Kindred Spirits by Michele U

#1 in the Kindred Spirits series, which follows the Free Spirits series

Just offering a warning for language, violence, rape and sexual content.  Characters will display uncharacteristic behavior and it may be disturbing to readers who prefer the show’s version of our beloved, Lancers.  However, if you are up for it I think you will enjoy this look into a darker world of Lancer.  One that includes a supernatural element that has been hidden away until being brought back to life in a most unexpected way.  You will also meet a new character that I hope you will come to love as much as I loved creating her character.  I have long felt that, Johnny needed a true soul mate and I think this one far surpasses even my expectations.

The Kindred Spirits Series follows the previously released Free Spirits Series.  Sorry for the long delay but I tend to hold onto a story for too long before releasing it.  I finally decided to put this one out there, mistakes and all.  I hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing your reviews.  Please be kind.  Thanks, Michele U

Word count: 64,290

”Stormy?”

The familiar voice came from behind him. Johnny froze on the stairs, he was stunned beyond words. ‘It couldn’t be…could it?’

The saloon girl he had been going upstairs with looked from him to the source of the voice behind them and with a nervous laugh, she said. “Maybe some other time, sugar!” Before pulling her arm from around his waist and turning to dash up the last few steps, leaving him standing wobbly on the stairs. He placed his hand on the railing to keep his balance, his mind and vision whirling as he fought to clear his head, as she fled.

He didn’t even watch her leave, he didn’t care. He’d just wanted to lie down for a little while and when she had offered him her services, his mind had only been on the bed and not the company. Even if he had been of the mind for more, he simply didn’t have the energy. He tiredly rubbed his free hand down his unshaven face, he was bone tired and couldn’t remember when he’d last slept.

He knew he could’ve just got a room for himself but he honestly didn’t think he could make it up the stairs without help. The now, ‘nowhere to be seen girl’, had been his best bet of getting upstairs without anyone noticing. The way he felt right now, he was endanger of falling down the stairs since her sudden departure had left him stranded more than half way up the damn things! Thanks a lot for your help, whatever your name was…hell did he even ask? Probably not. She’d just been there like so many before her to be used in whatever way men wanted, if they had the money to pay for it.

Hell, maybe he shoulda just got his own damned room either here or across the street at the only hotel in the small town. Of course, he still had the same problem, how did he get there? Crawling seemed the only way at this point but hell, gunfighters didn’t crawl! He almost laughed, almost. It wouldn’t be very funny when he took a tumble down the staircase and lay sprawled on the floor, probably wouldn’t even be able to crawl then.

Dios, he needed to lie down and soon. Hell, even the old jail probably still had a bed and anything was better than the chair he’d been dozing in or the saloon floor which was where he was headed, if he kept drinking like he had been.

‘Self-medicating again, like I’ve been doing since I left home…No, not home, Lancer.’

He stumbled slightly, the pain in his heart currently beating out the pain in his side. He took a deep breath and the wound in his side came back to the forefront with a sharp stab of pain that nearly took him to his knees. Only just managing to stay upright with sheer will power and the help of the handrail but he did stay on his feet, though it cost him as sweat poured down his face from the effort.

If this rat hole of a border town had any law, he’d probably be in that jail cell. But, it didn’t and none of the good citizens were about to challenge him, even if he was drunk or half-dead… ‘Damned cowards!’ He knew that he could do whatever he wanted and they would let it pass, after all he was just a hired killer! Hell, he almost chuckled, he had killed two boys after being in town less than an hour and had been drinking ever since, sure wouldn’t have gone unnoticed back in Green River. Val, woulda…. He sighed and immediately let the thought go, it was in the past. ‘How long had he been gone, anyway six months, a year? He didn’t even know what today was, he staggered almost losing his footing on the stairs and it brought him back to the present and her voice.

His mind raced through possible reasons for thinking he had heard her voice because it was, impossible. It had to be the alcohol or the massive amounts of it, right? Maybe, it was all a dream and he was just passed out drunk still sitting in his chair against the wall? He wouldn’t be surprised after all the tequila that he’d downed, it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen the bottom of several bottles in the last few days? He, absentmindedly, rubbed the wound on his left side, the ache finally dulled from his self-medicating. He wished the ache in his heart was so easily dulled but it wasn’t.

He knew he should’ve had the bullet wound looked at by the local doc but he really hadn’t cared enough to make the effort. After all, the worst thing that could happen was that he’d die, right? Hell, he would welcome that without a second thought, it just seemed that he didn’t deserve the peace of death. At least, he always seemed to survive, even if it was just barely and the suffering would continue…, he sighed, softly.

So, instead of seeking out medical attention, he had stumbled back into the only saloon in the small town and settled into his usual place, the furthest, darkest corner with his back to the wall. Not that it would do much good, he had been trying to drown himself with tequila since the gunfight. He closed his pain-filled blue eyes and sighed, just his luck that not one asshole wanted to kill him, when he wanted to die. He sighed deeply, he was probably dreaming about her, again. He wasn’t even allowed any peace in his exhausted sleep, and it showed. He knew he looked like hell, worn thin and he just wanted to close his eyes and never open them, again, in this life.

He guessed he was losing his mind, because there had been only one person in the world that had called him, ‘Stormy’ and she’d been dead for three years. ‘Dios, had it been that long?’ Johnny closed his eyes tighter against the fresh pain that stabbed at his heart because he knew that when he turned around and opened them, she wouldn’t be there.

‘Stop, this shit! You know she’s NOT really here.’ He cursed under his breath as he prepared himself for the coming heartache and disappointment before he slowly turned around and opened his eyes. He thought that his time had finally come because his angel was standing there, waiting for him. “Dios, Rain!” His heart lurched and he just stared, afraid to accept that what he was seeing was real; tears welled in his tired, blood-shot eyes as he took in the mirage before him. Afraid to even blink because she might disappear, he just continued to stare at her. She was even more beautiful than he remembered and his eyes drank in her beauty. His sapphire eyes slowly met her emerald ones and he stumbled down the stairs toward her, his Rain…his everything.

******

When Rain had walked through the swingin’ doors of another border town saloon, she was more than tired and startin’ to feel like she was on a hopeless search. Hell, maybe he really was dead? Shot down by those damned murderin’ bastards! ‘Mexican police, my ass!’ Sons of bitches weren’t nuthin’ but legal murderin’ thieves. Well, legal for Mexico anyway, which sure as hell ain’t sayin’ much.

Could be the rumors she had heard about him workin’ the border again was just that or more likely some wanna be gunhawk usin’ the infamous name of ‘Johnny Madrid’. She had been in San Francisco when she had heard about ‘Johnny Madrid’ raisin’ hell in Sonora. It had been said that he had killed one man just for talkin’ to him…and that did not sound like the ‘Johnny Madrid’ that she had known.

No, the man she knew didn’t like killin’, it ate at his soul. Oh, he did it easy enough he just had to turn off his emotions to be able to live with it. She had watched him gun down many men and he was like ice but never had he been malicious, just survivin’ the only way he could…by the gun.

This could not be her, Stormy. No, this sounded more like her than him. Rain, snorted at the thought, she had been the cold blooded one between them and had introduced him to a whole new world of blood-lust. They had been drawn to each other from the beginning, although, she had still put up quite a fight, not wanting to accept what her every fiber had been screaming at her…that they were the same. She had never met another like herself, saying that they stood apart from the crowd was an understatement.

She surveyed the barroom with her blazing green eyes, from beneath her lowered hat she watched them watching her; the curious gazes studied her head to toe. They didn’t know what to make of her, women, well decent women, she corrected her thought, didn’t walk into saloons. She let a small smile play across her full lips, ‘and they sure as hell didn’t wear a gunfighter’s rig.’

Rain, was used to the looks, she knew she was considered attractive, a fact she wouldn’t give a damn about if she hadn’t learned the power that beauty wielded. She made the most of that power and any advantage she had in this ‘Man’s World’, was taken. Rain had learned that trust and fair play led nowhere good, she’d only trusted a few people in her adult life and fair was dependent on her mood and intentions. Was she confident? ‘Hell, Yes!’ her eyes smiled while her face remained impassive. These bastards had no idea who had just walked through those doors…but they would.

There was just the slightest smell of blood in the air and she was feeling very thirsty, just now. She, reluctantly, shook off the bloodlust that was building and refocused her attention on the business at hand. Still, she wondered where the delicious smell was coming from, it was somewhat familiar…

She pushed away the errant thought and turned her attention back to the room and its occupants. Their seedy stares left no doubt what was running through their dirty minds, horny bastards! Like she would spit on any of them if they were on fire, of course, fire would further warm their blood. Blood, she couldn’t get it off her mind. There it was again, that faint but tantalizing scent of fresh blood. It was becoming an unwanted distraction and it was infuriating, even more so than their damned lustful stares.

She hated the way their leering made her feel dirty, but she had to admit that if they were more interested in her body than her gun, she had an undeniable advantage. Not, that she really needed one, but then again it’s not like she could reveal herself, either. So, she used their lust against them, she had always commanded attention wherever she went and she never went unnoticed especially, by men. She, intentionally, dressed to distract and distract she did…she wore tight leather calzoneras that had turquoise conchos edged with silver draped by small strips of leather danglin’ from them down each leg.

Stormy, had persuaded her to try them, because of their comfort and practicality, yeah she hadn’t believed that bullshit, either. But damn him, he’d been right! Even though she knew he just liked the way they looked on her, they were nicer than the buckskin she had been accustomed to wearing. But she had chosen tan shades to his black and dark brown preferences with solid silver conchos. Just remembering, how he had filled out those pants made her heart hurt from missing him. Shaking herself mentally, she continued her thought.

If the leather pants and rig weren’t distracting enough, Rain was sure the low cut shirt she wore, well half a shirt anyway, she smiled wickedly. It only came down to just above her belly button and its form fit was sure to get the job done. In fact, more than one man had died staring at her just right amount of cleavage or naturally tanned midriff. Men were ruled by their heads and not necessarily the one on their shoulders. ‘Idiots!’

Stormy, had never seen those shirts…she wondered what he would’ve said about them? She’d had them made after…she stopped the thought of him, immediately, it did no good to dwell on those things.

She wasn’t happy with being distracted by her own thoughts, that was a sure way to die fast and hard. Even her kind, was not immune to death…Stormy, had proved that to be fact. Her mood grew ever darker because she had never stopped missing him or loving him and she never would. God, how her heart hurt with longing to have him back in her arms. She breathed in deeply, she missed him so much that she could taste the scent of him, even in this rancid air.

Sighing, softly and letting the faint scent of him linger in her nostrils, she looked up and her dark mood was not improved by the opened mouth stares she was still getting from the few men in the bar as they leered at her. They disgusted her, she would like to turn the walls red with their blood but now was not the time. Besides, she would have to kill them all and burn the place down and she just didn’t have the energy, right now.

‘Sheep!’ She glared, her green eyes taking on an eerie iridescence as she stared them down.

Sighing, she removed her hat, letting it fall onto her back by the storm straps and letting the fire in her eyes, cool before she ran her left hand through her straight brown hair. Finally, allowing it to settle again just below her shoulders and her soft bangs fall into their place near her brows. Rain let the coldness settle into her eyes till they were just blank emotionless spaces. She knew the look on her face was unconcerned as she strode across the floor, her spurs singing just like he had taught her…. ‘Fuck, shut up!’ What was wrong with her today?

In this mood, she would ‘almost’ feel sorry for an imposter, if she found one. Shit, after two months of searching, if she found some cobarde claiming his name, she would shove a blade up his ass, cut his dick off and make him eat it. No man was gonna run down his name as long as she drew a breath and that fool would beg for death long before she sent him to, Hell. He would serve as a warning to anybody else that had the same idea. The thought of dealing out some retribution might have made her happy but all she really wanted was to find ‘Stormy’ alive and well…

‘What the fuck?!’

…then she was going to kill him! Rain, could not believe her eyes, not only was he alive but apparently about to fuck some saloon whore! ‘The Dirty Bastard!’ Rain blew out a breath slowly, reining in her temper. She was simply too relieved and grateful at finding him, to stay angry, not to mention that they had been apart for a long time and besides, it’s not like she had been living like a nun, either.

“Stormy?”

She had looked up as movement and giggles on the stairs caught her attention. There he was, thinner and more worn looking than she had ever seen him. He’d frozen at the sound of her calling his name. The whore that had been wrapped around him as they went up the stairs had enough sense to know death when she saw it and ‘her’ death was now darkening Rains’ eyes. She said something to him and fled up the stairs at a run…she was a whore, but obviously not a dumb one. He didn’t seem to have heard her or even realized she’d gone. He just stood there seemingly frozen in place before he grasped the stair rail to keep from falling. He was unsteady on his feet and she almost rushed to his side but stopped when she saw his body tremble and then he slowly turned around. His closed eyes snapped open and he swore then nearly fell coming toward her, shock was evident on his face but his incredibly blue eyes held nothing but love.

She caught him as he almost crashed into her, their eyes still locked on one another. Rain didn’t know what was more shocking, finding him alive after all the time she’d thought he was dead and buried in some unmarked grave in Mexico or finding him in the sorry shape he was in; a shape she had never seen him in before. “What the hell happened to you, Stormy?” He only stared glassy eyed at her not saying a word. Hell, maybe he was sick or something? He for sure looked like a hundred miles of bad road and ‘Whew’, he wreaked of alcohol and blood, his own blood. The scent she had picked up after entering the saloon had been him, after all. She felt him start to lean a little to the left as his eyes rolled back and he corkscrewed to the floor before she could stop him.

“Dead ass drunk!” Rain looked up to see the bartender standing behind Stormy’s still form.

“What did you say?” Rain was in no mood to deal with assholes.

He took a long look at the woman standing over the fallen gunfighter and realized maybe he should keep his opinions to himself. This was no common woman, ‘No Sirree!’ She was of mixed heritage but a beauty just the same, only there was a coldness in those purty green eyes…a cold that could kill a man that didn’t take heed of the death that hid behind those dark lashes.

“I meant no offense ma’am” the bartender swallowed hard. “It’s just that he’s been drinkin’ like there was no tomorrow since he done kilt that kid three days ago and he weren’t lookin’ well before that!” He hoped the lady would take the gunman and leave because he’d had enough excitement with gunfighters and the like to last a lifetime, not that he would say so.

Rain studied the man, decided he wasn’t worth her time or bullets. “Help me get him over to the hotel.”

It wasn’t a request and he knew it. Looking around he summoned his friend. “Bill, help me carry Mr. Madrid over to the hotel.” The man named Bill hurried over and after a worried glance between the woman and his friend he carefully stepped over Madrid and helped to gently lift the unconscious man and take him across the street. “Room 5, top of the stairs.” was all Rain said once they reached the lobby of the small hotel, where she had taken a room before heading over to the saloon.

They carefully lay him on the big bed and turned without a word, leaving the room quickly, Rain closed and locked the door after them. She sat down beside him just taking in the beautiful sight of him and brushing the hair back from his eyes. He was still handsome like always but right now he looked like deaths leftovers… “Mi corazon, what happened to you?” she whispered.

What was it the bartender said about killing a kid? Sighing, she thought probably some green kid called him out, trying to make a name for himself and Stormy had had to kill him, same old song and ‘dance’. She knew well the kind of damage that would do to his gentle soul… She worried for him but she wouldn’t find out what had happened until he came around and was sober and well enough to talk to her.

Her first order of business was to see where the blood was coming from and try to get him well, again. Carefully, she pulled back the bloodied shirt that was mostly hidden by his jacket. The smell was much stronger now and the odor of infection filled the air with its powerful presence. His skin was too warm and she knew he was prone to fevers when he was hurt, not a good thing in his present condition.

Summoning her alter ego, at least the part that could help to heal her mate, she felt her eyes as they shifted to their other form and began to glow more brightly as she pulled power from her own essence. Gently, she leaned down until her lips were almost touching the festering wound before she reached out with her now long and papillae covered tongue. Her intention was not to do him harm with her roughened tongue, so she stroked the wound ever so carefully, like a mother cleaning her cub.

She knew this was not a cure for his wound, but it would give him a chance to recover on his own and hopefully without outside interference. She would clean it thoroughly and leave him to rest, then they would see…

Cleaning both sides of the wound, she left it open to let the air help with the healing process. She knew he was badly injured but she had not smelled the presence of metal in the wound, so at least, that was a good thing it meant the bullet had passed through cleanly, leaving nothing behind to cause him further problems. Her glowing eyes, returned to their human shape and color and she drew back in the energy that had not been used, it wasn’t much.

Rain felt as tired as Stormy was drunk, it had taken a lot of her energy to only partially transform and the power she had pulled, in order to help him had left her just a little weak. Not to mention, that she was just exhausted from the long and stress filled search for her mate. Looking down at him, as he slept, she knew that he was worth any price that she had to pay to keep him safe.

Taking a quilt from the bottom of the bed but before spreading it out, she removed his rig and hung it above his head on the bedpost then pulled his boots off tossing them, haphazardly, to the floor, he never flinched. Shaking her head, she watched him sleep as she removed her own rig, placing her hat so it covered the fact that her gun wasn’t in its holster.

It seemed ironic that they used weapons such as guns and knives but it was a lot easier to explain gunshots and knife wounds than shredded bodies, a helluvalot easier…although not as much fun. She licked her lips at the mere thought of the blood that she craved and the image of ripping into yielding flesh filled her mind with longing. She was hungry, it was a hunger that no human food could satisfy but the familiar smell of his blood soaking the shirt that still partially covered her love, turned her stomach.

She would have to wait, maybe the next time she fed, Stormy would join her in the feast. It had taken her a long time to get him to feed, when she had first shown him what he was, what he could be…he had wanted no part of the beast within, the one that needed to taste flesh. She laughed under her breath as she remembered his first taste of freedom.

His first transformation had been something to behold, the first taste of blood on his tongue had been life changing, to say the least. There was no going back after that, not for either of them. It sealed their fates together, forever, at least, as far as she knew and his return to her gave her hope. It wasn’t like they were common, no they were the only two in existence, somehow, she felt that more than she knew it. They were here for a reason, what that was, she didn’t know. She placed her Colt under her pillow and kicked off her boots before climbing into bed next to her mate.

She curled up next to him, careful not to disturb his sleep as she gently pushed the dark hair away from his closed eyes. They lay there together, like that, for a long time but sleep would not come for her, not yet. Her mind was a slurry of thoughts and emotions…all vying for her attention. There was so much to wrap her mind around, deep down she felt that she was the reason that he was lying here now, so weak and wounded.

She had been born with the beast sharing her body, until it made its presence known, very un-expectantly during her thirteenth summer. Her people now called it the summer of blood…it had been. Sighing, in frustration at the painful feelings that plagued her with guilt over the way she had turned him. Rain tried to ease her mind with the knowledge that he had already been what she was, a natural born killer.

The thing that made him different from the rest of the killers that roamed the earth was the thing that she had recognized in him, even before she’d found him dying in the desert that fateful day…his troubled soul. It seemed to have a scent of its own and she’d followed it along with the strong scent of blood into the barren land that fateful day, finally finding the source. A handsome young man, lying in the shade of an outcropping of boulders. He had been bleeding from a bullet wound and very near death. She sometimes wondered, if he ever wished that she had left him there?

They were the same but it had taken her to bring about his transformation, he hadn’t been born with the need that she had, his had come over time. Deprivation, torture and pain had filled his existence until something had shifted inside him and the killer had been released, she had simply shown him that killers’ true form. Not that any of that had come easy for either of them. She hadn’t wanted to be bonded to anyone, least of all to the one that never let her forget what she was. He, unknowingly, was a daily reminder of her inner turmoil at the time and it made her meaner than seven hells, to everyone.

He, of course, had no idea what he was dealing with and pursued her because of the kindred bond that they shared, even though he had not understood what the draw really was until she had finally revealed herself to him, literally.

She snuggled in closer to him, needing to feel him near her and closed her eyes in despair. She hated seeing him suffer but there was nothing more she could do for him. He was still running a fever and had been since before she’d arrived, she was sure. She could only hold him and hope the fever abated and his wound healed quickly. They needed to leave this place, it wasn’t safe. Another, feeling in her gut.

Looking, lovingly, upon his sleeping form, smiling ever so slightly as she remembered happier times, with this man, her man. He had been the best thing in her life and she loved him more than she’d known she could love. He had given her that…love. She briefly thought of the best day of her life, it was their wedding day. Though, far from ideal, it was meant to be…just like them.

Stormy and Rain had married when they were just seventeen, they had only been married for a year or so when their lives had been altered by tragedy. It seemed that fate worked both for and against them, the year after their marriage, it had been against them once again.

They should never have been apart, if she hadn’t let herself be lured away from him maybe none of this would be happening, now. It had been the only time since they’d met that they had gone in different directions…sighing, ‘We should have stayed together.’ She wished she could undo the last three years, they had missed so much together. She swore to herself that they would never be apart again, fate be damned!

Fate had a way of dealing dirty when it came to the two of them, starting with the fact that they were both half breeds. Hated by most and belongin’…well, nowhere.

Stormy was half white and half Mexican… now that was a recipe for disaster along the border. Rain was half white and half Comanche. To the Comanche white was white, nationality and borders were not a factor. She had inherited the darker skin of the Comanche and the killin’ instincts, truth be told. Her dark green eyes came from her momma who had been captured in a raid on a stagecoach the year before Rain was born. She had been born with a head full of soft brown hair…hair like her momma not the coarse black hair of her father.

In a way she had been luckier than Stormy had been, her father was a respected member of the tribe. A Chiefs second son and he’d adored his little Rain, he’d cared for her momma, too. Rain had been too young at the time to know or understand that her momma hadn’t gone willingly into her Comanche marriage, it was just the Indian way to take what you wanted. In time, her father’s devotion to her momma had won her over but she knew the price was high…she would never be able to return to the white world.

Her father, had a son born nine years before Rain’s appearance in the world. Only, his momma wasn’t happy with the village life. She had escaped back to the white world, leavin’ the child behind. She had been killed by ‘those civilized people’ for something she’d had no control over. Rain’s momma had accepted the boy as her own son, giving Rain a half-brother. Her brother had watched over her with love and he had saved her life, more than once. He had even given up his life in the village, to keep her safe. She loved and missed him, she had no idea where he was now or even if he was alive.

They were well treated and Rain had the run of the village. She was taught to ride by a tribe known for their horsemanship and Rain had been fearless. Never was she told she couldn’t do something simply because she was a girl.

Her grandfather, the Chief himself had told everyone that Rain was born with a warriors’ spirit so she was allowed everything the boys were. She hunted with a bow and arrow from horseback, killed and skinned her prey. The tribe had only a few guns and they were mostly rusted from the elements, but Rain was a legend among the tribe with a knife. Skill like that was inborn more than it was learned. It helped to further the belief among the tribe that Rains’ spirit animal was indeed the Puma, as had been shown to the tribes’ medicine man in a dream when Rain was only two…even though this was unheard of for a female member of the tribe. Rain had earned her place and shown her strength, she was a warrior.

By the time Rain was twelve, some of the boys in the village had started to hate her, even her best friend and cousin, Little Hawk. She hadn’t known how he felt and just went right on trustin’ him, he’d been fourteen and Rain had thought he’d hung the moon. He was the only son of the Chiefs first son, her Uncle Hawk so a lot was expected from him.

Her own brother was twenty-one by this time and was finally, much to the relief of their father, thinkin’ of marryin’ a girl in the village. Most young braves were married much younger, but her brother had never been a follower and had taken his own sweet time gettin’ around to it. But now he had grown up things on his mind and paid Rain less attention, something he would come to regret.

The more favor Rain received from the tribe and especially the Chief, the worse things became with the others. The catalyst had been after she’d killed an enemy that had crept into the teepee where she and her momma slept. They were alone because her father and brother had gone in search of horses to be offered as payment for her brother’s bride.

The warrior had been intent on stealin’ a woman to prove his manhood, to earn honor among his own tribe. But, instead he had been gutted like a fish by a smilin’ child with big green eyes. She could still see the surprise on his face, it had been her first kill and she had liked it…hadn’t she?

That moment had set in motion the event that would soon follow, the one that would cost her everything she had known. Maybe if Little Hawk had been there, if he had seen the darkness in her heart, had seen her lick the warriors blood off her hands, while the dyin’ man looked on in horror. He would have known what he faced and that she was nothin’ to envy.

But, she had been set upon a path, one that would change her along with her family and the tribe, forever. They had told stories around the bonfires about her kill, her prowess with the blade and fearless heart for one so young. Hell, after the bloody night that marked her thirteenth summer they probably still did. Although, she doubted they were told with anything but hate.

Stormy, on the other hand had raised himself along the border towns. His father, the gringo bastard, had tossed him and his momma out when he was only two. Maria, his momma weren’t much more a mother than the gringo had been a father.

By the time he was ten, his momma had been murdered and he was left alone to fend for himself. Not that he hadn’t already been doing that since he was about five or so. He had killed the man responsible for his momma’s death, it had been the first time he had taken a life and it set him on his path. With no one to turn to for help, no home to run to since his father didn’t want him. He had turned to the gun for protection and Johnny Madrid was born.

Talk about legends, her husband was the fastest gun alive bar none including herself. Not that they had ever faced off and they never would, either. He had helped her be as good as she was and she was good, she was very fast with her catlike reflexes, just like Stormy. They had laughed at the thought of having to live on the difference between them because there wasn’t much.

She had no doubts, she would gladly die for him, happily kill for him but she would never betray him. No, betrayal for them both was the worst thing that could happen. Because trust between them was paramount. It had to be, they knew each other body and soul, inside and out. Things no one else ever needed to know…things most would not understand.

She smiled sleepily, she was so grateful to have him back. He made her whole like no other ever could, they were of the same spirit. She snuggled in closer to her ‘Stormy’ and fell asleep to the sounds of his even breathing, distant thunder and a soft rain that had started to fall, lulling her to sleep with its gentle clicking on the window and light drum on the metal roof.

Perfect.

*****

While, Rain drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Across the street in the saloon, trouble was brewing. The bartender had found his balls and was making brags about teachin’ that bossy bitch a lesson. “Ah, hell Lou ya are full of hot air!” laughed Bill. He had known Lou for years and knew he was talkin’ bullshit. “Ya, forget that I saw her, too!” Lou looked murderously at his friend and stomped off into the back to get the plate of steak and potatoes before returning to the table and slammin’ the food down in front of him. Everyone at the table jumped at the sudden bangin’ of the plate against the wooden top…not to mention the flying potatoes.

“Dammit all, Lou what the hell? I wanna eat it not wear it, asshole!” The other two men sitting at the table laughed at the look on Bill’s face as he tried to remove bits of his dinner from his thick beard.

They had not been in the saloon when the woman had been there. But, were burnin’ with curiosity to hear about this mysterious woman that wore a rig like a gunhawk. “So, tell us about this whore that fancies herself a fast gun and what’s she got to do with Johnny Madrid?”

They had heard of Johnny Madrid but had not been impressed with what they had seen of him. The hard eyed drunk that had staked out the corner table for the last few days didn’t look like much of a legend. No, he looked like someone that wanted to die.

Because everyone knew that a gunhawk who let his guard down like that, didn’t live long.

Who this woman was and what her interest was in Madrid had been the talk of the town all afternoon. She must be his whore after all she’s sharin’ a room with the man and one look from her had sent Sally running like a scared rabbit, from what they could tell she was still shaking.

She had been frightened badly and it took some coaxin’ from Lou to get her back downstairs, to work. Well, if you called shoutin’ and threatenin’, coaxin’? Sally had wanted the gunfighter when she first set eyes on him but along with the other girls she’d had no luck until this morning from what Lou had told them.

Bill was quite eager to tell anyone that would listen everything he knew about the woman. Of course, all the free drinks he had been gettin’ certainly helped to loosen his tongue. “I tell ya, that was one fine figure of a woman. I ain’t seen nuthin that purty since that dapple grey mare I bought from Ned Tillson. Now, ol’ Tillie could turn out some fine horses, why I remember one time…”

The drinks had gotten Bill off track and he had to be nudged some to get back to the woman. “Whaa, what wuz I sayin?” His voice slurred slightly as he remembered finally that he was the center of attention and much to the chagrin of the now steamin’ bartender, he continued his story.

Once he was done with the tellin’ he had every man in the saloon heated up…one way or another. “She wuz a wearin’ what, Bill?” laughed a gangly cowboy that had ridden in after the story had started, so he had missed all but the tellin’ of what the girl had been wearin’. The only part he was interested in anyway. Wait till the boys in the bunkhouse hear about this!

Lou, had had enough. “She wuz wearin’ harlot’s clothes, that’s what she wuz wearin’ cause she’s just a damn whore like Sally over there!” He was red faced and blowing like a bull as he pointed to Sally at the bar. She shrank back and dropped her eyes as everyone stared at her, before he continued his rampage. “Strappin’ a gun to her hip don’t make her any more’n she is, just a whore! A no good half-breed whore, Madrid’s a half-breed so I guess that’s what he likes in his whore’s!”

“Well, from what I heard she had you practically eatin’ out of her hand, Lou.” The words had come from Oliver, the storekeeper. He had been sittin’ quietly listenin’ to the saloon talk. But, had grown tired of Bill’s story tellin’ and Lou’s temper. It all sounded like hogwash to him, he had seen the gunfight three days before and had seen firsthand what happens when you mess with a gunhawk.

“What do you know about anything, Oliver?” Lou challenged the aged shop keeper. He sneered when it looked like Oliver wuz gonna hold his peace. But, Oliver had no such idea. “Well, I done seen you and Bill a totin’ that gunhawk across the street, followin’ behind that woman like two whipped dogs with their tails between their legs. Lookin’ for all the world like they would piss themselves if she so much as said, Boo!” The saloon erupted with laughter, Lou stomped away into the back like his ass wuz on fire. ‘Could a been’, thought Bill, he was too drunk to care…but it did look like smoke comin’ outa Lou’s ears!

Lou, stomped into the bars’ kitchin’ and started throwing pots and pans everywhere. The louder the laughter got the more furious he became. He clinched his fist and hit the wall with a force that brought down goods from the shelf. As he looked up in an effort to stop them from fallin’, a large jar of chili peppers dropped square on his nose. The force of the blow dropped him like a rock and the last thought he had before blackin’ out wuz to somehow make that Bitch pay!

During, the commotion, another interested party quietly made for the door. He walked out into the early evenin’ air and smiled as he thought of watchin’ Madrid draw his last breath. He stood in the shadows and studied the hotel across the street. Nuthin’ between him and his destiny cept’ a woman. He snorted, maybe he would take Madrid’s whore along with his life? ‘Yeah, I could use a good hard ride’, been a while and the thought of takin’ Madrid’s woman by force made him ache in low places; he might just make Madrid watch, before he killed him.

Ol’ Johnny, should have stayed sober, if he’d wanted to live, that is…this was too good a chance to pass up. He was gonna take down the best, that would make him the best. For a man like him, that was big time, he could never hope to beat Johnny Madrid in a fair fight but with Madrid down for the count, he was now easy pickins’. Tate, just couldn’t believe his luck at finally catching up with Madrid, especially when he had no hope of defending himself.

If Johnny had still been back at Lancer, his family could have protected the gunfighter. Tate laughed, he had worked for Lancer for a few months and had been there when Johnny had left for good. He knew exactly why and how Johnny had left his home and had even put a bullet in the bastard himself before he’d gotten away. One thing he knew for sure…Johnny was no longer welcome at Lancer.

Tate had quit his job and high tailed it after Johnny, knowing that he was vulnerable. But the son of a bitch had disappeared off the face of the earth. Tate had known hanging around wasn’t healthy for him so he’d headed south toward the border, knowing Johnny would show up sooner or later, if he was still alive.

He sure did miss sweet Teresa though, he laughed. Maybe he would tell Johnny all about how he’d liked his time at Lancer, ‘Oh, yeah he’d liked it real good.’ Tate’s smile was evil as he thought of all he’d taken from Lancer.

He’d often thought about callin’ Madrid out back at the ranch but he knew it was suicide. He had salivated every time he’d had a clear shot at Johnny’s back, though. Madrid had become soft livin’ high on the hog at Lancer, more than once he’d worked with Madrid, more than once he’d been in a position to take him down. ‘Why hadn’t he?’ Because his old man and brother would have hung him from the highest tree on the place.

Now, thanks to him, even though it hadn’t crossed his mind that Madrid would be blamed for what he did, it had worked out well for him all the way around. He’d taken something more precious than gold away from the Lancers and put Johnny Madrid within his reach. Yeah, it had worked out real good, his own family hated Johnny and would kill him themselves given the chance. Hell, they almost had…

Maybe, Tate would send Murdoch Lancer a little present…like Johnny Madrid’s trigger finger. Along with his mestizo blue eyes! He couldn’t stop the chuckle as he leaned back against the side of the saloon. He wished he could see the look on el’ patron’s face when he opened that package, but then again maybe he would happily pay him for removin’ the shame from the Lancer name. Now, there was a thought.

Taking a chance, Tate headed down the street toward the telegraph office. Why, kill Madrid for free when he could get paid? The telegraph agent was just about to close up for the night when Tate walked in the door. “Got time to send a quick message to Green River, California?” he asked the clerk. The man looked him over and nodded. With a wicked smile on his lips, he began to write out the message.

******

Val Crawford, had just kicked his feet up on his desk after having enjoyed a dinner of tamales and beans at the cantina. Rosa, had cooked them especially hot tonight, just the way Val liked them. He had not had many meals at the cantina, lately but tonight for some reason he just couldn’t eat anywhere else.

He had avoided the place with its spicy food just like he’d avoided everything else that reminded him of his best friend. Hell, Johnny was more than his friend he was the closest thing to a brother that Val had ever had. Truth be told, Val was missin’ Johnny tonight more than ever. ‘Why was that?’ Val thought to himself.

Johnny had been gone for over ten months, having left his home and family at Lancer for good after all hell had broken loose out there. Johnny had had to shoot his way out and he had not been seen since. Heard of ‘Yes’, but seen ‘No.’ Val finished the thought.

At least, he knew that Johnny was alive the last he’d heard, anyway. Johnny had by all accounts gone back to gunfightin’ along the border. Rumors surfaced here and there about the things he was doing, some were very disturbin’ because it just wasn’t the Johnny that Val knew. Of course, the Johnny he knew would not have shot five people including his own brother to escape his home either, Val reckoned.

Being Sheriff, Val knew both the official and unofficial version of events. He just didn’t believe a word of it, he had known Johnny for years and what he had been told just did not ring true. Frankly, he couldn’t believe that Murdoch and Scott had believed it enough to attempt to bring Johnny in to town to be locked up. Had they been successful in that attempt, Johnny would likely be dead. Hell, he was almost killed gettin’ away from them.

