid, Blazing Gun for Hire’.”

“Sounds terrible.”

“It was.”

Murdoch looked appalled. “Scott! You didn’t…”

“I had to pass the time somehow. Here. All alone.” He tucked in his shirt and reached for his boots.  “I’m serious. You need to tell her before we get back to the ranch.”

“How do you know she’s going with us?”

Scott raised his brows. “Have you looked in a mirror lately?” They grinned at each other. “You have time to change before breakfast.”

Once down in the dining room, Murdoch and Scott dug into their meal.  Catherine stood behind Scott, one hand on his shoulder, the other caressing his hair.

He reached up and caught her hand. “If you continue doing that you will have me weeping in public.”

She stepped around to face him. “I’m sorry, Scott. I just…” she trailed off.

He squeezed her hand. “I know. I ‘just’ as well.”

Catherine turned to Murdoch. “We need to decide what we’re going to do now.”

Murdoch swallowed a mouthful of coffee. “I thought we decided what . It’s a matter of when. If you have obligations here, we can wait until you’re ready.”

“Oh?”  She seemed surprised. “Don’t you have a ranch to run?”

“I’m sure Johnny has  everything under control.”

Catherine stared at him a long time at that.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s how much we’ve changed. We’re not the same people.”

“No,” Murdoch told her. “We’re not.”

She paused and looked at him a little longer. “How about I start packing.”

He nodded. “How about we help?”

The rest of the hotel staff tried hard to be happy and excited for her. They knew she had been dissatisfied for so long trying to find out who she was. But they also knew they were going to miss their ‘Sarah’ very much.  With hugs , tears, and promises of visits and letters, she left her life of many years and joined her men back at the cottage.

Scott had gone to arrange for transportation and she now stood in the living room looking around at the evidence of that life. “What do I take?”

“As much or as little as you want,” Murdoch told her. “This is a visit to see how it goes, remember?”

Catherine looked at him a little fearfully. “What if…”

He took her in his arms. “What if it’s very different,” he said gently, “and still very good.”

A knock on the door interrupted them.  She opened it to find Dr. Miller. “Ben!  Come in.”

He came in, saw Murdoch and frowned. “Sa…I’m sorry ‘Catherine’. I heard you were talking about leaving.”

“You heard wrong. I’m not talking. I’m doing.”

The doctor sputtered. “You can’t be serious! This is too fast. I told you to go slowly.  I wish I had never written that damn letter.”

Murdoch came over to stand by Catherine. “You said you wanted to help your patient. You can’t deny her the chance to get her life back.”

This is her life!”

“Oh,” Murdoch smiled in understanding. “I see.”

“See what?” Catherine asked.

Murdoch and the doctor looked at each other. Then Dr. Miller took her hand.

“Surely you know how I…”  He hung his head.

“Ben,” she said quietly, “We’ve discussed this. It didn’t work.”

“It could have,” he said passionately. “We could have…”

 “I have a wagon and supplies,” Scott announced stepping in through the open door at that moment. “ And I sent the wire.”

“Thank you, son,” Murdoch told him.

The doctor looked her in the eyes. “So you are determined.”

Catherine smiled at him.  “Can’t you wish me well?”

“That’s all I’ve ever wished you,” he told her sadly. Then he turned and glared at Murdoch.

“Take care of her this time,” he ordered and left, not quite slamming the door.

Scott stared at the door a moment, then turned back with a surprised expression. “Did I miss something?”

Catherine sighed. “He never understood.”  Then she shook her head. “Well that wagon won’t pack itself!”

.

In the great room at Lancer, Johnny tore open the telegram. Teresa was practically breathing down his neck.

“Read it!” she demanded.

“Okay, okay!” He angled the paper toward the window. “ ‘It’s her’ “ he read.

Teresa gasped. 

“ ‘Coming with us. Stop. Expect us in 5 days. Stop.’ “

Teresa grabbed his arm. “Oh! My! I can’t… Johnny can you believe it? Scott’s mother! It’s a miracle! Alive all this time.”

Johnny looked thoughtfully at the telegram. “Yeah. All this time.”

The wagon rolled slowly down the road with Murdoch driving and Catherine seated beside him. Scott rode a little ahead and Murdoch’s horse was tied behind.

“Are you sure?” Murdoch was saying. “It will add a few days but we can hit towns between here and there…”

“I’m fine, Murdoch. I don’t want to add any more days. It won’t kill me to sleep in a wagon!”  As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Catherine remembered where  Scott had been born…and where Murdoch had pictured her dying . In a wagon.

He pulled to a stop and dropped his head in remembered grief. “It almost did, Cate. I thought it did.”

“I’m sorry,” she took his hand. “It will be alright.”

Scott came trotting back to the stopped wagon. “Is everything ok?” he asked, giving a quick check of the passengers and contents.

Murdoch took a breath and gave a determined nod. “Yes, son. Everything is ok. Why don’t you begin looking for a place to camp for the night.”

“Yes, Sir,” he gave a nod of  his own and wheeled his horse around.

Catherine watched him ride away as the wagon started up again. “So proper.  Even though he looks like a cowboy.”