Val recalled the rider barreling into town in search of Doc Jenkins, sayin’ that there had been a massacre at Lancer. Val had rode hell bent for leather to Lancer, fearing for his friend’s life. Knowing that whatever had happened, Johnny would have been in the thick of it! What he found, honestly, shocked the hell outta him. Scott Lancer and four others had been wounded. Johnny was nowhere in sight and Val had had to get a grip on himself enough to ask what had happened and where was Johnny? The answer had nearly knocked him to his knees.

Val was shaken from his thoughts by Willie Pickett, barging into the office nearly causin’ Val to fall over backwards. “Dammit, boy whatcha doin’ comin’ in here like that?” Val groused at the boy.

“Sorry, Sheriff but my Pa got a telegram in for Murdoch Lancer marked Urgent!”

Val looked at the boy, “And why do I need to know about that?”

Willie started at Val’s tone. “Umm, Sheriff my Pa said to ask if you thought we should take it out tonight or wait til mornin’? It’s a long ways out to Lancer and…” Val stopped the boy with a raised hand. “Give me the telegram, boy.” Val leaned on the word boy.

“You tell yur’ Pa, that I will take care of it, personal.” Val took the message from the boy and standing up pointed him out the door.

Once Willie had gone, Val sat back down in his chair turning the envelope over and over in his hand. He wondered? Willie’s Pa, Fred Pickett knew that Val and Johnny were good friends and maybe he wanted Val to see the message before Murdoch saw it? The fact that it had not been sealed sure did point in that direction.

Val took the message out and looked it over, it was sent from a little border town down Arizona ways. Sanchez, Arizona or Sanchez, Mexico depending on which side of town you were standing on. Weren’t much there that Val could recall, he doubted Murdoch knew anyone there. Had to be about, Johnny what else could it be, comin’ from that far south?

What Val read made his face turn red with fury! JM located STOP eliminate STOP 5000 dollars STOP will send proof STOP reply urgent STOP

“What the hell?” Val was shocked, had Murdoch sent someone to kill his own son?

Val paced the office, he picked up his hat and threw it to the floor. ‘How could a man be so callous?’ Val knew things were bad, very bad…but to pay someone to kill your own son?

He could understand the man’s anger, especially after all he had been through with Scott and Teresa. Things they were still dealin’ with, but my God this was just evil! Murdoch had well and truly lost his mind if he thought that killin’ Johnny was gonna help anything.

*****

Murdoch sat up suddenly, his heart pounding in his chest. The dream had seemed so real, he scrubbed his hands down his face. He had fallen asleep sitting at his desk, again. The house was quiet, the fire had turned to glowing embers. He took the decanter of Scotch from the desk and poured a healthy shot. Downing the warm liquid in the hopes it would remove the cold lump in the pit of his stomach.

He had dreamed of Johnny…

*****

Tate knew that he could not expect an answer from Lancer until at least tomorrow. But he wasn’t waitin’ that long to claim his prize. He shook his head and smiled darkly. Whether or not Lancer agreed to pay to have Johnny killed, made no difference to him. The blood money was just a bonus and he wasn’t about to give Madrid any chance at all by waitin’, he was too good for that. No, Johnny Madrid was dyin’ tonight slow and painful, he was lookin’ forward to making him watch as he beat and repeatedly raped Madrid’s woman, just like he’d done Teresa! He hardened, just remembering sweet Teresa, and the anticipation of again taking someone precious from Madrid. Tate made his way back to the saloon to wait a while, let the town settle in for the night and to make his plans. He laughed to himself as he stepped up to the swingin’ doors.

*****

Rain suddenly sat up in the bed with her gun in hand. Something had disturbed her sleep, but what? She listened intently but heard nothing out of the ordinary, then there it was again. Stormy was in the midst of a nightmare, he was mumblin’ in both English and Spanish. Rain reached over and gently shook his shoulder trying to wake him, but it had too strong a hold on him. He was gettin’ restless and startin’ to thrash in his sleep… “sooo much blood on my hands!” he cried out. “No mas! Por favor, NO MAS!” He shouted.

Rain dropped her gun on the bed and scrambled over him to come to her knees on the floor beside the bed. “Sshhh, it’s okay miel, I am here with you and you are safe.” She tried to soothe him but her words were lost to his mournful cries! She placed her hands on either side of his face as he screamed her name, “RAIN! DIOS, NOOOO!” As her hands touched his face she instantly felt the incredible heat coming from his body.

“Sweet Jesus, you’re burnin’ up!” She knew he needed a doctor, her efforts had not made enough of a difference, he had gone much too long without help! She had to cool him down and find him some help and fast! She gently removed his bolero jacket to help cool his fevered body. As she pulled the jacket free she saw the fresh blood staining the shirt beneath it, realizing that he was bleeding again she ripped his shirt open. There it was, the small black hole now festered with red fingers of infection spreading out from the pus filled wound, nearly wrapping around his side from entrance to exit wound. The infection that she had smelled earlier was now near the surface, probably brought up by the heat she’d generated in her attempt to save him.

Guilt ran over her as she looked upon the nasty wound, had she done this to him? But, no she had done what she’d had to in order to give him the best chance possible. The method, however, had backfired on them both. The infection had already been there, in too deep for her to get to it without ripping him apart. No, he needed a doctor at this point. He should have had one days ago! Her fear for him, turned to fury.

If he had not been in such bad shape she would’ve punched him in the face. “Dammit, Johnny!” Rain was furious that he had not done anything to help himself. “I swear when they was handin’ out good sense you missed out because you was standin’ in the Stubborn line, twice!” She looked down at her delirious husband… “Jackass!” She poured water from the pitcher into the basin and carried it along with a towel to the bedside, soaking and wringing it out before gently wiping his fevered brow.

He moaned and continued mumbling mostly incoherently, as she wiped the wet towel over his burning skin. She was hesitant to leave him even long enough to get help but she knew she had no choice. Sighing, Rain folded the towel and left it on his forehead before quickly pulling on her boots and heading toward the door.

As she yanked the door open the young clerk nearly fell into the room. “What the hell are you doin’ at this door?” She snapped at the young man.

He stammered, “Uh…uh, I heard some noise that sounded like someone screaming.”

Rain had her suspicions that he had already been listening at the door for other reasons, but let it drop. Stormy needed a doctor and this ‘asshole’ was going to find him one! If he knew what was good for him that is…she glared, “Is there a doctor in this town?”

“Ye yes, ma’am, Doc Martinez has been the only doc in these parts for years.” He’d managed to get out even though the woman was giving him a look that turned his knees to jelly.

“Go find him and bring him here, now!” If this boy had any sense and she had her doubts, he would get that doctor here fast.

“I…I can’t leave my post here at the hotel…” His words froze on his trembling lips as he saw the light leave her eyes and darkness descend until he felt the cold fingers of death wrap around his body and squeeze. Rain had no time for this, Stormy was again becoming restless and he needed that doctor, badly. Her words were like ice as she took the clerk by the throat, her hand tightening as she spoke firmly, “I suggest that you get moving, pronto! Unless you would like to stay here bleedin’ on the floor while I go get him?” She emphasized her words with a hard shove pushing him against the open door frame with a bang.

“Nooo, ma’am!” He cried, “It would be my pleasure to fetch him for you, right away!” She released him and he nearly tripped over his own feet getting away from her and fleeing down the stairs.

He raced out into the night, in search of the doctor. ‘Lord, please let him be in town!’ His hands shook because he knew he could not go back in there without him for fear of losing his life. No, he was not going back without the doc! He had seen cats doing to mice what she had done to him, locking them into their stare and the mice had been unable to look away. Casting a sorta spell on ’em just before biting their heads off!

That thought reminded him of a question that his pa had asked him years ago. “Son, are you a man or a mouse?” He’d never known the answer for sure until tonight. ‘He, Wilpert P. Thomas was a mouse and he could live with that!’

Rain tried to keep Stormy cooled off while they waited for the doctor to arrive. But, he continued to thrash and a few words would tumble out, some were just whispers.

Johnny felt the coolness of the cloth that soothed his fevered face. Must be “T’resa”, she is always nursing me when I’m sick or hurt. The thought made him pull in a ragged breath, ‘Where had he been when she’d needed him? When she’d cried out for him to save her?’ He’d been in the barn that’s where, settin’ up with a mare having a hard time deliverin’ her foal. He hadn’t heard her cries and surely she’d called out for him. He’d returned to the house in the very early morning, after making sure mare and foal were doin’ well, he’d gotten cleaned up and left to work on some fences that had to be mended before his father and brother returned from their stock buyin’, trip later that day.

When he’d returned to the house that evening, he’d been brutally beaten and nearly killed by his own family…he continued to be locked inside his memories and out of his head as his fever climbed. His troubled heart suffered even more because he now knew that the gentlest soul he had ever known, thought he was the monster that had stolen her innocence and taken away her ability to trust or feel safe ever again.

Johnny’s heart cried out, “I didn’t do it, miel…” He had lost everything and no longer wanted to exist in this world. The kid he’d killed after the gunfight seemed to join in on torturing him, taunting him tellin’ him how worthless he was… ‘I was just ten years old and you shot me down in the street! You are just a no good killer, Johnny Madrid!’

Johnny screamed and opened his fevered eyes, he knew he was dyin’ because his wife, Rain was here to comfort him and she’d been dead a long time now. He always knew he’d die alone, he deserved no less. Looking upon the shimmering image of his Rain through confused and tear filled eyes, he said. “Rain, mi corazon I don’t deserve to have you here to comfort me because I am just a monster that destroys innocents and kills little children.” Tears ran down his face as he continued. “Querida, I never stopped loving you or missing you, not for a second, since the day that you died.” Having nothing left, no hope and no heart, he let the darkness carry him away from the pain and the loneliness that had marked his life.

Rain was stunned by the words her husband had spoken…and who was Teresa?

‘Died, since she’d died?’ What did he mean? She had thought him dead but why would he think she was dead? That made no sense at all, ‘No she’d been told he was dead by her white grandfather after she’d awoken from three months in a coma.’

She’d been told that she was seriously injured in a riding accident and had been bad off enough to be sent back east to a hospital, though she’d had no immediate memory of it, at all. When she’d finally been lucid enough to understand, her grandfather had taken much delight in giving her all the details from the local papers about the death of the legend, Johnny Madrid, by a Mexican firing squad. She had been devastated and underwent major setbacks in her recovery, adding to the length of her hospital stay.

Slowly, her memory of that day returned breathing life back into the beast within and hell followed with it…

Remembering for herself, what he had failed to mention, that he had tricked her into coming to see him in Montana. Using the excuse of his failin’ health and wanting to make things right before he passed. Instead he had met her with a gun when she had arrived at his massive home near Ft. Collins. With no warning at all, he’d walked out to her and while she was still in the saddle, he’d shot her horse in the head. In his panic, her beloved Palomino ‘Sand’ had reared and went over backwards. She was crushed beneath over a thousand pounds of dyin’ horse. Tears had filled her eyes as she’d heard ‘Sand’ scream in terror as the gun was emptied into him, then silence except for the continued clicking of the now empty gun.

The last thing she’d heard before the darkness claimed her was her grandfather saying, “I giveth and I taketh away!” Did he think he was God, now? She’d thought as the light had faded.

It had taken her some time to remember what exactly had happened, to remember that her ‘accident’ had been anything but. When she did there had been hell to pay! Family or not, he had paid dearly for what he had done but he could have never paid enough as far as she was concerned. He would have killed her to but the local doctor had been nearby and had heard the shots. He had shown up in time to save her and him knowing who she was from when she had lived there a few years before, her grandfather had no choice but play the worried relative. It was all just a tragic accident as far as anyone else was concerned. Rain had no doubt, she never would have made it to the train if the doctor had not accompanied her due to her severe injuries.

Why he’d wanted to kill her horse she didn’t know. ‘Sand’ had been a gift from him for her fifteenth birthday, her second year with her Momma’s family. She had hated it there and her horse was one of the few bright spots in her life. Along with the ranch’s blacksmith, Lee Smith, yeah sounded like a made up name to her, too. She laughed. He was gifted with the forge and made her some beautiful knives, but he was also as it turned out a gunfighter in his younger years.

Lee had taken her under his wing, he could see the misery she suffered living in that house. Between her grandfather, her Aunt Elizabeth and her Aunt’s daughter Nancy, her life was hell from sunup till sundown. They had tried very unsuccessfully to bend her to their will but the more they pushed…well the more wild she ran. She was after all just a savage like her father and they never got tired of reminding her that she was worthless.

Her time with Lee was precious to her, they’d spent hours on end practicing with handguns, rifles and of course some really well balanced knives. Behind their backs she’d become very skilled with a large variety of weapons. Not, that she’d needed them but she had sworn to herself when her brother had left her with her momma’s family that she would never again lose control like she had that bloody summer night. She’d never intended to let the beast take control again, not ever. Unfortunately, ‘never’ would come sooner than she thought.

Of course, no one knew the truth but her and those she had left in pieces near the river that night, not her brother or family and certainly not, Lee. Stormy was the only other living soul that knew the truth and the why of what she had done. He was the only one that could ever have understood.

Though, not in on her secret, Lee was still a wonderful teacher and friend, the skills he passed on to her had served her well over the years. He had still been a pretty fast draw and hadn’t hesitated to teach her this, as well. She’d guessed he had sensed that she would need that particular skill one day, although not the reasons why.

Yes, he’d taught her well…but Stormy had fine honed those skills and shown her how to use them. She looked over at her husband still lying unconscious on the bed, she had a lot to thank him for, most of all for always loving her even when she had been unlovable.

After, she had taken care of the family problems, she smirked at that thought. She’d tried to contact her brother looking for information on Stormy and if he was really dead. Her brother had been working down near the Arizona border as a lawman the last she had heard. But, her telegram had been answered by someone else sayin’ that he had moved on to parts unknown and confirming that Johnny Madrid had indeed been killed by a firing squad in Mexico after a failed revolution.

Her heart broken she’d boarded a ship headed for Europe, having hired on with a touring Wild West Show. Hell, she’d not even known where Europe was at the time, she’d just needed to get away from the pain, the loss and the unbearable heartache.

Rain sighed. Had Stormy suffered her loss, as well? Since, he obviously wasn’t dead, he must have thought she’d fallen off the face of the earth. Knowing that she’d never willingly leave him…She was shaken out of her reverie by a knock at the door.

“It’s about fuckin’ time!” She said as she yanked open the door. Immediately, she realized her mistake and tried to push the door closed, this man was no doctor! But, the man charged at her hitting her and the door with his full weight. The door was left hanging broken from its hinges as the momentum carried them both across the floor. Rain allowed the momentum until she suddenly dropped to the floor, instantly kicking up with her feet catching her attacker in the balls and letting the reversed force send him sailing thru the window and onto the street below. The sound of glass breaking could still be heard as she came up in a flash, in time to see the intruder limping off down the street. Rain slapped her thigh in search of her Colt. ‘Damn her gun was still on the bed, son of a bitch!’

Having heard footsteps running up the stairs, Rain snatched the Colt from Stormy’s holster that still hung on the bedpost. She wasn’t about to be caught off guard and unarmed again, ‘No Fucking Way!’ The doctor came chargin’ into the room followed closely by the clerk. Rain pointed the Colt right at the doctor’s face as he skidded to a halt, the clerk nearly running past him. Wilpert, having seen the gun screeched loudly then did an about face in an attempt to flee the room. He was stopped in his tracks as the old doctor grabbed him by the nape of the neck and pulled him to a halt. “You, Wilpert are staying right here!” The look he gave the clerk was murderous and Wilpert whined at the restriction.

“Now, Ma’am I was summoned here at your request. So, if you would be so kind as to point that somewhere else.” He paused. “Unless of course you no longer need my services?” He took in the sight of the very sick man and waited for a response from the woman.

Rain looked at her husband, she let out a long slow breath and pointed the gun at the floor. “No, Doc, he needs you.” She made a gesture toward Stormy.

The doctor stepped toward the bed and looked down at the infamous gunhawk. Yes, he knew who the man was and what he was, a killer for hire. But, it was not his job to judge them, just patch them up like anyone else. The woman pulled back the gunman’s shirt and revealed numerous scars on his body. Shaking his head, he looked at the bullet wound in his lower left side, it was badly infected.

“It’s at least a couple of days old and he’s been burning up with fever.” She told the doctor. “I found an exit wound, so it passed right through him.” She helped the doc gently roll Stormy over further so the doc could see for himself. The scars continued on the man’s back and the doctor could only wonder how he’d lived this long?

“It’s just as infected as the entrance wound.” The doctor confirmed. “Doesn’t look like he has done anything for it, no bandage, nothing!” It always seemed to make him angry, the stupidity of youth!

He checked his heart rate and found it faster than he liked. He pressed his hand to the young man’s brow, not that he’d have to, he could feel the heat when he walked into the room. “We have to get this fever down if he’s to have any chance, at all.”

He turned to the clerk. “Wilpert!” The boy was pacing the room, wringing his hands in fear. “WILPERT!” He spoke louder. Startled, the young man stopped and looked at the doc. “Yeah?” Was all he said and Doc Martinez just shook his head and ran a hand down his face. “I need you to fetch some hot water and towels, then bring some more cold water.” The clerk hesitated and the old doc was losing his patience. “Now, Wilpert!” He demanded.

After, the boy had gone, he turned to Rain and said. “Ma’am, I am going to clean the wounds with a carbolic to help get rid of the infection.” He continued. “Hopefully, a thorough cleansing will help him begin to heal and bring down the fever. But, I’m not going to lie to you and say it looks good because it doesn’t.” He looked back at the gunman and blew out a breath, he hoped he was a fighter because he would need to be to make it through the night. This young man was in trouble and the look on the woman’s face left him no doubt, that she knew it too.

Hidden in the shadows of an alley further down the street, Tate was in pain and cursing under his breath. He was very angry that he had been so easily defeated by that whore! ‘She just caught me by surprise, is all.’ He told himself. ‘Hadn’t expected her to fight back, stupid Bitch!’ She was gonna pay for this, what he had planned for Madrid’s whore would now be much worse! In the short time he’d been in the room, ‘Yeah, very damn short!’ he reminded himself. He had seen that Madrid was out cold and looked like he was on death’s door. ‘Good!’ He smiled evilly. He would be back later tonight when she was asleep and he would have his prize!

*****

Val was still pacing his office, despite the late hour. He was glad that he had no overnight ‘guests’ in the cells. Would of hated keeping them awake and havin’ to listen to their bellyachin’! “Sure, Val, sure…” Johnny’s voice whispered through his mind. “What the hell is goin’ on?” Val asked himself. He had a bad feeling that something was really wrong with his amigo. That something had better not have to do with Murdoch Lancer and the telegram he had received tonight. Val wished for dawn, he was ridin’ out there and confronting that bastard, first thing! The more he thought of the words he’d read the madder he got, until finally he could not wait another minute. He knew it would be very early morning when he got to Lancer, like the dark wee hours when folks were still sleepin’ early! ‘Tough!’ Val hurried down the street headed toward the stable.

He rode out of town at a gallop before considering his faithful mount, Milagro…the best horse he’d ever had and he’d been a gift from his best friend. If, there was one thing that Johnny knew it was fine horseflesh! “Sorry, mi amigo!” Val apologized to his horse. “It’s a long ride out to Lancer, no sense wearin’ you out gettin’ there.” He patted his neck, reassuringly before continuing at a more leisurely pace.

Val settled in and studied the sky, the moon was almost full so he had plenty of light to go by. ‘I just wanna get there before the storm comes.’ What? Why would he think that? There hadn’t been any rain is almost two months and there wasn’t hardly a cloud in the sky. Val laughed to himself. ‘Must be losin’ my mind!’ And then… ‘What was a storm without rain, anyway?’ That got his attention and he pulled his horse up and just sat there in the middle of the road and slowly it came to him, the answer. “What was a storm without rain? Dust in the wind…that’s what Stormy had been without Rain.” Val had finally realized what ‘someone’ had been trying to tell him all night. “Dear, Lord!” He looked to the heavens before removing his hat and bowing his head in thanks and prayer. “Thank You, Lord! I know I can be slow sometimes but I appreciate the heads up. Please, Lord if they are alive let them be together and watch over them till I can get to ‘em. Thank You, Again Lord!” Val slapped his hat back on his head and tore out toward Lancer.

*****

“KILL HIM!” Echoed through his mind…

Murdoch sat up on the side of his bed, sleep just would not come. He couldn’t stop thinking of his youngest son. Why he could not say, but Johnny’s spirit called to him, he felt it in his very soul. ‘What had he done?’ He had beaten himself up over it since he had learned the truth almost two months after he’d lost his son.

He knew that he’d lost Johnny, forever, there would be no forgiveness this time. Not, since the horrible day that he had lost his mind to his fury and his family with it. They were all gone now, Scott had returned to Boston once he’d recovered from the bullet his brother had put in his stomach. Scott was so filled with anger, pain and truth be told guilt and shame that he’d been only too happy to leave Lancer, taking Teresa with him.

Teresa had never really recovered from the brutal attack and had remained in a catatonic state for almost two months. Unable to speak to them, she’d locked herself away somewhere deep in her mind. Until, the day Murdoch and Scott had gotten into a shouting match in her room. The pain of watching Teresa waste away before their eyes had brought on the argument over Johnny’s betrayal and what he had cost their family. In a voice so soft it was almost a whisper came the words that had rung the death knell on the Lancer family.

“Johnny, didn’t hurt me.”

Stunned they had turned to see the tears running freely down her sad face. “Murdoch, what happened to Johnny?” She could see the guilt on his face as he stared at her. Scott could not look at her at all as her words and the realization of what they’d done sank in. Although, she had maintained the horrible memory of what had happened. She didn’t know who had hurt her but without a doubt, it was NOT Johnny!

Murdoch cried mournfully, “If only, she’d been able to tell them that day! If only, he and Scott had not lost their minds when they’d seen Johnny’s favorite shirt clutched in her hand, ripped and covered in her blood…If only!”

Murdoch slowly rose from the bed and walked into the hallway. He stopped just at the top of the stairs, looking down he could still see his son lying on the floor at the bottom near the front door. He was bleeding from the beating he had taken from Scott before he had been knocked down the stairs by his father’s own hand. Johnny had lay bloody and broken where he had landed, the fear and confusion in his eyes had gone unnoticed by the two enraged men. Johnny had tried to make it out the door but Scott refused to let him go…he had shot his brother in the back to stop him. He had stood over his injured son and spat on him before throwing him out of the house and into the dirt. ‘How could a father do that?’

Murdoch went down the stairs and opened the front door in time to see a flash of gold streak by with his rider clutched to his side before throwing himself into the saddle. ‘What must that have cost his son?’ Murdoch knew how severely wounded Johnny had been and the pain he had to have been in must have been unbearable. Then the final blow, as Johnny raced away, a work crew returning for the day, a single rifle shot, the bullet hitting his son in the chest. Johnny had lurched in the saddle but stayed on as his Palomino carried him away…

“Mr. Lancer?” Val had dismounted and walked up to the man but he seemed to be lost in thought. He could guess at who was on his mind.

 *****

Johnny was lost to the high fever and pain in his heart, the kind that came from unbearable heartache. His fevered mind was caught up in the memory of his final moments at Lancer. He tossed restlessly as he remembered riding up to the hacienda, hot and tired after a long night helping a foaling mare followed by a day of fence mending. When he had trotted through the arch, his senses were screamin’ at him that something wasn’t right. He had studied the yard and corrals as he’d approached, nothing looked out of place…on the surface. But, the hands were not really workin’ even though they tried to appear busy. Some glanced his way but none met his eyes, not even his Tio, Cipriano who was standing near the barn. He had pulled up at the hitchin’ post but no one came to take his horse. ‘Odd, usually he had to insist that he would care for Barranca himself.’

Confused, Johnny dismounted and turning all the way around he looked at the scene in the yard, again before walking in the front door. The house was quiet, too quiet. He tossed his hat onto the rack just inside the door, but kept his gunbelt in place. “Hola, Maria…T’resa!” He called to the ladies of the house. No answer? Then he heard a noise from the second floor, curious he’d went upstairs in search of someone, anyone. “T’resa, miel are you up here?” He paused in the hallway. “Hey, where is everybody?”

“Right here, BROTHER!” Johnny nearly jumped out of his skin. “Jesus H. Christ, Scott you scared the hell outta me!” Scott had appeared from the doorway to one of the guest bedrooms.

“You okay, Boston?” Johnny had noticed that his brother was glaring at him, “What’s wron…” he started to ask. But his brother sucker punched him right in the face, knockin’ him to the floor. He had lay there stunned by his brother’s attack!

As he tried to clear his head, Scott had brutally kicked him in the ribs repeatedly with his booted foot. Johnny had tried to roll away from him but Scott was like a crazed person. The more Johnny tried to fend him off the more violent the attack.

Finally, Johnny went on the defensive grabbing his brother’s foot and throwin’ him off balance just as he’d landed a glancing blow to Johnny’s head. Scott came up from the floor and hauled a nearly unconscious Johnny to his feet beating him mercilessly, before Johnny had been able to land a few punches of his own.

“Quit it Scott, right now!” He’d shouted at his enraged brother. But, Scott was beyond reason and Johnny had no choice but to fight back or Scott was gonna kill him! Just when things had went from bad to worse, Murdoch had stepped in to Johnny’s relief. But it was short lived as his father backhanded him down the stairs and he landed hard near the front door.

Johnny knew he was badly injured, he felt his broken ribs grate together as he drew in labored breaths. He had to get out of here, he didn’t know why they were attacking him but short of shooting them, he was in no shape to defend himself.

He’d reached for the door as he painfully stumbled to his feet. He opened it and felt the hot air hit him, just as a bullet to his back slammed him forward against the door and he slid bonelessly to the floor. Johnny could see his brother’s boots near his head before Scott had pushed him over with his foot, rolling him over onto his back.

The still smokin’ gun in his hand, he’d stared down at Johnny with hatred in his eyes. “Dios, Why?” Was all Johnny managed to say. His vision was dimming as his blood flowed freely from his body and pooled underneath him on the floor.

His father, stood over him and told his brother to take Johnny to town and let the law deal with him. ‘What?’

“Do you want Sam to take a look at him before we go?” His brother asked. He didn’t seem very upset that he’d shot his brother, ‘IN THE BACK!’ Johnny thought. His eyes were closing of their own accord, Johnny blinked furiously trying to stay aware enough to hear the response. “No! I don’t want him here!” His father shouted. “He can bleed to death for all I care! I should never have brought him here!” He cried. “This is my fault, Scott! Teresa would be fine if I had let him die in front of that firing squad!”

‘T’resa, Dios! What happened to T’resa?’ Johnny wished he could ask but he was unable to form any words. Realization hit him. ‘Dios, they think I somehow hurt T’resa!’ He wanted to scream at them for the things they were saying. ‘How could they believe I could ever harm her?’ He looked up at his father, though he could barely see, catching his eyes.

“You really had us fooled didn’t you, boy?” Then his father did something that even in Johnny’s worst nightmares he’d never believed he would ever do…he spit on him! Rage boiled up inside Johnny until it consumed him with its intensity! ‘Nobody, did that to him! Not anymore! Not now! Not EVER!’

Johnny was furious as he was literally dragged out of the house and thrown into the dirt, by his father and brother! The pain in his body was pushed aside as Madrid took control and Johnny gave him free rein.

As, his father turned and walked away. His brother had reached down to take his gun and bind his hands. Johnny had flown into a blind fury! With, lightning speed he’d pulled his Colt and shot his brother in the stomach. He continued to fan the hammer and saw several more men fall to the ground as bullets began flying all around him! Johnny felt like he was living a nightmare like nothing was real and he’d awaken to see that it had all been just a bad dream. But, the words he heard shouted next sealed his fate forever and shattered the man that had been Johnny Lancer.

His father, seeing Scott fall to the ground with Johnny’s bullet in him had screamed, “KILL HIM!” His father truly wanted him dead and Johnny could almost hear the coffin lid slam shut on his family. It was that final, even if he made it out of this, he was done now and forever.

Johnny ran through a hailstorm of bullets to reach Barranca, still standing at the hitching post. He’d almost made it to his panicked horse when another bullet hit him high in the left shoulder, throwing him backwards. He regained his footing and looking up through the gun smoke filled yard, saw that his Tio, Cipriano had put the latest bullet in him. Everyone hated him! ‘Were they so sure he’d hurt T’resa? Sure enough to kill him?’

Out of bullets and no time to reload. Johnny shoved his empty gun into his holster and took a pistol from a fallen Vaquero, it was Tomas his cousin and Cipriano’s youngest son. Johnny didn’t know if he was alive, he just knew he wouldn’t be if he didn’t get away from here.

Reaching Barranca, he pulled the rein free of the post and sent him into a run as he clung to the side of the saddle before vaulting aboard his flying horse. As he’d hit the saddle he’d fired a few more shots in the hope that they would keep their heads down and not shoot his horse out from under him.

Johnny and Barranca thundered past the men set on ending his life. They’d turned toward the arch with Barranca in a dead run. His ears laid flat against his head as he charged away with his precious cargo.

Suddenly, Johnny felt white hot pain as a bullet sank deep in his chest! He faltered and almost fell from the saddle dropping the pistol from his hand as darkness seemed to settle around him. ‘NO!’ He fought back against the rising panic as he clung to consciousness, if he gave in now it would cost him his life. He might die still, but he wouldn’t give them the pleasure of seeing it happen. No, he’d die like he’d lived, on his own terms.

Barranca seemed to know that his amigo was in danger and he ran his heart out to get him away from harm. They flew down the road before cutting across a field and finally making it up into the hills near Lancer’s border with the Conway ranch. Gone before a pursuit could be mounted.

There hidden in the trees Johnny pulled his laboring horse to a halt before the blackness finally over took him and he slid silently to the ground. He knew he was dying, he could feel the blood running out in what seemed like rivers. But, he didn’t care. He didn’t want to live anymore, he had nothing and no one to live for; he just wanted peace. He was tired of hurting and tired of fighting, just to live. Johnny’s last thought was a promise to himself. ‘I’m not fighting death, not this time.’ Then with his faithful friend standing guard over him; Johnny Madrid Lancer let go of life and drifted away…

“We’re losing him!” Doc Martinez shouted as Johnny convulsed and he had to physically restrain him to keep him from coming off the bed. Rain straddled him across his chest trying to hold him still enough for the doc to get a piece of leather between his teeth. The convulsions continued growing more violent as his fever raged. Rain felt real panic, but she wasn’t going to let him give up. She leaned down over him as she kept his arms from flailing and shouted at him. “Dammit, Stormy! Don’t you even fuckin’ think about leavin’ me again!” She shook with anger and a heart wrenching fear. “Do you hear me, Stormy?! I swear if you leave me now, I will shoot myself and come after you!” She continued her unreasonable rant. “I will make Hell look like a fuckin’ walk in the park and you will wish for a second death before I’m done with you!” She screamed at him.

Just then, the convulsions began to cease and Rain shot a questioning look at the doc. Taking his stethoscope he placed it on the gunman’s chest. Rain sat back to allow him room as he listened intently before looking up into the worried woman’s eyes. “He can’t take another episode like that.” He sighed and ran a hand across his sweat covered face. “His heart rate is much too fast and we have to get his fever down. I am afraid we are going to have to use more drastic measures to give him any chance at all.”

Rain looked into the old doctor’s eyes. “Do what you gotta do, Doc.”

The doctor blew out a tired breath. “I need you to understand that what I am about to do will either cure him or it will kill him. If things go bad there won’t be anything I can do to help him.”

Rain drew in a sharp breath as she realized the risk. But she knew they had no choice. “I understand.” She looked at him and nodded. She still straddled Stormy and she’d placed her hand on his heart without realizing it. She sat, absentmindedly, curling his dark chest hairs around her fingers as she took some comfort in just being close to him…maybe for the very last time.

Gathering her courage, she said. “Let ‘er buck, Doc!” Stormy had always said that when things were tough, she remembered.

“Wilpert.” Rain had forgotten all about the young clerk. He had been nearly asleep in the chair over in the corner, when the convulsions had begun. Now he was once again, pacing around the room like a caged animal, wringing his hands together and mumbling to himself? The doctor’s calls went unanswered, until. “WILPERT!” Boy, the doc had a set of lungs! Wilpert nearly came unglued at the sudden shout.

“Yeah?” The boy answered, timidly.

The doc had about reached his limit of patience with him and Rain knew she had. “I need you to run get some ice and bring back as much as you can carry.”

Wilpert just stared at him like he was crazy! “But Doc, it’s real late and the ice house has been closed for hours and you know Mr. Perkins lives way outta town!” He cried.

“For Pete’s sake, Wilpert go ask Lou over at the saloon, he always stocks ice to keep the beer cold.” The doc continued. “Be sure to tell him it’s for me and that it’s a matter of life or death!”

Finally, the boy seemed to understand what he needed to do and hurried from the room. He had a little more swing in his stride than was proper for a man to have and Rain and the doc shared a knowing look.

“He and the banker’s son are ‘Really’ good friends.” The doc stated with a wink. They both burst out laughing, “To each his own, Doc, to each his own.” Rain smiled. It broke some of the tension and for that she was grateful.

Doc Martinez studied the woman carefully before plunging ahead into dangerous territory. Clearing his throat he watched as she continued to gently caress the gunman’s chest. “Is there someone we should contact, in case he doesn’t make it?” He asked frankly.

She looked up at him then, the pain in her eyes he felt in his soul. For a moment, he thought she wasn’t going to answer. But then. “He only has his wife, Doc. No other family to speak of, anyways.”

“Oh my, we need to let her know what is happening!” Dear Lord this was not good…not good at all.

Again, the woman met his eyes. “She knows, Doc.” Her words almost a whisper.

Understanding, hit the doctor suddenly. “I see.” Was all he managed to say. He knew that she loved this man, it was obvious. She just didn’t look like someone’s wife. But, he guessed Madrid didn’t really look like anyone’s husband, either. They were a matched pair alright, both standing on the outside of what the rest of the world would consider normal. No, there was nothing normal or ordinary about this pair…nothing at all.

Wilpert ran into the saloon, now more empty than not at this late hour. He spotted the bartender, Lou and hurried toward him at the bar. “Lou! The doc needs some ice for a patient and he says it’s an emergency!” Wilpert panted.

Lou looked up at the young hotel clerk with disgust. He had never liked that boy, seemed a little prissy to him. “Who’s the patient?” Figuring he already knew the answer. “That gunhawk got a hangover from hell?” He sneered. His black eyes and swollen nose making his face hurt, which in turn didn’t improve his mood any.

“Uh, No Sir…I mean Yes, Sir. Awe blast it, Lou will you just give me the ice?” He was feeling flustered by all the questions.

“Nope.”

“Why not?” Wilpert exclaimed!

“Got no call to be helpin’ some murderin’ gunhawk. He can just suffer it out like he deserves.” Lou stated.

“But Lou, he’s in a real bad way!” He thought of the fits the gunman had been having. “He was shot in that gunfight a few days ago and now he’s burning up with fever and having fits, looks like he might die!” Wilpert pleaded with the man.

“Good!” Lou said. “One less gunhawk in the world is alright with me!”

Then Wilpert had a brainstorm. It didn’t happen often but every now and then he did get a good idea! “Okay, Lou…it’s your funeral.” With that he turned toward the door. ‘One, Two, Three,’ he counted.

“What da ya mean, MY funeral?” Lou asked.

Wilpert smiled before turning around. “Just that the woman with Madrid seems to think a lot of him and she don’t take kindly to anyone telling her, No.” ‘Believe me I know.’ He thought to himself.

Wilpert made his way across the street loaded down with ice and a promise of more if he needed it. He guessed Lou had seen the error of his ways or like him, he was just plain scared to death of that woman!

Once, back in the room. The doc wasted no time in breaking the ice into smaller chunks and after he’d stripped Madrid with the ladies help and covered him with a sheet, they’d packed him in ice. ‘Odd, that the woman had shoved him out the door before undressing Madrid, he could’ve helped after all.’ Wilpert sighed.

Looking down at his patient. “All we can do now is wait and pray, if you’re so inclined.” He said.

Rain looked up at the doc from her chair by the bed. She was gently holding Stormy’s hand and caressing it. She frowned at the roughness of his hands. He had always had soft hands. Gunhawk’s didn’t do much manual labor. They weren’t cowboys…they were killers.

“What’s the matter, Doc?” She asked. “Don’t you think that sinners pray?”

Johnny was cold! ‘Dios! Wasn’t Hell supposed to be hot?’ He felt like he had fallen in a lake in the middle of winter. ‘Where am I?’ Then it slowly came back to him…

‘Voices? Was he hearing voices?’ He listened as he became more aware. It was voices and they were close! ‘Dios!’ His fevered mind screamed! ‘I can’t let them find me…have to hide.’ But his weakened body would not obey him and he felt hands on him as he again slipped into the dark abyss.

*****

Aggie, had found that no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get to sleep. She now sat in her darkened kitchen in the hours before dawn, sipping a cup of tea. The only light came from the stove and the lamp that she had carried from her bedroom the wick turned down to almost nothing so it offered little comfort. But, it wasn’t comfort that she sought. Not, for herself anyway…Johnny was weighing heavily on her mind, this night and she had to wonder why. She reached into the pocket of her bed jacket and pulled out the letter that the boy had sent to her after leaving her care several months before. When she’d originally opened the envelope, money had fallen out onto the table where she’d sat, this table. It had been a hefty sum and had been as Johnny had stated in his letter, payment for taking care of him and his horse.

She smiled, as she turned the lamp up slightly and opened the letter and read the heartfelt thank you that the young man had offered her for her kindness to him.

Miz Aggie

Pleze take this money for takin care of me and my horse. I owe ya more then money but its all I hav to give ya. Ma’m ya treatid me bettr then my famly and I want be forgettin that. Sory bout the spelln, Scott wuz teachin me bu I pay my debts so if ya need a gun ya got one.

-Johnny Madrid

She folded the letter back up and placed it back in her pocket. It had been in her nightstand drawer for months, the money offered had been given to the orphanage in Johnny’s name. She didn’t know why she’d taken it out tonight but she worried for her young friend and what might be wrong this time. In reflection, she let her mind take her back to the day that changed so much for so many in this valley…

“Harvey, I need you to check on the preparations for the upcoming cattle drive. Make sure that all the men that are sleeping out on the range have everything they need. I noticed a few of the new men didn’t have good bedrolls and you know how cold it gets at night.” Aggie Conway always took good care of the men that worked for her. It was a big job to run this ranch and she knew she couldn’t do it alone, no one could.

“Yes, Ma’am, Ms. Conway.” Harvey had been the foreman for the Circle C since before Mr. Conway had passed many years ago. He had a lot of respect for his boss lady. Not many ladies could run a spread this size, but Ms. Conway made it look easy. He smiled as he stepped out the door of the ranch house.

Just about the time he stepped out on the porch, riders approached from the direction of Lancer. “Ms. Conway, riders coming in fast!” Having been just inside the door Aggie stepped out to join her foreman on the porch. “Why, it looks like Murdoch’s Segundo, Cipriano with some of the Lancer hands.” Aggie could tell that this was no social call.

Cipriano pulled up along with the rest of the search party. He had a lot of worry in his heart, his youngest son had been injured in the battle with Johnny Madrid and he had been hesitant to leave him. He addressed the gringa rancher, Ms. Conway. “Hola, Senora Conway! Por Favor, have you seen Senor Johnny, this evening?”

Aggie was taken aback by the question and the look on the Lancer Segundo’s face was pained. “What has happened, Cipriano? Has something happened to Johnny?” Aggie was becoming worried.

“Si.” Cip sighed. “We are searching for Senor Madrid, Senora.”

“Madrid?”

“Why, would you call him, Madrid?” Aggie questioned.

Cip blew out a breath and dropped his head before looking back up at the Senora. “Because that is who he really is and has been all this time, Senora.”

“Tell me what has happened? Because what I am seeing looks a lot like a posse!” Taking in the sight of the heavily armed men.

“El’ Patron, would not want me to tell all of this to you, Senora. But, Johnny Madrid has done some bad things to Senorita Teresa and when El’ Patron tried to take him into the Sheriff…” He paused before continuing. “Madrid shot Senor Scott and a few of the hands including my son, Tomas.”

Aggie gasped! Shaking her head. “That cannot be, Johnny would never do such things!”

“Sadly, Senora that is what we believed also, until today.”

He turned his horse to leave. “If you see him Senora…kill him if you have too. He was badly injured during his escape and should be put down like any rabid Wolf.”

Aggie could not believe her ears and the step back that her foreman had taken said he could not believe it either! “Are you telling me that Murdoch has sent you out to find and kill his son?!”

Cipriano turned once more. “Si, those are the Patron’s orders. To take him by any means necessary and to kill him if we have too!”

Aggie was shocked! “I thought he was your nephew, Cipriano?”

Cip answered as he turned again to leave. “Si. He was.” He said sadly.

After, they had gone. Aggie and her foreman just stood where they were, frozen by what they had been told. Finally, Aggie made a decision. “Saddle my horse, Harvey! I am going to see what is going on at Lancer.” ‘And in Murdoch’s head!’ She thought to herself. Aggie turned to go change into a riding outfit. As her foreman headed to the barn.

Almost all their men were out on the range, just leaving Ms. Conway, himself and the house staff on the place. Harvey had always liked Johnny and couldn’t believe he would do any of those things. Why, just last winter, Johnny had saved him from certain death…He halted in his tracks.

Standing near the barn, drinking from the water trough…was Barranca!

“He doesn’t seem to be injured and I checked the barn. There was no sign of Johnny anywhere!” Harvey went on as he and Ms. Conway looked Barranca over.

“Let’s get him over into the light from the house. So, we can check him over a little better.” Aggie led an unusually docile Barranca into the light. She gasped as she saw the blood covered saddle and there was a large dried smear of blood from his mane down his right foreleg, as if someone had slid down his shoulder to the ground. A badly injured, someone!

“Harvey, we have to find Johnny now! Bleeding like that he won’t last much longer. It already worries me that Barranca has left him, everyone knows what a strong bond they share. This horse would not be far from him…” Aggie stopped and shared a look with her foreman.

“Get some lanterns and blankets together Harvey and hurry!” ‘Johnny has to be close and I think I know just how to find him.’ She refused to give up on the good man she knew Johnny Lancer to be and she was going to help him, if she could. It was little enough for everything Johnny had done for this valley.

Aggie and Harvey outfitted with lanterns, blankets and a fresh canteen that Harvey had thought to bring along, followed a very tired Barranca. He seemed to know what to do when Aggie had released him, telling the horse to “Find Johnny.” Barranca walked across the open field and up into the trees on the far side of the road.

After, following Barranca several hundred yards up into the trees, the horse stopped and dropped his head. “What is he doing?” Aggie whispered. “Do you see anything, Harvey?” Raising his lantern higher, Harvey looked through the darkness only barely touched by the light. “No, Ma’am! I can hardly see my hand in front of my face in these trees.”

Moving up he placed his hand on the Palomino and speaking to him calmly, he traced his way up to Barranca’s head. Just as he reached for the bridle his foot bumped something on the ground. Lowering the lantern he saw the light reflect off a pair of Mexican spurs!

Aggie placed another damp cloth on Johnny’s brow. He was burning up with a fever and they had bandaged his wounds as best they could, but Aggie knew that what Johnny needed was Sam. They had not been able to stop the bleeding completely and at least two bullets were still in his body. The shoulder wound had been cleaned and bandaged more thoroughly because that bullet had passed all the way through him.

‘My God! He is so young! How can he have this many scars on his body?’ They had been shocked when they had undressed him to clean him up and get him settled in one of the guest rooms. He had many scars from gunshot and knife wounds. No doubt a result of his life as a gunfighter. But it was the whip marks and other scars that looked like belt buckle marks that tore her heart out. This young man had been abused his whole life in one way or another. “Dammit, Murdoch! Can’t you see that this boy has suffered enough?”

Aggie was so angry at her old friend right now! His son lay dying in her home and she couldn’t even send for him! He needed the doctor but Sam was at Lancer, dealing with the aftermath of Johnny’s escape from his own home! She had to find a way to get Sam here without Murdoch becoming suspicious. ‘But how?’

That decision was taken out of her hands as she heard a buggy pull up in front of the house. She ran from the sickroom and pulled open the front door. “Sam! Thank God you’re here!” She exclaimed! The old doctor looked haggard but she was so relieved to see him that she actually hugged him!

Sam was definitely surprised! “Well, my goodness Aggie!” He laughed at her uncharacteristic behavior. “I just stopped by because my buggy horse threw a shoe on my way to the…Is something wrong, Aggie?”

Tears flooded her face. “I am so happy to see you, Sam! I knew you were at Lancer and I just didn’t know how I would get you away from Murdoch!” She cried.

Understanding lit the old doctors’ face. “Where is he, Aggie?” Sam had realized now why Aggie was happy and sad all at once. She had found Johnny!

“Dear God!” Was all Sam could manage when he was led into the guest room. Johnny was lying on the bed his normally tan skin was now gray and his breaths were shallow. He knew right away that Johnny probably wasn’t going to survive. He saw the still seeping chest wound and with Aggie’s help he checked the bullet wound in his back.

Sam felt along his ribs, easily finding the broken ones. Johnny was covered in fresh bruises and lifting his eyelids carefully, he saw that Johnny was deeply unconscious and had a concussion. Probably, from the boot to the head delivered by his brother. Johnny was as bad off as Sam had ever seen him and all this at the hands of his own family.

Sam had been devastated by what he’d found at Lancer, when he’d been called out there for sweet little Teresa. If Sam really believed for a second that Johnny had done that to her, well he might have to forget his oath for a short time and let him die. Maybe, it would be kinder to Johnny to just let him drift away, peacefully? The boy certainly had been hurt enough and the way things were now, if his father found him…well let’s just say that would be bad, very bad!

As tired as he was, Sam had Aggie’s cook heat hot water and boil his surgical instruments. The irony was not lost on him that the same instruments he’d used to save Scott Lancers life, along with the other injured hands, were now going to at least attempt to save Johnny’s life. Sam, looked down at Johnny and his heart broke. He loved this boy like a son and didn’t want to watch him die. He knew in his heart that Johnny was innocent of what his family thought he’d done. The Johnny Lancer that he knew would die trying to protect his ‘sister’.

Sam had labored for many hours removing the two bullets from Johnny’s battered body. Repairing the damage that the bullets had done and praying the entire time for God to give Johnny the strength and the Will to fight. He finished by wrapping the broken ribs and placing a tube down thru his nose into his stomach to give him medicine and fluids. Johnny’s heartbeat was so weak and his breaths could barely be felt…but Sam had done all he could do for him. The rest was between Johnny and God…no one else could save him, of that he had no doubt.

Sam wished Murdoch and Scott could be with Johnny if this was to be the end of his life. But, that wasn’t possible. He wondered what Murdoch would say when he returned to Lancer with Johnny’s lifeless body. Would he breakdown with grief or would he spit on his son again and say good riddance?

Sam couldn’t believe what he had borne witness too when Johnny had returned to the house. Never would he have believed what had happened at Lancer today, no yesterday now. He corrected himself. If he hadn’t been there to see and hear it for himself.

He had tried to be the voice of reason when he had seen how enraged Murdoch and Scott had been. He could even understand how they felt, but he had kept his head and suggested they send for Val, for no other reason than to protect Johnny. Val could have kept things from getting out of hand like they had. Cooler heads would have prevailed and maybe he wouldn’t be sitting here now watching Johnny’s life slip away.

Sam was exhausted and fell asleep in the chair beside Johnny’s death bed…Yes, that was what it was. He felt it in his heart that Johnny was past help now, he thought as sleep overtook him. ‘Find Peace, Johnny because if anyone ever deserved it, it’s you.’ Sam squeezed his friends hand to let him know he wasn’t alone.

Johnny continued to drift. Memories and heartache seemed to smother him. He couldn’t breathe well and he just wanted to stop hurting. ‘Was that so much to ask?’ Voices again. ‘Where am I?’ His teeth began to chatter… ‘I sound worsen a chipmunk.’ Would be funny if I weren’t freezin’ to death. ‘Son of a bitch, I’m cold!’ He listened to the voices trying to hear past his constant chattering.

“Thank God! His fever has broken and he is starting to sweat!” He heard a man’s voice shout. Must be crazy Johnny thought because I feel anything but hot! ‘Wait! Fever?’ He was really confused now. ‘Had he been sick?’ Then his heart almost stopped beating. He must be dead because he thought he’d heard an Angel call his name.

“Stormy, I knew you would come back to me!” Rain was over joyed that her husband was finally out of the woods.

Johnny tried to force his eyes open but they refused to budge. He fought harder. He wanted to see his wife, Rain! She sounded so close. He had always hoped to see her again when he died. Now, that time had finally come! He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn’t hold back the tears. He needed to see her to hold her again! ‘Dios! Please don’t let this be a dream!’

“My God! Doc, tears!” Rain gently wiped away his tears and cupped his handsome face in her hands. “Don’t cry, miel. I am here with you.” She wiped a sleeve across her own eyes.

The old doctor stood and looked in wonder at the scene before him. A notorious gunfighter, a killer for hire and without a doubt a very dangerous man. Yet, he shed tears at the sound of his wife’s voice. What had these two been through together in their lives for them to have such a bond between them? This woman, obviously dangerous in her own right, had fought body and soul for this man. He had no doubt that together they were quite an unstoppable force.

“He seems to be regaining consciousness.” The doctor said. Leaning over to check his pulse. He pulled back the wet sheet and placed his stethoscope on the gunman’s chest. Smiling he said. “His heart rate and pulse are stronger.” He noted the way Johnny’s eyes were working overtime underneath his lids. Finally, the incredibly long lashes began to flutter and soon the bluest eyes he’d ever seen came into view. The doc was surprised by the vividness of the now conscious blue eyes a far cry from the dull fevered blue eyes that he had viewed underneath the closed lids.

Johnny struggled with his heavy eyelids until, finally light started to penetrate the darkness. He blinked trying to focus on the blurry images before his vision began to clear. Images started to come into view and his heart was in his throat. ‘What if it had been just a dream?’ Johnny knew he couldn’t take another cruel blow like that, his tortured spirit would perish and him along with it. He already hung over a ledge just barely able to keep his broken heart beating.

Johnny could see people, see movement but he was afraid to look up. ‘Dios! I can’t take this!’ His heart cried. Seeing the uncertainty on his face, Rain gently lifted his face with a soft touch to his chin. Johnny closed his eyes, his heart beating out of his chest! The soft hand on his face was so familiar and Johnny swallowed hard before gathering the nerve to open his eyes. Then he heard, the softest of whispers.

“Stormy, look at me, mi corazon.”

Johnny’s eyes snapped open to see what his heart had longed for, to see his wife before him. She was alive! “Dios!” He exclaimed! How could this be real? He looked up into her deep green tear filled eyes and felt her hand take his, she felt soft, warm and very real. He was unashamed as tears flowed freely down his face. They had always been completely open to one another, he knew he was safe with her. Body, mind and spirit he was safe with her, always.

“How can you be here?” He managed to ask through his happy tears.

Rain leaned over him and pushed the sweat soaked hair from his brow. “Don’t you know that I would never leave you, my love?” She smiled down at him.

“But, I was told you had died…I believed you were gone forever, querida.” Johnny stammered. Afraid to blink because she might disappear.

Rain wiped away his tears with her fingertips. “Who told you this lie, Stormy?” She had an idea that it had come from the same source as the one she’d been told about him.

He looked at her and none of it seemed to matter. She was here and alive, he no longer had to merely exist from day to day, not anymore. He had his life back! His heart turned a key and from the place he’d locked her away, he opened the door and let her fill the emptiness in his heart and soul. He forgot all the heartache of the last three years, including Lancer and let her fill him with the Peace, Love and Acceptance that had always been his comfort when she was with him.

Johnny just took her gently in his arms and held her closely, as she met him halfway. He breathed in the scent of her and they just held on to each other for the longest time. Neither of them noticed the doctor make his way quietly out the door.

He crept away to give them the privacy this reunion deserved. He would find Wilpert and tell him to bring up some Willow bark tea to help the young man keep his fever abated. But, that could wait. Just now the best medicine for him was in his arms. The old doctor smiled and wiped away a tear of his own as he headed downstairs to share the good news.

Rain eased down on the bed beside him and carefully pulled him into her embrace. He had finally given in to his body’s desperate need for rest. His dark head lay over her heart as she held him close to her. She never wanted to be further than this from him, ever again. ‘That might prove challenging,’ she smiled. But, for now he was back in her arms and her heart swelled to overflowing with the river of love she held for him. ‘River? Hell, try an ocean of love!’ Rain was feeling a euphoria of emotion and she was happier than she could remember ever being.

She lay with her fingers caressing his thick black hair and feeling his soft breaths on her breast. She drifted into an exhausted sleep of her own, feeling the peace of having him close to her. His naked skin and soft chest hair caressing her bare midriff with each breath he took. The wet sheet had been cast aside and a gentle breeze from the broken window whispered across their sleeping bodies.

All was not peaceful though. Because downstairs trussed up and stuffed into a closet were Wilpert and Doc Martinez. They had been surprised by a very pissed off man pointing a gun at them, demanding they do as he told them or die! Now, helplessly they watched as the gunman closed the door on them and headed up the stairs. They could hear his boots as he slowly made his ascent. There could only be one destination, as the small hotel had been emptied earlier in the day when the stage had left town. He had to be after Madrid! The doc fought against his bindings. He knew Madrid was in no shape to defend himself and even though he knew about the earlier invasion of the room and how Madrid’s wife had handled the situation. He, now worried for her safety; this man was evil and he had more than killing on his mind.

*****

Val sat in the great room at Lancer and studied the man across from him. Murdoch Lancer was a broken man. The tired haggard look of him bespoke of the ordeal he had been through in the last ten months. ‘Caused by his own foolishness!’ Thought Val.

“Mr. Lancer?” Val tried to get the man’s attention but he just sat staring into what was left of his glass of Scotch. Twirling it around the glass, studying it like a fortune teller would study tea leaves, looking for what? Maybe hoping that it could give him some peace? Val didn’t think anything could do that, now.

Val cleared his throat and tried again. “Mr. Lancer? I need to talk to you about Johnny. Mr. Lancer?”

At that, Murdoch finally looked up at him. “Have you heard something about Johnny, Val?” His heart seemed to be trying to choke him as he looked at the lawman.

“Well, in a way. Yes. I have heard something about Johnny.” Val could feel the telegram burning a hole in his pocket.

“When?” Murdoch sighed. He wanted to know when he had lost his son to the death that had been sure to come. He knew Johnny had gone back to the border…gone back to gun fighting. Gunfighters didn’t have long lives.

Val was uncertain what he meant. “When, What? Mr. Lancer?”

Standing and blowing out a breath as he ran his hand through his hair in frustration, he shouted. “WHEN DID MY SON DIE, VAL?!” He paused. “When did I lose my baby boy?” He cried more softly.

Val sat stunned by the outburst. Then he jumped to his feet as the anger took over and Val about came unhinged! “DO YOU CARE?” He was furious that Johnny’s father had the nerve to act concerned, now. After what he had done! “You almost killed him yourself!” Val shouted. “You and that eastern dandy of yours!”

Val continued his rant! “Who do you think you are, to act all concerned, now? Now, when it’s too late! Now, when you couldn’t be satisfied with just having him away from here! Nooo! Not the mighty, Murdoch Lancer! Even after finding out he was innocent! You could not live with the shame of him on the Lancer name!” Val tried to calm himself before he strangled the man!

“What are you saying? Of course, I care! Johnny is my SON!” Murdoch exclaimed!

“Yeah, you cared about him alright! Enough to put a price on his head! Enough to send someone to KILL HIM! Your own son!” Val threw the telegram at him as he stomped toward the door.

Murdoch was stunned speechless by the Sheriff’s diatribe. He watched open mouthed as Val grabbed the door handle. That is as far as he got, though. Val paused at the door. He couldn’t leave it like this, he owed Johnny more than that. “Did you ever love him, at all?” Val asked before continuing. “You were blessed with an amazing man for a son and you spit on him like he was dirt! He deserved better than that, Mr. Lancer. He deserved better than you for a father or Maria for a mother. He knew very little peace in his life and it was torn away from him, just like the peace he thought he’d found here with you.”

Val bowed his head before taking in a shaky breath. “If your killer was successful, I hope Johnny is finally at peace. Because he’s earned it and you, Mr. Lancer, can rot in Hell for what you’ve done to him!” Val slapped his hat on his head and went out the door slamming it hard behind him, just like his friend did when he had been angry or hurt!

Murdoch jumped slightly at the slamming of the door. He felt a little of Johnny in the way Val had slammed the door behind him, how many times had his son left that same way? Slowly, Murdoch picked up the envelope from the desk top and opened it. What he read made him sick! No wonder Val believes that I hired someone to kill Johnny.

Murdoch knew that he had not done so, but a part of him wished… ‘God, Help him!’ He wished Johnny was dead so he didn’t have to worry over him anymore. He had realized months ago that there was only one way Johnny was ever going to come home to Lancer, for good. That was dead. Then at least, his son would be nearby and cradled in the arms of the land he’d loved so much.

No longer would he sit up night after night worrying where his son was and if he was alive or dead, somewhere. Never knowing what had happened to his son, Murdoch realized was not an option any longer. He wanted his son home at all costs. He had already pushed Johnny so far away that there was no hope of reconciliation…none whatsoever.

Murdoch knew then that he would indeed rot in hell for what he was about to do. But, he had to find peace for himself and most of all for Johnny.

*****

Something was wrong! Rain eased Stormy’s sleeping form down on the bed as she sat up to listen. But, it wasn’t sound that had disturbed her sleep it was her senses screaming bloody murder at her! The hair on the back of her neck was standing on end and the room almost crackled with the feeling of danger! ‘Stalked?’ That was what she felt like, as if they were being hunted. She stood quietly and took her gun from the bedside table. She had placed it there earlier after finding it still in the sheets when they’d undressed Stormy to ice him down. But before she had it securely in her hand someone hit the still broken door that had just barely been held upright by the remaining hinges and closed knob. Rain crashed to the floor with the top of the door striking her solidly in the head. As she blacked out, the sound of gunfire echoed through the room. Then silence…

*****

Panic suddenly hit Val. He had ridden away from Lancer in a fury! But he pulled up as a sharp pain hit him in the head. His vision wavered and he felt sick, with fear? ‘What is happening?’ Was his last thought as he fell from his horse and onto the road.

******

Murdoch had wasted no time, having come to a heartbreaking decision. He’d saddled his horse and started out toward Green River in the blackness before the dawn. He had to do this before he lost his nerve. He would be at the telegraph office when they opened and soon the suffering would end. He felt a sick sense of relief at the thought of burying his son in Lancer soil. ‘At least, I will know he isn’t being hurt anymore and we’ll both have peace.’ Murdoch sighed. He felt sad for all of the, ‘could have beens’ but he knew in his heart that Johnny had been lost from the day his mother took him away from his home. In doing so, she had forced a choice on their son. One that now, Johnny would pay for with his life. Murdoch hoped that his son had enough of a soul left to be forgiven and accepted into Heaven.

He had already lived through Hell on earth.

***

Scott Lancer sat on the balcony of his lavish bedroom in his grandfather’s home. He watched as the sun came up through the trees bordering the manicured lawn. In Boston, it was unusual for anyone but the staff to be up so early. He had gotten used to the early hours from his almost two years of living in California. Ranch life was certainly different from his pampered existence in Boston.

‘Boston.’ He could almost hear his brother’s soft drawl as he remembered the hated nickname. His brother had teased him endlessly with that name. He’d thought he might tire of it after a while but he never had. Now, looking back Scott wished he could hear his brother’s voice again call him ‘Boston’. Have the same easy relationship they had always enjoyed… ‘No! Not always.’ Scott shook his bowed head. He had so many regrets!

Scott was pulled from his thoughts by a scream breaking the silence of the early dawn. ‘Teresa.’ She still had horrible nightmares and even with all the help money could buy for her, they continued. She just wasn’t getting any better.

Scott ran from his room and down the hall to Teresa’s bedroom. He went inside to find her on the floor wrapped in her sheet and fighting for her life. “Teresa, honey it’s me Scott.” He gently laid a hand on her trembling shoulder as the tears began to fall. “Sshhh, Teresa it is okay. You are safe here, no one’s going to hurt you ever again.” Scott carefully lifted her from the floor. She felt as lite as a feather, she had lost so much weight since being hurt. They had tried everything they could think of but she just couldn’t keep much down. The doctors had said that her nerves were just shattered to pieces. The slightest sudden movement or sound sent her into a panic.

Scott carefully placed her back on her bed and sat down beside her trying to calm her fears. Why she trusted him so much after everything she had been through, he didn’t know. But, she did and he was grateful to have at least a part of his family still with him.

Teresa looked up at him with tear filled eyes. “I…I dreamed…” She took a faltering breath. “I dreamed that Mur…Murdoch ki…killed John…ny!” She cried!

Scott was stunned. Most of her nightmares had been about the attack.

“Nooo…sshhh…Teresa you know that’s not what happened. Johnny is alive, he went back to the border. Remember?” He tried to console his sweet, precious Teresa. As he held her close to him, he remembered how he had felt about her before the attack, he’d had deeper feelings developing for her maybe even love and one day marriage. Now, all that was lost. Not because of what had happened to her but because of Johnny, well indirectly, he could never ask Teresa to be his wife when he had betrayed his own brother like he had.

He looked down upon her sweet face and saw again the destroyed look in her eyes. No, she would need someone very special and unfailingly true to ever overcome what had happened to her. How, he regretted what she had been through and again wished it could all be undone…all of it.

Teresa saw the look he was giving her and even though she still loved him deeply, she knew she had lost him. He would never want her after she had been ruined…no man would. She closed her eyes in despair, both she and Johnny had lost everything that had mattered to them, though they had done nothing wrong…

She silently prayed that, at least, Johnny would be happy, somehow?

He cradled and rocked her until she fell back into an exhausted sleep. Why would she dream of such a thing? He hadn’t said so but he had spent a sleepless night worrying about his brother, as well. A brother, he himself had shot in the back after beating him senseless. Johnny hadn’t even really tried to fight back, he was just defending himself from the enraged blows Scott had pummeled him with like a mad man! He supposed that was what he’d been, a man so out of control that he’d nearly killed the person he loved more than any other, his flesh and blood, his little brother.

How he wished he could take it back, that day! ‘God in Heaven, let me take it back!’ His troubled heart cried out for justice. Not for himself but for Johnny! ‘Please, he deserves to be happy!’ Why his brother was made to suffer all his life, Scott did not understand.

He bowed his head and prayed for his brother. “God, please give my brother peace and happiness. I know what I did to him was unforgivable but if I asked it of him, he would forgive me. I love him so dearly, I deeply regret what I did to him. He is lost to me forever, because I am too big a coward to go after him and beg on my knees for that forgiveness. Not out of fear, God but because I don’t deserve to have someone as special as he is in my life.”

Teresa awoke to the sound of Scott’s heartbreaking prayer. He was praying for his brother and she hoped that perhaps some of this could be set right. She couldn’t be saved, it was too late for her but maybe not too late for Johnny.

“Scott. It’s time to go home.” Scott opened his eyes to see tears rolling down her thin face. Somehow, the courage he saw there in those eyes gave him the hope he had been lacking.

Scott had the maid come up and help Teresa to pack a traveling case while he packed one for himself. He made arrangements for the early train out of Boston, heading west. They were going home!

*****

Val staggered up from the hard ground where he had fallen. He stumbled toward his faithful horse, standing waiting patiently for him to regain his senses. Suddenly, fear grabbed his heart and squeezed till he thought he would drop dead. He knew without a doubt he had to get to Sanchez, Arizona and he also knew that even taking the train out of Cross Creek, that he would never make it in time! Not one to quit, Val threw himself in the saddle and high tailed it to catch the morning train out of Cross Creek headed to Tombstone. He was two days by train out of Tombstone and another day or so out of Sanchez on horseback, there was no time to waste!

*****

Murdoch made it into Green River by the time the telegraph office was opening for business. He waved to Sam as he passed the doctors house on his way into town. He didn’t want to talk to his old friend this morning because he would not approve of what Murdoch was doing. He might even go running to Val to try in keep him from his task. ‘That would not do. No. That would not do at all.’ He pursed his lips. He was doing the right thing, now the only thing he could do for his son. ‘They would not understand. But he did. Yes. He did.’

Murdoch walked into the telegraph office, shutting the door behind him. His friend, Fred Pickett was behind his desk clicking away checking the lines before starting the day. Murdoch helped himself to a cup of coffee before taking paper and pencil to write out his message.

Once Fred was ready, Murdoch walked over to the desk. “Did you get the message that Val was bringing ya?” Fred asked nervously.

Murdoch looked right thru him. “Yes, I did bright and early this morning.” Then Murdoch smiled at him. Considering what that message had said, Fred didn’t see any reason for smilin’! Unless, Murdoch wanted Johnny dead? Fred was gonna have to talk to Val about this odd behavior.

Fred took the message from Murdoch and started to read it over before sending it out… ‘What in the world?!’ Fred almost choked! It had to be a mistake! He read and reread before looking up into Murdoch’s eyes. “Good news isn’t it, Fred?” Murdoch continued to smile at him. “My youngest is coming home and I couldn’t be happier! I may have to throw a party after the burying, of course.” Fred just stared his mouth open, simply too stunned to speak.

“Let’s go, now Fred. Time’s a wasting and I want Johnny home as quickly as possible.” He pointed to the message still in Fred’s hand. “Go on Fred. Send my message, I have lot’s to do before Johnny arrives.”

‘Yeah.’ Fred thought. ‘In a box.’ “Murdoch I seem to be having some trouble with the lines right now. I will send it as soon as they’re workin’ again.”

“Now, Fred I don’t know what you’re trying to pull but I heard your test run and it is working just fine!”

‘Damnation!’ Fred could kick himself! He had forgotten that Murdoch understood how to use the telegraph. He had taught him along with a few others in case of emergency. He had been trying to stall until he could find Val and get him over here. This was just plain madness!

Fred still sat trying to come up with a plan. “I am about to come back there and send it myself, Fred. If you don’t get to it!” Murdoch was getting angry and looking around helplessly, Fred knew what he would have to do. He would have to send the telegram, as is, because Murdoch would understand every click! ‘Dear God, please don’t let any harm come to Johnny because of this telegram!’

With that Fred took a deep breath and sent the answer to the urgent message Murdoch had received last night. ‘Where are you, Val?’ Fred was worried sick about Murdoch and Johnny…one had gone crazy and the other was about to die!

*****

Johnny felt someone next to him as he began to regain consciousness. He was lying on a bed and he hurt all over! Awareness slowly crept over his battered body and he sucked in a panicked breath as he remembered. ‘Rain! Oh, my God where is she?’ His eyes flew open and the pain that hit him in the head was like a lightning bolt! Light streamed in thru the window and directly into his sensitive eyes. ‘Son of a bitch!’ He winched. ‘My fuckin’ head feels like it’s coming off!’ But he had no time to worry about that! His body stiffened as he felt the danger heavy in the air, almost suffocating him with its stifling presence.

Fear clutched at his heart, but this sense of fear was familiar to him. Even though he hadn’t felt it in years, he knew what it was, Rain. He was afraid for his Rain… She was lying beside him on the bed, he tried to reach for her but he found that he was tied to the bedposts by his hands and feet. He was also completely naked? ‘How the hell had that happened?’ His memory seemed to have some holes in it, he didn’t like that at all.

Johnny tried to call out to his wife. But he soon realized he was gagged as well as trussed up like a calf on brandin’ day! What was happening to them? He managed to turn himself to get a better look at his wife. She was also bound and gagged, but not tied to the bed. There was fresh blood running down her bruised face but her eyes were open and fixed on something, her other eyes.

He stared completely mesmerized by those tawny orbs, it had been so long since he’d seen them that he felt his heart skip a beat. Just the sight of her took his breath away, he was so relieved to have her back because he’d never thought to see her again in this life. He blinked back to the present and a cold fury spread over him, someone was trying to take her away from him again. That someone was a dead man, he just didn’t know it, yet.

He could see her chest rise and fall so he knew she was alive, but the look on her face was wrong somehow and fear for her spread over him like a wildfire. He thrashed and fought his restraints in his panic to reach her but she remained still. Johnny whipped his head back around as he heard footsteps approaching and watched the door or what there was left of it anyway, with a rising fear that was almost choking him.

His eyes widened when he looked up at the man who stood staring down at him, with an evil smirk on his face. Johnny recognized him right away. Tate, it was Randy Tate. He had worked at Lancer before Johnny had left. Tate was a cowardly bastard, Johnny remembered the way the man had looked at him when they’d worked together. Johnny had seen that look in the faces of too many men not to recognize it when he saw it. Tate wanted Johnny’s reputation but being the sniveling cobarde’ that he was the only way he could have gotten it was to shoot him in the back. Johnny had even given him the chance at his back a time or two but the bastard was too big a pussy to try anything.

Truth was Johnny had never liked the big ugly bastard and hoped more than once that he’d give him the chance to send him to Hell! Tate was tall and stout as a mule, somewhere near thirty, Johnny guessed but looked older. He had come down from the high country looking for work a couple of months before Johnny had left Lancer. He had too long dirty brown hair that stuck out everywhere from under his hat, and rotting yellow teeth. His breath always smelt like he’d been drinking skunk piss!