“Well, between Harlan, Harvard and the Union Army he’s been used to being proper his whole life before coming here. It’s so much a part of him, I don’t think he could stop if he wanted to. Which I doubt he does.”

“But he fits in alright at the ranch? I mean, with hands who have been doing this their whole lives?” Two days ago she hadn’t even known she had a son, and here she was concerned that he was fitting in..

“Yes, he does very well.  The men seem to respect him a lot. And he is one of the fastest learners I have ever met. Especially when it comes to something he is passionate about.”

“Like Lancer?” she smiled.

“Like Lancer,” he smiled back.

  It was after dinner, a couple of days later,  as Scott sat on a log with his father, watching Catherine fiddle with the wagon contents that he brought it up again.

“You haven’t told her yet.”

Murdoch sipped his coffee. “I will.”

“We have two more days.”

“I know, Scott.”

“Do you think it will change anything? If that’s the case you should’ve told her before we left.”

“Told me what?”

Neither man had heard her walk over to them.

Murdoch looked at Scott, who nodded encouragingly. “Cate, come and sit down.”

“That bad, is it?” She gave him a nervous smile and sat on the log. “So what is it that may change things?”

“You remember I told you about Johnny growing up alone?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“It…it was hard, being an orphan boy of mixed heritage on the border. He had no one.”

Catherine wondered where this was going. “You said he had to fight to stay alive.”

“Yes I did. And I meant it literally. He is still very closed about those years. About what all happened. But whatever it was it drove him to protect himself with his gun. He became very, very good at it. The best. He…”,  Murdoch took a breath. “He became Johnny Madrid.”

Catherine blinked. That was about the last thing she had expected him to say. “Johnny Madrid. The gunfighter.”

“Yes.”

“Is your son.”

“My brother.” Scott added emphatically.

She stood up and walked a few feet away before turning back and looking at them. “And you thought that could change my mind.”

“He has quite a reputation. A lot of people are uncomfortable with his past,” Murdoch said.

“And is it past? He came to you willingly?”

Murdoch had to tell her the truth. “He came because I bribed him. Because his life was in danger in Mexico. And because he wanted to kill me.”

Catherine gasped. “Kill you!”

“He had been told that I threw his mother out. He blamed me for all their troubles.”

Scott had to make her understand. “It wasn’t easy, but he stayed. He’s learned to be a rancher and to be part of a family.”

“To the point where you left Lancer in his care,” she said in amazement.

“Yes,” Murdoch said. “Without hesitation.”

Catherine looked pointedly at Scott. “And if I balked at coming because of your brother?”

Scott paused. “I’m sure it would break all of our hearts to have to choose….but at least I would know where to visit you.”

Catherine blinked. “You’re that close?”

Scott stood and came over to her. “He’s had no one his whole life. I will not betray him for anyone…Not even you.”

Catherine  looked him in the eye. “He must be quite a man to inspire such loyalty. I look forward to  meeting him.”

Scott looked down in relief, and shame. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”

Catherine lifted his chin up with her finger. “We’ve just met, Scott. It’s not doubt. It’s just lack of information.”

Scott looked over at his father. “Quite a lady, Sir. I can see why you chose her.”

The lady in question put her hands on her hips. “He..! I chose him, son! Now, is there anything or anyone else I should know about before we arrive?”

Murdoch squirmed just a little. “Well, there’s Jelly…”

.

Teresa was standing outside of the hacienda looking excitedly down the lane. “Johnny! Johnny! They’re here! Oh my gosh! They’re here!” She opened the front door and yelled in. “Johnny!!”

“I’m coming!”  his voice preceded him out the door.  He came out and stood by her, an amused look on his face. “Calm down.”

Teresa stared at him in disbelief. “Calm down? Is that all you can say? The most romantic thing in the whole world and you tell me to calm down! Men!” She tossed her long brown hair in exasperation.

Johnny grinned at her and shook his head.

They, and any available ranch hand or worker, stood and watched the wagon approach. As it finally rolled to a stop in front of them, Teresa let go of Johnny’s hand that she hadn’t been aware of squeezing.

Murdoch pulled back on the reins. “Whoa!!” He smiled at the welcoming party as he wrapped the reins on the brake handle. “Johnny! Teresa! I see the ranch is still standing.” He got down and came around to the other side of the wagon.

“Nope,” Johnny grinned back at him. “It fell to pieces with the old man gone. We only got it fixed back up in time for you.”

Scott dismounted and gave him a playful clap on the shoulder and looked carefully at the house and grounds.  “Well you did a good job, little brother. I would hardly know the difference.”

Murdoch helped Catherine down out of the wagon as they teased. “Catherine, this is Teresa and Johnny.”

Catherine took one look at Teresa and went over and gave her a hug. “I remember your father. He was such a good man.” Then she turned and frowned at Murdoch. “But you talked as if she was a child. Not a lovely young woman!”  She turned then to Johnny, whose smile dimmed the tiniest bit. “Johnny.”

“Ma’am,” he answered.

She reached for his hand and held it gently. “Your father and brother have told me so much about you.”