The way he would watch T’resa had made Johnny’s skin crawl…Johnny closed his eyes as he realized it had been this piece of shit that had hurt T’resa! Then suddenly it all made sense! How could he have been so stupid? This bastard had raped his ‘sister’ and beaten her so bad that she’d nearly died! He remembered the times he’d had to warn Tate away from her. Everywhere she was Tate seemed to conveniently be, in the barn, in the garden. Tate had known Johnny was in the barn that night with the foaling mare. He had come to the house and gotten him when the mare went into labor. He also knew that Murdoch and Scott were gone and that with him in the barn, that left T’resa alone. Johnny was livid, his eyes blazed with his fury as he looked up at the walking dead man that had dared touch T’resa!

Johnny was saddened as he thought through everything that had happened that day at Lancer. If they had just given him a chance to say anything, had told him what had happened instead of jumping to the conclusion that he must be guilty…he could of told them about Tate and maybe none of what was done to him would have happened. Johnny swallowed down the lump in his throat. Then maybe he would still have a home and a family. Rage fueled his already burning hatred! It was all this bastard’s fault! Johnny surged against his bonds trying to get his hands on the sonuvabitches neck!

Tate just laughed as Johnny struggled to get to him. “Oh, Johnny boy! I see you remember me. I was afraid that knock on the head I gave you would scramble your brains!” He just laughed more and suddenly grabbed Johnny up by the hair and yanked his head back so far that Johnny felt his neck pop from the force. He leaned down right into Johnny’s face and Johnny nearly puked from his horrid breath! “My, my, my! How the mighty have fallen. You, Johnny boy look like shit!” He laughed, as he poked a finger hard into his injured left side, causing Johnny to hiss in pain.

“I had about given up on finding you again after that little disappearing act you gave us at Lancer that last day, Johnny, boy!” Tate was enjoying playing with Johnny’s mind. “I thought I had killed you with that shot to the chest, but you just didn’t know when to die, did ya? Just think if you had died right there like you shoulda then you and the little woman…” Tate motioned toward Rain, “wouldn’t be here right now.” He continued to grin evilly at Johnny as he again tried to fight his bonds.

“Wondering how I know about her being your wife?” Tate reached a dirty hand across Johnny and ripped his wife’s shirt open and rubbed her breasts with his hand. “MMmnnn,” he taunted Johnny as he bucked and fought trying to get free. “I bet those are as sweet as honey on a man’s tongue, ain’t that right Johnny boy?” He slapped Johnny across the face, hard enough to rattle his teeth.

“It didn’t take much of a beatin’ for the doc to tell me she was your wife.” He had been overjoyed when he’d heard that little surprise. “Tell me Johnny is she new? Because you didn’t have no wife I ever heard about when you was at Lancer.” Tate released Johnny who was breathing hard from his struggles and the need to kill this evil bastard! “She sure is purty and tough, too! She damned near killed me last night, threw me right out the window.” Tate paused then before looking back at the seething Johnny!

“She’ll have to pay for that, of course. Too bad she’s still out cold from that door hittin’ her, I want to hear her scream as I take her or it just wouldn’t be any fun at all for me.” Johnny’s eyes were lit with the fires of hell just thinking about this bastard hurting his wife! This sonuvabitch was dead, he just didn’t know it yet!

Then he realized something…Rain her eyes were now, closed? He knew then she was aware as he felt the vibration of her fury reach him. Johnny wanted to feel relief but he knew what that meant and as he looked back at the black hearted bastard before him, he couldn’t even feel pity.

“I have something I want to share with you, Johnny. While we wait on the lovely, Mrs. Madrid to awaken. Oh, is it Madrid or Lancer by the way?” He asked as he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “Not talkin’? Oh well, doesn’t really matter anyway.” He laughed at the icy look he got from the gagged gunfighter.

Tate paid him no mind and held the paper up before Johnny. “Do you know what this is, boy?”

Johnny wanted to knock the smirk off his face as he glared at the soon to be ‘Fuckin’ dead man!’

“This is from your old man. You remember your Pa don’t ya boy? The one that about killed you!” Tate sneered.

Johnny sucked in a breath. ‘Why would Tate have a message from Murdoch?’ His mind flashed back in time to his father spitting on him and then with a sudden realization. The words that he would never forget rushed through his troubled mind… ‘KILL HIM!’ Suddenly Johnny understood what was going to be said and he shook from head to toe with a killing rage.

“You want to know what you’re worth to your old man, Johnny?” Tate saw the pain flash across his prisoners face and he continued his taunt. “Five thousand dollars! Dead and delivered recognizable to Cross Creek station, as soon as I can get you there!” He laughed.

“Imagine that Johnny, boy! Your old man is gonna pay me for something I woulda done for free!” Tate was laughing harder now. Johnny was less than amused. He was shakin’ with a hatred for his father that he hadn’t felt since he was a kid growing up by himself on the streets of one filthy border town after another.

Beside him he could feel that Rain was just as furious, it might be a race to see who ripped this man apart first. Seeing that her hands were now free, he might have to let her have him. Rain was hard to keep down and he wasn’t at all surprised to see that the ropes that had bound her hands now lay in shreds across her wrists. Johnny smiled at Tate but it never reached his icy blue eyes.

He knew exactly what she would do to him and the thought awakened a blood lust in him that he hadn’t felt in years. Together, they had always been merciless killers, not cruel. No, they were just being what the world had made them. They were predators in a world of sheep. Johnny looked into Tate’s eyes and held his gaze, he knew the man couldn’t have looked away to save his life. Yes, he still had it…and suddenly Johnny felt the tables turn as he gained the upper hand in this deadly game.

Tate froze, Johnny was staring a hole thru him and he couldn’t seem to break the connection. The laughter died on his lips. He was feeling…threatened? ‘Threatened?’ He asked himself. He had the gun. He had the fuckin’ power, here! They were tied up and at his mercy! He fought the mental bonds that seem to lock him in place. He knew he had to do something to regain his control of this bizarre situation.

Johnny needed something more from Tate, before the man met his end. He needed to hear the truth about T’resa. Johnny blinked, allowing the man to be released from his gaze. He watched him try to shake off the fear that Johnny saw in his eyes. ‘He should be afraid.’ Johnny lowered his head and a small smile crossed his gagged lips. He thought, ‘Won’t do him no good’, but Johnny did like the smell of fear in the air. It had been a long time and he’d missed the thrill.

He had played nice at Lancer and what did it get him? He had let himself really love his family and he had fought for them, bled for them and protected them, even from himself. Leavin’ for a while when the blood lust had become too much for him. They just thought he’d been having a hard time adjusting. But in reality he had felt like he was coming out of his skin. Truth was he’d had a tough time living without Rain and without the blood…he looked back up at Tate.

He was rattled there was no doubt. But, he’d be damned before he’d let that bastard, Madrid see it! “So, Johnny what do you think of your old man’s offer? I could up the ante a little if you don’t think it’s enough. I could tell him that you were very disappointed to be going so cheap!” Tate knew the next little bit would shake up the gunfighter. “Maybe, I’ll ask your pa if he’d throw his little Teresa in as a bonus! Heard she didn’t die like I thought, guess I shoulda choked her a little longer, huh?” He goaded Johnny before adding. “I don’t think he would mind all that much seeing as how she is already ruined and no decent man would have her, now.” Tate had an evil look on his face as he continued to taunt Johnny.

“You, can’t imagine my surprise when they blamed that on you, Johnny. Never was my intention, you see. She was just so tempting and with you in the barn all night and her all alone in that big house. Well, I just had to keep her company.” He paused to look at Johnny. “And I did all night long!” He drug the last part out for Johnny’s benefit. It was all Johnny could do to keep himself calm. He would not show this cobarde’ how much his words hurt him! It took all the control Johnny Madrid had ever had to keep the flat look on his face.

It bothered Tate that he wasn’t getting to Johnny like he wanted too! Maybe he needs some more details to push him over the edge. “She sure fought like a wildcat, but that just made me more excited. The more she fought the more I had to have her. I had to beat some of the fight out of her though before I ripped her pretty nightgown off and licked her soft nipples. Might have been more gentle with her if she hadn’t kept calling your name. But, even as I forced her naked legs apart, she just kept screaming for you Johnny boy!” The fires raged in Johnny’s heart as he burned with the need to destroy this bastard! More overwhelming for him was the guilt he felt for not hearing her scream for him. ‘Why? Why had he not heard her?’ His heart cried out for justice for T’resa!

“Funny thing though, when I surprised her in the hallway, she had a man’s shirt in her hands. Care to guess whose shirt that was Johnny boy? Let me help you out, it was girlie pink and torn from gettin’ caught in barbed wire. Guess she was gonna mend it before turnin’ in for the night. Sorry about that Johnny boy, but she had something better to do.” He laughed. He could tell he was breaking through that fuckin’ wall of ice that Johnny used as a shield.

“She wouldn’t turn loose of that damned shirt no matter how hard I tried to take it away. We made a pretty big mess out of it, I’m afraid. Shame too, since everybody knew it was your favorite shirt, Johnny. Why any man would wear pink is beyond me, though. But, since she wouldn’t give it up I just stuffed it in her mouth to shut her up!” Tate grinned as Johnny glared, he bit into the rag tied around his mouth as he realized why he hadn’t heard her scream.

Johnny had about reached his endurance limit and he could feel his mouth filling with blood from biting down so hard on his gag. Then, Tate finally said the words that completely shut down Johnny’s humanity and he felt his vision as it shifted. Tate leaned down into his face and whispered. “She really enjoyed it when I took her Johnny…she moaned like the whore that all women really are…” He looked at Rain and licked his lips. “I forced myself into her and damned if she didn’t bleed everywhere…boy was she tight but I took care of that by fucking her real hard! I came inside her and her eyes about popped outta her head!” Tate was laughing at the memory of his conquest of the little bitch! “Then Johnny, when I was through with your sweet little sister… I strangled her till her face turned blue!” He sighed. “Couldn’t have the little whore getting pregnant with my bastard now could I Johnny boy?” He studied the gunfighters face before adding more softly. “When I left her I thought she was dead, but she still clutched your shirt in her hand.” Tate paused for a second before continuing. “Why do you think she did that Johnny? Hold your shirt like a lifeline, like you could still save her?”

The gag in Johnny’s mouth snapped, just as a blur leapt across him. His hands were suddenly freed from the bedpost as Tate was slammed to the floor, the impact knocking the bastard out cold. Rain had Tate’s unconscious body pinned to the floor and it wasn’t a knife she had at his throat. No, it was very long and sharp claws that she had easily extended from her still human hand.

Johnny kinda envied her that ability, he still couldn’t do it, but then again he hadn’t transformed at all since she’d been gone. He had always needed her to be able to change, anyway and without her the power had simply left him but not the blood lust. No, that had remained filling him with the uncontrollable need to spill blood, of course, that had always been there even before she had come along. His thirst had abated along with the power to transform but still the bloodlust had beckoned him, it had almost been his undoing at time or two…

He dropped his eyes, shame filling him with its powerful presence before he shook it off, refusing to let it get to him. Neither of them chose what they were or knew why they existed but they did have to live with it…

Rain seemed to sense his turmoil and turned her head to look at him, blue meeting green and nothing else in the world seemed to matter no more. Everything seemed to melt away as their eyes met and he could see the understanding for what he was going through, reflecting back at him from those mesmerizing green eyes. She loved him and he loved her, what else was there? Nothing, or no one that mattered…of that he was sure. He smiled at her, letting her know that he was alright.

She sat back breathing heavily and felt Stormy pull one of the well-hidden knives from her belt, she was worried for him. The inner battle he was fighting had made itself known to her, just as if a frantic fist had beaten furiously on the door to her soul. She had felt his pain, after all it was her pain, too. She turned her head and their eyes met again as he bent to cut her feet free before severing his own bonds. She had to smile at that, even though he didn’t see it because she was always the priority for him and him for her. Once free, Johnny stood over the trash lying on the floor as he handed the knife back to his wife. He smiled as a very dark look crossed his face. It was their turn now, and Tate was just another sheep that had fallen to the lions…

The bloodlust that came over him at that moment, was intoxicating and Rain inhaled the scent of the coming death in the air. It had been all she could do not to rip his throat out but she was much too controlled for that, now was not the time and here was not the place. Looking at, Stormy she could see he knew it too.

Oh, he wanted to but hell so did she…that, however, was not the point. They both knew the thing they had to protect most of all was themselves. Discovery of what they really were would mean the end of them, they would be hunted and destroyed. Destroyed, didn’t necessarily mean killed but they both knew there were worse things than death…

Death, it called to her again and the rush of adrenaline that wrapped itself around her very being was almost overwhelming, she and Stormy were instruments of death. Both, fine-tuned and honed to perfection in their most prominent skill, killing. Takers of life, drinkers of blood…chills ran all over her and her teeth began to extend before she pulled them back. Just the thought of the blood that could run red with just a small nick to an artery was maddening!

Stormy, placed his hand on her shoulder and it was gone, she was back in control. At least, as much as she’d been when she’d been playing possum…tonto! She had no patience for fools, never did and this Bastard had done exactly what she’d wanted, he had underestimated her. But, didn’t they always?

Wisely, she had closed her eyes when the man had returned to the room, not being ready to kill the bastard, yet! But, her eyes had been fixed on the image of spilling his blood and rolling in it! The thought had engulfed her and she had been lost to it, almost. She’d felt the blood running down her face from her own injury, musta been hit by the door, she’d guessed before remembering the gunshots. Silently, laughing when she’d seen the broken mirror across the room from the door. She’d almost laughed out loud when she’d seen the bullet holes in the wall where the mirror had hung. Cobarde’ was shooting at his own reflection. ‘Dumbass!’

Lucky for him that there was no law in this damned town and the townspeople were most likely too used to hearing gunshots to come investigate. She had smelled their fear and knew they hid behind windows and doors when she’d ridden into this godforsaken town but few actually walked the streets. Only the saloon seemed busy, even this small hotel got most of its business from the stagecoaches that passed through here on their way to other places.

Her attention was brought back to the present as the soon to be dead man continued tormenting, Stormy and that’d only increased her fury! Listening more closely then, she’d heard him say that he had tried to kill Stormy at Lancer? ‘What?!’ Anger ran over her like a stampede and she shook with rage! No one got away with hurting him and he would pay! ‘Wait a minute, Lancer?’ She knew Lancer was his father’s last name and the name of his ranch in California. But, Stormy hated his father and she meant, ‘HE HATED HIM!’ Her husband would never have been there? But, he must have been if any of this was true and from Stormy’s body language, it was.

She’d already been seething with suppressed rage from all she’d heard when the man had suddenly ripped her shirt open and rubbed his filthy hands on her breasts! ‘DIRTY BASTARD!’ The anger once again tried to surface, even now after the danger had passed. But remembering the feeling of Stormy struggling to move his body closer to hers, trying to protect her again eased her anger just as it had earlier allowed her to remain still when she’d wanted to unleash a bloody violent death on the bastard!

She looked up at her husband as he stood over their intended victim and felt what he did, power. Although, he had a strange calming effect on her, always had and it remained, so. It didn’t mean that they had to heed it, together they were stronger, safer but feeling the thirst that was coming alive in the man next to her was haunting, for many reasons.

She had felt the absence of their gift in him after she’d let herself feel it, having to admit to herself at least that his reappearance had been quite the surprise. Death still trailed him, of that there was no doubt but not the change. But, what had she expected? He’d always needed her to force the change, well not, ‘force’ not since the first time, anyway…she cringed. The memory of the pain she’d caused him still hurt her, even though it was long past and he’d forgiven her once he’d realized that she had only shown him what had always been there. Not, that that realization had come easy for him. Now, there was more to know and forgive, much, much more.

She sighed and his gaze met hers, the question in his eyes. ‘Are you alright?’ She nodded to him and smiled though it wasn’t much of one, how could it be with what she knew she would have to do? She would have to tell him all that had happened when they’d been apart. There was a lot to tell…

His loss had very nearly destroyed her, she had never been so out of control. Her blood lust had increased and she’d had no reason to deny it, nothing to exist for…she had killed ruthlessly and the more blood she spilled the more she’d needed.

It had become almost a nightly thing, her biggest shame had been that she could no longer discern between people and prey, when her eyes swept a room all she could see was sheep. Sheep, were for the slaughter and she had, with no remorse. After all, she was an animal and animals don’t feel remorse or guilt for killing.

A part of her accepted that it was that ability that allowed them to live, her and Stormy…the lack of emotion. It was like a wall that descended, protecting them from what they were but allowed them to also be what they were. Now, it was harder to raise the wall and the line between surviving and pure slaughter was skewed. Well, until San Francisco, anyway…but, she couldn’t think of that now or ever again. But, Stormy would have to know…eventually.

She let her thoughts run back to the moments before she’d made her move on the man who now lay unconscious on the floor. The sound of his heartbeat thrummed through her and she knew that Stormy heard it, too. In her mind, she could almost see the blood rushing through the veins being pumped by the still beating heart. She licked her lips, but now with her husband safe and his calming presence nearby, she began to feel disgust.

The recent memory of his dirty hands on her body made her shiver with repulsion and she pulled her shirt closed without realizing it, her gaze still locked on the disgusting creature at her feet. He had planned to violate her with her husband watching, she had vowed long ago that no man would harm her in such a way again. Other memories assaulting her senses as the past made itself known and she was less able to discern past from present as a flood of images rained down on her.

She’d known her husband had felt her fairly thrumming with rage and he knew what she would do to anyone who even tried it, the other time she hadn’t realized what they had in mind until it was too late. Much too late for them all, even her…and Stormy, though she hadn’t known him then. She’d been too young and trusting to even consider such a betrayal was possible but she had learned the hard way that it was…Dear God, what they had done to her was unspeakable and she’d never spoken of it to anyone but Stormy.

She caught a glimpse of his deep blue eyes still watching her before she sat up and allowed him to pull her up from the floor and into his embrace. He just held her like he knew she needed to be held just then and he knew why. The understanding in his eyes was almost her undoing, because he also knew what she had done in return and in doing so she had sealed their fates, both her and Stormy. The others got what they deserved and for that she would never be sorry but the rest? The rest she would be sorry for the remainder of her life, however, long that may turn out to be…

She’d known that Stormy had been well aware that she was conscious, had felt his desperate need to tear this man to shreds for daring to touch her and that lust had matched her own. She’d wanted his blood and had been losing her ability to restrain herself as his taunts continued, would have if not for her husband’s calming presence.

Then, she’d heard him say that Stormy was worth five thousand dollars to his father…dead? That sorry son of a bitch! She’d then sliced through the binds around her hands with a weapon that was always with her, no search could ever reveal it. How could it, it was a part of her, literally. Letting the tattered ropes fall across her wrists, where they would not draw attention, she’d waited for her chance.

She’d felt the hurt that the cruel words were causing Stormy. She wanted to put a stop to it but she sensed that now was not the time. Her earlier question of who Teresa was had been answered in the worst way possible. ‘Dear God, his sister?’ Rain, was well aware what being attacked like that could do to a woman. She was not only hurting for her husband and his sister but her own memories were trying to surface and she had to fight to push them down.

The intensity of the pain that had radiated off of her gentle hearted husband was so strong that she had been coming unglued. She’d heard his heartbeat pounding in his chest as his rage blew through all barriers… and the moment he’d snapped the gag into pieces, she’d acted on pure instinct. She’d flown over Stormy, slicing thru the rope that had him tethered to the headboard as she’d hit the evil bastard with the full force of her body the impact rendering their prey unconscious. After all, they were heavier than they looked. Of course, they were also much more than met the eye.

Once they were both freed, Johnny grabbed Rain and held her tightly to him. He had never been so relieved in his life. He had been so afraid for her, but now she was safe in his arms. He looked down at the man that had changed the course of his life and T’resa’s…piece of shit wasn’t worth killin’ but Johnny wasn’t gonna let that stop him! Johnny kicked the bastard before turning to get dressed. Which reminded him. “Um miel, why am I naked?” He asked lowering his head and looking up at her through his long lashes.

Rain couldn’t help but grin as she watched him pull on his calzonera’s. “Sorry, honey but you had a high fever and we had to ice you down.” Damn! That reminded her of the doc, what had happened to him? She pulled her shirt together, and ran past a stunned Johnny who was still shimmying his leather pants over his bare ass.

“Where are you going?” Johnny shouted before grabbing his gun and following her down the stairs. “Shit!” He had no idea where she was going but he was going with her!

Rain ran down the stairs calling for the doc and Wilpert. She heard a noise from the closet at the bottom of the stairs and pulled the door open. Inside, was a very perturbed looking Doc Martinez and a pissing his pants frightened, Wilpert. Johnny arrived as his wife was pulling two tied up men from a storage closet.

“Rain, who are these people?” Johnny had no memory of them at all. He tried to help them before the older man began barking orders at him as his gag was removed.

“Stop right there, young man!” The older man had yelled at him. Freezing Johnny in his tracks. ‘What the hell?’ Johnny bristled at the sharp tone.

Rain stepped in before he could give a smart assed remark. “Stormy, this is Doc Martinez, he saved your life last night. After the ordeal they’d been through, Rain felt it best not to chastise her husband about not taking care of himself. He was still very thin and his color was a bit off, but she had no doubt he would be alright, in time. They still had a lot to deal with between them, not the least of which was what had happened to each of them in the past three years.

“You march right back up those stairs, young man!” The doc was feeling very brave, Rain thought.

“We didn’t nurse you all night just to have you undo all the good we did, now move!” Johnny didn’t quite know what to do with that. He looked at his wife, but saw no help in those eyes. No, she just gave him ‘the look!’ Son of a bitch! He had forgotten that she could turn him from a jackass to an obliging husband with that glare! Hell, she didn’t even ride a broom! But she sure had power over him and secretly he was giddy about it. Not that he would ever admit it, though.

Johnny turned and started for the stairs. “Needed to check on that asshole, anyway!” He tried to sound indignant. He grumbled to himself as he stomped his bare feet up the stairs. “Stupid fuckin’ look sure doesn’t work the other way, if she gives in to me it’s because she damned well wants to and for no other reason.”

The old doctor trudged along behind him and smiled. “If I were you young man, I would keep my thoughts to myself. That wife of yours sure don’t brook any arguments and a smart man wouldn’t even try.” He laughed as the gunman turned and gave him a sour look that turned into a grin.

Rain soon joined them in their room. Their prey was still out cold on the floor, she looked at him with disgust. Stormy was still shirtless and the doc was finishing up with the bandage he was wrapping around his lower stomach area. The white wrapping looked stark against the natural color of his skin. She was happy to see that at least his body, if not his face was returning to its normal deep tan. The black of his chest hair accentuated the look and Rain felt a tremor run through her that she had not felt in a very long time. She had been with other men in the time they had been apart. But, no one woke her body up like Stormy did. ‘Damn, it’s hot in here!’ Rain looked to the window for help, but since it was already shattered there wasn’t anything else it could do for her. She looked over at Stormy and saw that he was giving her gaping shirt an appreciative look as well. Their eyes met and they both smiled.

About that time, Wilpert popped his head through the doorway. Seeing as how the door was pretty much useless now, what else could he do? “Ma’am?” He addressed Rain. “I have the room next door all ready for you. Bathtub full of hot water and plenty of soap and towels.” He grinned shyly at the gunfighter’s wife. Johnny looked back and forth between them before glaring at the boy. He was getting’ a little too familiar with his wife. Johnny didn’t like that at all.

Seeing her husband was getting a little hot under the collar, so to speak. Rain, picked up her saddlebags and kissed him on the head, letting her shirt fall open exposing her breasts to his face. “I’ll be just next door when you are done in here, Stormy.” Then she turned and sashayed from the room behind the clerk. Her shirt now held closed in her hand.

Johnny was glad the doc was packing his bag up when she’d kissed him. He didn’t think his old heart coulda handled a display like that, he was young and she had his heart pounding out of his chest! Course, it was also a good thing that the clerk, Wilpert? That he could not see anything either! He didn’t like the way the boy seemed smitten with his wife.

Sighing, Johnny bid the doc farewell after paying him a handsome fee for his services. As there was no law in this town, their prisoner was left where he lay, so he went to work trussing Tate up much the same way that he had been done earlier. Except, Johnny added something in for some fun later, he grinned. Yes, he had a wicked sense of humor but he doubted if Tate would appreciate it or what he had planned for him, Johnny reasoned. Once he was sure Tate wouldn’t be going anywhere, Johnny put the broken door back in place, well mostly, anyway, he laughed. Then he went in search of his wife…he grinned and it lit his whole face.

Johnny opened the door to the room next door and heard water splashing. He peeked around the corner and saw his wife in the tub covered in bubbles. ‘Oh my!’ He loved bubbles and a bubble covered Rain was so much the better. He closed the door behind him and sauntered into the room. His bare feet making no noise on the carpeted floor. ‘Must be one of them fancy rooms.’ Johnny remembered the other room had a hardwood floor.

Rain opened her eyes and watched Stormy as he moved over toward the tub. He was definitely aroused. ‘Damned, well better be!’ She thought. She lifted a bubble covered leg out of the water and stroked a sponge up and down its length. She kept her eyes on him as she continued her bath, the more she lathered the more he stared. Finally, she asked him. “Well, are you just gonna stand there or are you planning to join me?” He just smiled his biggest smile at her and his deep blue eyes flashed as he started unbuttoning his pants.

Johnny smiled at his wife, damn if she didn’t get right to the heart of the matter. He almost hesitated because of his wound, but the doc had said nothing about keeping it dry…not that it would have mattered at this point. He hadn’t been with his wife in three years and nothing was gonna stop him now! He didn’t want to be with her being dirty and stinking, he hadn’t had a bath in days. But, joining her in the tub would take care of that. He dropped his pants to the floor, his gun making a thump as it landed on the soft flooring. He stepped lightly into the hot water, settling in with their legs intertwined, he just felt at peace and damn it felt good.

Rain slid closer to her husband until her legs was wrapped around his back. She was careful not to put any pressure on his injured side as she was pulled even closer. Stormy had brought her as close to his heart as he could in their current position and she held his gaze as she began to wash him with the soapy sponge.

Johnny was in heaven, his wife’s gentle touch was like a healing hand and he felt no pain…not from his body or his heart. He let her bathe him and relished her fingers on his skin and in his thick wet hair. He had forgotten what it was like to be caressed like that, he had been with many women since he thought he’d lost her but none could hold a candle to this woman, his woman. He studied her eyes as she continued to gently wash him, those eyes were just for him and he knew it, so did she.

He closed his eyes just for a moment as he thought of how he had tried to find a replacement for her, he had been desperate to have the peace again her love had given him. He sighed, it wasn’t to be…he knew that now. There was no replacing her in his heart, he could bed other women and even think that he loved them and maybe even wanted to marry them but it had been a lie that he had told himself.

He realized now that even the feelings that he thought he’d had for T’resa were not real. What he had been searching for could only be found in the impossibly green eyes of his wife, his Rain. Never again would he try to replace her because it couldn’t be done. If she died, he would die too because he would never live again without her, he couldn’t. She was the air he breathed, a gift from God to him…an unrepentant sinner that deserved no happiness much less the angel that he had been given, not once but twice.

He opened his eyes to see her watching him, he knew she was seeing right through him and that was okay with him. He loved her so much that it hurt, not a bad hurt like when she had been gone but a wonderful hurt that filled him up and set him free. They shared the understanding look that neither needed to explain, the love in both their eyes was words enough. Nothing in this world mattered to him like she did, he didn’t need anything else, not his so-called family or even Lancer as beautiful as it had been. He had all he needed right here in his arms…he pulled her closer to him and their lips met and the tender kiss he both gave and accepted became more passionate as their need of each other raged.

Johnny took Rain and spun her in the tub until her back was at his chest. She lounged against him as he caressed her soapy nipples with his index fingers. He took the sponge from her hand and began washing her, starting with her shoulders, he made his way slowly across her well rounded breasts. She moaned as his touch awoke every pleasure point in her body. He let his hand roam further down across her flat stomach then on to much lower territory.

As Stormy, let his hand wonder further down her body, Rain was overcome with sheer pleasure. His gentle hand reached her sweet spot and he knew just how to bring her to her ultimate climax! She thrashed beneath his touch as he brought her again and again to new heights of pleasure. He kissed her neck as she moaned his name between throes of passion.

No one could satisfy her with just a touch, no one but him! Just as she thought she might die from sheer happiness, he released her but was nowhere near done pleasing her.

Johnny was rock hard as his wife thrashed and moaned with the pleasure he was giving her, he wanted inside of her, badly. But, he would withhold his own desires to show her just what she meant to him because there were no words. He turned her again so she was seated on her knees over him, her breasts in his face. He took a hardened nipple into his mouth and sucked it gently, teasing her with his tongue. He rolled her nipple around in his mouth and flicked his tongue just underneath it where he knew it gave her the most pleasure.

Rain threw her head back as he stroked her nipple with his tongue. Her breath was coming faster as the pleasure grew, he caressed her firm ass as he pulled her up from her seated position. Then she nearly came unglued as she felt his hands move up her inner thighs, again caressing lower places. His fingers found what they were looking for and he slid them up inside her as she gasped from the raw excitement building within her. She was riding his fingers as they slid in and out of her. She grasped his shoulders as he buried his head in her breasts and sucked them harder as his fingers fucked her to another climax! She buried a scream of joy in his neck as he pulled out of her and she continued to ride the euphoric feeling of pleasure he had given her!

Johnny was elated that he was able to please his wife, so much. He watched the euphoria as it took his wife to new heights of satisfaction. When she started to come down, he took her beautiful face between his soapy hands and pulled her in for another passionate kiss, their tongues melted together as they were lost to their overwhelming love for one another. He was about to explode from the need of her, when her hand reached down between his legs and stroked him. She wrapped her hand around his hardness and slowly began to pleasure him. He couldn’t stop the moan that left his lips as she stroked him! “Oh, Dios!” He moaned.

Rain felt the hardness of him as her fingers encircled her favorite part of his body. He was thick and hard in her hand as she stroked the perfect length of him. He was truly made for her, they fit together better than a hand in a glove. As she watched him enjoy her touch, she knew he was about to come and she wanted that to happen inside her. She kissed him softly on the lips and as their eyes met she sat down on him bringing them together as one. Water splashed out of the tub, soaking the carpet, as she rode him hard. They both moaned with the pleasure of being thrust together, holding each other tightly as they both climaxed and he came inside her with a final thrust.

Johnny almost lost it too soon when Rain eased down onto him and he sucked in a breath as he filled her up with his hardness. Damn he filled every inch of her…wall to wall and front to back, he felt her as he had to push into her because she was just the perfect amount too small for him in width. She settled on him and began to ride him and at that moment she coulda used spurs and he wouldn’t have cared. She rode him at a gallop until with one last thrust, he poured himself into her as they slowed their pace. Before coming to a stop and just holding onto one another, him still inside her…just where he belonged.

****

In Green River, Fred had found Sam and since he had no luck finding Val, he decided he was gonna have to do! “Sam!” Fred ran across the street to meet the old doctor on the sidewalk in front of the dry goods store. “Slow down Fred, what is the big hurry?”

Catching his breath Fred asked the doc if they might be able to talk a bit more privately. Curious, Sam had Fred follow him to his office down the street. Once inside Sam locked the door and offered his friend a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table in his kitchen.

Fred declined the coffee in favor of water and gulped it down before accepting a second glassful. He really hated to bring Sam into this knowing that he and Murdoch had been close friends for years. But who better to turn to in this situation than a doctor? Well, since he couldn’t find the Sheriff.

“Sam, I hate to tell you this but Murdoch Lancer has gone around the bend!” Fred stated matter of fact.

Sam could only stare. He finally shook himself off mentally and asked for the whole story. “Why do you think that, Fred?”

Fred went on to tell Sam about Murdoch’s strange behavior. When he got to the part about Johnny coming home in a few days, Sam was elated! “But, that’s wonderful. Did they finally manage to work out their problems?” The old doctor smiled. It didn’t last though as Fred revealed that Johnny was expected in a pine box. That Murdoch offered someone five thousand dollars to have Johnny brought back dead but recognizable for his burial on Lancer. “Oh, and Murdoch will be throwing a party after the burying, he says!” Sam was beyond stunned.

Sam jumped up! “We have to find Val, is Murdoch still in town?”

“Val hasn’t been seen in town since last evening and I saw Murdoch heading over to the mercantile, probably looking for Johnny some proper burying clothes! You know how he hated those colorful shirts Johnny wore!” Sam just nodded. The shirt comment reminded him of what had happened to Johnny’s favorite pink shirt.

Sam and Fred went in search of Murdoch. Sam had a plan but it would mean shocking Murdoch back to his senses. He would drug him unconscious if that didn’t work…but they needed to find Val. They had to keep Johnny from being killed by a crazy man, even if that man was his father. Sam knew what the last several months had cost his friend. Now apparently, it had also taken his mind! He refused to let Murdoch do this because he understood what would happen when he re-gained his good sense just to learn he’d had his son killed! That thought had about destroyed him before and Sam had no doubt it would finish the job this time!

Having searched all over town and asked everyone in sight about Val. The duo had deduced that Val had taken his horse from the livery sometime during the night and since Murdoch had said he had gotten his telegram, they assumed Val had at some point been at Lancer.

Knowing how Val felt about Johnny, Sam came to the conclusion that Val had gone after his friend. Val would have read the telegram and Sam was sure, he’d been none too happy about it. Unless, he missed his guess Val would have caught the train from Cross Creek station headed south trying to head off disaster! Acting on this idea, Sam sent Fred to relay a message to the train station to see if Val had indeed boarded the early morning train.

Sam was waiting for Fred to return, when he saw Murdoch leaving the undertakers? Sam just shook his head and ran a weary hand down his face. ‘Lord all mighty! Murdoch what in the world have you done?’ Sam’s mind went back in time to the sad sight of the youngest Lancer lying near death before his very eyes…

Sam had awoken with a start. Suddenly, remembering where he was and why he was there, he looked over at the still figure on the bed. Johnny didn’t look any better, but Sam was relieved that he was even still breathing. He didn’t know how with the severity of his injuries and the blood loss. ‘Where did this boy get the strength from to fight, more importantly, where did he get the heart?’

He stood and stretched his weary body and listened to his bones cracking with his advanced years. Sadly, he felt that Johnny would never live long enough to worry about things like that. Johnny seemed to be a brilliant shooting star among common constellations, he burned brightly across the night sky but was destined to fade as his brilliance burned itself out. Leaving behind only darkness and despair in his fading wake.

Sam was startled by Aggie as she crept into the room to check on them. “How is he this morning, Sam?”