His smile froze. “Did they, now.”

“Yes. It’s good to finally meet the man who inspired such loving descriptions.” She gripped his hand a little more. “I’m so glad Scott has a brother.”

Johnny was at a total loss for words at that. “Well, I’m sure I got the better end of that deal,” he managed.

Murdoch reclaimed her arm. “Let’s get inside. We’ve been on the road for days…”

“… with no Scotch!” Scott finished for him.

Teresa opened the door for the couple and then followed them.

Johnny pulled Scott aside as the others went in. “Are you sure you told her about the right brother, Boston?”

Scott gave him another swat before they started unloading luggage.

Catherine stood in the great room, gazing around in open mouthed awe. “Oh, Murdoch! It’s perfect. Everything you wanted it to be.”

Murdoch looked at her standing in his house. “It is now.”

She smiled at him in understanding, and gave him a quick hug. “I want to see everything. The whole house.”

Teresa came over a little shyly. “I could show it to you, if you like.”

“Oh, yes.” She gave Murdoch a  peck on the cheek and then followed after Teresa.

The boys entered with suitcases as they left.

“They’re off in a hurry,” Scott observed.

“Teresa is showing her the house,” Murdoch explained. “I think I will have that drink now!”

“I would say we deserve one,” Scott agreed and joined him at the cabinet.

“I, ah…” Johnny began.

Murdoch paused at his tone. “What is it Johnny?”

“Well, I just wondered, you know…”

“What?”

“Which room to put her luggage in?” he grinned.

Murdoch took a moment to make sure his face did not have a matching grin. “The guest room by Teresa, I believe.  For now,” he added.

Johnny winked at his brother before saying, “Not a lot of luggage. How long she staying?”

Murdoch took a sip of his long awaited beverage. “We don’t know yet. We have to get to know each other all over again. Decide what we want.”

“I reckon I know what you two want.”

Murdoch filled two more glasses and handed them out.

“Thanks,” Scott said gratefully. “It’s all happening so fast, it’s still hard to believe.”

“Yeh, well we don’t tend to do family things the normal way do we?” Johnny took the offered beverage, even if Scotch was not his preferred drink.

“I don’t think I would recognize normal at this point,” Murdoch stated. Scott raised his glass in agreement.

Johnny swirled his drink around thoughtfully. “So has anybody told Harlan she’s alive?”

Murdoch didn’t answer right away. “I’m sure she will when she’s ready.”

“She’s not any happier with his tactics than the rest of us are,” Scott explained. “Although she was not as surprised by them as I was.”

“You know, considering the way Murdoch’s face looked when he got that letter, maybe you should have your granddad’s doc standing by when he opens his,” Johnny said, not quite teasing.

Scott looked at him in surprise. “I didn’t know you were so concerned about my grandfather’s health?”

“He’s a weasel,” Johnny agreed. “But he’s your weasel.”

Murdoch wasn’t sure how he managed to swallow his mouthful of Scotch at that mental image, but he did. Clearing his throat, he said, “Why don’t you two carry her things up and I’ll find out when dinner will be ready.”

“Six o’clock as always,” Johnny informed him, setting the glass down and picking up a case.

“Teresa and Maria have had it all planned and arranged for days.”

Dinner was a lively affair with everyone laughing over the boys’ descriptions of their first days on the ranch.

Catherine held a napkin to her mouth as she laughed. “How did you ever get that cow out of the mud?”

Scott and Johnny looked at each other and said in unison, “It wasn’t easy!” Which had them all laughing even more.

Finally when all the chuckles had died down, Murdoch sighed in contentment and leaned back.

“I am stuffed. You outdid yourself , darling.”

Teresa glowed as always with his praise. “Thank you. I wanted it to be special.”

Catherine smiled  at her. “It was lovely.” She looked beyond to the rest of the room. “It’s all so lovely. So perfect. Right down to the furniture.”

“The furniture?” Scott asked.

“Yes,” she told him. “We didn’t have all this …back then…but we had talked so often about what it would all look like even down to where the couch would go.”

Johnny looked thoughtful at that. “So everything’s right where you wanted it.”

“I don’t know how you did it , Murdoch,” she continued.

“Well, like you said, we had talked about it so much, that as I acquired pieces , I knew where to put them.”

Later that evening, Murdoch stepped out onto the veranda to find Johnny standing in the dark.

“John.”

“Hey, Murdoch.” They both turned at the sound of female laughter from inside. “Sure is something isn’t it?”

“Sure is.”

“I’m happy for you, Murdoch. For you and Scott both.”

“If she stays.”

Johnny leaned on the rail. “Oh, I don’t think she’s going anywhere.”

“I hope not. But it’s not just me and Scott. It’s all of us. The whole family.”

“Sure, Murdoch.” Johnny stood up. “I’m gonna turn in. This is a working ranch, you know.”

Murdoch smiled. “So I’ve heard. Good night.”

Early the next morning Murdoch came down to the kitchen to find Teresa at the stove and Catherine tying on an apron.  “Well, good morning! You could relax for while, you know.”

“I am relaxing. Teresa already has all the hard part done.” She picked up a pot and cup.

“Coffee?”

Murdoch sat down and smiled. “Please.”

Scott and Johnny tumbled into the room soon after, Johnny still yawning. He sat down and held up a cup. “I’ll take some of that. Gracias.”

Teresa put the food on the table and everyone dug in. She and Catherine joined the men and filled their own plates as well.

“So, Johnny,” Murdoch said between bites. “Fill me in.”

“Business at breakfast?” Catherine admonished.

Murdoch looked at her. “This is…”

“A working ranch!” his three children chorused together . Scott and Johnny raised their coffee cups in a mock toast.

Catherine sat back with an amused expression. “My mistake. Do carry on.”

“Johnny?” Murdoch prompted again.

“North pasture fence line is done. A crew is still working on clearing the creek there before we run the herd over. Should be done by tomorrow if we push. Jelly’s checking line shack supplies. He’s due back tonight. Aggie stopped by to discuss that breeding bull y’all  were goin in on. Frank saw some good horses in a herd over on the mesa if you want a stallion to add some new blood. I took a shot at the books but you probably ought to go over them,” he finished his recitation and grabbed another biscuit.

“I’m sure they’re fine,” his father assured him. “Did Aggie say anything more about what she wanted to do?”

“Nah. I told her you’d be back in a few days.”

Catherine perked up suddenly. “Aggie? Aggie Conway?”

“The same. Her husband passed away   several years ago, but Aggie still runs the Circle C.”

“That’s right!” Teresa chimed in. “She was here when you were. We should tell her you’re back.”

Murdoch shook his head. “Let’s take a few days to get acquainted with each other before we start inviting neighbors over.”

Catherine patted her hand. “Thanks for thinking about my old friends, dear. But Murdoch is probably right. I think I have enough to adjust to for now…like getting to know you.”

Teresa smiled happily at her.

Johnny watched them for a moment, finished his coffee and stood up. “I’m gonna hook up with the crew and get that creek cleared. See you at dinner.” He nodded to Catherine. “Ma’am.” Then grabbing a sack of lunch he called a quick, “Thanks Teresa!”   and was gone.

“What do you want me to do?”   Scott asked.

“We can check with Cipriano and see how he’s got the rest of the hands assigned,” Murdoch said.

“Good,”  Scott sat back with his cup. “ Then I can finish my coffee in a more civilized manner.”

“You were right about Johnny having everything under control,”  Catherine observed.

“Yes,” Murdoch agreed thoughtfully. “We’ve come a long way together.”

Scott finished his coffee and set his cup down. “Ready?”

“Will you be here for lunch?” Teresa asked.

“I will be,” Murdoch said emphatically, looking at Catherine. “I may just stay close to the house for awhile.”  He kissed the top of both ladies’  heads . “Come along, Scott.”

.

True to his word, Murdoch stayed very close to the hacienda for the next several days. If he wasn’t able to find something legitimate to do inside, he would wander no further than the barn. Sometimes he gave up pretending and just sat around the house watching his long lost love do laundry, gardening or gather eggs with Teresa.  When she caught him watching, she would smile and wave and he would wave back , still in awe of the sight of seeing her do simple things.

One afternoon, the two women were busy in the kitchen, beginning to prepare the evening meal. Catherine rolled out some dough on the table.

“I hope Scott likes this,” she mused.

“I’m sure he will,” Teresa said, a little more sharply than she meant to.

Catherine stopped and came over to where the girl was building up the oven fire. “What’s wrong? Am I doting on him too much?”

Teresa tried to smile. “No. It’s fine. It’s a good thing. I …” She turned away.

Catherine turned her back to face her. “You what, honey?”

Teresa looked down at her hands. “It’s terrible of me.”

“What is?”

“I’m trying…I’m trying not to be jealous of Scott. You see we all three had only Murdoch. Now he has a mother too and I’m…” she kept her head down. “I’m being childish.”

Catherine ducked down to look in her face. “It’s not childish to want a mother’s love. I’m a grown woman and it bothers me that I didn’t know when my mother passed away. How old were you when yours…?”

“Oh, my mother’s not dead. She just…doesn’t…need me,” she finished quietly.

“Oh, honey…”

“She’s a, a singer. In saloons and places. I don’t understand …but Johnny does.”

Catherine cocked her head in surprise. “Johnny does what?”

“Understand. He said his mother worked in cantinas sometimes when he was little and didn’t usually have time for him. He’s the only one who…” she sniffed.

Catherine gathered her in her arms. “Well, I don’t. I can’t imagine a mother, well, any human being not loving   and wanting you.”  She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Can I share a secret? I have always wanted a daughter so badly…when I saw you for the first time the other night, and now that we have gotten to know each other and have such a good time together, I must admit, I’ve been pretending in my heart that you were mine.”

Teresa lifted her head. “Oh, Catherine, I wish it was true!”

Catherine held her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Then it is. Because we choose it to be.”  She hugged her tightly. “Always and forever.” After a moment she held Teresa away from her again and made a decision. “Come with me.” Taking her by the hand, she led the girl upstairs.