Sam leaned over and checked Johnny’s weakening pulse and fading heartbeat before turning to look at Aggie. The sadness in his eyes, told the story. Johnny was losing this fight and there was nothing that they could do to save him. No amount of rallying or tender care could replace the blood that he had lost or repair the damage done to not only his body but his once fiery spirit. He just shook his head. “Damn you, Murdoch! Damn you to hell for the suffering you have caused this boy!”

Aggie gasped in shock at the doctors angry words! She was caught off guard by the venom coming from someone who ordinarily was, well by all accounts a very mellow man. Aggie hesitated but finally asked. “Sam? Are you alright?”

“Yes, my dear. I am fine but this boy is not and I am so angry right now at the unfairness of it all.” Sam paced across the floor, stopping to look out the window at the magnificence of the new day. ‘Would this be Johnny’s last day on this earth?’

Aggie was at a loss as for what to do. She started by telling Sam that she would sit with Johnny while he went and had his breakfast. Sam could tell she would brook no argument and he was too tired and hungry to argue anyway. So, with a final check of Johnny. Sam left him in Aggie’s care and went to the kitchen.

Aggie sat holding Johnny’s hand, it was all the comfort that she could offer him. He was growing paler by the minute and his breaths were just low labored sounds. An urgent knock at the door nearly stopped her heart! ‘Oh Dear! What if it’s Murdoch?’ She listened intently as her housekeeper answered the door. She had told them all about why Johnny was here and why it must be kept a secret! Most of the women who worked in her employ were happy to help Johnny. That boy had a way of winning ladies over, young and old. The one exception might be Mabel. Her son had been killed by a gunfighter and she hated them all with a passion! Her only hope was that Mabel liked her job here more than she wanted to destroy Johnny!

Aggie listened as Ora opened the door to the visitor. She held her breath as she listened to the voices of her small but very feisty housekeeper and Jelly? ‘Was that Jelly?’ He worked for Lancer doing what Aggie didn’t know but she did know that the old man loved Johnny like his own son. ‘Yes, if anyone except his brother could bring Johnny around and make him fight it was Jelly!’ She jumped up and ran for the door, stopping when she heard the third voice. ‘Oh Dear God! Murdoch!’

He and Jelly were asking about Doc Jenkins. “We need Sam back out at Lancer, right now!” Murdoch shouted. “I see his buggy out by your barn and I know he is here!” Murdoch was very angry…or worried.

‘The barn! No, Barranca is in the barn.’ I have to keep him away from there! Aggie walked up to the door and greeted her old friend as if nothing were amiss. “Hello, Murdoch. I believe you will find Sam in the kitchen eating breakfast. Is everything all right at Lancer?” She asked coyly.

Murdoch was dumbfounded! He knew Cipriano had spoken to Aggie last night and if Sam was here then she would know that things were far from right! He eyed his friend suspiciously. “Why is Sam here, Aggie?” Murdoch knew that when Sam had left Lancer he had been headed to see Molly Adams because it was close to time for her baby to be born. Before Aggie could answer Sam walked out of the kitchen eating a biscuit.

“My horse threw a shoe, Murdoch. I had Aggie send a rider over to the Adams place to let them know if they needed me this is where I will be until my horse could be re-shod this morning.” He gave Murdoch his most unconcerned look and Aggie almost laughed at the old doctor’s ruse. Of course, he was telling the truth, mostly. About that time her foreman, Harvey brought the doc’s carriage around, with his gelding wearing new shoes. Aggie had to smile, she had some good people working for her, sneaky but good!

“So what has happened? Has Scott taken a turn for the worse?” Sam asked as he turned his angry friend towards the door.

“Yes! Dammit Sam! Scott is burning up with a fever this morning and nothing we do is making a difference.” Murdoch was definitely not himself thought Aggie.

“Well, let’s get out there and take a look.” Frowned Sam. He would have to leave Johnny and he really hated to do it with him so near death. Sam knew he couldn’t do a thing more for him than he’d already done but letting his friend die alone was more than Sam could bear. He pleaded with Aggie with his eyes. He could see she understood and he accepted her silent promise to be there with Johnny.

Just as they turned to leave, her cook came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She looked uncertain but then Mabel called out to Murdoch. Sam and Aggie both froze in their tracks. Aggie shot Mabel a warning glare, but she was determined. “Mr. Lancer? I just wanted to say I am sorry for your troubles and I hope that your sons will be alright.” Murdoch mumbled a thanks and continued out the door. Aggie had caught the ‘sons’ remark and again glared at her cook.

Aggie hoped that was all she had to say! Right now she needed to get Jelly to stay, but how? Surely, Murdoch had everyone available out looking for Johnny. But, maybe that is why Jelly was with him…Hmm. That gave her pause, Murdoch would not trust Jelly to turn Johnny in if he did find him. So, he was keeping a close watch on Jelly and that is why they both came here. Why Murdoch didn’t remain at Lancer looking after Scott and Teresa, like he should have been. She knew Jelly loved them as well but anyone could see that Johnny was special to Jelly, the son he’d never had.

Well, she was about to test her theory! She could see the pain in the old man’s eyes just standing here when he needed to find Johnny! She would bet he would do anything to help his friend. “Oh Murdoch, I know it’s a bad time but could you lend me Jelly for a few days. I need someone here to handle some things and offer protection to us helpless women, since most of my crew is away on the round up.” She batted her eyes at Murdoch.

Murdoch was stunned by her request but really it was a good idea. Jelly was itching to go after Johnny and Murdoch could not have him finding him and helping him to escape. Leaving him to watch out for Aggie and the other women just made good sense. He smiled weakly at Aggie. “Yes, that’s a wonderful idea Aggie! You ladies should not be left alone with a killer on the loose.” Jelly about flew into a frenzy when he heard his boss refer to Johnny as a killer! He was about to let him have it until something unusual happened…Aggie winked at him.

Jelly appeared indignant about being left behind but soon agreed to protect the women folk. He hoped Aggie’s wink meant what he thought it did, that she was gonna help him find Johnny. He had been shocked when he had returned to the ranch this morning after spending the night hiding out in a line shack with Johnny’s surprise! Three beautiful new brood mares that Murdoch and Scott had bought for him at the stock auction they had attended. Jelly had been very happy to learn that his friend was gonna finally get to breed horses at Lancer. He had returned with the mares spit and polished. Looking every bit as spiffy as Barranca, since he was to be the stud.

But sadly, Jelly lowered his head as he remembered what he had been met with once he rode into the yard this morning. Johnny was gone, maybe even dead. Jelly wiped at his eyes, “Gaul durned dust.” He muttered. His friend was accused of hurting the sweet little Teresa and shooting not only his brother but several of his friends, too. Jelly knew, even if nobody else did, that there was no way his friend would have ever done such a thing to Teresa. As for shooting the others, he’d been forced to fight for his life and if Johnny had wanted them dead they would be!

Jelly had tried to take off right then and there to find Johnny, but Murdoch said he needed him to help him save Scott right now, by finding the doc. His boss had sworn that all available hands were out searching for Johnny. They had searched until it was too dark to see and had camped out so they could start searching again at first light. Jelly believed him, but he had to wonder what would happen to Johnny if they did find him? Murdoch had a bad look in his eye when he talked about Johnny. Jelly was pretty sure the man wanted his son back alright, dead!

Jelly stood on the porch of the Circle C and watched Murdoch ride off with the doc. Murdoch’s horse ponied to the back of the doc’s buggy. Funny, the doc looked sick to be leavin’ here. Jelly shrugged it off as worry over everything that had happened.

Aggie watched Jelly as Murdoch drove away with Sam. “Jelly, how are you at keeping secrets?”

“Well, ma’am a site better than I used to be I reckon!” Jelly smiled but it didn’t touch his eyes or his heart.

Aggie motioned for him to follow her into the house. “Jelly, I have someone that needs your special brand of doctoring and I hope you won’t mind helping someone in need?” She stood at the door to Johnny’s room her hand on the handle.

“No, ma’am! I will do what I can to help anyone, ma’am.” ‘I really need to be out finding…’ Aggie opened the door. “Johnny!” Jelly cried tears of joy that his dearest friend was safe and being helped.

But, as he got closer the joy faded. He could see that Johnny was real bad off and he swallowed hard as he realized he would just be providing comfort to his dying friend. Jelly sadly, knelt down beside Johnny’s battered body taking his hand in his he bowed his head and did something he had rarely ever done before. Jellifer Hoskins prayed. He prayed for the life and soul of his friend, Johnny Madrid Lancer.

*****

Johnny awoke later in the afternoon, with a yawn and a lazy stretch of his still naked body. He looked over at his wife, still sleeping beside him on the soft bed. Johnny gently brushed her silky hair away from her face and held it for a moment as it slipped through his fingers. He loved her hair, the way it felt when he ran his hands through it…the way it caressed his chest when she lay in his arms. He smiled. She was the one good thing in his life and he again felt peace settle over him. ‘Peace.’ Johnny sighed. It had always been fleeting in his life. Never was there for long, something or someone would come along and take it away. When he’d lost Rain, he’d accepted that he wasn’t meant to have any peace or happiness in his life.

Rain stirred next to him, she was humming in her sleep, he couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face. She always hummed in her sleep, when she was happy, well or purred… He didn’t know the tune but to him it was balm for his soul. He snuggled back in next to her, throwing his arm and leg over her warm body. He hissed as the wound in his side pulled, “Damn! That fuckin’ hurts!” He whispered. He really needed to rewrap it seeing as how his former bandage was nowhere in sight. He blew out a breath, he was loathe to leave the comfort of his wife’s arms, but nature was also calling. He slowly pulled himself away from her warmth and sat up with a grunt as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He grimaced when he saw his pants still on the floor. ‘Dammit! This was gonna hurt!’ He bit his lip and leaned over to pick up his pants. He sat back and carefully slipped them on before groaning as he realized that his gun was still on the floor. ‘Great!’

Johnny crept out the door and toward the now destroyed room next door. He had to find a shirt and his boots before… “Shit!” Johnny jumped away from the movement behind him in the hallway, nearly crashing into the still broken door. His side now fairly thrumming with pain from the sudden movement.

He pulled his Colt from where he had tucked it in the front of his pants. Luckily, for the clerk, Johnny had excellent reflexes. He pulled the gun back up before putting a bullet between his eyes. “Dammit, boy! Don’t you know enough not to sneak up on a man that way?”

Wilpert’s eyes were large as he stared at the gun that had flashed before his face and was gone just as quickly. He would be none too sad to see the gunhawk leave, although he did admire the scenery. He blushed a deep crimson as he answered. “I, I just wanted to see if you needed anything.” He managed to stutter out.

Johnny looked at the boy, Rain seemed like she was fond of him, so she probably would be pretty put out with him if he shot the little bastard! “No harm done.” ‘Yet!’ Johnny thought to himself. If he kept admiring Rain the way he was he might have to do him some harm, though. In reality, Johnny knew that Rain wouldn’t give this boy a second thought but the alpha male in him felt the possessiveness for what was his, and Rain was his and his alone!

Smiling, Johnny said. “I was just gonna get my shirt and boots before heading to the outhouse.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary Mr. Madrid. We have indoor plumbing, the water closet is right down the hall.” He pointed to the door at the other end of the hallway.

“Well, that certainly makes it more convenient, now don’t it?” Johnny started past the clerk before his stomach rumbled and he thought to order up some food for them.

Hearing the loud rumble, Wilpert said. “I will have some steaks and potatoes brought over from the saloon, unless you would like something from the cantina? Something a little more, spicy?” He asked.

Johnny continued down the hall but called back over his shoulder. “Cantina sounds good to me and tell them to make whatever it is, extra hot!” Wilpert watched the dark leather pants as they disappeared into the water closet. “Uhm, yes…extra hot.” He fanned himself as he made his way down the stairs.

****

Tate was starting to regain consciousness. He felt liked he’d been kicked in the head by a horse. He moaned as the pain became more intense. He slowly, lifted his eyelids but could only see blurry shapes as they fell back shut. It was just too much effort to keep them open and he gave into the darkness, once again. Something was causing him to feel fear but he was just too sick to care…

****

Johnny walked out of the water closet to find the clerk waiting for him. “Damn, don’t you have anything better to do?” Johnny was getting a little tired of seeing him every time he turned around.

“I saw your wound needed tending again and the doc left some supplies to wrap it up again, if needed.” He held out a handful of bandages and such toward the gunfighter. Johnny blew out a breath and nodded. He sat down on a bench in the hallway and allowed the clerk to doctor and rewrap his wound.

“The cantina will send your food over as soon as it’s ready. I made sure to tell them to make it very hot and to send some cold buttermilk along with it…” He was muttering on like a school girl with a crush, he chastised himself.

Johnny eyed the boy, he loved buttermilk but had not thought to ask for any. ‘Guess, I should thank the boy for putting the extra effort in to make his guests happy.’ “Um, Thanks.” Johnny smiled at the clerk as he watched him finish up with the bandage.

Wilpert was in the clouds happy, when the handsome gunhawk smiled at him. His hands shook as he made contact with the darker skin of the gunman as he wrapped the bandages around him. He was starting to sweat from just being near such a fine specimen of a man. Securing the bandage, Wilpert jumped up and ran to the water closet, leaving a stunned Johnny wondering what the hell had happened?

Just then he saw his wife out of the corner of his eye, she was standing in the doorway to their new room and she was only wearing his extra shirt. ‘Oh!’ He glared down the hall toward the door to the water closet that the clerk had disappeared through. ‘He’d better not be doing what I think he is doing, in there!’ He stood and turned to his wife. “Rain, I don’t like you showing that much of yourself out in the hall. That little bastard already has the hots for you, in case you hadn’t noticed!” He felt the jealousy rising in him like a living thing.

Rain just smiled at him and he melted. She strolled out to him and stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “I think you are more his type than I am, mi Corazon…in case you hadn’t noticed.” She laughed and padded back into the bedroom leaving her husband to figure that one out for himself.

Johnny just stood there and watched her very nice bottom as his thin worn out extra shirt slid up and down her backside as she walked back into their room. Realization, suddenly hit him as she turned the corner and Johnny looked back down the hall toward the water closet. “Oh, Fuck!” He shook the chills off his body as he followed her back inside. ‘Dios! That was all he needed to make the day perfect, a VERY unwelcome admirer on his ass!’ He cringed and slapped his hand down his face, yeah he maybe shoulda thought that out a little better. He shook away more of the chills and closed the door and locked it!

The food finally arrived and Rain now mostly dressed, opened the door for the clerk and the young boy that worked for the cantina. The hot food smelled wonderful, Johnny’s stomach rumbled again from across the room. He was now wearin’ his extra shirt after he had gone another round with Rain on the bed. He had pulled it on but left it unbuttoned, suddenly realizing his mistake he turned around and started to quickly button it up, before tuckin’ it in his pants. ‘Hells bells!’ He could feel that little bastard staring at him.

Hearing the door close, Johnny turned to see his wife smiling at him, knowingly. ‘Damn! She could read him like a fuckin’ book!’ He sauntered over to the table and kissed her on the lips before holding a chair out for her. She ducked her head to hide her smile when she sat down and he went around the small table to take his place. Johnny was blushing, with his darker complexion it was a little harder to tell but Rain knew him well enough to see it, even if most could not.

They ate the very spicy food, a meal of peppery sliced steak with onions and peppers wrapped in tortillas and some of the hottest salsa that Rain had ever tasted. She coughed as the fire slid down her throat but continued to burn her mouth. She glared at him! “Fuck! Johnny, did you have to have them use the fires of hell as spice?!” She sputtered still giving him the look he knew well!

‘Uh, Oh!’ He had forgotten that Rain hated the extremely hot food that he had grown up with in Mexico! She was pretty pissed at him, she had called him, Johnny! She never called him that unless she was mad as hell at him! He just gave her his best smile, the one he reserved for her alone, the one that usually got him out of the most trouble! Still grinning he did the only thing he could. “Buttermilk?” He offered her the pitcher of cold liquid.

She snatched the pitcher and turned it up, instantly relieving the burn in her mouth. She sat the pitcher back down and looked up at her husband, the bastard was still grinning at her. ‘Ah hell, she couldn’t stay mad at him and he damned well knew it!’ She grinned back at him and saw the relieved look cross over his face. He reached across and wiped away the buttermilk ring from around her mouth with his fingers, then sucked them clean. She playfully threw her napkin at him and they both laughed.

Dinner eaten, well minus the flaming hot salsa. Rain had not tried any more of the stuff after that first bite. She had kept to the lower burn of just the steak and peppers. She smiled as she stood and watched her husband wiping the bowl of salsa out with a tortilla. She just shook her head. ‘I wonder if that’s why he’s so fiery tempered and passionate?’ Well if that’s the case, eat up Stormy, because she wouldn’t have him any other way.

When Rain stood up from the table, Johnny was still licking the bowl of salsa clean. He looked up at her as she turned away from him. He eyed his beautiful wife before frowning at the clothes she was wearing. He definitely liked what he saw, until he realized this is what she planned to wear out on the street, as well. “Rain? What are you wearin’, querida?” Way too much of her was showing as far as he was concerned. He enjoyed the view of her ample cleavage and his knees turned weak at the sight of her bare midriff. He shook his head to break the spell. ‘Damn a man could get killed being distracted like that!’

Rain turned back toward him as she strapped her rig around her hips and positioned it perfectly, for a fast draw. She had known exactly what he was concerned about. She walked back over to him and as she reached down to tie her holster to her leg, she leaned in revealing more of her breast to him. He was visibly stunned for a moment, when he looked back up he saw the barrel of her gun staring him in the face. ‘Fuck!’ He hadn’t even seen her draw the damn thing! Suddenly, he understood why she would wear such a shirt. He looked back up at her as she lowered the weapon and questioned him with her eyes. “I see.” He said. And he did, he understood how dangerous the world was for a woman, even his deadly woman.

He knew his wife was an unrepentant killer and would kill a man even quicker than he would, simply because she had less choice in the matter. He could stand and fight against another man or even more than one on occasion but as a woman his wife didn’t have that option. No, if she lost such a battle and was overpowered some very bad things would happen to her, in fact she had learned that lesson the hard way. Some would say she was asking for trouble by wearing revealing clothes, but he knew if that’s what a man had on his mind…he blew out a breath. It wouldn’t matter that the woman had not asked for the attack or what she wore, an evil man would take what he wanted even from an innocent like…T’resa or given the chance, a killer like Rain.

Hell, by wearing those clothes and her holster tied down low. She sent a very clear message to anyone with eyes to see… ‘Mess with me and die!’ He knew that was not an idle threat, he had seen her kill with only death in her eyes. She was deadly with any gun but she preferred a knife if things got close. He knew she liked their blood and the more they bled the better as far as Rain was concerned. She reveled in it. That never really concerned him though, he had that same lust for the blood. Like his wife, he had just seen and done too much not too.

Like him, she had nightmares about the blood. But again like him, that only came out during sleep or sickness. Never showing in the light of day. He often felt guilty for having taken so many lives and having been drenched in too damn much blood. He had suffered that more during his time at Lancer with his father and brother, than any other time in his life.

He had wanted to live up to the man that his father had wanted him to be but without Rain, he’d just felt lost. He couldn’t change who he was and he knew it, he had felt an overwhelming guilt living under that roof. Knowing his true self and the cold blooded killer he really was, had combined to make his life there a living hell. Maybe, if Rain had been with him things would have been better. She had a way of erasing that guilt and giving him peace with her unbridled acceptance. A far cry from his father’s hatred of anything Madrid! He almost laughed, the old man didn’t know the half of it!

His brother, Scott… ‘Scott’. Johnny had to pull himself back from the deep hurt and betrayal he felt just remembering his ‘brother.’ He wrapped his arms protectively around himself and lowered his head. He had loved and trusted him like no other person in the world, except Rain and well, Val. He had believed his brother accepted him unconditionally, but in the end that had been proven false. His brother, he sighed…had tried to kill him without even offering him the chance to explain. Scott’s betrayal had taken the fire from Johnny’s heart, taken his Will to live. He had clung to his brother like a light in the darkness but that light had been a lie. ‘Why, Scott? I thought you had more faith in me than I had in myself, but I was wrong… brother.’

Rain watched the emotions play across her husband’s face. She could see he did understand why she dressed like she did…but there was something more. His face played out a plethora of varying emotions as she watched him and saw the hurt and pain flash across his face. Then the stance she had come to know well in their time together, the bowed head and self-hug that he gave himself when he felt lost. She reached out to him and he grasped her hand pulling her into his embrace. She felt him shudder and she held him tighter, trying to absorb some of his pain into her own body. ‘Dear God!’ The pain in his eyes was heart breaking! Her very being felt the hurt and confusion in his heart and soul. Their embrace was broken by a banging sound from their old room…they both looked toward the sound.

Johnny sighed deeply. “I guess the asshole is awake.” He looked up at Rain and he saw the compassion in her eyes. He knew if anyone could, that she understood his pain.

She nodded, and he knew that having heard everything the bastard had done to his ‘sister’, T’resa. That she would let him handle this in whatever way he needed too. He was a lucky son of a bitch, how many husbands had wives that could and would back them up like his did? Not many, he would guess.

He pulled her down into his lap and just rocked her, thankful for her presence in his life and holding her close like this was soothing to his troubled heart. He had to deal with this the right way, for T’resa’s sake. She deserved justice and he’d be damned if she wasn’t gonna get it! He could not bring this man back for trial, No. He would not put T’resa through that kind of shame. She had been through enough and he would finish this here, but not in the hotel. They needed to take him out of town to deal with him properly…Johnny smiled up at Rain. They were gonna play with him a bit first! Rain loved the games and she was damned good at them, he knew well.

Rain listened as Stormy told her what he had planned. She pulled back slightly from him after he had finished giving her the details of his plan. She laughed when he told her what he had already done to their prey. “You, Stormy are one devious son of a bitch!” Rain nodded her approval, this would be fun.

Johnny loved Rain more than his own life. When he had believed her dead, well, he had wanted to die, too. He had spent a month or so in a Mexican prison grieving for his lost love and waiting for his misery to end. That is until the well timed offer from his father, he’d decided to send his father to Hell before joining him there. So, Johnny Madrid had once more picked up the pieces of his worthless life and made plans for revenge on Murdoch Lancer.

He had been very surprised to learn he had a brother, though. That had literally saved his father’s life and given Johnny a chance to learn the truth. He had then come to love the old man. Johnny sighed, deeply. Not, that any of that mattered, now. His family was lost to him and he figured it was just as well. They might have learned about his blood lust one day and Johnny didn’t know how in the hell they would of handled that!

He’d never wanted them to know, not ever! If, he thought him being a killer for hire had been tough for them to handle, what would they have thought if they knew that killing gave him some perverse pleasure! Johnny almost burst out laughing, Murdoch sure would have something to say about that before showing him the door, he was sure.

Now, there was Rain, hell in some ways she made him look like a saint! His old man would hate everything about his wife, he had no doubt. He woulda taken issue with everything from her wearing a gun to the revealing clothes and the roof woulda come off, if he knew about her taste for blood…or his, after all, they were the same kind.

He thought that he and Rain could have had a wonderful time causing mischief at Lancer…until reality struck him, hard! ‘Waste of time thinking about Lancer, if they had it their way he would be dead!’

They entered the room, careful not to disturb the broken door more than necessary. Johnny returned it to its place, once they were inside the room. Rain walked around the bed, catching the eyes of the frightened man. Once she’d locked on to them, she held them in her deep gaze. She knew it was fear that made that possible, if he wasn’t afraid of her he would be able to look away. But he was afraid, she could smell it in the air…that and the piss dampening his pants. Somehow, they always knew what really looked out at them from behind their fierce eyes. Well, when it was too late…and it was much too late.

Johnny found his boots and slipped them on before he stood and watched the panic run across Tate’s face. The look on his face told the story, he could see his own death reflected back at him from Rain’s shimmering eyes. He could see what Johnny knew was coming as the change started to take place and the blood lust claimed her, he had seen it many times and knew the power that was coursing through her body. It was something that he craved and had been denied since he had lost her, she was the catalyst that brought the change out in him. He couldn’t do it without her but now he felt it taking him over. He shook his head trying to maintain his humanity, he couldn’t allow it to happen here. No telling what would happen and a mess like that was hard to explain in a hotel room…he had to stay in control.

“It’s about time you woke up, we were starting to get tired of waiting on you.” He could hear the timber of his voice as it went from soft to a low predatory growl. He knew that, Tate had heard it to but his eyes were still fixed on, Rain. He was shaking with fear and Johnny knew that the Peyote he had soaked the gag in was causing things to be enhanced as if they weren’t already bad enough. He knew that this bastard was getting no less than he deserved.

Johnny frowned and snarled. “I doubt that you have any idea the horror you put T’resa through, but you will…oh, you will.” Tate gave no response to Johnny’s words. He was too frightened as he watched the bitch from hell pull a blade from her boot. Both, Johnny and Rain knew how unnecessary the blade really was but sometimes it served a very important purpose. It explained…the unexplainable.

Johnny watched as Rain pulled the knife from her boot, it wasn’t one of the special ones that were hidden in her custom belt. No, this was just a very sharp boot knife that she carried as back up and it made a very nice sacrifice, if she was searched for weapons. Finding that, they never even looked any further and what lawman would take a ladies shiny silver decorated belt away from her? He knew that a blacksmith friend of hers from when she was a kid had made that belt for her…it was indeed very special. Although, she needed no weapons other than the ones that no one ever saw, if they did, it was the last thing that they saw on this earth.

She had shown him, her true self, once she’d come to trust him. He had known her for some time by then and had never guessed the danger that she’d kept hidden, so well. He’d never even imagined what she had shown him that night, he had to admit that she’d scared the ‘living hell’ out of him. He would still be running, if he’d been able to move a muscle. But, she’d had him locked into those blazing green eyes and he’d known he was at her mercy, if she had any? Lucky for him, she had known about him from the moment that she’d found him dying in the desert. Even before…

It had been the uncanny sense of being kindred that had saved his life. She had felt his presence and sought him out, even though he had crawled into the small shade that an overhanging rock provided. Hidden, he had thought, from not only the sun but from…predators. He had been sooo wrong. He had been sleeping fitfully, trying to conserve his waning strength. He’d known that he most likely wouldn’t last much longer, he had already been on foot in the desert for two days with no water, no horse and little hope of being found.

He’d left a small town bordering the desert in a hurry, having to leave with no supplies, including water. Even the horse he was riding was not his own, the bay had been the only horse tied outside the saloon at the late hour, his own paint had been bedded down in the stable. He had planned to sleep in a bed with ‘some company’, after being on the trail for weeks. A late dinner at the only saloon still open had followed a much needed, bath and shave. There had been no hurry, the Rurales would not follow him this far north of the border. What he hadn’t counted on was being recognized by the local law.

Hell, who even knew they cared who he was? Being a gunfighter, wasn’t a crime!

No, he hadn’t been wanted, at least on this side of the border, but that had not stopped the Mexican government from issuing wanted posters and spreading them to the north. He had been on the trail, keeping away from towns, so he’d had no idea that he was now worth a lot of money and even at sixteen he understood that dead or alive, meant dead! It was a bogus charge but all anyone, including an underpaid small town sheriff, saw was dollar signs. No one cared that he was on a poster because he’d managed to beat the Rurales to the border after making them eat crow, more or less. Apparently, they’d had it with him, even then.

The real sad part was that there was no way in hell that reward would have been paid, even if he’d been brought back across the border thrown over a saddle. But, he’d have been just as dead…reward or not. But, try explaining all of that with a gun in your face. Nope, hadn’t worked for him, either.

He’d gotten slowly up from the table, his food only half eaten, having been ordered to surrender his gun. Having appeared to be complying with no more argument the sheriff had dropped his guard giving him the chance to knock the man over along with the table and his dinner. Running, out of the saloon like his heels were on fire, he’d jumped on the only horse he saw and tore out of town.

The pursuit, probably wouldn’t have been much, if not for the reward. He had nearly run the poor horse into the ground, staying ahead of the greed of man. Finally, dawn had broken and so had the horses leg, he had been thrown hard to the ground but managed to roll free of the flailing horse. He had risked being found with the shot but he couldn’t leave the horse to suffer before starting off on foot.

His ribs burned and were at least cracked from the hard landing but he’d had no choice and continued on across the hot desert landscape.

Johnny was brought back to the present for a moment as Tate started to whimper in fear, he had to smile as he watched her run the sharp blade under the sweat soaked shirt and pop the buttons, one by one. He continued to watch as she stroked his trembling body with the knife, just enough to bring the blood. Oh, not enough for him to bleed out but enough to ignite the lust and he felt his vision shifting as his eyes took on the same iridescent glow that hers had, only his was a deep ocean blue.

He had to pull himself back again as he felt his control again, waning.

His mind wandered back to when they had met and she’d shown him what not only she was but what he was, too.

Even, her lover at the time, Johnny cringed at the thought of that bastard touching her! ‘Paylon Brody’, the fuckin’ thieving bastard! Outlaw, bank robbing, son of a bitch! ‘Hell, Johnny don’t hold anything back, just say what you think!’ Damn, he had hated that piece of shit! His eyes glowed, darker with the memory.

Even, he had not been shown what she really was, the bastard. Johnny had really hated that son of a bitch! But then, Rain had belonged to him and she had ‘seemed’ very wary of Johnny. Of course, she was just plain mean as hell to everyone, even Brody! Johnny would have never been with the small band of outlaws, stealing never sat well with him, but for Rain. She had brought him back to their camp, just above the foothills, beyond the desert. He had not exactly, been welcomed by the other members of the gang but it had been obvious from the beginning that, ‘Nobody’ was willing to buck her authority…not even Brody. Knowing what he did now, he knew she would have slaughtered them all to save him, if it had been necessary.

She had nursed him, though not necessarily, lovingly. Other than meeting his needs, she had kept her distance and watched him with a wariness in her beautiful green eyes. No one else bothered him or even gave him a threatening glare, well except for Brody. He’d thought, he was allowed since she was his property, or so he’d thought. He had learned, differently…the hard way.

Johnny remembered being drawn to, Rain like a bee to honey and had no idea, why? She was beautiful but that hadn’t been it, at first he thought that maybe she was just a challenge for him. Because, she appeared to hate him and watched him, intently, with those dangerous eyes. They were both very young at the time but not in experience or deadliness, but very close in years.

He was soon to learn, why he was so drawn to her and so much more.

They were the same…they were, kindred. She was more powerful because she had been born with her gift and it had remained dormant until she suffered a horrible attack when she was young. That attack on her innocence brought something out of her so fierce that it could not be put back. Once freed, she’d become the walking version of her given spirit and she had been drenched in the blood of her attackers. Since then, no amount of blood could sate her thirst. She needed it, like he needed it, now.

She had more control than he did, especially now, it had been a long time since he had changed. She could control the degree of the change, where he had to be one or the other. It had been a blessing of sorts that it had left him when she did…he would have covered the land with blood, in his grief. He had very nearly done that anyway but as a hardened killer, a notorious gunfighter.

He had not been born with this gift, at least not that he knew of, but the life he had been forced to lead made him the same. He’d just needed her to bring it out of him and she had. When they had been apart, the change had disappeared but not the need for the blood. That, he had realized, had always been a part of him, even before he’d met, Rain. No, the bloodlust was his and was part of what she had recognized in him. They shared, the overpowering need…to spill blood.

Tate whimpered, loudly and Johnny was once again drawn back to the present. He watched as, Rain tortured the bound man with a devilish look on her face. Yes, Tate would get what was coming to him and this was just the start… ‘Let the games begin!’ He stepped closer to the bed and smiled, his eyes glowing dimly as he tried to control himself. It was especially, hard because he wanted to let go…let the lion take the lamb to slaughter.

Tate was paralyzed with fear and Rain had him locked into her blazing gaze as she cut the gag from his mouth. “Shhhhh…” she cooed, softly as she allowed the blade to slide along his cheek, leaving a stream of blood. “So, you still want to give me a ride?” She taunted him and he cringed away from her. “Aww, Stormy now he doesn’t want to play with us.” Rain pouted and licked her lips, watching him with great interest. “Does our little sheep have a name, Stormy?”

“Tate, Randy Tate.” Johnny spoke the name in his soft drawl as he watched him and was lost in the power of the moment. This was going to be true justice for T’resa. He wished she was here to see it…uh wait, NO WAY! But he wished she could know that he had paid for what he’d done to her, in an unimaginable way. “Rain? You choose, mi corazon.” Johnny smiled at his beautiful wife, she was very becoming as she edged further toward her natural state.

Tate, was freaking out as he looked, frantically between them! None of this could be real, not any of it. “Choose, what?!” He cried!

Rain just looked at the pathetic shaking man and said with no emotion at all on her face or in her timbering voice. “If we rip you to shreds and leave your worthless ass to the vultures or if we devour you ourselves.” She grinned at, Stormy her teeth now slightly elongated.

“No!” Tate shouted! “What the hell are you saying?! You ain’t gonna do that, even you ain’t that evil, Madrid!” He screamed. His mind couldn’t wrap around the fact that they were threatening to eat him!

Johnny leaned in toward Tate’s face and whispered. “How would you know, Tate?” He paused before continuing. “You see what everyone sees, a no good killer. So, why would anything about me, surprise you?” Johnny was dead serious. Rain had a thought. “Let him choose his own fate, Stormy.” She gave Tate a big smile and he almost fainted.

“Sure, so what’s it gonna be, Tate?” He also smiled really big at Tate, even though his teeth were still normal as he had managed to maintain his human form, he could see the fear. “I recommend the vultures because we don’t feed on putrid meat but if you insist I might could see my way clear to choke down a bite or two before puking you back up. Either way, the fun part is the shredding, well for us, and the rest is just cake…and I love cake.” Johnny smiled his most evil smile, his eyes cold fire, as he watched Tate start to shake fiercely as he tried to break his bonds. The motion causing the blood to run more freely, filling the air with the scent of fresh blood.

Johnny’s body was remembering the sensations that were now surging through his blood. He quivered at the thought of what was to come, he really enjoyed it, the thrill of the kill. Johnny Lancer, would never admit to that or let it enter his mind. Johnny Madrid, knew the thrill and savored it but even that was not as fulfilling as the surge of power that came with the total abandonment of humanity. He raised his head and deeply breathed in the scent of fear and blood that filled the air and it made him drunk with the bloodlust. He was just as dark and deadly as he was as, Johnny Madrid but with no rules, no limitations and no remorse.

“Stormy?” Rain was sounding a little drunk herself. “I know you really want to slaughter him but I have an idea that would make it more fun…for us.” She breathed a heavy sigh. Stormy looked at her through his glowing blue eyes, she could tell he was becoming lost to the blood lust. She motioned for him to step away from the bed as she spoke softly to him. He listened intently, as she talked him down. Then slowly Johnny nodded his understanding and together they turned to their prey.