Once in her room, Catherine went to the dresser and opened a jewelry chest. She pulled out a gold chain. “I’ve had this all these years, but never knew where it came from. Now I do. It was my grandmother’s. I don’t know what ever happened to the locket, but the chain is still good. Come here.”

Teresa came over and Catherine motioned for her to turn around. She placed the chain around her neck and then kissed her cheek. “Now. It’s official. From my grandmother to my mother, to me, and now to you.”

The girl looked at her with happy tears in her eyes. “Then you’re staying? For good?”

“As soon as Murdoch asks me, that will be official too….Although, I have to admit, I am enjoying being courted.” They both laughed. “Now, let’s finish those pies, shall we?”

That evening, the rest  of the family was sitting down to dinner, when Johnny dashed in.

“Sorry,” he said, scooting into his seat. “I was trying to get back here for…” He looked at the roast beef and mashed potatoes sitting on the table. “Where’s Maria?”

Teresa looked at him apologetically. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t get a chance to tell you. With Catherine to help me I didn’t think I needed the day off today.”

Catherine looked at Johnny’s face. “Is it a problem?”

Scott looked from one to the other. “Maria usually fixes Mexican dishes on her nights to cook.”

“I didn’t know,” she said to Johnny, “I can learn…”

Johnny smiled at her. “It’s fine. This looks delicious.”

Scott looked at the meal and had to agree. “And is that a cream pie I see?”

“Yes,” his mother told him, delighted with his reaction. “My specialty at the hotel. I couldn’t remember my name, but I could remember how to make a Boston cream pie!”

Scott couldn’t wait to get to dessert. “Priorities are important,” he quipped.

.

Catherine raised her hand, stopped, took a breath, then knocked on the door.

It opened and Scott stood looking at her for a second. “Yes?”

She looked at his unsurprised face. “You seemed to know it was me.”

“Murdoch knocks harder, Johnny and Teresa rarely knock at all,” he explained.

“I see. May I come in?”

He backed up and swept his hand in a formal welcome. “By all means. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

She turned and gave a small laugh. “How long have you been away from Boston?”

“A small percentage of my life. I have changed the things I wished to. Manners is not one of those things.”

“I see,” she said again.

He indicated one of the  chairs by the window and she sat down. He sat on the edge of the bed and waited.

“I knew Murdoch, I was told  about Johnny, I am learning to know Teresa. But who is Scott Garrett Lancer?”

He straightened his posture automatically and folded his hands. If truth be told he was worse than his brother about keeping his past to himself.  Johnny knew more than anyone, and even he didn’t know it all. “What do you want to know?”

“Your father said you were in the war, you said you were a cad. Now you are a rancher. The only other things I know about my son are what I have observed.”

“Oh?” He gave her one of his small smiles. “And what have you observed?”

She leaned forward and put her chin in her hand, gazing at him in thought. “You are a conservative dresser. You keep your room impeccably clean and orderly. You are very good at chess. You read a lot. Across a wide range of topics although you seem to prefer classic adventures. You like red wine at dinner, prefer brandy to scotch, and do not like runny eggs. You are an excellent horseman in form and skill. You are a natural leader to the men who work here, but respect their input on the things they know. You have a dry ironic wit. You are deferential to Murdoch, protective of Teresa, and fiercely loyal to your brother is an understatement.”

“Well, you seem to have me all sorted out. What can I possibly add to all of that?”

“Those are the ‘whats’. I would like to know some of the ‘whys’ and ‘wheres’.”

Much as she just had, he paused before answering. “Before coming out here, I lived in Grandfather’s house, Harvard and the Army.  I have been trained all of my life to speak and act properly. No real mystery there. I had formal riding lessons from age eight. I suppose I learned to love reading because Grandfather had a large library and a busy social schedule which left me lots of time to read.”

“Time to read, alone,  in a house of servants instead of family. Books instead of friends.”

He cocked his head. “Is that why you married Murdoch? To get away from Boston?…And Grandfather?”

“I fell in love with Murdoch because he was everything I didn’t have. The fact that he promised to take me away was merely the deal maker, as they say,” she told him. “And you changed the subject.”

“I assumed that if you were getting to know me, I should have the opportunity to get to know you as well.”

She laughed again. “And why aren’t you a lawyer?”

He didn’t laugh. “Because I want to be a rancher.”

She cocked her head this time. “You do, don’t you? You really are happy here.”

“Yes, I am. I don’t suppose anyone grows to love eating dust on a cattle drive, or fighting with barbed wire or any of the countless, mundane parts of the whole. But the whole is worth it.”  He smiled more to himself than to her. “And I guess that sums it up best. I feel a sense of worth out here that I never felt back east. I enjoyed learning at school and parts of the army were very satisfying. But here is where I feel most…complete.”

She looked at him sadly. “If only…”

“I,” he interrupted her, “have learned not to play that game. It accomplishes nothing.”

“I suppose you’re right.” She stood up. “Thank you for letting me in.”

He smiled at the double meaning. “Don’t worry. The rest of us only have a year or so head start on getting to know each other.”

She hugged him, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and left. Out in the hall, she thought about what he had said about the ‘ if only  game’. He was right. There was no point in grieving the loss of the Scott Andrew that could’ve been , and missing the Scott Garrett that was.

A day or so later, Johnny came into the great room and found his father working at his large desk. “Hey Murdoch,” he greeted him as usual.

“Johnny. What’s up?”

“Oh, nothin much.” He looked around at the quiet room. “Where is everybody?”

“Catherine and Teresa are in the garden I believe.”

“They sure took to one another, didn’t they?”

“Yes,” Murdoch smiled in pleasure. “Yes they did.”

“So…”

“So…”  he echoed his son. “What?”

“C’mon Murdoch. You gonna ask her? To stay here with you?”

Murdoch took a breath. “I want to , Johnny. I just don’t want to push her. She needs time to decide what she wants and who she is. She spent twenty five years as Sarah Carter.”

Johnny froze at the same words, spoken in such a different way. “Yeh. Sure. Wouldn’t want to push too hard.”  He turned to walk away.

Murdoch frowned. “John? Is everything okay?”

“Just fine, Murdoch. Just fine.”

.

It was late. Catherine and Murdoch stood  on the veranda looking out over the moonlit land. She shivered a little in the evening air. Murdoch opened the door and reached around for her shawl that was hanging on the rack just inside.  “Here,” he wrapped it around her.

“Why thank you sir,” she smiled, and then looked back out at the ranch. “It is so wonderful here.”

Murdoch looked instead at the view right in front of him. “Yes it is.” He paused, “Catherine…”

“Yes.”

“I wanted to ask…”

“I said yes.”

He took her in his arms playfully. “As I recall, you didn’t let me propose to you properly the first time either.”

She gave a little laugh. “You recall correctly.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her for a long time.  Then he pressed her to his chest and closed his eyes.  “We’re doing the right thing, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely,” she told him firmly. “When are we going to tell the ‘children’?”

He laughed at the description. “Ha, children indeed. They have all been subtly, and not so subtly nudging me about it. I think I’ll make a formal announcement at dinner tomorrow.”

“Perfect. Now kiss me again, Mr. Lancer.”

“Absolutely.”

The next morning Johnny was the last to leave for the day. Only he and Teresa were still in the kitchen.  “I may be late tonight,” he told her. “Don’t wait dinner for me.”

“Oh no!” she caught his arm. “Not tonight. Johnny you have to be here.”

He frowned. “Why?”

She looked toward the door to the rest of the house. “I’m not supposed to know anything, but  Catherine is fussing about dinner and Murdoch broke out his best wine. I think they’re going to make their announcement tonight.”

Johnny stood in shock. “Tonight! He’s gonna do it today?”

 Teresa looked puzzled. “Why? What difference does it make? What’s today?”

He paused a moment, then shook his head. “I can’t Teresa. I’m sorry.”

“No! Johnny, you have to be there. Please! For me. Please?”

He looked down and gave a big sigh. “Okay. For you. I’ll be there for dinner. But I got something I gotta do right after.”

She kissed his cheek. “Thank you, big brother!”

.

The dinner, although excellent, went pretty normally. If  Murdoch and Catherine looked at each other any more than they had  been the last week, no one could tell. The talk was all the typical things, ranch news and plans for tomorrow. Johnny looked at Teresa and she had to shrug, not knowing any more.  When he had pretended to eat all he was going to, Johnny got up to leave.

“Johnny, wait,” Murdoch stopped him. “I have something to say.” Johnny reluctantly sat back down.  “There is no way to put into words the events of the past few weeks. There are no elegant phrases to properly express the miracle that has happened. I can only add another miracle to it.” He reached over and took Catherine’s hand. “ Catherine has agreed to be my wife. Again. Forever.”

Scott cheered a happy “Here! Here!”

Teresa ran around the table and threw her arms around them both individually and together.

“A toast!” Scott declared picking up his glass.

“Wait,” Murdoch grinned and pulled a bottle from behind him. “I have the good stuff.”  He stood and began pouring. When everyone had some, he raised his glass. “I will always remember this as the happiest day of my life.”

Johnny froze. With a face of stone he put down his glass and walked out.

“John!” Murdoch called after him, but the only answer was the front door closing.

“What’s wrong?” Scott frowned in bewilderment.

“I don’t know,” Teresa told them all. “I had to talk him into even staying for dinner. He said he had something important to do and it seemed it had to be today.”

Scott frowned more as he thought. “Today? What’s today?”

Murdoch frowned as well. “What…?” He sat suddenly with a horrified look on his face. “Oh, no.”

“What is it?” Catherine asked in concern.

Murdoch looked at her forlornly. “This is the day Maria died. Last year we toasted it together up on her favorite hill.”

Catherine took the glass from his hand. “Go to him. Now.”

Scott agreed. “Before he rides away.”

Murdoch hurried out the door and across to the corral where Johnny was  standing, ready to mount Barranca. He grabbed the horse’s bridle.

“Let go, Murdoch,” Johnny said quietly.