Tate was wide eyed and pissing his pants scared shitless! He watched as Madrid and his wife stood across the room and planned his murder! They were changing? Their eyes had taken on a frightening glow. ‘Oh Dear God!’ How can that be? He was starting to jerk with the shock that was hitting his body like a sudden hail storm. His legs jerked uncontrollably with fear. His panicked mind was screaming at him to get away. But, he could not obey, the fear had too great a hold on him.

He saw the duel pair of glowing eyes again turn towards him and in his panic he rolled off the bed into the floor. He came up on his knees with his eyes trained on the monsters before him his hands and feet still bound.

Rain leapt onto the bed as lithe as a cat and sat before him. Her legs wrapped around him holding the struggling man in place. “Where do you think you are going, sheep?” Rain, growled at him. He looked up slowly into the eyes of death. She smiled, menacingly at him and Tate shook uncontrollably as he watched her teeth extend and sharpen.

“Son of a bitch!” He cried out with an unbridled fear and tried to fight his way free but it was no use, she had him overpowered. Her strength was incredible, as it took no effort on her part to hold him there, even though he knew he outweighed her by over a hundred pounds. They really were some kind of monsters and he knew he was done for! He watched her eyes glow brighter as she continued to transform.

The hell bitch turned to Madrid and without so much as a single word, he came to her. Tate managed a look at the bastard and saw the same glow and long teeth extending from his mouth. Tate panicked and she allowed him to fall completely to the floor! He tried to crawl away but was making poor progress as his hands and feet were still bound. He had almost made it around the bed as he felt the weight hit his back and the jaws tighten around his neck… “Noooo!” He screamed, panting with fear, as he felt the death grip of the demon on his back. He was going to be ripped apart and eaten by these monsters! He felt a bump as his head thumped into Madrid’s leg and he knew he was finished…overwhelmed with fear he passed out and crashed to the floor.

Johnny stood over the unconscious body of the man they were going to kill, his eyes losing their glow and the transformation that had almost happened, returned to its own dark place. He smirked and Rain looked up at him from her perch on the bastard’s back. “Well, I would say we thoroughly scared the hell outta him!” Rain laughed, her teeth and eyes easily returning to normal. “I haven’t had that much fun since we escaped from that fucked up town in Kansas!” Johnny studied on that last part, ‘Was the best day of my fuckin’ life!’ He thought smiling down at her. Returning his smile, she paused as she stood up contemplating something. She walked past Stormy, before turning back and saying. “Good thing we ain’t really gonna eat the smelly bastard, we would probably die of food poisoning!”

Johnny lost it then and laughed hysterically! It had been a good idea drenching his gag in peyote water before cramming it down his throat. He knew from recent personal experience, that all emotions were heightened to extremes with the use of the dangerous drug. So, the fear was not only real but magnified and more torturous!

Johnny knew they were going to have a time getting the bastard out of town without him running his big fat mouth about what he’d seen, although, more than likely, no one would believe the rantings of a lunatic…they couldn’t take the chance. He’d like Rain’s suggestion about the hunt, it was perfect, leave it to his wife to come up with something so brilliant! They would wait until later tonight, then release their prey from the rear of the hotel. They would follow, until they tired of the game and there was no one around to hear him scream…

Johnny told Rain that he was going to the livery to get Tate’s horse and gear, as he strapped on his gunbelt on his way out. The horse would be released near the body and no one would be the wiser. Just an accident on the trail, they happened all the time. Unfortunately, Tate would be found by the local wildlife before morning…sad. Johnny laughed, as he went out the door.

After, Johnny had quietly retrieved the bay from the livery, he walked him through the empty alley until he reached the back of the hotel. He left the horse with a gentle pat after securing him in the shade of a big oak tree. No sense, making the horse suffer, he hadn’t done anything wrong.

They had plenty of time to take care of their little problem, the next stage wasn’t due in till sometime tomorrow evening, they would be long gone by that time. He needed to get to the train station in Tombstone, a days’ ride away before the next train left headed to Cross Creek station. He planned to be there in three days to confront his father about putting a price on his head! Among other things…

As, Johnny headed back up to the room, having quietly made his way from the back entrance into the hotel lobby. He was aware that the clerk, Wilpert was staring at him as he passed. “What?!” Johnny put his hands on his hips and leveled a stare at the boy.

Momentarily, stunned by the sudden outburst. Wilpert sputtered out. “Not a thing, Mr. Madrid!” He swallowed hard. “Except…” Johnny turned to stare at him again. Losing his patience. “WHAT THE FUCK IS IT, BOY?” He shouted. Tearing up, Wilpert began. “I was over at the saloon earlier…eating my dinner and some men come in asking about you. I just wanted to let you know, Mr. Madrid.” Johnny dropped his head. ‘Shit this was just what he needed, right now!’

Johnny saw the tears in the boys’ eyes and that made him feel like shit! The boy had been a big help to them and had been held hostage and knocked around for his trouble. Not to mention, he had treated his wife like fuckin’ royalty. He deserved better than the way Johnny had been treating him and he felt sympathy for the boy. “Thanks for telling me. Did they happen to say who they were or what they want with me?” He asked more civilly.

Wilperts’ eyes lit up at the friendlier tone. “Yes, Sir! They are the kin of the boy you killed the other day in the gunfight. There was three of them and they all wore guns low like you do, Mr. Madrid.”

‘Fuck!’ Johnny had almost forgotten about the stupid prick that had called him out thinking he could out draw, Johnny Madrid! Johnny had given the little bastard a chance to walk away, but he didn’t have the sense to take it. He had looked to be about fifteen or so, and Johnny had taken him out with no problem. But, it was his little brother that had really shook Johnny to the core.

After, killing the boy, Johnny had just put his gun back in his holster when he’d felt the pain rip through his left side. He had drew and fired on instinct, realizing too late that the shooter was the teens’ ten year old brother trying to take revenge for his brothers’ death. Johnny closed his eyes as he relived the moment he had seen the boy fall with his bullet in his chest.

He had been thrown back in time, to his first kill. He had been ten years old when he’d killed the man that had murdered his mother and then come after him. Johnny could only see himself as a child, lying there bleeding in the street. But for the grace of Dios…it could have been him that day, all those years ago.

He had been torn up over killing the kid. His brother had called him out and had gotten what he’d asked for but the younger boy…he didn’t know but maybe he coulda winged him or shot the gun out of his hand…anything but killing him! But, his instincts were honed to a razor sharp edge and knowing he had been shot, he fired the gun with only survival on his mind.

Johnny had already been in a deep depression before the shooting and had been drinking and using peyote, a lot, lately. After, the shooting, he had stopped everything but drinking. That increased, he needed the liquor to dull the pain in his side and to push away the memories and self-hatred that had been eating him alive since he’d left his home. Johnny snorted at that… ‘he’d never had a home.’

Johnny knew he would have to settle this problem before they even thought about turning Tate loose. He stood with his hands on his hips and stared at the floor as he thought how best to handle the situation. He knew it would be a problem just as soon as they laid eyes on him. He blew out a frustrated breath and raised his head looking up the stairs. Rain was waiting for him to come back and he was gonna be a dead man, if he left her out of this, he ran a tired hand down his face as he tried to decide what was best.

He knew she was more than capable of helping him but some deep seeded need to protect her from harm, had him warring with his emotions. ‘She is going to fuckin’ kill me, that is…IF I come back alive.’ But, he just couldn’t put her in harms’ way after just getting her back! He took out his Colt and checked to make sure it was loaded, he knew it was but better to check. Next, he pulled out his hiding gun and gave it a once over, too. Johnny turned back toward the door before stopping and speaking again to the clerk.

“You might not want to be down here when the shooting starts. Because when it does, she is gonna come down those stairs mad as hell and loaded for bear!” He nodded toward the upstairs. “I would make myself scarce if I were you, Wilpert.” The boy stared wide eyed at the gunhawk.

“You ain’t gonna take them all on by yourself, are you?” He swallowed hard believing that the man before him must have a death wish! He too turned to look up the stairs. He knew all hell was about to break loose and she would lay waste to this town and anyone in it…if anything happened to her husband! “Uhm…Mrs. Madrid is gonna be furious!” He cringed at the thought, he didn’t understand the why of it but she scared him to death, at times.

“Son,” Johnny said with all sincerity. “You don’t know the half of it!”

Wilpert watched the gunman walk out the door and cross the street. He was in a panic… “I need to get out of here, fast!” He thought of where to go and decided to find his friend Andrew, maybe he is still at the bank. He hurried out the back way and down the alley toward the only bank in town.

Rain sat twirling the rowels on her spurs and listening to the bastard on the floor breathing. “Won’t have to worry about that much longer, Cobarde’!” She said to no one. What the fuck was taking him so long? She rose and began pacing the floor. She was worried about her husband, it had been too long and he could find trouble even in church, not that they ever went.

She knew Johnny was Catholic like her own mother had been, but she had been raised to believe in the spirits. Sometimes, though she felt that they served the same God…the one and only God. She had never understood, why they were what they were but there had to be a purpose for them to exist, didn’t there? Just as that thought crossed her mind, shots rang out! ‘Son of a bitch!’ That was, Stormy’s Colt, she would know that sound anywhere! She ran out the door and down the stairs in a fury!

About the time Rain was leaving the room, Tate was regaining consciousness. He rolled over and moaned before blinking his eyes until they finally stayed open. He felt sick and dizzy not to mention couldn’t remember what had happened to him. He panicked to see his hands and feet bound. “What the hell?” Whatever had happened he needed to get out of here!

Johnny had stopped at the saloon doors and taken a careful look around before entering. He had seen the three sitting at a table in the far corner, so he sauntered up to the bar as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The bartender gasped when he turned to take the drink order. “Madrid!”

Perturbed, Johnny said. “Why don’t you just advertise it? Asshole!” He tapped the bar and said. “Tequila, pronto!” He glared at the bartender as he poured his drink with shaky hands. He saw the men take an interest in him as they were served their drinks by the saloon girl.

Ah, hell he had forgotten about her, he had a blurry memory of following her upstairs before seeing, Rain. ‘Shit! Had Rain seen that, too?’ If so, he was surprised either of them were still breathing! He hadn’t been up to doing anything more than passing out on her bed but he doubted that Rain would see it that way. ‘Fuck!’ He felt guilty as hell, anyway.

Seeing, one of the men rise from the table and start toward him, he knew now was not the time for guilt or anything else that could get him killed. He, casually turned toward the man and sipped his drink. The man who looked a good bit like the older of the two boys he’d killed, stopped about ten feet from him and looked him up and down before speaking.

“You, Johnny Madrid?” He asked as he continued to stare at Johnny. This boy couldn’t possibly be the legendary, Madrid! Hell, he was supposed to be ten foot tall and bullet proof! Not to mention a hell of a lot older. This half-breed didn’t look much older than his boy, Ryan. The thought of his sons and how they’d died brought on a killing rage.

“I asked you a question, boy!” He shouted! But the gunhawk just studied him with those damned cold blue eyes. He let his own eyes drop to the rig on the man’s hip, low slung and ready for action. “Is that the gun you used to murder my boys with, Madrid?” Pointing toward the Colt on Johnny’s hip.

Finally, Johnny spoke in his soft drawl. “It is if your boys are the two that tried to kill me out on the street a few days ago. One wanted to dance and the second was starting his career as a bushwacker.”

That did it! The man went for his gun but Johnny drew with lightning speed and took him down with a bullet to the heart. The other two were firing as they ran for cover before diving behind a now overturned table. Johnny fanned his hammer, the rapid fire keeping them pinned down. The saloon girl crawled across the floor before reaching the cover of the bar and was pulled behind it by the burly bartender.

Johnny put his empty Colt away and pulled his hiding gun. He was crouched down beside the bar, he knew he was exposed there and needed to move, now. He jumped up and fired a shot at the table before diving then rolling head over ass behind the divider between the bar and the kitchen area. ‘Son of a bitch!’ Johnny gritted his teeth against the pain he had awakened in his injured side. Putting his hand against his side he pulled it back to find it covered in blood! He closed his eyes and wiped the blood off on his pants. Breathing hard against the pain, he knew he had to end this quick and not just because he was bleeding like a stuck pig!

Rain would be in here any second and he knew she would be in a fuckin’ fury! If she saw him bleeding, she would be completely out of control. She wouldn’t care what happened to her… No, she would only care about him. She could get killed trying to save him…

He paused and felt a little sympathy for what he had put his own brother through during their time together. How many times had he ran in to some dangerous situation to save his brother? How many times had he nearly paid for it with his life? Too many…he guessed. But he would still do it again, under the same circumstances. But, he knew his brother didn’t like it and he’d never wanted Johnny to sacrifice himself for him.

‘Damn!’ He knew exactly how his brother felt now! He felt that way about Rain, he wasn’t gonna let her sacrifice herself for him, HELL, NO! Johnny moved around the corner of the divider and on one knee began firing, but the two men left had taken the lull in the shooting, as an opportunity to escape. They made a break for the door and were gone before he could get to his feet. He froze as he heard shots in the street!

“Rain! Oh, Dios, No!” He screamed and stumbled for the door his bleeding wound forgotten as he ran.

Rain had just exited the front door of the hotel when two men burst out the doors of the saloon. They began firing wildly when they saw her, not really hitting anything though. She dove then rolled out into the dusty street, her gun appearing in her hand as she came up on one knee and fired two shots. Hitting each man squarely between the eyes! They dropped like stones in mid-fire, their final shots going wildly into the air.

Upstairs in the hotel room facing the main street, Tate had come up on his knees to peer out the broken window as the shooting continued. Never knowing what had hit him, he fell back to the floor as a stray bullet ripped most of his skull away, as it tore through his head. He landed on his back, dead eyes staring blankly at the ceiling but seeing fire rain down upon him, as he spiraled down into the pits of Hell…

In the dark depths, laughter was heard… “Sooo, he has a wife, does he?” The truth that had been revealed to him with the acquisition of another lost soul had been very, very enlightening. An evil smile formed on the twisted lips, “You will be mine, Johnny Madrid…you and your wife.” Oh, how he wanted those two added to his collection, they were even more special than he would have ever guessed.

Now, he would be keeping a close watch on them…bidding his time. He laughed again and fire flew from his evil eyes, because he knew that this was the best chance he would ever have at finally having his prize…and a bonus!

Rain was just getting up when the saloon doors again flew open, she pointed her gun toward the movement but pulled it back when she saw that it was Stormy charging out into the street.

Johnny bolted through the still swingin’ doors and slid to a halt as he took in the sight before him. The two men lay dead in the street and his wife… “Gracious, Dios!” was getting to her feet, after lowering her still smoking gun. He saw her eyes, first light with recognition and relief then drop to his bloody side and he knew she was pissed, as those green eyes darkened and glared at him.

‘You are in deep shit, Johnny boy!’ He said to himself as she started toward him but his vision was starting to blur from all the blood he had lost in the last few days, added to by the now open and pouring wound. His hiding gun slipped through his lax fingers and banged onto the plank walkway before bouncing into the street. The world spun as he dropped to his knees before landing in the arms of his wife. He looked up at her with sorrow in his glazing eyes.

“Lo siento, miel…” Johnny couldn’t hold his head up anymore and it dropped onto her shoulder but as his eyes slipped closed he heard her say. “Not as sorry as you’re going to be, my love.”

Seeing her husband falter, Rain holstered her gun as she hurried to his side. Only pausing long enough to retrieve his gun from the dusty street and sliding it into the front of her belt before kneeling down in time to catch him as he collapsed, in her arms.

He whispered to her as she held him. His apology in Spanish touched her heart but the fact that he had nearly been killed, again, really pissed her off! Did he not know that his life was bound to hers? That she could never live again without him, the hurt would be too much to survive, twice.

She just sat with him for a few minutes, holding him close as his head rested on her shoulder and his trust rested in her heart. Sighing, she was about to try to get him to his feet and back to the hotel but movement on the sidewalk caught her attention.

“Hold it right, there!” Her voice was firm and left no doubt that she meant business. A man had set up his photography equipment near them and was about to take a picture of the notorious gunman in this vulnerable position. ‘Like, Hell, he was!’ The man froze at her command, his thumb on the button that would take the picture followed by a loud boom as the flash powder exploded. She had seen many such instruments during her time with the Wild West Show. As a matter of fact, her picture had graced many of the posters announcing the arrival of the show to a particular area. Her likeness, wearing the revealing shirts that were part of her costume, really brought in the business. Everyone, wanted to see this beautiful and scantily dressed performer as she executed flawless showmanship during her trick riding and then marksmanship shows. But, she had hated the fuckin’ picture taking! Noisy, smelly shit! Sounded like cannon fire and spooked the hell outta the horses!

“Mister, you take that picture and it will be the last thing you ever do!” She snarled at the photographer. He cringed back from the glare he was receiving from the woman Madrid was wrapped around. He knew if he pressed the plunger to take the picture that he would never see it, he would be dead. Never had he seen such a look in a woman’s eyes…a look that he had seen in the eyes of many men but never a woman. The deadly, unmistakable look of a hardened killer. He meant nothing to her and she could kill him without blinking an eye, he shuddered with the knowledge.

“I meant no harm, ma’am.” He was perturbed at how his voice shook. But, he knew he had real reason to feel fear. He had witnessed what had happened on the street and a shiver ran down his spine as he looked into the cold green eyes of the victor.

He was just a man trying to make a living by selling pictures and stories of the West to newspapers far and wide. The lure and mystery of the Wild West captured the attention of many that had never seen a desert sunset or a killer like, Johnny Madrid. This picture could have made him famous, an infamous gunhawk like, Madrid lying injured in the arms of a harlot. He was glad she couldn’t read his mind because that thought would have gotten him killed, without a doubt.

He was about to back away, taking his equipment with him. But, before he could muster enough courage to move, a voice from the street froze them all in place.

“Move away from, Madrid!” The new voice was low and deadly. The photographer, watched as the woman stiffened, still holding the gunman in her arms. Her back to the man standing in the street about fifteen feet behind her, gun in hand.

Rain had been startled by the deadly voice behind her, she had been too preoccupied with the photographer and keeping Stormy from sliding out of her hold. ‘Fuck!’ She was so angry with herself for letting her guard down! She knew she was not going to let any more harm come to, Stormy but she was in a bad position. Her gun was in its holster and her arms were full of Stormy, but she smiled when she felt a slight movement at her belt as Stormy’s hand closed around the grip of his hiding gun. His head remained resting on her shoulder, but he was aware of what was happening and was prepared to protect them.

“I won’t say it again, move away from him, NOW!” The man shouted!

“I can’t, he’s hurt!” Rain pleaded. She needed to buy them some time. She knew she only had four bullets in her gun. The number in Stormys’ gun was unknown to her. Perhaps, this man hadn’t seen what had happened only minutes before on the street? He might hesitate at shooting a woman, even an obviously armed one, as long as he didn’t know she was a real threat.

“GOOD!” The man chided. “Put him down on the boardwalk and step away from him, slowly.” He was here to kill, Madrid and he’d be damned if he cared whether or not the man was already injured or not! The half-breed bastard had killed his two younger brothers and he was gonna pay for it! He had been searching the town for information on Madrid’s whereabouts when he had heard the gunfire. Coming too late to help his two uncles now lying dead in the street, he didn’t see his Pa anywhere but he figured that Madrid had killed him, too!

The photographer still standing frozen in his tracks, watched the events unfolding. He could make a fortune on this story, especially if the notorious Madrid was killed. ‘Imagine?’ He smirked. ‘If he captured the moment the deadly gunman lost his life in a gunfight!’ Every paper from coast to coast would pick up that story along with the picture of the lifeless gunfighter. He would be known as the man that had captured the death of a legend! He grinned in anticipation of what was to come.

Rain knew the time was at hand, live or die, it would be together! She hugged Stormy to her before sitting back and easing him down.

“I love you, Stormy.” Rain whispered in his ear as she carefully lowered him to the boardwalk. His gun now firmly in his hand and hidden as he folded into a fetal position, facing the street. The voice commanded her again, to step away from Madrid. She stood slowly, keeping her hands in sight. She was about to turn and fire when two more voices sounded behind her and to her right.

“Tom! Watch that one, she took out our Pa and Uncle Jack!” ‘Shit!’ Rain swore under her breath!

Tom studied the woman as he listened to his cousin, Matt. He walked up to Tom followed by his younger brother, Davey who said. “I didn’t see it but Matt did, Tom!”

“Ain’t no way this bitch killed them, it had to be Madrid!” Tom would not accept that his very capable uncle’s had been beaten by this whore!

Tom took in the very nice backside of the woman still standing near Madrid. “Turn around!” He ordered her. He had never seen a woman wear those Mexican leather pants with the shiny buttons down the legs and hers were tight, too! She didn’t seem to be wearing a whole shirt, either. He grinned.

Rain complied, after a last look at Stormy lying at her feet. He appeared unconscious but she knew that was not the case, though he was bleeding steadily and her fear for him was making her crazy! She had to pull in a deep breath and clear her mind and her heart, focusing only on the men behind her, even the photographer forgotten, as she let the breath go and prepared herself for the fight to come.

As she slowly turned to face the men in the street, blood lust started to burn in her, like she had never felt before. These men had to die and she didn’t care about the how, only that it happened before Stormy bled out or was killed outright by these bastards! Being of their kind did not make them immortal and she very well knew it, but she’d fight for him with her last breath, if that is what it took.

She saw the lust in the eyes of the men as they stared at her. ‘Good, the more they remained distracted… the easier it would be to cut them to pieces.’ She shivered at the thought of their blood running through her fingers. Wanting to feel the velvety soft warmth of their blood as it drained away along with their lives…she blinked trying to keep her focus and not let the need to taste their blood get in the way.

The men stood looking at this woman and her unusual clothes. Hell, saloon whores never looked this appetizing and each had thoughts of having her naked underneath them. Their libido’s overruling their good sense and apparently their concern for the dead family members, still lying in the street. Rain just looked at them with disgust as they licked their lips in anticipation.

They watched with hungry eyes as she shivered, mistakenly believing that she was afraid of them. “Awe, now honey. We don’t mean you any harm…that is if you play nice and give us each a nice long fuck!” Tom laughed!

Rain glared at him and his filthy words. She doubted any of them had anything between their legs that would interest her but she didn’t say so, after all, they were just, sheep. Sheep were meant for the slaughter…she shivered again and her eyes were taking on a dim glow. ‘Dammit, get hold of yourself!’ Realizing what she had thought, she had to refrain from laughing out loud as she continued watching them with her fierce eyes.

Matt and Davey shared a look then Matt spoke up. “Uhm, Tom? Neither of us would complain about having a go with the whore but don’t underestimate her, she really did gun them down. She made it look easy, she’s as deadly as she is beautiful. So don’t go stupid on us and get us all killed!” Tom seemed to hesitate at his cousins words.

“Tom, put her down or I will.” Matt had seen her kill his Pa but Davey had been around the corner and had been spared seeing their Pa fall to this woman’s gun. His brother’s eyes kept wondering back to their Pa’s body and Matt had to shake his arm to get him to pay attention to what was happening now.

Rain smiled at the one with the sense to know death when it was staring him in the face. She watched the first man’s eyes and saw him make the decision to kill her, but he waited a split second too long. She drew and fired at him, hitting him in the upper chest before he could raise his gun. In listening to the others he had unknowingly let down his guard, just long enough. The younger of the two brothers hit the dirt with a bullet between his eyes even before the first man fell to the ground.

Rain felt the burn as a bullet grazed her left shoulder but she managed to avoid the other wild shots before raising her gun to finish off the remaining gunman. He was firing recklessly, after watching his younger brother meet the same fate as their Pa. His gun was emptied before he knew it, so out of pure desperation, he charged at Rain hitting her before she could regain her balance from the graze. He fell on Rain in a fury, knocking them both into the saloon.

Johnny, saw the first man getting up, blood pouring from his chest. He fanned the hammer of his hiding gun, dropping the man like a stone. Watching him fall, he tried to stand. He had to help Rain, his head swam as his vision started to darken. ‘No!’ He had to get to Rain, he could hear the struggle going on just inside the saloon doors. He was nearly to his feet when he was jerked back by an explosion in his chest! He looked down, almost surprised, to see a river of blood soaking through his shirt, before he fell forward and rolled into the street. His eyes fixed open as his life faded… ‘Rain.’

As the gun smoke cleared, the petrified photographer stood on shaky legs and viewed the scene before him. Four men lay dead in the street, he could still hear the fight between the woman and the gunman in the saloon. But his eyes rested on Madrid, who was trying to stand after having shot one of the now dead men down in spectacular fashion!

Damn shame that Madrid was still alive, he would be famous if…but why if…he thought. Why should he be cheated just because Madrid didn’t know when to die? He eyed the gun lying in the street next to the man that Madrid had gunned down. Only hesitating for a second, he walked over after a quick look around and picked up the gun. Having never fired a gun at anyone before, his hand shook as he took aim at Madrid’s chest, it was the biggest target, after all. Pulling the trigger he watched with morbid fascination as Madrid was thrown back his blood spurting out of his chest. Madrid looked stunned as he pitched off the boardwalk onto the street. He’d landed on his back, his white shirt covered in his blood. His once, deadly blue eyes stared at the sky, unseeing. His guns one in the holster, the other lay in his open right hand. The perfect picture for the death of a legend! This was better than he had hoped for and he was almost giddy with glee!

He changed the angle to capture the perfect shot of Madrid’s lifeless body. Setting off the flash he took his shot! He started to turn away, paused then turned back and snatched the medallion from Madrid’s neck and took the gun from his hand. They would make a nice display to go along with his prize winning photograph. He shoved them in his bag along with the gun he’d used to kill Madrid. He then grabbed up his equipment and ran down the deserted street toward his waiting buggy, lucky for him that this was a small town full of small people, he smiled thinking of his good fortune. He had been on his way to Tombstone to sell some of his desert shots to the newspaper there but now he had something so much better! He never gave the fact that his fame rested on the death of others or his part in that death, a single thought. He slapped the buggy horse into a trot and headed out of town. He would travel all night and be in Tombstone by morning!

He hadn’t escaped as clean as he had thought though, there had been witnesses to his crime.

Wilpert and Andrew made their way across the street, toward the fallen gunfighter. They had watched the gunfight from the alley between the hotel and the bank. Hiding behind some crates, they had been concealed from view. Tears were running down his face as the young clerk took in the sight before him. Johnny was lying in the street, covered in blood. His once beautiful blue eyes, now mere slits as they stared, unseeing. Andrew hugged his friend to him as he cried.

“I…I was ju…st talking to him! How can he be dead?” He choked out through his tears.

Before, his friend could answer, they were startled by the sound of a shotgun blast from inside the saloon! Wilpert knew Johnny’s wife, Rain was in there. He’d seen her fight valiantly to save Johnny from harm, before being thrown through the swinging doors by one of the gunmen!

Forgetting the danger, Wilpert raced into the saloon with Andrew hot on his heels. The sight before him took his breath away. The bartender, Lou stood over the gunman, his shotgun still smoking! The man at his feet was, no doubt dead, having been hit dead center by both barrels. There was also a knife sticking out of the dead mans’ side!

Mrs. Madrid lay on the floor, unconscious, her head covered in blood! Wilpert went to his knees beside her, he asked Andrew to get Doc Martinez, even before he reached out with a shaky hand to check for a pulse. Letting out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, when he felt the beat beneath his fingers.

Later, as he sat beside the sickbed watching the slow rise and fall of his friends chest, Wilpert wondered at all that had happened the day before. The bodies had all been taken down to the ice house for storage until family could be notified or burials arranged. Those not claimed would be buried in boot hill, he hoped that’s not where his friends ended up, they deserved better than that. They had already received a telegram asking about Johnny Madrid, it was from some sheriff that was headed this way. He didn’t know if Johnny had been wanted but he guessed it didn’t matter, now. He hung his head in despair.

He had been surprised to find another body in the damaged hotel room, when they’d carried Mrs. Madrid’s unconscious body up to the nicer room he had given them. The man had obviously been killed by a stray bullet. He had taken it upon himself to untie the man before having his body sent with the rest to the ice house. He suspected, that Johnny and his wife, Rain had given him quite a scare from the looks of things. The man was evil, he had deserved what he got and then some!

The doc had been out of town, delivering a baby, so he hadn’t shown up till almost midnight. He had seen to Mrs. Madrid, she had been shot in the shoulder and struck in the temple with the butt of an empty gun. He had said the bullet wound was minor and should heal quickly, the head wound was a different story, though. The doc was deeply worried that she was still unconscious after so many hours and her eyes were not reacting to light.

The ice house had already been locked up tight for the night so Doc said he’d have to wait till morning to examine the deceased. He had been upset to learn that Johnny had been killed. The doc, like Wilpert, had become very attached to the pair in a short time, they had wanted a happy ending for the young couple. But, it wasn’t to be…he looked again at his friend. She was quite a woman, a fighter for sure! But, it looked like she would soon be joining her husband. Sighing, he thought. ‘Maybe it’s better that way?’

****

Evening was closing in on Green River as Fred sat at his telegraph, still trying to find Val. He had telegraphed the office at Cross Creek and had been informed that the sheriff had indeed been on the early train headed toward Arizona. The one bit of good luck had been the train Val was on had been an express mail train that would arrive twelve hours earlier than the passenger train would have made it to Tombstone. He had sent a wire down the line to the mail stop they should be nearing this time of day. He was sitting waiting for a reply, hoping that Val received his message about Murdoch’s offer.

He had just about given up when the tapping began…it was the response from Val!

Fred and Sam had watched as Murdoch Lancer rode out of town, earlier. He’d had a smile on his face when he had waved as he went past them. They had let him go, not knowing what else to do with him, until they spoke to Val. Fred and the doc could only shake their heads in misery, hoping that Val would get there in time. Praying that Johnny would again somehow manage to survive.

Val was dead tired as he stepped off the train when it pulled into one of its few mail stops. He needed to let someone in Green River know what was happening and where he had gone. When he reached the telegraph office, he was surprised to find a message waiting for him. He read over the message from Fred and was sickened by what Murdoch had done after Val had left him at Lancer. “That, No Good, Sorry… SON OF A BITCH!” Val was beside himself with anger! Once he had calmed down enough to think, he sent Fred back a reply. Telling the man to have his deputy arrest Murdoch and keep him locked up until Val returned. Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Murder! Val could think of a few more charges but that was enough for now!

Val had a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach, he had started feeling it before they came into this stop. He had to find out what was happening in Sanchez. He quickly wrote out a message to send to the telegraph office there, he was afraid of the answer but at the same time, he had to know. He had no idea what else to do but be direct, so he asked for the whereabouts of Johnny Madrid. He waited the few minutes he had before the train left the station, spending the time pacing up and down the boardwalk, just as the whistle blew the telegraph man ran out with his answer. Val jumped aboard the moving train, message in hand. He took his seat again before opening the envelope.

Val slid to the floor as his body seemed to turn to jelly. The paper floating silently down, coming to rest beside his boot. He shook his head, slowly in disbelief…watery eyes, again fell on the words.

Johnny Madrid killed in gunfight STOP Please advise on burial STOP If claiming body STOP

He was too late…Val wept silently for his friend and the life he should have had.

Scott and Teresa were not even a day out of Boston, but he was feeling restless and paced around the private car. Teresa was faring no better, unable to settle she tried to read a book to pass the time. Scott watched her stare at the same page for the longest time before giving up and throwing the book down on the sofa.

His heart was feeling heavy, he felt as though something precious had been lost. He was almost sick with the fear that had enveloped him. He needed to be someplace else, Lancer he suspected but it took time to travel across the country. He and Teresa would not arrive in Green River for almost two weeks. Scott promised himself he would send a wire to Green River at their first stop and have the reply sent ahead to the following stop.

They shared a concerned look…something was wrong and they both knew it.

Sam decided to go see Aggie, after Fred had informed him of Val’s instructions. Sighing, he traveled slowly along the road that led to Lancer and the Conway ranch. His horse suddenly shied and he pulled up the frightened animal. A horse lay in the road, struggling to get to his feet. He cried out in fear as Sam approached. Even in the dusk, he recognized Murdoch’s horse.

Sam sat beside the bed in Aggie’s home, ironically the same one that Johnny had lain in several months before, but it now held a badly injured Murdoch. He had apparently, been thrown from his horse in some kind of accident. Aggie’s foreman had put the animal down after helping Sam get Murdoch into a wagon. The gelding’s leg had been broken in the fall and there was nothing that could be done for him. Even, Murdoch wouldn’t have wanted the animal to suffer.

Murdoch had been unconscious, probably due to a concussion from the fall. Sam had wrapped his head along with several broken ribs after they had gotten him to Aggies home. He was still out, but considering his state of mind before the accident, it was probably just as well.

Murdoch tossed restlessly, in his mind were visions of Johnny. Johnny had come home. He had met Murdoch on the road from town, he sat astride his palomino waiting for his father to arrive. Seeing him, Murdoch had urged his horse into a gallop. But as he neared his son, he saw the blood on Johnny. His son’s white shirt was covered in blood and his blue eyes stared hopelessly at him… “Why, Pa?” He had cried out in despair before he’d faded into the darkness. Murdoch had hauled up so quickly that his horse had stumbled and went down in a heap, taking Murdoch with him as he rolled.

‘Damn, it’s fuckin’ cold here!’ Johnny shivered uncontrollably as he looked around through the swirling fog, but he couldn’t see anything through the encroaching darkness. Fear gripped him as the wind seemed to pick up and he was blown away by its force. He tried to fight against it, but it just kept pushing him further away… ‘Away? Away from what? From who?’

Rain floated on an endless plain. She felt weightless and peaceful but that disturbed her, somehow. She hadn’t known much peace, so why was she feeling it, now? ‘Stormy’ was her only peace, he made her feel, well…alive. When she had just been dead inside, just waiting for her body to catch up to her black hate filled heart and soul. He had come and breathed goodness into her like it was desperately needed air. She had been beyond lost…beyond hope, then he had come and refused to let her perish. He’d given her the strength and the love that she had never known she’d needed, so badly.

What had she given him? He had said once, that she had given him the acceptance that he had never known in his life. But, most of all he’d said she’d given him the love that he never thought he would have, that he would never deserve…and she had given him these things, freely, without judgment or reservation. ‘Stormy? Where are you? I need you, please don’t leave me behind!’ Her heart cried for him, she felt him leaving her and could not bear the pain of it, again.

‘Stormy! Don’t goooo! Take me with you, please!’ She begged fighting against the panic in her heart and she suddenly felt cold. Why was it so cold here? Looking around, peering through thick fog and darkness so black that she could see no light, she wondered. ‘Where was here?’ Her hair was being blown all around her face and she felt the icy winds biting into her, she knew she shouldn’t be here. How did she know that? She was being pushed back, away! ‘Away from what? Away from who?’ Her head was pounding, ‘Why did her head hurt?’