Murdoch knew the Madrid voice when he heard it, but couldn’t comply. “I have to talk to you.”

“Nothin’ to say. Now let go.”

“Alright,” his father agreed. “On one condition.”

Johnny kept his back to him and heaved a sigh. “What?”

“You don’t leave until I get my horse.”

Johnny paused and looked at him. “You don’t have to do that. Go on back in to your family.”

“You are my family….and so was she. Do I have your word?”

After a second, Johnny nodded.

“Good. Do you have a bottle?”

“Yeh.”

“And everything else?”

Johnny looked down and scuffed his boot in the dirt. “I figured if it was just me I didn’t need a lotta ceremony.”

“Well, I think we do. Go back in and get it while I saddle up.” He patted his shoulder.

Johnny led his horse over to the house and left him at the hitching post. Taking a breath, he went inside. Catherine and Teresa were still seated at the table. He gave them a short nod, but didn’t say anything. Scott was by the liquor cabinet. Johnny went over to the mantel and got a candle that was there. When he turned around, Scott was in front of him, holding out two glasses.

“Te amo hermano,” he said softly.

Johnny ducked his head. “Tambien.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Its okay.”

“Is it?” Scott looked at his brother. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” He glanced over at Catherine. “I’ll….I won’t keep him out all night. “

She nodded and gave him a small smile.

He went out and found Murdoch mounted and waiting. Putting the things in his saddlebag, he got up on Barranca and they rode off.

Catherine watched them leave from the French doors. “Does he ever say anything except ‘I’m fine’ ?”

Scott raised a brow at the observation. “The day he does, I will know to really worry.”

.

They sat on a hill overlooking the hacienda and the rolling hills beyond it. Murdoch took the candle from Johnny’s hand and set it down in front of them, pushing it into the dirt to sit securely . As he lit the wick, Johnny took the two glasses and filled them. He handed one to his father.

“Not your fancy wine, but seems more appropriate.”

Murdoch took the glass, touched it to his son’s and they both took a sip.  “Johnny, about what you said earlier. About me and my family. Have we…have I made you feel like an outsider?”

Johnny ducked his head and swirled his drink in the glass. “Just little stuff. I shouldn’t take things so personal.”

“Well, one little thing can be overlooked. Two or three can be excused. More starts feeling personal. How many little things were there?”

Johnny shrugged. “I wasn’t countin.”

“Ah,” Murdoch sighed. “So more than can be excused. Tell me.”

“It’s ok, Murdoch. You know me, I get mad then I get over it.”

“If Catherine stays, it’s not something to get over…it’s something that needs fixed. But I can’t fix it if I don’t know what it is.”

There was a long pause. Long enough to make Murdoch wonder if Johnny was going to answer him. There was not much expression on his face, but Murdoch could almost swear he could see the thoughts swirling around. The need to stay strong and invulnerable  battling with the need to be seen and  heard.

Finally, he said softly, “Ok. The first night at dinner. You and her were talking about how the furniture was just like she planned it. But my mama was here since then. It felt like …like she didn’t have a place …even when she was here, it wasn’t the way she wanted it.”

Murdoch looked down at the house, lights spilling from its windows into the night. “I can see how it felt like that from what we said. Actually the whole place looked different when your mother was here. Less furniture, some of it different. When she left I was so devastated, I left it the same for a long time, hoping she was coming back. After awhile I was so angry and changed it all. Spite I guess. It’s gone back and forth over the years. Gradually it settled into how it is now. Maybe because Catherine and I had talked about it more than Maria and I did….I don’t know if any of that helps, or  it’s just an excuse.”

“Explains it, I guess.”

“What else?”

Johnny took a breath for this one. “You know how Teresa wears that necklace? Catherine gave her that  chain because they’re choosing to be mother and daughter.”

“Yes.”

“Well, Teresa and I always had this, connection, I guess. We’re the only two that were born on Lancer. And both our mamas sang in cantinas and such. Both…anyway, it feels like she don’t need that connection to me anymore. And me and Scott, the only two things in the whole world we have in common is the same father and no mother. But now he does. It …hurts…that the things connecting me to them are changing. Or gone.

“And then nobody caring whether we ever have Mexican food for dinner. I’m just …I’m just always outside the circle.

“Then tonight when you said this day made your life so perfect…the only reason you can be happy with Catherine is cause Mama’s dead.”

“Oh, John. I’m…”

“Hell, Murdoch, Catherine was right down the road all this time. None of it should’ve even happened. She could’ve been here all the time. It was all a mistake. I’m only alive because of a mistake! How am I suppose to feel? I shouldn’t even have been born.”

Now it was Murdoch who paused to gather his thoughts. “Then maybe,” he began, “the mistake was supposed to happen. Because that’s what it took to create you. I’m not sorry Maria came into my life. I’m only sorry she left it.”

“Then you wouldn’t have this. Now.”

Murdoch shook his head. “You’re not the only one with those unanswerable questions.”

“I’m just the one who reminds you of them.”

“What do you mean?”