Johnny was being forced back, away from… ‘Rain! Oh, Dios, Nooo! Please No, I need her!’ He fought and pushed against the wind, only to be shoved back again and again. ‘I won’t leave her, I won’t!’ He shouted to the winds! Pain exploded all over him as he tried again to break free! ‘I love her…’ his voice faded in the wind and was silenced.

Wilpert, watched as his new found friend, Rain Madrid, tossed restlessly in her delirious state. She was crying out pitifully for her husband, it was breaking his heart and tears ran down his face. She was shaking from the high fever and he wondered if he should send for Doc Martinez? He looked out the window as lightning again flashed across the sky, lighting the night. A storm was brewing. Up until tonight the town had only seen small showers or short afternoon thunderstorms. But, this looked to be a real gully washer. He thought morbidly, at least it will wash the blood from the street. He had looked down earlier, while repairing the damaged front room window, at the blood stains soaking into the dusty street.

He wrung out the towel he was using to keep her cool, placing the cooler cloth on her burning brow. He couldn’t believe the short time he had known her, was it just last night that she had threatened him into helping get a doctor for her husband? He seemed to have grown a lifetime in that twenty-four hours.

He had spent the evening watching over her and talking to his friend, Andrew. They had finally agreed to leave here, they loved each other unlike what would ever be accepted here in this small town. Seeing, Johnny Madrid die before their eyes had made them see how short and precious life was, too short to let their happiness be destroyed by the narrow minds of others. They were going someplace where he and Andrew could be more than ‘friends’. He didn’t know where that might be but whatever they faced, he knew it would be together. The rather odd couple of Johnny and Rain, had helped their just as odd couple face up to either being together or living apart. Consequences, be damned! ‘Wasn’t a little happiness better than none at all?’

The next day dawned in spectacular fashion, with the increasing tempo of the nights storms pressing down on the small helpless town. Winds howled and rain poured from the sky as the storms momentum continued to gain in strength. They were shrouded in darkness, even well past the dawn. The sky black as night and the high winds blew away everything not nailed down and some that were, buildings were losing shingles and debris filled the streets.

The metal roof of the hotel, still held firm but Wilpert had Rain moved to a bedroom on the first floor. She had fought some unknown battle throughout the night before finally collapsing into a death-like state, early this morning. She was fading away and they were helpless against the death that she seemed to embrace, as her body stopped struggling. A weight seemed to hang over the town, pressing down on them, he guessed that the feeling was from more than the storm that continued to rage outside.

He had sent someone for the doctor, but when word had finally come it was not good at all. Doc Martinez was covered up with casualties from the storm and had begun using the saloon as a treatment center. Wilpert could understand why the doc would have chosen the saloon over the hotel. There he had access to ice, whiskey for the wounds and sterilization, not to mention the saloon had a kitchen. He had tried to get his parents to add a kitchen and dining room to the small hotel, but they didn’t see the need. He was lucky to have gotten the indoor plumbing, seeing as how they had dumped him in this small town and given him a hotel so he could make his life and living far away from them and the embarrassment he had caused them. He had no regrets though, he had met Andrew here and for that he was thankful.

He knew with, Doc Martinez being the only medical help in the area, he was on his own looking after his friend. He sat down and took her soft hand in his and talked to her about everything and nothing at all, it was all he could do for her, now. He spoke to her about Johnny, telling her how he could see how much he had loved her. It had been written all over his face, how when he had looked at her the love had shown in his eyes and his beautiful smile. How he would miss them and how important they had become to him in such a short time.

Wilpert, lovingly pushed her sweat dampened hair from her face and placed a tender kiss on her brow. “Thank you, Rain…Thank you for changing my life, for making me strong. Though I don’t know how you did it…somehow your faith in Johnny gave me the strength to live my own life and I will be eternally grateful to the two of you for that. Be sure to tell Johnny, Thank you, as well, when you see him, okay?” Wilpert choked back a sob before continuing. “And tell him, he has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen!” He laughed through his tears. “Thank him, for not killing me because I had an obvious crush on him, okay?”

The laughter died on his lips and the tears took over, her breathing was slowing and her color was no longer the natural tan that he loved so much. She grew paler as he watched her slip away and he sat alone and cried for her and for Johnny. He cried for the future that would never be for them…but he found a manner of peace in knowing that they would have eternity…together.

Val stepped off the train, leading Milagro down the ramp onto the muddy ground. The sky seemed like it was more of a ceiling, it hung so low in the sky. He could feel the electricity in the air and lightning streaked the darkening sky. He wrapped himself tighter in his light coat, he didn’t even have his rain slicker with him. He had left in such a hurry that he didn’t have much, at all. Just what normally stayed in his saddle bags, which wasn’t a helluva lot!

His first order of business was to stable his friend out of this weather. He asked a passerby where the nearest livery stable was to be found and thanking the man, he started down the street. After, seeing to his friend he found the nearest cantina and sat down in a dark corner before ordering two shots of tequila. He sighed as the drinks were brought to his lonely table. Val sat and stared at the liquid in the small shot glasses, before finally picking one up and raising it high. He toasted his amigo, “To you Johnny! Hope you finally found the peace you always deserved!” Throwing the drink down his throat, he welcomed the burn. Quieter, he said. “I love you, buddy!” He reached for the second drink and tossed it down, as well, he had never felt so lost in his life.

The waitress came back to collect the empty glasses and asked if he would like to order some food or another drink. His stomach did a flip flop just at the mention of food, but he did order a beer. She returned momentarily with his beer and she sat down a complimentary copy of the local paper, as well. Val stared into his beer glass as the waitress lit the lamp on his table. He started to ask her not too but what did it really matter?

Val sat sipping his beer as he contemplated what was to come. He was going on to Sanchez, to see to his friend’s burial. He had already decided not to return Johnny’s body to Lancer, what was the point? Johnny wouldn’t have wanted to be buried in a place he had not been welcomed in life. No, Val thought. His amigo wouldn’t want that, Val knew of a place not too far away. A special place to Johnny, the place he had met Rain so many years ago, now. Yes, that would be what Johnny would want.

Val didn’t know why he’d had the strong feelings about Rain being alive, maybe so he would know where to bury Johnny, he guessed. Val had no doubt, the two were together again, now. Johnny had spoken to Val about his hope to see her again, on the rare occasions that they had talked about her at all. The memory of her was just too painful, Val had loved her, too. Val smiled at that, Johnny had once said to him. ‘Amigo, if you are the only one I have to share her love with, I can live with that!’ Lowering his head, Val let a silent tear run down his face. He wished his friend was here to live with that, he wished Rain had not died. Maybe, Johnny never would have returned to Lancer and none of this would have happened.

Val finished his beer and tossed some coins down on the table. Rising, the picture on the front of the newspaper caught his eye. He sat back down in stunned silence as he lifted the paper with a shaky hand. There in black and white, was a picture of his best friend in the world, lying dead and bloody in the street! The caption read, ‘Legend Dies In A Blaze of Glory!’ “What the fuck?!”Val shouted and everyone turned to see what had him so upset. Ignoring the looks he was getting, he read about how his friend had been killed in a gunfight that left him and at least four others dead. The article went on to say how Johnny Madrid had faced down the gunmen in the streets of Sanchez, Arizona in defense of his harlot girlfriend. ‘What?!’

Val jumped up and ran out the door into the coming darkness, paper still clutched in his hand. He headed to the nearby telegraph office, his hurried steps pounded the ground with his anger and pain. That bastard, Murdoch Lancer was gonna pay for this, he was gonna see to that! He swore as he stepped into the telegraph office, slamming the door behind him in his fury!

Fred Pickett, was just getting ready to head home for the night when the telegraph began clicking. Sighing, he began writing out the message. His heart almost stopped as he wrote out the words that he had hoped and prayed would not come! But he couldn’t hope for that any longer, Val’s words rang around the room, as if, he had been there speaking them and Fred felt his pain. Tapping out his response, he sent a message back to Val. Telling him what had happened since he had left and telling him he was sorry to hear about Johnny, and he was… he had liked Johnny, too. Closing his office up, he knew he had another stop to make before going home for the evening.

Fred walked into Sam’s office, the bell over the door rung loudly in his head. He heard Sam call to him that he would be just a minute, so he sat down to wait. When Sam walked out from the backroom a few minutes later, Fred looked up at him not wanting to say what he had to say to his friend.

“Sam, I have some news from, Val.” Fred dropped his head and Sam knew it was news he didn’t want to hear.

Sam pulled his buggy up in front on Aggie’s house, he had spent more time here in the last few months than he had in all the time that he had been in the valley. First, with Johnny and now with Murdoch. He stepped down from the buggy as Aggie opened the door to welcome him but her smile faded as she got a look at the expression on his face.

Sam followed Aggie into the guest room where Murdoch lay recovering from his injuries caused by the fall from his horse. He had regained consciousness just this morning and Sam knew he would make a full recovery. His other injuries, would heal in time, now that he was awake. It had been the head injury he had been most concerned with, but now he had no doubts about him being back on his feet in a few weeks. Sam looked at his old friend as he sat raised up on pillows, having just finished his broth, according to what Aggie had told him.

Murdoch looked up as Sam entered the room. He was happy to see his oldest friend and was grateful to Sam for finding him and saving his life.

“Sam! I didn’t think you were coming back till morning?” He exclaimed when the old doctor walked in the room. Murdoch noted the dejected look on his friends face.

“What is it, Sam?” Murdoch had a bad feeling run all over him and he had no doubt that Sam had news of Johnny.

Sam looked up at the man that he had called friend for more than twenty years. He knew that friendship was lost, he couldn’t continue to befriend a man who could kill his own son. Sam sat in the chair beside the bed and asked Aggie to please sit, as well. He watched her as she took a place at the foot of the bed. Sam had thought long and hard on the drive out about what he wanted to tell Murdoch.

“I have a story that I want to tell you, Murdoch. It’s not a happy story nor does it have a happy ending. But, I want you to listen without interruption while I confess some things that Aggie and I have done behind your back.” He looked to Aggie and she nodded her approval. Sam began to tell Murdoch about how he and Aggie along with Jelly had nursed Johnny through his severe injuries after the incident at Lancer. He told him of how afraid they had been that Murdoch would find out where Johnny was before he was well enough to get away. How they had almost lost, Johnny, how he had suffered body and soul from what his family had done to him.

Murdoch just sat in stunned grief as his old friend told him of how gravely wounded Johnny had been and how Jelly had sat and talked himself hoarse, trying to get Johnny to fight. How, when they had been beyond hope, finally Johnny had started to show some improvement and eventually regained consciousness. Murdoch couldn’t believe all his friends were telling him, all they had done in secret to save his son. He reached down and touched the bedding softly, his son had lain dying on this bed and they had not been able to even send for him. Why? Because if he had found Johnny at that time, he would have finished him off. His anger had been so great that he could have killed Johnny with his bare hands.

His head drooped to his chest as he was told how one day, after Johnny had regained some of his strength, that Jelly had awoken to find the bed empty and Johnny gone. He had left a note in the barn thanking them and saying he didn’t want to cause them any more trouble. He had simply ridden away even though he was truly still too weak to be out on his own. But, Johnny being Johnny had gone, anyway.

Murdoch remembered when Jelly had returned to the ranch several weeks after he had left him with Aggie. Jelly had rode in, gone straight to his room and packed his things. Murdoch had stopped him on his way out to his horse, asking him where he was going? Jelly had simply said that with Johnny gone he didn’t want to be here anymore and had left without so much as a goodbye. Murdoch had seen the old wrangler around town several times doing odd jobs here and there. He had heard that Aggie had offered him a place at her ranch but that he had turned it down. The last he had heard, Jelly was working for the railroad over at Cross Creek.

Now, listening to Sam, he knew the reason why. Jelly loved Johnny and he wouldn’t have been able to stay at either place that reminded him of his boy. Murdoch realized that was how Jelly saw Johnny as one of his lost boys. Like the lost children that Jelly had cared for when they had first met him. Yes, he could see how Johnny would remind Jelly of those boys.

Sam went on to tell him about a letter he’d received one day, no return address. It had been from Johnny, he said he was ‘fine’ and had included money to pay not only him for his doctoring services but for Aggie, as well, for his care and for Barranca’s keep. A small note of thanks to each, and a letter for Jelly. Sam didn’t know what the letter to Jelly had said, he had simply given it to him before he left town to work in Cross Creek.

Sam bowed his head and took in a deep breath trying to find the words to say the rest. Finally, he looked back up at Murdoch. “Val went after Johnny after reading the telegram you received from your hired gun.” Murdoch started to tell him that he wasn’t his hired anything but then he remembered that in his grief he had done the unthinkable and now the man had been hired to kill Johnny and send his body home.

“Murdoch, don’t try to deny it! We all know what you did, but for the life of me, I can’t understand, why?” Sam was getting angry and that had not been his intention. Taking in a deep breath, he calmed himself before continuing.

“Val sent a telegram from Tombstone, he said that he was too late…” Aggie gasped! “No!” She whispered.

Sam patted her on the arm, trying to console her. She had realized what Murdoch had yet to see, that his killer had been successful.

“Murdoch, do you understand what I am telling you?” Sam stared at his former friend but only saw confusion on his face.

Murdoch had heard the words, but surely it couldn’t be…No, he would not accept it. He must have misunderstood, Sam. He looked up at Sam but didn’t like what he saw looking back at him.

“Val got there too late, Murdoch! Johnny is dead!” He shouted! He wanted to hit something, anything he was so angry! Murdoch would have been his first choice but he couldn’t hit an injured man, not even this one.

Murdoch was hearing the words, but his heart just wouldn’t listen. This was what he had asked for, wasn’t it? For his son to be brought home and buried on Lancer land? His withered, grieving mind said yes, that is what he’d wanted. He could finally have peace knowing that Johnny wasn’t suffering, he wasn’t killing…he wasn’t running down the Lancer name? ‘Oh dear God! He had killed his son just as surely as if he had put a bullet between his eyes. What had he done? He had let his son down, again and for what? A name that Johnny didn’t even use? His pride? What was more important to him than his family?’ Murdoch folded in on himself, forgetting his injuries. He put his hands over his face and cried openly, knowing it was in vain! He wanted to die, he deserved an eternity in Hell for what he had done to his son.

Aggie and Sam left the room, left Murdoch to his regrets. Both knowing that it would change nothing, it couldn’t bring Johnny back.

Val was in a daze as he rode into Sanchez the next morning. He had left right after receiving the reply from Fred. He had not been upset to learn that Murdoch Lancer had been in some kinda accident and he certainly didn’t give a damn! He would deal with him when he returned to Green River.

The town was pretty quiet, but it was still early by some folk’s standards. He could see that the storm had hit this town hard, pieces of wood and shingles were lying everywhere. He had to guide his mount around the debris. He had been lucky, for the most part he hadn’t been in the worst of the storm on his way here. He had planned to wait till morning to leave but once he’d seen the paper, he knew there would be no waiting.

Val stopped in front of the livery and dismounted. He was wet and stiff from riding all night. His bones popped as he stretched his arms and legs trying to get the blood flowing through them again. He didn’t see anyone about, so he led Milagro into the stable and found an empty stall. He had no more got him into the stall before a familiar nicker was heard from further down the row.

Val walked out of the stall and toward the golden head he saw popped over the door further down. He knew immediately who it was, Barranca! Val rubbed the horse’s nose and scratched his ears, Barranca leaned into him and snuffled. “I’m sorry, boy. I had forgotten about you, Johnny sure would be mad if I left you here, fella.” He patted the sad horse. He probably knows Johnny is gone, they had quite the bond between them. Val was saddened by the thought. He didn’t know what he was gonna do with him but he for sure wouldn’t be left behind. ‘Johnny, would kill me!’ He laughed before he realized it. He wished Johnny were here to kill him for doing something stupid.

“You interested in that horse, mister?” The liveryman had walked up to him before Val knew he was around. Ordinarily he would be angry at himself, but not today. He had other things on his mind today.

“Why, is he for sale?” Val asked casually.

The liveryman looked him up and down before saying. “Wahl, he might be. He belonged to a gunslinger that was killed here a couple of days ago. Ain’t heard yet, if he’ll be sold to pay for the buryin’.” The man didn’t know how close he was to losing some more of his teeth. Didn’t look like he could spare anymore, Val thought.

The liveryman seemed not to notice that he had angered Val with his words and nonchalant attitude about Johnny’s death. “Iffn, that one ain’t to your likin’, there’s a nice one down that way.” He nodded across the aisle. “He may be for sale in a day or so, too. He belonged to the gunslingers woman, she’s about as close to dead as you can get without being covered in dirt.” He laughed.

Val’s heart almost stopped and the rest of the man’s words were lost to him, he walked across the aisle to look at the woman’s horse. He had expected to see another golden head looking back at him but this was a buttermilk buckskin, the purtiest one he had ever seen. Not a common horse, at all. No, this one had some fancy blood in him that was easy to see, but it wasn’t his sister’s horse. It wasn’t, Sand. Val turned feeling defeated until the dim light that filtered between the planks that made up the barn walls, flickered across the woman’s saddle. Val ran a shaky hand across the letters, etched in silver across the pommel of the strangest looking saddle he’d ever seen. RAIN It had her name on it, how many women were named Rain? Just one that Val knew of, he turned and grabbed the liveryman, shaking him. “Where is the woman that owns this horse?” He demanded.

Paying the stunned man to look after Milagro, Val ran toward the hotel. He burst through the doors and almost ran over a man carrying a bucket of water. The water splashed out and soaked them both, the man stomped his foot and yelled at Val. “Watch where you’re going, Mister!”

Val didn’t have time for sweet talk, he needed to find his sister! “I’m looking for Rain!” Val shouted at the young man. Misunderstanding, Andrew said. “Well, you’ve come to the right place, it has been raining here for days!” He picked up the nearly empty bucket. “Thanks a lot, now I have to go refill it!” Tired and getting very pissed, Val grabbed the man and said. “Mister, if I was you I would be telling me where my sister is, right now!” Understanding finally lightened Andrews face. “You mean that, Rain? She is your sister?” He was surprised but elated.

“Follow me, Sir.” He led the scruffy looking man to the room where Wilpert was attending the young woman that had been injured during the gunfight. Opening the door he called out. “Wilpert, this man says he is Rain’s brother.” Motioning toward Val. Wilpert turned away from the bed and looked the man over, he didn’t really look anything like her and was much older.

“How do we know that you are her brother?” Wilpert was feeling very protective of his charge. He didn’t know this man and he didn’t like the way he looked, either.

Val stood in the doorway, he could see her lying on the bed. He took a step toward her before stopping and answering the young man who seemed so protective of his sister. “She has the deepest green eyes you have ever seen, she is hell on wheels with a gun and she is married to Johnny Madrid. If you look at the turquoise ring on the middle finger of her left hand, it’s her wedding ring. Johnny has one just like it on the same finger.” Val said softly.

Wilpert looked from the man to Andrew, who shrugged his shoulders at him. Wilpert had seen the matching rings and remembered wondering about why they were on the wrong finger if they were indeed meant to be wedding rings. “Why the middle finger?” He asked.

“Dangerous for anyone to be close to a gunhawk, Johnny didn’t want anyone knowing she was his wife. Might have gotten her killed or used against him. Rain didn’t have a reputation, she preferred to remain in the shadows. But, she was deadly just the same. They both agreed to wear the rings but not so anyone would notice them.” Val hated that they had lived together but apart, even though they were married. He knew well, that they had never had a home. Just the trail and where ever the wind took them.

Wilpert snorted at that. “The woman I know, this woman does not stand in anyone’s shadow. She can stand on her own and a blind man would notice her, she practically took out all those men the other day by herself. Johnny was already down from a bullet he had taken several days before and Rain would have saved him if it hadn’t been for that piece of shit photographer, that shot Johnny down in cold blood!”

Val was stunned by that last statement! “Johnny was murdered?” He stammered.

“You couldn’t call it anything else, Johnny was hurt so bad he couldn’t even get to his feet. Rain was fighting with one of the men that had come to kill Johnny. They had rolled into the saloon and Johnny shot another man down and was trying to get to his feet, to help Rain, no doubt. But, this bastard photographer picked up a gun that was lying in the street and shot Johnny in the chest. He watched him roll into the street and then he took a picture of him. When he was done, he took the medallion from Johnny’s neck and the gun from his hand! Now, if that wasn’t murder, mister, I don’t know what is!” Wilpert was beside himself by this time, he had relived the shock and anger as he had told the story.

Val stood stunned. Johnny had been murdered. He looked at his sister, “I guess she lost the fight?” He asked. She was pretty bruised up and he could see a bandage around her head and another across her left shoulder.

“Well, it was about even from what the bartender told me, until the man she was fighting with took the butt of his empty gun and beat her in the head with it! He had her down on the floor, she had taken his knife from a sheath on his belt and stabbed him with it, before being knocked out with the gun. She took the blows to her temple and it was the second time she’d been knocked out in pretty much one day. Lou, the bartender took the man out with his double barrel shotgun before he could finish the job.” Wilpert was feeling exhausted from the telling and the emotions that came with it.

“What happened to her before? You said it was the second time she was hit?” Val had sat down on the bed and gently touched his sister’s bruised face. She felt really warm to his touch. She looked so pale and he was worried that she might die.

Wilpert told Val about the man that had tied them all up and planned to torture and rape Rain before killing Johnny. “She had been hit by the door and knocked out, when he had broken into the room. Johnny had been sleeping he was so sick that he couldn’t defend himself, but the man had hit him anyway to make sure he was out. He had come back downstairs bragging about it and said somebody offered him a lot of money to kill Johnny Madrid and raping his wife was just icing on the cake.”

“He was an evil, Bastard!” Wilpert wanted to scream! “But, he got his from a stray bullet that went through the window during the gunfight and hit him in the head, about blew it clean off!”

Wilpert continued his story as Val sat and held his sisters hand. Stroking it and thinking how lucky he was to find her alive after all this time, now if he could just keep her that way. “Johnny and Rain had him tied up like he had done them, they had some fun scaring him, you know messing with his head, before the men came looking for Johnny.” Wilpert felt regret that he had told Johnny about the men and that he didn’t know there had been more than the three he had seen in the saloon.

“How did they get away from him, if he had them tied up?” Val asked the young man that had been nursing his sister.

“I don’t know exactly, me and Doc Martinez was trussed up and stuffed in the downstairs closet. We heard a ruckus and before long, Rain came down the stairs and dragged us out of the closet. Johnny wasn’t far behind but when he tried to help us the doc yelled at him and made him go back upstairs. He went, fussing all the way!” Yeah, that sounded like Johnny, alright. ‘Damn, why did he have to die?’

“I bandaged Rain’s head while the doc looked after Johnny and ran her a bath in a nicer room. One that hadn’t been tore all up during the excitement. She sent me to fetch Johnny’s saddle bags, found them over at the saloon. Where he had been at when she found him, the day before. Heard tell, he was heading upstairs with a saloon girl when Rain walked in, but he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing. He passed right out in the floor when he saw her, they had to carry him over here to her room. Turned out he was shot from when he had the other gunfight where the little boy was killed, I guess between that and the pain of the wound, he had reason to drink.” Wilpert reasoned.

That got Val’s attention, “What little boy was killed?” He asked.

“All I know is some kid about fifteen or so called Johnny out. Johnny tried to talk the kid out of it but he wouldn’t listen. Johnny won, of course, but when he went to walk away, this young kid about ten I guess took a shot at Johnny. He turned and fired before he realized it was just the boy’s younger brother trying to avenge him. Hit the kid dead center, he was dead before he hit the ground. Johnny walked into the saloon, ordered a bottle of tequila and hadn’t come up for air since, till Rain showed up. Nobody even knew he had been hit, till she sent for the doctor.”

Val took in all he had learned from the man caring for his sister. “Thank you, uhm I’m sorry don’t know your name.”

“It’s Wilpert and this is my friend, Andrew.” Wilpert introduced them to the man. “Val, just call me Val. I’m the sheriff of Green River, California and Rain is my sister and Johnny was not only my brother in law but my best friend.” Val said with a sigh.

“I want to thank you for all you have done not just for Rain but for Johnny. I can’t even tell you what they mean to me…I plan to see to Johnny’s burial and find the bastard that murdered him. He’s going to pay for what he has taken from us and I already know who he is and where to look.” Val pulled the newspaper out of his pocket and saw the name printed underneath the picture, Photo courtesy of Alexander Hill. ‘Well, soon you will be in Boot Hill, you murderin’ bastard!’

Val looked again at the picture and sure enough Johnny had his medallion around his neck, it had fallen up against his throat and could be seen clearly in the picture. Val looked at the gun in Johnny’s hand, not his fighting Colt, no it was in his holster. This was a hiding gun in his hand, not the one that Johnny had come to Lancer with though, that gun had been left behind. It had been in his room when Johnny had been forced to flee his home, he had found it when he had searched Johnny’s room after the shootout. Johnny must have picked this one up somewhere along the way, one thing that Val knew it would have was Johnny’s initials, all of his guns had his initials engraved somewhere. Usually small and hardly noticeable but so Johnny could prove a certain gun belonged to him, should the need ever arise. This time, that habit was going to send his murderer to the gallows!

Something still bothered Val as he sat beside his sister and watched her slow breaths. He turned to Wilpert. “Just who was the man that had held Johnny and Rain hostage?” He wanted to know who had been sent to kill Johnny.

“I think I heard them call him ‘Tate’, yeah I think it was Tate! He had been knocked out by Rain when she had gotten loose, somehow. She beat his head into the floor from the look of things. I know he had been waiting on her to wake up because he wanted to hear her scream like some other girl had when he raped her.”

Val about choked! It couldn’t be, surely not the same man that had attacked Teresa! “Did he say the other girls name?” Asked Val. His heart raced as he tried to remember anyone at Lancer that had been named, Tate.

“Uhm, he kept singing about her and how he missed her screams and something about a pink shirt?” Wilpert tried to remember the name, Lisa maybe or no it was… “Teresa!” He shouted. “It was Teresa!” Val felt sick, he had come on the name Tate about the same time that Wilpert had shouted out Teresa!

He remembered now, Randy Tate. He had worked for Lancer a couple of months and had left the same day Johnny did. Some of the other hands had said he had been the one to shoot Johnny in the chest, as he had raced away on Barranca. They didn’t even know what was happening, just that Johnny was running and everyone was firing at him. Tate had grabbed a rifle and having a better angle from the wagon than what the hands at the house had, he had been able to hit Johnny almost knocking him from the saddle.

It made Val sick to know that such a nasty person had his hands on sweet little Teresa. Not that anybody clean or not had the right to do what he did to that little girl. Val wished he were still alive so he could kill him, again! He didn’t know if he would ever tell another living soul who had hurt Teresa because maybe that’s why she had blocked it out. She couldn’t live with the knowing.

He was glad Johnny had gotten a little revenge on the bastard, he imagined that between the two of them it had been something to see. He knew well the games that they had liked to play and the blood that they had spilt together. He had no illusions about the blood lust that existed between Johnny and Rain. Unlike, Murdoch and Scott, he never was one to stick his head in the sand. They’d acted as though Johnny were some dime novel gunfighter, like he had never really done the things he had done.

Johnny didn’t really hide it, how could he? It was just that they couldn’t see it, he was a killer and he had been one since he was forced to kill the man that had murdered his mother. From that day, Johnny no longer played at the kid games, he was the real thing! He could kill easier than most men could breathe and it came to be a need…just like Rain. He knew she had a lust for the blood that even Johnny’s could not match. She didn’t feel a fuckin’ thing when she slit somebody’s throat, she had that much of the tribe in her, too much sometimes. Val thought.

He spent the rest of the day helping to care for his sister. She wasn’t conscious but she would cry out now and then, for Johnny or ‘Stormy’. Val had to smile at that, Johnny had always been ‘Stormy’ to her, he could understand because nobody else he’d ever seen had eyes that went from a sunny clear day to the dark raging sea as fast as Johnny’s did… ‘Johnny, damn I miss you buddy.’

Val had sent word by Wilpert, to the doctor letting him know he was here and asked to see the doc as soon as he was able. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing Johnny, didn’t know if he could deal with it. His heart hurt just thinking about his best friend, his brother in all the ways that counted, laying over there in the ice house.

‘Dammit to Hell! Johnny deserved to be happy, not dead at twenty-one years old.’ Val was so mad he didn’t know what to do with himself, Rain lay near death and with her and Johnny both gone, Val would have no family at all. He loved Johnny and Rain… his family. He sighed. He had spent a lot of time with them before and after they had gotten married. He smiled, remembering when they’d told him they had gotten hitched and Val had laughed till he thought he would cry when he heard the story of how that wedding came to be…They had avoided Kansas like the plague after that, Val had had a wonderful time teasing them about their shotgun wedding!

But, in his heart he had been happy for them, no matter how the marriage had taken place. Never were there two people that belonged together, like Johnny and Rain. Birds of a feather, they had made the nicest couple Val had ever known. Johnny had been good for Rain, softened her up a bit, something that she had needed even if she couldn’t see it for herself. Johnny had melted some of the ice in her heart, when she wasn’t looking. Val laughed at that thought! She had hated him in the beginning, though Val doubted that it was as much hate as she didn’t like the thaw Johnny had brought about in her frozen heart.

Rain had, unknowingly, brought change to Johnny, too. She had given him acceptance, even before she gave him the love that he had needed his whole life. Rain had a way of dealing with, Johnny that like magic almost, had transformed an angry young man into one that let himself love and be loved. She had made him feel worthy, in a world that had tried to beat him down at every turn. She had given him the first safe haven he had ever known. Val knew that Johnny had found a home in Rain’s arms. His home had been where ever she was and the same for her, they were nomads no more. Oh, they still lived on the trail, but if they were together then they were home.

It had become Val’s home too, he remembered. Even though, he had eventually taken a lawman’s job not too far from here, as a matter of fact. He’d still kept in touch and they stopped in when they were in the area. He had offered Johnny a job as his deputy, but neither of them wanted to give up their wandering existence. He almost choked up, thinking of the day he had gotten the telegram from his sister’s maternal grandfather. He had cried alone in his little house for the loss of his beautiful sister and the senselessness of her death in a riding accident. Rain was an exceptional rider, it never made any sense to him.

Johnny had been through on his way south of the border, he had been sent for by a village there that was fighting against a cruel Don that was bleeding the small village dry. He had been alone because Rain had been summoned to Montana by her grandfather who had been ailing. So, Val knew where to find him and he had ridden out the following day to tell Johnny the tragic news.

Johnny had not taken it well, Val remembered the shock and loss that Johnny had suffered. He’d had to fight with Johnny, knocking him out before he could put a bullet in his own head. He had sat with Johnny and held him when the shock had been replaced by an overwhelming grief, Johnny had cried pitifully for days. Then one day he just pulled himself together, told Val that he had a job to do here and he best get back to it. Val had felt real fear for his friend when he had walked away that day, he knew Johnny wanted to die. He had just found another way to do it…

Val had told Johnny that Rain had been cremated and her ashes scattered in the Montana winds, at her grandfather’s request. Her horse had been destroyed, his leg broken from the fall. There was no grave to visit, no flowers to place on a tombstone. Rain was just gone. He had watched Johnny die that day too, he had no choice but to leave him there. He couldn’t stop him from killing himself even if he watched him night and day, Johnny would have found a way.

Val looked down at the pale face of his sister and listened to her call for ‘Stormy’ begging him not to leave her behind. It was hard for him to accept, but maybe it would be better if she followed Johnny into eternity. She wasn’t gonna have any kinda life without him, and her death would soon follow, he had no doubt. He didn’t know what had really happened three years ago, but he did know she had never left him, willingly.

Johnny was slipping away, Rain tried to hold onto him but he just kept slipping from her grasp. Lost in the darkness and the fog, being pushed apart by the force of the winds. They were both so tired but neither would give up, they had too much to lose!

Doc Martinez followed by a down trodden Val Crawford, stepped into the darkness of the town’s ice house. Val had left his sister in the capable hands of the clerk, Wilpert. The doctor having finished up with his last patient from the storm had tiredly crossed the street to see to Rain and to meet the man claiming to be her brother. It only took a moment of watching the rather scruffy looking man, lovingly tending to his little sister, to know that he was indeed her brother. He had felt for the loss that they had suffered, a loss that would be increased to an unbearable level should Rain succumb to her injuries and join her husband in the afterlife.

The heavy old door squeaked and protested as it was pushed open. They had to blink to adjust to the darkness before finding a lamp and striking a match to light the wick, bringing light to the oppressing darkness. He led the way to the much too familiar side room that held bodies to preserve them while waiting on kin to arrive or for the weather to clear for burial. The old doc thought he had seen way too much of this place in his time as the town’s doctor. He stopped and looked behind him, he could see the dread on the man’s face and felt sympathy for him. This had to be hard for him, he was here alone and dealing with the prospect of losing his family.

Val looked up to see the doc staring at him, he could see the understanding in the man’s eyes. Val scrubbed a tired hand down his face, he didn’t want to do this, but he had too. So, he took in a deep breath and nodded to the doctor before following him toward the side room. Doc Martinez pulled back a heavy curtain made from some kind of tarp stitched together to create a thicker layer and then stood back to allow Val to pass.

The first thing Val noticed about the room was that it seemed colder than the main room. He guessed it was because of the curtain and the smaller size of the room or hell maybe it was just him. He shivered and it wasn’t just the cold he felt, it was death. Val had seen many dead men but never his best friend! There were several bodies wrapped in more of the heavy tarps, they looked like some kind of strange cocoons like butterflies but it was what he saw next that made him feel lightheaded… the light had touched the silver of the familiar Mexican spurs.

Doc Martinez hadn’t had a chance to check the bodies stored in the ice house since he had been delivering a baby out of town when the gunfight had occurred. When he had returned he went to tend to Rain, as she was the only survivor of the gunfight. The terrible storms had come after that and he was left with dozens of patients, with everything from cuts to broken bones. This was the first opportunity he’d had to come here so he wasn’t sure which body was that of Johnny Madrid. He turned to apologize to Sheriff Crawford when he noticed the man had stopped next to a wrapped body. He realized that somehow the sheriff knew this was his friend and brother in law.

“Sheriff Crawford?” He was concerned the sheriff seemed to be swaying on his feet.

Val couldn’t move, he felt like he was gonna be sick. He took a shuttering breath and said. “This is him, Doc.”

“I would know them spurs, anywhere.” Val laid a shaking hand on the covered form. “He was just twenty-one, did you know that Doc?”

The doctor shook his head and whispered. “No, I didn’t know he was that young.”

“Johnny and Rain were the same age, Johnny just had a couple of months on her. Not enough to make any kind of difference, but it made Johnny happy to be a little older than his wife.” A tiny smile formed on his lips, not much just a little one.