“The other day, you said you couldn’t push her. She deserved time to decide who she was and what she wanted cause she’d been somebody else for so long…We had that exact conversation Murdoch. Only I didn’t rate getting time to decide. I got over it…until you treat her so different. I like her, I really do. And you know I love Scott…but it always seems like it’s  a little different with me than it is with them.”

Murdoch’s shoulders slumped in shame. “How could I forget that conversation. I almost lost you that day. I have absolutely no excuse for this one, Johnny.  What can I do?”

“I don’t know. I’m glad you finally have what you need. But I feel like what I need is being pulled out of my hands. I want my brother and sister back. I want my father back. I want what we had and I can’t have it. I spent my whole life trying not to want anything so it wouldn’t hurt to lose it….” he sighed. “I know   I sound childish. I just…” he trailed off.

“I don’t have to marry her.”

Johnny looked at him in shock. “That’s crazy. Then everyone else would be unhappy. That don’t fix anything.”

“On the way here, when we told Catherine about Johnny Madrid, she asked what we would do if she had a problem with who you were. Scott told her he wouldn’t betray you for anyone, not even her.”

Johnny swallowed. “He..?”

“I will not lose my son. We can wait until we are all ready. This is not just Catherine and I this time.”

“You would do that?” Johnny asked, incredulous. “For me?”

Murdoch nodded. “I’ll talk to her tonight. Now then,” he picked his glass back up and turned toward the candle. “We came up here to toast your mother.” He raised the glass high. “To Maria. The most beautiful woman in the world. To the fire and life she brought to my cold, dead heart. And to the precious son she gave me. Forgive me , Querida, for failing you both.”

Johnny didn’t raise his glass. Instead he held it close to his chest. “Te amo, Mama. Adios.”  He blew out the candle.

The  ride back to the house was as silent as the ride out had been. They were nearly back, when Johnny stopped his horse. Murdoch  pulled up beside him.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s ok. I mean you and her. You don’t have to wait. It’s ok.”

“If you’ve been hurt, it’s not ok.”

“I just needed…I needed to hear you would be willing to lose something for me. Maybe it don’t make sense, but being willing is more important than really losing it.”

Murdoch smiled. “No, it makes sense.”

“And, we don’t have to do this next time. I mean, you’ll be married then. Might not be right.”

“Well, we’ll see what we need then.” He started to nudge his horse.

“Murdoch?”

“Yes?”

“Just …thanks. For listening.”

“Your welcome. Just remember, I can only listen if you are talking…And never doubt that I want my whole family.”

They continued on , took their horses to the barn, then walked into the house together. Everyone else was sitting over by the fireplace, obviously waiting. Catherine stood up and Murdoch went to her and put an arm around her. Johnny walked past the table and retrieved his wine glass.

“Can we try this again?”

Scott and Teresa scrambled to get the other glasses and passed them out. When they were all standing together, Johnny raised his glass.

“To Murdoch and Catherine. And to everything it means to be part of this family.”

Teresa slipped her arm around him from one side and Scott did the same on the other. They all raised their glasses together.

Murdoch and Catherine Lancer were (re)married in a quiet ceremony in the great room, with the view of Lancer out the window behind them and their children standing around them.

End

To By Any Name

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

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9 thoughts on “Kiss Me Cate by MaryB

  1. I loved this story the first time I read it, and I love it again. You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but few writers have the emotional insight you do when it comes to the Lancers. Thank you. Terri (aka Doc)

    Like

  2. MaryB,

    This is one of the few “Murdoch wives coming back to life” stories I really liked. One of the others in particular focused on Johnny totally losing control and getting hurt in the process. It was like the other writer looked for the worst possible outcomes in every situation – while you were searching for the best.

    Instead of trying to create the worst possible circumstance out of the reunion you handled it tastefully, I could feel Johnny’s sadness and the areas he pointed out to Murdoch throughout the story.

    Although I felt there were a few things missing. No mention of Johnny’s status as a now out of wedlock baby. Perhaps the death certificate satisfied that issue. I felt like I was waiting for a one on one with Catherine and Johnny where she welcomed him into her heart.

    I feel like this story might even have an opportunity for sequels – it would be interesting to see how the Lancers navigate the new status quo.

    Thanks – love all of your stories,

    Cathie (aka Flynnie)

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  3. Cathie,

    Thanks for your comments. And, yes ,there are actually 1 and s half sequels to this! ( one in the making). Some of the points you brought up are addressed in them.
    So glad you liked it!

    Like

  4. Totally loved this story. This was a enjoyable read, done in a positive and loving way. Looking forward to more.

    Like

  5. Mary, I can’t fit all the things I want to say about this phenomenal story in this little box, so I will have to email you as well. Superb! Thank you for your talent and willingness to share it with us!

    Like

  6. Really enjoyed this story- always interesting to throw a spanner in the family dynamics ! Looking forward to the next instalment. Thank you.

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  7. Great story ! I was afraid that at the end of the story there would be said that this was just a dream, fortunately it is true and we are all waiting for a sequel. Thank you.

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  8. I agree with the other comments on your story. Also wonder what Harlan will have to say and what kind of relationship Johnny and Catherine will have. Looking forward to your sequel.

    Like

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