“Of course, the only time I ever seen him really happy was when they were together. He had a hard life, worsen anybody should have to live through, but he did. He was a survivor but he had to fight to live just about every damned day of his life, Doc.” Val looked down at the form of his brother.

“He was my brother, not in blood but in all the ways that ever mattered. Even his own brother by blood turned on him, in the end. Don’t see how he coulda done that, but he did. Johnny loved him and trusted him, you didn’t know Johnny long, I know but those were two things that never came easy for Johnny. His brother didn’t know the treasure he had in Johnny but I did…” Val shook himself out of his reverie and giving the doc a last look, he eased the tarp away from Johnny’s body.

Val sucked in a gasp as he looked upon Johnny’s body. There was frost covering his long lashes, his blue lips were also frosty from the cold air of the ice house. Val placed his hand on the dark hair and couldn’t stop himself from brushing it back from Johnny’s brow. He saw the fatal wound to the chest and the blood covered shirt. Val noticed that Johnny still wore his gunbelt and oddly, his Colt was still in its holster. Val knew that Johnny would be pissed about that, he had lovingly cared for that belt and gun. The cold, damp air would soon destroy them. He thought of removing it, but Johnny without his gun was just wrong. He pulled the Colt from the holster and checked the chambers, just like he thought it was empty.

Doc Martinez watched as Val removed the empty shells from the gun and reloaded it from his own belt before placing it back in the holster. The cold metal had to be burning his fingers, they would be frost bitten for sure. He thought it was a strange thing to do, but who was he to judge? He looked down at the face of the young man he had come to like in the very short time he had known him. He saw the frost covered places on his face, everywhere that would have been moist were now frozen. They must have moved the bodies into the ice house quickly for those places to be so frozen.

Val picked up Johnny’s hand, held it and whispered to him. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I would change things if I could, I will look after Rain for you. She’s not doing so good, right now buddy. I will make you a deal, amigo, I will take care of her on this side and you take care of her on that side, okay? We both know given the choice, she’ll go with you.” Val lightly squeezed Johnny’s hand before placing it back at his side and covering him with the tarp.

Val had turned toward the door followed by Doc Martinez when the bullet shattered a block of ice and crystals rained down like falling snow! Shocked, they both hit the cold floor. The gun must have discharged on its own caused by the frigid cold on the metal. Carefully, Val climbed to his feet and helped the doctor up, they both stared at the hole in the tarp and the swirl of gun smoke that hung in the frozen air.

“Lord a mercy!” The doc shouted. “What happened?”

Saying nothing, Val walked back to the body of his friend and again pulled back the tarp. “What the hell?!” He was stunned to see the Colt in Johnny’s limp hand, his frozen finger on the trigger! “DOC!” Val shouted!

****

Rain fell to her knees in despair, Stormy had slipped away from her and was lost to the darkness and the howling winds. She cried to the heavens! “Please, let me go with him!” She let her head fall to her chest as the tears streamed from her eyes. No longer having the strength or the Will to go on, she lay down on the cold ground amid the dampness of the fog and simply gave up…

Wilpert was startled from his catnap in the chair next to Rain’s bed by the silence. Something had changed and it woke him from his slumber. He looked around, seeing nothing but suddenly realizing what had changed, he looked at Rain’s face. She was blue and her breaths were no longer making the labored sounds like they had been earlier.

Jumping up, he shook her trying to get her to breathe! She was so limp and he began to panic! “Breathe, Please, Breathe!” There was only silence from her body, slowly he lifted her up and held her in an embrace. He knew she was gone and he could do nothing about it, no one could now. She had gone to be with Johnny, he was sure. A silent tear ran down his face, the tragedy too much to bear!

Rain looked up as a hand was offered to her, she didn’t want to be helped. She closed her eyes and ignored the offer of assistance. “Leave me alone.” She whispered.

“You beg me to stay and now you tell me to leave you alone?” The soft voice answered.

Rain closed her eyes tighter. It was a trick! They wanted to send her back to the world and she wasn’t having it! “Please, don’t do this to me…My heart can’t take anymore hurt.”

“I am not here to hurt you, miel. I love you, I came back for you…please look at me. I am really here, I swear!” Rain had never been so afraid in her life. She needed it to be Stormy, she needed him like she needed air. Saying a silent prayer, Rain looked up to see Stormy kneeling beside her, offering her his hand.

She met his eyes and slowly lifted her hand and when he took it, she nearly cried at the feel of him. He was real and he pulled her up into his arms and just held her, his hand lovingly on the back of her head. He held her like a lifeline and she guessed that is what they were to each other, a lifeline.

“I will never leave you, mi querida. If I go you go with me, always and forever…” Johnny held onto his Rain and they rocked together, two souls blended into one…for all time.

Rain’s body jerked in Wilpert’s arms! He lowered her back down and he could see she was breathing, again! “Oh, Thank You, God!” He was so thankful for her life, he just burst into tears and that is how Andrew found them when he came in with some fresh water and towels.

Val had lifted Johnny into his arms and ran with him, following the doctor into what amounted as an office for the ice house. It was warm and he carefully placed his bundle down on the cot in the corner of the room. He sat beside Johnny and frantically rubbed his hands on his friend’s body to cause friction and hopefully warm his frozen form. The doctor had ran to get his medical bag and have the saloon heat some water to thaw Johnny enough to tend his wounds.

When the doctor rushed back in he was followed by several men carrying a tub and pails of water. He immediately began stripping Johnny down with Val’s help. “We have to warm him up, slowly or the shock could kill him. We’ll place him in the tub and slowly warm it up and let his body temperature come up with the temperature of the water.” They had him undressed now and wrapped in a warm blanket.

The doc had the men begin to fill the tub with just slightly warmed water before they lifted Johnny and placed him into the shallow water. Val held Johnny upright as the doctor slowly ran the warm water over Johnny’s frozen body. After, what seemed like forever, Johnny started to shiver and even though he was still unconscious, Val and the doc breathed a sigh of relief.

Val held him tighter as he began to struggle, though weakly. “Sshhh, it’s okay buddy, I gotcha…I gotcha.” Val crooned, although he wasn’t sure that Johnny could even hear him. But, soon Johnny seemed to relax a little before they lifted him out and into a dry blanket that had been warmed by the small office stove. Once he was dry and tightly bandaged, Val carried his friend down the street to the doctor’s office. Johnny was still shivering but not as badly as before.

The doctor wasted no time, as the chest wound was now soaking the temporary bandages. “I will have to operate right away, he is losing a lot of blood now that he is at a more normal temperature.” Looking up at Val, he knew he didn’t have to tell the man that it could still go badly, that they could still lose, Johnny.

Val sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. He had stepped out only long enough to check on Rain. He had been devastated to hear that she had stopped breathing at one point, but he was elated that she seemed to have rallied and fought her way back to them. Now, if we can get Johnny taken care of and on the mend…maybe there could still be a happy ending. ‘I sure hope so, God if you’re listening and I guess you are with all the miracles happening around here. Please, let them live, give them the chance to be happy.’ Val bowed his head and continued his prayer.

Val watched as dark eyelashes fluttered before revealing over bright sapphire eyes that stared blankly at him before slipping closed again. Val sighed as he saw Johnny slip back into the darkness that had held him tight for almost two weeks, now. He was growing increasingly more worried about his amigo, the longer Johnny stayed out the less likely he would come out of this, alive. Placing a concerned hand on Johnny’s forehead, he realized that once again the fever was rising.

Looking down at his ‘brother’, Val rubbed a tired hand down his scruffy face. Johnny just had to pull through this, after everything he had gone through to get to this point, he just had to make it.

They had fought to keep Johnny alive since he was found more dead than not, among the bodies placed in the ice house. Val cringed to think what would have happened had his friend been left there any longer…as it was they had fought everything from pneumonia to blood loss and raging fevers, even frostbite.

Doc Martinez came in and at seeing Val standing over Johnny, he questioned him with his eyes. “He opened his eyes for a second, Doc.” Val answered the unspoken question.

Surprised and elated the doc came forward to check his patient. “That’s wonderful, Val was he aware, at all?” He asked as he checked Johnny’s pulse and heart rate, looking up as Val shook his head. Before he carefully lifted each eyelid, only to be disappointed by the unresponsive blue eyes and the hot skin that met his hand as he placed it on Johnny’s forehead.

Sighing deeply, “I am afraid he has slipped back into unconsciousness, and his fever is rising again.” Damn! Can this boy not catch a break?

Val dropped tiredly into a chair, the same chair he had occupied since Johnny had come outta surgery almost two weeks ago. He had spent his time between looking after his sister and Johnny. Neither could be moved, so he had made regular trips between them. He had spent more time with Johnny because his sister was being looked after, very well, by Wilpert and Andrew. Johnny only had him and the doc when he wasn’t out with other patients.

Rain was conscious but still not out of the woods, she was having bouts of sudden unconsciousness and was throwing up everything they had given her, even water. The doc was very worried over her and had said in no uncertain terms that she had a serious head injury, one that could still claim her life.

She had insisted she could make it over to the doc’s office to be with Johnny, even offered to let Val carry her, if necessary. The doc, however, was having none of it. So, in true form…she had tried to escape by climbing out the second story window of her hotel room. She had been moved back upstairs after the storms had passed and she had begun to recover…it had been a mistake on their part. He just shook his head at her determination.

Val closed his eyes and he could see her again almost slip out of the window as she’d passed out and started to fall. He had almost been too late, but their miracle was still holding and he had managed to pull her back in through the window, safely. ‘Thank God!’

He had carefully carried his precious but stubborn sister back to her bed and eased her down. She had been out for a couple of hours that time, easily long enough for them to steal her clothes and boots. Val grinned as he remembered the look on his sister’s face when she had woke up to find herself back in bed and just about naked!

The explosion of temper had been ear shattering! If she coulda gotten to him, well he was purty sure he might have been in need of the doc. Just as well, he smirked, the doc had enough going on right now. Val couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped as he remembered the deal she had reluctantly agreed too…he would give her a nightshirt for proprieties sake but she was to stay in her room, period!

Johnny was aware of pain wracking his body and he was so very tired. He tried to think of where he was and what had happened but it was all blank.

Sensing that he was not alone he peered out through his long lashes to see a shape near him. ‘Val?’ No it couldn’t be Val, ‘Why not?’ His muddled brain wondered. Because, Val was in Green River and Johnny would never go back there again…not ever! No, he had Rain back now and he…. “RAIN!” Johnny screamed before succumbing to the darkness once again.

Once again, Val saw the dark lashes begin to flutter, he stood and looked down at his amigo. “Johnny? Can you hear me, buddy?” Val hoped that he was coming around, Johnny had been unconscious for way too long. He looked down at the shuttered eyes and the tube that ran through Johnny’s nose down into his stomach, providing nourishment and needed medicine for the unconscious man.

He watched as Johnny squeezed his eyes shut against the light that was filtering through the window. Then he peeked out through his unbelievably long lashes, he looked like he was trying to wake up before he suddenly screamed out his wife’s name, though his voice was strangled from lack of use and no doubt a dry throat.

Startled, Val ran to the door for help but nearly plowed into the doc as he was hurrying in after hearing the cry. “What happened?” The doc asked Val as he rushed to his patient’s side. He lifted Johnny’s eyelids carefully before turning back to the still stunned sheriff.

“Did he wake up, Val?” Looking intently, at the man he waited for a response.

Val shook himself out of his stupor. “Yeah, Doc. He was sort of awake there for a second or two.” Val ran a tired hand through his unruly hair. “He called for Rain, Doc. Then he passed out again, seemed to be in some pain before that, too.”

Doc Martinez, turned back to Johnny and checked his vitals before he sighed, looking down at the very ill man. Johnny had been through hell the last few weeks, even before the bullet to his chest that had very nearly killed him…still could if they couldn’t get the fever to break. They had fought valiantly, for this young man but now Johnny had to fight for himself! If he wanted to live…

Rain paced about her room, her prison as she had come to think of it. ‘Damn them! Damn them to Hell!’ Rage was starting to consume her, she needed to get to Stormy, now! He needed her, she couldn’t explain it but they needed to be together.

She had paced herself into a panic by the time Wilpert had knocked on the door. She stormed to the door and yanked it open, a very surprised Wilpert fell backward into the hallway as Rain punched him in the face. She felt just a moments regret as she stepped over the bleeding young man that had helped to save her life. But before she could get far she felt herself falling to the floor as her feet were yanked out from under her.

Wilpert was stunned by the fist that had met him when he had knocked on the door to Rain’s room. He was bleeding from his busted nose but he shook off the shock and dove for his friend’s legs before she could get away. He had been given strict orders not to let her leave the room for her own safety and he wasn’t about to let her do harm to herself!

Enraged, Rain flipped over and kicked Wilpert in the chest, knocking him over on his back as she scrambled to her feet. But, Wilpert was not going to be denied, beaten, Yes, but denied, No! He leapt onto Rain’s back and they both crumpled to the floor.

Other guests were coming out of their rooms to see what was happening! Some screamed as they witnessed what appeared to be the young clerk attacking a female guest who was only wearing a nightshirt!

Rain fought like a mountain lion but Wilpert held on with the same tenacity before being ripped away from her by an angry hand. Rain had leveled herself to deliver a firm kick to the boy’s head when she looked up to see him being yanked off of her. Looking directly, into the furious eyes of her brother, she knew she was in trouble…then the darkness descended.

Val pushed open the doc’s door with his foot, seeing as his hands were full of his sister, wrapped warmly in a blanket. He was still angry over what he had witnessed back at the hotel. He almost punched the clerk himself, before he had gotten control of himself. He understood, ‘now’ what he’d been doing but seeing the boy wrestling on the floor with his scantily clad sister had about sent him over the edge; it had brought back a painful memory of another time when he hadn’t been there for Rain… The overwhelming brotherly need to protect what was his had reared its ugly head but dammit, Rain was his sister! He’d be damned if he would let anyone hurt her, again!

Doc Martinez just sighed when he turned to see Val carrying his unconscious sister through the door. He was retiring from medicine after this, he just didn’t have the strength anymore to deal with the impertinence of youth! Not to mention, stubborn Jackasses!

Doctor Samuel Jenkins, sat at his desk and read the letter that he had received from Val. He had opened the envelope not knowing who it was from, as there had been no return address. He was astounded by what he had read… ‘Johnny was alive.’

‘Thank you, God!’ Sam bowed his head for a moment to give thanks for his young friend’s life. He had to wonder though, just how many lives did Johnny have? Even if he had the fabled nine lives of a cat, he had surpassed that number by the age of ten, he was sure. Johnny lived dangerously and trouble seemed to find him everywhere, as his brother had once said, “Johnny could find trouble in Church, Doc!” Sam smiled, as a matter of fact as he recalled, Johnny had done just that!

Looking back down at the long letter from Val, Sam guessed it was the most the lawman had ever written at one time. Val wasn’t one long on words, but it had been a lot to tell. Now, the question was what should he do about what he had learned from Val? He agreed with the sheriff’s line of thinking, where Johnny was concerned. It would be better for Johnny, if everyone believed he was truly dead.

The front page picture of him lying dead on some dusty street, certainly helped with that assumption. Sam remembered well when he had seen it just a couple of weeks ago, now. He still had a copy in his desk drawer. The shock had been unbelievable, even though at the time, Sam had already known that Johnny had been killed. But, to see him lying lifeless and bloody with his eyes staring at the sky, had been shocking!

Sam thought on the matter of keeping Johnny dead, the problem with it was that others were being hurt, lives destroyed because they believed it too. Murdoch was lost to them as his mind just couldn’t accept that he had, in every way except pulling the trigger, killed his youngest son. His already troubled mind just couldn’t accept that fact.

Only now Sam knew it wasn’t fact, Johnny was alive. But, what should he do, possibly endanger Johnny’s life…or save Murdoch’s mind. Some would say, he brought it on himself, but Sam knew that Murdoch had lost his mind when he had lost Johnny all those months ago. His worst nightmare had come true, by his own hand. Then follow that with the guilt of offering money to have his son killed and his body brought back to Lancer for burial. Those were not the actions of a sane man. No, they were the actions of a desperate father, trying to bring his son home for good…anyway he could.

Then there was Scott and Teresa. Scott had sent him a telegram, when he and Teresa had reached San Francisco. But, Sam had already been on his way there with Murdoch. He had taken him to a mental hospital there after he had tried to take his own life. He knew his oldest friend needed more help than he could give him.

The message had been forwarded to him in San Francisco and he had sent for Scott once he had Murdoch tucked away, safely in the hospital. Scott had arrived at the hospital and had been greeted by Sam in the lobby. He had taken the concerned young man to lunch, nearby and explained everything to him. Everything, except the news of his brother’s death. Sam had a copy of the paper in his bag and it was obvious that Scott had not seen it, yet.

“Sam, why is my father in a mental hospital?” Scott asked the old doctor as he sat with him at an outdoor café near the hospital that his father had just been admitted in, earlier.

Sam sighed and explained to Scott about how Murdoch had been acting strangely and had hired someone to kill Johnny.

“Excuse me? What did you say?” Scott was simply stunned. He could not have heard correctly.

Was Sam sitting here telling him that Murdoch had hired someone to kill his own son? “Why would he do that, Sam?”

What could he say except that Murdoch had lost his mind when he had lost, first Johnny, then Scott and Teresa. “He was so different after everything that had happened, Scott. His mind just left him, maybe when Johnny did or maybe when you and Teresa did, but he wasn’t in control of what he did. He wanted Johnny to return to Lancer, I think he believed if he returned that you and Teresa would return, as well. But, he knew Johnny was lost to him, forever, so in his troubled mind he decided to bring your brother home, dead. Because that way, he would forever remain at Lancer. He could never leave, Murdoch, again.” Sam sighed again as he watched Scott knowing that worse news was to come.

Scott couldn’t have been any more shocked by his father’s behavior but at least he hadn’t been able to carry out his plans or his brother might well be dead now and he’d have no chance to make amends…that is if he could make amends?

“Well, Sam it’s a good thing that Murdoch had that accident and wasn’t able to make good on that arrangement.” Scott knew Murdoch would get the help he needed but right now he had to find Johnny.

“Sam, if you will accompany Teresa back home and let her stay with you in Green River, I am going to find Johnny and make things right with him. I love him, Sam and I couldn’t be any sorrier than I am right now for what I have done to him. I have to find my little brother, Sam.” Scott bowed his head and thought how best to track his wayward brother down, before he looked back up and saw the sorrow on Sam’s face.

Sam’s heart hurt for the suffering that his young friend was about to endure. He just shook his head as he looked into Scott’s blue-grey eyes. “Val went after Johnny, but he was too late, Scott.” Sam saw the shock pass over Scott’s face and he visibly paled as he understood what he was being told.

“My brother is…is dead, Sam?” Scott choked out.

“Yes.” Sam tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “I am so sorry, Scott. Murdoch’s killer was successful and Johnny was already gone by the time Val reached him.”

Scott could not accept what he was being told. Johnny had always survived everything that had been thrown at him. He had thwarted death at every turn. No! His brother was NOT dead, he couldn’t be…

“No, Sam! It’s some kind of mistake or Johnny just wants us to think he is dead. You know Val would help Johnny hideout if he were in danger. That must be it, Sam!” Scott tried to convince the doctor along with himself. But the look on Sam’s face said different.

Sam slowly pulled the newspaper from his bag and lay it on the table between them. Scott just stared at the folded newspaper. ‘So, what is he going to show me? Some article about the death of Johnny Madrid?’ Scott scoffed. Then Sam opened the paper and Scott gasped at the image he saw.

“Noooo!” He whispered. His brother lay dead on some filthy street near the border. Even though the photograph held no color, Scott could see the red blood soaked into the shirt…his brother’s blood. He could see the lifeless sapphire eyes staring at the blue sky. He could see a gun in his brother’s hand and another, it was the one that he would recognize anywhere, still in his brother’s holster. The medallion, the saint that protected his brother from dying alone, it lay against his brother’s throat. ‘Did you, brother, did you die alone?’

Sam helped Scott back to his hotel room. His room adjoined the one for Teresa, so she knocked when she had heard them enter the room. Scott looked at Sam with a deep sadness in his eyes. He didn’t want to tell her about Johnny or about what Murdoch had done. But, Sam had convinced him that better here than at home, she had to find out sooner or later. Scott knew she wouldn’t appreciate being kept in the dark.

“Let her in, Sam.” Scott sat down heavily on the end of the bed. They were about to break the heart of someone that had already suffered enough pain for a lifetime. But isn’t that what they had done to Johnny? He had suffered all his life and his own family had added to that suffering tenfold. In the end, they had killed him. Johnny had never done anything but protect them, even from his own past. How had they repayed his fierce loyalty? They hadn’t, they had turned on him…never giving him a chance to defend himself, now he had paid for that loyalty with his own life.

‘I am so sorry, Johnny! I could never be sorry enough for what we did to you…what I did to you, brother.’

Teresa entered the room and Sam was shocked that she looked no better than when she had left several months ago. She was thin, her face tight and drawn, her clothes hung off of her like they belonged to a much larger person. Her eyes spoke of endless pain and sadness. Sam had a moment’s doubt about telling her the tragic news, she looked like death and he didn’t know if she could handle the added strain the loss of Johnny would bring.

Teresa was surprised to see Sam. “Sam, I didn’t know you were in San Francisco. Scott just sent you a telegram.” She smiled but it wasn’t her usual glowing smile. The glow just wasn’t there anymore.

Scott rose and walked over to her as Sam returned the greeting. “Teresa, I am so happy to see you again, my dear.” He smiled.

Teresa looked from one to the other of them and knew something was wrong. “What is it, Scott?”

Scott sat alone on the balcony of his hotel room. Teresa had finally cried herself to sleep and Scott wanted to do the same. But, instead he had taken a bottle of tequila and a glass out onto the balcony and drank a toast to his brother.

Now, he stood alone looking out over the city, as it slept. He could see the ships in the distant harbor, rocking in the waves that glistened in the pale moonlight. He didn’t know what he was going to do, everything was lost. His home, his father and his brother…how had it come to be that he had lost his family? He didn’t ever want to see Lancer again, especially when Sam had told him that Val was not bringing his brother back to be buried there. Val had told him that Johnny wouldn’t want to spend eternity in a place he had not been welcomed in life…and Scott understood. After all, he was right.

He wondered, where Val had buried his brother. He knew how Val felt about Johnny, he loved him like…like a brother. Scott sighed. He loved him like Scott should have loved him. Val never believed what they had said Johnny had done, not for one second. ‘Why hadn’t we had that kind of faith in him?’ He had never done one thing to make them think he was capable of hurting any woman, much less Teresa. No, now he knew… now that it was too late, that his brother would have died to protect his ‘little sister.’ Johnny would have killed any man that laid a hand on her or died trying.

Sam still sat at his desk remembering his trip to San Francisco some weeks ago, now. He had received a telegram from Scott just yesterday. He and Teresa were going to remain in San Francisco with Murdoch until he was well enough to travel to a better facility back east in Boston. Scott had assumed complete ownership of Lancer and planned to sell the ranch as soon as was possible. They never planned to return to the ranch.

He had driven out to the hacienda yesterday afternoon and spoken to Cipriano, the Segundo had been running the ranch since Murdoch had taken ill. He had been awed by the man’s quiet acceptance of the news that the ranch would be sold. He had simply said it was little enough penance for the harm they all had brought to, Juanito. Sam could see the shame in the man’s eyes before he turned and walked away.

Well, Sam had a decision to make and he’d just made it. Johnny needed to know about this, right away. Sam didn’t know if Johnny would care, that was a decision only he could make. But, Sam would see to it that he had the right to make it, by informing him of what was happening.

Val read the telegram from Sam. ‘Sonofabitch!’ He knew he had to show this to Johnny but he wasn’t looking forward to it, not at all.

Johnny was sitting up in bed at the hotel, with Rain curled up at his side when Val walked into the room. It had been several weeks now since Johnny had been shot and Rain had been severely injured, as well. They were both improving by leaps and bounds, every day. Old Doc Martinez, was real pleased with how well they had been doing since, Val had brought his sister over to be with Johnny at the doc’s house. Although, Val smiled, not by choice.

It seemed the instant they were together, even though they were both unconscious at the time, they had both seemed to improve. Johnny finally fought off the fever that had continued to ravage his body and Rain had regained consciousness to find herself lying near her ‘Stormy.’ Val never put much faith in love and such things but he didn’t doubt that love and the good Lord had healed these two, when all had seemed lost. Then finally, they had both been moved back to their room at the hotel and since they were together, they’d had the peace to get the rest they both needed to heal.

Val couldn’t help but to smile at his disheveled friend as he sat in bed with his wife snuggled in next to him. Val looked at Rain, she was waking from a nap it looked like and she had some major bedhead going on, not that he would ever say so though. Val grinned at Johnny.

“Hey, amigo.” Johnny grinned back at him as he tousled his wife’s head. Rain just smacked his hand and they all laughed.

“How ya doin’ today, ya two love birds!” Val teased. He was blessed to have them back and he knew it…Val sighed in content.

Johnny just continued to torture his wife, as they tussled. He was feeling good and was ready to get outta this town. He had only stayed down this long out of pure laziness as he enjoyed spending the time with Rain. Three years ago, he had been sure he would never be happy again. Now, he was boiling over with the stuff.

The three of them had talked some and decided to head out to Wyoming to chase some wild horses, maybe start up a little horse spread. Val wasn’t going back to Green River and hell neither was he, Rain had never been there so it all worked out. Johnny didn’t need Lancer or his so called family. He had all the family he needed right here in this room.

He and Rain had spent most of their waking hours, well before they had recovered enough to enjoy being husband and wife. He grinned. They had spent most of that earlier time when they were recovering just talking over what had happened the last three years. There had been too much really, so they both had just hit the highlights. They had both conceded that all would be revealed in time and there was no rush. Nothing either of them said would change how they felt about each other, they each knew the other had been with other people during their time apart and had dealt with it, knowing it never woulda happened if they knew the other was still alive. Simple as that…true love forgives and moves on.

Val hated to break up the fun, but he had to give Johnny the telegram. It was gonna change their plans, he had no doubt about that…he just didn’t believe that Johnny would let Lancer be sold. It had been the only place he had ever called home. A real home with a real bed and for a while, a real family. It had saved Johnny’s life when he had given up on livin’ after losing Rain.

Val cleared his throat. “Uhm, Johnny?” He looked up at his amigo and Johnny must have sensed something had happened because he stopped playing with Rain and gave him his complete attention as he wrapped her in his embrace and Rain settled her head on his shoulder. “We need to talk, amigo.”

Johnny didn’t like the look on Val’s face. Something was wrong and Val wasn’t looking forward to telling him what it was… “Okay, Val I know that look. Just spit it out.” Both Johnny and Rain tensed a little, neither of them needed any more to deal with right now.

Val just walked over to the bed and handed Johnny the telegram. More than a little warily, Johnny opened it and read it to himself before handing it to Rain. She skimmed over the message and looked from one to the other of them, the wild horses were just going to have to wait.

Johnny had been furious when he had read the telegram and learned that his brother had assumed control of the ranch and planned to sell it! He knew about what his father had done to him and even that he had been injured in an accident. But, he didn’t know that he had been sent to a mental hospital in San Francisco after trying to kill himself. That didn’t sound like Murdoch at all, he wasn’t the kind of man that would take the easy way out. Then again, before that fateful day almost a year ago now, he never would have thought his own father and brother would not only attempt to end his life, but damn near succeed more than once.

“The Bastards!” He cursed as he jumped up and stormed across the floor to stand at the window, seething! He should just let them sell the place and be done with it. Scott planned to take Murdoch back to Boston with him, to another hospital. They would both be gone and would never know that he was still alive. Hell, they might try again for all he knew! They both had sure went to extremes to kill him, why would they stop now? Val had said they knew now that he hadn’t been the one to hurt T’resa but his father had sent an assassin after him just the same. Johnny guessed he was dirtying up the Lancer name too much!

“Sons of bitches!” He just wanted to be left alone, why couldn’t they just let him be dead? The more he thought about it the angrier he became. “Dammit to Hell! That ranch is a third mine and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let either one of those bastards take it from me, again!” He stomped back over to stand in front of Rain and Val. They had both sat quietly, listening to him rant.

Rain being fearless of Johnny or anyone else for that matter, stood up and kissed her irate husband on the lips, somewhat fiercely. “My home is where ever you are Stormy, and I guess home for you has been Lancer. So, when do we leave for home?” She smiled at him and all the anger just spilled outta him. He looked into her beautiful, loving eyes and for a moment they were the only two people in the whole world. She could read him like a book…that was fine by him. Hell, he’d even turn the pages for her.

He smiled back at her and said. “Lancer was a place of solace for me when you were gone, now it’s a place as close to Heaven as I am likely to ever get and what would Heaven be without my angel?” Val about choked on that one, he agreed that Rain was an angel…but whose was the question. His sister was meaner than two hells when she got turned loose and unless the three years away had mellowed her, which he doubted, then the fireworks had not even began.

On the other hand, she was a true angel in the way she loved her husband and brother. She would do anything for them, even kick them in the ass if they stepped to far outta line. They had both been on the receiving end of that temper, lucky she loved them or they woulda been dead long ago…Val had to wonder and fear a little for what might happen at Lancer. Johnny going back was going to be difficult all by itself, but add Rain into the mix and well he just didn’t know if the place would still be standing, in the end.

Standing inside the entrance to the hotel leaning against the wall, Johnny was still watchful. He looked up as Doc Martinez walked up to him and offered him his hand. Johnny smiled and shook the Docs hand. “Thanks for everything, Doc. I might not be here if you hadn’t helped me.” Johnny was truly grateful, he was on the mend and had his wife back. Life just didn’t get any better for people like him.

Now with them together again life was much easier…hell breathin’ was much easier! Rain never made him feel guilty or ashamed of what he was in any way. Nothing he could do would turn her away from him, she accepted him like he accepted her, unconditionally.

The doc shook Johnny from his thoughts. “Well, young man you take good care of that little lady.” He nodded toward Rain standing at the counter laughing at some of Wilpert’s antics. The old doc looked nothing like Doc Jenkins but he sure reminded Johnny of him, anyways. Johnny took the request in stride and patted him on the back before adding. “She does a good job of looking out for me, Doc!” Johnny laughed and the doctor joined in with his own hearty laugh.

Johnny knew that his, Rain had the strongest ‘Will’ he had ever come across and couldn’t help but to smile as he watched her tease the young clerk. He guessed she needed it seeing as she had him for a husband and he knew that he was a handful on the best of days! Johnny smirked.

Johnny gave the doc a final farewell and walked toward his wife, he had been warned in no uncertain terms to keep an eye on her, she couldn’t take another hard blow to the head. Because the next time could very well be the last, she seemed fine now and she was but Johnny felt fear deep down inside that he might lose her for real, one day. He hoped that if that happened he was taken with her, he didn’t want to live without her…not ever again.

She turned to him as he came up beside her and offered his hand to Wilpert. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done to help save our lives, Wilpert. I owe you.” Rain cleared her throat. Johnny looked at her and grinned. “Uhm, we owe you.” He laughed as he shook the clerk’s hand. “If you and Andrew ever need anything you let us know.”

Andrew had left that morning on the stage to San Francisco, he had gone ahead to finalize a deal for a hotel there. Wilpert was staying until the new owner of his current hotel arrived. Then he would be joining Andrew to begin their new life together, they hoped that in a city the size of San Francisco that they would be left to live like they pleased. Johnny wished them luck and happiness.

He gave the boy a final pat on the back and another ‘Thanks’ and Rain just hugged the stuffing outta him. Johnny could see that she had grown very fond of the boy and that was okay, they owed him their lives. They waved as they walked out on to the street and took a final look around, if they ever saw this town again it would be too soon!

Val had also left that morning riding out on Milagro, going to meet the train in Tombstone and heading back to Green River. He would check things out and meet them with news of what was happening before Johnny miraculously returned from the dead, again. He had told Val that they would be along, he was in no big hurry for a showdown with his ‘family’. Johnny smiled and Rain gave him a knowing look, he had told her that they had something to take care of before leaving Arizona. She had readily agreed with him, yes this matter needed to be dealt with and it was best if Val wasn’t here…

The Tombstone Gazette’s new photographer was out the door in a hurry this morning. He had to get a special picture of the desert at dawn. The paper had received a special request from a well-known publisher back east for just such a photo and seeing as how he was currently the most famous photographer in the country, naturally he was given the assignment. He was feeling very important this morning, he had big plans and hoped that this picture along with his photo of the death of Johnny Madrid would make him a household name. He dreamed of working for bigger papers, or maybe in Europe or why stop there, the sky was the limit! He chuckled with glee.

He clicked his buggy horse into a lope as he headed out into the desert to make his mark on the world. The sky was lightening and the dawn was upon him as he finally reached his destination. He had to hurry to get his equipment set up before the perfect moment was lost. So absorbed was he in his task, the two sets of eyes watching him went unnoticed until his buggy horse shied before bolting away in a panic.

Stunned the man turned to see what had frightened his horse, so badly. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he looked into the predatory eyes of his killers. He knew instantly that he was staring death in the face, his death. He swallowed hard and thought about running but he knew he had nowhere to go and no way to defend himself. He was a dead man.

On the train headed into Cross Creek, Val sat alone looking out the window. He was still full to the brim with joy because his family was whole and happy again. He hoped everything worked out for Johnny and Rain at Lancer, but if not there was still wild horses to chase.

He hated to leave them, even for a short time because those two were trouble magnets if ever there was any! They had better not get so much as a scratch before they got back to Green River or he was gonna have their hides. Things should be okay though, he consoled himself. Everyone thought Johnny was dead and no one knew about Rain…every threat to them had been eliminated one way or another.

Val closed his eyes, they would be fine…suddenly, Val sat up straight as a board! ‘The picture man…I forgot about the damn blasted man that had tried to murder Johnny!’ Beating himself up about it, ‘How could I have forgotten about the son of a bitch that almost killed him for a fuckin’ picture?!’ He would send a telegram to the Marshall in Tombstone as soon as he hit Cross Creek Station. That bastard was not getting away with it! That was for sure!

Stomping into the telegraph office in Cross Creek, Val was surprised when the clerk said he had a message for him. Val’s gut clenched, they had better be alright! He took the message and walked out onto the boardwalk. Opening it up, he stopped in stunned silence at what he read.

It simply said. He didn’t STOP get away STOP with it STOP.

Val just stared, open mouthed for a second before shoving the message in his pocket and walking away. He was shaking his head, wondering. ‘What am I ever gonna do with those two?’

.

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~ to be continued~

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4 thoughts on “Kindred Spirits by Michele U

    1. Michelle responded: Thank you for your kind words regarding my story. I hope to have something new out soon.

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